Call me crazy, but I needed to see for myself. So I did. Pretty straight forward to get there from the Dominican Republic (from here on the DR or just DR), actually. I found myself in Santiago de Los Caballeros (Santiago for short, right?), in a little B&B called Emilia, owned by an Italian guy called Alex. The food was superb and the coffee great. I spent some time getting caught up with internet (hence the back to back Cuba posts last week, you’re welcome…..more to come), and figuring out how to get from here into Haiti.
Turns out there is a very convenient bus, run by Caribe Tours, a Dominican bus company that rumbles all over the island of Hispaniola. Here’s a map to orientate yourself.
See Santiago de Los Caballeros? Look to your left, up at the top of Haiti….see Cap Haitien? That’s where I wanted to go. So the bus took me up to the furthest reaches of northwest DR, across the border (see Note 1) at Dajabon and into the Haitian town of Ouanaminthe (fun to say if you could!).
That was my intended route. So hop on board and come along for my ride to Haiti!
A bit of a note here about the, let’s say, animosity, that Dominican’s have for Haitians. Every single Dominican that I told, “I’m going to go to Haiti!” had the same outraged response, “why?” Some might call it racist, others hatred, other’s downright disgust. Regardless of what you call it, it is palpable. It is everywhere in the DR. I’ve seen it before, because a lot of Costa Ricans have the exact same attitude about Nicaraguans, their neighbors to the north. Hell, a lot of people from the USA have the same attitude towards Mexicans and other Latino neighbors from south of the border.
You can pick your nose, but you can’t pick your neighbors.
So things aren’t so rosy between the two countries. Now, it also must be mentioned that the DR just happens to be neighbors with the poorest country in the western hemisphere. Yes, Haiti, (and Costa Rica is neighbors with the second poorest, Nicaragua). On top of that, you are all aware of the major earthquake that leveled Port-au-Prince, the capital, several years ago. The affects are still being felt throught the entire nation. And, just last month, Haiti found itself President-less.
All of these issues are way to weighty for this blog. I am not going to attempt to solve Haiti’s problems here. I am simply going to give you a straight forward description of what I saw and what I did on my very brief visit to a very complicated country. I will probably direct you to some Notes at the bottom, cause I know you guys love the Notes, but it’s your option whether you want to read more about Haiti.
I will say this, though. Sad, very sad. The saddest country I have visited. They deserve better.
|The Haitian Flag|
And in case you were wondering, Haitian money is called the “gourde”, here’s some now…..
1,000 gourdes is like $16.00. See the fort on the hundy note? That’s The Citadelle Henry Christophe (or Citadelle Laferriere). We’ll get to that and him soon enough. If you want to jump ahead, feel free, (see Note 2)
One more thing before we really dive in. The official languages in Haiti are French and Creole. Me, clueless. And not many Haitians speak English. It was interesting to say the least.
After a pleasant bus ride of about two hours we hit the border.
I stepped off the bus and immediately got hit up for money or food, whichever.
The Dominican immigration procedure was pretty straight forward and within 20 minutes we were all (the bus was almost empty, maybe 15 people) back on the bus to cross the bridge into Haiti.
Once on the Haitian side of the Massacre River ( actually the Dajabon River but see note 3 and 3A), Haitian immigration was even more straight forward. The woman had a computer in front of her, but whether it worked or not was anyone’s guess. She certainly didn’t punch in my name or digits. She stamped my passport and that was that. Hear that Cuba??
So, officially, I think, in Haiti. Back on the bus and off to Cap Haitien!
Great news!! I just learned how to add music to my videos! Enjoy the first one!
Stunned was I. Absolutely stunned at the amount of trash. Heaps and heaps of trash. Trash everywhere. It’s ironic, because although I haven’t finished my Cuba posts for you guys yet, I was already busy thinking about my DR posts and what I was going to say about it. I knew one thing for sure, compared to Cuba, which was SPOTLESS (see Note 4), the DR was filthy. I had already decided to name the DR the winner of the 50/50 trashiest country award. Then I saw Haiti. Stunning. So sorry, DR, you’ll have to settle for second place.
****A word here about photos. Any of you that have been keeping up with the blog for any amount of time know that I like to take photos. I ain’t no Joe Pro photographer and all I use is a little digital piece of crap, but I enjoy finding cool angles and cool subjects to try to get a great photo. I was really looking forward to getting some good, unique shots here in Haiti. Think again.
I have been in a few other countries (Peru comes to mind, Jordan as well) where the mere sight of a camera sent people into a tizzy. Some people don’t like to have their pictures taken. Fair enough. My normal procedure is to ask first if I am taking a picture, a close up for instance, of an individual. Get their permission and then show them the photo afterwards. Well Haiti was a game changer. First of all, I felt very uncomfortable even taking photos. It just didn’t seem right. Voyeurism? Tragedy Tourism? I don’t know. It felt like I was exploiting the circumstances to get a photo. “Look, look at this fucked up situation and how crazy fucked up it is, look!!” It was weird. I rarely took my camera out when I was wandering around the streets of Cap Haitien.
Nor was there any way to blend in. I usually blend in pretty well wherever I am. Not a chance of that in Haiti, I stood out like a sore thumb. Sorry, but I stood out like a white sore thumb. I saw a total of three other foreigners in town while I was there. And I noticed all spoke French.
Anyway, the point is……. I didn’t feel comfortable taking pictures, so I didn’t. I tried a couple of times. In fact I got yelled at once…… I was taking this very innocuous photo……..
when I heard a screeching noise……. this lady…….
I tried to stick to interesting things around town, not people. Although there were some very interesting people around town!
Like I said, trash……. mostly styrofoam and plastic
A fire truck donated by The City of Boston
And another donated by Holbrook, wherever that is. This one abandoned on the side of the street after a mishap, it appears.
“The Pearl of The Antilles” says Haiti’s license plates……
That’s all for now my friends……. tomorrow I’ll be back with my visit to the Citadel and some other Haitian stuff, stay tuned!!!
4) Habana not so much, but every other city, town or village in Cuba was pristine. Someone was always sweeping, always. The gutters were spotless. The parks and plazas (where everyone is on the internet!) tidy as can be. My theory? They don’t have anything to throw away. They USE everything. But why isn’t it true for Haiti, why do they have sooooooo much trash?