Carnival in Les Cayes, Haiti

If there was ever a test of stamina, it would be Carnival. This past Saturday myself and several other Haiti Communitere (HC) volunteers and staff drove the HC school bus down to Les Cayes, a town on the southern coast known for its pretty beaches – and this year, for hosting Carnival. One million people were expected to show up for the event. That’s 1/8 of Haiti’s population. We arrived in time for everyone to be hungry for dinner, so we settled into our bunks at a soon-to-be “safe house” for abused and neglected orphans, and headed out to find food. I was excited to see what Carnival in Haiti had to offer, and a little anxious to see what the next few days would entail, because the original reason for us going down to Les Cayes in the first place was to collect styrofoam trash for the HC Ubuntu Blox project.

We ended up at an outdoor restaurant with good food, plenty of beer, and the owners were even nice enough to let us girls use the bathroom in their upstairs apartment (flush toilet, toilet paper, AND soap – not an easy combination to find here). We wandered around a bit that night after our stomachs were full and happy, and even though Carnival hadn’t officially started yet, many of the clubs lining the street were blasting music and people were dancing on the sidewalks. All was well until we received some not so great news about our styrofoam collection plans. To make a long story short, it turned out we weren’t actually going to be doing any work for the Ubuntu project while in Les Cayes… which was good because it meant we’d be able to simply enjoy Carnival, but also bad because we had spent a good chunk of the project’s budget on this trip with the assumption that we’d be working at least part of the time and that we’d have a 40-foot container full of styrofoam to bring back to Port-au-Prince. And then the real kicker: Our security guard had gone back to the house before us to go to bed, and a little while later as we’re all sitting enjoying a late night snack at a nearby restaurant, we get a call with more bad news. When the orphanage’s security guard went to unlock the room we were staying in for our security guard, the key got stuck in the lock and broke off. So we were locked out of our room, with all of our stuff inside. Thankfully this house was prepared to accommodate a lot of people, so we all just stayed in a different room, but we had nothing… no sheets, no mosquito nets, no clothes to change into, nothing. So that was fun.

The next two days – Sunday and Monday – were like a marathon of barbeque chicken eating, Prestige drinking, people watching, and dancing. We stayed up late and woke up early the next day, then hung around the house in the morning until everyone was ready to go out into the hot sun. We’d walk around for a while, trying out different restaurants and bars, but inevitably end up at the place with the nice bathroom. Sunday was the official start of Carnival, and I guess I had pictured in my mind an all day celebration, but the parade didn’t really start until around 6pm. And when it finally did start, it didn’t stop until around 6am. Really.

Monday was the most fun. It started off as expected – woke up way too early because of the heat, shuffled around for a while and then started eating.That afternoon we went around to several restaurants and asked them to save their styrofoam trash for us (that’s pretty much all they use here), and we’d pick it up the next morning so that the trip wasn’t a complete waste in that regard. Once that was over, the fun started. It was our last night at Carnival and we were going to enjoy it! We parked ourselves at our usual spot and used that as our base for the evening, moving between our table and the street where thousands of people were dancing along with the floats. The Haitian members of our group didn’t really stop dancing the whole day and night, and one of them didn’t get back to our room until the parade stopped at 6am Tuesday morning because “the floats just kept coming!” Rox and I made it until 3am, which I think is pretty good for a couple of blans.

Tuesday morning came around way too quickly, but with our plan to leave by noon, we had to get moving. We piled into the school bus with our trash bags and rubber gloves and went back to each of the restaurants from the day before to collect their styrofoam. Some of them actually did set it aside for us in a bag, but in most cases they didn’t, so we ended up going around picking styrofoam off the ground ourselves. That’s Haiti for you.

Despite how exhausted I was at the end, I had a great time at Carnival. And I was pleasantly surprised, too. I had been warned by many people not to carry anything valuable with me when I was out walking around because it was guaranteed to get stolen. But even when I was in the middle of the crowds, I never felt threatened, never felt anyone try to reach into my pockets. The whole thing felt very American to me; Haitian companies had their own floats and their logo plastered everywhere, cops with bright yellow vests were everywhere, and people were decked out in all sorts of tacky decorations – weird hats, masks, glitter, wigs, and face paint galore. And because of all the Haitian tourists, for once I didn’t feel out of place.

2 Responses to “Carnival in Les Cayes, Haiti”
  1. Q says:

    Good times indeed. Until the next rowdiness darlin’!

  2. Liz says:

    Wow a 12 hour parade! Amazing! I love hearing about each and every adventure- so many memories you and David have created! Xo

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