Friday, September 3, 2010

Haiti Day Two: The Drive to Gonaives

We woke up early at the hotel we stayed in Monday night in Port au Prince. When I went out to the balcony on the second floor, this was the view. You will see many, many concrete houses, most of them with roofs and walls collapsed, some in the process of rebuilding. I watched as a young man did some laundry in a plastic basin and hung his things out to dry. You can also see another tent city in the foreground. It looked as though it was once a very lovely view.

This is the hotel where we stayed in Port au Prince, called Habitation Hatt. It was really very nice by Haitian standards, family owned and operated. They fed us well and the surroundings were lush. Very large, beautiful bougainvillea every where as well as palm trees. Hard to believe that just beyond the concrete walls of this place was the street scenes you saw in my previous post. We did lose our electricity a couple of times during the night which of course shut down our window unit AC. Did I mention how hot it was in Haiti?

All 19 of us loaded up in the bus and began the long drive to Gonaives (pronounced go-naive). The infrastructure is so poor here, this 100 mile drive took us 4-1/2 hours, much of it over rock and dirt roads. I had taken some Dramamine and slept off and on the first couple of hours.

The highway runs along the coastline of the Caribbean Sea. Love that blue green water!

(my roommate Paige and I)

About half way to Gonaives, our bus got a flat tire. We were able to get out and take a bathroom break while the guys changed the tire. Everywhere we went in Haiti we had to carry water bottles to stay hydrated because of the heat. The hotels kept clean water dispensers in their lobbies because the tap water is unfit for us to drink. It was a real treat to be able to have a cold soda at this stop!

Another shot of the "highway" that runs along the coast.

In this small town, we saw people swimming, bathing and washing their clothes in the sea.

We passed through many small villages and the scene was the same. Many people, many little roadside stands selling their wares. Motor scooters everywhere. Oh, and the driving was a little crazy. With dirt roads, of course, there are no lanes. As a rule, they drive on the same side of the road as we do but if there are potholes or people in the street (or animals), it is perfectly okay to move over to the opposite side for a while. There are also no speed limit signs so you can drive as fast as the road will allow which is usually not very fast. Buses seem to have the right away in most places and tap-taps and motor scooters tended to move out of our way as we drove. But if we met up with a Mack truck, which was often, everyone got out of their way. Drivers here also use their horns constantly, warning pedestrians and other drivers that they are coming through.

We saw many rice fields. Also, banana fields, sugar cane and corn. Mango and avocado trees scattered everywhere. There are very few fences so you would also see cows and goats grazing in the fields.

Again, roadside markets in every town. I loved watching the women carry baskets and buckets on top of their heads.

Some of the housing we saw along the way. You will notice we saw less earthquake destruction as we drove north so some of these villages were in pretty good shape. Again, this is all relative. We are still talking about Haiti which is, as you know, the poorest country on this side of the world.

Most of the buildings are made from cinder blocks and concrete but up this way, we saw many mud and grass houses.

A cemetery. There were several we saw. On leaving Port au Prince, there is an area where the smell of sulfur fills the air. We were told that area was a mass grave site and the sulfur is used to cover up the smell.

As you can see, the region up north is much more mountainous and rocky with little vegetation growing. The Gonaives area was hit hard with a hurricane and flooding in 2008. The area in the pictures above was simply a valley before that but there was so much water, this very large lake was created. The water was murky and stagnant.

More housing along the way. Most of these photos were taken from the bus so they aren't great, but I loved the colors so I wanted to post. Bright reddish pinks, seafoam green, yellows, bright blue, turquoise. The Haitian people seem to love these colors and I did, too.

Once we got to Gonaives, we went and checked into our hotel. It was mid afternoon and time for lunch. Haitians only eat two meals a day, breakfast and dinner so lunch always consisted of whatever we had brought to snack on. We were given a little bit of time to get settled in and rest from our day and a half of traveling before we headed to the Bienac orphanage.

More about that in my next post.

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