Our last full day in Haiti! Until Friday night it was up in the air whether we would be spending Saturday doing cases or going out and seeing some of the Haitian countryside. Earlier in the week, we had been told about a patient at a hospital in a town about 3 hours away who needed surgery. The hospital this patient was at did not have an orthopaedic surgeon, so they asked if we would be interested in coming to do this case at their hospital. For whatever reason, the patient was not going to be transferred to the Adventist Hospital. On Friday evening after a long day of operating, we were relieved to discover that the patient had his mind set on having the orthopaedic surgeons from MSF do his surgery instead of us. Who knows why this was the case, but for us, it meant that we would have the opportunity to spend Saturday relaxing and reflecting back on the past week. Since it was the first trip for both Kris and Ruth, they really wanted to go the orphanage and had brought stuff to donate to the kids. So that morning after we said farewell to Pat Ebling, we set off with our tour guide, Jimmy, to the orphanage.
Jimmy has an interesting story. He was born Haitian but moved to the United States at the age of 2. He lived there for 20+ years and had a son there. After 9/11, the immigration laws in the US changed and Jimmy's green card expired leading to his deportation back to Haiti 4 years ago. Because the US limits the number of visas for Haitians wanting to come to the US, Jimmy has been unable to return to Brooklyn where he grew up and where his son lives since his deportation 4 years ago. He was a translator at the hospital for a while and has since started a tourist business for the volunteers at the hospital. He was our tour guide last Saturday and was again this Saturday.
The kids at the orphanage were all dressed up for church. They go to a Seventh Day Adventist Church which has its Sabbath on Saturdays. We arrived with our donations for them and stayed for about 1.5 hours listening to them sing, watching them dance, and playing games with them. We had a great time and all were in a happy mood when we left to head for Bassin Bleu.
Bassin Bleu is the closest thing Haiti has to a national park. It is in the mountains near Jacmel and is a series of 3 waterfalls that empty into natural mountain pools. I had read about this place before my first trip to Haiti in November and had been advocating for this to be our destination. On our last trip in May we attempted to go, but due to heavy rains and the road being flooded over, we were unable to go. The drive to Jacmel is just under two hours. We drove through the city and got to the end of the paved road. We then turned onto a dirt path (I don't even think it could be called a road). After we drove a short ways down this road, it appeared that the road ended at a shallow river where people were bathing and washing their clothes. Immediately I thought that the road was flooded over and we were not going to be able to go for the second time. At that moment, our driver started to drive the tap-tap into the river. Turns out, we actually have to ford the river in our vehicle in order to get to the "road" on the other side. The people bathing helped to guide us along the most shallow path across the river to the other side where we exited onto a similar dirt path that we had just come from and made our way up into the mountains.
After another 15-20 minutes of driving, we reached the parking area for Bassin Bleu. Jimmy negotiated a price for us and some of the local "tour guides" joined us to lead us on a 10-15 minute hike through the woods to the first waterfall. This was the cleanest area I have seen thus far in Haiti. There was still a fair amount of litter along the path, but far less than any other area we had been to in Haiti. We crossed the first waterfall where more local people were bathing and swimming and made our way up to the second waterfall. To get over the second waterfall, we climbed a set of stairs, took off our shoes, and lowered ourselves down the other side of a small cliff by rope. We left our bags on a nearby rock, changed into our swimming stuff, jumped into the pool and swam to the third falls. The whole area was one of the most incredibly beautiful sights I have ever seen. The water was a clear blue and vertical rock walls lined the pools. The water was cool and clean. We spent the next several hours swimming and jumping off the rocks into the pool. We watched as some other visitors climbed up the waterfall to a cliff ledge near the top and jumped off into the pool. Although I am afraid of falling and somewhat afraid of heights, Pat and I decided to give it a try. One of our local tour guides showed us how to climb up the waterfall using this small toe holds within the rocks adjacent to the waterfall. Once we made it to the top, the jump seemed much higher and the rocks that we had to clear appeared much larger than they had from below. No one else had seemed to have a problem clearing it, but it was nerve-wracking once we got to the top. Our guide jumped first. Then Pat hesitated for a short while before his jump. Then it came to me. I walked near the edge and noticed that the rocks were a lot more slippery up at the cliff ledge than they had been below. I froze. The whole thing was caught on video - all 8 minutes that I stood there and thought about jumping. Once I finally felt mentally ready to jump, it took another few minutes for my body to catch up. Finally, after much cheering from Pat, Paige, Ruth, Kris, Jimmy, and all the local tour guides, I jumped. I had no problems clearing the rocks and hit the water cleanly. It was such a thrill! After one jump, I did not feel the need to try to climb back up to do it again. I was proud of myself for facing my fear and getting the full experience of Bassin Bleu.
After a few hours, we headed back. Once we forded the river for a second time and got into Jacmel, our driver stopped due to a flat tire. We all piled out of the tap-tap on the side of the road near the "tire repair shop" - basically a pile of tires with a couple of guys that will fix your flat using a crowbar, a kerosene fire, and an air pump. About 15 minutes later, we were back on the road heading through the mountains to Carrefour.
When we got back around 6 pm that night, most places to eat were closed except for the Auberge. Fitting that we spent our last night eating dinner and having some rhum punches there. We walked back to the hospital a little before 10 and it wasn't long before we all fell asleep.