These words or similar, have been issued to me on many an occasion both before I set off for Haiti and since I have been here. As I have come to learn that this iconic heritage site lies at the centre of much of Haiti's colonial history, I knew that I could not let my 28 days come to an end without paying it a visit.
On Monday morning (probably last Monday, if you are on Greenwich Mean Time) I set off with a small volunteering group to Cap-Haïtien, an area situated in the north of Haiti. It's an eight-hour drive up to the guest house there and so I wanted to make sure the journey would be as comfortable as possible; with a book (The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera - very well written), headphones, fully-charged camera, nibbles and plenty of fluids in tow, I was armed and ready to go.
We made it to the house, a homely building tucked behind Cap's main boulevard overlooking the sea, in just under eight hours which I was incredibly grateful for, despite spending most of that time fast asleep (an achievement in itself - I cannot begin to describe the roughness of some of the roads here). I am somewhat embarrassed to say that the very first thing I did once I had lumbered my bags up the stairs and into my new room was enquire about wifi (first world problems) - so that I could continue blogging and connect with friends and family back in England via Skype. The wonders of technology!
I had organised a tour of the Citadelle Laferrière and Sans Souci Palace for myself via Voyages Lumière for the next morning (excellent service - thanks to Jacqui and the team for being so great!) and so I got an early night. It was about a 45-minute drive from the guest house to the visitors' "pitstop" in Milot, a check-in point at the very bottom of the mountain. It would have been too dangerous to drive up to the fortress, I was told, as it had rained heavily the night before. This "dilemma", however, was no problem at all for me because the only other way up was by horse! I had never ridden a horse before and so I was incredibly excited. The first few seconds were slightly daunting but it was an absolute joy after that. I was even reluctant to let one of the guides take the reins on some of the steeper and narrower inclines because I was convinced I had mastered the art! The hour-and-a-half horse ride up the mountain provided some amazing views.
A moment of down-time was necessary after a busy morning. I went up to the Mont Joli Hotel for a cold drink and a brief swim.