22-25 and 28–29 January 2013
I sent the first couchsurfing requests for Port- au-Prince (PaP) 10 days before I expected to leave SF and with no replies I sent some more. As I could see people entering their profiles without answering I was sceptical but when I went to Pedernales on the actual day of possible departure I had a positive reply. It was already mid afternoon so I had to hurry back across the border to change excess money, pack my stuff and say goodbye to everybody – everything within a couple of hours. I missed dinner but on my way to the boat I enjoyed my first beer in 5 weeks.
The boat trip was a small adventure in itself. It was basically a big open raft – and to get on board was the first challenge. The usual process is that a guy carries a person sitting on his shoulders, but I felt more confident walking by myself – chest deep but as I knew about it I had dry underwear ready. Being amongst the first on the raft I got a nice spot lying down on the mats; though it didn't take long before a lot of space turned into crammed as the boat filled up and the locals squeezed me from all sides – needless to say I was the only “blanc” which most people commented on. When departing the raft carried around 100 people (approx. 50% too many) and no safety measures at all e.g. life jackets. However, as the weather was fine and we sailed fairly close to the shore it didn't feel particularly risky. We left around 8pm and I got very little sleep during the journey because of the loud music and the fact that the many people not lying down kept talking all night. We had a short stop in Belle-Anse but otherwise it was it was smooth sailing until we arrived in Marigot at 4am (fortunately 2 hours later than the promised 2am). I had no hurry to get off the boat so I left as the last person – same procedure walking ashore and changing underwear afterwards.
At 4.30am there really wasn't much to do but to await dawn at 6am - I walked a bit away from the “dock area” with the many people and loud music and almost fell asleep on the rocky beach. Probably good I managed to stay awake as some sketchy types were hanging around. I considered taking the first taptap to Jacmel but decided against it as it would be easier finding a quiet place to sleep where I was. While watching the sunrise I walked a kilometre down the beach and napped for a couple of hours while curious locals passed by. My host Roman wouldn't be home from work until 6pm so I relaxed at the beach until 11am which should be more than enough time to get to PaP (I thought).
In Marigot I had to wait ½ hour for the taptap because it was in the middle of the day. A nice trip along the coast for about an hour before we got to the outskirts of Jacmel. I walked the last way into town where I saw the destroyed cathedral, the remains of the old warehouses, the big market, the town square, etc. Afterwards I walked the 3-4k along the almost dry riverbed to the bus station where I took the first taptap to PaP (I'm pretty sure they cheated me charging extra for my big bag but since I was the only person with luggage I couldn't tell for sure - and I didn't feel like waiting another ½ hour for the next bus). It was a nice trip over the mountains with beautiful views in between the clouds. The chauffeur drove crazily (as most do resulting in numerous fatal accidents)... constantly honking and pretty much overtaking the whole way including on the narrow mountain roads. So despite a ½ hour delay due to a big landslide we were only slightly late in PaP. It took a while to get directions from the locals either because we couldn't communicate, they didn't know or because they wouldn't tell me in hope I'll go on their moto-taxi. I finally found out and walked a couple of kilometres to the centre of town where I found another taptap to take me to Petionville – a suburb 6k up in the mountains from PaP. This trip, however, turned out to take 2 hours because it was rush hour and every road was jammed. We took several detours and at one stage drove against the traffic, but still we moved very slow. I tried to borrow a phone from the other passengers to call my host, but “no – not possible” (not even when offering to pay?). When we finally got to Petionville it was dark and quite chaotic in the streets. A local girl from the taptap took upon her to help me, so first we found a public phone to call Roman and then she put me on the right taptap going close to his place where he picked me up. My long 24-hour journey had come to an end. Roman is Russian-American and share the house with Congolese Alex who also works for the UN. During my time in PaP we had many interesting conversations particularly with regards to international affairs and politics.
In PaP I was called “blanc” and it happened quite a lot since I was the only foreigner walking around town, taking taptaps, etc. Everybody else (UN, NGO people, etc.) live in secure compounds, drive around in their big cars and never get a chance to interact with the locals. One day I went sightseeing in PaP with Lisa – a girl living with a friend in the same compound and currently looking for a job. We skipped the slum areas like Cite Soleil and walked around the centre of town where we amongst other saw the destroyed cathedral, the city square Champs de Mars, many squares with statues of heroes from Haitian history, the huge Cimetiere de PaP, the famous hotel Olofsson, etc.
PaP seems to be one big market – everywhere small shops and street vendors selling all kind of things. Vehicles are polluting, trash is all everywhere, etc. but not worse than other “3. world countries” - and in PaP at least the garbage in the streets are removed on a regular basis. Traffic is fairly chaotic – people are intolerant driving and walking without orientation and rules, so being safe is entirely your own matter. Intolerance also goes for conversations – everybody wants to be heard and nobody seems to be listening resulting in a lot of noise. Besides that people in PaP are generally friendly, though maybe a bit less happy or just more sceptical/hesitant about “blancs” than people in smaller towns and in the countryside - at least they greet and smile less and many people beg shamelessly by reflex.