Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Rain, Rivers and Mountain Passes…

Wow, what a day!  Our (Benjamin, Wilfred, Gary and I) goal was to “do the loop” to check on Hurricane Tomas damage to many of our Sister Churches.  We succeeded, but wow are we tired!  We had heard of some reports, but the phone reports were sketchy and unclear at best.

This is long, but I hope it tells the story…

A GPS track is available of our trip.  For a limited time, you can view it online with Google Maps here.  You can also download it for Google Earth here.

More pictures are available here.

We left our homes and families behind in Cayes at 6am.  Our furthermost destination was Les Irois, a little town on the western tip of Haiti.  We like to say about Les Irois… “It’s not the end of the world, but you can sure see it from there!”  Suffice it to say, it’s a long way out there.

(Note: Motorcycle travel in Haiti is so much faster and easier.  We can get to places in half of the time, and access remote locations inaccessible by truck.)

SAM_0197The trip took us past the following Sister Churches…  Cance, Camp Perrin, Picot, Fond Deron, Beaumont, Chambellan, Dame Marie, Anse d'Ainault, Tiburon, Les Anglais, Port a Piment, and Aux Coteaux.  We weren’t able to stop at all of these locations.  We only stopped at the places where the most significant damage was reported.

Before I get into details, the entire Western half of the Southern Peninsula of Haiti has received significant crop damage.  This will apply to just about every one of our Sister Churches.   When I asked a man about his garden, he said “se kraze ditou ditou, se kraze net!”  This means “it’s destroyed beyond repair, totally, completely!”   I can only imagine the impact on these people that had almost nothing to begin with.  They were counting on these crops to feed their own families, to sell for a little income to pay for things such as additional food, supplies and children’s schooling.

We left home, crossing the valley, and up what is known as “the ramp”.  The ramp is a collection of switchbacks (z patterned roads up a mountainside) that lead up over the mountains on the way to the Northern coast of the Southern Peninsula.  They are doing a lot of work on this road, so it is getting better.  At the top of the ramp, as we crossed between mountain peaks valleys, and plateaus, we had rain.  Not a lot, but a strong drizzle.  Enough to make the already damp clay roads like grease.  enough to make us wet.  One motorcycle, while slowly and carefully navigating down a steeper part, slid out from underneath one of us as if in slow motion.  No way to stop this once is starts.  No problem.

Along the road, we came across several mud/rock slides, that still left the road open.  But in one place, a third of the road had broken off and slid down into the lower valley.  Trucks couldn’t pass.  Our motorcyles were able to squeeze by the stuck line of trucks.  I have no idea how they will fix that.  We continued on our way.

After fueling up in Jeremie, a fairly large city on the Northern coast, we continued West.  We stopped in Chambellan (Sister Church with Crossroads Bible in Flower Mound, TX).  It appears to me the wind had come right up the Grande Anse River to face the already weakened and rusted roof of the church building.  One of of the sheets of tin ripped off.  Many others were loosened as the nails holding them down ripped through the sheets so they now lay there unattached.  Quite a bit of rain came in and drenched the interior ceiling.  While there, Pastor Jean Benoit also showed us many significant cracks due to the earthquake in the church and school buildings.  Pictures here.

Along the road, we began noticing an increased number of downed and damaged trees.

We continued on to visit Dame Marie.  We actually ran into the pastor, Pastor Julien, on the road as he was out doing his duty of checking on his other district churches.  He showed us a list of homes that were either damaged or lost.  He told us of at least 4 people from district churches who had died in flooding as the oceans came up.  After hearing there was no damage to the Chambellan church itself, we continued on to our next destination, Les Irois.

On the way, one front tire blew, so a repair had to be done.  Typical delay.

When we arrived in Les Irois, we were greeted by Pastor Jean Semprival.  He was eager to show us the damage.  Many many trees were down in and around the church property.  The big shade tree they had in the middle of the yard is gone.  Apparently, although they had cleaned up most of the mess, 3 large trees had come down on top of the new school they had just built with the help of their Sister Church, Harper EFC in Port Orchard, WA).  It appears the trees came through the roof at one point, pushing through the tin, doing some damage to the roof framing below.  Certainly not water proof any longer.  The children were there having school when we were there.  Pictures here. 

We asked some questions to find out if the mountain pass was open between Les Irois and Tiburon.  We knew it would be hard.  We could either go for it and see additional churches, or turn around and go back the same way.  We nervously decided to go for it.  This path is simply a path, not a road.  Apparently it had been a r3oad in times past, but no longer can trucks go through there.  It is pretty hard to describe the difficult terrain we passed.  The whole road was cut throughout by deep crevices caused by fast running water.  Extended steep and rocky paths were the norm.  Periodically it would level out into a grassy knoll, probably about 1000 ft above the ocean straight down the cliffs below.  Looking down the coast from those high places was stunning.  I fell twice, but was able to keep the bike from descending down the steep embankments!  Benjamin told me I am now “batèm dife”, baptized by fire.  Once we were down, Gary said to me…  “Well, I guess you’re a missionary now!”  He also quoted RMI President Dan Shoemaker with the all too often used, yet all too often appropriate, Haitian proverb…  “Sot pap touye ou, men lap fe ou swe!”  “Stupid won’t kill you, but it will make you sweat!”

After a physically challenging rough descent, and two more river crossings, we made it to Tiburon.  The church is intact with no damage.  The people were excited to see us.  The wall behind the church being built as a barrier to the river has collapsed due to hurricane waters.  This is not good news!  The church and community are once again at risk of flooding when the river rises.  Pictures here.

We left Tiburon, with the Les Anglais river crossing on our minds. It’s usually not easy.  When we got to the river, it was apparent that no vehicles were crossing.  It was moving quite swiftly and was about 3.5 feet deep.  Wilfred tried to cross on the motorcycle, only to get swept down river a bit.  Once a motorcycle is moving in the current, it is tough to get it stopped.  Many Haitians were there to give a helping hand.  Gary, Benjamin and I decided to pay for some Haitians to carry our bikes across.  We demanded that only 5 Haitians help.  But, there were 9 people that jumped in as they all wanted a little cash.  We paid “the boss” for 5 and let him figure out who get’s what.  Crossing on foot wasn’t easy, but we made it.  Pictures here

After crossing, it became clear that Wilfred’s motorcycle had gotten thirsty and decided to drink lots of water when it took a bath.  This isn’t exactly an easy fix.  Gary usually had all the tools necessary, but today he didn’t have the right size wrench for that bike.  We were able to find someone with a tool to open up the motor and dry it out.  After many tries, we finally got is started and were on our way.

Several more hours, after dark, we finally returned home.  Our 12 hour trip through rain, rivers and mountain passes was over.  Long road.  I wonder when we will do this again?!

Rob

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