Hispaniola Planes and Buses

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Memorial Day weekend Bella put together a trip to Haiti. She figured out a way to spend 24 hours there without spending a lot of money and neither of us would miss work. A new Best Western had just opened up and we booked a room for Saturday night.

We landed and Bella negotiated a cab ride to the hotel. The ride took forever because we were stopped by a traffic jam.

What are the backseat drivers doing hanging on the side?
What are the backseat drivers doing hanging on the side?

The UN was still a strong presence in Haiti. We would see them frequently during our visit. Only three years has passed after the catastrophic earthquake destroyed much of the infrastructure of the country in 2010.

UN keeping the peace
UN keeping the peace

We arrived in what is truly a nice hotel. We hung out in this bar for the morning. The Best Western felt like an American oasis.

Hotel bar
Hotel bar

We didn’t fly all that way to hang out in a hotel, so after lunch we grabbed our cameras and went for a walk. One of the things about travel that never ceases to amaze me is what we take for granted. We went into a grocery store which had an armed guard at the door and found a very empty meat display.

Meat cooler
Meat cooler

Our exploration met with a minor distraction.

Free beer!
Free beer!

It turns out the bar named Irish Embassy was hosting a party for the UEFA Campions League finals, sponsored by Heineken. That meant free beer. And every body there was given one of those boxes of full beer cans to take home. We had a GREAT time and returned to the hotel quite late.

The following day we spent exploring before heading to the airport. Many of the roads still showed evidence of the destruction the island suffered.

Rubble
Rubble

We checked in at the airport, went through immigration and security, and waited for our flight. The concourse began to fill up and our fight was clearly delayed. Bella said “looks like something is up. Go grab a roll of toilet paper. We’ll be here for a while.” She was so right! A Brazilian UN plane had crashed on the runway and the airport was closed until further notice.

The airline managed the chaos in a disorderly manner, and eventually rebooked everybody on flights for sometime later and gave out vouchers for hotels, cabs, and meals. We called the airline that night and ensured we were booked on the early morning flight.

This wasn’t a good sign.

Listing plane
Listing plane

The plane hadn’t been moved from the runway yet. Fortunately it wasn’t a catastrophic crash and there hadn’t been any fatalities, but the plane was still in the way. We weren’t going anywhere.

This time they rebooked us for Wednesday. We couldn’t wait that long, so we looked at what options were available. The island of Hispaniola happens to have a number of fully functioning airports on the Dominican Republic side, so we booked a flight out of Punta Cana and booked a bus ride to Santo Domingo. We rushed to the bus station, paid our exit taxes, got our passports stamped for a second exit, and hopped on the bus.

It was a slow ride out of Haiti but the sights were memorable.

Boats on Étang Saumâtre
Boats on Étang Saumâtre

The border was unbelievably chaotic. The UN had peacekeepers who went though our bags and we eventually were presented with what looked like an impossible wall of oncoming traffic. Our porter simply hopped off and directed us through with a smile.

Border crossing
Border crossing – That woman directing traffic was our porter

Once through we began moving quite well across the country until we suddenly lost power. That’s right, our bus broke down. What else could go wrong?

Broken bus
Broken bus

One of our fellow travelers couldn’t wait for repairs, so he hitched a ride out of there. We weren’t scheduled to leave until the following day (Monday) so we persevered. The driver eventually was able to fix the broken hose with a steak knife and we continued on to Santo Domingo.

We had a night to spend without even a plan for a hotel. The first one we found was a little strange. The rooms looked odd, with many of the doors open and the beds against the hallway wall. The desk clerk asked us how long we were staying. Bella answered “one night”.

“What time will you be leaving?” he asked. “We have to be on the road by seven” she answered. The clerk consulted a schedule and quoted a price. The proverbial light bulb went on. He was charging by the hour! We turned him down and found a hotel & casino down the street where we spent the night.

The flight out of Punta Cana was equally as eventful since we didn’t have a real reservation. After waiting in the airline office behind closed doors for the ticket agents to figure out what to do with us we were able to book standby tickets and actually got on the plane. We had to sit at opposite ends of the plane, but the kind flight attendant offered me free beer after hearing our tale of woe. I made sure she delivered one to Bella near the front, of course.

We only missed one day of work. Our plan got us home two days earlier than the airline would have been able to. I think we were pretty resourceful.

The trip was really an adventure and seems like it would be a nightmare, but believe it or not, it was one of our favorite trips. We reminisce about it fondly and have considered returning to Haiti. There’s no way we could recreate the adventure, though. I’m sure it would be a disappointment.

~Freddy

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Freddy

I’m an engineer, a veteran, and an avid traveler. I agree with Robert Louis Stevenson – “I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move.”

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