Two hundred dollars gets you a private air conditioned SUV and driver from Port au Prince to Jacmel on Haiti’s southern coast. A comfortable ride under 2 hours on a good day, beautiful mountain scenery and you arrive nice and refreshed ready to check out Jacmel’s burgeoning art scene.
Or ten bucks gets you a taptap.
A Haitian taptap can be anything from a covered pick up, a minibus to an old American school bus. The taptaps of Port au Prince are galleries on wheels, kaleidoscopic homages to the owner’s personal taste and saviors, be it The Virgin Mary, Tupac Shukar or Lionel Messi, infusing the streets with colour. The intercity taptaps are not always as colourful however they will still be blasting Rara and Kompa music so you will not totally miss out on a sensory overload experience.
The easiest way to find the bus station in Port au Prince is to look for a mass of people and chaos getting in and out of buses. Except it is usually surrounded by a mass of people and chaos that does not necessarily have anything to do with buses. Or you get lucky and meet a knowledgeable guide who can get you there. Jean, who hangs out near the Hotel Oloffson (a place that is another story in itself), seems to know everyone and most importantly, knows where the Portail Leogane bus station (the one with taptaps heading south) is. Threading our way through passengers, vendors, motos and buses on Grand Rue, Jean finds the next taptap to Jacmel and negotiates the price. We clamber on board the half full Toyota Hiace, knowing full well that it will only depart when it is more than well more than full.
Patiently sitting snugly fitted in bum cheek to bum cheek, I realize that the smallest note I have is a twenty (not a 10), a number that is destined to become the new fare. The grin from the “ticket” man seems to confirm that. In fairness change is indeed hard to find here and I should have had smaller notes but Jean comes to the rescue, disappears with the twenty and as we anxiously watch the bus slowly fill and my money out there in the abyss, he comes back twenty minutes later not only with change for a twenty but brings with him a change to my cynical suspicion that everyone is trying to fleece the “blanc” in Haiti.
Bags, boxes, bicycles and building supplies are loaded to the roof, passengers have loaded up with snacks to last the journey. The driver is happy that no space on board is left unpaid for and we slowly inch our way out of the bus station into the outskirts of Port au Prince. In Haiti the saying goes that beyond mountains there are more mountains. I had been looking forward to getting out of the city and seeing some of those mountains that are on the way to Jacmel on the south coast. I had hustled and jostled myself into a seat near the door to try and get a “window seat” and a view, thinking I was pretty clever…
…then the van door closed.