My trip to Haiti came about in the most random way. Haiti was my last country to visit in the Caribbean – it has certainly been on my radar for some time. A friend took a trip to Cap Haitien in the northern part of the country and spoke highly of his time there. I signed up for the American Airlines Aviator card – made a few purchases in the first few months triggering 60,000 miles. I soon turned around and cashed in those miles for this trip – and was able to upgrade to premium economy as well as business and first for several of my flights using both a combination of miles and a cost of less then $200.
Soon I was the proud owner of a round trip flight from California to Cap Haiten. Several days before my trip I mentioned I was going to Haiti to Lillie of AroundTheWorldL.com – I had corresponded with her for years. She connected me with a volunteer opportunity in Ghana years back. And we finally met while I was in Boston last year. She recommended a lady who runs a tour company in Haiti so I wrote this lady asking for recommendations and she passed on the name of a guide.
A day before my trip I sent this guide a whatsapp message and remarkably he was free to pick me up at Hugo Chavez Airport. He brought me to my guesthouse. I had a printed copy of my confirmed reservation – we showed up and discovered that the owner was in the USA somewhere – some lady peeped out through the bars of the door nervously and told us that she was completely full and had no rooms. Ok, lucky this wasn’t at 1am like the same situation that played out several months ago when I was in Guyana.
We found another place – I didn’t even catch the name initially but marked it on my maps so I knew how to return. The electricity was out but the price was right compared to other more expensive limited accommodation. A pipe sticking out of the wall served as the shower, a bit grimy but otherwise doable. Later I discovered bed bugs in the mattress. Nasty little buggers, not my first time experiencing these. And as it turned out, the electricity was off more often then it was on. In a major earthquake, no doubt this would be an imploding prison cell – four stories of un-reinforced concrete collapsing. I later saw a faded Tsunami warning sign on the same block.
Speaking of warnings, the following was part of a Level 4, Do Not Travel Advisory posted from the US State Department during my trip (level 4 being the most extreme travel advisory):
“Do not travel to Haiti due to crime and civil unrest. There are currently widespread, violent, and unpredictable demonstrations in Port-au-Prince and elsewhere in Haiti. Protests, tire burning, and road blockages are frequent and unpredictable. Violent crime, such as armed robbery, is common. Local police may lack the resources to respond effectively to serious criminal incidents, and emergency response, including ambulance service, is limited or non-existent. Travelers are sometimes targeted, followed, and violently attacked and robbed shortly after leaving the Port-au-Prince international airport.”
While I did not visit Port Au Prince and was only in the Cap Haitien area I did not experience any of this nor did I feel uncomfortable exploring the city. The most uncomfortable I felt was at night in my room thinking of an impending earthquake and my escape plan – and what would happen to the building I was in.