my first Haitian sunset - at the border
I have arrived safely in Port au Prince, although since leaving Madrid, everything seems to have been running late.
A sick on-board passenger meant the plane returns from the runway, with the plane eventually arriving more than 2 hours late in Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic. My rucksack arrives almost 2 hours later than the plane, and despite promises from the school I am to inspect next month, no-one to meet and greet me.
It´s around 11pm local time so i grab a taxi from outside the airport and show him an address in the Old Part of town. US$4 he says – perfect! I sit in the front seat and go to do up my buckle, but cannot find the catch. As I dig around in the dark I pull out the most enormous revolver I have ever seen. I immediately shun the seat-belt and spend the rest of the hour journey hoping that he has no intention of playing with his toy in the near future for my fingerprints are now all over it. The further we drive the more I become skeptical of the price. Sure enough, when we do arrive the price has multiplied 10 fold. He has got a big revolver and all i have is an electric toothbrush so I count my losses.
I get up at sunrise and chat to the Guest House owner. Betty is an American x-pat who has lived in Santo Domingo for 30 years and runs the Plaza Toledos Bettyes Guest House (prices ranging from US22 - 35) at 163 Isabela Catolica, Zona Colonia.She is very helpful and allows me to leave my “work” clothes for collection by the school and calls me a taxi to take me to the shuttle-bus for Haiti. She insists that I use Caribetours for whilst charging a whopping US$40 it is comfortable and a free lunch is served on board.
It takes almost 5 hours to get to the border, through banana, plantain, and pineapple plantations with occasional bougainvilleas and 3 metre high cacti. Most of the land is parched as it is dry season.
Then we hit the border crossing and all chaos and pandemonium breaks loose. The scene is one of complete mayhem with traffic backed up for almost a mile. Seriously bored I take the opportunity for a smoke, wander and take a few photos. I chat to the Spanish truck driver in front carrying essential medical supplies – he has been stuck for 12 hours!
I get chatting also to a New Yorker, Edison, who arrived in Haiti within 24 hours of the Earthquake striking. He reassures me that the improvements have been enormous and his organization has built 5 temporary hospitals, constructing temporary shelters and just opened an orphanage. He passes me his details and tells me to look him up if I fancy helping out. It might offer an alternative if my skills are not fully utilized by HODR.
a bored truck-driver waiting to cross
backed up traffic
a Dominican soldier on the border
Finally...at the dusty border
It takes us 5 hours to clear the border and customs, by which time it is already dark as we enter into Haiti, so there is not much to see out of the window. A further 1 and a half hours see us enter in Port au Prince and it looks like a cross between a squatter camp and a building site. Again there is scene of mayhem outside the bus terminal and punches are being thrown. I quickly grab my bags and hastily “disappear” into the night.
But to where? I walk around a bit, clearly looking like a lost gringo – not a good idea. I call into a restaurant asking for a hotel and pointed to an auberge. All there is are rubble and squatter tents. It transpires that it had an adjoining hospital which had collapsed whilst a few of the disabled patients and staff that survived are now living in tents outside the remnants. A group of missing limbed guys are playing dominoes outside, and they kindly offer me shelter for the night in one of their tents and I sleep erratically for a few hours.
Again I am up at dawn, find a motocyclet who takes to the Kinam Hotel. It ain´t cheap (US$114 standard deluxe room) but boasts a swimming pool and wi-fi. My new home for the next couple of days. I await news from HODR about their shuttle-bus service to Leogane.
Editor´s Addition: Got to remember to eat. Coffee is good but lacks all the nutrients i need.