Haiti, the country where commuting is an epic adventure
Posted: 20th June 2014 at 19:40 • Categories: Caribbean
Going to Haiti really helped me put things into perspective and truly appreciate how good we have it in Europe when it comes to travelling. Haiti is only a few hundreds kilometres long but because of the state of the roads, the incredible amount of people walking on the roads, the markets, the animal crossing and the tap-tap pulling over without indications; a commute that in Europe would take an hour or two becomes an epic adventure that might last a whole day. Spending all this time in a crowded 4×4 and at the back of a pick-up gave me quite a lot of time to think about the way we travel at home.
Commuting in Europe is easy, we take the train, the bus or we fly, we can cross the continent in a bit less than 4 hours. As a French person living in London I am used to crossing borders, taking the Eurostar and covering 500 km in 2 hours has become the norm. If in the morning I arrive too late to catch the tube on the platform I have 2 minutes for the next one I am pesting again myself and I see it as a waste of time. Like the waste of these 2 precious minutes were going to make my day any different... Until last month I always considered commuting like something that needs to be done in order to get somewhere nice. I've never really enjoyed it.
But now, from the back of the pick up, looking at the mountains, soaking up my surroundings, hairs in the wind and sand everywhere I realise how wrong I was. Commuting in your holidays is one of the most important part of the adventure, something unexpected will probably happen but it is the part that leaves you with a hundred memories and it should be enjoyed. At home, we expect things to go smoothly, anything out of scheduled is an annoyance because we have plans, engagements and deadlines. In Haiti the conception of time is different. Everything is slower, time doesn't really matter. You actually have 2 time: The locals time and "heure blancs" which means white people's time. They are two really different time so be careful! Here is how I've learned the difference.
On our arrival day in Camp – Perrin we made arrangement with Robert our driver to pick us up the next morning with our guide for the day at 8am to go visit a beautiful cave in the neighbourhood. Our little team woke up at 6.30 to get ready, have breakfast, prepare our bags for the day. At 8 o'clock we are all in the little courtyard, waiting under the canopy for Robert. 10 minutes pass and Robert is not there, 20 mins, not a sign, half an hour still nothing. Roberts arrived 40 mins late with a big smile, said hello to everyone and heads to the little kitchen under our very, very surprised eyes. He sat down, started chatting with the people in kitchen, asked for eggs, took a few figgues (understand bananas), zipped his cup of coffee gazing at the mango tree and finally, after 15 mins of doing god knows what, he asked us if we were ready to leave- to be honest I was fuming because if I had known I would have stayed in bed an hour longer-slightly annoyed I answered "we've been waiting for almost an hour for you so yes, we are definitely ready to go". He looks at me really surprised and says "But you said lets meet at 8am!" It was 8.50. "Exactly, this is the point, I was ready at 8'O clock and its now 8.50!" I think that I almost expected him to apologize but he just started giggling, saying with a beautiful smile " Oooh, you meant 8 am heure blanc!" I looked at him really surprised and asked what he meant. "Well Pascaline in Haiti nothing is certain, 8am means that you will be on the way by then but it doesn't mean you will be there, we take our time here. Heure blanc means that you want the car ready to go and everyone in it at 8. See the difference? I was truly baffled. But I've learned my lesson, I never forgot to precise heure blanc or not when I want someone to pick me up or meet me because Time has a different meaning and a different value in Haiti.
So here is one advice when you're travelling in Haiti: never give your time of arrival to anyone! If you want you can say that you think you will arrive today or tomorrow, if you're feeling bold add morning or afternoon but don't be more precise than this! this is as good as it gets because you might got delayed by people you know inviting you for a quick meal, you might have to wait behind enormous trucks going to Port-au-Prince, a tap-tap might have broken down in front of you, you might have to cross a river.
How to get from A to B in Haiti
Go by boat - If you're travelling for leisure in Haiti and you have some time to relax I would recommend travelling by boat to enjoy the glorious landscapes. Just one thing though, both time we took the boat we had technical failures so I recommend you to be careful. If you're going to an island you're safest bet it is to contact the hotel or your host to make sure they are aware of your arrival, call them when you get in the boat, give them your estimate time of arrival just in case something happens, this way you're not disappearing, let people know where you are!
Hire a car and a chauffeur - It might seem a bit "posh" but believe me you do not want to drive in Haiti!
Ask for a "roue libre" - for short trips only! A roue libre means a free wheel. It is like hitchhiking but instead of climbing in someone's car you get at the back of the pick up. It is actually the best seat, nobody is pressed against you or sweating next to you, you get plenty of fresh air and you can finally relax and enjoy the beauty of the scenery. The locals stand up but it requires a lot of practice as you need to resists the curves of the road, the bumps and the dust. I traveled seating against the back of the back window. When you're close enough to your destination you just tap against the roof of the track and you jump. It's a great way to get a lift to go to the beach or come back from the market but only if you're a few locals...
Get a tap tap - The Tap-tap, the place where the saying like a sardine finally make sense! It is like a game where the rules would be to toss as many humans, animals-usually chicken and goats-vegetables, furniture and suitcases in a very small and uncomfortable vehicle which size may vary from a pick up to a school bus. They are absolutely beautiful, painted in bright colours and they all have interesting names like " May god be with you", "Mon amour" and so on. It is like the passengers needed a phrase to wish them luck in their oncoming journey...
I hope that you will find this article useful and that it will help you plan your adventure to Haiti!