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.