The Oloffson, Port au Prince Haiti.



more photos of the Oloffson click here

I've stayed in the Mick Jagger suite, check out the dilapidated furniture in the photos above...well, at least is has AC and it's near the pool. Back in the days when Port Au Prince was a place to hang out and Mc Jagger stayed here it must have been nice. According the Richard Morse, Mc Jagger didn't like the room, so he went to the front desk and said "hey I'm Mick Jagger and I want a better room" true Oloffson style, they told him...flatly....tough luck, if you don't like it check out and go somewhere else!

I've stayed many times and had the chance to have a few beers and conversations with Richard Morse, one time I even traded some photos of the hotel for a few night's accommodations. He's now using the photo on the Oloffson business card. He said he was going to use the others to build a website, but for years he never seemed to get around to it. Finally in 2008 Flo McGarrell built an official Oloffson website,

During one of our conversations Richard related stories of crazy shit that happens at the Oloffson. One particular incident involved Peter Bosch and some other photographers who were staying there to cover the standard political mayhem that occurs just before, during and after the frequent Coup d'états. Bosch a photographer working for the Miami Herald was there when thugs came in to roust on of Arisited's former body guards. They asked Morse to up with them to open the door. Morse said, are you crazy, I'm not standing between you guys (with guns) and the guy inside the room (with guns)...the incident was in one of the suites the other end of the hall in the Mellon Suite (where I stayed last time) was Bosch shooting photos of the whole thing, through a hole in the wall. Apparently no one got killed but it must have been crazy. Another time guys came to the hotel with torches, saying they were going to burn the Oloffson down, Morse met them on the steps and asked for the guy in charge (no one wanted to be in charge) and he was able to diffuse the scene and save the hotel. Also during one of Morse's Thursday night RAM performances (his band)...Aristide's henchmen came in to arrest one of the band members....the Oloffson is like that you never know what's going to happen ! I usually just go sit in the bar...and chat with folks...everyone who stays there has got some story...why the hell else would they be in Haiti...they are either reporters, photographers, CIA, or drug runners.

After shooting all day, and driving around, dodging roadblocks, it's always a relief to pull up to the relative safety of the Oloffson and have a cold beer !

The Oloffson is a wild place and you never really know what's going to happen while you're staying there...perhaps this sums it up quote writer Bob Shacochis....Personally, I had never thought of the Oloffson as spooky, but surely it must have been in the summer of 1994, when the attachés--the Cédras regime's paramilitary assassins--would come by to dance to the house band and get liquored up before hitting the streets to do the death-squad thing. The band canceled its regular Thursday-night performances when Uzi-toting Macoutes began turning over tables and abducting guests.

The full story by By Bob Shacochis There must be a god in Haiti

One day I got a call from Newsweek Magazine, they were doing a story on nice hotels in dangerous places. They needed some photos of the Oloffson, and they apparently found my website after searching on Google. They asked me some questions about the hotel and I told them what a dump the place is...when the article came out, I just had to laugh. I can just imagine some well meaning folks from Dubuque Iowa, deciding on a quick weekend of lounging by the pool at the Oloffson...what a surprise and an adreneline rush they will get dodging bullets, kidnappers and theives just getting from the airport to the hotel. Then arriving in their dilapidated room, overlooking the slums of Port au Prince, described by Newsweek as "perched atop a hillside overlooking the city, this 19th century gigerbread mansion offers suites with balconies from which to enjoy the splendid sunrises"...splendid sunrises?....over the polluted bay of "City of God" where my friend Brother Vistal has his orphanage for resteveks (child slaves)...come on, give me a break...I can't imagine that they are promoting the Oloffson and Haiti as a place to vacation! Here's the Newsweek article.

If you think I'm exaggerating the risk, know this, agood friend and client, John Currelly who directs the operations of PADF in Haiti, was recently kidnapped.

The kidnapping happened in May 2005, and Alice, fluent in Creole, played a key role in negotiating her father's release. Five gunmen had snatched him, and one called to say they'd cut off his head and drop it at a church unless they got $500,000. Alice said the family had $6,000, much of it rushed over by people wishing to help, but the gunman revealed the gang's amateurism by saying: "That's not even one-quarter of what we're asking." The gang released Currelly 16 hours later, following delivery of an undisclosed sum. On another occasion, the family and a visiting friend had to scurry over a garden wall as eight gunmen stormed into their house and began shooting at them, before ransacking the place. Still, the couple's commitment to Haiti is complete: they've just bought a plot of land for their retirement home. "It's always been a learning experience here," Deb says. "We feel a lot like family now." Here's the full story

And this bit about the Oloffson's owner Richard Morse by Gary Marx, of the Chicago Tribune......Morse decided to stay put and wrote his most popular song, "Fey" (Leaf), a parable about a leaf that falls from a tree during a storm but has yet to die. The lyrics captured the hope of Morse and many others that Aristide would return to power. The song provoked a backlash from military authorities, which sent armed thugs into the Oloffson as RAM launched into the tune during a 1994 concert. The band continued playing "Fey," as it did the following week when paramilitary troops once again intervened during a concert. At one point, RAM stopped playing music for several months because of the threats from military authorities. When the band started up again, Morse required people attending its weekly concert at the Oloffson to check their weapons at the door. The guns sometimes filled a footlocker. full text here

Haiti Matters.
Today the Haitian drums, the rum, and the rich conversation is restored, and the hotel is still a must stop for travelers, mostly contractors, reporters, staff for NGO's, and a few tourists who descend from their rooms on the mountain to have a drink on the hotel verandah. The staff is friendlier here than in the pricier locations on the heights, but there is definitely an edge to the place. The city swarms outside its walls, the gardens that share the compound with the rambling buildings are full of Vodou sculptures and spirits, and the rooms are covered with paintings that express the mystical and ecstatic. The present establishment carries the stamp of its operator, Richard Morse. It houses the popular band RAM that he leads. On Thursday nights the band and chorus plays for a packed house and people (black and white together) dance nonstop.

COPYRIGHT 2004 Monthly Review Foundation, Inc. COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group

A website created for the hotel using many of my photos, click here

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