The North-East on foot : Hiking Fort Capois & the peak of Sarazin

In the aura of early morning mists.

There are plenty of photos available on Flickr !

1. Fort Capois. 05.12.2014

We leave Sainte-Suzanne at 6:30, pick up our guide and a cup of hot, freshly roasted peanuts that we munch on our way to Fort Capois – the same peak that the legendary Charlemagne Péralte used as a base, and the mountain on which he was betrayed and killed nearly 100 years ago during the USA invasion of Haiti.

The drive is bumpy on the dirt road through Cotelette and beyond, and we traverse about 11 km in total to the opening of our hiking trail.  It’s a daunting, steep start to our hike with our final destination appearing very far in the distance.  We start climbing.  We pass gardens, some more elaborate than others, and many intensely green areas of the kind of dense vegetation that should be present everywhere in Haiti, if not for the systematic felling of trees for making charcoal and for clearing land for agriculture.  Our mountain top destination is playing tricks on our eyes, and our guide tells us that it’s not the peak we see, or the second one there in the distance, but the third, furthest and highest point that is our destination.  We continue our climb!  We also pass a few rural homes and families and wave to the families watching our ascent.  Once on top of the mountain we take a moment to truly acknowledge the Haitian hero for whom this mountain held a lot of meaning.

Charlemagne, Péralte – (1886 – 1919) : a legendary, Haitian nationalist leader who opposed the US invasion of Haiti in 1915.  Péralte came from the city of Hinche in central Haiti, but at the time of the US invasion was stationed in Léogane, working as the military chief of the city.  When he refused to surrender to foreign troops without fighting, Péralte resigned from his position and returned to his hometown where he would be arrested for a botched raid on the Hinche gendarmerie two years later.  Although sentenced to 5 years of forced labour, Charlemagne escaped his captivity and gathered a group of nationalist rebels to begin guerrilla warfare against the US troops.  Péralte’s troops, called “Cacos” (a name reminiscent of Haitian rural troops of the 19th century) posed such a threat to the US that the invaders were forced to upgrade the US Marine contingent in Haiti and employ airplanes for counter-guerilla warfare.  For a time, Péralte waged effective guerrilla war against the US and managed to establish a provisional government in the north of the country.  He was however betrayed and murdered by one of his generals.  The US marines, wishing to make an example of Péralte, took a photograph of his body tied to a door and distributed it widely throughout the country so as to discourage similar insurgencies.  Péralte remains a revered Haitian hero; his portrait can be seen on Haitian coins issued by the Aristide government in the 90s.  Péralte’s remains were unearthed after the end of the US occupation in 1935, and currently lie in Cap-Haïtien.

Amidst the story of Péralte’s history and fight for Haitian independence, we take to the trail again leaving behind his Northern mountain base, and place of his ultimate demise, behind us.  Our return journey is uneventful aside from a treat of fresh oranges by a nearby farmer. A delicious and much needed snack !

At the start of the trail
At the start of the trail
beautiful views
beautiful views
The mountain rambles in the North-East just keep getting better!
The mountain rambles in the North-East just keep getting better!

2.  Pique de Sarazin (Peak of Sarazin). 14.12.2014

We’re out by about 7:30; it’s a Sunday after all.

We’ve very little to drive this time since the trail head is just about 1 km away from the centre of Sainte-Suzanne.  We’ve learned from the previous experience at Fort Capois, and this time we’re armed with snacks, more water, a backpack to carry it all… and everyone is wearing long pants.  Oh, the bramble.

Early on in the trail we can hear the waterfall and see the river below the path winding its way back to the village.  Our hike starts off sloping down; this is only a temporary sense of ease as we’ve still got plenty of climbs ahead.  There are lots of river crossings, some out in open clearings where we vow to return and enjoy future picnics, and some under the long arms of overhanging trees and branches.  Crossing a river or a stream is always something of an event – some hikers dip down religiously to wet their hands and faces; others take off their shoes to feel the cool water on their feet.  Still others find the right stepping stones to get across and stay more or less dry.

Our path continues, meandering up the mountain.  Once in the town centre of Sarazin we find two local men who agree to guide us to the top of the mountain.  Continuing, we pass many church goers heading the opposite way with ‘bonjou’ and ‘pa pi mal’ ringing in our ears as we great everyone we come across.  A steeper climb and we come unto a small plateau from which we have a spectacular view of the valley below and of Trou-du-Nord in the distance.  We’re climbing even higher now, with our small bouts of complaining turning into fully fledged protests as we leave our path (nothing more than a goat trail) to scramble our way up a hill that is obviously somebody’s garden.  A few plantain and yam plants get smashed in the process, but we’ve almost made it to the top.

Our guide stops us with a motion of his hand.  We must first pay respects to the spirits that keep this mountain, by offering some water and a special song.  Once at the peek we see a small circle of boulders; potentially a regular spot for Vodou ceremonies.  We continue, coming down the mountain via a different path… and a very steep alternative.  There’s some sliding down the hill on our butts while we’re laughing like kids.  Oh the joy of getting yourself so very, very dirty! I feel like I’m skiing again in the Rockies and stuck on a double black diamond…sliding down a 70 degree incline sideways… and taking a lot of dirt along for the ride. 

More mists, beautiful views and a chance to take a break and nibble on snacks (fresh grapefruit and bananas).  Soon after, we come across a spattering of sugar cane.  A few shouts across the wide valley and the owners of this sugar cane plot have given their permission for us to enjoy some of the sweetness.  We continue on the road, a slight drizzle coming down, each person with sugar cane in hand.  You have to crack down with your teeth, pull apart a big strand, chew, chew some more, enjoy the sweetness and then spit out the remaining strands.  It’s delicious and messy, and a favourite snack for when you’re out and about in the mountains.  Personally, I haven’t figured out yet how to eat sugar cane in a dinner-and-table setting.  It dribbles down my chin at every bite. 

We’re continuing along – the drizzle turning our path somewhat muddy and that much more slippery.  For a good, long while it’s simply walk, slip and repeat.  The river crossings are enjoyed again, and we return to Sarazin, ever conscious that we still have quite a trek before reaching Sainte-Suzanne.  We make a few calls ahead…to make sure that lunch is on the way.  It’s already past noon.

Already well into our hike, entering the town centre of Sarazin
Already well into our hike, entering the town centre of Sarazin
Looking down into the valley and Trou-du-Nord
Looking down into the valley and Trou-du-Nord
Navigating through the mists!
Navigating through the mists!
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