Today marks the sixth anniversary of the devastating earthquake that struck the Caribbean nation of Haiti back in 2010. Since the first anniversary I have always written a remembrance post for the victims-both those who perished and those who survive (click here, here, here, and here to access them). This year I decided to interview Breanna Wilson, a travel writer who searches out incredible adventures near and far and who also takes the most drool worthy of travel and food photos over on Instagram. Last year she traveled to Haiti on her own and so I thought it would be interesting to share her experiences as a traveler in this troubled yet fascinating and exotic country. Breanna-take it away!
What’s it like to travel to Haiti, a blogger’s interview
1) Haiti isn’t exactly the must-see destination for a lot of travelers, so how did you end up traveling to this troubled and exotic island nation?
I’ve always been intrigued by the country. I always go for those destinations that are a little off the map, those places that my friends have never been to, and Haiti is exactly that. (And more!) When the new Marriott Haiti opened in Port-au-Prince, I was invited to the opening party, which was my chance (more like excuse) to finally make it to this intriguing country.
2) Where all did you visit in the country?
Port-au-Prince mostly, with a day trip to Jacmel (and Bassin-Bleu!!).
3) Let’s talk about food. What native dishes did you get to try? Would you say that Haitian food is similar to other cuisines from the West Indies or do you feel it has its own unique mark?
Haitian food was very similar to foods I’ve eaten in the West Indies and the Caribbean – beans and rice, chicken, goat stew, conch, fried plantains and always a cold local beer. Two things that I did fall in love with there that I’ve never experienced anywhere else were the Haitian Hot Chocolate (it’s basically liquid chocolate – it’s to die for) and akra, a starchy vegetable that I LOVED fried.
4) For those travelers looking to visit Haiti for the first time, what advice would you give them?
I would tell travelers to keep in mind that Haiti is not a tourist destination. Locals don’t speak English. They don’t always welcome you and they don’t like to have their picture taken. Tourism is something that is completely new to the country, so it’s going to take some time for locals to understand how to interact with foreigners.
5) Haiti has the sad distinction of being the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere with its tourist infrastructure only a fraction of what it is in other Caribbean nations. With that said, did you encounter any difficulties while traveling there?
Traveling in Haiti was an eye opening experience. After the earthquake the locals were photographed and exploited to the point that they’re now weary of outsiders. They’ve been promised too much and received too little. Plus, with not many tourists traveling to Haiti, street handlers and market vendors are eager to sell you something, and will bombard you to the point of harassment just so that they can earn a few dollars. At that point, it almost makes it worse to buy something because then the other vendors come after you wondering why you won’t buy from them as well. It’s a country that you always have to be aware of your surroundings in.
6) This year marks the sixth anniversary of the earthquake. What place do you think most Haitians are in today, as opposed to before the earthquake? Do you feel anything has changed since then, and more importantly, changed for the better?
When I visited Haiti last year, about 6 months ago, Port-au-Prince was still in bad shape. Seeing pictures of what the city looked like immediately after the earthquake, not much has been repaired. For a city that so many outsiders raised money to help repair (did you text in a $10 donation?), not much of those funds made it to the places that needed basic help the most.
7) Why would you encourage other travelers to visit Haiti? What was your favorite thing about your trip?
Haiti is pure. They don’t cater to outsiders. They are who they are without any apologies. With many tourist destinations, cities and cultures lose the things that make them so special – that’s not the case here. Discovering Haitian art, learning about Vodou, dancing to local music by RAM at Hotel Oloffson and discovering hidden places like Bassin-Bleu that are really off the beaten path was one of the most unique and untainted experiences ever. I encourage people to travel to Haiti to support their growth and the country’s rehabilitation first-hand.
8) Haitian Creole is the first language spoken by the majority of Haitians, followed by French. If you don’t speak either of those languages, do you feel a person would have difficulty in everyday situations?
In Port-au-Prince, definitely. If you want to explore the city and really see the places that make the city special, like the local art galleries, the Iron Market, learn about Vodou and find the best rhum punches around, I’d definitely recommend a tour guide. Jean from Let’s Go To Haiti is your man!
9) Did you have any thoughts/assumptions about Haiti prior to going that turned out to be false once you were there?
I honestly had no assumptions before I went. I try to be that way before I head to a new place so that I can take in the experience as what it is and not as what I want or expect it to be.
10) What would you say to convince someone to visit Haiti instead of one of the more (over) developed Caribbean islands?
Haiti is a place with soul. It’s a place that will really get you out of your comfort zone and will help you grow as a traveler and a world citizen. It’s a place that will engulf and mesmerize you unlike any other.
Breanna Wilson is a freelance travel writer who never met an adventure she didn’t like. She’s always looking for ‘like a local’ experiences, interesting foods and is never afraid to jump into the unknown (just ask her about the time she swam through the croc filled Zambezi River to sit on the edge of Victoria Falls). You can try to keep up with her travels (good luck) on Forbes and on her blog at BreannaJWilson.com.