Hitching A Ride In Port-au-Prince
There is a moment when you’re sitting in the back of a beat up black sedan, spewing exhaust, sweating, and stuck in traffic when you think, ‘Yay, I am digging the vibe in Haïti’.
Having spent the morning and part of the afternoon at Parc historique de la cane à sucre et musèe (Cane sugar historical park and museum) and in traffic; which can be a tad intense in Port-au-Prince, I decided I wanted to visit a market during our free time in the afternoon. And after dropping most of our group off at the hotel, myself, Sarah, and Mylène (we are all on an Air Transat press trip with one of their package tours) were joined by Daphene and Ralph as we hopped out of the van and onto the street.
The street was not really a market. At least not what we had in mind. Sarah was looking for white sandals for a Dine en Blanc event we are attending in a couple days, and the rest of us are just along for the ride. In our minds we were going to be dropped off in an area filled with stalls with red digi cell umbrellas to help keep the heat off the vendors.
The street is busy, but not crowded and chaotic like many streets in Port-au-Prince. On one side various vendors have displays of shoes and sandals, a woman sells what looks like Mary Kay jewelry, and a young man sits on his bicycle, shaded by an umbrella, selling freshly made juice. The other side of the street has a clothing shop, and outdoor bar, and a man displaying cages filled with birds.
Was Sarah looks for white sandals that fit and look nice (which is a challenge), the rest of us walk, taking photos and slowly realizing how utterly bizarre it is to Haitiens that three white women and a Haitien-Canadian man and woman are casually shopping. We get stares. A lot of them. At points when I’m standing on my own I have Haitien men stopping and asking if I’m okay. At no point did I feel scared or nervous. It’s not like that. Haïti is intense, and I have a developing love for the country and its people.
My plan was to take some portraits as well, but I’m unsure of whether it is a good time. The sidewalk is crumbling in parts, forcing us at times to walk on the street, and the traffic can be so fast at times that we have to quickly hop back onto the sidewalk to avoid getting run over.
Once Sarah finds a pair of sandals we decide to walk a bit. Our guide had suggested we go to l’hôtel Plaza to get a taxi back to our hotel, but instead of doing that we walk, thinking we can hail a taxi later. Daphene needs to get back to the hotel, so we put her on a motorcycle, snapping pictures of the driver’s face and license plate before sending her on her way. Alone. The rest of us, Sarah, Myèlene, Ralph, and I walk towards the hotel. It’s quite a scene; three white girls and a Haitien-Canadian man. We’re laughing, I’m taking occasional street photos and speaking French very poorly. Local school boys shout in French that Sarah is sexy, to which she replies (in French), I speak French! Sarah, Myèlene, and Ralph are all from Montréal.
When it’s time to hail a taxi back to the hotel, reality sinks in. You cannot hail a taxi in Haïti. This is why our guide had said we should go to l’hôtel Plaza. No worries though as Ralph flags down a beat-up black sedan.
At first Sarah and Myèlene don’t want to get in. This is a random guy, not a taxi!
“It’s okay, it done this before. This kind of thing is quite common in some countries”, I tell them.
They nervously climb into the back seat, I slide in beside them, and Ralph sits up front. It’s hot outside, but even more hot in the car. The absurdity of our situation hits and we are hysterical with laughter, chatting about absolutely nothing. The car rides low and we seem to grind and bump hard at each pot hole. It’s late in the day so traffic is getting intense, and we can not only see the exhaust from the car, but we can smell it. Hell, we can almost taste it!
Instinct is to roll up the windows, but I’m pretty sure we would roast to death in like 4 mins. So, we suck in the fumes and keep laughing. I send out a tweet, and Sarah begs me to not tag her on Facebook as she doesn’t want her mom to freak out. I totally get it.
It’s getting dark, we are stuck on the mountain, in traffic, and Sarah is concerned as the gas light has been on the entire ride and the driver just said it could be an hour before we get to the hotel. The check gas and oil lights are the only lights working on the dashboard as night takes over. And I’m pretty sure Sarah is quietly freaking out. When the driver pulls into a gas station she is relieved, “Oh, good!”, she exclaims. But when we discover that he was just trying to get ahead of traffic we begin to wail with laughter.
“OMG, it is so hot in this car! I’m pretty sure my hair will be curly again by the time we get to the hotel”, I joke.
Laughter is the best way to get through the randomness of travel.
Roughly an hour after he picked us up, we are dropped at our hotel. When we ask how much, he says $10 USD. Seriously? Done!
Today I was reminded of something. Travelling on a package tour with a set itinerary doesn’t mean you cannot have fun and do your own thing as well. There is nothing stopping me or anyone from making an effort to see and do more, if that is something we like to do. I realized something else as well, there’s fun to be had in every situation, you just have to look a little harder at times.