The Haitian command of the sea is one of the unsung beauties of the country, and you can see it full force on the rocky beach at the end of Ansapit’s main street. Men in little knots hang out playing dominoes under the giant flamboyant tree or next to the beached open fishing boats, many hand-hewn of wood. Fishermen mend their impressive green mesh seinne nets with giant iron needles by hand, launch their boats on log rollers from the shore, and sell their florescent catch from coolers on the beach. A vendor sells ice cream from a neat yellow cooler on wheels Food cooks on the charcoal fires outside the waterfront shacks.
Within wading distance off shore, large open boats bob at anchor, waiting to carry passengers and cargo to Marigot, Belle Anse and Jacmel 90 miles distant, after the Pedernales market closes at 3 pm. The passage takes place at 8pm when the sun goes down and the sea calms, a six-hour journey. But meanwhile, the crew are not idle. Stevedores hoisting giant bales of cargo pass continually from shore to boat and back again, loading products that will be sold retail or to distributors who will vend them at markets elsewhere. Most of the imported rice from the US and Japan enters Haiti through Ansapit via the Dominican Republic. Other sacks contain used clothes purchased for 300 pesos/bale at the Zona Franca (free trade zone) in Pedernales.
As tourism comes to Haiti, the country has a chance to appreciate that working waterfronts like Ansapit’s are the last in the Caribbean. Tree-built Haitian sail boats are the only remaining inter-island traders, and the market system of madam saras and marchandes is also one of a kind that has long since disappeared from developed Caribbean countries.
It’s a conundrum that undeveloped countries readily give up their traditions and cultures for what seems like a better life, while developed countries yearn for the traditions and cultures they’ve lost, and try like hell to rebuild them.