We had intended to make it to the wet mill in late afternoon. It was beautiful out, breathtakingly beautiful. White puffy clouds lazily floating across the brilliant blue sky, peaks of mountains folding over on themselves as they disappeared into the horizon. A perfect day to take the truck to the mill, get some photos and check quality of our Haitian coffee harvest.
But as often happens in the mountains, weather changes rapidly. As we drove along a rocky outcrop called a road, rain drips began to pelt our windshield, as the sky darkened. I chuckled and turned to my 14 year old son Will and said “looks like you might be shooting photos in the rain this afternoon. Keep the camera protected.” He wasn’t enthused about the prospect.
As a steady rain flowed, Gilbert continued to push the Dodge diesel to higher elevations, towering pine trees swayed from the wind. Our first obstacle came into view, a downed pine tree blocking our passage. We idled to a stop, I took my shirt off, and hopped out with Claude our Agronomist, and Max a quality control manager. After fifteen minutes of what seemed like a losing battle, we wrestled the tree off the side of a steep decline and returned to the safety of the Dodge.
We felt a little invigorated as men do about such things, slapped hearty high fives and threw around “tout bagay byen”, everything is ok!
But it wasn’t ok for long. Not 20 minutes later as we hammered the diesel to get up an incredibly steep incline, the tires spun on the jagged rocks that stuck out like gnarled fingers of a troll not wanting us to pass. We smelled the burning rubber, as the right rear went flat, then slid back down the embankment and straight into the mud, burying the truck to the frame.
Everyone was calm but Will, who watched the last flicker of light fade behind the mountain tops for the night, as the rain kept falling. Max stripped to his underwear, jumped from the truck as we all snickered at his boxer shorts. He’s a hard worker, and started in, trying to redirect the flow of water away from our truck
A few minutes later Claude stripped his shirt and followed suit. Gilbert made a call to someone down the mountain with a 4×4 to come pull us out. He and I waited. But an hour passed and the rain continued, and no truck showed up. We watched Max scurry up the hill in his underwear and head to a tiny Haitian house with no electricity, off in the distance.
Minutes later about 20 Haitian men showed up. A passing thought, Will wondered if we might get robbed. But I noted this is not Port Au Prince, these are kind hearted mountain folk. Gilbert directed them to literally pick up the back of the truck and help us roll forward to solid ground so that we could access the spare and get back to our guest house for dinner, aborting the mill at this late hour.
They seemed not to understand what he asked for, so some surrounded the right side, where the flat was sitting in water, and asked Gilbert to gun it. Will punched my shoulder and said “watch this dad.” As Gilbert hit the gas, a tower of water and mud shot up, covering about half the crew there to help us. They hooted, and laughed at each other as only Haitians can do in such a moment, then they got the point.
And with no tools, they somehow moved our truck by pure brute strength, we got the tire changed, paid them with rice, and headed back down the mountain without inspecting our Haitian coffee on this day. It was just another day in the life of sourcing coffee in Haiti, but it reminded me how generous and helpful Haitians can be when they see someone in trouble. People will love and accept you, even when you work in your underwear!