Riches for real? The northern pearl in the Haitian tourism oyster

Maurice and the drummers who givea Benin flavour to  Lakaou Lakay

Maurice and the drummers, who give a flavour of Benin to Lakaou Lakay

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.

Jack Kerouac

“Our battered suitcases were piled on the sidewalk again; we had longer ways to go. But no matter, the road is life”
– Jack Kerouac