On the morning that I left Sosua, in the Dominican Republic, it was a cloudy day, I wanted to get to Haiti before nightfall. So I took a 160 peso bus to Santiago, paid out the extra money for a Caribe Tours bus to Cap Haitien, shrugged my shoulders and figured that I only paid a few dollars more than what I would have paid taking local transport anyway.
Sometimes in travel time is worth more than money. Taking the express bus meant that I was pretty much assured an arrival in Cap Haitien before night, while the local transport option initially produced foggy prospects of being able to do so.
Border crossing strategy
My border crossing strategy is usually as such:
Ride to the border.
If it is late afternoon or night, get a hotel and wait until morning.
Cross into the new country as early as possible the next day.
By taking the local transport route, I would have had to travel from Sosua — Santiago — Dajabon — Cap Haitien, and it initially seemed as if I would need to spend the night on the Dominican side of the border. I did not want to arrive in Cap Haitien — a place that I never been before that has the potential of having very pricey hotels — at night, and I did not want to get stuck in border limbo after trying to force a crossing before it closes at 4 PM.
I figured in the potential expense of a hotel room in Dajabon and determined that the express bus, which would get me to Cap Haitien at around 4 PM, would be the better option.
It was only on my return trip on local transport to the Dominican Republic that it became obvious that I could have easily connected local buses from Sosua all the way to Cap Haitien and arrived with the sun still high in the sky.
But on the way to Haiti I took a 160 peso, 2 hr, Metro Bus from Sosua to Santiago, found that I needed to go to the north station — not Los Jardines — to get the bus to Cap Haitien, bought a ticket for $20 plus the $25 Dominican Republic exit fee and a mysterious $1 charge for some miscellaneous service, and got on the bus.
The bus company then promptly provided each passenger with a rather disgusting meal of reheated, stiff, yellow rice, some mysterious portions of some mysterious animal, and some funny looking coleslaw, I think. I was happy to be the recipient of such a feast. I ate it with gusto, as I know that border crossing days are often not good eating days.
Crossing Dominican Republic/ Haiti border
Crossing the Massacre River into Haiti
At the border, the bus company took care of the immigration and customs procedures, I did not even need to leave my seat, speak, wait in line, think. It was pouring rain, and I was pleased with myself for paying out the extra money for the luxury of not needing to do anything for myself. When sitting inside of a dry bus in a situation where I would otherwise be out in the rain, waiting in lines, dealing with a mud strewn borderland, walking over bridges, being inspected by soldiers, getting the stare down by immigration officials, sometimes being treated like a tourist baby is not so bad after all.
Haiti border at Ouanaminthe
So I just stared out the window and watched a gang of Haitian kids teasing the bus driver in the rain. They would run up to the bus, touch it, and then the driver would beat them off with the branch of a tree. The kids had mud all over them — there was mud everywhere — and were not wearing any shoes.
There was a group of Canadian do-gooders on the bus — wearing Canadian flag jackets with bags that had little red maple leaves stuck all over them — and, upon entry into Haiti, promptly began giving handouts to the Haitian children. I think they were church people. Either way, they dumped their untouched, first class disgusting, cold, rigamortis rice and stale meat off on these poor kids. I watched as the border kids opened up the Styrofoam food containers with an initial burst of glee that quickly faded into a grimace when they saw what the do-gooders had actually given to them.
Haitian children inspecting food
The children then began the customary inspection that one owes to a plate of food of uncertain edibility. They poked at the rice, consulted their friends, poked at the rice some more, and, hopefully, added it to the general rubbish pile that makes up much of the Haitian side of the border at Ouanaminthe.
Within an hour the bus conductor had finished all of the passenger’s border formalities, and had our passports back into our hands, and the driver had finally given up trying to fight back the border children with his tree branch, and got back into the bus. We were now moving into Haiti. It was still raining. There was mud everywhere.
But Haiti surprised me immediately, the countryside did not appear to be nearly as decimated or deforested as I had expected it to be. There were no sign or semblance of forest — it is true — but it was rather green, the farm animals were not gaunt, the field seemed to be well cared for — full of crops, weeded, and in ordered rows — and the countryside looked as countrysides tend to look anywhere in this part of the world.
I am not sure what else I was expecting?
The bus drove along the main highway that connects the Haitian city of Cap-Haitien with the rest of the island of Hispaniola. The road was fast well maintained, and full of speed bumps that littered the pass within villages.
United Nations truck at Haitian border
The villages themselves appeared to be packed full of people — or perhaps everyone was just out by the road to watch the traffic pass. There were a lot of car parts, fruit vendors, shacks, signs from NGO’s saying “Food for the Poor,” and multiple UN compounds.
In one village a young Haitian male flicked off one of the Canadians in the front of the bus. I laughed. And then he flicked me off, too.
I was thus properly welcomed to Haiti. If an express bus full of wealthy Haitians and white folk were gawking at me in my hometown I know I would have presented them with the same courtesy. But I continued gawking anyway.
This was why I was here.
From the border on, Haiti is full of UN soldiers, trucks, barracks, installations, bases. Their presence cannot be minimized, I was riding into an occupied country.
Around 4:30 PM Haitian time, I arrived in Cap Haitien. It was good chaos, I squirmed in my seat wanting to get out into it. This was someplace new, someplace stimulating, a place that I truly did not understand. What I saw when I looked out the window at Cap Haitien can only be explained in photographs.
Photos of ride into Cap Haitien
First look at Cap Haitien, Haiti
Cap Haitien first look
The bus soon parked I walked quickly out of the Caribe Tours station, passed a throng of moto-taxis, nearly got run down by a scooter on my first steps into the country, and made way to find a place to sleep.
From start to end, the journey from Sosua to Cap Haitien took around 9 hours and cost $50 including border fees.
I was now in Haiti, with few plans, at the beginnings of a new land. I can think of no better place in the world to be.
Haiti Travelogue Entries — Haiti Travel Photos — Caribbean Travelogue Entries
I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. He has been traveling the world since 1999, through 90 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China, and contributes to The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. VBJ has written 3619 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.
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Ghost Cities of China is a book which recounts the two and a half years I spent on the ground investigating China’s empty new cities. Pull back the dark veil on the New China and find out what the country is really all about.