Sunday, February 12, 2012

A day in the life: Roadtrip from PAP to Camp Perrin

Last July, I took the GMAT. The closest place to sit for the exam was Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic. After I flew back to Port-au-Prince, I had to go to the town of Les Cayes to participate in the financial component of a conference related to our HIV outreach.

“Cayes” doesn’t have a lot of regularly scheduled flights and my attendance was important. So despite the fact that I consider National Highway 2 to be unsafe for travel – it’s the road where my friend, Rodny, was killed in a bus accident a year ago – I took the risk of driving Route 2. In order to minimize the risk I hired a private car - there was NO way I was taking a bus - and set forth on the five hour drive from Port-au-Prince. I figured with a private car, even if others refused to drive sanely, I could at least tell my driver to slow down!

My PAP guide, Monsieur Paris, had been working with my boss for nearly 20 years. So I knew I was in good hands. During that time he had seamlessly organized all aspects of travel within PAP. This trip started out with a couple of big eye rolls though. And we obviously weren’t taking Paris’ car on the journey.

Although I couldn’t really speak any Creole, it was pretty obvious that simply finding a suitable car for the five hour trip was proving difficult. We changed cars more than once while still in PAP. And each change was preceded by several actions:

1) raised voices between Mr. Paris and the hired driver;
2) a phone call with lowered voices; and
3) an exchange of money.

Silly me. I was assuming I’d jump in a car that morning and head out. But lucky for me, I’m the type of person who – when I encounter a problem – prefer to take five deep breaths, rather than try to control something over which I know I’ll have no control.

Eventually we got a car, drove through the crowded, dusty streets of Port-au-Prince and set sail on the fist-clenching Highway 2 toward Les Cayes. After we got out of town, the road was fairly clear and the buses, camions, SUVs, cars and motorbikes were all travelling far too fast. Well, all of them except for mine. And while I’m sure we were annoying many locals, I wasn’t about to become a casualty of the lack of road rules in Haiti.

The most common and colorful sight on Haiti’s roads is the inter-city bus with people either on the roof or hanging on the back:
I love these buses. They’re all hand painted and usually named after either Dieu (God) or a Saint.

And there were some towns along the way that shared the chaos of Port-au-Prince’s roads:

But for the most part, it was beautiful scenery:

And this is the view from the town of San Louis de Sud:

Their Caribbean beach with nearby islands is stunning:

We arrived in Les Cayes. And there’s not much memorable from my experience there, aside from work. Near Cayes are a couple places, Port Salut and Ile a Vache, that are supposed to be great resort towns. And considering what I saw of San Louis de Sud, I’m confident there are more beautiful beaches nearby. But I was working and as soon as the conference ended, one of the guys who works for me had arrived and met me for the five hour drive over the tropical-forested mountains from the southern half to the northern half of the “southern claw” that is Haiti’s southern peninsula.

The first stop on the drive from Cayes to Jeremie was Camp Perrin. It’s not such a memorable town. Dusty and something of a transit point. But they did have a few of the hand-painted buses that I’ve come to enjoy:

Tim White

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