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Don't Be Fooled in Haiti: How to Ditch the Con Men of Port-Au-Prince Airport

Where: Haiti
April 18, 2011 at 10:30 AM | by | ()

In the wake of Japan's tragic events, the world has been quick to forget Haiti's 7.0 earthquake, which ruled the headlines through 2010. As the country continues to rebuild, the tourists slowly trickle back. Jaunted special correspondent Soo Ah M. Lee recently returned from a medical volunteering mission in Port-Au-Prince, and will share her Haiti travel stories and voluntourism tips all this week. This is her story:

I flew down to Haiti from Chicago, on American Airlines. When I first landed in Port-Au-Prince, my first thought after exiting the plane was, “is this really a third country in need?” You see, unlike some Caribbean Islands (ie., St. Maarten) where you walk down the portable stairs out of the airplane and load immediately into a bus, Haiti wants to show off its fancy, newly built airport.

While walking down a corridor towards customs and immigration, I felt the air conditioning running full blast; there were even escalators. All this was before customs, and based on what I have seen so far, I thought my Haiti experience wasn’t going to be so bad. Boy was I in for a rude awakening…

Once through immigration, reality began to hit me. This area, by contrast with the rest of the airport, was no better than a metal shack. Gone was the A/C, along with the security of the terminal. This is the place where local men jostle for position and fight with each other for the opportunity to con you into taking their taxi. I learned many things in these brief moments of arrival, and here are some tips I jotted down to help not only the medical workers who would follow me to Haiti, but also for anyone putting Port-Au-Prince on their itinerary:

· Use the bathroom before going through immigration because there will be none until your final destination.
· Bring your own hand sanitizer and toilet paper for the bathroom, because there was neither paper nor working sinks.
· If you have more luggage than a carry-on, you need to pay for a ticket to get a cart. Be on the lookout for non-uniformed personnel behind a podium. Pay that person 2 USD (exactly $2 because they aren't prepared to make change) and you will get a ticket for a cart. Give the ticket to another non-uniformed person by the carts and get your own cart.
· There is a small baggage claim with two tiny conveyer belts, so prepare to be caught in a scramble to get your luggage. There is no indication which belt will be delivering your flight's luggage, either.
· Don’t get offended or angry when people bump into you and don’t apologize.
· When exiting through customs, DO NOT let someone help you with your luggage. There are Haitians waiting outside the door and they automatically help you, to the point of fighting among themselves, because they are after tips or trying to con you into taking their taxi. Forcefully say "no." Any hesitation they will take as permission to aggressively go about “helping” you with your luggage.

Tomorrow, in Part 2 of this series, Soo Ah will share the state of lodging and transportation and where you do and do not want to sleep.

[Photos: Soo Ah M. Lee and esmihome]

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