Leah Gernetzke
Backpackers connect with local Haitian culture

Published on Haiti Partners‘ website

Ramshackle tents, hungry children with gaunt expressions, hospitals and streets filled with people dying from treatable diseases like malaria and cholera. These are often the images and stories depicted by the media on Haiti. Consequently, those in the first world tend to see Haiti as a dangerous, disease-filled, poverty-stricken, third world nation.

Because this is the way many people experience and see Haiti – at a distance – the perception of the country is often distorted. To be sure, many Haitians do need aid, but the country also has a hidden side, one that is shaped by a vibrant culture, rich history, and verdant landscapes. Expedition Ayiti, a start-up eco-tourism and adventure organization founded and run by Haitian and American friends, uses backpacking as an educational tool to facilitate an intimate experience with this side of Haiti: the culturally dynamic, tropical place the indigenous population named Ayiti, land of high mountains.

Participants on the trip spend nine days in the country, the majority of which is spent hiking through the undulating landscape of the island’s Central Plateau region. Along the way, they sleep in Haitian homes in rural villages, eat Haitian food, and experience Haitian life. Groups are led through the countryside and rural villages by English-speaking Haitians who interpret the area’s history and customs.

Hikers leave the trip with a more holistic understanding of the country and its people, lifelong connections, and memories of an unforgettable adventure. Here’s one testimonial from recent trip participant Cameron Dorsey:

Expedition Ayiti has put together one of the most impactful week-long excursions I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing. First, I felt safe. The hiking was wonderful and I feel as though I came away from Haiti with great friends. The solitude of each hike was filled with reflection on the myriad contradictions that each day brought: the poverty amid incredible entrepreneurship, the intense focus of the youth on education with limited educational opportunity, the beauty of the countryside despite centuries of forest destruction and soil erosion. The complexity of Haiti is so compelling that I found myself wanting to be a part of its future in some way.”

In addition to promoting intercultural understanding by giving visitors an experience of Haitian life and culture, part of Expedition Ayiti’s overarching mission is also to bring economic opportunities to rural Haitian communities. As such, a majority of the trip costs go directly into the local economy, paying the Haitians who take care of the backpackers during the week, including hosts, cooks, cultural interpreters, and other leadership. This business model benefits both Haitians and Americans, ensuring they’re not just either recipients or benefactors: they’re partners.