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This is part two of a guest series about a trip to Haiti. You can read part one here. A friend, “Captain”, who travels frequently to the Caribbean for work took a trip to Haiti with Delta and the Haiti Department of tourism to explore the country, people, culture and get a sense of how this country is recovering from a devastating earthquake in 2010.
Haiti holds many distinct differences from the other counties of the Caribbean but the most important, historically, is its title as the first independent black republic in the world. A slave rebellion that began in 1791 led to Jean Jacques Desallines declaring Haiti free in 1804. Free from the French and free from slavery. To many the story of oppression ends there, however arrogance and power know not the color of one’s skin.
On my tour of Haiti, I had the pleasure of seeing the 8th Wonder of the World as claimed by many Haitians. The Citadelle Laferrière is the largest fortress in the Americas and remains almost entirely intact after 200 years of aging and 2 major earthquakes. In order to visit both The Citadelle and the nearby Sans Souci Palace, we had to travel from Port au Prince to Cap Haitien. I did so via a quick flight on Sunrise Airways.
As someone who travels the Caribbean on a regular basis for work, I’ve flown more 10-20 seat planes then the average American. Most of those trips are hold your breath, don’t piss your pants, white knuckle, pin ball rides across the sky. Needless to say, my expectations were not very high for Sunrise either. After arriving at the airport I was greeted with a big smile by Johanna, a ticket agent with Sunrise. American Airlines, did you hear that? A Freaking Smile… She quickly checked me in and I was on my way to the plane, a Jetstream 32 EP that carries 19 passengers and a good amount of cargo. The plane was very clean and equipped nicely with leather seats and stand up headroom. Unlike any given Liat flight, a hazmat suit was not needed. The pilots were extremely nice and did a flyby of The Citadelle as we were about to come into Cap Haitien. Sunrise Airways gets a big shout out from me, on a job well done, on their service within Haiti. They are gradually expanding flights outside of the country and now fly to Providenciales, Turks and Caicos.
Cap Haitien was once the capital of the France’s crown jewel colony of Saint Domingue. Christopher Columbus had landed here in 1492 and the wreck of his ship the Santa Maria was used to build the first European settlement in the new world. The residence of Henri Christophe, Sans Souci Palace, and his fortress, The Citadelle Laferrière both sit about 17 miles south of the city. A quick bus ride and you are drowning in Caribbean history left out of many tour guides.
The first stop was Henri Christophe’s residence of Sans Souci Palace. The palace was where he lived and ruled over the Kingdom with both an iron fist and an opulence even greater than that of his European counterparts. The King was maintaining and even proliferating many of the behaviors Haiti had fought so hard to rid themselves of in the revolt. Much of the palace was destroyed in the Cap Haitian Earthquake of 1842.
The second stop was The Citadelle Laferrière, a massive fortress built by King Henri to protect his lands from an invasion by Napoleon. You can either walk, or ride a horse up the stone path to the top of the mountain. The horse ride is about 30 minutes and comes with your own personal guide provided by the Ministry of Tourism.
The fortress itself is a jaw dropping thing of beauty as it rises out of the mountain and into the Caribbean marine layer above. The government of Haiti is in the process of adding some safety barriers and refurbishments so that the site is up to modern day tourist standards.
The Black King built his palace and his fortress using the same forced labor tactics that had been the kindling for the revolution just a few years earlier. Over 20,000 Black Laborers died during the construction both San Souci and The Citadelle. Henri began to feel the pressure of a coming coup and took the cowardly way out, ending his own life with a silver bullet in 1820. King Henri Christophe’s arrogance had built the 8th Wonder of the World…his very own tomb.