MMPB : Can you present yourself : what brought you in Haiti, when did you arrive, what is your occupation here ?
Devan Wardwell : I came to Haiti last October to follow my wife, who works for Mercy Corps, an NGO based in my hometown of Portland Oregon. I work as a marketing and communications consultant for a mix of NGO’s and private sector companies. I like the freedom of working hard on a project and then taking time off to travel and ski during the winter. I also love photography – you can see some of my work on www.devanwardwell.com.
MMPB : You are involved with the Mountain Bike Ayiti project. What is this project about ? Tell us more about it.
I love mountain biking, and when I discovered Travelcology was launching an adventure tourism project I was keen to get involved. Mountain Bike Ayiti starts with a mountain bike race from downtown Port au Prince to Jacmel, via Furcy and Seguin. The course takes you through some of Haiti’s most stunning and challenging terrain, including La Visite National park.
The race is just the beginning – a way to generate buzz about adventure tourism in Haiti and provide material for a documentary by award-winning Serac Adventure films. This event is intended as the catalyst to start an ecosystem of mountain bike services for adventure tourists and to help change the narrative about Haiti to audiences abroad.
The coolest part of working on this project has been tapping into Haiti’s cycling community, which has languished in recent years. It’s been great to hang out with people like Desgranges Dufaide who was Haiti’s top cyclist for a number of years in a row and an avid mountain biker.
MMPB : According to you and your experience in Haiti, what are the main strengths and weaknesses of Haitian Tourism ?
I think Stephanie Villedrouin and her team are incredibly hardworking and smart to pursue niche markets like the Diaspora, Eco and Adventure Tourism, and “Volontourism” projects. Haiti has some of the most stunning natural beauty in the Caribbean, and yet travelers don’t seem to know about it. Haiti’s biggest weakness in terms of tourism stem directly from these unbalanced public perceptions. I think it’s important to focus on marketing (which the Government is certainly doing) and on developing a tourism model that accounts for the unique characteristics of Haiti, rather than trying to copy those of other Caribbean nations.
Check out Devan’s 5 fav places/spots in Haiti
Kay Foun, St Marc: I swear this place has the coldest Prestige in the country – a point of pride for owner Frantz “Foun” Desrivieres. Kay Foun is also THE choice in St Marc if you’re looking for good food and relaxing atmosphere. Foun helped give Haitian music legend Belo his start, so look out for live music, sometimes featuring Belo himself.
Auberge La Visite, Seguin: Auberge La Visite offers combined food and sleeping accommodations up in some of the highest mountains in the Caribbean. Owner Winthrop Attie (“Winnie”) provides great service and advice on how to explore one of Haiti’s only preserved natural forests.
Bassin Bleu: This waterfall and swimming hole is the stuff of Haitian legend, purportedly harboring mermaids at its depths. The Basin is difficult to get to, but it starts with a great hike, some rock scrambles and when you finally arrive at the pools you’ll be glad you made the effort.
Sankofa Salads: This gem of a restaurant features healthy salads, (you can even build your own like Whole Foods) smoothies and even waffles. Couple this unique menu with delivery options and great customer services and you have Petionville’s hottest new spot.
Trois Decks: Up in the mountains of Kenscoff, Trois Decks is a truly timeless place, where live Sunday jazz, cigars and a chilled bottle of wine can take you back to the Haiti of the 1960’s. Great food and a welcome break from the heat of lower Port au Prince.