Archive for Dominican Republic and Haiti

Reflecting back on my 2 week journey to the Dominican Republic and Haiti it was a challenge of a life time and since I love challenges, I had a great time overall.  At times it was stressful, at times my stomach turned seeing stuff I was not used to and at times my experiences had me in tears.  At other times my heart and soul were so full, I felt so alive and connected…

A couple things before I proceed with my trip report, my mileage was tainted since I have very limited Spanish,French and Creole speaking skills.  Also, I went saying to myself that I would not publish “poverty” images but everyone has their own idea of what poverty is.  The people of both the Dominican Republic and Haiti are very proud people and so what we might view as poverty, they view as their life with pride.  None the less, my trip report will show images of kids without clothes, people begging, pigs and goats eating garbage, meat for sale that is covered with insects……not poverty images in my opinion rather I’m just showing life as it is.

Here goes:

Once upon a time a long long time ago a boy was born with a sense of adventure, he was a junky seeking adventure everywhere he went.  This boy grew up wanting challenges and once he overcame them he searched for more and more.  In his 30’s he was happy visiting and exploring Jamaica since it offered so many challenges but after 5 years he soon got bored.  With high airfares to Jamaica the boy said fuc it and booked a trip to the Dominican Republic and Haiti to amp up his adventure.  The boy had a month to learn Spanish, French and Creole but gave up after 3 weeks because he was either lazy or wanted more of a challenge.  Armed with $3300 in cash, a few cameras and an Ipad he was ready to explore.

Since a trip for me is about making as many connections before and during the trip, I escape from my introverted shell as much as possible and become the nice and maybe annoying “hey how are you, where are you from, what are your plans” type of guy as much as possible. It all started at the airport in Boston when I talked to pretty much everyone to form some connections.  Come to find out that almost my entire flight was Dominicans that spoke no English.  We did little hand gestures pointing at each other and then our luggage to say “watch my stuff while I venture off the the bathroom”.  Finally a middle age backpacker sat next to me and we chatted about our journey in English.  I didn’t know then but where she was staying was on my short list of places to visit….a connection.

On the plane ride I talked to the guy next to me that owns an import export business running between Boston and the DR.  I think he felt pity for me arriving in the DR at 330am with really no clue what I was going to do other than find the bus depot and take a bus to Sousa.  He offered me a ride with his friend/driver that I accepted since the dude seemed like someone I could trust.  This was my first taste of Dominicans being helpful to travelers in need/without a clue.

Arriving in the DR was a joy, a really quick exit from the plane, a brief stop to pay my entry fee, a quick pickup of my luggage and I was outside with maybe 15 minutes of landing.  This sort of ruined my plans of a 1.5 hour wait in the airport, a 30 minute taxi ride and catching the first bus at 6am (the first bus was really at 9 or 930 am).  With a $1000 in each of my socks and the rest of my money spread out all over me and my luggage we headed off to the bus depot.  After several yells of “watcheee, watcheee, watchee” (watchman/security guard), my new friend found out that the bus depot didn’t open for another hour or so.  We ended up passing time exchanging some money for me, trying to buy beer after hours and just chatting.  Finally the watchee let me in the gates and my new friend gave him some money to make sure I was safe until the offices opened.  I tried to pay my friend for the ride or even for the gas and with his Dominican pride he refused my offers.  Without a doubt I will repay his kindness when I connect with him in Boston.

During the next few hours I sat outside as people began to pour in for the early morning buses from Santiago (STI) to the capital Santo Domingo.  Almost everyone using the Metro bus were business professionals and as such they would greet every single person on the bench and every single person would greet them back.  In no time I was getting good using the Spanish words for good morning, lol I must of said it 200 times that morning.  Once the bus stationed opened I went to use the bathroom only to find out that they had no toilet seats=nasty.  I walked 200 yards to the Caribe bus station only to find the same thing and that their bus station was a real dump.  I finally accepted that I was going to have to clean the toilet bowl and sit on it since my hovering skills while taking a dump don’t exist.  Long story short, I ended up taking the Caribe Tour bus since it left at 830am instead of the nicer Metro Bus Tour that left at 930 am.

The bus ride was pimping, nice nice seats like JetBlue, a bathroom in the back but air conditioning that would keep frozen meat frozen.  Since I was forwarded about this I had on my Mexican pullover and my Rasta hat to keep my head warm.  I drifted off to sleep after an hour only to be yelled at that I had to get off the bus.  Since I took the Rosa Parks seat in the back, I noticed the entire bus was empty except for me.  I had no clue what was going on but a long story short was we were changing buses and my luggage was already on the next bus.  On the next bus you needed cold weather survival gear in order to prevent frost bite= it was very very cold!  At one point the couple sitting across from me away from their kids ended up in a tight cuddle with their kids to prevent freezing to death.  Fast forward a little and our bus arrived in Sousa and nobody knew where we were in relationship to the town and where we were staying.  Adding to our confusion, God decided to pour down some rain…

So, I’m sitting on the side of the road with a large suitcase, a backpack full of camera gear and an over the shoulder laptop bag in the rain and I need to get get out of the rain.  I offered a motor bike guy $100 Pesos for a ride to “Rocky’s” which he accepted with joy.  Come to find out the ride should of been maybe 50 pesos but I didn’t give a fuc.  While the ride was only  1/2 of a mile he had to stop a few times to ask directions.  In case you are wondering how me and all my luggage fit on a small motorbike, my large suitcase rested on the handle bars and me and my stuff fit on the back.

Arriving at Rocky’s was a relief since I finally was able to call a place my home for 2 days.  I talked to Rick the owner and since I couldn’t check in until 1pm (3 hours) I left all of my luggage in his lobby and gave him all of my cash except around $50 for walk around money.  Walking to the beach I sort of laughed to myself that if he wanted to fuc my vacation he could with all of my luggage and all of my money.  I knew better since Rick is a stand up guy on one of the forums I did some research on so I had no doubts that my money and luggage would be safe.  I ended up exploring the off/on beach vendor areas that might of lasted maybe a mile long without any beggy beggy buy now sort of crap like in Jamaica.  It was a really enjoyable walk with plenty of stops except the ocean was in a foul mood that prevented swimming.  I found some “Jamaican” food place and greeting the owner in Patois I knew he was just playing the Jamaican part to sell his overpriced food.

Back at Rocky’s I ran into Mr Robert from the forums and he ended up giving me a tour of the town, took me to buy a sim card for my phone and to exchange more money.  A simple tour turned into beers on the beach, a tour of a high priced bar with a menu….. um a menu for doing stuff with the dozens of women that had price tags on them.  At another bar we met another guy from a forum who was leaving in a day but was smuggling back a mother load of dick pills that he bought for either 20 cents or 70 cents each in BULK.  Oh the joys of a country where you can walk in a pharmacy without a prescription and walk out with all sorts of pills.

Planning a trip to the Dominican Republic and Haiti is not an easy task for a traveler/explorer!  For the all inclusive vacationers it’s an easy 3-4 hour planning thing, “we like this resort, we like these side trips/away from the resort tourist spots” and then a couple of hours reading some reviews on TA.  At times I envy the all inclusive (AI) vacationers with the easy of their point and click vacations.

For me, it’s all about staying away from where the tourist stay and doing most of the things tourist don’t do.  I want to get out and explore the real Dominican Republic and the real Haiti.  Granted the word “real” is subjective and while I don’t have the time to interview every person in every town of every country to give my opinion on what “real” is I know it’s not found in tourist areas filled with tourist and locals that cater to them.

So, I have 12 days (excluding travel days) on the island to explore both the Dominican Republic and Haiti.  My random planning efforts got a little focus since the north coast of the DR has the arrival, breeding and training for the world’s population of humpback whales.  Watching videos online I knew within a few minutes that this would be one of my things to do.  I ended up booking 3-4 nights on the north coast so I could shoot some images and videos of the whales.  A random cheap price flying into Santiago, about an inch away from the north coast on the map and $200-$300 cheaper than flying directly had me sold compared to the higher priced flights to Jamaica.

The little “inch” away from the north coast is actually 90 minutes away and with my flight arriving at 3AM it’s a $100(USD) taxi ride.  Other options are a $20+ taxi ride to the city (Santiago) and waiting a few hours before I can get a $20 bus ride to the Sosua area(where I booked for my first 2 nights).  If I stay in the city, I can rent a room for a few hours….by a room I mean a place that people bring a partner for sex.  At first the idea had my skin crawling but talking to people on-line they have me convinced that the rooms are cleaned a few times a day and they are fine.  Then again, drinking at the airport in Boston, on the plane and upon arrival will screw up any attempts at napping at a sex hotel and making it onto a bus.  It might be better and cheaper to take the taxi and find a casino or after hour bar to hang at for a few hours.

Fast forward to arriving in Sousa, the sex tourism capital of the Dominican Republic.  I booked 2 nights there based on location, bus routes and being next to the ocean.  Little did I know that men book there to have sex with the local 18-20ish women from Haiti and the Dominican Republic.  After hours of research online and offline, I’m cool with the town and whatever two CONSENTING adults do is fine with me.  Plus I found a cheap and cool place there for $25.00 a night.  As of now it seems like my only concern will be random issues with theft and as I have blogged about in the past, I can overcome most of those safety issues.  Another bonus of sorts is the large “expat” (people retiring locally from other countries) population and they are an asset to get a quick rundown on everything….but take it with a grain or two of salt. An added bonus will be improving my Spanish speaking skills with the help of people that speak English!

After Sosua, I’ll travel about 30 minutes and stay at a $17.00 a night place that offers extreme budget vacations along with volunteer vacations.  For me, it’s a cool concept, show up and enjoy the country and cheap local prices, show up and volunteer or a mix of the two.  Not knowing how long I will stay there, I’ll donate a laptop, rice and beans, school supplies and maybe some clothing for the naked kids running around.  I know the place will draw me in so I have to plan something to get me away from there even if I have the option to return later in my trip.

After those first 4 days it’s all up in the air as of now.  Trying out kite boarding for a couple of days sound like fun….but EXPENSIVE!  Haiti is without a doubt on my to do list but I’ve run into some logistical issues as of now planning my arrival/departure plan along with booking cheap lodging there.  For now, I’ll show up and Jah will guide me where to go :-)

Some issues (as of now):

1.  I’m bring expensive photography gear and two computers.  I really need to look into insurance since a total loss would wipe out half of my gear and set me back.  Even with insurance, a total loss would sort of ruin my plans since my plans always center around creating images.

2.  Learning Spanish with Rosetta Stone is NOT a one month process.  While I’m doing good with their Spanish program, I can’t form anything that resembles a proper sentence.   I can listen and read well but other that speaking nouns I’m lost…I need a guide!  My once passable French from high school is now mostly lost so I’m screwed going to Haiti without a guide.   As of now I’m really leaning toward hiring a guide that speaks English, Spanish and French to explore the island with.  I’m thinking $20-$25 a day plus expenses (food, water, lodging) but that might add up to close to $50 a day.  I’ll roll the dice on that one.

3.  Transportation in the DR and Haiti.  I’m all for public transportation but the cheapest forms don’t sound that great in rural areas.  The motorbike (cheapest) are also the most dangerous on the island.  They sound like motorbike taxis in Jamaica except they don’t use headlights, taillights or abide by any of the laws of the road.  The route buses in Haiti make the route buses in Jamaica look like a first class airline.  In some cases it’s standing room only for up to 6 hours without AC, bathrooms or any breaks.  The regular buses seem like the route to go but they only service certain areas.

I thought of renting a car for the freedom of doing what I want when I want but the feedback to my questions along with some research is making the thought go away.  I’m hearing as a gringo, any accident will be my fault since if i was not there the accident would not of happened.   This also applies when a motorbike is operating after dark with no lights since they think that lights will harm their miles per gallon (common thought on the island).  Also the “if you hit someone, leave them for dead and drive the fuc away before it costs you a fortune” thingy doesn’t sit right with me.

 

More to come, and excuse the diary type of format but it’s a tool I and maybe others can use when planning a vacation.

Some edits (1/31/2012):

1.  I’ve figured out the arriving in STI Santiago at 3AM ish, by the time I clear customs, get a taxi and get to the bus depot it will be 5-530AM and the first bus out leaves at 6AM.  So, $25ish beats the heck out of the current rate of $100-$110 for a private taxi and having to deal with my luggage until my room opens up at 8AM.  An 8AM on the island, in my room start is very good in my opinion!

2.  The $17.00 a night place http://www.suncampdr.org/  looks like my ticket in Haiti.  They have a boy that was separated from his mother after the earthquake and he wants to go back to his mother.  Granted, he has some sever medical issues but if the trip is meant to be hopefully I’ll be on it.