Erica, the double black diamond backpacker, was in her element. An opportunity to travel to the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere with no travel book, no specific plans. How fun could that be? AHHHH!
It started on a cold day in New York City. We had one afternoon to find a travel book on Haiti before flying to the Dominican Republic. dr 024We headed out, dressed in everything we had in our backpacks and shivered down the avenues, first to a travel book store, then the original Borders books. Nothing on Haiti. So we resorted to the internet and found that Cap Haitien is a ¨resort city¨ on the north coast.

Cap-Hatien, Haiti according to Pinterest

Cap-Hatien, Haiti according to Pinterest

The next day we flew to Dominican Republic to visit my nephew, his wife and their dogs, Desmond and Bella. dr 025Staff at the school where my nephew teaches told us stories of being turned back at the border of Haiti, of being extorted for $400 and the like. So with this wealth of information we boarded a bus for the border at the River Massacre. Nice name!

Haiti/DR border

Haiti/DR border

The first bit was flat coastal plain. A few UN posts interrupted the symmetry. Then the mountains of Cap Haitien appeared, the city´s shanties pouring down its flanks to the centreville and the sea. I would not call it a resort town. It´s the 2nd city of Haiti complete with standard urban problems. Trash was everywhere, picked over by pigs, tramped in the mud, filling stream beds like great trash glaciers slowing making their way to the sea. dr 037There is no backpacker´s infrastructure. We paid $70 per night for a VERY basic room in the centreville.  But outside was a vibrant colonial district looking like  it could be a New Orleans French quarter after a good scrubbing and a major cash infusion. dr 044We walked out on Sunday morning and watched the parade of white dresses on the way to cathedral. dr 031 - Copy Down the porch shaded avenue to the central market.  Lots of nonperishables, some refabricated most creatively, but not a lot of fresh produce.dr 040

Most meals were some combination of rice, beans, spaghetti and retirement age chicken. Most meals ended with a lively debate about the bill. Menus advertized in either the Haitian currency, gourde, or a fictitious currency called Haitian dollars, a throw back to when the currency was pegged to the US dollar. The bill could arrive 5 times more expensive than expected. At first we thought it was just a ploy used only on les blancs but apparently everyone bargains in Haitian dollars then has to do a mental conversion to gourde.

Monday and all the schools opened. It seemed from every other building came recitations, singing, chanting, chiding. dr 032Noon and the streets filled with school uniforms crowding the street venders for lunch.
One night we braved the streets of centreville. We were a little spooked at the lack of lights. Finally a street light with what from a distance looked like a gang of boys ready to hassle us. As we drew closer we saw that it was girls and boys and they were all studying school notes under the street light. As we moved on we found it was the same under every street light. Charming.dr 033

Tuesday we left centreville, over the mountain 10 miles to Labadi on a tap tap, 16 in the back of a little pickup. dr 034Labadi was advertized as a little village with perfect beaches (see Pinterest photo above). The reality was an abrupt end of the road, cliff on one side, a barbed wire resort the other, and straight ahead a gigantic cruise ship looking like something from Wall-E, the movie. Boats charged $$$ to take you anywhere but here. So we turned around and started walking the hot, dusty, hilly 10 mile dirt road back to Cap-Hatien. Soon a local joined us. He had been looking for work at the resort but was out of luck. Along the way he told us his sad story and could we give him something. After a couple of miles we came upon a beach resort, gave him some gourde and parted ways. At the beach bar we met some lovely people from Canada including Jen, who lives in an orphanage at the border and owns an organic farm on the River Massacre. She offered us a bed at the orphanage if we came with her the next day. So we agreed and headed back to Cap Haitien on a moto caphatmoto

Wednesday we woke to the sound of a downpour coming through the cracks in the wall. Outside the streams had overflowed into the streets leaving a scree of trash.dr 046Jen still managed to make it over the storm cut roads and we headed for the bus station. The bus was packed as usual, 5 to 4 seats. A snake oil salesman hawked his wares for half the trip back to the border. We stayed the night at Jen’s orphanage and met her dog, Bella. dr 047We showed Jen a photo of my nephew’s dog, Bella. Jen seemed to recognize her. Long story short, Bella’s brother had come to live at the orphanage. Jen also knows the staff from my nephew’s school that were charged $400 at the border. It’s a strange, small world. The next morning Jen gave us a tour of the orphanage dr 050and her farm that butted right up against the River Massecre.dr 053Jen’s farm is amazing. You can contact her through the orphanage website at http://bonneterrehaiti.org/

Thursday and we slipped over the River Massacre to the Dominican Republic. More to come.

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