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9074: Travel article from UK Independent newspaper (fwd)
The Caribbean: White sands and black magic
Which is the best island in the Caribbean? Tough one, but luckily all the
research has been done for us. Nevis, Mustique or Haiti, there's an island to
suit everyone, says James Henderson
The Independent, London, UK, 07 September 2001
They say that doctors go in fear of being collared and quizzed by complete
strangers about their ailments: "I wonder if I could have a word..." You
might be surprised that a Caribbean guide book writer could venture any
professional complaints in life, but I do have a grievance on similar lines:
I groan inwardly every time I'm asked: "So, tell me, what's the best island
in the Caribbean?"
What they usually mean is: "Please tell me where I should go on holiday –
which island, airline and hotel, oh, and if you've got a couple of
recommendations for a romantic dinner out, then that would be nice too." I
know this because I can see their eyes glaze over when I start talking about
the places that I actually love. Like Haiti for instance...
Poor, benighted Haiti, it's hardly a tourist destination. But it really is
one of my favourite islands. It is vibrant, compelling and relentless; tough
travel but fascinating. Haiti takes familiar Caribbean strains, good and bad,
and amplifies them to a blare: Haitian "tap-tap" buses are the most crowded
in the Caribbean, but they are as brightly painted as circus caravans. They
are inscribed with slogans in Haitian kweyol, the hardest baked of the
Caribbean creoles. At times these sound like incantations, but at least you
have a chance of benediction when you are run over in the heaving streets of
Port au Prince – with a scream of horns you will look up and see 'DIEU te
BENISSE' before being despatched.
And then there's the voodoo. Once I hitched a lift in a truck to a voodoo
pilgrimage, the Sodo. Every vehicle in town was going there. Except the one I
chose. It was only when I had climbed aboard that I realised I had managed,
on my way to a Catholic voodoo pilgrimage, to climb into a lorry full of
Protestant Evangelists. Four hours of conversion attempts on a badly
pot-holed road left my mind as numb as my bum. It all threatened to dissolve
into a fight when I pointed out a voodoo doll nailed to a tree.
At the Sodo (Creole for the French 'Saut d'eau', or cascade) Catholic
devotees honour an appearance of the Virgin Mary in a waterfall. But they
also honour Erzulie, Mary's less effete voodoo counterpart. Coquettish
Erzulie is the loa (or life spirit) who oversees matters of love. Pilgrims
come to pray for lovers, to keep their lovers, for children, or anything
pretty much. Some just give thanks, others literally arrive with a shopping
list of requests.
They bathe in the spattering, hundred-foot shower of the waterfall. Some
become possessed, but most simply wash themselves (literally, with shampoo
and soap) all over. The last thing they do is to hitch up their skirts and
drop their underwear into the stream. Underfoot the riverbed runs spongy with
The Sodo is not spooky, but after dark falls the atmosphere changes as voodoo
ceremonies begin. Candle clutching crones, eyes and teeth flashing, pray to
the locked white-washed church, to ask Bon Dieu Bon (God oversees all the
voodoo spirits as he does the Catholic saints) to bless their services. The
drum-driven rhythms last long into the night.
By the time I've got on to this story the person who unwittingly asked for a
bit of free holiday advice has either decided to go next year or they have
quietly crossed themselves and moved on....
Full article available at http://www.independent.co.uk/story.jsp?story=93331
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