15.05.2016 - 25.05.2016 35 °C
We arrived back to Santo Domingo late, exhausted, and poor. My parents had already called the bank and had my credit card cancelled - but the money would not be refunded for some time to come. We knew our friends were planning to meet us in Santo Domingo to start our trek towards Haiti the very next day, and we were freaking out about what we were going to do! We knew most of our trip was staying with family and sleeping on beaches - but this was my first ever time entering a country with absolutely NO back up money. What if we got sick? What if we had an accident? What if we got into trouble? Billy at one point turned to me and said,
"Katy, I grew up in a house made of mud. I know what poor is, and this is not poor. We have to live each day for what it is, and let's go there and make the most of it."
I wasn't completely worry free, but we did have a few hundred euro left over from our time in Cuba as well as promises from our friends traveling with us that they wouldn't leave us stranded and begging on the side of a road anywhere.
The girls met us as planned in Santo Domingo and we headed straight down to Barahona where we then spent the night at the Batey. It was the weekend of elections, so of course the party was HUGE when Billy's uncle Tio Perez won mayor of the Batey for the second time with the opposition having barely a single vote.
The following morning, Enoc drove us all over to Barahona where we sat in a restaurant and tried to plan our next moves. We were all low on cash, we had no vehicle, the buses dont go all the way to Bahia de las Aguilas, and Barahona absolutely DOES NOT do rental cars - just in case you ever need one there, there are none. Of course, I was still without a phone as my replacement was in Cabarete so everyone but me sat on their phones using the free wifi as they tried to find an online solution. I didn't like sitting there doing nothing so I went down to the road and began to flag large jeeps down, asking if perhaps they wanted to loan them to us... more no's and deadens had us all feeling a little lost and hopeless - but we tried to keep morale high as Katietoo kept saying. We decided to go to the supermarket and to load up with our groceries for our time at the beach (and a much needed bottle of rum). We decided we would have to give public transport a try, to see how far we could make it and then take a taxi for the final stretch.
But, luck was on our side. We met a man with a huge van who promised us a ride all the way to paradise for $90USD - a steal, considering we were 6 of us! We drank our rum on the bus and toasted many times to our great fortune
Stopping only to pee (many times) and chase goats for cuddles
The lovely driver dropped us as close to the beach as he could, and we planned to walk the rest of the way - only to come face to face with our favorite beach security guard on his motorbike who drove us each down one by one to where we planned to sleep.
Oh the luck of having friends everywhere in this country. It felt good to be back, I can't lie. Cuba was great, but it didn't have the same magic that I find here on every corner. Despite being broke, things were coming together and working out just fine - like Billy had said they would.
We set up our camp and spent the nights by the fire - and searching for turtles which sadly we didn't see this year.
One of the things about being dropped at a beach in the absolute middle of nowhere is that there really is no idea of how to get back from the middle of nowhere. We knew that 4 of us would be continuing to Haiti, and that 2 would return through the Dominican side of the border to get back to Cabarete. But how we were going to do that was a mystery to all of us. People kept asking Billy and I what we thought we should do - possibly because we have been to the beach many times - and my response was always the same; "We worry about that when it is time to leave. For now we just enjoy paradise!"
When it was finally time to leave, we found a boat! Who promised us a ride and a hot cup of coffee on the other side - what luck!
We enjoyed our coffee and a shower - the ones with the conch shells on the side of the ocean, yes parents you know the ones - and then magically we found a pick up truck to drive us all the way to the main road for the grand price of $50USD. Yes, over half of what we had paid to get to the beach on a four hour drive was to be paid for a 20 minute drive... but beggars certainly can't be choosers. Especially stranded beggars. So we all piled onto the back of the pick up truck to then be dumped at a military checkpoint on the side of the derelict main road. The guagua heading to the border of Haiti passed by seconds later, so our hasty goodbyes were called to Rachelle and Katietoo as the rest of us piled in and headed towards the border.
Again, we sat at the border town of Perdenales and discussed our next moves and loaded up on last minute supplies.
We took a motorbike taxi to the border, got stamped out, and then crossed the friendship bridge over the river to Haiti. The same river where an old president of the Dominican Republic had thousands of Haitians killed and thrown into for ... well, no one really knows what for, being black I suppose. It was a haunting feeling, but the children from both sides of the border splashing and playing together in the cool water with the sun shining upon them did give a glimmer of hope that maybe the relations can improve one day.
Entry to Haiti was a little less formal. We were directed towards a large tree with two men playing checkers on a rickety table. From underneath the chess board he pulled out a black briefcase which contained all the necessary documents - receipts and a stamp. He overcharged each of us ($20 instead of $10) to enter Haiti - we know because the receipt says we paid $10, and with that we were in Haiti. The checkerboard was pulled out again, and we were instantly surrounded by 30 beautiful black faces wanting to be whatever it was we needed, for a small fee. And there, the universe stepped in again. Billy's cousin who had no idea we were coming across just so happened to be at the border that day. They began chatting, and sure enough even the guy who had stamped us in knew Billy's grandmother. The universe can be so sneaky and funny sometimes! But, it was fate. He needed to go the way we were headed. So he organized us enough motorbike taxis, and at the right price, so we could get all the way to the town where we could then take a shared jeep to Port au Prince.
Becca and I shared a motorbike as we drove for 2 hours towards the town of Thote. The road was vicious, with huge climbs, major bumps and holes in the road, but with a view like no other. We could see all all the way back to the Dominican Republic, and even to the beach where we had just been sleeping! It was amazing to finally be on the hills that we always stare at from Bahia de Las Aguilas and say "over there is Haiti." Now we were looking back and saying "over there is the Dominican Republic!"
At one point, the hill was so steep (and our asses so full of chicken and rice) that we nearly tipped the bike. We felt the front wheel coming up off the ground, and our tiny skinny driver trying so hard to force it back down. I threw myself off and Becca thew herself forward at the exact same moment which had the bike touch both wheels safely again. Of course we couldn't stop laughing the entire rest of the way, even though from then on we had to walk up most of the hills as the driver was not happy to try again!
We finally made it to the town of Thote where we tried our Creole skills at ordering cold water, and we begged the local police station to let us use their toilet. We boarded a safari style jeep full of people and drove the whole way to Port au Prince over terrible roads but through beautiful forests. At one point the road was actually a dried up riverbed!
Everywhere we looked was poverty. The Dominican Republic is poor yes, but Haiti is next level poor. The infrastructure is even worse, there are more children in the street, there is hunger, there are people searching and walking hours to reach a bucket of water, and there is trash absolutely everywhere. We even saw a village of people living in the mountains near the border who's homes were cardboard tents. I have never in all of my travels seen anything like it.
We arrived finally into Port au Prince and it was dark. Night had fallen, we had lost an hour to the time difference, and we were hungry and tired. Billy's cousin Jean met us at the final stop and we piled out of the jeep with weary cramped legs but a feeling of excitement to finally be in Port au Prince. We had thought we were nearly there - but we were not. We had to traipse across the city using public transport for the others and with Billy and I clinging on tightly to the back of Jean on his motorbike. We finally made it to his house - a tiny bedroom with an ensuite - no kitchen, no living area, and no fan or electricity. Just two beds, about 20 buckets of water piled up along one wall, and his beautiful grinning wife and two young girls along the other. I felt the ripple of fear flow through each of us - but where we were going to sleep? Jean showed us all up to the roof top of his building - one that had the glimmering lights of the city and mountains all around us. The breeze was cool, and the ground was hard. It didn't matter, that's where we were going to be sleeping. We all lay down on the hard surface and laughed at the adventure of the day - and discussed how we were never going to sleep - when Jean returned with the newly torn up carpet from his apartment floor and blankets to lay down. We climbed onto them gratefully and slept our first night on a rooftop, underneath the stars, in the capital city of Port au Prince, Haiti.
The next day we looked a little around the city, but found it impossible to take photos. Every time we tried people would yell at us or make a grab for the camera. Haiti was not a country where people wanted to be photographed. I remembered back to a conversation with Samy, one of Billy's cousins who we had lived with in Santo Domingo. He had told me how after the earthquake, many people had taken many photos and then made money from them - money which was never shared or given back to the people of Haiti. So it has turned the locals away from photography, especially cameras held by blancs (what they call us white folk!)
We spent a lot of our time in Port au Prince with Jean and other members of Billy's family. We moved to stay with a different cousin who had a large house and plenty of space for us all. We visited many different cousins and aunties, all who were so happy to see Billy and very kind to sit and practice my Creole with me.
We went a couple of nights to a basketball game at the SWAT police station with Billy's cousin who is a member of the force. I had never really watched a basketball game before and I really enjoyed it - far more than baseball like the time Billy had dragged me along! I especially enjoyed choosing a team and watching as they won! Everyone was constantly staring at me, the only white girl in the crown who was cheering whole heartedly for a team of people she didn't know!
We left Billy's family for the north of the country as Paula and Becca left for the south. Billy and I were running out of money quickly, and there were a few issues we had to deal with back at the castle in Cabarete. We made our way to Cap Haitian where we stayed in a gorgeous place - thanks to my parents who had used their credit card to save our butts since we couldn't book anywhere without a credit card/ money!
We met friends of ours who we had strangely gotten to know through instagram! They run a Haiti travel page through instagram and we had made contact in the months before our trip to Cuba. We met them in real life, and they were just incredible! They took us out for dinner and to dance compa one night, and then took us to the beautiful citadelle the following day.
Sans Souci palace and the citadelle were most definitely the highlight of my time in Haiti. The palace was where the King and Queen lived. The remains of a swimming pool and beautiful gardens were still in the grounds, and the palace itself must have been beautiful once upon a time!
The motorbike ride and the huge walk from the palace to the citadelle was intense! The steep hill took about 30 minutes to climb on motorbike, and then a further 45 minutes to walk through the jungle to get there. We had to pass mud and stick shacks, with people walking up the huge hill carrying their buckets of water too. It was heart wrenching to see them, yet they always waved and smiled with their huge white teeth shining brightly at us.
The citadelle itself was once the giant fort that was built to protect the Queen and King in time of attack - but it was never finished. What was there though, was hugely impressive.
We walked around, saw the canons, and watched as the clouds rolled in and took away the view over the mountains, the sea, and the city of Cap Haitian.
On our way back we found a group of men playing bamboo style didgeridoos in the jungle. They found a flute from somewhere and presented it to me - so I joined the band!
After our time at the palace and the fort, we walked with our friend Djimpson around the city of Cap Haitian. Kids everywhere seemed to pop out of the blue and want to take a photo with me!
The trash situation broke me though, and I hope one day we are able to have a recycling school in Haiti.
Returning to the Dominican Republic was a lot easier and only took about 5 hours - and 6 different modes of transportation. Coming back to the castle and all of our beautiful friends was wonderful, even though we had credit card situations to chase and a few issues at the castle. Traveling through Haiti and Cuba with Billy was so different and magical all at once. I am not used to traveling with anyone long term anymore so at times it was testing, but it was wonderful to share the special moments with someone - and warming to have him there to help each other through the hard times. Travel is never as easy and pretty as the photos but I have learned that going anyway - regardless of the money fears and the worries - always seems to work out just perfectly.