Archive: An n’ Pale with travel writer Paul Clammer

On February 15th, UK-based travel writer Paul Clammer joined Haiti Cultural Exchange at Soho Photo Gallery for our first An n’ Pale | Café Conversation of 2013! Moderator Manolia Charlotin of the Haitian Times asked Clammer about the obstacles of writing a travel guide to Haiti.

“Honestly, the traffic.”

But beyond the issues of infrastructure, Clammer spoke about the beauty of a country that has been given a bad rap. Clammer explained that Haiti: The Bradt Travel Guide is designed to ask “Why not?” Why not Haiti and its mountain tops; why not its hidden hiking trails, deep history and pristine beaches?

Clammer expresses a solemn respect for the fact that in Haiti, history is alive and relevant in the everyday culture and how he was intrigued by the fact that people reference Haitian historical figures as still impacting today, whether through their actual political impact or through their actions as lwas that have been absorbed into the Vodou pantheon.

In his search of the cultural impact and presence of Vodou in Haiti, Clammer explained his confusion at seeing flocks of devout Christian Haitians bustling along to church on Sunday mornings. It was all explained to him by an oungan he met while traveling outside Jacmel by a metaphor: “It’s like an electricity grid, the whole country is wired and its got these points you can sort of plug in to. And then once he [changed] my perspective, [I] saw the little things everywhere, little paints of lwa or vèvè symbols.”

He went on to tell a story about meeting a group of men in Cap-Haïtien finding an underground peristyle. Now that epitomizes looking for Vodou everywhere and finding it. It also speaks to the nuanced way in which Paul Clammer has created this book. In his representations of Haiti, he provides a realistic picture of a place with a lot of problems but immense, accessible beauty that demands attention.

Clammer’s favorite places visited include the infamous Citadelle Laferrière in the north of Haiti, which he compared to Machu Picchu as one of the most amazing cities in the Americas. He also spoke to the amazing offerings of ancient Haiti that I had never heard of: Taino carvings in the caves of Hinche in the Central Plateau.

Besides Clammer’s hilarious anecdotes and insights on the travel writer’s experience in Haiti, our moderator Manolia Charlotin made it a point to talk about what kinds of tools the book uses to help guide travelers. An easy-to-use guide breaks down “common knowledge” of Haitian culture such as Haitian proverbs and Vodou lwas, which, for the non-Haitian or newly Haiti bound, is a very helpful way to help learn about culture and processing the imagery that heavily decorates the country. In addition, the book features listings of bed & breakfasts in all of Haiti’s provinces, offering an alternative to the exploitative and, in my opinion, overpriced resort experience.

By the end of the evening, Clammer’s tales of writing the book and learning about the island had us all tic-tacing away at our smartphones, looking for the next best flight deal to the Pearl of the Caribbean, Ayiti Cheri.

The entire conversation made it very clear that Haiti is a country of dizzying beauty, welcoming people, and untapped oases hidden in plain sight. Clammer really fueled my inclination towards solitary, low-impact travel. He emphasized his belief that a smaller scale, more conscious form of tourism is necessary for Haiti and its people to benefit; one that relies on Haiti’s history, culture and unrivaled natural beauty. It is not a place of artificial paradise, because the natural spectacle is too vivid to be imitated.

-Kassandra Khalil
Program Coordinator, HCX

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To purchase your copy of The Bradt Travel Guide: Haiti click here.

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