A CAP-tivating Adventure Around Cap-Haitien

by Jennifer Roth
Mebane, NC, United States

If you ever travel to Cap-Haitien, you will quickly figure out that there are several ways to get around the city. Which one you choose is determined by your personal needs or the needs of your group. Deciding where and how you want to go then tells you which form of transportation makes the most sense. The cost of your options can range from $0 to approximately $100 for a whole week.

Cap-Haitien—Take 1

On my first visit to Cap-Haitien I was with a small group. We arrived at the airport, exited the plane directly onto the tarmac, and proceeded to customs, which was in a small room about the size of a shoe store. After grabbing our luggage we were greeted by swarms of men offering us their taxis. Our transportation had been arranged in advance, but our driver was lost in the sea of men all trying to do one thing—make a living.

When we finally loaded into our air-conditioned van and began to drive through the city, I was overloaded with the local sights. There were motorcycles with up to 6 people riding on them or dragging large bundles of rebar behind them. Tap-taps, colorful pick-up trucks converted into a sort of bus, were plentiful. I also noticed private cars, school buses, people walking, people riding donkeys, and large trucks.

Did I mention that all of these modes of transportation managed to squeeze into a two-lane road?

Cap-Haitien—Take 2

Very few Haitians own cars, fewer than 5 out of 1000, for a couple of reasons. Gas is very expensive, approximately $4 per gallon, because importing it to the island is difficult. Also, roads can be bumpy, pothole-filled dirt paths, so keeping a car in working order requires constant maintenance.

When you consider that the average wage in Haiti is about $2.75 per day, many Haitians rely heavily on tap-taps ($0.15 one way ) and motorcycle taxis known as motos ($0.80 one way). Solo travelers often opt for motos if they need to get directly from point A to point B quickly. However, you ride without a helmet on crowded streets lacking traffic lights, unsheltered in rain or shine.

Passengers on a tap-tap make their way through town

If you plan to take a tap-tap, be ready to release all your preferences about personal space! Depending on time of day and physical size of the riders, anywhere from 10 to 20 people can be crammed into the back of a tap-tap. They also make frequent stops to allow passengers to get off and on. Some tap-taps have roofs, but nevertheless you’ll be exposed to the elements, smells, and throngs of other travelers all just trying to get to their destinations.

Which adventure would you choose?

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Jennifer and her friends ride to school on a moto

Math Questions

  1. If your group of 8 travelers has $100 to spend for a week of transportation, and you decide to take tap-taps everywhere, how many trips can you take each day?
  2. What fractions are the equivalent of the prices of motos and tap-taps? What percents?
  3. Think of other situations where you have heard fractions and decimals used.

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Social Justice Questions

  1. The massive earthquake that struck Haiti in 2010 created destruction and loss of life on an immense scale. Hurricanes and disease epidemics have followed, hampering recovery efforts. Do you think the rest of the world is doing enough to support Haiti?
  2. Near Cap-Haitien is a scenic peninsula called Labadee where passengers on cruise ships can disembark for sunning and swimming. There is a fence around the beach to prevent local residents from obtaining access. What do you think of this enforced separation?

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  1. 28-second video of driving through Cap-Haitien
  2. The American Red Cross site on its efforts to help Haiti recover
  3. World Bank overview of Haiti
  4. A 7-minute musical video with scenes of Cap-Haitien

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