Hispaniola - The Dominican Republic and Haiti

I meet more people, see more things, experience more life and indulge in more culture than my mind can keep up with. I need a rest...and it's coming up soon.

The cruise ship:
Imagine that you have been dreaming of this for months. You have booked a ticket and can't wait to go. You will be visiting places you have never seen before and will socialize with strangers from all over the world. If that is what you want then a cruise ship is probably a great place to be. The service was tiptop and although this particular ship wasn't exactly a spring chicken it was in fair shape. There was a suggested dress code for every evening: informal - Disco...or wear something blue...


You may see me book and enjoy a cruise some day. But I kind of doubt it. I gave this ship a purpose: 
- eat as much as possible from the included meals
- sleep and get rested in the king size bed
- run a few times on the treadmill in the gym
- enjoy the hot showers

That was basically it. I requested not to have room service every day which seemed to disappoint the nice lady who was responsible for my room. But I had plenty of towels and toilet paper and didn't need to have my bed made every day. I wanted privacy because I'm frankly a little low on batteries and I'm looking forward to ending this struggle of getting from island to island soon.


All I needed was to get from St. Maarten to La Romana - but we went the other way.

There weren't many supermodels on that ship. Most passengers had reached a certain age and enjoyed the service and daily activities while the ship slowly (very slowly) moved from port to port. Most wouldn't even leave the ship as we arrived at the various ports. Some would book guided day tours but most would disembark only to walk around the tourist area with priceless souvenirs which had been set up just in front of the ship where it laid berth. The ship would arrive in the morning and leave by night: St. Maarten, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Margarita Island, Santo Domingo, La Romana and back to St. Maarten.


Waiting for permission to leave the boat...or for the authorities to take me away.

Although the staff was very friendly and always carried a smile I was completely ignored by the Cruise Director who I asked for in the reception several times. When I disembarked in Santo Domingo they presented me with an additional fee: service tax: €51.43. When I asked what this unannounced extra cost was for the reply was: "it is for the service in your room". Great, I did not have any service so I do not need to pay? And this is what I told them. Then I was told that it was also for all the service from the restaurants etc. and it was implied that it was a forced tip to the staff. When I responded that I had not had any service and that I had serviced myself at the buffet at every meal they simply responded that I had to pay because every one else did!! I couldn't help smiling :) I stayed calm as I over the next few hours experienced more and more high ranking personnel come and tell me that I had to pay or they would call the authorities. With a smile I told them to call the authorities. After having been seated in a sofa for several hours a gentleman approached me and said: "okay, you can disembark". And that was the end of that story.


This is the amazing Aino!

The Dominican Republic:
I cleared immigration and walked into the terminal looking for a wifi signal when I hear a woman calling my name?! I looked up and saw a woman waiving at me?? When I approached her I quickly realized that this was a woman who had contacted me via Facebook because of my arrival to the Dominican Republic. But we hadn't agreed on anything specific because I had not been willing to pay the €21.50/hour internet onboard the ship so it was a great surprise to see her there. Her name is Aino and she is a wonderful woman!! :)


Mangu - a traditional meal.

I greeted her with a hug and she told me that her husband and children were waiting in the car. So I got into the car and said hello to everyone. Then we took off. Aino, her husband Jonathan, their very young son Adrian and their newly born daughter Marley. We drove into Santo Domingo while getting to know each other and stopped for lunch at a local sandwich bar. Then Aino (who is Danish) pulled out a bottle of "Gammel Dansk" which is the essence of traditional Danish liquor. We had a shot and proceeded for lunch. After lunch we drove across the bridge to reach the Columbus Lighthouse where we took a photo to mark that I had arrived to the 71st country. Then we continued to "Los Tres Ojos" which are some spectacular cave formations in serene surroundings. By now we had already become friends...


Aino had married Jonathan who is local to the Dominican Republic. She has a long and interesting background but I'll keep it short and say that they met some time after she had arrived to the island. Aino introduced me to Klaudia, a wonderful woman from Poland, who has lived many years in Denmark and now enjoys life in Santo Domingo (http://dominicanholiday.tk). Klaudia happened to have a spare guest room which she offered me for free?? If the Dominican Republic at this point hasn't been the easiest country for me to arrive to - then I don't know what? :)


Aino, Klaudia, me and a big beer :)

I had a great time in Santo Domingo which is the capital city. But I never found time to leave and explore the country. And it is a large country within the Caribbean with around 10 million inhabitants. The diversity of the country is quite striking and has both the geographically highest and lowest point of the Caribbean. Rivers, mountains, beaches, lakes, butterflies, music, culture, history...there is enough to explore. It is a Spanish speaking country so I got to improve my skills further during my short stay. The diversity of Santo Domingo is very compelling and I had a good chance to see a lot of the city. It is an ever changing city which is evident as you walk from one part of town to the next. There is a Haitian neighborhood, a Chinatown region, a downtown, a sort of New York'ish part, a region that reminds me of Los Angeles waterfront and the charming old town which they call "Zona Colonial". It was founded in 1496 which makes it the oldest continuously inhabited European settlement in the Americas. And it is spectacular to walk around in. 
Santo Domingo is a great and friendly city to explore.
Who knew that you could fry plantain in oil, press them, sprinkle them with oil and have a great snack?

I thoroughly enjoyed the company of all the people I met and the stories go on and on. But I'll cut the story telling short here to say that during my visit to the Red Cross headquarters I happened to meet Tomas who is a regional manager near the border to Haiti. So the next day he gave me a ride. Very optimal! 


Tomas :)

The 5 hour drive took us though some spectacular landscape and though I was tired and my eyes wanted to close I kept fighting to keep them open so I could keep looking at the landscape.



The Dominican Republic and Haiti both share the same island: Hispaniola. There is no doubt about where the border starts. There is a dramatical change in the scenery - but both sides are beautiful.
Borders...how many have I crossed....

Haiti is a lot more than Port-au-Prince. It's a gorgeous country with pristine beaches and a heartwarming culture. The population is resistant beyond imagination. What many have gone through to get where they are today is nothing less than amazing. And they smile, sing and dance.

There are problems: yes. But there isn't a balanced view of the country in any media I have seen. It's like saying that Sierra Leone is only an Ebola infested wasteland and nothing more. People live and love here. Life is being lived every day. People care about family, children, the weather and sports just as much as anyone else in any country.


The narrow road along the mountain ridge could easily flood?

Tomas who brought me to the border also spoke to a bus driver who accepted to take me to Haiti's capital Port-au-Prince. And so I crossed the border. It didn't take long before I reached the bus companies terminal and outside the bus a lot of taxi drivers where ready to greet us and transport us at a high rate. I walked for a bit and met Jackie who seemed like a good guy. For a reasonable price he drove me to the Red Cross headquarters on his motorcycle.
On January 12th 2010 a terrible earthquake reaching 7.3 on the richter scale destroyed the already fragile capital and claimed many lives. Haiti gained its independence in 1804 from the French which makes it the first independent nation in Latin America and the Caribbean. While many speak French many more speak Creole which is based largely on 18th-century French with some influence from various other languages.
Haiti received global attention after the earthquake and there was a lot of representation from a large number of countries in form of support of various kind. The Red Cross naturally responded and has been massively represented for a long time. It has been said that the country was basically decapitated when the earthquake did it's damage. Had it been a game then the words "game over" would had appeared on the screen. But humanity responded and the country has come a very long way in 5 years.image
Jean-Pierre from DR Congo and Ruben from Germany :)
At the Red Cross headquarters I spoke to various people. Most had left for the day as the sun went down and it got dark. But I was fortunate to meet the right people and after a short while a vehicle brought me to a villa where I received my own room with my own bathroom. The villa is shared by Jean-Pierre and Ruben who both work within the Red Cross. I have been very well received by everyone and most of my time has been spent either in the villa or at the Red Cross camp.
The work put in to rebuild and strengthen the Haitian society is of indescribable proportions. Some people false believe that Haiti was a well oiled paradise before the earthquake but that is far from true. Naturally every country has some room for improvement but Haiti had more room than other countries. The earthquake however made it much worse. Eventually this means that rebuilding and strengthening society is a progress which reaches back before the earthquake. This task is being accomplished hand in hand with local society. Haitians are given the tools, training and knowledge to rebuild their own country. And as mentioned - they have come far.
An old sugarcane plantage has been converted to a restaurant. And they are setting up for the upcoming jazz festival.
In French, the country's nickname is La Perle des Antilles (The Pearl of the Antilles), because of its natural beauty. It is the most mountainous nation in the Caribbean and it is enormously rich in both culture and history. When Christopher Columbus "found" America on his first voyage he actually had reached Cuba and then came to Haiti (where his flagship sank in 1492).
Gennike (Red Cross) on the far left has been great! Here we are at Radio Tele Galaxie. I have met so many great people already!
At this point there are a lot of countries I would like to revisit some day. Haiti is certainly 1 of them! But for now my time and energy goes into finding that vessel that can bring me to Jamaica because my girlfriend will arrive there in a few days. It became unrealistic to reach the Bahamas in time so we changed our destination.
The Caribbean is a wonderful place - but there is nothing that can't go wrong here and at the moment when it all looks utterly impossible...everything magically solves itself? It's that Caribbean magic. You can't fight it - just go with it :)

Best regards
Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - going along with it.


Once Upon a Saga
Made by Kameli