As I think back over my first impressions of Cap–Haïtien, a few words flash into my mind: rubble, sewage, poverty, heat, humidity, and dust. There was an immediate culture shock as we left the world of instant gratification with advanced technology and entered a world that works at a much different pace and feels like it is from a completely different era.
After collecting our bags we went outside to wait for our host, Dr. Manno. As we walked out of the airport terminal we were instructed to hold on tightly to our bags and pretty much say no to anyone who offered to help. Little did we know that within seconds there would be dozens of what I presume to be taxi drivers offering to carry our bags (who knows to where) and presumably us as well to wherever our destination would be. We stuck closely together and very soon Dr. Manno arrived and we piled into a four door suv that had seen better days… or years?
4-60 Air Conditioning
As we pulled away from the airport and began the drive to our hotel through Cap–Haïtien we were introduced to the first of many memorable experiences from this trip… 4-60 air conditioning. If you are like me, you haven’t heard of this type of air conditioning before. This is air conditioning with 4 windows down as the car drives at 60 miles per hour. It really was amazing how effective this was and how refreshing it felt as we drove throughout Northern Haiti during our stay. I look back at this memory quite fondly and can still think of us laughing after 4-60 air conditioning was explained to us.
Driving Through Cap–Haïtien
Cap–Haïtien is known as the second city of Haiti. At one time it was actually the richest city in the Caribbean… that time appears to be long gone now though. The city was founded in 1670 and originally was known as Cap-Français. At one point it was known as the “Paris of the Antilles.” Now, it is hard to make the comparisons between this city and the “city of light.”
Driving through Cap–Haïtien there is rubble and garbage piled everywhere. Cinder blocks are piled everywhere as people collect them for future homes/buildings. People sell whatever they can find, most of which we would expect to find at a 99 cent store in America. Motorcycles are everywhere, often with multiple people on them. It would be a very far stretch to call this place a happy place as you ride through streets full of people with very straight faces. There are lots of people walking and standing, waiting for a job that probably isn’t coming.
A drive through Cap–Haïtien is a drive through a town that once had some measure greatness but has long forgotten what greatness could even be.