March 23, 2014

Petionville, 11.17am

It almost feels like the States. There are many “blancs” (white people), the buildings are taller than one store, shops are on two floors, there are clothes stores and working ATM machines! We had breakfast at the patisserie francaise of the supermarket. A pastry and a coffee that cost us more than in Italy, but we deserved it!

patisserie francaise port au prince
The patisserie at the supermarket

Here in Petionville it’s really quiet. It’s the neighborhood where live expats and the most wealthy Haitians. It’s also the area where you can find the best hotels. Now we’re going to the town centre, I’m curious.

Petionville – retail

3.30pm Hotel Oloffson.

We are here to rest after a long walk around PAP. It’s super hot and our feet are black with dust. The Oloffson is an institution in Port-au-Prince, an old hotel in gingerbread style. It’s out of our reach, for sleeping, but we can afford a cold drink to catch our breath. Inside there’s a beautiful wall painting and an area where bands can play their music. Outside it’s painted in white, with small tables in the porch and a nice garden with a swimming pool.

We’ve done a nice tour so far. We took a tap-tap that took us to the centre. We visited the ruins of the Notre Dame cathedral, and in the middle of it there was a ceremony taking place.

Notre Dame Cathedral in Port au Prince
Ruins of the Notre Dame cathedral in Port au Prince

To get to the Marché de Fer, the old market, less crowded and messy than the one in Jacmel, we got lost in a not really reassuring area. Well, all PAP out of the main roads and square is not reassuring. At the Marché de Fer they sold shoes and cosmetics, faux hair and real turtles, voodoo dolls, yogurt fermenting in the sun, car spare parts (winter tires, engine pieces, etc). There is a covered area, made of two specular buildings with an iron roof, and thousands of stalls (or simply boxes on display) in the surrounding streets, with cloth hanging above the stalls to protect the dozing sellers; to get to the covered area you have to walk under these sheets, bending in half because they are only one and a half meter from the pavement.

Once we left the market, we walked South along the Boulevard Jean-Jacque Dessalines, one of the main roads of Port-au-Prince. Along the road we could see mechanics, tire specialists, sellers of all kinds (drinks, cosmetics, tables and chairs). It was all quiet enough, but very hot and dirty. It’s less scary to walk around in plain daylight and with no bags around. Plus I only had a small pocket camera that I took out rarely.

Driver/mechanic working along Boulevard Jean-Jacque Dessalines

We went to the artist centre with their voodoo pieces. “Why are they all so scary?” I asked André Eugéene, the founder/teacher of the centre. “Which one scares you?” he replied, as if they were regular pieces of art to display on the wall at home, as if a doll pierced in the stomach or with sticks in the eyes was a nice ornament. These creations should keep the devil away, but it seems to me that they bring nightmares.

We wanted to see the cemetery, but it was closed.

port au prince

We leave this oasis of quiet and breeze, where three lemonades cost us 9 euro, a bit too much for us that we have little money (but I also used the wifi), and go back to the crowds and dust.

4.45pm We are in the main park at Port-au-Prince. It’s nice now, it’s a bit cooler, there’s a nice breeze that doesn’t smell of plastic (we are not far from the sea, but during the central hours of the day you can’t feel it). Not far from us there’s a crowd gathered around a speaker, from time to time they exult and clap. On the other side there are two toilet boxes: if you only pee, it’s 5 gourde, if you need to poop, the cost is the double. I wonder who checks what you do to charge the right amount of money?

Poop or pee?

11pm Tomorrow we leave. I must say I am also tired from all these long journeys, I didn’t expect it to be so difficult to travel here, and I am a bit scared of what we have to do tomorrow. Apparently it’s 7 hours drive, to Cap Haitien.

There’s a band in the street. It seems the right time to play trumpets and drums and singing in the street. What are they celebrating this time of the night? I don’t know and I can’t get any info, I’m in my room, on the third floor.

I had a pretty emotional moment earlier today, while we were walking to Petionville. It was 6pm and from a nearby pub, where they were dancing, suddenly the radio plays “Un’estate Italiana”, with the real Bennato and Nannini (I thought it was a remake). I have always loved this song, it reminds me of the beautiful moments of the football World championship in Italy in 1990. I start singing while walking, a bit touched, slowing my pace to enjoy the song as long as possible, and opposite me comes an Haitian guy singing loud. It gave me the goosebumps.

Bennato and Nannini in Port-au-Prince: