A long and winding road

It’s not that far from Port-au-Prince to Ouanaminthe, a town that borders the Dominican Republic in northern Haiti. I’d say it was about 200 miles at most.

We ventured out Thursday morning after a day and half of intense post-election protests in Haiti, encouraged that the light rain would cast a calm. The main road outside our hotel was clear. The airport was open again. So was the market nearby.

We — I am on a reporting trip with colleague Jim Spellman — were on our way for a story for CNN.com.

We drove by the turquoise waters of the Caribbean, past the big island of La Gonave, and over the Artibonite River, now rampant with cholera. We made our way through Gonaive, a town hit hard by successive hurricanes a few years back and then on a bumpy, winding road through the mountains where sometimes our maximum speed was perhaps less than five miles an hour.

Haiti’s landscape is breathtaking. Mountains accost the sea. Banana trees grow alongside ferns, bougainvillea, oleander. But everywhere in this troubled land, beauty is marred by human misery.

High up on this road, we mingled with the clouds and tasted the dew on our tongues. We came across a small trading post, where oranges and papayas took on neon hues against the black mud and grime of the market.

A woman held up live chickens with one hand; another had partially skinned a freshly slaughtered goat strung up by its legs on a wooden post. Medieval was the word Jim used.

Onward through small towns where people eek out minimal existences. Through Plaisance. Limbe. And Cap Haitien, the nation’s second largest city. We passed the Hao Jin Great Motorcycle Company, the Ebenezer Depot, the Alexis Car Wash, Bar and Restaurant, the Flambeau Hotel and the Thanks God store.

Darkness fell. We had been travelling for more than seven hours. The road was pitch black. And still rife with potholes and tar that had peeled off who knows how long ago.

Then in Romeo, everything changed. Street lights shone brightly and the road turned smooth. I felt as though I had come off a dirt road onto I-75. Even the lanes were clearly demarcated and signs warned of upcoming speed bumps.

“That’s because we are near the border with the Dominical Republic,” said Yardley, the translator. Everyone laughed, but I could not come up with a better reason why things had suddenly changed for the better.

We were only a few miles away from the other nation that shares Hispaniola with Haiti. The two nations are night and day. And the DR, though very much a developing country, seems like paradise to most Haitians.

“It’s a different world there,” Yardley said.

Onto Ouanminthe, our final destination. We were tired. No, exhausted, from the car ride. But we all noticed how things quickly changed back to Haitian standards inside this small town, where cross-border trading is one of the biggest activities.

We checked into a gloomy hotel with no hot water nor much electricity but that charged us $120 a night. Its name was Ideal.

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