Monday, October 8, 2012

There and Back Again

So, we were strongly encouraged by several friends to get away and relax last weekend (any questions as to why can be directed to my October 1 post).  And, we did!  We  headed over the border into the Dominican Republic.  What an experience...  We decided to take the girls out of school early on Friday and head out.  We also took our new friend, Patrick (aka "Uncle" Patrick) with us.  He is a former Marine and a native Haitian, so we thought he'd be a great asset to our travel activities--and we were right.  Plus, he was just plain fun to have along!

If you happen to be planning your own trip from Haiti into the DR, I have step by step instructions for you....

First, there is the process of crossing the border.  The road from Cap Haitien to the border town of Ouanaminthe is, surprisingly, completely paved.  You will think that you'll be able to travel this paved road rather quickly at first, but alas, there are approximately 13 little villages, each equipped with no less than four speed bumps that will slow you down.  It will take you two hours to get to the border.

You may choose to cross the border on a Friday, which is Market Day in this area.  Every Friday, massive crowds of Haitians cross the border on foot to purchase food items (mainly) in bulk and then walk them back into Haiti where they turn around and sell them on Saturday in downtown Cap at slightly a higher price.  The types of items that they buy include eggs, chickens (oh, yes, very much alive), spices, and all sorts of vegetables and fruits.  These are all things that Haitians themselves could grow or otherwise produce themselves, but it is cheaper for them to buy them in the DR.  You might find this quite interesting, as I did. It sounds rather like another country we know that continues to "outsource" more and more products and services, does it not?

Next, you will slowly make your way in your vehicle through the throngs of people with gigantic loaded carts and bags piled on their heads to a building where officials handle passports and paperwork.  There are two ways to handle the processing of your paperwork (and fees, of course) so that you can cross the border.  Option One is to take your own passports through and navigate the instructions in Spanish and try to get it all done yourself.  Option Two is to hire a guy to handle all the paperwork for you for about $20.  I recommend the "hire a guy" route.  This guy "handles paperwork" for several customers at a time, which means that you will sit and wait a while in the parking lot and pray that he will indeed return with your passports.

And, while you wait, you will be entertained by visits from kids who live on the streets in towns along the border.  You will smile and wave and they will smile back.  You roll down your car window and attempt to talk to them with as much Spanish as you can remember from high school.  They will point and giggle at your two-year-old who is sitting in her car seat playing with your iPhone.  You've heard about kids who live on the streets, and here they are before your very eyes.  Seeing their thin bodies, gaunt faces and tattered clothing, you will then rifle through the stuff in your car and want to feed them every morsel of chips and candy you can find...but you have to wait.  You can't hand them anything until just before you're about to leave because otherwise you'll have a couple dozen of them flocking to your vehicle. (On this trip, I was unprepared to meet these kids...but next time....I'll have bags of clothes and shoes and food for them.)

You will let out a sigh of relief as your hired guy returns with your passports and paperwork and you quickly give away all the food you could gather.  Then, you will exit the parking lot where you've been waiting--very slowly so as not to squash any of the goats or dogs.  You take notice of the big building labeled "Supermercado."  Yes!  That's right--it's a supermarket!  The first one you've seen in a couple of months.


The following thoughts might cross your mind:  "How can this be?" "Supermarkets right here--so close to Haiti?"  "Why aren't there any of these in Haiti?" "Why can't Haitians have access to these products and foods?"  

And then, you will remember that you need Sensodyne, a toothpaste just for sensitive teeth.  You haven't seen any of that type of toothpaste anywhere in Haiti.  You'll go on into the supermercado and find that they have it right there on the shelf, just like they do at WalMart!!  And, look at that--it's on sale.  A special "oferta"--a four pack for only $1,411.45.  Why, that's only about $353 per tube!  Wait--WHAT?!?! Before you begin to feel faint, you will remember that in the DR, the currency is Dominican pesos.  Whew.  One hundred Dominican pesos is roughly equal to $2.55 US, so, you're looking at nearly $8 per tube.  That's still a bit pricey--you might be able to have a friend send you some from WalMart that would be a much better deal.

You will continue on your way to the small B&B that you found on Expedia.  You will pass through maybe eight small villages and three larger cities.  This journey is only 163 kilometers and Google will tell you it should take about two-and-a-half hours, but it will, in fact, take you three-and-a-half hours.  The main reason for this is that Google doesn't know that you will be stopped at five "security" checkpoints that are manned by men in military uniforms toting guns.  They will ask to see your identification and they will require a modest payment of a bottle of water, food, or perhaps a US dollar or two.  Having three small and cute children in the backseat of your truck will be helpful at these checkpoints.  Your route on Google Maps.

After the sun sets and it's dark outside, those three cute children in the backseat will be hungry and tired of traveling and they may begin to whine, fuss, and bicker with each other.  When you begin to feel as if you won't make it to your destination, you will pray that somehow God will help you find it fast.  Your driver may sense that you're at your tipping point and he will find a little pharmacy that is still open and he will stop there to ask for directions.  This may seem like an impossible task, given that no one in your car is fluent in Spanish and the pharmacy owner will likely be a Spanish speaker.  And yet, nothing is impossible with God.  Miraculously, the pharmacy owner will speak French and your friend,  Patrick, who is along for this trip, speaks French and will easily learn from him that you are only three kilometers away from where you want to be!!  Thank. You. Lord.

When you finally reach your destination, you will be greeted by the owner who speaks English, among many other languages.  He will show you to your beautiful rental, which sits just 100 meters from the beach.  It will be dark outside, but you will clearly hear the soothing sound of waves crashing on the shore, and as you listen, your stress level will plummet, leaving you feeling very calm and peaceful.  

You'll have a snack and retire for the night and the sounds of the sea will lull you to sleep as a salty breeze blows through your room and the mosquito nets sway over your bed.

Over the next two days, you will enjoy the sand in your toes, finding seashells, braving the surf, horseback riding on the beach, swimming in the pool, and even eating ice cream.   You'll have many choices to make about what to eat and where, but nearly all of your meals will be eaten outdoors.  If you happen to be approached by a man holding a large and beautiful (but dead) dolphin fish (or mahi mahi), it is likely that he caught that fish less than an hour ago and is trying to sell it to you.  You will NOT regret buying this fish and promptly grilling it and sharing it with the B&B owner and his neighbors over good conversation and a glass of white wine. 


 And, there will be gorgeous sunsets...

Finally, Sunday will arrive.  You will not want to leave.  You will think for a while about making arrangements to stay another day--maybe two.  But, then your responsible side will remind you of realities that are waiting to be taken care of and you will pack up and head home.  

You will have to leave early because the border closes at 3 pm. on Sundays.  I highly recommend that you make one more stop at a supermercado for a few more things and snacks for the trip.  The drive home will be quicker because you won't have to stop at the "security" checkpoints. 

When you arrive back at your home in Haiti, there is a possibility that you will realize you are locked out of the house.  But, your seaside attitude and calm demeanor will still be lingering and you will wait ever so patiently for someone to arrive to let you in.  

Or, maybe you won't.  

In any case, in the days to come, you will look back through photos and remember those two wonderfully relaxing days and the fun times you had.  And, you will give thanks.

Matthew 11:28  "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest."


  1. Sarah! I'm so happy I found you! I didn't know you had a blog of your own and since I'm not on FB it was driving me nuts that I didn't know how things were going. ;) I promise to be praying for you daily! I know mark said he got to talk with your mark on Sunday, I hope that the familiar faces will be an encouragement to you, I wish I could have come too! Praying for you friend!

  2. YAY....Isn't it CRAZY how quickly life changes immediately upon crossing the border? At least when you fly back to the States, you have a few hours to transition, but BAM. Thankfully, the transition is usually quickly eased by an ice cream bar, so...not too bad.

    SO glad you've found the DR to be the beautiful, adventurous retreat that we always find it to be. Makes every day life feel a little more possible :) Praying for you guys while you wait for your first guests!!!

  3. So, was the Sensodyne thing for real? Because, if you really need some, I will be picking some up for you! I really enjoyed reading this post. I smiled, I sighed, I frowned, and I celebrated the wonderful time you had in the DR. Enjoy your house guests this week, ... and maybe an iced coffee. :) Love ya!

  4. This one made me giggle a few times...and I've added Sensodyne to the package. Ha.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.