The north is the pearl in the Haitian oyster that must be coaxed to spill riches. So the tourism ministry believes, though it also adds the fair-minded assessment that there are many other tourist treasures to be had in disparate parts of the country.
In Milot, a small town 12 miles from Cap Haitien and the site of Henri Christophe’s San Souci palace and the towering Citadelle, we found a bit of oyster grit with the potential to become a pearl. It’s the Lakou Lakay, an aspiring ‘Cultural Centre’ that serves excellent authentic, regional food at $15 per head.
More to the point, it is the home of Maurice Etienne, tour guide, bon vivant and dreamer. Maurice, who speaks excellent English among other things, is a story teller par excellence. And he has a dream – to make Milot’s cultural riches more available to the locals (and to blan, strangers like us).
A word of warning though. The Centre is emphatically work in progress. Maurice seems to be engaged in a building project that’s clearly less than a quarter complete.
As a child, recalls Maurice, he played the drums routinely, as needed. It was a given, par for the course, part of life. “Today,” he says, “young people can’t. They’re losing part of their cultural heritage.” So to the Cultural Centre. Something Maurice hopes will become a focus of the life, cultural future and reality of Milot’s residents. That includes a singularly pure strand of Benin’s culture and practices dating to 1809, but more on that tomorrow.