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Day 10: Fort Delpeche

March 8, 2011

After a fresh banana shake for breakfast I set out with Chris and Al Carpenter, who with his wife, Bev, runs the orphanage Leslie and I visited in Saint-Marc.  Al had brought along Alexander, one of the boys they care for.  It was Alexander’s birthday.

Our destination was Fort Delpeche, high in the mountains above Montrouis.  We struggled through the congested narrow streets of Montrouis vying for space with other vehicles, motorcycles, donkeys and the crowds of people there for market day.  The vendors spread out their wares at the sides of the street leaving very little space for traffic.  Should one meet another vehicle, someone is going to have to back up.  This happened to us.

After leaving the town we headed up the road to the fort.  To call what we were traveling on a road is to use the term very loosely.  It was like driving up a dry streambed, with rocks, the occasional boulder, deep gullies carved by runoff, and huge potholes.  The road is narrow, has very steep sections and often hangs precipitously on the edge of the mountain with a very long drop on the valley side.  Even though Chris’ SUV has all-wheel drive, on occasion Al and I had to get out and push.  Then we discovered that sitting on the hood provided better traction in the tough spots.  On one occasion while Chris backed up to find a spot with more traction I noted one of the rear wheels was a foot and a half off the ground for a bit.  Near the fort the road becomes two tracks with grass between, then a single track, then it almost disappears altogether.

Clean Water has actually installed filters up this road.  We stopped at the village of Ivorie (pronounced Eve-wah) and met the kazek, a local government official.  He took us to see the sole local water supply.  He led us down a goat track to where a woman was drawing water with a vegetable oil style gallon jug on a rope and pouring it into a 5-gallon plastic pail to carry to her home, balanced on her head.  The water supply was enclosed in a large concrete box, but around it was a slough-like pond of very filthy water in which cattle and donkeys watered.  Since the level of the water in the “well” was lower than the water around it, it is inevitable that it will be contaminated.

Drawing water at Ivoire

We then went to the kazek’s home to see his water filter which Clean Water had installed a short time ago.  In his home I saw the first cat I have seen in Haiti; they are considered food by many here.  He also showed us his rabbit hutch and brought out a large specimen.

Continuing up the road we passed many people making there way to market.  Chris told me that those higher up the mountain will leave home at 2 AM to make it to Montrouis by 8.  There were loads on donkeys and horses, women carrying huge bundles on their heads, men with bundles on their backs.  They smilingly exchanged greetings with us as we passed.  Occasionally a donkey would bolt at the sight of the vehicle.  There were many cattle on the road and of course, chickens.  Happily the pigs seemed to steer clear of the road.

Many men, women and children were making their way to work the fields, picks and mattocks on their shoulders.  Along the road there were fields of cabbages, bananas, and others showing evidence of the last corn harvest.  Near some homes huge bundles of corn ears were hung high in trees to dry; metal collars were fastened around the tree trunks to keep rats away from the corn.   People in the fields waved to us as they worked the brick-red soil.  Children would run to the road as soon as they heard our vehicle approach.  We passed vendors with whatever they were selling set on little tables or spread on the ground.

Vegetation varied as we climbed.  I saw yuccas and bamboo as well as some beautiful flowers.  The view from high up was spectacular.  At times we could see the Caribbean with the island of La Gonaive in the background.  Sailboats with their cargo of charcoal or salt and ships on their way to Miami were visible at times.  Many of the mountainsides across the valley were denuded of almost all vegetation.

Some distance before we reached the fort we stopped at the ruins of several buildings of the same era.  Perhaps this was a coffee plantation.  I have read that these were associated with other forts.   Anoles scurried wherever I walked, some brightly coloured.  These little lizards move like lightning, can climb almost anything and can jump considerable distances.

After 2½ hours of bone-jarring travel we reached our destination.  The temperature had become cooler as we gained altitude.  Fort Delpeche sits atop the highest peak in the area at an elevation of 5154 feet.  The fort is very well preserved with all the walls intact.  Vegetation has attached itself to the tops of the walls and any other available foothold.  The 3-foot thick walls are configured in a square with arrowhead-shaped projections at each corner. We guessed the height to be 12 feet at the lowest point.  Two tiers of closely spaced loopholes, much wider on the inside and tapering to a narrow slit on the inside, circle the entire fort.  In the northeast corner where the wall is higher due to being built in a lower spot, there are three tiers.  The tapering provides for a wider view from the inside and would allow a defender to shoot over a greater angle. The fort also has cannon ports on all sides, although some of these were walled up, presumably as cannons failed and could not be replaced.  Three of the 8-foot cannons lean in their ports where they settled as their wooden carriages decayed.  Two more lie partially buried outside.

Fort Delpeche
Cannon outside Fort Delpeche.  Note another in cannon port.

Inside the fort is a rectangular construction consisting of two larger rectangular buildings back to back and what obviously were cisterns at one end.  The buildings I would speculate were for storage, perhaps powder magazines.  The roofs are long gone, probably having had wooden elements.  Much of the iron hardware for the doors and the cannon ports is still intact.

Outside the walls a ditch a moat-like ditch had been dug.  In front of the main entry the excavations were staggered to provide access but making a frontal attack difficult and hazardous.  I rounded one of the corners to encounter a sow and her litter.  The piglets reacted immediately to my presence and I was very glad the mother was tied, as she got quite agitated.  Having grown up on a farm I am very familiar with what pig threats sound like.

After a picnic lunch Leslie had prepared for us we enjoyed the cool air and the spectacular views.  This fort truly commanded the entire area.  We could see as far as the Artibonite Valley and Gonaïve.

The return trip being downhill was much easier.  When we returned I tried to find some information about the fort on the Internet but it is almost non-existent.  Apparently very few people make it up to this fort.  The kazek at Ivoire told us it was built by the French, but a tiny scrap of info on the net suggested it was constructed by Jean-Jacques Dessalines, the first ruler of Haiti.

A thank you to Chris for allowing me to download some pictures.

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Thanks to all who have posted comments.  I sincerely appreciate it.

One of my readers made the comment that I must find it overwhelming at times.  Let me tell you what I find overwhelming.  When a little girl approaches me wordlessly, without making any eye contact, takes me by the hand, leans into my side, and holds on to me while we walk, hanging on as if her life depended on it.  When I sit down and she locks her arm through mine as she sits beside me and then tucks herself under my arm.  When two little boys both take my opposite hand and jostle for the position closest to me.  When a tiny girl who cannot yet be two smiles at me with sparkling dark eyes and backs herself into the only available space left against my shins. That is overwhelming.

When a little boy watches me closely and eyes my camera and I know he wants to have his picture taken, but he says nothing.  When his father smiles at me and motions for me to come over to them.  When I ask with signs if he would like me to take their picture and he beams.  When his wife moves closer to him and he smiles at his son with such obvious pride as I compose the picture.  When the mother giggles delightedly and his smile widens as I turn the screen to them.  That is overwhelming.

It is in moments like that I can transcend myself.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Meaghan permalink
    March 8, 2011 8:30 pm

    gotta say Dad, reading the end of tonights blog, made me cry, I don’t think I could handle those things that overwhelm you. I am so proud of the things you are doing! Love you and I am looking forward to seeing lots of oictures when you come back.

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