Posted by: Alex MacGregor | November 28, 2014

The Journey to Las Terrenas

After about a week in Haiti, Caroline and I had sadly had about enough. Port-au-Prince borders on intolerable for tourist purposes (we knew this at the outset), but even Jacmel wasn’t without its problems. Decent restaurants were difficult to come by, my leg was reeling from a second-degree burn, and the new mosquito-borne disease called Chikungunya, which was sweeping Haiti at the time, caused us to worry even more about mosquitos than we did in Africa. Couple this with the fact that transport really is a horror–our next destination, called Ile-a-Vache, required a harrowing, multi-part journey–and we decided a change of pace in the Dominican Republic would be welcome.


Our first step? A taxi ride through PaP’s chaotic streets. By this point, we had made friends with one of a handful of people who runs a basic taxi service in PaP, and had him take us to the bus station. He knew all the back streets, meaning he knew just how much to flirt with the outskirts of PaP’s frenetic Marche de Fer (Iron Market) in order to dodge the gridlock on the main roads.


Oops! One false turn and we encountered a downed power line. The road was barricades with large stones, but our fearless cabbie determined the car was small enough to eke under the (presumably active) lines, and, after some arguing with passersby, moved the stones and proceeded through.


A street scene in Haiti’s endless outskirts. Roads turn to dirt, the air is thick with dust, and walled compounds of one sort of another are all you encounter as you get further and further away from the center.

We wound up at Capital Coach Line, a Haitian-run bus company that departs from right next to the US Embassy. (Capital is a fierce competitor to the Domincan-run Caribe Tours, which is based out of Petionville.) And thus, for the next couple hours, we said a long goodbye to Haiti from the seat of a luxury coach.


And a memorable goodbye Haiti offers, indeed. This is the border point of the main road between PaP and Santo Domingo–a road crudely carved out of the bluffs tumbling into a blue-green, brackish lake called Étang Saumâtre (literally, “brackish pond”). This is one of the most bizarre places I have ever seen.


Since it lacks a year-round outflow, the lake’s level rises and falls based on rain levels. Trees and even houses are submerged.


Taptap after taptap (and the occasional converted school bus) ply this route, filled with Haitians going to and from the DR and the markets clinging to its border, looking for work and trading goods, all in this intolerable environment of dust, sun, and parched heat. That the lake is undrinkable, saline water is a bit of environmental cruelty.


This whole scene made us endlessly thankful to be in our air-conditioned coach, although more than a time or two I studied the emergency escape mechanism in the roof of the bus as we cheated over to the bitter edge of the road to pass vehicles that were slow or broken down.


Fast forward about an hour and we were cruising through the rather dreamlike landscape of the DR.


We stopped over in gritty Santo Domingo, a bastion of modernity and order in comparison with PaP.


Per tradition, we stayed in the Zona Colonial, and were able to get an update on the district from our visit a couple years ago.


I’m glad to say things have broadly improved for the DR’s oft-maligned capital. New shops and cafes abound, and corners that were once dark and blighted are now well-lit and lined with shops.


In the spirit of improvement, the old patchwork of asphalt streets is being ripped up and replaced with cobblestones, with proper sidewalks and adequate traffic calming.

With all of these changes, I’m glad to report that the Zona Colonial is inching towards being an attractive tourist district.


And, after just a couple more hours on the bus, we arrived at our destination: gorgeous Las Terrenas.

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