The ponies were called White Fang and Weedle and they followed us up the mountain to Citadelle Laferrière in northern Haiti, the largest fortress in the Americas.
White Fang and Weedle and their owners walked beside us as we hiked. We were sweating and panting and wishing we’d brought more water, and having the option of ponies right there beside us was tormenting. We didn’t want to pay $10 each to get a ride to the top. We wanted to go of our own accord and be satisfied and feel like it was all worthwhile. Oh, and also my girlfriend has a crippling fear of ponies after an incident in India many years ago, the details of which I will never fully understand. So we were walking.
Back in NYC, we go to the gym three times a week. But 30 minutes on the treadmill every few days is in no way comparable to hiking a mountain on a hot day in Haiti. And at the gym, if one is so inclined, one might decide to cut the exercise short and go cram pizza in one’s face. (It doesn’t help that our gym basically encourages said pizza.)
Eventually, we got to the top. Our guide Charly impatiently waited while we recovered under the shade of the giant walls of the fortress, then he showed us around the fortress. It was the middle of October and way out of tourist season and we were literally the only tourists here. Alone in this mighty fortress would’ve been the perfect time and place to play hide and seek, but we resisted the urge to mention it to Charly.
I won’t go into the history of Citadelle Laferrière here, but Wikipedia has all the info you could possibly want.
The view from up there was incredible. Hills on all sides, a meandering river, a few villages here, the sea far off over there. We felt a long way from anywhere. This was Haiti’s most popular tourist attraction, the only must-see sight in the entire country, and we were the only ones here.
After we’d had our fill of the isolation we hiked back down, which was much less grueling. As we had on the way up, after the first kilometer, we hopped on the back of a couple of locals’ motorbikes to cover the remaining six kilometers back down to the Sans-Souci Palace. As unlikely as I am to ever own a motorbike myself, I generally love riding pillion on the back. But that 7 kilometers was all over cobblestone and was bumpy as hell. I can still feel my teeth chattering now.
At the bottom, my girlfriend climbed off the motorbike on the wrong side. She climbed off on the engine side. The really, really hot engine side. But we didn’t notice anything was wrong until later, when it looked like all the skin was seared off. It didn’t hurt, so we put some ointment on it and left it. Only later did we realize that it was a serious burn that didn’t hurt because all the nerve endings had been destroyed. Anyway, description over. Here are some pics (if you’re eating, put that sandwich down).
As far as mementoes from the day go, we picked up a couple of hand-crafted masks from Charly as a form of tip to him, but it was the burn that was the real keepsake.