Posted by: Alex MacGregor | July 4, 2012

Cap Haitien Pati De (Part Two)

Now that we’ve spent a bit more time in Cap Haitien, it seems like it deserves a second post.

For starters, we finally got some good weather and sunshine. A mixed blessing, it turns out, since with the sun comes the heat.

Wondering what the town looks like? I took a video as we rode on a moto-taxi. Cap Haitien in all its glory.

The Malecon looking a lot more inviting in the sunshine. Swimming from within the city is out of the question–it’s almost torture being so close to the blue sea on a hot day, and without any swimming beaches nearby.

The question many of you are probably thinking: is Haiti safe for travel?

I’m actually surprised by how safe it feels. Only a couple times have somewhat aggressive people come up to us on the street. Both seemed out of their minds on drugs. That’s actually not bad for a big city like Cap.

Beggar kids are not that much of an issue, comparatively. I guess because there isn’t a steady enough stream of tourists to target. In places like Nicaragua, you get kids who are trained and groomed specifically to make tourists pity them and open their wallets. Here, it’s normally the kids who walk around washing people’s cars who seriously ask for a dollar (a Haitian dollar, about US$.10). Regular kids sometimes ask for a dollar, then when you say no, they and their friends erupt in laughter. It’s more of an “I dare you…” sort of thing than actually wanting the cash.

By the way, the currency situation is difficult.

Haiti’s currency is the Gourde. 40 to the US dollar. Easy enough. But the “unofficial” currency is the Haitian dollar. 5 Gourdes equals one Haitian dollar–and it’s the same exact money. A 100 Gd bill would be called a 20 dollar bill. The more official businesses tend to quote prices in Gourdes, while everyone else quotes in Haitian dollars. So when you ask how much something is and someone says “25”, you’ve got some math to do, and you don’t want to look like a fool by paying a fifth or five times what it actually costs. Haitians must be the best people in the world at multiplying and dividing by five.

But when they say 25, they’ll say it in Creole. The numbers are kind of like French, but with some big exceptions. So just hearing the number can be a chore, especially when the word for “one hundred” (“san”) often just blends into the rest of what they say. “San vent senk” (125) can sound almost exactly like “vent senk” (25).

Then you’ve got the issue that ATMs only give you 1,000 Gd bills. US$25. Breaking one of those requires careful planning. But that’s a problem that happens in a lot of different countries.

Cap sits at the bottom of a pretty impressive mountain. There is a trail to Labadie village on the other side, although it takes several hours to get there.

Fantastic chicken, brimming with flavor, in Creole sauce.

We’ve talked a lot about tap-taps. This is what they typically look like–essentially just an old pickup truck with a covered bed. People and cargo go inside, and more cargo goes on top. Tap-taps are sometimes more basic than this, without the top.

To people who drive trucks: Will this be the fate of your pickup truck? Is your old pickup truck now living a radically different second life on the streets of Haiti? It’s actually somewhat plausible.

What with all the crazy traffic and narrow streets, it seems likely a car will eventually hit any given building. What better to protect it than a 200+ year old cannon, lodged into the concrete?

In Cap, some sort of educational institution seems to be on every block–whether s primary school, secondary school, or college. And school tends not to be free, no matter the level. These prices for college courses would be in Haitian Dollars, so a 5 month course in mass media journalism would cost 1,000 Haitian Dollars, which is 5,000 Gds or US$125.

Tourist Market Cap Haitien

Near the port, you have a completely different type of market from what I talked about in the other post. This one is rather clean and nice. It’s where the expensive, imported goods go for onward distribution after they get unloaded from the ships.

Yet another very different sort of market, also right next to the port (note the container stacks). This is the tourist market, where arts and crafts are (theoretically) sold to tourists. It’s gigantic–this picture probably shows about a third of it. And we were of course the only tourists in sight, with dozens of vendors competing for our attention. Still, the vendors were pretty tame compared to Egypt or Vic Falls, and generally respected if you wanted to look at something and then say “No Thanks” (in those other places, “You touch it, you bought it”).

We made friends with a Haitian fellow named Markenley.

Sadly, we had to leave eventually. This is the last we saw of Haiti–the rather forlorn Rio Massacre, which forms the border with the DR.


  1. […] it’s unusual terminology in Haiti or three different currencies in circulation at once in Zimbabwe, we’ve had to deal with […]

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