The long journey to Cap Haitien

The long journey to Cap Haitien

March 24, 2014

6.30 am. This morning they told us that breakfast is included in the room price. So breakfast, and we go. Stuffed. A nice cheese omelette.

7.35am Will we arrive when it’s dark today too? We are stuck in the traffic, it looks like Arzignano at 8am, blocked by mothers cars taking the kids to school. At 6am it was hard to wake up, but I could hear the noise from the city already wide awake. They definitely wake up early in this country, there’s no time to waste!

Stuck in the traffic while we go to the centre of Port au Prince

American school buses and other buses with a French plate: probably the Western Countries instead of throwing their old broken buses to the bin, they send them here, as a nice donation.

Two things are definitely bigger than in Italy: cars and music speakers. The few cars I’ve seen are mainly big pick-ups, Cherokee or Jeep, and even the most broken stall has huge speakers, old and broken where the sound is terrible, but the music must be really loud.

pap

9 They are so honest I am impressed. On the tap-tap to the town centre we asked other passengers how we could get to Estacion O’Cap, where the buses leave to Cap Haitien. The lady in front of us asked the driver, and he said he could take us there. Good. Luckily the same lady asked how much that was going to cost. 500 HTG. What? 8 euro?? The other passengers got outraged. Another man told us we could get off at Grand Rue (the road of the March√© de Fer, from the regal name but actually the dirtiest and most chaotic of PAP) and take another tap-tap that would take us to the station for 10HTG. Ok. So this is what we do, we take the other tap-tap, and when it’s time to pay, I give the driver 30HTG (we’ve always paid 15 each on public buses so far), but he gave me back 20HTG, because it was only 5 each. Well, with 20 HTG he wasn’t going to become rich, but he was honest.

At the station we soon find a very old bus super full of people; they let us in from the back, because the front is so full you can’t pass, and it’s time to pay. The ticket reads 200. 200 what? Gourde, I think. It can’t be 20 USD I hope! No. We show 500 HTG and it’s not enough. It’s 1000 HTG. Ok, so it was 200 Haitian dollars. Ufff… It’s so confusing! They have a double currency (plus the American dollar that is used at hotels and at the border). At one point in the history of Haiti the American dollar was worth 5 HTG. It became so common to speak and count in dollars that they keep the same name and exchange rate even though the dollar now is 44 HTG. It became an Haitian dollar. It’s not a different bancknote, you use the same old bancknotes as usual, but instead of saying 1000 HTG they say 200 dolars. For example in Port Salut we had to pay 700. The waitress didn’t have the change (300 HTG), so she asked the owner if he had 60 dolars.

The guy that got us on the bus, one of the many that survive helping the buses to get passengers at the stations, came back to ask for more money, but the people around us helped send him away.

Corriera super piena

From the speakers of the bus comes a music so loud it’s breaking my eardrums. I hope we will leave soon because we have a long journey ahead of us.

Around the bus there are stalls selling cosmetics, drinks and some fried food. A lady seeing that from the bus I was looking for drinks, called the seller for me. One 7up and one water 6 dolars. I give him 100 HTG. He doesn’t have the change (here they never have the change, can’t understand why). “Wait”, he says. He leaves. He could never come back and keep the change, the bus is leaving soon and nevermind the change, plus in some restaurants we paid 100 HTG for one drink only. But he comes back, with my money.

Sellers at the Estacion O’Cap

It’s been 30 minutes and we are still here, hotter and clumped as ever. When we got in I thought the bus was full, but they actually sat a third person every two seats. The seats are movable (= detached), so when needed they can move towards the aisle and let a third person sit. Half butt on the aisle at the right, half butt on the left near the window, and a full one at the centre.

From time to time someone gets on the bus and gives a long speech to describe what he is selling. Everyone listens with attention. A girl managed to earn 20 HTG and thanked us with a song (today is the day against? I don’t know, I didn’t understand). Another one sold an inhaler. The tiger balm is not that popular.

Here comes the sacred music. From Les Cayes to PAP we spent 12 hours listening to religious music (I could hear Dieu every other word), with the boy collecting the money that stopped to sing along and mimic the words, so much he was captured by the moment.

10am. We left 15 minutes ago and the police stopped us. Why? Do you think we are over-crowded with too much weight on the top, on a bus that is falling apart and that runs too fast???

Breathing some air during a stop to inflate the wheel

12.35pm Ok, I officially have diarrhea. We stopped again for an unknown problem. Since we left PAP a guy spent about 2 hours explaining the properties of his products and he did manage to sell something. Than we stopped to pee (and in the meantime they inflated one wheel), I had the first diarrhea attacks while everyone looked at me squatting (there wasn’t one single tree to hide behind) and we left with the music. Now we are stopped again. First they need to understand what the problem is. It’s impossible to sleep on this bus. I don’t understand why they have to run so fast. And the horn is always on to advise “we are arriving, so better you give us way or we are going so fast that we will come straight into you and we will both die”. They only slow down if from the other side there’s a truck or tank coming. I’m worried my diarrhea might be coming down right now, it was very liquid. We stopped two more times to inflate the central wheel. From the fear of overturning, the effort to keep myself tight with all the jumps and the strain of keeping my muscles tight so that I won’t shit myself, this journey is a nightmare.

The only solace is the view from the window: nice dry landscape, palm trees and cactus 6 meters tall.

8.35pm Cap Haitien. I thought I was going to die today. They almost got me swear. Crazy chauffeur. On wrecked roads, on a wrecked bus with a hold less than zero and a deflated wheel, he was driving like crazy, with precipice on one side of the road. Even without a precipice, it would have been easy to overturn. Some passengers trusted the driver and were quiet, others complained from time to time, to no avail.

From the road I saw that in the river they wash themselves, wash the car, wash the clothes that they later dry on the stones on the dry part of the riverbed, on the grass in front of their house, on the house roof or on the cactus hedge.

I’m glad to be in Cap Haitien and to have easily found the hotel. Cap Haitien seems nice, clean and tidy compared to PAP. The hotel is cheap, but it’s horrible, it’s used per hour by lovers, the room is tiny, noisy and smelly, but after such a journey I feel like I am in paradise.