For the past few months, my friends Jake and Tina and I have been planning to embark on the 18-mile Seguin to Furcy hike, which covers the gorgeous mountain ranges of the Southeast.
I had only heard testimonies of the astounding wonder beheld along the winding roads, but nothing prepared me for what I actually experienced.
We began early Saturday morning in a village we frequently work in, known as Baie D'Orange, which sits several miles north of Belle-Anse. From the get-go, it was obvious that this trip would be nothing short of eventful, beautiful, and full of the unexpected.
With backpacks tightly secure, we banded together and trudged up muddy roads on a mission to find the path where our journey would begin.
Without a Haitian guide, we were forced to rely on my mediocre Kreyol to lead us to our destination. After a few rough attempts asking for directions, and some detours up steep hills, we managed to get back on track and set forth.
The next stretch of the journey was accompanied by some spectacular views. Aloe vera plants so large, they seemed to have walked straight out of the prehistoric era and pine trees as tall as skyscrapers lined the trail in endless rows, gave us the sensation we had been transported to a hidden forest found within the pages of a fantasy novel.
As we continued, clouds began to roll in at a rapid rate, ensuring that we would be caught in a torrential down pour. At the same moment as we realized a storm was quickly approaching, an ATV was barreling down the road with two men who appeared to be American. Being the only white people for miles, it was surprising to find to fellow english speakers along the way, enough of a shock that they stopped to acknowledge us. We struck up a conversation and were almost instantly invited to hop into the back of their vehicle in an attempt to get out of the forest and beat the ensuing rain. Their help allowed us to shave off at least an hour of our journey. They dropped us off at the end of a rocky road, we exchanged phone numbers and went on our way. Little did we know how timely and in coincidental our meeting would be.
As we came out of the woods, we approached a large clearing and were immediately greeted by the most breathtaking sight. We stood in silence, completely awestruck, as we gazed upon unbelievable mountains being kissed by the rays of sun, which pierced through the clouds.
My eyes could not believe the vision standing before me. It was as though we had suddenly entered into an enchanted, timeless land. Sitting in the heart of the Caribbean, lies this exquisite beauty, with traces of Africa and Europe coming together to paint one glorious masterpiece.
For the next six hours, we continued to be left speechless by the absolute wonder surrounding our every step.
A little bit of heaven was touching earth and we were the spectators blessed to earn the privilege of admiring this utopia.
Time was not an element of importance. Sights, smells, nature and people were all that encompassed my thoughts. I was overcome by sheer gratefulness at my extraordinary fortune of beholding evidence for why Haiti was once known as, "the pearl of the Antilles."
She is a gem.
A gem that has been battered, abused, beaten and left for dead. Yet, despite all oppression, opposition and injustice, she still has her places kept persevered -- untouched by the corruption of man, as proof that she holds value and a priceless worth.
Somewhere along the road, we came upon a young boy playing soccer alone. We passed by, not giving him much of a second thought. Minutes later he came up behind me and stopped us, telling us in broken english that he had something he wanted to share. Expecting him to ask for something he was in need of, I was completely taken aback by what I heard next.
"I wanted to ask you if you know that Jesus loves you?" He asked with all sincerity and authenticity.
My heart flooded with joy. I replied with a smile and a "Yes we do, thank you!" He responded with giant and gorgeous, white smile and returned to his game.
I turned around and continued, soaking in the fact that I had just experienced one of the most beautiful displays of Christ's love for me, in such a tender and unexpected way.
That theme continued to follow us as our journey drew to a close. I wasn't sure exactly what we would find once we reached Furcy, but in my heart, I knew God was with us every step of the way.
Furcy had an erie feel. A top one of the highest peaks in all of Haiti, sit rows and rows of large rock walls, barricading outsiders from entering the mansions perched behind. Acres of lush, green land are home to a plethora of fruits and vegetables, certainly enough produce to provide sustenance to countless homes and communities, far more than just Furcy alone.
It was if I could smell the corruption brooding amidst the wrap-around porches of the log-cabin-esque homes that statuesquely peer down at the poverty below. They hold they keys to freedom, they hold they keys to change, but they will sit silently and continue to allow the seething force of oppression to run her deadly course.
We made an attempt to stay in a room in one of the only hotels in the area, known as The Lodge. Apparently they were preparing for a "grand reception" and had no rooms available. With nightfall quickly closing in, I knew we had to find a place to stay. A boy on the street had started following us and insisted on helping us find somewhere to sleep for the night. Once we learned of the no vacancy in both guest houses, he told us he knew of a place where would could set up camp.
We were led into a clearing into the woods, a ways away from the main road. The only other sign of life around was a large, dark-coloured house at the bottom of the hill. With my elementary Kreyol, I attempted to ask the boy if it was okay that we stayed here. He jubilantly replied that we were perfectly fine but he would go ask the owner of the house how much it would be for us to stay.
He ran down the hill and returned a few moments later with an astronomical number. I immediately questioned who told him that, and after a few harried replies, which were quickly chocked up to lies, I knew we were in trouble. The boy was insisting we pay him, but the apparent "owner" of the home was no where in sight.
The sky was growing darker and we were literally out of options, until I remembered the number I had entered in my phone hours earlier, connecting us to the man who had given us a ride on his ATV.
I explained the situation and nearly thirty minutes later, he personally came, picked us up and brought us to his home in Fort Jacques, a town just below Furcy, giving us a room to stay for the night. He and his wife were absolutely wonderful and warm people who treated us as though we had always been friends. There was never a question about their openness to provide us the help we were in desperate need of.
After a good night's rest and a morning of pancakes and a trip to one of the nicest grocery stores in all of Haiti, we said our last thank you's and goodbye's and set off to return to Belle-Anse.
Port-au-Prince is a dirty, desolate and dangerous city sitting below the mountains of Furcy and Fort Jacques. I tried my best to safely navigate our little group to a tap-tap (public transportation) that would take us to the station where we would be able to find a bus home. Tensions were high and my stress levels skyrocketed as I rapidly remembered how unsafe and utterly fearful walking these streets make me feel.
Unfortunately, Port-au-Prince is all so many people know of Haiti. The tent cities, ruins left behind by the devastating earthquake, people not afraid to harm others because of their own need, and the ungodly smell that penetrates you to the core, are a large majority of people's knowledge and opinion of Haiti.
Throngs of people are shuffled in an out of the Toussaint L'Ouverture International Airport, never knowing the sense of safety felt from strolling down country roads. Never seeing a mesmerizing sunset on crystal waters, or the tranquil morning haze over the mountains. But most of all never knowing the utter strength and beauty of the Haitian people.
The longer I am here, the more led I am to tell the stories of the Haiti I have grown to know and love. Don't get me wrong, I still love Port-au-Prince because it is the core of the land that has become a part of me. But what saddens my heart is that the desolation, which abounds there, has polluted so many to the sheer potential, hope and opportunity Haiti still has to succeed and rise out of the ashes and into a land of purpose and promise.
You never find what you're looking for, when you're looking for it. You'll never find what you;re looking for while you're barricaded by the stone walls of your own greed, assumptions, deceit and sin.
Sometimes getting lost is a part of the journey, because it's when you're lost, you find the greatest treasures man has yet to know.