Haiti's Chaotic Beauty
Another early morning today. I woke up at 5:00am and took an Uber to La Isabela International Airport (JBQ). I got there before check in was even open, but after about an hour I checked my bag and went through border control. The view on the other side was beautiful with the Dominican mountains and landscape in the background. JBQ was much smaller than Las Américas International Airport (SDQ) but this was no surprise after seeing my plane. It was a propeller plane that fit approximately 15 people plus luggage. The plane ride itself was not bad at all - in fact, I thought it was pretty cool being able to see right into the cockpit!
Once I arrived in Haiti I had to buy a $10 tourist card and wait in the very short line for foreign visitors. Border control was once again painless, I just filled out two simple forms and was on my way. A Haitian band welcomed visitors after border patrol which was a nice touch. I then picked up my "checked" bag (it literally sat in the back of the plane) and was on my way. Walking into the lobby you can see what seemed like hundreds of men waiting outside to attempt to offer you a taxi ride. I had already booked a taxi through my hotel but had no idea how to find my driver in the crowd. I really appreciate the nice airport employee who went out into the crowd to find him for me - it made my life much easier!
My driver for the day was really nice, spoke pretty good english, and helped to make sure that I stayed safe. Leaving the airport was the last time I saw anyone who looked like a tourist. I am sure I stuck out like a sore thumb, but thankfully most of the day was spent in the car. The drive into Port-au-Prince was insane. I have never in my life seen anything like it - but I'm sure there is so much more of that to come as my trip progresses! From pigs to cars with ten people in them and motorcycles you have no idea how you did not run over, it was quite the experience. The thirty minute drive was so much Haiti in such a short amount of time, but I am so glad that I decided to go into the city.
The drive led us to my hotel for the day. It very near central Port-au-Prince, has an armed guard, five television channels, and multiple lizards, but it is a safe place to sleep and for a short visit that is all that I need. After checking in and dropping off my things I met my driver downstairs to go visit Haitian National Pantheon Museum and the Notre Dame Cathedral Ruins. The Haitian National Pantheon Museum was pretty interesting. It was a unique structure and talked all about Haiti's history. Unfortunately, most of this was in French, but the artifacts were cool and I loved the Haitian art. Entry was only $5 so if you need something to do in Port-au-Prince it was a good find. It also seemed quite safe - other than myself and my guide the only other people in the museum were about fifty elementary school aged kids on a field trip. Like I said, no tourists anywhere to be found.
After leaving the museum we drove to the Notre Dame Cathedral Ruins. The once magnificent Cathedral is now a series of beautiful ruins. My driver used to attend church there, and his wife was killed during the 2010 earthquake. It is baffling how much destruction is still rampant throughout the city. From the Cathedral to the National Palace it seems like nothing has been rebuilt. A small replacement Cathedral was built next door, but it pales in comparison to even the ruins beside it.
The drive into and out of the ruins was through a makeshift market of chaos. How my driver avoided running over anyone I will never know. It was also interesting to note that he said that the area surrounding the Cathedral used to be beautiful and orderly, but every since the earthquake it has been a tumultuous mess.
After the Cathedral I was driven back to the hotel. I paid $80 to be driven from the airport and then to be driven around the city. I'm sure that I probably could have found a cheaper price, but my goal for today was safety. I stuck out like a sore thumb whenever I stepped out of the car, so making sure I had a guide was essential. I spent the rest of the day in the hotel catching up on emails and other work. Thank goodness for okay WiFi in the middle of Haiti! I had a small dinner at the hotel and went to sleep pretty early.
Overall, I am very glad I spent the extra time and money to see Haiti. It is chaotic but unique and beautiful. I'm sure I won't see anywhere else like it!
2 countries down, 195 to go.