HAITI- And then the bus exploded. I am not joking. 30 Haitians clogged the minibus’ door in a solid mass of black arms, legs. A dish of rice when flying, I saw a large butt squeezed in there somewhere, people were yelling, while hot steam and smoke was shooting out from the engine all over the inside of the bus.
I jumped out a window.
When the scenario simmered down, everyone looked at each other from our new vantage point on the side of the highway and laughed. The Haitians began picking on me, “Le blac, le blanc, Ahhhhh!” and made a hand motion of me jumping out of the bus window.
Apparently, they found my exit strategy humorous, but there was no chance I was going to wait for thirty bodies to make their exit while standing inside of an exploding bus.
The bus only overheated and blow holed its remaining coolant all over the inside of the bus as a whale does ocean water. The steam was hot. I found refuge with a simple jump out of the nearest window.
This is Haiti.
I paid $2.50 to ride a local bus from Cap-Haitien to the border at Ouanminthe rather than spending twenty more dollars for an international bus. In the end, after taking a bus from the Dominican side of the border at Dajabon to Santiago, and then another bus to Sosua, I saved myself a ten dollar bill — and came out of the endeavor with a story to tell.
At the bus stop in Ouanminthe, I asked a guy on the bus that I had just rode how far away the border was. He said that it was far, he spoke Spanish, and was going to the Dominican Republic as well. He said that he was a student in Santiago. We paired up and flagged down a moto taxi. We rode on it together to the border, I paid the full price — 50 pesos, a little steep — but had gotten to the border in good time to make a crossing.
It was around 1 PM Haitian time. I stood at the bridge over the Massacre River that divides Haiti from the other two thirds of Hispaniola. I was stopped from entering the bridge by a fat guard. He inspected my passport.
“Where can I get a stamp to leave Haiti?” I asked him in English.
He pointed far behind me to the immigration station that the Santiago student had just told the mototaxi driver to pass by. Shit. I would now need to walk back around 1 km just to get stamped out of this country.
The Santiago student rejoined me from his frolic with the money changers at the border. I told him that I was going to have to walk back. He whispered in my ear a quick, “I can take care of this for you,” in Spanish and raise of his eyebrows like a crook’s invitation into an under the table operation. This guy was sketchy.
I walked away.
He followed, bantering in my ear.
I told him to bluntly to go away.
He went away.
I walked to the immigration station, paid $10 to leave Haiti, got stamped out, and then walked back to the bridge and on to the Dominican Republic.
The Haitian border at Ouanaminthe is not any more crazy or intimidating than another other land crossing in the world. The presence of people at a border crossing is a good sign — it means that you can often easily get away from the border. Deserted borders are not good, as I have previously found out in Laos, Montenegro, and many other countries. When crossing into Haiti, the men on the other side will try to rip you off, but if you don’t respond to any person who approaches you, do not follow anyone who says that they want to help you, do not shake the outstretched hands that will serve as a lock in prop, and keep walking to the immigration office, and then to a bus, you will more than likely face no difficulty and pay the standard fare.
I walked back through the border environs of Haiti towards the Dominican Republic. There was just a straight road that led to the bridge, a few shops and a steady stream of men lined its sides, but they seemed relatively placated — I was leaving the country, not entering it, I obviously did not have the scent of fresh meat on me. There is no evident cause to be intimidated when crossing this border.
I showed my fresh passport stamp to the guardian of the Haitian side of the bridge, and began walking on to the Dominican Republic. When I was halfway across the bridge I noticed that the soldiers on the other side were closing the gate. I did not want to wait around for an unspecified amount of time for it to open again. As the large, steel gate was quickly being closed shut before my path, I made a run for it.
As the gate was at an 85 degree angle to the road, and just about latched shut. I threw myself into it. To my surprise, it gave way. I stumbled out the other side to be met by two Dominican soldiers with machine guns.
“Voy a la Republica Dominicana!” I proclaimed with all due obviousness.
I had slightly impeded upon their authority. They took my passport and began asking stupid questions that had nothing to do with them.
“Where are you going in the Dominican Republic?”
“Where are you going to stay?”
“Why are you coming here?”
I grabbed back my passport and pretended that I no longer understood their Spanish, and walked on towards where the official question askers could ply their trade.
They asked me nothing.
An immigration official told me to pay $10 for a tourist card, a technically unjust request. When you exit the Dominican Republic overland for Haiti you pay a $25 exit fee that is officially suppose to cover the charge for your re-entry into the country. But official policy often has little over the often isolated authority of an immigration official. Santo Domingo had little say out here at Dajabon.
In ten years of travel, I have learned that official immigration policy is what the immigration official you are standing in front of deems it to be. This guy asked me for $10, so I paid $10. It sure beat being stuffed into a back room for further interrogation.
I was now back in the Dominican Republic, back in the country of my wife and baby. I walked down the road that lead from the border, found a sleek, clean Caribe Tours bus, and road back into the interior of the country on eastern side of Hispaniola. I thought of Haiti, I had given the country a mere poke in the belly, a single spin on the merry go round, I only collected a glimpse of an impression, though I justified it with a promise: we will meet again someday.
Haiti Travelogue Entries — Haiti Travel Photos — Border Crossing