Haiten citadel a symbol of hope
Cap Haiten, Haiti - Once one of the most popular holiday destinations in the Caribbean, Haiti is now one of the region's least-visited destinations due to its political instability and a poor tourism infrastructure.
One of the country's bright spots however is the imposing Citadelle Laferriere in the north of the country near the border with the Dominican Republic. The largest fortress in the Americas, it still draws visitors looking to explore.
The ruined Sans-Souci Palace is at the start of the trail to the Citadel, where tourists can buy souvenirs, hire a guide or rent a horse for the 90-minute uphill trek to the summit of the 910 metre Bonnet a L'Eveque mountain.
Now considered a symbol of Haiti, the fortress was commissioned by Henri Christophe a year after the country gained independence from France in 1804. Christophe, a key leader during the Haitian slave rebellion, was also responsible for the Sans-Souci Palace, which was built in the same style as its namesake in Potsdam near Berlin but was destroyed by an earthquake in 1843.
Wooden huts and banana trees line the trail to the fortress and it is clear to see that the people here are significantly poorer and more subdued than other parts of the Caribbean.
The Citadel offers many of the villagers a living, including Charles, who offers his services as a tour guide.
“I speak English,” says the 13-year-old.
Charles names all the trees and plants in the area, as well as explaining why so much deforestation has taken place in Haiti.
“Many of us live without electricity or gas so have to cook using wood fires,” he says.
Cap Haitien and the Atlantic coast where Christopher Columbus' ship Santa Maria sank in 1492 are visible from the gun battery of the fortress.
The Citadel with its four-metre thick walls was built between 1805 and 1816 by over 20 000 workers to keep the newly independent nation of Haiti safe from French attacks. Today, it still houses more than 200 cannons and 15 000 cannon balls.
Taxi driver Augustin Gilles warns that darkness is about to fall so it is time to drive the 17 kilometres back to Cap Haitien. The road is full of potholes and many Haitians travel at night without any lights on their cars.
The 43-year-old walked with his customers to the fortress and charged 80 dollars for the seven-hour round trip that also included a tour of the local villages.
“It's very safe here in the north,” he says.
Violence is much more prevalent in Port-au-Prince where much of the population continues to live in deplorable conditions four years after the devastating earthquake that shook the country. - Sapa-dpa