Biking Haiti

  • Posted on: 8 February 2008
  • By: Bryan Schaaf
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 I don’t fully realize why I put myself through it until days afterwards when the tightness subsides, the soreness in the muscles evaporates and the numbness of my body dissolves making movements like standing, sitting and walking possible without grunting or wincing. It is only after all this that I begin to recall and can share the stories of the many amazing people and encounters had along the road. And it is only after this that I have the mind to really appreciate the beauty of the experience. And equally be astonished by the absurd contrasts of unequivocal spirits against relentlessly hard living. The French poet and philosopher Andre Malraux after visiting Haiti for the first time decades ago said of it, “Surrealism finally has a country.”


After rest I have the memory of beautiful coastal vistas against a ravaged environment. Reflecting at times it seems metaphoric for the slow creeping of outside influences spoiling the remains of a hard but simple happiness of life still existing in impossible to reach places of Haiti. It is these memories that come after the physical exertion that provoke these thoughts that at some foolish point will again make me forget the pain and push me to experience and knowingly agreed to embark on what appears to be and usually is another mountain bike trip from hell.


However hell is probably never as hot as Haiti’s midday sun when climbing 1500 feet of impassable terrain. But for a third year in a row now this is how I’ve spent carnival weekend in Haiti, mountain biking. The first year was from Jeremie to Pestel in the Grand Anse. The second year was from Jeremie to Les Cayes, the Grand Anse to the South. And this year was from Vieux Bourg du Aquin to Jacmel, the South to the Southeast.


 We covered over 62 miles of road along the south coast of Haiti in two days with stories impossible to imagine but that if experienced firsthand explain so much of what is never said about Haiti. Vividly I remember resting at the base of a road just outside the village of Brazillienne under some trees. A woman all in black with smoky gray hair trots around the bend on a white horse spotted gray. Her black dress is worn as is the cracked skin on her bare legs and feet. The woven straw saddlebags are half filled with a mash of wares. But the image is still elegant because she is firm in the seat with a gentle command of the reins and a soft grin and no hesitation to warmly welcome the sight of strangers stranger than most on what may be her daily route.


The anachronism in the scene is that in her right hand she is holding a knife upright like a knight would a sword. The blade is longer than normal and oddly shaped giving it a rough look enhanced as well by its chipped wooden handle and rusty colors. She brings it all together when she speaks. She is filled with greetings and earnest pleasure, childish excitement but properly composed. She can’t say enough how happy she is to see us traveling here in her country, in this remote place, in such a way on bikes, just to experience just to see what most don’t. She sees in this somehow that life is beautiful that life is so beautiful.

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