Monday, April 30, 2012

Border-line Crazy

There are few things more fun than crossing the Haiti/Dominican Republic border. It is fun like an IRS audit.

The QCS basketball team went to the DR for a basketball tournament last week. To get to this awesome tournament we had to cross the border, and since the school is too cheap to guy a private jet like I asked, we had to take a bus.

I hate the border crossings like I hate hell and all Capulets. The corruption is rampant, the disorganization mind-boggling. It is a full-court press of chaos for a Westerner who is used to orderly lines and things like receipts. I was feeling a little better about this trip because I was not in charge and our bus driver was fluent in Spanish, Creole, and English. His day job with a medical NGO requires him to cross the border often, so I felt confident it would not be so bad.

A few miles from the border, at the aptly-named town called Mal Passe (Bad Pass), we were waved down by a Haitian police officer who let us know that the border was closed. The night before there had been a shooting, and until it was sorted out, nothing more than foot traffic was getting through. Neat.

The powers-that-be debated our options. The next closest crossing was in the Central Plateau, but driving through the muddy river bed with a bus was impossible. There was one more crossing, near Ouanamenthe (pronounced Wanna-mint), at the far northern edge of Haiti. To get there we would have to drive back through Port-au-Prince, along the Western coast of Haiti, and then take the "highway" to Cap Haitian. The drive would take the whole day and we would be luck to make the border before it closed at 5 pm.

The drive to the border was originally 63 kilometers. It was now going to be 337 km. Google Maps would tell you that driving 337 km should take 4.5 hours. Google Maps does not know a damn thing about roads Haiti.

We made it to the border in at Ouanamenthe  at 4:55 pm. After much protesting, complaining, and eye-rolling by immigration authorities in both countries, we entered the DR a neat and tidy 8.5 hours after we headed north. Hey Google, stop estimating time. Jerk.

As fun as all of this was, the most hair-raising adventure would come 5 days later as we drove home.

On the return trip, we heard the border was open. It was. Kinda.

At the border, we found a incomprehensible jam of commercial trucks all sitting idle. Though the border was open, there were now protesters stopping all commercial traffic. We all sighed with relief. We were just a team of basketball players who had just shown seven schools from the neighboring country that we can hoop. No problem! Right? No? Crap.

After passing the border in Haiti, we arrived at the closest border town and saw the mass of humanity blocking traffic. The protesters were blocking any vehicle with Dominican plates.

Our. Bus. Had. Dominican. Plates.

Our fearless leaders politely negotiated with them. "We are Haitians just like you (except you know, for the coaches). We have been representing Haiti! Look at this neat trophy! See it says, CHAMPIONS, we won it for you... and our school... and the country."

Finally the protesters decided we could pass through... if he could drive our bus through the road block. So a total stranger climbed aboard out bus and drove us through the blockade and then down the road to where he deemed it was okay to stop. How comfortable would you be with a stranger you just met taking over your car and just driving for a second? Yeah? Me too.

After hours of wheeling, dealing, and sitting... so much sitting... we made it back to Quisqueya.


The part of my trip where there was actual basketball being played was awesome! That post comes tomorrow.

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