Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Ile à Vache

The place we pulled into at Ile à Vache was something out of a post card. Sheer, high-rising cliffs we approached from the south dwindled into soft rolling hills at the north shore, easing gradually back into the ocean by way of palm lined beaches. There, as we rounded the north-west point of the island, we found complete shelter from the raging waters of the open Caribbean and followed our friends into a crescent shaped bay at the heart of the village. We were astonished. Largely because most of the main land of Haiti has been stripped off trees leaving it barren, spotted with bald areas of eroded soil. Wood is the main source of fuel for Haiti and we could smell it long before it came into view from under the constant cover of fire smoke. But at Ile à Vache the vegetation at shore and juicy green meadows creeping up the hills beyond was a stark contrast to the parched terrain that we've seen thus far. 
Immediately upon arrival Rodeo was greeted by a convoy of young Haitian boys, paddling toward us in dug out canoes made of large mangrove trees. Holding onto the hull of our boat they welcomed us and offered their services. Some spoke French and some tried English to win attention. We were in the midst of dropping anchor, and over an unfamiliar bottom it can be a procedure that requires some finesse, so one could say that we were otherwise engaged. None of the boys seemed phased. They bobbed around swinging back and forth with our boat as it settled into position. It took a while to persuade them that what we needed the most was a bit of rest and that we'd be more than happy to take advantage of their services the following day. With time they began to push off from our boat until only one canoe remained. Ashley and Colby were in it. These two boys, and later a man named Carma became our guides and our help during our stay there. They helped with groceries, laundry and showed us around the island. Watching these guys work among the visiting sail boats anchored in the bay gave us the first glimpse into the quality of life on the island. Their rustic, hand dug canoes required constant bailing. They would lay down their ores and pick up whatever plastic container they had sitting on the bottom of the permeable shell, and start dumping the water overboard. 
Ile à Vache is a place suspended between two eras. Homes are laid out in concrete or stone with thatched or corrugated steel roofs. The construction is rudimentary, but it is obvious that the residents put a lot of love and pride in their humble abodes. Almost every home is painted in bright, cheerful colors, making each unique. Many of the islanders live and work in a simple, traditional way, under conditions that date back to 19th century. Farmers till soil using plows drawn by bulls. Women carry water in jugs from a central pump at the heart of the settlement and cook every meal over an open flame. Girls ready their school uniforms with coal heated irons and tend to goats and chickens roaming about the colorful homesteads. These sprawl along the crescent shaped beach, with many of the homes tucked away and out of view, on the slope of the hill, among the rich vegetation. As we meandered through the development, following winding foot paths we discovered that some homes had small solar panels mounted to rooftops. This is the paradox of life on Ile à Vache. There are no cars, no street names or home numbers, let alone a postal service, but residents have access to internet at a local resort. There is no land line telephone service, but some residents have cell phones. The village has no infrastructure and no power grid, yet some homes can generate their own electricity. It seems like the island skipped a century altogether and is now mending the gap between a place form long time ago and that of the future. Ile à Vache doesn't appear to be in a hurry to get there, however, and we're glad for it as we enjoy the warm, peaceful atmosphere of a place lost in time and the friendly reception of those who dwell within it. 

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