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Don't Be Fooled in Haiti: Tap-Tap Trucks, Translators and Tropical Beaches

Where: Haiti
April 20, 2011 at 1:09 PM | 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:

During my trip, I spent most of the time traveling on a Tap-Tap truck, which is basically a pick-up truck with seats and a hood on the trunk. As for public transportation, there are these Tap-Taps and then there is the bus. The latter is easy for locals and near impossible for visitors, since bus stop signs at stop locations are nonexistent. You will however notice them coming from a ways away, since these buses are often colorful and painted with Bible verses in French or Creole.

I really wanted to try out the bus, but was advised not to. I stuck to the Tap-Tap trucks. As in other day-to-day things in Haiti, foreigners can easily be cheated out of money or detoured. Of course both of these situations should be avoided as much as possible, so here are some tips for transportation in Haiti:

· If you are a foreigner without solid knowledge of the public bus systems, steer clear of them. If you do really want to ride on one, do not go alone and it's recommended to take a trusted translator.
· Not all public buses are Tap-Tap trucks; there are a few yellow school buses (also colorfully painted) going around town.
· A single bus ride costs about 10 US cents.
· From what I have noticed, bus routes tend to run East-West or North-South on the streets.
· Don’t be afraid to ask the driver which way his bus is headed.
· The safest, surest way to get around is to rent a car with an English-speaking driver. The roads can be confusing if you are not a local.
· Before settling on a driver, ask around and compare costs.

Some notes on translators on Haiti:

There are two languages spoken in Haiti: French and Creole. If you do not speak either language, it would be best to hire a translator, but even then not everything will be perfect.

My translator was recommended by another charity organization; however, only one out of the five translators I spoke with could understand some of the questions I had. I inquired about their education and a few of them were still in high school, which is where they're learning English. The fact of the matter is, they are not professional translators. They told me that there is no certification to be a translator, so anyone who “speaks” English can be a translator.

The translator's fees varied based on who was employing them. For example, you could expect to pay $10-15 a day if you are working with a volunteer group and sincerely helping on a daily basis. For tourists and voluntourists, the daily fees can shoot up to $40 a day.

Visiting the Beaches:

After spending much time in Port-Au-Prince, I easily forgot that I was in the Caribbean. But then, one day, I made it out to a private beach. Public beaches are limited because they are polluted; everyone throws garbage anywhere, including into the beautiful blue waters. My contact for the private beach access was the groundskeeper of this yet-to-be-developed gated plot, who asked $5 per person for access. It's a sad business because he pockets all of that cash, but otherwise I risked never experiencing a beach here.

Some tips and notes about the beaches:
· Beware of sea urchins and sharp objects in the water. I fell once and moderately scratched up my leg.
· The locals are totally friendly and will come to help you out with fishing tips or whatever you need. There is some cash expected for the help, so don't be scared to say no if you don't need anything.
· Locals will also come to sell you fish and it’s up to you if you want to buy them. I bought some conch, cooked it up later, and it was delicious. And no, I did not get sick.
· Even though I was swimming at a private beach, there was still garbage floating around. Be careful and aware to avoid accidents.

Tomorrow, in Part 4 of this series, Soo Ah will share her tips for how to be charitable without inciting a riot. Don't forget to read Part 1 and Part 2!

[Photos: Soo Ah M. Lee]

Archived Comments:

know an awesome translator with vehicle in Haiti

I know an awesome person in Haiti who would love to be translator and personal chauffeur and tour guide if needed in Haiti. Great personality. Has a large van for bigger groups and also a SUV. Could also provide living quarters, delicious (safe) homecooked meals. Needs the work! Fluent in English, Spanish, French and of course Creole!!