That little disaster over, I sat back and let the driver take me to my colleagues. I was aware we were going to drive about 10 kilometres, but that it might take up to two hours. Haitian main roads are in bad repair, they are clogged with traffic made worse by people trying to be clever and gain advantage ending up clogging the road even further when they get stuck – for example by dropping into a storm drain, crashing into a market stall or just being wedged at a curious angle against the general direction of traffic. My driver was almost resigned to this, but he said he knew a few short cuts that would hopefully get us up the hill faster.
The first stage was not too bad – a wide dual carriageway leads from the airport along the valley bottom towards the city centre of Port Au Prince. But soon this became clogged with lunch time traffic. My driver veered off the main road on to some rough back streets – at best untarmacced, at worst a minefield of craters and piles of rubbish, stones, bricks, and rubble. Yes the rubble. It was two and a half years since the earthquake and yet on every street corner there were small hills of concrete, rebar, stones that had once been houses, shops, walls, people’s property. In many areas they had simply been bulldozed to one side of the street to allow access, and left there as no-one could pay to have it moved away, and maybe the sites where they could be dumped were already full. Some enterprising souls had scavenged in these piles and extracted materials to build again, but mostly the rubble was mixed with so much detritus, dust and dirt that it was futile to try and recycle.
We zigzagged up these steep side streets for several minutes, progress circuitous as we avoided the worst of the potholes. Occasionally we would have to slow to a crawl to work our way round another vehicle coming down the hill – neither wanting to give up the better road surface meaning wing mirrors would touch as you squeezed past.
The use of the backstreets did mean we appeared to make progress for a while, but we were heading to the town of Petionville perched on the side of the main valley. The limited options for getting up the slope meant at some stage we had to rejoin the main road. Not only was the road itself choked with traffic but few vehicles would give way to joining traffic, and when we got within 100m of the road, we had to sit patiently in a queue of our own.