Wednesday, August 24, 2016

[PORT-AU-PRINCE] Don't Go to Haiti

Okay, that made me sound like a total jerk. Let me rephrase that. Don’t go to Haiti if your mind is set for tourism. I think this would have been a really different experience had I decided to come and volunteer instead, because the country and its people seriously need all the help they can get. But if you are a persistent tourist, then prepare to deal with some third world BS coming your way. Wow, douche alert. Harsh, dude. I’m just being honest here, because there really isn’t much to see in Port-au-Prince.

I must admit that reading about the country’s history impressed me a bit. The Haitians achieved their independence long before neighboring Dominican Republic did, and theirs was the only case in history in which a slave revolt managed to overthrow a colonial power to establish their very own free state. That’s impressive. They even annexed Dom Rep for a while, which has always been a source of friction between the two now sovereign countries. There’s just no escaping from the bitterness of the past, no?

As to how Haiti ended up in its current state is nothing that can’t be explained. If anything, the country’s Wikipedia page is a treasure trove of information if you are that interested. I guess this is another reason why my disappointment has been a little bit more pronounced. The country had potential alright. The sugar plantations should have provided them with a lot of leverage for foreign trade or something. What the hell happened in between? In fact, we only hear about Haiti now whenever there’s a disaster or two.

Ah yes, there was an earthquake a while back, and up to now you’ll see a lot of UN 4x4s doing the rounds around the capital. Getting off at Capital Coach Line’s bus station in Tabarre next to the US Embassy, I immediately noticed how this was not going to be the typical holiday I’ve been used to. I then realized that I should have done more research before coming here. Perhaps if I did, I would have found a good volunteering program, and a different kind of satisfaction would have been achieved. Next time?

I don’t think there will be a next time, or maybe not anytime soon. As a tourist in Haiti, moving around can be really difficult if you are not that loaded. The typical taxi ride will cost you around USD 20 for distances that are not that long. It’s like hailing an Uber somewhere in the United States, if costs were to be the sole basis. An alternative form of transportation is the Tap-Tap, a pick-up with its back end customized with a roof and seats to accommodate around a dozen people. They cost around USD 0.20.

But the Tap-Taps are always full, and many foreign governments have issued warnings when it comes to riding such vehicles. It’s not really that which I’m worried about, though. Riding the thing would have been similar to hopping on a smoke belching jeepney back in Manila. The issue was that I never saw a Tap-Tap that had any free seat for the entire duration of my stay in Port-au-Prince. I’m not really the type to shy away from public transportation in a country I’m not familiar with, but there simply was no opportunity.

I relied on motorcycles to get from one place to another. Food was not a problem because the hotel restaurant I frequented accepted Visa anyway. And so the USD that I had, I exchanged into Haitian Gourdes, most of which were just spent on these motorcycle rides. HTG 200 (~PHP 150) seemed customary and the bumpy ride on the capital’s unpaved roads felt like a primer to the roller coaster barrage waiting for me in Ohio a week later. Overall, it was an eye-opener of an experience, in many ways.

I think I was just based on the wrong side of the city once again? They say that Pétionville is the place to be if you want a neighborhood that is a little more tolerable. I didn’t know how to get there. Besides, I think settling at my Airbnb place right next to the airport was the wiser option. On my last afternoon I decided to take a risk and hop on a Tap-Tap all the way to the National Palace. It didn’t happen. Instead, I went on a half an hour stroll in Tabarre in my bright orange shorts while clutching my blue laptop.

It was more of a social experiment. Port-au-Prince doesn’t seem to be that safe, but how unsafe is unsafe for an Asian tourist with an item of value at hand walking down the streets of the Haitian capital? Well, I got a lot of looks of the confused and damn-boy-you-crazy type. Several locals, most of them middle-aged and old, also made it a point to call me by waving their hands or just shouting unintelligible Creole at me, probably racial slurs or what have you. It was like a freaking déjà-vu of Ulan Bator.

But I wasn’t mugged or anything. I made it back to my Airbnb place in one piece that night, but my impression of the country did not really leave me begging to explore the city more. The Wikitravel page for Port-au-Prince is almost empty, with the three or four main tourist attractions listed down just a few backflips away from one another. The National Palace has been damaged by the earthquake, while the Musée du Panthéon National Haïtien (MUPANAH) remains intact and worth the USD 5 admission fee, I suppose.

I had no HTG left to pay the motorcycle, and while the museum accepted USD, they won’t give you HTG as change. Besides, only half an hour was left before closing. So I decided to stay with the motorcycle driver, because I seriously didn’t have the slightest idea how to get back to Tabarre, and getting stuck there in the middle of the night was not on my to-do list. End of story. If you insist on going, JetBlue flies to Port-au-Prince from Fort Lauderdale and NY.

[PORT-AU-PRINCE] Don't Go to Haiti

2 creature(s) gave a damn:

Ian | GoingRoamingWandering said...

Hmm, there's not really much to see in Haiti plus the places look not worthy to roam at for tourist.

ihcahieh said...

@Ian - They do have beaches. This is the Caribbean after all. But I don't think the hassle is worth it when you can just go to DomRep or Cuba instead.

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