The Haiti Gold Prospecting Story
A true story about Haiti in 1967
Written in 2010 and rewritten 05/11/2016 unedited
By 1967, I had already been traveling back and forth to the Country of Haiti quite a bit. Most of my time was spent working with my good friend Lou Gladstein who had been awarded the scrap contract for dismantling the Haitian Railroad. (See the Haitian Railroad Story).
Coming to a country like Haiti, for a young guy from New Haven Connecticut, was more like traveling to another planet, rather than another country. To talk about a strange place, I found the country was terribly impoverished and horribly dirty. I also found the people, poor and suffering from everything you can imagine but they were all very docile and more concerned with their day to day survival than anything else. I found that I had to avoid looking too deeply into their horrible situations, or I would have left the country and never gone back.
Besides from the economic and sanitary situations, there was the political situation was equally as bad, the country was ruled by Doctor Francois Duvalier, who was called “Papa Doc”, and he ruled the country with an iron fist. He had his own private army, they were called the “Tonton Macoute” which meant Boogey man in Creole. They were a mean looking bunch, all of them dressed the same in Levi blue jeans, and a loose polyester shirt, with a chrome plated 45 caliber pistol tucked in their waistband for everyone to see. Whenever anyone passed a “Tonton Macoute” on the street, they tried to avoid making eye contact with them, for fear of what they might do.
It was rumored that Papa Doc had killed more than eighty thousand of his own people, many murdered by Voodoo ritual right in the cellar of the palace, I never doubted for a minute that he did it. And there was yet another rumor circulating on the Streets of Haiti in 1967, it was said that the neighboring country, the Dominican Republic was preparing to attack at any moment. I knew that there had been several attacks against Papa Doc, and I knew that the groups had come from within the Dominican Republic, so a war was possible.
Both Haiti and the Dominican Republic shared the same Island of Hispanola, with 2/3 of the island being the Dominican Republic, and 1/3 of it was the country of Haiti. But when I thought a little about it, I couldn’t imagine why the Dominican Republic would ever want to attack Haiti with its two million starving people that needed to be fed. The Haitian Army obviously believed they would be attacked, so they were on guard everywhere with loaded guns, and with their finger on the trigger. To me, the soldiers always appeared very nervous, and walking around the streets was always a bit scary, so we always did our best not to ever create any type of situation where we would have to confront any of them.
In such a small Country like Haiti, it wasn’t long before everyone knew who you were, and what you were doing there. That was especially true if you were a white guy, and if they thought you had some money, so in my case, because I was considered an associate of Lou Gladstein, it was assumed by everyone that I was some kind of a money man, sort of wheeler dealer, just like Lou was. I could tell that, because not a single day went by that I wasn’t approached by some Haitian local, or ex pat from the U.S. Their story was always the same, they were all asking me to get involved with various money making businesses and schemes. Everyone seemed to have the idea that I had the finances to do whatever I wanted to do, which was a rather an unusual situation for a young guy like me from New Haven to be in. It was like being a very big fish in a very small pond. I have to admit that I found it interesting and intriguing, every time I was approached by someone, I felt good about it, I don’t know what it was, perhaps it was my youth, or perhaps it was the excitement of knowing that I was skirting some kind of danger which was lurking everywhere in Haiti, but for whatever reason, I felt invincible, sort of like I was Indiana Jones.
Of the many friends I made in Haiti, one was a very intellectual gentleman named Doctor Marc Bulliet. Marc was in his late 60’s or early 70's, and a regular supper guest at Lou’s home in the mountains. We would spend many evenings together talking over various schemes that Marc wanted me to get involved with, it was fascinating as some of his schemes even involved treasure hunting.
Marc always smoked a pipe, and he used local Haitian tobacco, it smelled like a piece of wet rope being burnt. The stink of local Haitian tobacco was so bad that it encouraged me to start bringing John Rolfe fruit flavored tobacco from the States. I gave the tobacco as a gift to Marc, and I found that by giving a gift of that excellent sweet American tobacco, it earned me more than money could buy.
Marc, I think, had officially appointed himself Haiti’s Chief Archeologist, and he carried an official business card to prove it. But when I visited Marc’s dusty office in down town Port Au Prince, I was never able to figure out what he did for a living, or where his source of funds came from. My friend Lou always joked about it, he said he thought Marc was a C.I.A. agent.
One of the more interesting things about Marc was the piece of gold that he carried in his wallet. Marc said it was a nose ornament from the original Taino Natives that once inhabited Haiti. He said the piece of gold came from the Mountains near the border of the Dominican Republic, and it was part of a treasure stolen from Christopher Columbus. I didn’t doubt what Marc said as he was also a historian and he knew everything about the country of Haiti. He knew all about its history from even before Christopher Columbus had arrived in 1492.
At the time of this story in 1967, I had started a small company in Miami called NEARCO Refining, I specialized in refining platinum metals. But while platinum metal was my specialty, I also refined other precious metals as well, like gold and silver, and that was the reason Marc’s piece of gold, and his stories about gold in Haiti were so interesting to me.
Because I was working with all the precious metals in Miami, I had become a subscriber to the bible of the mining industry called the California Mining Journal, It was the journal for prospectors and small precious metal mine owners everywhere in the world, and because of my reading it, I had become very interested in prospecting and mining for platinum metal, and possibly doing some prospecting in Haiti. I thought there was a good chance of finding it as as platinum was closely associated to where gold was found, and there were companies in Haiti prospecting for gold.
Now, the reason I zoned in on platinum metal was because platinum metal, was a relatively unknown item as compared to gold, and monetarily, it was worth considerably more, and what I learned, from reading the Mining Journal, was that the easiest way to find platinum, was to locate gold first. So here I was in Haiti, a land where most of the interior was virgin territory, and there were areas that had never been prospected by anyone in modern times.
So I started studying the maps of the island of Hispanola and I found that the mountainous area near the Artibonite River in the interior near the Dominican border was possibly the most remote, and potentially it was the best area to prospect for gold and platinum. I thought that I could possibly be the first person to ever do so. Also, I knew that Marc’s gold nugget had also come from this same area. So I started to formulate the crazy idea of prospecting in the interior of Haiti, and I discussed it at length with Marc. Marc thought it was an excellent idea, he was sure there was gold in the area. My friend Lou, offered me encouragement and assistance, but he told me that I didn’t realize what I was getting myself into. He said the mountainous area of Haiti that I intended to prospect was very remote, and it was considered by everyone to be a “No Man’s Land.” He said it would be very dangerous.
Back in Miami, I had a friend, who was also a supplier to my automotive parts company, his name was Paul Sherwood, and when Paul heard that I was going prospecting in the interior of Haiti, there was no stopping him from pushing me to let him come with me. Paul, having never been to Haiti, had let his imagination run away with him, and he was determined to go with me, it sounded very exciting to him.
My friend Paul was a bachelor, he was a short and quiet guy, Paul, had a slight build, with thinning black hair and a pencil thin black moustache which made him look like Errol Flynn. Paul was about as easy going a person you could find, so, when I put that all together with the fact that he was excited to go with me to Haiti, it all started sounding pretty good.
When Paul first asked to go with me, I had to think twice, about bringing someone on an expedition into the wildest areas of a country like Haiti, it could present me with a lot of problems. Paul had no idea of Haitian culture, and I had no idea if Paul would ever eat any of the food available there. However I felt it would be much better if I had a travel companion, as I could have someone to talk to, and someone to watch my back, which could be very beneficial traveling in a dangerous place like Haiti. Also, I understood that Paul was really excited, I knew that it was the first time in his entire life that he would ever get himself involved in an adventure like this, how could I refuse him.
So on our first trip to Haiti together we arrived in the Port Au Prince and checked into the Castle Haiti Hotel. Usually I stayed with my friends Lou and Gladys, as they were renting a big home in an area called Fermath. It was a beautiful home, as Fermath was like an upper class area in the mountains where many of Haiti’s wealthy had summer homes, it was also where President Duvalier’s daughters lived, as well as many other government officials.
I had met a cab driver in Haiti named Toni Richmond, and over time Toni became my friend and assistant. He drove a 1956, black Dodge with no air conditioning, even so, it was pretty a very classy car at the time for Haiti, and Toni would be at my beck and call for whatever I needed. Toni, being my friend and all still presented some problems. Haiti being such a small country, I had to be careful of what I said to Toni, as my every word I said would quickly become common knowledge on the streets of Port Au Prince the next day.
When we arrived in Haiti, I had Toni drive us all around town as one of my objectives was to try and locate someone that had a local road map of the interior, I thought I would need it to assist us in our trip to the interior. I knew that I should have brought one from Miami as it would have been a lot easier. After making several stops, I couldn’t locate even one road map, and when I asked where they thought I could find one, everyone clammed up and appeared to be afraid of being overheard talking to me about it. Finally I did obtain a map, but it was by accident, a lucky break, it was from an auto parts dealer that I knew. We were visiting him, and I just happened to see the map laying on his desk. The map looked like a regular Texaco gas station map, however when I opened it up, I found that it listed lots of airports and highways in Haiti that didn’t really exist. The map appeared to be some type of Haitian government propaganda tool and was obviously printed to make Haiti seem to have more military airfields and highways than it really had.
My friend Marc then told us that the nearest village to where I wanted to go prospecting was called Saltadare, but he said it was so small and rural that it wasn’t even on the map. Then my friend Lou advised us that for us to travel into the interior, we would need an interior pass which he thought would be easily available from the tourist bureau in down town Port Au Prince.
Marc also agreed with Lou, we would definitely need an interior pass, and he told us that it was easy to get, we should have no problems. So the next morning, Lou’s wife Gladys, offered to drive us to the tourist bureau, as she wanted to do some shopping herself in down town Port Au Prince. Everyone thought that our getting the pass would be so easy, and that just goes to show what they knew. Gladys dropped us off in front of a chipped, and fading blue building, that was called the Tourist Bureau, it looked to me, like it was more suitable to be a public lavatory building somewhere.
The aged building had two windows with wooden shutters, and they both opened on to the main street of Port Au Prince. So Paul and I entered the dimly lit building, and we saw three desks, with two of them being vacant. On the wall by the entrance door, was a rack with a few dog eared papers in it. Sitting at the one occupied desk by the window, was a big black guy who was sweating profusely, and he motioned for us to come over, and we did.
We told him we wanted an interior pass for a couple of weeks. He looked puzzled, “Why do you want an interior pass he growled”? “To prospect for gold I replied”. “What are you crazy”, he replied, “This country is on high alert, for war at any moment, so we don’t issue such passes”. As he spoke, I was speechless, I was thinking that now our whole prospecting trip was finished before it even got started.
Suddenly Gladys’s face appeared in the window, as there was no window glass she had just walked up from the sidewalk and just stuck her head inside the building. I looked up and told her the bad news that we couldn’t get a pass. Gladys looked at the big guy behind the desk and said, Toni, how come you never come visit us? The big black guy smiled and said, where are you living now Mrs. Gladstein? Gladys said, “Why, we are at the home of Doctor Fritz Cineas, in Fermathe.” Gladys spoke as if we were all guests of Doctor Cineas, who was formerly the Minister of Education in Haiti, and now he was the Ambassador to Puerto Rico. I knew Gladys and Lou were only renting the house, and they had never even met Doctor Cineas. But Toni didn’t know it, so he opened up his desk drawer and removed an application for an interior pass. After a few questions, he asked for our passports and he signed the paper and put his official rubber seal of Haiti on it.
He said, “Present this application to the department of the Interior for your official pass”, and then he said, “Mrs. Gladstein, please give my regards to your husband and to Doctor Cineas.”
Gladys then drove us to the Department of the Interior. Now this building in Haiti really impressed me, it was a big Greek revival type building with fluted columns, and a marble staircase, it was like we were entering the United States Supreme Court building.
Inside the building, it was one very big room, but only two clerks standing behind a marble counter. I think we were the only two customers in whole place. We walked up to a young man and lady standing at what appeared to be a teller’s cage, and I explained what we wanted in English. They studied the paper from the Tourist Bureau over and over again, like they had never seen one before in their entire lives.
As we stood there, I looked around at the walls of the building, and there was not one file cabinet to be seen. All of the official papers were piled in stacks on the floor, leaning against the walls. We could see that some of the stacks were so high that papers were sliding off the top of the pile and onto the floor, and it looked like the clerks had been stepping on top of them for a long time.
It was obvious that the two clerks didn’t know what they were doing, so they disappeared into a side room and after a few minutes they both came back with our official interior pass. It had very official looking red numbers on it and an official looking gold government seal. Paul and I stood there, Paul had his hands in his pockets, he looked at me, and I looked at him. I think the whole thing was quite a sight for us to behold. We both must have been thinking, how could any country function like this? We just turned and walked out of the building holding our official interior pass.
That evening, we wanted to celebrate, so we all went for supper at the restaurant in the exclusive El Rancho Hotel. It’s the very same Hotel that was destroyed in the 2010 earthquake, killing everyone in it. There was Marc, Lou and Gladys, Paul and myself, and we were seated at a large round table, discussing the upcoming prospecting trip. But before we were served anything, the waiters moved several other tables closer to us. They said it was because a lot more guests were coming to dine.
Marc studied the Texaco map I had gotten, and drew the way for us to get to the village of Saltadare. Lou looked at the map, and said, “You will need a reliable four wheel drive Jeep, and you will also need a guide, this is very rough and mountainous country.”
I noticed that the table next to us just had several blond men just sit down, I just assumed them to be European or Scandinavian tourists, as they were speaking to each other with some kind of an accent, but out of the corner of my eye, every so often, I saw them looking at us.
I was later to learn that they were with a Canadian precious metals mining company called “INSCO” and they were there spying on us, they were listening to every god damn word we were saying, they had paid the waiters to move their table close to us.
The next morning we went into Port Au Prince to meet Lou’s friend who had a nice new Jeep for rent. After showing us how nice the Jeep ran, he asked us where we were going. Once we told him, his face turned sour, and he wouldn’t rent us the vehicle. He didn’t even shake our hands, he simply turned around and walked back in his office.
I could see that Lou was really pissed off, he yelled “Screw you” at the guy as the office door closed. Then, after a few seconds, Lou said, that he remembered seeing a Jeep behind a house of a well driller guy that he knew, so he said we could go see him. So we all got in Lou’s Toyota wagon and left Port Au Prince.
The well driller’s house was located on the road to the town of Croix De Bouquete and once we got there, Lou went up and knocked on the guy’s door scaring all the chickens out of the house, and that’s how we met Ben the Haitian well driller, and Lou, with his arm around Ben’s shoulders like they were old friends, negotiated a deal for us to rent his beat up crappy Jeep.
Ben, who spoke perfect English, came over and advised us that the Jeep came with a driver, it was his brother in law, and like it or not, it was the only way he would rent it. He said his unemployed brother in law, spoke only Patois, the local Creole language, no English at all.
However, the best news of all, was that the well driller knew of a young boy named Maxi, his father that was a head man of a small village in the interior called Saltadare. Saltadare, he said was deep in the mountains right next to the Artibonite River. That was amazing, Ben didn’t know it, but that was exactly where we had wanted to go.
Ben said Maxi would guide us to Saltadare for free, just to be able to see his family. We couldn’t believe it, not only did we have a guide but that Maxi’s father was really the head man of the village.
That afternoon we met with everyone, and we found that Maxi was actually a pretty intelligent guy, he spoke a little English, Patois and perfect Spanish. Having come from Saltadare, which was on the border with the Spanish speaking Dominican Republic. Turns out Maxi was much more comfortable talking to me in Spanish than in English. So we devised a simple system, if Paul had a question for the driver, he would ask me in English, and I would ask Maxi in Spanish and Maxi would ask the driver in Patois, what could be easier than that?
I asked Maxi if he thought there was anything we might need to buy for the trip to Saltadare, he said yes, we needed to stock up on American food for the trip and we needed lots of small money. He said that there was little of anything to eat in the mountains that we would like. He also said to bring blankets, bug spray and mosquito repellant as there are no hotels.
Ben the well digger, said we should come back the next day and he would have the Jeep all cleaned and fixed up for the trip, so we left for Lou’s house.
That evening Lou backed up the Toyota station wagon to his open garage door, and filled the car with junk he thought we would need on the trip, which included an odd looking Russian flashlight, we tried it and it actually worked. We loaded everything in the car, along with some plastic sheeting and a piece of plastic coated military colored canvas that was folded up.
In the morning we drove to Ben’s house, where everyone was waiting for us, and the Jeep was cleaned perfectly and it was all gassed up, it even had good tires on it. So we threw our suitcases and stuff in the back of the jeep, said our good byes and hit the road for the foreign food store in Port Au Prince.
Maxi directed Benji the driver, to a local imported food store. It was a store that imported all kinds of canned goods and food for the foreigners living in Haiti. Paul took a carton and started picking out any kind of food he recognized, like Vienna sausages and King Oscar sardines. A lot of the stuff was in dented and foreign cans and some cans had labels torn or missing.
I knew that we needed food for at least a week, and possibly some canned food for Benji and Maxi, but I had no idea of what Benji and Maxi would eat, so I asked Maxi, and he said, “Don’t worry about us we will eat whatever the local people have.” Paul kept putting things in the carton, passing up any food that he didn’t recognize. The store owner, a Frenchman, saw what Paul was doing and asked me where we were going, so I told him we were going prospecting in the mountains of the interior. He had a broad smile and said that he always wanted to go there but his wife wouldn’t let him. She was a Haitian woman and she said it was too dangerous and he would probably die if he went there, that was comforting to hear. Then he started to talk to me like he wanted to go with us, he told us we needed to take lots of water. Paul said, “Why? Isn’t there fresh water in the mountain streams?” The Frenchman quietly said, “The people here make kaka and peepee in the water and they die from it every day, do you want to get Cholera.” Paul’s eyes got real big.
The store owner couldn’t have been nicer, he gave us a big ten gallon water jug to use. He put padding on the Jeeps floor and helped us fill the bottle with clean water. I could see he was wishing he was going with us. He had lots of old rope and he helped us tie some stuff to the Jeeps bumpers and roof, then he waved goodbye to us as we left his store, heading for the bank.
Maxi said that we needed to exchange our large American currency into a lot of small coinage to use in the interior. So while Maxi and Benji waited in the jeep, Paul and I entered the bank. We were very surprised to see huge piles of local Haitian currency all stacked up everywhere. It was stacked in big bundles and there didn’t appear to be a vault anywhere. The bundles of money all appeared to be old, and worn out, and it all had an awful stink to it.
We ended up changing $250.00 U.S. dollars into pennies, nickels and dimes and quarters. Nothing was given to us in coin wrappers, it was all just loose change. The young girl teller, had a lot of difficulty adding up what to give us. She had no calculator, nor pencil or paper, so after she counted it out at least five times, she then pushed it all to us in someone’s greasy stained paper lunch bag. When we got back to the Jeep I recounted the money and found that she had given us $15.00 too much, so much for the Haitian banking system.
While we were sitting in front of the bank, I saw a hardware store across the street so we went in. They had plenty of imported stuff, but it looked like very little was ever sold as the street dust and dirt was thick on everything. I bought two heavy duty cotton laundry bags, some candles, matches and a few large metal dinner plates that we could eat off and I thought we could use them to pan for gold in the streams. I also bought several bottles of some kind of Chinese mosquito repellant. Then in what I’m sure was the hottest part of the day we left Port Au Prince heading for the mountains.
Maxi said we were first heading for the Haitian town of Hinche. So Benji and Maxi ate some crap they bought from a lady cooking on the side of the street, Paul and I shared a can of Spam, I don’t know whose lunch was worse.
Our Jeep, loaded with supplies reminded me of the “Beverly Hill Billy’s” The only thing we were missing was a couple of chickens hanging from the Jeeps roof.
By about two o clock in the afternoon, we had already left the paved city streets with all its pot holes, and had now started driving on the Haitian national highway with all its bigger potholes and rocks, and by midafternoon we were already on an unpaved rock and dirt road heading into the mountains.
For a long time after leaving the national highway, we hadn’t seen evidence of any other vehicles like ours, except some jumbo Isuzu cargo trucks trying to pass us. We did notice all along the roads there were lines of Haitian’s walking, they were carrying all sorts of things balanced on their heads. Maxi said that the people on the left side, with huge bundles of vegetables were going to the market in Port Au Prince, and others on the right side were returning from the market, he said, the trip could take most of them three or four days.
Suddenly, on that narrow mountain road, we heard a huge roar, and we were almost overrun by a huge Isuzu cargo truck, it was really overloaded and appeared to be driven by a crazy person. The truck passed by us, and only missed hitting us by inches. It was being driven with its tires half on the road and half in the woods and all the people walking on the road were dodging left and right to avoid being hit. Maxi said, this was a supply truck heading for the town of Hinche, the same town where we were going to.
I remember telling Maxi that these guys driving the cargo trucks were crazy, and they could easily kill someone. “Don’t worry about it Maxi said, the people here are used to it,”
Next, without any warning, we encountered our first Army check point, as we slowly rounded a curve in the road, an armed soldier suddenly appeared with his rifle pointed at our drivers head. Benji was so scared I could see the sweat dripping off his nose. I don’t know who was more scared, Benji and us, or the soldier, but the soldier’s rifle was loaded and his finger was right on the trigger.
We gave him our Interior pass, which I don’t think he was able to read, then he went inside his concrete hut and returned with a page torn out of an American paper back novel. He used our pencil and wrote the numbers from our pass on the page, and Paul and I signed it, then the soldier allowed us to proceed. I knew Benji was scared to death, as his hands were shaking so bad, he could hardly hold the steering wheel.
By late that afternoon we started seeing posters with a picture of a big mosquito on them, they were nailed up on a lot of the trees, they were warning us about malaria, so we knew we must be getting close to the town of Hinche.
Just as we seemed to be entering the outskirts of Hinche, there was a very big metal gate on the left side of the road, we stopped in front of it, and as we did, two boys came out of the woods, and they briefly spoke to Maxi. They then opened the gate so we could drive in to what appeared to be a big enclosed compound. Maxi said it was the Belgian Missionary School and he thought it was the cleanest place in Hinche for us to stay the evening, also we could eat and buy gas there.
The entire compound appeared to be about two acres in size. On our left stood a large two story European style house, with a balcony all around its second floor. To my right side was a concrete building with an open doorway and windows. There seemed to be a lot of activity going on there, with people sorting and preparing something green. I saw that the building had a chimney with smoke coming out of it, and several women entered it carrying baskets of vegetables, so I assumed that it must have been the missionary kitchen and cooking area.
Beyond it, to the rear of the compound, I saw another concrete building, and I could hear what sounded like a diesel generator set running inside it, and beyond that building, I could see two large one thousand gallon gasoline and diesel fuel storage tanks mounted off the ground on stilts.
Within two minutes we were surrounded with kids wanting to help us unload the jeep, then from the open door on the side of the house, came several of the Missionaries, they all appeared to be young guys in their late twenty’s, and nicely dressed in long sleeve white dress shirts and black slacks. They greeted us with smiles and handshakes, they were all speaking English with a slight European accent. They said that they had been expecting us, all afternoon, and they had already prepared a bedroom.
We couldn’t imagine how they could be expecting us, we had never told anyone we were coming, but they said, our friends, the Canadians, were just there yesterday, and they said we would be here, and the Missionaries said the Canadians had just left that very morning”. I told them that I didn’t know any Canadians. The four Missionaries all stared at us, they didn’t understand what was going on, neither did we.
We entered the house through the side door, and I saw what appeared to be a dining area for the Missionaries, and the rest of the first floor was set up as a school. They said, that upstairs, were all the bedrooms, and they led us to one in the rear of the building. It had two giant beds in it with white mosquito netting hanging over them. It was just like something out of a ghost movie. The room had big floor to ceiling windows with shutters, but there was no glass in them, and there was a large double doorway leading out onto the balcony that overlooked the schools back yard.
The bathroom was like something out of the Victorian era, with the toilets water tank up on the wall. It had a pull chain, it was not like anything either of us had ever seen before. Paul was fascinated with it, and had to pee and flush the toilet to try it.
A small boy came to our door to tell us supper would be downstairs in one hour. We washed from a pitcher of water on the bureau, combed our hair and went down the stairs to the first floor, where we heard activity. There was a supper table set up with chairs for about ten people, but there was just Paul and myself, and the four Belgian Missionaries.
The meal was served by several young Haitian women and it consisted of different types of vegetables. We didn’t recognize anything so I assumed it was locally grown stuff. There were hard boiled eggs and there was some kind of canned meat that tasted like liver, we thought it may have been something imported from Europe. As soon as I tasted it, I knew Paul would be eating later from the stuff we had in the Jeep. At the end of the meal, a girl showed up with a huge five gallon green glass wine jug, it had a basket woven around the bottle like something from a castle in medieval times. The Missionaries said the wine came from their wine cellar.
After supper we all went upstairs to a large sitting room on the second floor, I saw the missionaries getting ready to light their pipes, so I offered them some of the John Rolfe fruit flavored tobacco that I had brought from Miami, as well as some of our Winston cigarettes, They were ecstatic, because they had all been used to smoking only the local tobacco.
I asked them again about the Canadians, and they said that they were all blond fellows, and represented a large gold mining company that they said was starting operations in the Cap Haitian area of Haiti. They thought the Canadians said the name of their company was “INSCO”. The Missionaries all said the Canadians acted like they were our old friends and even mentioned me by my name. It was then that I remembered the night we had supper at the El Rancho hotel, and the waiters moving a table close to us, and that there were several blond men watching us.
I told the Belgian missionaries, that I had no idea who the fellows were, and they all looked at each other just as perplexed as Paul and I were about it. I asked them where the Canadians said they were headed and they said that they didn’t know exactly, but they had assumed we were meeting them somewhere on the road to Cap Haitian. I told them we weren’t going to Cap Haitian. I told them we were heading for the Artibonite River and the village of Saltadare.
The Missionaries said that Maxi had already told them that, and they already sent a runner to the next closest village of Circa La Source to tell the missionary there to expect us.
After the conversation, I knew for sure that we were being spied on by the Canadians, but I didn’t quite know exactly what to make of it, and I could see it made Paul very nervous.
We woke up in the morning to the sound of chopping wood, but as we went out on the balcony we could see that downstairs was a huge pot of some kind of porridge on an outdoor fire place. Women were chopping up logs of what looked like brown sugar, and throwing it in the porridge pot. All of a sudden, lots of small Haitian children, started coming from everywhere, it must have been breakfast time. Paul and I dressed up, packed, and headed downstairs for breakfast.
The Missionaries must have been early risers. They had already eaten breakfast but left the table set up for us. There were eggs cooked several ways, and a big piece of meat that tasted again like some kind of liver pate. Paul said someone must have thrown it out, but then donated it to the church instead.
Outside, Maxi and our driver Benji were already waiting for us, they had slept somewhere in town, so we left the missionaries with a couple of large bottles of strawberry jam and peanut butter, which they were very happy to receive. We gassed up the Jeep, paid our fuel bill and hit the road.
As we left, I wondered if we should have offered to pay the Missionaries for our stay. Maxi and the driver thought not, so I felt better about it. Paul said I shouldn’t worry too much about the missionaries, as he didn’t have a wine cellar in his home.
About three miles up the road, from Hinche, we came to a very wide and shallow river, with no bridge in sight. I estimated that the river, must have been about a half mile wide, and I could see a big truck way out in the middle. It looked like they were filling some kind of bottles up with river water.
While Paul went to take a leak, Maxi and our driver stared at the river, they were concerned that the Jeep was too low to make the crossing. Then I heard Paul calling me and I walked a few yards into the jungle, and there before me was one of the giant Isuzu cargo trucks, and it was laying on its side, just like a dead elephant. It was all banged up, and there were branches and debris sticking out of it everywhere and all its cargo was long gone.
As we stared at it, a head popped out of where the cabs window used to be, and a greasy Haitian guy in coveralls crawled out, and then lowered himself to the ground. As he did this, Maxi came over and spoke with the fellow in Patois.
It appears this monster Isuzu truck was crossing the river about three miles upstream, and a big rainstorm came. The driver and assistants made it to shore but the river washed the truck away, and it tumbled all the way to where it lay now.
The trucks owners had sent the mechanic to salvage the truck engine, and whatever else was still good. The mechanic said he had been there already for two days, and he said there were six more of his helpers camped in the woods nearby. He suggested that we use all his guys to help carry our Jeep to cross the River.
They all came to help us, and after we crossed, Maxi came to me asking for some money to pay for the helpers. I was expecting a big bill, but the total cost for the six guys to help us cross was only sixty cents. When we had passed the big truck in the middle of the river, I could see they were filling soda bottles with river water. I didn’t ask why.
Now on the other side of the river, the road we were on narrowed, and vegetation was closing in on us from both sides. There was just enough room on the trail for the Jeep to get by, and it became scary because it was so dark. But in spots there was little sunlight penetrating through the vegetation.
Eventually we were relieved when the road widened and sun light came through. It was then we saw a fellow walking on the side of the road. He appeared to be in clean pressed Khaki Pants and a green pullover shirt. He was definitely a Haitian and we wondered where he could have come from. We stopped the Jeep, for Maxi to ask him how far it was to the next village of Circa La Source. The fellow was kind of goofy looking, he really didn’t look to smart, but after a few words with Maxi the guy just climbed into the Jeep and squeezed himself in between Paul and myself. Paul was pretty mad about being pushed up against the window, we were all scrunched up pretty tight in the back seat of the Jeep, so as we bumped along, the more agitated Paul got. Paul asked me who this fucking idiot thought he was, cramming himself uninvited into the jeep. And for the next few miles Paul kept up his tirade of abuse. The dumb looking guy only smiled back at Paul.
Suddenly we came into a clearing which was obviously an army encampment of some sort. It had a flagpole in the center. As we arrived, all of the soldiers came to attention and saluted as our passenger got out of the Jeep. He turned to me and smiled, then put out his hand to shake mine. We shook hands, and he walked into a small building.
Maxi said the fellow was the local Army General, and lucky for us he didn’t speak English. He said that the General had said that the Village of Circa La Source was only a few miles up the road. So it was afternoon as we entered the Village of Circa La Source, and we could see there was only one house built of solid wood, so we pulled up in front of it. We were greeted by two more of the Belgian missionaries who immediately invited us into the house. They said that they had been expecting that we would be there, and they had cut up a local pineapple for us to eat.
The missionary that lived in Circa La Source introduced us to the other missionary that was with him, saying that he had just arrived from Saltadare, the very village we were heading to. I took out my new SX 70 Camera, and started taking pictures, they had never seen anything like it before, and soon we had half the Village there and I was taking pictures of everyone.
The missionary from Maxi’s Village of Saltadare, was so happy seeing his picture developed before his very eyes that he offered us the key to what he called the Missionary Sacrosant at Saltadare, and he told us we were welcome to stay there. I didn’t know what the hell a Sacrosant was, but I thanked him anyway, and we took the key. The Missionaries then told us that we needed to get going, if we were to reach Saltadare before dark.
We did reach the village of Saltadare, before dark, and everyone in the village was already waiting for our arrival. They had already heard by the jungle grape vine that Maxi was coming with his white American friends from Miami.
Maxi’s father was in front of the group to meet us. He was all dressed up, wearing a clean but thread bare white dress shirt, it was all buttoned up to the collar.
It was a surreal scene before us. The village of Saltadare was located near a mountain top, and from the way we entered it, there was a small stream we had to cross, it was perhaps fifty feet wide, and it was coming from a waterfall far to our left. The waterfall had a pond below it with kids playing in it. Had I not known we were in the mountains of Haiti, I would have thought we were in the South Pacific islands somewhere.
I could see that the stream we were about to cross, went downhill to meet with the Artibonite River that I could hear flowing far below us.
In order to approach Maxi’s Village we had to drive across the small stream then drive up a hill. So we drove across the stream and up the hill with Maxi and his father, walking besides us, and we were followed by about at least 100 villagers.
With Maxi translating, I asked his father if we were the first car to reach his village of Saltadare, his father seemed disturbed by the question, and he said. “We see as many as two vehicles every year.”
The Sacrosant, turned out to be the missionary’s home, which was a pretty bare cottage with two rooms, one room with two beds and one with a table and four chairs. It also had a front porch, with two more handmade chairs on it.
Maxi came by and suggested that Paul and I walk back down to the small stream and bathe. The temperature was pretty hot and he thought we might like the cool water. So after we found that there was no bathroom nor kitchen, or anything else in the cottage we headed for the stream.
The stream bed was shallow and all hard rock bottom, the water was moving pretty fast over them, So we looked around, and seeing no one looking, we both stripped down to our underwear and laid down in the stream, letting the cool water run over us.
After a couple of minutes I felt like a heavy weight was holding me down, so both Paul and I stood up to find our underwear, as well as every other crevice of our body was filled with fine sand and pebbles. Then we heard the entire village laughing, as they stood on the stream bank watching us trying to shake the sand out of our underwear.
The next morning we awoke to the sound of coffee beans being pounded in a hollow log behind the house. We watched as the Missionaries housekeeper strained the local coffee beans through some ones old black stocking. The coffee was so strong, we couldn’t drink it, so when she wasn’t looking we poured it out into the bushes.
I had discussed it with Paul and it was my intention to hire several local natives from the village to pan for gold in the Artibonite River. I was hoping to find any sign of gold or what was called black sands, which could indicate the presence of platinum. We had already tested all the small streams we had driven across without finding the first sign of any gold, so we were hoping that we would find something in the main Artibonite River.
In Miami, I had made a small portable testing laboratory, with all the chemicals and reagents that I needed to test samples for gold, platinum and silver, I carried everything in a Samsonite attaché case.
I discussed my plan with Maxi, and he told me that I should pay everyone seventy five cents for three days of panning, he said that was more than enough money. So I told Maxi to have his father round up a few people, I had a note pad and we could write their names down.
We set up the table in the Missionary’s cottage as it became our office, and within a few minutes the line of applicants was so long I couldn’t see the end of the line. So rather than cause a problem, I tried to write every ones name down, but it was just impossible as I couldn’t understand a word anyone said to me. Finally I went outside, and at the end of the line, was Maxi’s father and a soldier.
I asked Maxi why I needed to pay his father as he wasn’t going to pan for gold in the river, Maxi said, his father, being the head man, was going to watch everyone else to make sure they did their job. I could see that it was better that I just shut up about it, so when the soldiers turn came, I reached into my pocket and gave him my loose change which was about thirty cents, and he quickly disappeared with a big smile on his face.
Early the next morning the whole crowd mobilized, all carrying long wooden bowls they called batea’s, which they said they would use to pan for gold. I hoped they all knew what they were doing, so we followed them down the mountainside to get to the Artibonite River.
As we walked down the mountain, I looked up at the tree tops, and I could see debris of all types that was caught about twenty feet up in the branches. So I asked Maxi what all that debris was, and he told me that during the rainy season the river rose to that height, I couldn’t believe it.
I got nervous and I asked Maxi when the rainy season started, and he said that it was several weeks away and I shouldn’t worry about it.
I left everyone at the river panning for gold and I returned to the village to set up my laboratory, leaving Paul to stay with the people panning for gold. It wasn’t long before people started coming up with small specks of gold in their wooden batea’s. So I started giving each one a little reward, but I soon ran out of small things to give away, I had even given away the perfumed handy wipes the airline had given us.
I had my laboratory set up on the cottage porch and Maxi came up to see what I was doing. I was testing some other samples for silver and using salt as my reagent. When I told Maxi I had brought salt his face lit up, turned out salt was more valuable than money, so I started giving out a pinch of salt folded in a piece of paper to everyone that had a speck of gold.
By afternoon the rains came, turns out Maxi was off a little regarding the rainy season. The Artibonite River started rising rapidly and all the villagers quickly returned to the village. It was then that I noticed a very thin and gaunt looking women. She was wearing a black polyester dress with big red roses on it. I noticed her because she appeared way overdressed, standing there with a donkey on a tether. She was kind of pretty in a Haitian way, and her skin was so black and shiny that it seemed to sparkle. I asked Maxi what she was doing there, and he said that she wanted to marry with Mr. Paul and she had wanted Mr. Paul to see that she was wealthy, she had a donkey.
The rains were a big disappointment to me, as all we could do was sit on the porch of the Sacrosant and wait for the rain to let up. The total amount of gold that we had was so small I couldn’t even think about weighing it.
Every time the rain let up for a few minutes, we would go for a walk around the village, it was always fun as the little kids would run up just to touch us then run away. I think that besides from the missionary, we may have been the only white people these kids had ever seen.
On the second rainy day, we were bored and looking for something to do, so we took the Jeep for a ride around the mountain top. I saw a boy walking in the woods with what looked like a big pizza on his head, but Maxi said it was a cassava bread, so I bought it for twenty five cents. I hadn’t had bread in quite a while and we were running out of food, so I quickly tore out a wedge and put some peanut butter and jam on it, and ate it in the Jeep. Then we again returned to the “Sacrosant”, and again waited as the rains began falling.
We had attracted about 10 teenage boys, who sat there in the rain, just watching us. It appeared we were their only entertainment in the village. I was getting nervous having all these kids stare at us, so I picked up a multicolored snail off the porch railing and I was studying it.
All the kids saw me doing it. In about an hour they all returned with big pots full of snails, there were thousands of them.
I knew that I had gotten us into a funny situation with the kids, so I went to the Jeep and found two big heavy five gallon heavy duty plastic bags which I filled up with snails, and I gave each kid twenty five cents, they ran away thrilled, I don’t think they ever seen so much money.
The next morning we awoke to clear skies, but when I looked at our Jeep the windows were totally black, it appears that all the snails had escaped, and were stuck to everything.
Maxi came by, and I asked him when he thought we could leave the village, as there was nothing more we could do due to the rain. I told him that Paul and I were out of food and I wasn’t feeling too good.
Maxi looked seriously at me, and said, “You can leave in perhaps in a week or two.” According to Maxi the small streams were now all big streams and we were trapped. He said that we would have to wait for the streams to go down, as the Jeep could never cross them.
That afternoon I started having bad cramps and dysentery, I was so sick that I could hardly move. I forced myself to walk to the stream and I saw how high it was. I knew that if I didn’t get out of there and back to Port Au Prince to receive medical assistance, I could possibly die there as whatever I had gotten was getting worse every minute.
I asked Maxi to please mobilize the entire village to help us carry the Jeep across the stream, and in about thirty minutes, we had everyone in the village all dressed up in their best Sunday clothes, helping to carry the Jeep across the stream.
I told Maxi to please find the shortest route back to Port Au Prince, I needed to see a doctor.
I told Maxi we needed to find a way back to Port Au Prince that avoided the river near Hinche, and that was all I remember before blacking out.
Over the next day I awoke several times, I remember the Jeeps bumpy ride down the mountain side, was very rough, and I know that we were in four wheel drive most of the way down, but I was awake when we passed close to a small unnamed village and the Jeep fell into a deep mud hole in the middle of the road. I remember crawling out the Jeeps window and I saw the mud was over our Jeeps tires, and was slowly coming up the doors.
Maxi went into the village and soon returned with about thirty muscular young men, who jumped into the mud hole, and lifted the Jeep out onto dry road. It cost us one dollar for their assistance. Maxi said the mud hole was the only income the village had.
By the time we reached the bridge, that crossed the river near Hinche, our Jeep was leaning to one side, Benji and Maxi said we had a broken leaf spring. So we slowly crossed the bridge and entered into a good sized village that had a cock fighting ring in the middle. It also had a little store next to it. Paul bought beer for everyone, but I was sick again.
Maxi and Benji took the Jeep and went to look for a blacksmith to weld the spring. I knew that a blacksmith couldn’t weld a leaf spring and our chances of finding a replacement was impossible, but I was too sick to say anything, so I laid down on a wooden bench in the cock fighting rink and passed out.
When I came to, Paul was talking to all the locals, he had bought them all more beer. He also told me that Maxi and the driver had returned with the Jeep. The spring was welded as good as new and it only had cost five dollars. He said it was a local Haitian blacksmith that did it, and he did it with no modern welding equipment.
We drove straight into the night to reach Port Au Prince and it was dark on the streets when we arrived, it was perhaps two in the morning. The only sign we saw lit, was over a dirty run down hotel. Called Hotel Linda. Paul helped me walk into the hotels narrow hallway which had a light at the end. We could see there was a fellow sitting on a stool drinking a beer. There was also a refrigerator and another chair, so Paul sat me in it. “Do you have a doctor around here” Paul asked the fellow drinking a beer. All he said “A room is two dollars.” So, I saw Paul give the guy two dollars, and he got off the stool and walked out of the building. Paul opened the refrigerator and took out a Heineken to drink while we waited for the doctor to come.
After about a half hour wait, a big fat women appeared from a rear door, and she said she was the hotel owner. Paul said we were waiting for a doctor and he had already paid for a room. The lady had no idea what he was talking about, the fellow that had been drinking the beer had nothing to do with the hotel. She said, give me two dollars for a room, and you owe me one dollar for the beer. Pay me and I will get a doctor for you.
Paul paid her, and I stumbled up a back flight of stairs. It was dark and we had to walk over the bodies of street people sleeping on the hallway floor.
All I remember seeing was a small room with a bed, and when I opened my eyes there was an elderly Haitian man with white hair and glasses looking at me. “Good morning,” he said. “Your friend has told me all about your problem, you have all the symptoms of cyanide poisoning.” Am I going to die, I asked. “No, you have a mild case” he replied. “If you had eaten the entire cassava bread you would have been dead already, some cassava grown in our mountains has a high toxic cyanide poison in it, but the local people are somewhat immune to it, so take this Nitrate pill and see your doctor when you get home to Miami.” He said.
Paul was standing in the doorway. “How much we owe you Doc? “Ten Dollars will cover it.” The doctor said.
There were several lessons that I learned on this adventure in Haiti. One was, never plan to do anything in the Caribbean during rainy season. The second is don’t eat mountain cassava.