there is only one: Hotel...
there is only one: Hotel Oloffson. Don' stay in Petitionville, that's where the rich and oppressive live.
$65 per night. unless you go for the famous John Barrymore suite. That would be worth it for the money if you have it. At the gingerbread Oloffson, you might run into Aubelin Jolicoeur (a.k.a., Petit Pierre of 'Comedians' fame), you might catch RAM's infectious racines tunes live, you might meet the wonderfully welcoming owned Richard Morse. You will definitely watch the sun rise as Port-au-Prince wakes up, you will experience the mysticism of Graham Greene's novels before your very senses, you will be so near the heart of Port au Prince that you can feel its heart beating despite a city-wide blackout, you will have an experience you will never forget. Did I mention the famous rum pumches? If I forgot, M. Jolicoeur might remind you.
'The Oloffson Hotel has always...
'The Oloffson Hotel has always reminded me of one of the bizarre houses drawn by Addams in the New Yorker and I believe that he spent two honeymoons there.' Thus wrote Graham Greene about Haiti's most famous hotel.
The Oloffson was the model for Hotel Trianon in Graham Greene's novel 'The Comedians.'
The Grand Hotel Oloffson, Rue Cadet Jeremie, PO Box 260, Port au Prince. Telephone 2234000. Book Port au Prince hotels in advance if possible as many of the best hotel rooms are taken up by UN and NGO people. Rooms at the Oloffson are from around £60 per night.
I decided to avoid the cheapest hotels because they so often lack water, electricity, security and service. The Oloffson never lacks electricity and has lots of Perrier for washing with.
I might have stayed in Le Plaza, which has a super jungly garden for kids, but the food there is not great, considering the high prices.
I might have stayed at Visa Lodge, which has great food; but it's in an industrial area near the airport.
I might have stayed at the lovely Hotel Prince, which has great views of the sea from a quiet hillside, but it's 15 minutes walk to get a taxi. In fact I have stayed at the Prince, Rue 3, Pacot, telephone 2452764 where rooms are from only £40 per night. It's definitely a comfortable and beautiful place and has airconditioned rooms, pool etc. But, there is that walk to the taxis. (See my op on Haiti and tap taps.)
I might have stayed outside Port au prince in pretty Petion-Ville. It's only 15 minutes away by taxi and has some top class hotels; but I wanted to be nearer the centre of things and meet the most interesting people.
So, I opted for the Oloffson, which is managed by Richard Morse, a Haitian-American musician.
The 20 bedroom Oloffson, standing part way up a small hill, is a mansion with long ornate balconies, little red roofed towers, lacy white fretwork, ratan furniture, ceiling fans, light coloured walls and voodoo and naif art.
My white-walled room had antique furniture, a modern bathroom, airconditioning and a verandah looking on to the garden. The room had faded charm.
In the restaurant, which is on a very long verandah, I dined on fresh fish cooked in a spicy Creole style. Most of Haiti's supermarket food and hotel food is imported from America and can be expensive. Ideally one eats local ingredients and I think my fish was local.
My guest was Jean, a middle aged Haitian in smart suit and dark glasses; we had met in the hotel lobby, the ideal place to meet interesting people.
'Tell me about the history of Haiti,' I said to Jean.
'The Spanish removed the Indians,' said Jean. 'The French removed the Spanish. A slave revolt removed the French. Then there was a series of Black dictatorships. And in the 20th Century came the Americans.'
'La meme chose. But in 1957 Dr Francis Papa Doc Duvalier won an election and turned himself into a very wealthy dictator.'
'Kept in power by the Tonton Macoutes with their dark glasses.'
'Yes. These were Papa Doc's private army of thugs. Opponents were imprisoned or murdered. Voodoo was used to frighten people.'
'His son ruled until being thrown out in 1986.'
'Why did the Americans, who control most of this area, not get rid of the Duvaliers in the early days?'
'Come to the bar and I will tell you more.'
We strolled past peacock chairs, wicker sofas, tin lamps and intricate scroll work, to reach the bar. The mahogany bar has one wall carved out of the rock of the hill. There are voodoo flags on the walls and paintings of Haitaian art. Jean and I sat on ratan chairs and sipped voodoo cocktails.
'The Americans,' said Jean, 'supported dictatorships and mafias all around the world, so long as they were good for the narco-military-industrial complex. People like Batista were good for business. They did not want another communist Cuba in their back yard.'
'Have the Americans got economic interests here?'
'Who ran the brothels in Cuba? Who brought AIDS to Haitian children. Babylon! Uncle Sam. The Great Satan. Where do the Americans get their baseballs from?'
'Most baseballs are made in Haiti by American companies. The factory girls get about $1.40 a day. They get injured arms and eyes.'
'Is it only baseballs?'
'The Americans control the bauxite, sugar and sisal. It's like Cuba before Castro.'
'Is it always slave wages?'
'You know Walt Disney?'
'They have contractors here who make Micky Mouse clothes. The factory girls get 8 pence an hour. You can't live on that. Then Wal-mart sells the Pocahontas pyjamas for $11-97.'
'The Americans supported Baby Doc? But didn't he get thrown out?'
'And replaced by military dictatorship,' said Jean, smiling.
'What about the radical priest Aristide? Didn't he win an election?'
'Very popular man among the poor! But 9 months after he came to power he was toppled.'
'The army chief, Cedras, took over. These generals had been trained in the USA and were in the pay of the CIA.'
'Then later Aristide was allowed back into Haiti.'
'Yes. But FRAPH, a group financed by the CIA, started a lot of violence to destabilise Aristide.'
'They were mainly made up of Tonton Macoutes.
The Macoutes have always given Aristide a hard time. In 1988 Macoutes hacked to death scores of people in a church, while trying to kill Aristide.'
'And the Macoutes have ensured that there is chaos in Haiti. What are the Americans up to?'
'The super rich, of whom there are many in Haiti, want a return to dictatorship. That might suit the fascists who run America. A socialist priest might try to make Walt Disney's people pay higher wages.'
'Don't the Americans care about poverty?'
'Did the Americans care about the children they murdered in Indo China? America is run by billionaire fascists pretending to be Christians and democrats. The Haitian death squads in 1991, after Aristide had been kicked out, were led by Toto Constant. Now Constant, who lives in New York, claims he worked for the CIA.'
'Do you hear music?'
The pool and gardens are lit at night and there is an outside bar. That night there was also a voodoo band. We sipped our expensive imported American drinks; and I rubbed on the mosquito cream.
'Why is Haiti so poor,' I asked.
'It's like parts of Africa,' said mulatto Jean, 'Too many trees cut down for fuel. You need heat to cook your rice. Too much soil erosion. Too many bully-boys. The people are just not as disciplined as the Swiss.'
'So it's not all the fault of Uncle Sam?'
'No. The biggest problem is the Macoutes, who may have CIA support, but they are Haitians! Haiti has too many bully-boys.'
'Can you see any solutions?'
'Disarm the Macoutes. Put the corrupt members of the elite in jail and seize their assets. Restore law and order. Bring in investment from Europe. Bring in more tourists like in the Dominican Republic. Have a minimum wage which allows a man to eat more than once a day. Enforce strict birth control. Teach fathers and mothers to look after their children. And pray that the people will be more like the Swiss.'
'Is it likely to happen?'
'Not with Bush's CIA around. Regardez cet homme a droit.'
You meet all types at the Oloffson.
see above See above
The Historic Oloffson Hotel
This gingerbread style hotel was featured in Graham Greene's The Comedians and is a must see for all newcomers to Port-au-Prince. The food here is excellent and not over-priced and the owner, Richard Morse, is wonderful.
Drop Dead View above Port-au-Prince
Update: Jan. 13, 2010 . . . Preliminary unconfirmed reports following the Jan. 12, 2010 earthquake suggest the Hotel Montana has collapsed. Many UN administration stayed here and there has been no contact. If you want to send aid to Haiti, please send it through an agency that is in place and trusted, for example, Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders, a church mission organization. I know the Catholic, Episcopal, Presbyterian, Mennonite and Baptist churches all maintain excellent mission organizations in Haiti. They would put aid money and supplies to good use. I'll repost as I get more news.
Update: Jan. 15, 2010
Hotel Montana is destroyed. They have been pulling a few survivors from the wreckage. Check the NY Times online blog for names.
This beautiful modern hotel is situated on a hill overlooking Port-au-Prince and the bay. You can see forever from the panoramic restaurant by the pool.
Everything is marble and Haitian mahogany inside and the staff is incredibly considerate and welcoming. The rooms are wonderful, but the view is beyond incredible. Enjoy the pool, sightsee in the area and then eat in the panoramic restaurant where the food is excellent and the view almost (!) makes you forget about eating.