BY BEE SCHINDLER
It's possible that I am still a touch carsick from the driving in Petionville. The dance of the cars and people swirling around us as we headed to our final in-city stay of the trip. To get to the Hotel Montana, at the crest of a steep hill, we'd have to traverse the switchbacks. I was grateful to have a good driver in Eddie - he knew the turns and soon made a sharp left to drive up a road lined by a cobble-stone wall. We inched forward, getting higher and higher in elevation until the world opened up to us. Blue skies and bright flowers greeted us as we took in a sprawling low-level white complex. We walked on a stone path to the front desk, where the service was attentive and relaxed, and headed to the room to put our bags down before hitting up the hotel bar. We were lucky to have such an easy reception.
In 2010, when the 7.0 earthquake struck Haiti, many of Hotel Montana's beautiful walls crumbled to the ground. In Googled photos tall columns lay on their side, smashing tropical plant life in the couple of seconds that it took to go from normal and operational to broken, yet hopeful. A USA Today article written by Marisol Bello describes the tragedy at the one year anniversary:
Five years after the - tranbleman de tè - the Creole word for the earthquake, or goudou based on what it felt and sounded like to those who experienced it - Hotel Montana is smaller, but its quaintness doesn't take away from its beauty. Behind what used to be its five-story tall addition, sits a back row of original hotel rooms with marble hallways and views of the valley. From the room's balcony, one can see the backside of Hotel Karibe and the mountainside where thousands of brightly colored homes dot the landscape. The rooms are well decorated, ours hosting two stunning metal pieces framed inside of white shadowboxes on an bright orange wall. I'd have to remember that tactic when presenting our metal work at the gallery. Leading up to the row of room's front steps, a koi pond invites passerby to stop and take in the moment - the bright green lily pads swaying in the hot afternoon sun. We set our things in place, and walked along the curvy stone path, past the open-air reception area, beyond the look-out / parking lot, beside a sparkling blue pool that reflected the sky and hot pink azalea plants, we found two bar stools under a classy white tent canopy - similar to the tall scapes in the Denver Airport where the sun is diffused, and its vastness apparent at every glance. We cheersed a bright pinkish-orange rum punch for Edward, and a sweating Prestige for me, and could see what appeared to be the edge of the world just beyond us. I mosied to the edge of the bar/dining area - no sides were walled, so the air was crisp and free. The view is stunning. If for no other reason, a drive up the slope to take in the birdseye-view is suggested. I will be a better person because of what I had the chance to experience. It's like floating in the ocean - when your ears are just below the water's surface and only the sound of lapping and far-off noise keeps you from falling asleep. At night, when the blue skies turned nearly pitch black, the twinkling of house lights and streetlamps dotted the view. No view was better than the last - and people were laughing and making new connections. I heard a couple from the Dominican enjoying their stay, and a couple of businessmen talking politics around the bar as they ate the complimentary roasted peanuts.
It was my birthday night, and so, at midnight, I FaceTimed with my spouse on the strong internet connection available to guests - I felt connected to the US, even as I practically sang on the top of a mountain. It was easy. It was glamour.
The following morning, guests dressed their best to find a breakfast buffet of beet juice, orange juice, Haitian breads, strong coffee and more. The white drapes surrounding the dining area were blowing in the morning air, and I thought, this is heaven, isnt it? For many, this would have been the last place they set foot in when disaster struck. I felt humbled by the beautifulness of the space against the tragic history of the Hotel and set my coffee cup down at the edge of the balcony, took in a deep breath, and prepared for the long-drive to the countryside.