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Port au Prince - Atlanta

The long journey home


View Fet Gede - Haiti's Day of the Dead 2016 on Grete Howard's travel map.

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Today is going to be a very long day. Having got up at 04:20 to travel to the airport, we are dismayed to find that when we get there the terminal building is not even open yet, and there is already a long queue of passengers outside waiting to get in.

A small team of officials are on hand to ensure we all form an orderly queue, and to quickly admonish any would-be queue-jumpers. Suddenly there is a hive of activity, and before we know it, a porter grabs our bags and leads us past the long line of waiting passengers and in through the door. Although I am a little embarrassed by the unexpected and somewhat unnecessary VIP treatment, I am not exactly doing anything to prevent it happening either.

At the Delta check in desk I am told that Ram Ram – our beautifully wrapped wall sculpture (see yesterday's entry for details) – has to travel in the hold, and that it is going to cost me $108 through to London. I quibble that we have a free second bag from Atlanta to London and it can't possibly cost that much just from Port au Prince to Atlanta. She argues that this is the cost. We battle back and forth for some time, with me insisting to speak to the supervisor, and her insisting she is the supervisor.

Eventually, after a lot of pleading, shouting and threatening, I 'throw my toys out of the pram'. The supervisor agrees to let me try to take Ram Ram as hand luggage but warns that I am likely to be stopped at the gate and sent back to check him in. It is a risk I am willing to take, and we move on to obstacle number two: security screening (which also is not open yet). When we finally get to the front of the queue, Ram Ram is no problem at all and we breathe a sigh of relief.

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At passport control David and I go to different booths, and I am through in no time. I sit down at the gate to wait for David, and I am surprised at how long he is taking. It turns out that because we are travelling through the US, he is asked for the ESTA form (Visa Waiver Program). Despite having checked our ESTA for the security check before even being able to join the queue for check-in, as well as during the actual check-in process, and the boarding card being denoted with that fact; they won't let David go without seeing his physical ESTA form (so much for it being an Electronic System for Travel Authorization; thankfully had the sense to print it out!). There is, however, a slight problem there: I have that form and David has no way of contacting me to come back for him. Oops. They finally let him through, albeit reluctantly.

I think they have just delivered my consignment of Duty Free rum.

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When it is time to board the aircraft I notice that the same lady who checked us in is on duty and I do wonder if she is going to block Ram Ram for the sake of it so 'save face'. She doesn't. Ram Ram gets taken off for special screening, but is found to be harmless and he is allowed onto the aircraft with us. The crew put him in the coat cupboard in the first class cabin for the flight – they all love him.

Security Checks

In order to get as far as the aircraft seat we have had a number of checks, as follows:

1. Passport and tickets checked in order to be allowed to enter the terminal building.

2. Passport and ESTA documents closely examined before being allowed to join the queue for check in.

3. Passport, ticket and ESTA inspected on check-in.

4. Boarding cards checked at security, shoes off, bags x-rayed and passengers screened.

5. Passport control – passport and boarding card for me, plus the aforementioned ESTA check for David.

6. Passport and boarding card at the gate.

7. Manual pat-down and bag check before being allowed to board the plane.

8. Boarding card check on entering the plane.

Port au Prince - Atlanta

The flight is unremarkable, we have three seats for the two of us and can spread out.

At Atlanta there is a long queue for immigration, and David yet again doesn't pass through the automated self-check, but we have plenty of time (nearly six hours) here, so it doesn't really matter.

At least we don't have to collect our checked in luggage – as a 'favour' the supervisor in Port au Prince checked our bags in all the way to London (I didn't even know that was possible), and gave us a 'golden ticket' to show to staff here.

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We are not even given a second glance at customs in to the US, but as usual the body scanner causes all sorts of issues. The scary thing is that my panty-liners showed up but not the mobile phone I'd forgotten in my pocket!

At Homeland Security Ram Ram is undressed and re-dressed by a charming official with a sense of humour (they are few and far between!). He is even swabbed for drugs but again found to be completely innocent. The possibility had occurred to me that maybe the artist had been using drugs and some traces had somehow remained on the sculpture, but I needn't have worried. Ram Ram even gets a 'seal of approval' in the form of an 'INSPECTED' tape.

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After our last Atlanta Airport dining experience on the way back from Haiti in February (Read all about the most expensive pizza we ever ate here), we head straight for the airport train and the Food Court at Terminal E - still with Ram Ram in tow.

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We settle for a TGI Friday's, where David is delighted to find they serve cider! Of course that is a pure coincidence, we don't read the menus of all the restaurants to check before deciding where to eat. Much.

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The food is pretty good too, we both have Sizzling Chicken and Cheese, and it is nice to have mashed potato for a change rather than the ubiquitous fries which come with almost every meal in the hotel restaurants in Haiti. The bill is a fraction of what we paid last time too, so we are on to a winner here.

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Later we even stop for a cinnamon bun, but although it is nice, it is just not a Cinnabon!

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After a long and boring wait here at Atlanta, we finally get to board the Virgin Airways flight for the next leg of the journey home, just as the sun goes down.

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Posted by Grete Howard 04:06 Archived in USA Tagged flight caribbean tickets atlanta delta air_travel passports haiti port_au_prince security_check voyages_lumiere delta_airways passport-control homeland_security virgina_airlines Comments (1)

Port au Prince: Street Photography

On the streets of the capital of the poorest country in the western hemisphere

sunny 34 °C
View Fet Gede - Haiti's Day of the Dead 2016 on Grete Howard's travel map.

Today is set aside for some street photography; again to compensate for the fact that last time we came many of the streets in Port au Prince were out of bounds for security issues surrounding the political demonstrations taking place at the time.

Bus Station

We start the day at the bus station, to see some of the many painted buses that are unique to Haiti. The chassis is imported (mostly from the US), whereas the body work and decorations are added here to create the ubiquitous Haitian style; with popular themes featuring religion, history, politics and local celebrities.

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The bus station also houses one of numerous street markets found in and around Port au Prince. With jobs being scarce, selling what little they can helps to supplement family income. There always seem to be way more stall holders than customers though, and most vendors sell very similar stuff.

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I love this guy's T-shirt slogan:

Eat a little pig
Take a little swig
Do a little jig

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Mobile pharmacy

Marché de la Croix des Bossales – the Slave Market

Situated in the place where the slaves arrived in Haiti, the Marché de la Croix des Bossales is the biggest market in Haiti and one of the largest in the Caribbean.

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Today parts of the market are a chaotic mess, a huge jumble of second-hand clothes imported from the US for resale.

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The import of second-hand clothes has all but killed the once-thriving tailor businesses in Haiti, as it is much cheaper to buy used clothing than to have items made for you by a craftsman. The few remaining tailors now specialise in uniforms and alterations.

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After commenting on how we seem to be as much of attraction to the locals as they are to us, Serge replies: “They don't see many foreigners, I never bring tourists here, only you!” I take that as a compliment.

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Pouchard drives slowly past the market stalls for me to carry out my 'trademark' drive-by-shootings (photographically speaking only, of course). Given the almost-stationary traffic, this is not a difficult task.

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Livestock Market

Since the earthquake, cattle is rarely seen at the markets in Haiti, these days it is mainly goats and chickens for sale.

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Never sleep under a defecating goat

A somewhat deranged woman gets most upset about me taking pictures, thinking I am photographing her. She does not calm down despite Serge's reassurance that I am only interested in pictures of the animals, and continues to shout obscenities even after the other workers try to calm her down.

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We make a swift exit before she gets over-exited, photographing the pigs on the way out. They don't seem to object to having their photo taken.

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How to transport your live goats

Slums

Leaving the port area, we travel through some serious slums.

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The area may be a ramshackle shanty-town, but their immediate surroundings are mostly tidy and I am impressed at how the residents have made the most of their situation and tried to brighten up their surroundings with a few plants.

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Bel Air

Serge takes us up in the hills for a better view of the sprawling market below. The Bel Air area is said to be a notorious hot spot of crime and poverty.

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According to Wikipedia, Bel Air is a “slum area of the city... Crime is widespread, and kidnappings and killings have created panic among the local population.... the murder rate in Bel Air reached 50 murders per 100,000 residents ”

The British Government doesn't have a much better view of the place either:
“The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) advise against all but essential travel to the ... Bel Air neighbourhood in Port-au-Prince due to the risk of criminal activity”.

That's OK then.

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Raram No Limit

We meet a local celebrity: the main man behind the band Raram No Limit.

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He shows us some of the street art he and others have painted to brighten up the neighbourhood.

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Central Market

We head for one of the many other markets in town, to look for a belt for David. The market is crowded, with mud and debris everywhere and some interesting stalls.

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The beauty of shopping in a place like this is that you don't have to go to the vendors, they come to you.

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More Street Art

David gets his belt, and we return to the down-town area of Port au Prince for some more street art, this time on the walls of the fence surrounding the University.

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Lunch

After taking a lot of ribbing over the last week from my Facebook friends about always posing with a drink in my hand, I decide to prove that I don't normally have alcohol at lunchtime.

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Look, no drink!

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Only fresh lemon juice

It doesn't seem to convince my friends much though.

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Packing

Time to get ready for the return to the UK. Packing shouldn't take long, although we need to ensure the new mask goes in the case first and everything else can be wrapped around it. There is only one 'slight' problem – the sculpture – who we have named Ram Ram – is way too big for the bag. Oops. It didn't look that big when I bought it....

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The guys on the hotel reception kindly let us have some newspapers and cellotape to wrap him in, but it soon becomes apparent that he needs more, especially if he is to travel in the cargo hold of the plane.

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I send a text to Jackie, our local agent Voyages Lumiere, asking her where I can get some bubble wrap, and less than an hour later her driver Pouchon turns up at our hotel with a huge roll of the stuff! Now that is what I call great customer service!

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I think Ram Ram is now ready for his journey of a life-time to his forever home in England.

Drinks and Dinner

Just to keep my Facebook friends happy (believe that and you believe anything), we order some 'proper' pre-dinner drinks: Plaza punch (with plenty of rum) and some white wine.

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Everyone makes sure their cocktails match their outfit for the night, right?

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After an interesting dish of chicken in red wine and vanilla sauce, it is time to say goodnight as we are getting up very early tomorrow morning for our flight home.

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Thank you to Voyage Lumiere for yet another fantastic holiday in Haiti. You guys are the best!

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Posted by Grete Howard 06:08 Archived in Haiti Tagged market public_transport caribbean buses photography bus_station pigs goats livestock pig_market haiti port_au_prince street_photography voyages_lumiere le_plaza painted_buses second_hand_clothes marche_de_la_croix_des_bossales slave_market _goat_market Comments (1)

Montrouis - Port au Prince

Here comes the rain - briedfly

rain 33 °C
View Fet Gede - Haiti's Day of the Dead 2016 on Grete Howard's travel map.

Today is very much a non-event, as David is up at 04:00 with an upset tummy. He stays in bed while I go for breakfast, the whole morning, as well as while I enjoy lunch. Only as we are checking out to travel back to Port au Prince does he surface.

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Yummy fruit and French toast for breakfast

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While David stays in the air-conditioned room feeling sorry for himself, I soak up the last of the ocean views and some sunshine.

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Grilled cheese sandwich for lunch

I am feeling very much more alive on this journey than the one in the opposite direction a couple of days ago, and spend my time taking photos of the passing traffic which consists of overfilled tap-taps (open-sided small trucks used for passengers), hand carts, cows eating from rubbish tips, big Macks (the truck variety, not the burger), donkey carts, sleek modern buses, pedestrians and kamakazi goats dashing from one side of the road to the other through the crazy traffic!

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It's Monday, so it must be wash day!

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A new venture for a future ex-president?

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David, on the other hand, is not having a good day, and is violently sick on the journey. Thankfully - and much to Pouchons' relief - I always carry a sick bag.

Rain and flooding

Half way back to the capital, we encounter the much publicised rain; and it certainly looks like they have had a LOT of it here, judging by the flooding in the streets.

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Just a mile or so further on the rain has stopped and the roads are bone dry. Strange weather.

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Unlike the reverse journey, the freeway is running smoothly; but when we arrive in the capital, we hit a major traffic jam. Pouchon tries to avoid the standstill by cutting through some of the backstreets – areas with slums heavily ingrained with poverty like we've rarely seen anywhere in a capital city in the western world. Feeling very uncomfortable about taking photos (for safety and ethical reasons), I do snap a few covert pictures from inside the mini-van.

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Le Plaza Hotel

Arriving back here is like coming home; and the receptionist, remembering us from last week, greets us like long lost friends.

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Samantha, our gorgeous waitress this evening, gives us a French lesson as she takes our order. Just afterwards, a heavy peal of thunder is followed by a power cut. Just as I have found the torch in my bag, the lights come back on again.

My Tassot de Boeuf (fried beef in spicy sauce) is very tasty, and I have forgotten how delicious their piclis (spicy coleslaw) is!

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David takes two bites from his Poulet Pays au Noix (Haitian chicken with nuts) and immediately feels nauseous again.

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I order a cappuccino after dinner, but when Samantha comes back to tell me they have run out, I am 'forced' to have a piña colada. It's a hard life.

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We speak to Jacqui from Voyages Lumiere (who kindly arranged our trip to Haiti) to confirm the details of our itinerary for the next couple of days, before retiring for the night.

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Posted by Grete Howard 01:45 Archived in Haiti Tagged travel hotel holiday caribbean sick trucks haiti mack nausea port_au_prince voyages_lumiere le_plaza montrois le_plaza_hotel nauseous upset_tummy Comments (0)

Port au Prince - Montrouis

Beach time!

34 °C
View Fet Gede - Haiti's Day of the Dead 2016 on Grete Howard's travel map.

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We have a nice leisurely start this morning before being picked up for the two hour journey to Montrouis and the Moulin sur Mer beach resort.

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Breakfast of hareng a l'haïtienne (herring in a spicy vegetable sauce), maïs moulu blanc (corn grits) and some sort of cake.

Unusually, we are spending the first two days of this trip in a beach hotel in order to acclimatise to the time zone and get used to the heat before we throw ourselves into the melee of the celebrations.

From the hotel we take the back-roads of Port au Prince out on to the main highway, with a couple of police checks on the way. Once on the main road, we encounter a massive traffic jam. We are both really struggling to stay awake for the journey, it must be the effect of the jetlag.

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Moulin sur Mer

We arrive at the beach resort around midday, and are greeted in the parking lot by a golf buggy, which takes us and our luggage down to reception and then on to our room.

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The room is nice and airy, with a large bathroom and a terrace outside. We leave the A/C on for the room to cool down, and go for lunch.

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Fresh mango juice

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Club sandwich (cheese, ham, egg and tuna) and 'Moulin' burger.

The restaurant is open air, but shaded by a roof, and looks out over the blue Caribbean sea.

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The hotel is spread out over a large area, and once we have filled our bellies, we explore the extensive grounds.

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Although the thermometer says 'only' 34 °C, it feels like it is way over 40 °C this afternoon with the humidity! We are both really struggling with the heat, and decide to go back to chill in the air-conditioned room.

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When we get there, the room is far from cool, instead it is stifling hot and whatever we do with the temperature on the remote control for the A/C unit, it remains so. After about an hour of slowly melting, we take another look at the controls, and realise that the settings were in fact on 'fan' rather than 'cool'! Doh! As soon as the air cools down a little, we both drift into a blissful and much needed siesta.

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Feeling very much more refreshed, we wander down to the beach and order a beer ready to watch the sunset over the sea.

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In the bay we overlook is a loud, obnoxious American (apologies to all my lovely American friends), who, as soon as he spots my camera, starts to shout out various camera settings. Maybe he is trying to be funny, but he just comes across as an insecure small man with a big ego and a small 'lens'. I try to ignore him, but he won't go away. Groan.

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Despite an insipid start, the sunset pans out very nicely and we stay and watch until there is no light left in the sky.

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After a quick shower and change, it is back to the restaurant for dinner – prawns in garlic for me, chicken goujons for David; followed by cheesecake which I can't finish as I am so full!

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Feeling completely shattered, we retire to the (now) cool room. I am not sure if it is the heat or the jetlag, but it seems to us that all we have done so far on this trip is to eat and sleep.

I would like to say THANK YOU to Jacqui of Voyages Lumiere for arranging this trip to Haiti for us.

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Posted by Grete Howard 02:03 Archived in Haiti Tagged sea sunset beach travel hotel island breakfast sand caribbean resort hot heat beach_resort haiti herring voyages_lumiere hotel_le_plaza le_plaza moulin_sur_mer montrouis tap_tap Comments (0)

London Heathrow - Atlanta - Port au Prince, Haiti

We've arrived, with even more goodies than we set out with.


View Fet Gede - Haiti's Day of the Dead 2016 on Grete Howard's travel map.

Never before have we travelled with so much luggage! Normally when we travel, we park at an off-airport long-term car park and take advantage of their valet parking deal, where we just drive up to the terminal, jump out of the car with our luggage, and someone else takes the car away to park it. This time we decided to get a hotel the night before as the flight departs so early. We stumbled across a great deal with a 'mystery' hotel and parking for the week for less than we normally pay for just the parking. The 'mystery' hotel turned out to be the Hilton at Terminal 5 (and very nice it was too), but as we are flying from Terminal 3, it means getting the Hotel Hoppa bus from the hotel to T5, then the Heathrow Express train to T3. With four large bags, two rucksacks and a camera bag. At 05:00 in the morning.

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The check-in girl at Virgin Atlantic Airways is delightful, and when we tell her all about the donations we have received to take over to Haiti with us for the victims of Hurricane Matthew, she waves the fee for checking in an extra bag each. Well done Virgin!

The flight is not full, so we are able to spread out and have a row of seats each.

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Approaching Atlanta

We chat to the crew on board, and tell them about the good deed their colleagues on the ground did this morning by allowing us to carry the disaster relief for free, and amazingly they return with a large bag of goodies for us to take: blankets and toothbrushes/paste. Virgin Atlantic really does rock!

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The US is the only place in the world that I know of where you have to collect your luggage and re-check it even if you are on a connecting international flight. The customs officer brusquely asks: “What is all this?” pointing at our four large suitcases. “Clothes” I reply. After ascertaining that we are not carrying any food, he lets us pass and we can get rid of the main bags again.

The full body scan turns into a bit of a palaver, as even my silk scarf and empty money belt show up and I am asked to remove both. When trying to get it off, the money belt gets tangled up in my bra and they reluctantly allow me to just hold it to one side and do the scan again. I then get a full pat down and with all the distraction and fluster, I leave my scarf behind. I don't discover it until we get to the gate, and it's a long way back via the inter-terminal train and in through a NO ENTRY sign. David really is a star for going back to collect it for me!

While waiting at the gate, our name is called and we discover that we have had our seats re-allocated on the next flight – we again have a row to ourselves! Well done Delta!

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Pouchon, our driver, waits for us by the luggage carousel at Port au Prince, and whisks us through the dark streets of the capital to our hotel.

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Thanks to my Facebook friends' generosity, over a thousand items of clothing (from babies, toddlers, children, teens to adults) came over with us to help out the victims of Hurricane Matthew in Haiti.

We also took some shoes and hats, toiletries, feminine products, space blankets and enough water purification tablets to make 20,000 litres of clean water.

Our friend Jacqui in Haiti (who runs the local tour agency Voyages Lumiere) agreed to take in the collection, so we leave the bags in the car for Pouchon to take to her house.

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Through one of her contacts who runs a bus service, Jacqui has been able to get free transport for the bags to the severely affected areas in the south.

Another friend of hers is a doctor who spends a couple of days a week treating the poor for free; and he has agreed to be the co-ordinator and distributor in the stricken area, making sure the items go to the most needy.

Many of my friends also gave us money to help out the victims; and I am delighted to say that with the addition of funds we would otherwise have spent on the two extra bags, we collected $750. In Haiti we received a refund from our tour operator for unused services (after an itinerary change) that we added to it, and after topping it up with some extra, we have made it a grand total of $1000!

The aforementioned doctor is also currently administrating a project to fit new roofs to houses damaged by the hurricane, which is where we decided to direct the money we collected.

So thanks to my very generous Facebook friends, at least TEN families will received a roof over their heads; as well as hundreds of people getting new clothes! I am absolutely humbled and extremely grateful to be able to organise this. Well done the power of Facebook!

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Our bags are now looking decidedly empty, so I guess I shall have to do some shopping while we are here in Haiti.

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We just dump the luggage in the room and head for the bar for a cold, refreshing Prestige Beer and a light dinner.

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Meatlover's pizza

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Terrace burger

What's a girl gotta do when she asks for a cappuccino after her meal, but they have run out? Order a Piña Colada of course!

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Before signing off for today there are a lot of people I have to say a “Thank You” to:

Voyages Lumiere for arranging this trip

Jacqui for agreeing to be our local coordinator for the aid we brought over

Dr Robert for helping to distribute the goods in the south as well as arranging the new roofs

My Facebook friends for their generous donations

Virgin Atlantic for allowing free passage of the suitcases as well as the large goodie bag

The world truly is full of beautiful people.

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Posted by Grete Howard 07:52 Archived in Haiti Tagged beer travel us usa hurricane pizza aid atlanta luggage heathrow delta burger virgin_atlantic facebook haiti piña_colada port_au_prince #selfieless selfieless hurricane_matthew hurricane_relief voyages_lumiere haiti_relief hurricane_mathew aid_work aid_relief hotel_le_plaza le_plaza hilton_terminal_5 atlanta_airport us_customs body_scanner prestige_beer Comments (0)

Bristol - London Heathrow

A return to Haiti, but not empty handed


View Fet Gede - Haiti's Day of the Dead 2016 on Grete Howard's travel map.

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During our visit to Haiti for the carnival in February this year, we were fascinated by our guide Serge's tales of the Haiti's official religion of Vodou in general and the the Day of the Day celebrations in particular. So much so, in fact, that we decided to make a return visit to Haiti for this particular fiesta, which is held on 1st and 2nd November every year.

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Fast forward to the 4th of October, when the powerful, long-lived and deadly category 5 hurricane Matthew hit the south west of Haiti, killing some estimated 1,600 people, injuring hundreds more, leaving close to 200,000 people homeless, and causing $2.25 billion damage to an already impoverished country.

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We felt terribly torn at this stage – should we still go? Is our hotel still standing? Are the areas we are visiting badly affected? We spent a lot of time talking it over with Jackie (our contact in Haiti), as we were concerned if it was ethical, practical or desirable for us to still visit so soon after the hurricane.

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Jackie assured us that life in Port au Prince and the surrounding areas are still very much 'business as usual' and that we would be welcomed with open arms by the people – they need the tourist dollar more than ever now.

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The parts of Haiti we are visiting were largely undamaged by the hurricane, and most things are still running as normal. It was felt that we could do more good by coming, as we will be bringing money to the country in the form of hotel bookings, transport, entrance fees, and guiding, which in turn will help with continued employment. On top of that will be any shopping we do (including food and drink), and tips that we distribute while we are there.

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What I did feel would be totally unethical, however, was to arrive empty-handed, so we packed everything that the two of us need into one piece of luggage and launched an appeal to my friends on Facebook for any clothing that we could fit in the spare bag.

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To say I was overwhelmed with donations is an understatement, and from the small initial proposal it snowballed into a huge project! Bags of clothes, shoes, toiletries, pharmaceuticals and other useful items arrived in masses; and a number of my friends who were too far away to physically give me stuff to take, donated via PayPal or bank transfer.

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We bought a couple of extra cases from a charity store, filled them with donated clothes and other items and set off on the first leg of our journey: to Heathrow to stay overnight at an airport hotel.

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Hilton Heathrow Terminal 5

After checking in, we pop down to the bar for a drink.

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Mr Todiwala's Kitchen

With traditional British fare or an Indian restaurant on offer, there is no choice for me, and we settle in to order what turns out to be some of the best Indian food we have had outside India.

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Mini poppadoms and chutneys - my favourite is the date and tamarind chutney.

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Vindhalo de Carne de Porco - a traditional Indian pork vindaloo is not the mind-blowingly hot dish served in curry houses in the UK, but rather a slightly sweet curry soured by vinegar.

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Beef Tikka Laal Aur Kaala Mirich Masala - cubes of fillet steak with a coating of chillies, black pepper, mustard, ginger and garam masala. Described as "HOT and not to be taken lightly".

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Desserts - rosewater and pistachio kulfi (Indian ice cream)

A great start for the first leg of the journey, although I have a very disturbed night after the spicy food and three pints of cider.

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Posted by Grete Howard 04:10 Archived in Haiti Tagged travel hotel hurricane aid charity heathrow hilton haiti indian_food day_of_the_dead #selfieless selfieless hurricane_matthew relief_work charity_aid mr_todiwalas_kitchen vindaloo hurricane_relief facebook_friends fet_gede fete_guede fet_guede fete_gede voyages_lumiere Comments (0)

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