The Long Way Round

It’s been another few crazy days of traveling for me. Here’s how you get from the Dominican to Haiti and back again – the long way. Just wanted to give you guys some helpful tips in case you ever want to do the same:

-Take a guagua in the morning from Pedernales to the capital, Santo Domingo. Guaguas are the Dominican version of taptaps – mini van-bus things that are not as colorful, sometimes have air conditioning, and are just as crowded. The seven-hour ride isn’t so bad, except you have to get on and off the bus at the first two police check points, and the little girl sitting next to you might barf on your backpack…

-Arrive in the capital and stop by the Mega-Centro Mall (such a Dominican name) to pick up ten laptops from a nice guy who’s been keeping them in his house ever since they didn’t make it through customs three years ago.

-Wake up at 4:30 and leave at 5 for the airport. Wave goodbye to your friend as she passes through security. Then, take a taxi to the Caribe Tours bus stop.

-The Caribe Tours buses are big, fast, cool, and comfortable. Take one to Puerto Plata, then wander around the block until you find someone who knows where the guagua stop is. Turns out guaguas come in all shapes and sizes, so don’t be surprised when a beat-up car with some taxi licenses pulls up claiming to be a guagua and offering to take you to Montellano. The price is low, and that’s all that matters.

-The road from Montellano to Ascension is just a dirt stretch through the sugarcane fields, so you’ll need a moto. When you leave before the sun comes up the next morning, you’ll sleepily marvel at the way the fields look in the pre-dawn light and wonder whether the sweet scent is from burnt cane or your moto driver’s cheap cologne.

-From Puerto Plata, you’ve got to head to Santiago to catch a bus to the border-town, Dajabon. You’ll have to check three bus stations (Caribe Tours, Espinal Transporte, Transporte Cibao) only to be told that the bus is either leaving hours from now (Caribe Tours, Transporte Cibao) or already left (Espinal Transporte).

-Finally, you’ll find a random parking lot full of guaguas, and within five minutes you’re on one headed for Dajabon. You shouldn’t be surprised if they leave while it’s still almost empty. The idea is that they’ll pick up people on the way. Luckily, your driver’s assistant (the guy who collects money and seats people) is in a rush for some reason, so he won’t let people on if they want to get off at a weird place where he wouldn’t already be making a stop.

-In Dajabon, you’ll have a little trouble crossing because you have too much pride to give in to the motorcycle guys hassling you. Since you’re not zipping by on a bike the guards make you go get your passport inspected, and of course they’re confused about why you never stamped in to the Dominican Republic in the first place (whoops, you totally forgot what with being sick and all). They make you pay the $20 exit fee (it is a real fee, but you could have avoided paying it if you just took that moto!) and they let you go because you’re American.

-Avoid paying the fee on the Haitian side ($10, very recent change) by using a moto. Feign ignorance when the driver asks you to pay him half of what he just helped you avoid paying, and just give him the standard fee for the distance he traveled.

-Tell the taptap driver you don’t have any more money when he charges you a ridiculously high price to go to Okap (it’s mostly true – you don’t have any more Haitian money), and pay him the same rate everyone else seems to be getting away with. Help the woman next to you out with her Internet connection and enjoy the nice paved roads and the football match being broadcast on the radio.

-Arrive in Okap and wander the streets for a bit, with motorcycle guys hovering around you every step of the way. You’ll have to turn a few corners before you find a drink, and fiddle around with your cell phone to get it working on this side of the border, but finally you’ll be ready to leave again.

-Go back to where the taptap first dropped you off and hop on a pick-up truck for Hinche.

-Laugh when one of your fellow passengers mentions that he saw you walking to the mall in Santo Domingo, and never, ever thought he would run into you again here in Haiti.

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