Haitian Goat Cheese, Kounoubois Cave, and Other Wonders of Camp Perrin
People frequently discuss many topics in Haiti—politics, healthcare, the legality of plowing into another car that is driving too slow and blocking your ability to beat 7,000 other people to the bank on a Saturday morning. Unfortunately, these topics can overshadow other important issues such as Haitian goat cheese, 30-mile caving, and 100-year-old honey farms.
Camp Perrin is a small Haitian hamlet of about 50,000 inhabitants founded by the French Perrin brothers in the 1800s. About half-an-hour from the larger southern city of Aux Cayes, the Frères Perrin scouted the locale for the possibility of cultivating coffee, cotton, and indigo. It’s easy enough to get to from Port-au-Prince, your biggest impediment being to navigate the capital’s outskirts of Carrefour, whose roads have a predilection to becoming submerged under water due to a sewer system that functions in name only.
Arriving in Camp Perrin, it’s the canals that are most striking. Sunk ten feet below the ground, they span the town and provide a footpath travelled by rich and poor alike. Those same travelers often take to bathing in the canals, a soap bar perched precariously on the much-trodden embankment.
Perhaps most spectacular is Kounoubois Cave, whose hidden entrance lies left of a cow field accessible by a one-hour hike. Traversing the dried out riverbed, you crisscross into the mountains, varying between carved-out dirt roads and wide-open plains where only flattened grass provides direction. At the gated entrance, the opening of the cave immediately invites you to a 30-foot drop. Offerings of ropes and helmets are complemented with a cheap plastic flashlight and a guide who helpfully tells you which slippery rock to clasp as you slide down. A local gives helpful tips: “Don’t wear white and try to make out with someone down there. A girl came back out once with hand-prints everywhere.”
The caves are rumored to go as far as thirty miles underground. Haiti has an impressive pirate history, and there’s nothing like caves to get gold past roadblocks.
On the sweeter side of the things, the feats of caving can always be washed down with freshly harvested honey from Gaeten Miel, a 100-year-old bee farm at the edge of town. The owner, an elderly bee farmer who keeps shoe box-size beehives in his backyard, sells the produced honey in recycled wine bottles (Chardonnay honey, anyone?) The honey goes will with the other local delicacy, Haitian goat cheese. Not to be confused with the creamier varieties of France, Camp Perrinese goat cheese is tangy and mixed with chopped onions and a bit of garlic.
The chèvre makes a nice snack to take down the road to the newly restored Saut Mathurin waterfall. Called the biggest waterfall in Haiti, with a 90-foot drop, those not picnicking can test their mettle by climbing the slippery rocks (Camp Perrin has a lot of slippery rocks) and jumping into the lake below. The pathway to the falls used to be donkeys-only, but the government’s Destination South campaign has made the new road more accommodating to four-wheeled transport.
Haiti’s making a big push for tourism at the moment. There are still many challenges on that front, from getting service staff off of island time to removing a couple of zeros from prices on everything from sunscreen to hotel room rates. A recent voyage to a hotel where the owner cancelled all guests’ reservations because he had friends visiting from Boston showcased the room for improvement spectacularly. Still, it’s nice to know that as it’s all getting sorted out I can walk the canals of Camp Perrin, Rosé bottle of honey in hand, and stare off into the distant caves and falls.