Sep 202012

Promptly at 9am I was picked up by my guide, and we were off for our tour of the Port-au-Prince area. Before even booking my tickets, I’d contacted Voyages Lumiere to enquire about a tour/guide/driver. I’d heard enough rough stuff in the media about Haiti that I was uncomfortable attempting it on my own, especially for a short trip. I felt more comfortable having a driver arranged, and someone who could help me maximize my time there. Jacqui was quick to respond, proposed what looked like a great itinerary, and I was set! Jacqui is English, but has lived in Haïti for most of the last 15+ years, so she knows the country like a local. She speaks Creole, and as I was to learn – everyone knows her. I would very highly recommend using Voyages Lumiere if you go to Haïti. That said, on with the show!

We set off out of Petionville, and down toward the city centre.  First stop was to see some of the old “gingerbread houses.”  Many of them are quite run-down and in poor condition now, but after the earthquake many of them are also being restored.  They’re in the process of being added as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which should hopefully help with restoring them a bit.  I didn’t manage to get any pics of them, but also didn’t feel like there were any really good shots to be had.  We continued into the city, and headed down to Heroes Square.  From there, we continued down to the National Palace, which was destroyed in the Earthquake.  A few pictures of the square, as long as the ruins of the Palace:

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Sep 192012

When I was planning the trip, from what I could find online there seemed to really be two decent options for hotels. The first was the Karibe Hotel, and the second was the Hotel Villa Creole, both of which were located less than a mile apart in Petionville.  I don’t remember why I ended up choosing the Villa Creole in the end, but I was obviously confused, because I’d told the driver that I was going to the Karibe.  So, we arrived at the Karibe, he dropped me off, and I went to check in.  It was definitely quite nice looking, and I was happy with my choice…until they couldn’t find my reservation.  Why’s that?  Because I was at the wrong hotel, of course.  They were smooth though, “maybe you want to stay here instead.”  Nope, sorry, gave the other hotel my credit card number already, and as nice as this place looks I’ll probably be stuck with it.  Can you arrange a taxi to the other hotel?  “Sure, it will be $20.”  To go less than a mile…I kid you not.  I didn’t exactly have many other options at this point since the sun was setting, so off I went.

Pulling up to the Villa Creole, the reception area was certainly much more…spartan.  Unlike the Karibe, the front desk spoke little to no English, so we made do in French.  I noticed my rate was about $30 higher than I’d agreed to…that’s because you’re in a junior suite now.  Um, no, I didn’t ask for that…but for $30/night I’ll at least have a look at both rooms.  Off to see both, the junior suite was more than double the size, and seemed to have much more functional air conditioning. Ok, sold.  I’m game for it!

So, first a review of the hotel  The room was quite nice, bed was very comfortable, and the shower had nice warm water.  Well, except for the fact the water completely went out for 1-2 hours at a time several times during my stay.  Maybe they were working on it, but it was never a big deal since it wasn’t out when I needed it.  The AC in the room was plenty cool, so overall I was very pleased with the room for the price paid.

I didn’t eat at the restaurant for lunch or dinner, but did enjoy a beer by the pool the first night, and a rum punch by the pool the second afternoon.  The beer was a very reasonable $2-3, but the rum punch was nearly $11.  A bit much if you ask me for Haïti, but it was definitely delicious.  Before the rum punch, I had a nice swim in the pool, which had incredibly warm water and felt great after trekking about the city in the heat and grime.  A rum punch by the pool:

…and a bit better shot of the pool.  Looks inviting, no?

Breakfast was also included in the room rate, and was relatively tasty.  A few cut up fruits including pineapple and watermelon, croissants and toast, and scrambled eggs and a couple other hot dishes like beans.  Most importantly, the coffee was fresh and tasty.  Service seemed a slight bit distant, and the staff seemed a bit more interested in chatting and gossiping with each other than really interacting with guests.  That said, I never had trouble getting anything I needed, just that it wasn’t necessarily friendly by the standard I was used to.  There were probably 5-6 staff working the breakfast, and I never saw more than 10 guests there at a time.   Continue reading »

Sep 182012

A few months back when American not only offered to match by United status by giving me American Executive Platinum status for the balance of 2012, but also offered to let me keep it for 2013 if I flew only 55,000 elite qualifying points…well, immediate I started scheming how to get 100,000 elite qualifying miles on United as well as 55,000 EQP on American. It wasn’t going to be easy (and I’m still 15-20,000 short in planning on both with just over three months to go) but I knew I could figure it out. That said, when I found out American had a pretty good business fare to Haïti (a country I hadn’t been to) and that it made an easy four day weekend trip…well, I was curious.

See, one thing the last few years have travel have taught me is it’s just possible…maybe…that I don’t get the whole story about the world from CNN, Fox News, etc. I mean, it’s possible that the horrors they tell me about Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, Somalia, North Korea are, well, maybe not exactly how day to day life unfolds there. Having been to all those places, and having learnt that basically what the media shows is maybe 2% of the real story, well, I was definitely interested in getting a bit more of the real story about Haïti for myself. To hear them tell it, Haïti is miles upon miles of never ending tent cities with people dying of cholera left and right. There are giant fissures in the ground from the Earthquake, and nothing resembling normality exists. Is it true? I had to see for myself. Flights booked, and I was off.

I’m going to split this report into four parts:

Part 1: The flights (this part)
Part 2: The hotel
Part 3: The sights, and what I saw
Part 4: The restaurants, food, groceries, etc

When I booked the trip, I had planned to fly all the way from DCA-DFW-MIA-FLL on the same day.  However, a change in schedules made this impossible since the later Miami to Port-au-Prince flight was eliminated.  I had two choices:  go direct DCA-Miami-Haiti and lose approximately 2,100 elite qualifying points, or overnight in Dallas and then continue in the morning.  I have a good friend I haven’t seen for a while in Dallas, so my choice was obvious!  I’d take a late DC-Dallas flight after work, and then continue in the morning.  The agent I spoke to on the phone was more than happy to make the change, and I was all set.

Got to the airport about 75 minutes before the flight, and TSA was relatively empty.  Quick stop in the AAdmirals Club, where I had the most attentive bartender ever.  He actually wandered the club with wine bottles, proactively offering refills to people where they sat.  I’ve never had this before, and I’ve also never tipped as much for free drinks.  He was absolutely fantastic!

American Airlines Flight 2021
Washington, DC National (DCA) to Dallas/Fort-Worth (DFW)
Depart 18:15, Arrive 20:30, Flight Time 3:15
Boeing 737-800, Registration N930AN, Manufactured 2000, Seat 5E

There’s not too much to say about this flight.  Typical mid-con dinner, although service was pretty poor.  Crew disappeared as soon as possible, and we didn’t see them for the rest of the flight.  I seriously thought I was back on United again!  Arrived about 20 minutes late due to a detour around weather, but I was reminded how I love Dallas as an arrivals airport because I was curbside and meeting a friend for dinner in under five minutes.  Absolutely fantastic!

American Airlines Flight 1442
Dallas/Fort-Worth (DFW) to Miami (MIA)
Depart 7:30, Arrive 11:15, Flight Time 2:45
Boeing 767-300, Registration N39365, Manufactured 1988, Seat 3D

TSA line in the morning was quite short, even though for the 8th of 8 times with American I was denied Pre-Check.  6 of the 8 flights have been on international itineraries (which are rumoured to be ineligible for pre-check) but the other two I got denied as well.  I think TSA hates me.  Actually, I think TSA hates everyone, but that’s beside the point.

Once through security at oh-dark-thirty, it was time to wait in line for Starbucks.  I saw a sign that a new Starbucks is being built in terminal D, which is fortunate, because the line at this tiny one inside a bookstore took nearly 30 minutes to clear the line at 6:30am.  Don’t they know that people are dying a slow death while awaiting their caffeine transfusion?  I mean seriously, people!  At least it gave me a chance to check out the local Texas literature.  I was afraid…very afraid!  Please, let me have my caffeine and move on!

Flight to Miami was on a 767, which I was very interested to see.  See, so far in all my flights with American I’d only been on domestic aircraft.  Despite the majority of my trips being international, they were all in the Caribbean/South America, so no international planes.  I knew this was a 767, but based on the United 767s known as the “ghetto birds” I didn’t have high hopes.  I was actually surprised!  It was a true international plane, although something straight out of 10-15 years ago.  Seats were recliner-style sloped seats, and while decent for a domestic flight, I’d hate to be in these internationally.  Oh well, I guess this is why international upgrades are (relatively) easy on American compared to United!

Arrived in Miami on time, and had a couple hours to kill, so was off to La Carreta for a delicious lunch.  I’m going to have to completely stop skipping meals on flights into Miami, because the food at La Carreta is so delicious.  Living in DC, I don’t get awesome Cuban food often, so La Carreta is a bit of a treat.  I highly recommend their Cuban sandwich – it’s not only delicious, but also super inexpensive.  Plus, you can get Materva!  Mmmm!

Soon it was time to board the flight to Port-au-Prince, and the gate area was definitely a fascinating people-watching experience.  It was split evenly between tall blonde Minnesotans on missionary trips, and people of Haitian decent returning home.  I definitely felt like a bit of an outsider!  The skies were looking a bit ominous as we boarded, and I was convinced the skies were about to open up.

American Airlines Flight 833
Miami (MIA) to Port-au-Prince, Haiti (PAP)
Depart 14:00, Arrive 15:55, Flight Time 1:55
Boeing 757-200, Registration N678AN, Manufactured 1998, Seat 5E

Shortly after boarding, Tripit pinged me with a 30 minute delay, then 60, then 90.  I’m still not sure why I’m not getting flight updates from American, and I can’t find anywhere on my online profile to set it.  I guess it doesn’t really matter – I don’t need multiples as long as Tripit is keeping me in the loop.  As usual, I had to inform the flight attendants of the delay, since they were completely unaware.  I swear, the airlines should pay me for providing this service!  Heavy rains moved in, and finally just over 1:15 late we finally pulled away from the gate, and were underway.

Nothing too much to say about the flight.  We ended up with a relatively tasty snack for such a short flight.  There was no choice, it was salad, salad, or salad!

Arrival in Port-au-Prince was relatively uneventful.  I was actually sort of surprised to see there was actually a jetway for us.  Walked up it, down the hall maybe 2-3 minutes and down an escalator where….it dropped us at a bus!  LOL!  This is definitely the first time I’ve ever been teased with a jetway and terminal, only to be dumped at a bus when you went through them.  After loading, we were driven a few minutes to what looked like a small makeshift building which appeared to only house immigration and baggage, and was covered in ads for American and cell phone companies.  I found out later American had paid for the renovation of this building (and much of the airport) after the earthquake (gee, wonder who’s making a killing on this route) and thus almost seemed to “own” parts of the airport.  A quick shot of the makeshift immigration hall:

After immigration, a welcome to Haïti from the local cellphone mafia:

Outside arrivals, where I waited for my driver:

On the way back, the driver tried to (once again) convince me I needed to be at the airport three hours before departure.  Um, no.  No way.  I told him to pick me up at 7:15am (to give me time for some coffee first) and we’d be there by  7:45 for a 9:20 flight.  Plenty of time.  As predicted, arrived at 7:45, and immediately were surrounded by porters grabbing at my bags.  I waved them all off, but they were persistent, all trying to get a hand on the bags to justify a few dollars tip.  While I felt a bit obligated to stimulate the local economy, these people were clearly not hurting too much.  With a steady stream of much more gullible visitors, I didn’t feel too obligated to let them assist me.

The whole terminal was operated by American, and it was just for their flights.  The check-in line for economy appeared to be at least 30 minutes, but for business (which I had to ask for – there were no signs) there was only one person in front of me.  The terminal was air conditioned, security and immigration were quick, and arriving at 7:45 was plenty of time.

American Airlines Flight 1608
Port-au-Prince, Haiti (PAP) to Miami (MIA)
Depart 9:20, Arrive 11:25, Flight Time 2:05
Boeing 737-800, Registration N833NN, Manufactured 2010, Seat 4E

Extremely uneventful flight, and nothing really to add here.  Typical light morning breakfast/snack which I skipped, and before you know it, it was time to experience my first Miami arrivals.  Walked a bit, took an escalator, took a train, walked some more, and was finally in the immigration hall.  It was almost as bad as Dulles, but not entirely.  Global Entry was a breeze, and there was also a special Global Entry customs line.  Got the usual dirty looks from other passengers, and was through quickly, and ready to connect to my next flight.  Grabbed a quick shower in the AAdmirals Club to wash off the morning sweat from Haïti, and onwards!

American Airlines Flight 2307
Miami (MIA) to Dallas/Fort-Worth (DFW)
Depart 13:35, Arrive 15:40, Flight Time 3:05
Boeing 757-200, Registration N638AA, Manufactured 1991, Seat 3E

Another very uneventful flight – again, the best kind!  Nothing to really say, so not going to say much.  We were about 30 minutes late due to diverting around weather, but my arrival and connection were both in terminal C at Dallas, so it was very easy to make it.

American Airlines Flight 2442
Dallas/Fort-Worth (DFW) to Washington, DC National (DCA)
Depart 16:55, Arrive 20:35, Flight Time 2:40
Boeing 737-800, Registration N867NN, Manufactured 2011, Seat 4E

Again, a very uneventful flight with a good crew.  Unfortunately, about 90 minutes into the flight I started feeling a bit “off” which I’d later find out was food poisoning.  Not sure if it came from Haïti, or if it came from the grilled shrimp salad on the Miami to Dallas segment, but either way I woke up about 8 hours later at home feeling like absolute death which stuck with me for a few days.  Oh well, small price to pay for an awesome adventure!