It’s probably the poorest country of the world and surely the most politically tolerated in the Americas. It’s the half of the island of Hispaniola and the first black republic in the world to have declared its independence. All this and much more are the unique characteristics of Haiti, the motherland of the still practiced Voodoo black magic and a victim of the natural disasters that hit the coasts of the Caribbean every year.
That was the info I had when I crossed the northern border of the country. Suddenly from the tropical paradise of the Dominican Republic you find yourself in a landscape where all the trees have been cut down to be used for cooking or otherwise. The people are of black African origin and pretty aggressive, I must admit. The border crossing is a nightmare since the corruption is very high. After getting all that done, hopefully with the minimum amount of overcharge, your Odyssey starts for the transportation to any of the nearby cities. There are absolutely no roads and the use of the oldest and most damaged buses makes these small distances a long day’s ride. After being cheated, as I was informed later, I found myself on the top of the bus. With the money I paid I could have had a much more comfortable ride in the driver’s cabin. The exposure to the dust seemed to be no problem for the locals. I headed to Cap Haitien, the second biggest city in the north. Going to the capital Port-au-Prince would take the whole day on a very bumpy and dusty road. It took me six long hours for a distance of only 135 km. To be honest, it was the first time I came in contact with a third world country and it was a real shock. When I arrived at Cap Haitien, it was almost night time. The city had no electricity and except for the head lights that some cars had, the only other lights were some candles. I got off the bus and when I tried to walk to the so called touristic part of the city that had electricity, the bus driver stopped me and told me that it was really dangerous for a “blanc” (as they call us, white people) to walk the streets with a backpack. In any other case I would have ignored his advice but because of the absence of light which I was used to, I decided to follow his advice and take a taxi. When I say taxi, I mean a vehicle with no doors or windows. As for the inside of the car, it was basically a metal frame with custom-made house chairs attached to it. Anyway, after all those cultural shocks hitting me one after the other, I finally managed to get to the hotels area, the only part of the town with some light. I took one of the cheap rooms of the hotel that my guide recommended and did something that every foreigner would do in an environment like that. I mingled with other tourists. There were two students whose names I cannot remember, a guy from Sweden and a girl from Italy. After getting back some of my confidence by talking with them, I proposed to go out for some food. That’s when I found out that I had been overpriced for my bus ride. Anyway, I think they were more scared than me, especially when we found out that some big riots had just started in the capital. Over our dinner in one of the hotels that had a restaurant, I found out more about the dictatorship they had in the 80’s that almost wiped out the entire population. I also found out about all the strange diseases that existed only in that country. I think my two new friends were very well informed or at least much better than me. But that made them much more scared since in the books things were more dramatized. The next day, after a small walk in the city with the lowest standard of living, I decided to head to the north, to a place called Belly Beach. Apparently my new friends had exactly the same idea and with another Dutch guy that we met, we took a ride on the back of a pick-up truck to Belly Beach. We reached the coast and took a small canoe to the only guest house in the area. The conditions in the guest house were primitive but at least the landscape was really worth the adventure. No running water and pre-ordered food at least 24 hours in advance were some of the new surprises that I had. The good thing was that a small company of tourists had gathered in that place, a German couple and three guys from England. The place itself was an isolated beach with no road access to it. Everything was transferred by a canoe from the nearest village, including big buckets of water since there was none at the guest house. At night sometimes we used to run out of drinking water and had to drink Coca Cola that was always there for us. The owner was Didie, a really sweet, tall gentleman that had worked in the nearby Dominican Republic as an illegal immigrant at one of the hotels. He had been sent away and had created that place by himself. He informed us that the riots were getting bigger and bigger in the capital and a revolution was about to start. During my five-day stay I paid a visit to the nearby village twice to get supplies for Belly Beach. The second time I was approached by a really sweet, old black lady that spoke Spanish. When she was young, she too was an illegal immigrant in the Dominican Republic. But after she was forced to work as a prostitute, she was arrested and sent back. She even gave me a wooden pendant to wear since I was white and that thing would protect me from the Voodoo, still the practiced religion in almost 60% of Haiti. That day we found out that the revolution had broken out and the killings had started. We were told that it would be better for us to cross back to the Dominican Republic for our own safety.
Haiti was a great school for me since I went there early in my travelling years. It taught me the hard way many things that proved to be life savers in my adventures. I took the way back feeling much more self-confident and much wiser, I think. All that poverty around me and the inhuman living conditions opened my eyes and made me understand how lucky I was that I wasn’t born in a country like Haiti. It’s blessed because it’s in the tropics where cold is unknown but on the other hand, it’s in the way of typhoons and cyclones. Later that year I was watching the news. Hundreds of people were killed in the riots that I managed to avoid. I hope that the few people I met on my short stay are alive and well. Maybe one day I will meet them again.