First inconveniences in Haiti

First inconveniences in Haiti

March 19, 2014

7.02am. We’ve been waiting for breakfast for half an hour, but the first “employee” arrived only 10 minutes ago. During the night we were the only guests I think. Last night we told the girl we needed to leave early. The same girl yesterday was here at 6am and today she overslept? We are not very lucky. She arrived and said she was sorry. I forgive her, Luca I don’t know.

They brought us two omelette with salad (Luca convinced me not to eat it) and a juice that I don’t understand what it is, but it’s too icy and not really good. A lot of bread, butter, two bananas, water, a jug full of coffee.

8.08am We are on the tap-tap. Quite comfortable for now. At least the seats are stuffed. We are 4 people on 3 seats, but we can’t really complain. 150 HTG (less than 3 euro) to Port-au-Prince, then we’ll have to take another tap-tap to Les Cayes. At the tap-tap stop there was a guy who spoke good French who suggested to go to Port-au-Prince, because in Carrefour, a town mentioned in the Lonely Planet, it’s difficult to find a tap-tap to Les Cayes, you’ve got to change many tap-tap on the way. Luca put a scarf on his nose because they are burning plastic somewhere. 8.30am I think the bus is full enough, what are we waiting for? Luca says that the fact that we have to go to Port-au-Prince is a sign, we should stop there, without going back south. He really doesn’t want to go to Ile-a-vache. There are UN trucks all around Jacmel.

9.52 We are in PAP (Port-au-Prince). It’s so chaotic! At the entrance of the town there’s a road with a market, stalls and huts, and on the street there’s a lot of water filled with rubbish, ruins, stones and dust. It doesn’t surprise there’s the colera here. An old man was shoveling shit from one of these water drainages, wearing boots luckily. From a tap-tap we got onto another one immediately (I heard so much talking about violence in PAP that I’m happy I don’t have to walk around here with my backpack). But it’s only 3 of us so far. If we have to wait for the bus to be full, it will take at least two hours and we will be too late in Cayes for the boat to the Cow Island.

After we left Jacmel with the tap-tap we went up a hill. There was a village with a market and donkeys parked on the side; they are very popular here, they are used by farmers to take around their produces. Girls have white, blue or pink ribbons on their hair, according to the color of their school uniform.

I don’t know if Luca will go back home with his shoes. Sooner or later someone will steal them from his feet. He went off the tap-tap to smoke and everyone was watching his feet. A cosmetics seller has been on the tap-tap for 10 minutes trying to sell a perfume sample to a Haitian sitting behind us, and condoms in front of us. At the end he left without selling anything. I wonder how much he wanted for that sample that we normally get for free.

port au prince
The view from the tap-tap while we were waiting to leave from PAP to Port Salut

Maybe we should have changed tap-tap in Carrefour like the guide said. Because we wasted one hour to come into town and we’ve been waiting for one hour already. It’s 11am and we have 4 hours to Les Cayes, which means we will miss the ferry.

6.10pm LES CAYES We are on a shared taxi waiting to go to Port Salut. At the end the tap-tap from PAP left at 2pm (4 hours after we got onto it) and we arrived in Les Cayes not long ago, too late for the Ile-a-Vache. I hope there’s a place to sleep at the Coconut Breeze in Port Salut, where we are going as a second choice. It’s my only thought at the moment. We need to get some cash. I hate to have no money. Les Cayes is big enough, there should be a bank, but you never know.

11pm What a day! Port Salut is not at 30 minutes from Les Cayes, like the LP says, but one hour. The voiture filled up at about 6.45pm, they had to fix the money situation (I think that the guy charged with collecting the money put too much into his pocket) and we left at about 7pm, when it was getting dark. At 8.30 we were in Port Salut, but nobody knew where the Coconut Breeze was. Our travel companions on the pick-up (taxi) truck tried to call family and friends to find out where it was, with no avail. They tried to call the hotel, but nothing. The chauffer started to get upset and he left us on the street as soon as a motorbike passed by. The guy on the bike took us to the Coconut; on the way we did wheelie because of the weight at the back and Luca fell off the bike (I was in the middle and was safe). The hotel was closed. I was starting to panic and I fell while getting off the bike (but didn’t get hurt). We were a bit discouraged and tired. This area luckily is full of hotels and guest-houses, so we found another place. Point Sable is the guest house where we are staying. The room is a bit expensive. We managed to lower the price to 65 dollars, because we are staying for 3 nights. But I was ready to pay the 100 dollars of the Dan’s Creek (a nice hotel by the ocean with a swimming pool), as long as I had a place to sleep.

At the Point Sable there was a party when we arrived. They were celebrating the owner’s father birthday. They offered us something to drink and to eat. It was nice after this long and tiring day. I’m starting to miss the comfort of the Dominican Republic.

Jacmel

Jacmel

First day in Haiti

March 18, 2014. 12h43.

Luca has nausea from the boat last night. At the end we had to jump on some guys’ shoulders to get on the boat. And the same to get off in Marigot. At the beginning it seemed nice: we were comfortably laying on the bags, hugged under the stars, rocked by the sea… Then the boat filled up, there were feet and elbows everywhere, smells and talks, complaints against “le blancs” that were in the wrong position, 5 boxes full of chickens with everything that comes with them, and when the boat left it got cold and we were scared of falling off the boat when it bended against a high wave. But we arrived. At 4am the first thing I did was pee behind a boat, then we took the first gua-gua to Jacmel. I don’t know how fast it was going, but the road was all straight and there was no traffic. We were sitting on the truck behind, all open, with the cold night wind hitting our faces… And I managed to sleep, I don’t know how. It was hard, but we made it.

We arrived in Jacmel at about 6am. We immediately found the hotel recommended by the Lonely Planet. Even though there was a girl coming in and out, we didn’t get in immediately because we didn’t want to pay for an extra night just because it was early. And she told us it’s 70 dollars. Or maybe 50? I don’t know, I can’t really understand them. Anyway, while we were waiting we looked at the town waiking up. Well, it was actually well awake already, everyone asking us Port-au-Prince? Taxi? Moto? And little by little the women started coming out of their homes, the children at 6.30am were running to their buses wearing their uniform, the elderly were doing their selling tours.

At 7am we decided to go in. At Guys Hotel the room doesn’t have air conditioning, the window is tiny and up on the wall, you can’t walk around the bed and the bathroom is shared with I don’t know how many people. It feels like India, but in India you would pay 5 dollars for a room like this, not 50. We rested for a bit, then we spent one and a half hour at the bank trying to get some money. The only ATM in town was not working and to get an “advance payment” on my Visa I had to wait for the clerk to finish with a client; after one and a half hours she was not over yet, but she was kind enough to come to us, pass the card on a POS, give us the money and in 5 minutes we were out.

Jacmel has 40,000 inhabitants but seems smaller than Arzignano, my hometown.

Our heads twist, maybe because of the boat or because we are so tired. I think that the Hotel Florita is one of the few places in town with internet. There are some young locals with their notebook, they are probably students. It’s very nice, in an old building that seen from outside seems to be falling down, the restaurant-bar is a huge room with a tree in the middle that exits the roof from a hole.

Hotel de la place Jacmel

17h13 Place Toussaint de l’Ouverture. It’s hot. Luckily Jacmel is small because we went back to the hotel and we stayed there until 3pm. And we are still tired. Now we are at the Hotel de la Place drinking a banana-strawberry juice and watching people walking in the street (as the Lonely Planet suggests).

We walked by the chaos and flies of the Marché de Fer, the local market, closed on Sundays only, where people go to buy everything they need (I haven’t seen other shops around, not even the tiny shops selling sigarettes, rhum and little more; only a few art galleries: Jacmel is an artists town, so everyone is an artists, willing or not).

I think that half of the 40,000 inhabitants of Jacmel are at the market now, to sell, buy, chat, look, steal, nose around. And it looks like all the rubbish of the world is here to be resold. Old car pieces, old radios, old shoes, old iron.

Nevertheless Jacmel is pretty. It’s a bit shanty, it suffered a lot from the earthquake and you can still see a lot of debris around. But some buildings are really nice and unique.

Luca doesn’t want to go to the Ile-à-Vache (the Cow Island) because he is afraid he might have to sleep on the floor (in Ile-à-Vache there are two resorts where a room costs 200 dollars, or you can stay with a local family for about 10 dollars; of course I opted for the second choice). I feel sorry for him, you can tell he’s not feeling well and he’s looking forward to go back to the Dominican Republic. I was also happier there, the hotels were luxurious compared to the places here and cost half the price; but I am ready to spend a few difficult days, I’ll have 3-4 more weeks to relax after Haiti.

They sell water in small plastic bags that contain the amount of water that is in a glass. They drink from small holes and toss the bag to the floor. So of course there’s plastic everywhere.

8.42pm We’ve been at the hotel for about one hour already. We are really tired. There’s a mass nearby, I can hear singing. I came to Haiti to see some Voodoo and the first thing we hear is a Christian celebration.

Earlier at the beach there were some girls aged 5-7 practicing a dance. They were really good shaking their bottom and clapping their feet on the floor.

The passage

The passage

March 17 2014, 11.05 in the morning

Brunch with mashed potatoes, meat stew and spaghetti with tomato and cream. Not bad. I hope we will get coffee too.

We went to Anse-à-Pitre, on the other side of the border, to check things out. So, it looks like to take the boat you don’t need o book, you just have to go there in the afternoon with 500 HTG (one euro is about 60 Haitian gourde, so the trip is about 4 euro each) and we can go. We have already changed some money. I haven’t seen any boat at the little harbor, it probably isn’t here yet. I wonder what will happen.

Luca is nervous. He’s probably worried about the trip.

The mercado international takes place on Mondays and Fridays. The boat arrives the day before, with goods and people, and leaves again in the evening of the market day, with more goods and people. During market days the border is open, we crossed it without anyone saying anything or checking our passport. I wonder how many Haitians cross the border this way. But tonight we will need to have our passports stamped, or we will be in trouble when coming back to the Dominican Republic.

They say that at the border you can feel the tension between the two countries. I didn’t notice it here, maybe because the border is small and the two towns are at one kilometer one from the other, they continuously exchange what they have and some Haitians go to work in Pedernales daily. When we crossed the border it was all bonjour here and bonjour there, and kids were very happy to see us. I guess they don’t see many white faces there.

At the market there’s a section for shoes and clothes, one for vegetables and fruit (there were bags full of chickpeas, beans, rice, sugar, coffee…), kitchen utensils on the other side. Many people go there for shopping, because in small towns like Pedernales and Anse-à-Pitre there are no stores. Some people buy bags full of rice and go around Pedernales to sell it to the small restaurants and shops.

12.20 pm. We are at the Malecon, to get some shade and air. I would love one of those delicious banana smoothies, but the coffee shop that has no coffee is still closed. Here there are people sleeping on trunks used as benches, others dealing (earlier there was a shady exchange of money from hand to hand), three guys are making a concrete pillar, a weird guy threw a stone on the pavement in front of a girl as a joke, but he almost caught her; a boy with new rapper headphones arrived on his bike and from the back pocket you could see the butt of a firearm. What does a boy do with a handgun? Nothing good I guess.

4pm Last lunch in Pedernales. MORO CON POLLO. Moro is rice with beans or chickpeas cooked together. It’s really hot today. Everything is ready, they just have to warm it up a bit (if we are lucky) and put it into the plates. When I went to pay the waitress showed me the picture of a kid with blue eyes she saw on facebook. Is he your son? I asked, without thinking he was white. “No, but I would like to have a baby like this”. So you would like to meet a foreigner with blue eyes? Yes. I wonder how much she would pay to rent Luca for some time.

I was able to call mom on Skype, finally. It felt like the last goodbye. I don’t know what will happen next. Luca is still nervous and tired.

5.26 pm. Anse-à-Pitre. We are at the harbor. They are loading our boat. On foot, they put bags or super heavy buckets on their heads, walk in the water, with the waves hitting them in the face, and deposit the goods on the boats. I hope they will get closer or they will arrange some smaller boats to get on the large boats, because I don’t think I can do it. Of course, if I must I can, but I’d rather not to. And how? Should I also walk in the water and get on the boat completely wet? Or will they carry me on their heads? Our boat is the first one on the right. First they load the merchandise, then the people, and we will sit on top of the bags.

The Haitian border asked for 20 dollars each. So expensive! When we arrived in Santo Domingo we only paid 10 dollars (and it’s better to have dollars because otherwise it’s 10 or 20 euro, more than 10 dollars). To go out of the Republic nothing, I thought they asked us money here too, because the manager of the Hotelito told us everybody asks for money and the Lonely Planet mentions money too.

There’s a very smelly guy, wearing two different shoes, with crazy eyes and bottle in his pocket, that keeps walking around us. We saw little of Haiti so far, but we can tell they are much poorer and desperate. It’s hard to believe there was a time when this country was rich and they produced sugar cane and cigars and Americans came here on holiday.

If we really get there, I bet it will be an adventure we’ll tell for years.

We are under a porch. They told us to wait here. A boy is helping undo a net: he passes the thred through his fingers and when he feels a hook he attaches it to the border of a basket. Women keep cooking, for travelers and carriers. It’s almost 6pm. We leave in 3 hours. A bell is ringing: is dinner ready? There’s a guy that must be the owner of the boats: he’s wearing a brand new t-shirt, two identical shoes, and if that wasn’t enough, two rings and a necklace.

ainse-à-pitre
The boats taking us to Marigot

“Let it be tomorrow”, says Luca. A guy told us that to get on the boat one of the guys will carry us on his shoulders. I hope I misunderstood or that he was joking (no, it was no misunderstood nor joke).

Bahia de Las Aguilas

Bahia de Las Aguilas

March 16, 2014. 10am

Sunday (but it could be any day for us)

BAHIA DE LAS AGUILAS

Green water and white sand. Yes, we definitely are in the Caribbeans. One of those beaches you could see in postcards, if there still were postcards. This beach is so beautiful because it’s in a National Park and you can only get here by renting a boat (or with your yacht, like the English couple we met here, who are doing a tour of the Caribbeans).

You can only come on a day trip, there are no restaurants nor anything else, so the chances to find basura (rubbish) is low, and probably someone comes to clean from time to time.

We paid 2500 pesos to come here from Pedernales, about 40 euro. Not bad, considering that in Los Patos a travel agency that works with Giordano asked us 90 US dollars, so we saved about 100 euro. “The best money we’ve spent so far”, said Luca. It is true and it definitely deserves a visit.

We were the first to arrive and took place in the shade of one of the few trees that are on the beach.

This morning we had breakfast in a street in Pedernales with something that looked like a sweet potato, but it wasn’t sweet, it was disgusting, maybe dried and salty fish, and something very good, pig with rind.

A boat full of Dominicans has just arrived. We should go for a stroll now, before it gets too crowded. It’s Sunday, it will probably get busy later on.

We came here on a motorbike, 3 on the same bike. On the paved road it wasn’t bad. The last 6 kilometers on gravel were painful. Pedernales, a region of red soil, that they use to make aluminum and concrete. There’s a factory not far from the beach.

baia delle aquile

15.22 So beautiful. We got sun burned even though we put the sunscreen 3 times and stayed in the shade. We probably got burned during the walk and the time spent in the water.

Against all odds we were almost alone all the time. From time to time a boat would arrive with a few people, stayed half an hour or one hour and left.

4pm

Back to Pedernales. Little snack with sancocho, a soup with pork ribs and potatoes, really good.

6pm. We are now in the main square of Pedernales. There are two cafes, at about 50 meters one from the other, both with music at very high volume that if you are in the middle you can’t hear well of any, a mix of the two. Fortunately a car stopped between the two cafes, took out two huge speakers and we can now listen to that music, even though you can still hear the other music in the background.

The dominicans: they park their car in the street, turn the music on at the loudest possible volume, take down a few chairs and sit there, chatting on the pavement or in the square. Today it’s Sunday, so they wear wedges and heels and miniskirts. I just love them.

The sun is still shining, but we are burnt and keep away.

Towards the unknown

Towards the unknown

March 15, 2014

Los Patos, 08.01 in the morning

Breakfast and then we go. With no rush, Pedernales is at only 90 km (2-3 hours by gua-gua) from here.

Today it’s a bit cloudy; good, it will be cooler on the bus. There’s a storm over there, in the middle of the ocean.

If we are really taking a boat to go to Haiti probably we will catch the rain too. But I can’t believe it’s the only option we have. For this reason we want to go to Pedernales, to collect more information. The difficult part of traveling in this island is that the Lonely Planet is not very detailed nor updated and people don’t seem to know much either. Usually when you go to a country if there isn’t an information point for tourists the hotels managers or local people can inform you. Not here. We have to go by intuition. Because there is nothing sure.

Anyway, I’m going to miss this place. We are not really close to the beach, here at Giordano’s, but from the terrace where we have breakfast you can see palm trees and the ocean and there’s a nice breeze.

9.12am We are by the road, waiting for the gua-gua to Pedernales. We don’t know how long we’ll have to wait, there’s no timetable. While walking here, I thought about last night, when we were walking to the comedor for dinner and stopped to look at some beautiful flowers; a dog, living in the house, came out and run towards us. Luckily nearby there was a boy who took out his machete and creaked it on the pavement, scaring off the dog. A few meters away the boy met his friends and kept playing with his weapon, fluttering it around. People here often carry a machete, they use it a lot: to open a coconut, cut a tree or scare off dogs…

Towards the unknown, says Luca. Yes, trips like this are really an adventure. And here in particular, where there are few tourists and the guidebook is not really helpful.

10am We waited only for about half an hour. It took some time to put the backpacks in the luggage compartment: there was not enough space, so they left the door open, keeping it close with a rope. After about one kilometer we stopped to let a guy in with two bags full of straw brushes. So they took our backpacks down again, up the guy’s two bags, double the size of our backpacks, our backpacks over the bags, keep everything tight with a rope, down the door, anogher rope to keep the door down, the spare wheel on the roof, and here we go.

4.51pm Se llama cafeteria pero no hay café. As there is no coffee we drink two juices here at the Malecon (seafront) in Pedernales. I am not sure I want to go to Haiti anymore. Because apparently to cross the border it is not that easy. We have two options: on Monday night there is one very busy boat that in 7 hours takes you to Marigot, where you have to take a tap-tap (the Haitian version of the gua-gua) to Jacmel. The second option is to take many tap-tap, with no idea how long it might take, because you have to go up and down mountains. I don’t know. There were some white people around the town, I should have asked them, maybe they were coming from Haiti or want to go there.

My jugo is actually a banana smoothie. Really good, and full of ice, that we should avoid. We broke all the rules anti-diarrhea: we had drinks with ice, ate uncooked vegetables, ate without washing our hands, licked our fingers…

We are in this little square by the sea, and two “cabanas” are competing on who has the louder music, to attract clients I suppose. The result is an annoying mix of music. Luca says that here people love to ride their bikes. It’s true, in Los Patos kids were all the time going forth and back on their motorbikes, and the same is here. It is true that many bike owners use it as a taxi, so they are always going around in case someone needs a ride.

There are some tables where you can play domino here at the Malecon. Last night it was dark when we walked back to the Hotelito; some elderly men were playing domino in the street, at the feeble light of a flashlight.

The gua-gua to come here was broken on the side where I was sitting. There was a broken joint or I don’t know what. At one point there was so much smoke that I told the driver; he gave me the cold shoulder. As a result the left side of my body is completely black.