CAP to PAP was our route. Or Cap Haitien to Port-au-Prince, Haiti, to de-acronymify things. Google Maps told us it was 239km and a five and a half hour journey through mountains and then down the coast. It sounded promising. I was excited.
Sans Souci was the bus company and the night before we’d checked the bus times on their website: we were aiming for the 10am bus. (They had both 8 and 9am buses, but we were on vacation damn it, let us sleep!) We even messaged them on Facebook and they’d replied confirming the time. The bus station was less than 1km from our hotel but we left plenty of time and arrived by 9:30am.
The station was one room, rows of chairs, a ticket counter manned by two people, tiled floor, and not much else. It wasn’t fancy and was even less clean, but it wasn’t bad. Through the back door we could see a bus, with people packed into it, peering out. We figured that was the 9am bus running late.
We struggled to buy tickets from a woman who spoke no English, but managed it eventually. The tickets didn’t have any useful information, but she sounded urgent and pointed hurriedly out the back to the bus. Uh oh, was that our bus?
We made a dash for it. The bus was almost full except a pair of seats just in front of the back row, and the middle seat of the back row that looked about big enough for a small child. We took the pair of seats for obvious reasons. The bus was cramped, but not unbearably so. Mosquitoes hovered above our heads. The windows I think were made of glass, but were so dirty they could almost have passed for cardboard.
The first part of the journey took us into the mountains. Imagine for a second, a luxurious, leather-seated bus over freshly-tarmacked asphalt across flat terrain; in such circumstances, one might feel comfortable reading a book or painting a watercolor or gluing together the broken pieces of an antique vase. Now imagine the opposite kind of journey, and you’re almost there. We had to hold onto the seat in front to prevent ourselves bouncing up and thwacking our heads on the ceiling. The bags between our feet were slipping and sliding around. And forget about opening those cans of Coke we’d bought.
This went on for several hours. I normally sleep on bus journeys, lulled into the rhythmic comfort that comes with road journeys. But here it was impossible. We looked out of the window, but not too closely lest we smack our heads against the glass with every bump. We played games. “I spy with my little eye something beginning with ‘m'”. Mosquito? No. Mountain? How’d you guess?
At one point the bus stopped. The relief was instant, but short-lived. We’d stopped on a particularly narrow stretch of road, a huge drop to our left, a steep slope of loose cliffside to our right, but only for a few seconds to make way for a giant truck coming from the other direction. How this was a two-way road at the best of times was anyone’s guess.
Another hour passed, then the bus stopped again. I craned my neck and could see no traffic in front. What was happening? The driver got off, followed by a handful of passengers. No one who got off was taking luggage so this wasn’t an official destination, and anyway there were no man-made structures of any kind in view. We’d broken down, presumably. In the middle of the mountains of Haiti, miles from anywhere, trapped on a hot, mosquito-filled bus.
I was caught in two minds. On one hand, I was moaning and sarcastically thinking “great. Just great,” but on the other hand I was gleeful. Adventures are fun. Telling people (or writing blog posts) about the time I was on an ancient bus that broke down in Haitian wilderness is enjoyable. And the memories, of course. When I’m bed-ridden and shouting at a TV when I’m 90, I’ll be able to look back on times like these.
As it turns out, “times like these” were perfectly natural and normal. We weren’t broken down at all. The driver had stopped intentionally because, you see, people have certain natural bodily functions that need to be taken care of every few hours.
Yes, friends, it was a toilet stop. Lined up outside of the bus were 10 or so people all pissing into the bushes, the men aiming as high and far as they can, the women squatting. I went and joined them. We were about halfway through the journey, so it seemed likely this was going to be the only stop. Better to go now than live to regret it. My girlfriend remained on the bus. A potentially risky move. No more drinking water the rest of the journey for her.
Not 15 minutes later the bus stopped again. What now? Was there a landslide ahead? Had we actually broken down now? Had the mountain disintegrated? Nothing would have surprised us.
Out the windows on each side were a few buildings made out of brick with corrugated iron roofs…and signs indicating male/female. Bathrooms. With toilet paper, cubicles, urinals. The usual sanitary goodness. There was also a bigger building that was serving hot food and selling snacks and cold drinks. This was Gonaïves (check out the map above). Why we’d stopped 15 minutes earlier when we had a long lunch stop here was unknown and would remain a mystery. Maybe some people preferred pissing in the great outdoors.
The remaining few hours of the journey were uneventful. We drove down the coast on flat roads. Everybody was quiet. I could finally sleep. We arrived in Port-au-Prince in the middle of the afternoon. We’d survived the journey from CAP to PAP after 239km, a race for the bus, a wilderness toilet stop, a bus load of mosquitoes. It had been a memorable six hours.
For more talk about bus rides and terrifying narrow roads, read: