Into the Jungle – Down to the dock

After the scramble to retrieve bags in a hot sweaty baggage hall in the airport, I was searched by customs (but only a cursory inspection inside the suitcase).  As I came out into the open air , I had to avoid all the fake ticket touts and overzealous porters and instead turned right to a small cabin in the corner from where Pelican ran its operations.  Although some of the guys in their red stripy  polo shirts were legitimate employees, I waited till I got to the cabin before obtaining the ticket and passing over the 40 US dollars.  My details were carefully added to the manifest, the ticket issued, and baggage tags handed out.  Although I was in an area separated from the road by a low wall, I still took care to keep an eye on my big red suitcase.  Lungi airport did have a poor reputation for petty theft , it was dark, and above all I wanted to be on the other side of the lagoon as soon as possible and did not want the bag to be left to one side over here.

It took a while and a lot of shouting to organise our transit.  The British Midland flight was turning around to head back to London at midnight, and Pelican were dealing with passengers wishing to be on it as well as taking us over to Freetown.  Our bags were piled into an old transit van and one minibus while we were loaded into a second – one of those where seats folded down across the aisle to pack more of us in.  It was quite a squeeze for hot sweaty me to rest my oversize laptop on my knee while a large lady plonked down beside me.

We turned out of the airport and immediately onto unmetalled roads.  I thought this bizarre – I had heard Sierra Leone was one of the poorest countries in the world, but had expected some level of infrastructure at its main international portal.  The fact was a bumpy tarmacced road headed left down towards the Kissy ferry dock, we were heading to a closer beach from which Pelican operated and it was dirt track all the way.  It was the start of the rainy season and we splashed through the mud and puddles in the middle of a village, from the dark we could see the fires that had just completed the cooking of dinner.  A few pairs of eyes peered out at us as we noisily passed.

We dropped steeply down a small cliff and bumped along by some beach properties before reversing slowly into a sandy car park.  Next to us was a concrete building open on all sides, a small kiosk selling water, sweets and other drinks.  Beyond a low wall was the beach and we could hear rollers crashing in.  I wandered over to a wooden boardwalk that led down to a floating jetty.  This was heaving up and down  n inflated barrels in quite a violent manner.  Out in the roads were a couple of boats, high speed ferries capable of taking about 25 passengers.  And off in the distance, partly shrouded by heavy cloud, I could see the lights of Freetown dotted up the mountain side.

We sat for quite a while, it getting quickly darker as we waited.  Another boat arrived from the Freetown side, disgorging more passengers heading for the BMI flight.  A companion boat followed up with their luggage and there was a long process of manhandling each bag off separately, walk them along the oscillating jetty and into the waiting van in the car park.

It was about an hour after we first arrived here, and nearly three since the plane had landed, and we were called forward.  Each ticket had been numbered in order; and despite some of the employees saying they would get people on the first boat out, there seemed to be little queue jumping going on.  I missed the cut of the first boat by about 3 places, but the second boat was one of the ones that I had seen out in the offing.  It now chugged into place and we were invited to board.

Crazy Town, Crazy Island- Heading out of town

The following day, a Saturday, I joined my colleagues on a further field trip.  Way out west was a large lake where fish cages had been set up and we were to go see them, and along the way visit a couple of other fish farms.  Despite it being the weekend we still had to sneak out very early to get through the traffic, made worse by the fact we had to pass close to the centre of Port Au Prince itself.

We dropped down to the town along the same road I had travelled to CNIGS.  We started to get clogged up as we approached the city centre, and we needed to get fuel and a few snacks for the road ahead, so stopped off at a filling station.  I had a chance to view the street scene.  We had parked close to a major bus stop.  Buses in Haiti are works of art rather than functionary units.  Every spare surface is adorned with Creole artwork, a mix of designs, pictures and symbols and flamboyant word art.  As well as the metal work of the side panels, the cab and roof, there were additional cow catchers, side pieces, and sometimes hoods over the front windscreen almost obliterating any chance of visibility.  Window frames may have additional wooden slats, again heavily painted.  Even the windscreens in some cases would be adorned with stickers, transfers and tinted glass to make them impossible to see the destination board.  Many countries have painted mini buses or buses that either cheer up the journey or case dreadful eyesores depending on your point of view or mood, but in Haiti the embellishments were fantastical.  In one or two cases, you could just see a trace of the original vehicle and realised, stripped down, it was an ordinary ISUZU minivan.



The other element that dominated the scene in the streets of Port Au Prince was the fight for dominance of mobile or cell phone networks.  Again, I have seen how cell phone companies have overtaken the old cola drink wars for plastering the landscape in their marketing material in many countries, but in Haiti it appeared to have reached saturation point.  Not just the kiosks and stores selling phone cards, but every market stall umbrella, people’s t shirts, hundreds of metres of walls, telegraph poles, flags, vehicles.  And their seemed to be distinct zones.  It was like it was general election time, but instead of political parties being supported it was Digicell , Natcom, Haitel and Voila, and each with their distinctive colours.