Haiti two ways; a glimpse into the local life and the expat life.

In all honesty, I had not planned to visit Haiti and I went a bit by chance. In planning a little Caribbean trip with my girlfriend, the Dominican Republic came up as a convenient and interesting stop for me, prior to meeting her in Puerto Rico. When deciding whether to rent a car or use public transportation there, I discovered that one of the big bus companies has a Port au Prince – Santo Domingo connection. The flights were the same price and I remembered I had a friend working in Port au Prince. Perfect reasons to drop in.

Unfortunately, I only spent a long week-end, and I visited very little. This is not because there is nothing to visit in Haiti, but because transportation is either hard or expensive, especially travelling alone.


Of course, you can take this kind of public transportation, called “taps-taps”, but you have to want to. The alternative is a private taxi, always expensive, especially for intercity travel, or an internal flight. I am willing to endure almost any level of discomfort or expense if the payoff is worth it, like an active volcano, the most remote human settlement on the planet or the midnight sun of the High Arctic. The charming village of Jacmel with its famous arts and crafts? The Citadelle Laferriere and the ruins of the Palais San Souci? Not so much. It’s not that they are unappealing, but for the price of visiting them from Port au Prince, I could travel to 10 different castles and fortresses by train from Paris or London. In fact, the taxi from Port au Prince airport to Pétionville (~10 km) cost me more than my flight from Lithuania to France last year (~2,000 km).

Almost all the tourism in Haiti comes from cruise ships stopping in Labadee. While I didn’t go, I read a bit about it. It is not a town, but a fenced-off private resort leased by Royal Caribbean, which pays the Haitian Government US$10 per tourist per day. While visitors are certainly on Haitian territory, they may just as well be in the Dominican Republic, Miami, or any other place where a lot of Haitians work. A private security firm ensures no tourist gets out and no Haitians get in, except those who are allowed to sell arts and crafts on the resort. All food and drinks served come from the ship. Apparently the Government is improving roads and security in the area in the hopes of convincing Royal Caribbean to offer day trips to places like Milot, where the Fortress and Palace are located. In the mean time, I cannot imagine the appeal of such a place. Continue reading

I visited Kentucky’s Museum of Creation. Sorry…

[DISCLAIMER: This story is very different from my normal travel stories. It is 100% about religion. If you are convinced that the Earth is 6,000 years old and that Noah brought dinosaurs on his ark, I can tell you right now, you won’t like it.]

So, why oh why? Well, because I saw the sign on the highway. I knew it existed, and I even knew it was in Kentucky, but I didn’t know it was right across the Ohio border. So I chose to sacrifice my short visit to Cincinnati, and I made the detour.

Creationism is not very big in my native province of Quebec, with support for the theory at only 9%. For me, it has always been in the same bag as believing Elvis is alive or that the Government keeps aliens at Area 51: i.e. something you can’t believe people actually believe. But they do, and they are not marginal by any means. Support for creationism stands at 22% in Canada and 42% in the United States, with a further 31% believing evolution occurred, but was “guided by God”. Numbers are also high in Europe and other parts of the world, although they vary greatly by country, and also by religion. Buddhists are chill enough not to be offended by evolution. Hindus are not at all offended by the notion of grandpa monkey. Hardly surprising considering they’re OK with the idea that they might have been a frog in their last reincarnation. In many, but not all Muslim countries, a majority of people believe in young Earth theories. Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses almost universally reject the theory of evolution, and in Saudi Arabia, that great beacon of enlightenment, teaching it is banned.

Creationism differs from other religious beliefs in that it stands in stark contradiction to a lot of modern day scientific beliefs. Religions very often lie outside the realm of science, either because of the things they are concerned with – like the meaning of life – or because they invoke the supernatural. To say that Jesus could walk on water may not be a very scientific claim, but since he apparently did it through a divine miracle, in a way it doesn’t contradict science. It doesn’t say that what we understand about buoyancy is wrong. Creationism is obviously different in that it flies in the face of everything we know about our planet’s history, and it pushes religious beliefs that don’t pretend to be miracles, but natural history facts. Unfortunately, the world can only be 6,000 years old OR billions of years old, but not both! So this has created a major and very bitter debate in American education about how and whether these mutually exclusive ideas should be taught.

Although I don’t really want to get into it, creationists come in different flavours. Many accept the fact that the world is old, and even evolution, but believe it was guided by God. You may have heard of these people under names like “old Earth creationists” or “intelligent design”. Generally speaking, they hate each other. Many “mainstream Christians” organizations also hate them, believing they ridicule the entire religion with their views that go completely against the worldwide consensus on the history of the planet.

In all honesty, I went to the museum to have fun. I thought I would laugh at the pictures of cavemen running away from dinosaurs and weird people who think this all makes sense. [Side note: a huge percentage of North Americans believe humans and dinosaurs co-existed, but their ranks include large numbers of non-religious types who assume this to be the case because it was portrayed as such in The Flintstones. And science education in most Canadian and American schools is not that great].

For sure, I did see quite a few visitors dressed in the latest 19th century fashion, arriving in large vans with 17 year old girls carrying their 3rd child and men who very obviously got their hair cut at home. But by far, the vast majority of people were perfectly normal looking middle America folks; families, grandpas and yoga pant wearing soccer moms. And what I discovered was an extremely slick and internally coherent ideology, delivered in style in a beautifully designed museum. Did it change my mind? I won’t bother answering that. But it did – unexpectedly – open my eyes to some of the reasons why the ridiculous idea is so popular. Here’s my take at explaining it. Continue reading