Not a normal Caribbean Holiday - The Guyanas, the ABCs and Hispaniola

A Holiday in three parts, October-November 2016


map north
  map south
Our route by bus across the Guyanas, flying to Curacao, Bonaire and Aruba (we couldn't do them in alphabetical order, the flights didn't work out!) then a long way round via Caracas to the Dominican Republic and a bus to Haiti.


Part 1, The Guyanas

French Guyane

Sun 16th - Mon 17th Oct.  Flew Air France to Cayenne via Paris Orly. The flight to Cayenne would have been very nice except for the cluster of babies around us who took it in turns to scream throughout the 8½ hour flight with their doting mothers gazing at them as if they could do no wrong.

Cayenne les Palmistes
French Guyane is very hot, humid and horribly expensive and we went from hotel to hotel trying to find a place to stay that was available (some were full) and not too expensive. We got the last room at Hotel des Palmistes for €116 (without breakfast), a charming old creole house on the main square in the centre of Cayenne, and sat in their bar having a couple of cooling Leffe brown beers.


Tues 18th. We had a walk round the pleasant, compact centre of Cayenne and went to the Suriname embassy to get a tourist card, which was very quick and easy but cost €30 each despite having a price of €20 on it. After a look at the Atlantic from Place August Horth we walked back along Avenue General de Gaulle, the main shopping street, and had a tasty kebab for lunch at the café in front of Hotel Dronmi. We transferred to the Best Western Hotel Amazonia just down the street (€100 including breakfast) because our room at the Palmistes was right beside a rather noisy bar.

I went to the bus station to check the buses, got mugged and had my camera stolen. I spent the afternoon at the police station where, amazingly, they had recovered my camera although it was covered in mud. Apparently the perp had thrown it into the canal while being chased by a police patrol. Eventually we went back to the restaurant at des Palmistes for consoling wine and pizza.

Cayenne from Fort Ceperou

Weds 19th. We had a walk to Place Grenoble, the historic centre of Cayenne with old government buildings and a fountain, then up the hill to fort Ceperou for a view of the town. Exhausted by the heat and humidity we had a swim in the hotel pool and a quiet afternoon before returning to des Palmistes for red wine and Leffe brown on the terrace then another delicious pizza inside.


Thurs 20th. The nice lady receptionist at the Amazonia arranged for the taxi-bus to come and pick us up from the hotel (it was a minibus that comes to collect you like a taxi). After picking up some more people around town the drive across French Guyane to St Laurent on the border with Suriname took under three hours on a good road and cost €35 each. We stayed at the Hotel Amazonia, another Best Western like the last one. It was only small, but still €100 + tax a night. The border is the river Maroni so we had a look round St Laurent in the afternoon; first we went to the bar Ti Pic Kreol’s on the next corner to the hotel and had a refreshing fruit juice and cold Leffe brown beer. Unfortunately Sheila suffered a dental emergency when the tooth broke off her temporary plate (waiting for an implant) and the nice man in the hotel whisked her down the road to a dental technician who was able to fix it (for €50).

Camp de Transportation
Emergency over we finished our beer (which had been unattended on the bar table for an hour but was still there although by now quite warm!) and walked down the (only) main street to the little wooden church at the far end, then to the nearby Transportation Centre, where French prisoners including Papillon and Dreyfus were housed in pretty basic conditions in a series of concrete sheds.
Camp de Transportation
Life as a convict in the Transportation camps.


To lighten the mood we had a look at the nearby jetty and park beside the river, where four people taking wind-surfing lessons were being towed out into the stream by a man in a motor boat. Ti Pic Kreole’s is definitely the most popular, if not the only, place in town so we went back for an excellent beef bourguignon and a huge salad.

Ferry to Suriname

Fri 21st. Luckily we got a taxi to the port rather than walk there, because we would have gone to the one we went to last night which was completely wrong! Instead of going on the big slow car ferry to Suriname we went on a small fast pirogue which should have been €3 each but somehow when we came to pay it had gone up to €4, the same as the big ferry.


Suriname

The immigration office was hot and stuffy but the formalities were quickly over and we went as arranged with a nice Guyanan couple in a taxi with a driver for the 2½ hour ride to Paramaribo where he dropped us off at the Queens Hotel, which we had booked. The hotel was nice but they don’t switch on the air conditioning until guests actually arrive, so we had to wait a long time with the fan on full for the room to get down to a bearable temperature (19o, too cold for me but ideal for Sheila and her hot flushes). Paramaribo is a big city, much bigger than anything in French Guyane, and the couple we were with warned us it is a dangerous place, so we were rather overwhelmed at first. However, the Queens Hotel was in an area with some nice restaurants and bars, and the nice ladies on reception said it was only a short walk to the historic centre which is safe enough in the daytime (if not at night) so we relaxed a bit and went down the street to t’Vat bar and restaurant and had a tuna salad and a chip buttie for Sheila (no vinegar unfortunately, that’s her northern upbringing showing through) with a glass of wine for lunch. On the way back we had a look at the more up-market Tararica hotels on the other side of the road, which had ponds full of huge Koi and small electric-blue fish, colourful gardens with lots of different palm trees, a pier on the Suriname river and preparations for a barbecue round the pool. The Queens hotel doesn’t have a restaurant so they gave us a ‘welcome drink and 10% off food’ voucher for the nearby Garden restaurant where we had some nice wine and mixed starters. This is definitely the trendy young things’ part of town – the restaurant filled up with affluent young types while lots of high-end blinged-up cars drove past.

Sat 22nd. We set off for a walk about 9:30, not quite the cool of morning but not yet mad dogs in the midday sun. We walked to Fort Zeelandia, a small brick fort right on the river and the original centre of Suriname colony. It was closed. We walked along the river bank as a couple of huge ocean-going boats moved slowly up the river and under the high bridge, and went to the central market, a big sprawling affair in several large concrete market halls, which was very interesting but not as colourful nor welcoming as typical markets in India and we didn’t feel safe enough to take photos. The population of Suriname is very cosmopolitan with African, Indian and Chinese-looking people buying and selling, and just the occasional white couple so we didn’t feel too out of place. We walked around a few of the nearby shopping streets until the heat overcame us and we got a taxi back to the hotel for the equivalent of £1.60 (best value so far, but unfortunately the last). A bit later we went back to t’Vat for a nice lunch of Indonesian noodle soup, ham and cheese toasty and rosé wine. At dusk a huge thunderstorm broke over the town and it poured with rain for the next hour. As it eased off we ventured out with an umbrella borrowed from the hotel and the transformation was remarkable – the temperature had dropped to pleasantly warm and we could breathe again and smell and taste the food. We had a glass of wine at the Garden bar then delicious shrimp pasta and beef stroganoff pasta (lurid red but tasted much better than it looked) at t’Vat next door.

Fort Zeelandia
Sun 23rd. Fort Zeelandia was open today so after a very nice breakfast at Queens we went and had a look. There was a guided tour but only in Dutch so we wandered round the pretty little fort on our own. It was not militaristic at all, more like an historic country house ...
Zeelandiaweg Paramaribo
... with a good view of the river on one side and the picturesque wooden houses around the green on the other.
Presidents palace Paramaribo
Then we walked across Independence Square past the President’s palace and other government buildings ...
Paramaribo cathedral
... and up Gravenstraat to the Catholic cathedral, a wooden building made of cedar which gave it a warm glow. It was packed with people and a mass was in full swing. Sheila even went to Holy Communion and the roof didn’t fall in! Up the street opposite was the octagonal wooden Dutch Reformed church and they had finished their service and were shutting up for the day.
De Waag Paramaribo
We walked a little way up Keizerstraat, one of the main shopping streets, but of course everything was closed on Sunday so we went back to the riverfront and had a look in De Waag (the weighing scales), a restaurant in the former Customs House. We only intended to have a quick look at the menu but ended up stopping for a very nice lunch of smoked fish sandwich, shawarma (chicken wrap), Leffe brown and Desperados red beers. It was so good we immediately booked the best table by the window (table 101!) for dinner the next night.
Waterkant Paramaribo
We walked back to the hotel along Waterkant, the elegant waterfront road.


The thunderstorm came a little earlier this afternoon and after it had finished we went as usual to the Garden for a drink and t’Vat for another delicious meal, after topping up our local currency by using the casino next door as a money exchange bureau and having a look at so many Chinese people throwing their money away.

Mon 24th. We had another stroll round town, into the cathedral, lit more candles and through the Palmentuin (a park full of tall palm trees), then back to cool off for the afternoon. In the evening after a walk in the garden of the Torarica Royal hotel opposite (the better of the two Toraricas by far), we got a taxi to De Waag restaurant and had a wonderful meal. Starting with a bruschetta with tapenade and prosciutto, then delicious babyback ribs and chicken skewers with spicy satay sauce, with soup and salad from the salad bar, accompanied by their last two Leffe browns and a couple of glasses of Merlot.

Tues 25th. Up at 3am for the 3:30 pickup for Jonathan’s bus to Georgetown which was right on time. Then as expected we spent an hour on a tour of the suburbs of Paramaribo picking up other passengers (we’ve never seen so many guard dogs and razor wire). Eventually the minibus was (over-)full and we got going, and it was a pleasant enough drive through the flat but rather boring Surinamese countryside, criss-crossed by drainage canals rather like Holland, until we got to the ferry and border post at South Drain about 8:30. The arrangement was that we paid SRD160 (£20) each for the minibus from Paramaribo all the way and bought our own ferry tickets for SRD104 (£13) each. Jonathan, the driver (if it was indeed he), gave us a ticket and the name of the minibus we should look for on the other side. We were stamped out of Suriname and sat in the waiting area eating the breakfast sandwiches that the hotel had kindly packed for us.


Guyana

The ferry, which had about 40 cars and a whole lot of people packed around them, took about half an hour to get to Moulson Creek, the port on the Guyanan side. There was a bit of a rush from the ferry to the immigration office, but our non-residents queue was much shorter so it didn’t take too long before we were through. The arrangement with the ticket worked fine and we were one of the first to the next minibus and the driver let us sit in the front seats alongside him, which was fortunate because all the other seats inside had luggage crammed under them so there was no leg room. Although it was just as flat, the Guyanan countryside was completely different to Suriname. It was much more built up, with almost continuous ribbon development of colourful interesting houses all the way to Georgetown, many of them just upper stories on stilts, and we were told later they filled in the lower stories when they could afford it. Behind the buildings it was much more agricultural, with lots of tractors, a noticeable farmyard fertilizer smell and all sorts of farm animals walking untethered across the road. The Hindu-style temples and the cows in the road made it seem like India.

Cara Lodge Georgetown
When we reached the outskirts of Georgetown we had a repeat of the ‘sightseeing tour’ round the outer suburbs dropping people off, then we arrived at Cara Lodge, a very atmospheric, historic old hotel where all sorts of well-known people had stayed including Princes Charles, Andrew and Edward, president Jimmy Carter, Mick Jagger and distinguished artists and writers. After cooling off from our 12-hour journey in our spacious, elegant room, we went down to the bar and had a bottle of sauvingnon blanc (£23, nothing has been cheap so far on this holiday) and a snack, then adjourned to the main restaurant (with the remains of the bottle) for a delicious chicken curry and steak wrapped in prosciutto.


Weds 26th - Thurs 27th. We had a stroll round near the hotel looking for breakfast possibilities and at first were very unimpressed by the cheap, plastic places nearby, but a bit further away we found the much more welcoming Coffee Bean café where we had a very nice breakfast from their extensive menu.

St Georges Cathedral Georgetown
Nearby we had a look in St George’s Cathedral, one of the claimants to the tallest wooden building in the world, then walked down Avenue of the Republic with City Hall and the Law Courts on one side and busy shops on the other.


We went into bustling Stabroek Market but weren’t tempted to buy anything. We got a taxi up Water Street to the boxy-looking Marriott hotel to have a look at the Atlantic Ocean which was a grubby brown rather than nice blue colour (probably because of the outflow from the adjacent Demerara river) and sat by their swimming pool in the sun for a short sunbathe (Sheila wanted a long one but always gets fed up after five minutes). Water Street used to be a place for promenading by the river but now it’s a continuous unattractive container port. On the way back we stopped to take photos of the historic ‘Red House’ on High Street and at the post office to post a letter.

On the way back to the hotel we stopped at a couple of supermarkets (one of which gave 5% discount for ‘seniors’!) to buy some cold Mackesons (must be 40 years since we’ve had one of those and it was just as good as we remembered!), sweet Moscato wine and cheesy biscuits and sugar-coated peanuts from a street vendor for picnic lunches in our room. One evening we got a taxi across town to the Aagman restaurant for a nice Indian meal.

Cara Lodge Georgetown
The next evening, rather than venture out again, we enjoyed the facilities at the hotel, with a drink from the bar sitting by the old mango tree in the centre of the hotel, then a very tasty meal in the restaurant.


Fri 28th. Our flight to Curacao in the Netherlands Antilles should have been at 6:45 but luckily we checked emails yesterday afternoon and found a late message from Insel air saying it had been rescheduled to 9am. That meant we could get up at a rather more civilized 5:30 and got the taxi at 6am for the hour-long drive to the airport, a very long way out of Georgetown. The airport was a small, relaxed affair for the international airport of a capital city and after checking in we relaxed in the lounge until someone from the airline came to get us and escorted us to the departure gate and we strolled across the tarmac to our plane.


Part 2, the ABC islands

Curacao

The 2-hour flight was very pleasant and most of the people on board seemed to be in transit to somewhere else, so our cases appeared very quickly and we were first out. Too quick in fact, because Gregory, the man from the hotel who had offered to pick us up was not there, but he soon turned up and drove us into Willemstadt to V-Lodge, a picturesque house down a side street not far from the centre of town. Curacao is a tower of Babel – the first language is a local Creole, second is Dutch, third English and there seem to be a lot of Spanish speakers as well (Venezuela is very close), and all the bars have Chinese writing on them. The lady looking after our hotel speaks Spanish but no English which is a bit tricky when we need something.

Willemstadt Handelskade
We walked down to the harbour and had a toasted sandwich and a beer for lunch in a restaurant with a great view across the water to the historic old town ...
Willemstadt ship
... and of the pontoon bridge that opened and closed to allow big container ships to come into the port.
Willemstadt Otrobanda
Otrobanda, literally the 'other side' of the waterway.


We had to pay for lunch in US dollars which was a bit expensive. The bank also insisted on seeing a passport before they’d change money, so we went back and picked up a passport and changed what we hope will be enough for the weekend (we soooo underestimated). We lingered in the bank because it was so cool; outside was baking and the a/c in our hotel room was struggling to cope.

Willemstadt Hendelskade by night
As dusk descended we walked down to the pontoon bridge and across to Punda, the historic old centre where there were more restaurants and bars, and found a nice one in a little square on Keukenstraat where we had a nice meal.


Sat 29th. We had a do-it-yourself breakfast of boiled eggs and toast from the supermarket in our room at V-lodge. But when we went to enquire about when we could move to the big, balconied room at the front that we had booked, it all went horribly wrong. They had double-booked it and the people already there wouldn’t move out. We had a miserable morning looking at a loft in another house that they offered us and waiting around for something to happen, until in the end Gregory the nice driver took us to a completely different hotel, the Kura Hulanda, which was twice the price but ten times as nice.

Kura Hulanda
The Kura Hulanda hotel was more or less a whole village of restored historic houses and squares spread over a large area with several restaurants, cafés and pools and we loved it.
Kura Hulanda
Our room was half of one of the houses on the main square. The whole place reminded us of a smaller Port Merion in North Wales, except for the weather!


We went for a late lunch at a café right on the waterfront and sat and watched the pontoon bridge opening and closing before retiring to our nice cool room to unpack. In the evening we went back to the nice restaurant in the nice square in Punda and had a very similar nice meal to last night, except that the place was packed because it was Bingo night and we were almost the only people not intently studying Bingo cards!

Sun 30th - Mon 31st.

Venezuelan floating market Willemstadt
We set off on our walking tour of Willemstad in bright sunshine, across the Queen Emma pontoon bridge and along the waterfront to the floating market. Venezuelans sail over in small wooden boats loaded with fruit and vegetables and sell it at the quayside like a marine car boot sale. They live aboard their boats until they've sold everything then sail home and back again with more.


We wandered along the streets of old Punda looking at the historic old houses to Wilhelmina Park and Fort Amsterdam with the picturesque Governor’s palace. Nearby we stopped at ‘The Arches’ where a series of restaurants occupied the former barracks and munition stores, with tables on terraces built out over the clear blue sea. Sunday was quiet because most shops were closed; on Monday two cruise ships had appeared (one was the Scientologists’ Freewinds) but it was still quite quiet everywhere. Sheila did a bit of shopping down Breedestraat, the main shopping street, but only bought a flamingo fridge magnet. On the way back we diverted into the Rif fort, another old fortification now occupied by restaurants, tourist shops and the adjacent Renaissance resort.

Hot and tired we went back to the Kura Hulanda hotel and sat by the pool for as long as Sheila could bear it, which wasn’t long.

Willemstadt waterfront
Then went to one of the cafés on the waterfront for delicious spicy fish shawarma and chips for lunch, with a whole bottle of rosé wine which was most refreshing.


Cooling off back in the hotel room we watched the F1 grand prix on television.  In the evening we walked to the pontoon bridge again across Brionplein, a square where a stage had been put up and a group were pounding out music at incredible volume. Down at the end of Breedestraat we went to one of the cafés beside Wilhelmina Park and had very tasty bread with pesto and cream cheese with Merlot and Leffe brown, followed by a nice shrimp salad and good thick French onion soup or lovely thick Dutch pea and ham soups.

Tues November 1st. We had another walk round town then Gregory came to pick us up and we discussed learning languages and keeping our brains active as we drove to the airport. We gave him one of our thrillers but he said he only read educational books but his dad would like it – a very serious but lovely young man. We destroyed a few brain cells with a couple of glasses of wine and some nibbles in the lounge then took off for Bonaire. We had just about reached cruising height when the pilot announced - crew, prepare for landing - it's a very short flight! We laughed out loud but everyone else seemed to think it was normal.

Bonaire

We stayed at All Seasons Apartments, a very nice boutique style place with chalets set out in the pebble garden and a small swimming pool, in a quiet residential street.

Sebastians restaurant Bonaire
Inga, the nice lady who runs it, was telling us about restaurant possibilities and said that Sebastian's is the best, and their table on a pier out over the water is the best spot of all, but it's booked months in advance. She rang to check anyway and at that moment someone was in the restaurant cancelling their reservation for the table on the pier, so we got it for that night!
Sebastians restaurant Bonaire
We walked over to the restaurant and sat in splendid isolation out on our pier as the sun went down. Underwater lights came on and illuminated the big fish swimming around, probably expecting their share of the meal. We had a lobster bisque to start followed by lobster fettuccini and red snapper, with wine of course, and it was all delicious – Sheila’s favourite meal of the holiday but certainly not cheap! The waves were gently breaking behind us on the shore and the 'light show' of a distant thunderstorm was playing off to one side and it was all wonderfully atmospheric.


Weds 2nd. We had a pleasant walk round Kralendijk, the capital and more or less only town on Bonaire.

Kralendijk fort
We walked along the sea front past the huge cruise ship moored at the main jetty, past the little fort and lighthouse to the market in the main square.


Beyond this were lots of restaurants and quite nice (Sheila thought) tourist shops. There were plenty of cruise ship people walking about but it didn't seem too crowded. We went back to All Seasons and Sheila managed half an hour of sunbathing before a large black cloud came over and it started to rain. The rain never really got going and we walked back to the jetty and had a nice steak sandwich and shrimps in garlic sauce at Julian's, watching the world go by and small boats come and go at the pier. In the evening we went back into town and sat at a table under a fan at La Guernica, a very nice restaurant on the waterfront, and had delicious filet mignon with blue cheese sauce and trio of Caribbean fish, which were lovely meaty Mahe, Tuna and prawns, in a selection of sauces, all accompanied by potatoes gratin and a nice salad.

Thurs 3rd. Because the All Seasons apartments were full tonight we transferred to the Sonarisa, a nice hotel on the next street with a pool in the garden. By the time we'd settled in it was time for lunch and we walked down to Karel's, a busy and popular restaurant on the pier where the water taxis came and went right alongside the dining tables. There were two HUGE cruise ships in port and the place was heaving with tourists. We had a nice steak salad and a 'bucket of beers' (6 bottles for the price of 5, in an ice bucket to keep cool).

Bonaire salt mountain
About 3:30 we hired a golf cart from the stand by the market and weaved our way through the one-way streets and round the airport and set off on the 'southern circuit'. It was great fun trundling along at 15 miles per hour, getting in the way of all the other traffic! Southern Bonaire is very flat with lots of salt works and we drove past mountains of salt ...
Bonaire slave huts
... and the huts where the slaves used to sleep after working in the salt pans all day.
Flamigos Bonaire
Round the southern part of the island we saw several groups of flamingos standing around in the extensive flooded salt pans.


We got back to Kralendijk just before the 6pm deadline (the carts don't have any lights) and strolled back to the hotel. We went back to Sebastians and had another wonderful meal at one of the sea-side tables, looking out at the waves and the pier where we ate last time, then watching one of the cruise ships silently sail into the night.

Fri 4th. We ate in three different countries today - breakfast in the garden at Sonarista in Bonaire, lunch in the airport lounge at Curacao and dinner in Aruba.

Aruba

The two short half-hour flights to Aruba took all day, mainly because the second one was delayed for four hours for 'operational reasons'. We arrived in Aruba as it was getting dark and weren't very impressed at first. Everything was very Americanised and busy, the outskirts of Oranjestad, the main town, were rather seedy and the hotel we first chose (but hadn't booked) was a long way out of the centre and only had some beds in a dormitory. We ended up at a downtown hotel with no facilities so we had a walk round and booked another place for tomorrow at an Internet café. Then we went for a very nice meal at the nearby Que Pasa restaurant. On the way back a Latino band was playing in the square and people were dancing or sitting on chairs watching.

Sat 5th. We had booked Rutena Suites on Nieuwstraat for the next three nights, so we set off to find out where it was and when we could check in, and bumped into it right on the square we had walked past a couple of times yesterday. It said on Tripadvisor that the only drawback was that there was nobody on site and it could be difficult to get in and at first it seemed to be turning into a disaster - the intercom by the entrance was not working properly and the phone numbers were out of service. We hung around for quite a while until Jean (John) the friendly caretaker turned up and let us in, and then it was lovely. We had an apartment with windows and a balcony overlooking the square, a big bathroom and a big separate bedroom, all nicely furnished and very comfortable.

Aruba tourist tram
We unpacked a bit then set out for a walk and found the 'trolley' (tram) was waiting in the square. It's a free service going back and forth through the centre of downtown, but painfully slow and being impatient Sheila wanted to get off and walk, but I persuaded her to complete the circuit back to where we started.


We walked about checking restaurants and buying provisions (orange juice and water) in a supermarket, then had a very nice lunch of ham, cheese and bacon toastie and tuna salad at Cocoplum, a friendly family-run restaurant not far from the hotel. I had a walk round taking photos then in the evening we had a walk through the Renaissance Mall to the yacht marina and sat in the Paddock restaurant by the water and had delicious tenderloin and stir-fry chicken with veg.

Iguana Aruba
Sun 6th - Mon 7th. We had  nice if hot walks through Wilhelmina Park and through the Renaissance hotel's (private) grounds on their footpath by the sea, looking at the dozens of iguanas, smaller lizards ....
Pelican Aruba
.... and a couple of pelicans that seemed undisturbed by the tourists standing a few feet away taking photos.


We went back to Paddocks restaurant and sat by the marina and had delicious thick Dutch pea and ham soup (my choice) for lunch, followed by a chocolate brownie with ice cream (Sheila’s choice). We did the same seaside walk in reverse through the yacht marina and along by the sea, stopping for a sunbathe on one of the Renaissance's loungers (the lunchtime alcohol seemed to make the sunbathing pass more quickly, that’s the excuse). One evening we went back to Que Pasa for a delicious and huge meal of pork stuffed with cheese and prosciutto and lamb shank, and the other back to Paddocks for a nice meal of chicken satay and Italian sandwich by the sea.

Tues 8th. They said we had to check in three hours ahead for our 11:40am flight to Caracas but when we got to the airport about 8:30 it turned out that check-in didn’t open for nearly another hour. Then when we checked in we got another shock when they demanded $35 each for departure tax. There are no exchange facilities in the airport so we ended up handing over a mixture of dollars, Aruban guilders and Euros that were well over the asking price. Aruba airport is old-style segregated – USA flights go from the bigger plush terminal and other departures from the scruffy, run-down terminal with no facilities. Disgruntled, we went through to the departure side to find that the lounge we had been looking forward to didn’t open until 11am. We hung round getting cold in the over-air-conditioned departure area until 11am when we were first into the lounge and managed to wolf down some crisps and sandwiches just before our flight began boarding. Aided and abetted by the nice lounge hostess Sheila pocketed several sandwiches and a couple of little bottles of wine for later.

A brief stopover in Venezuela

Our Aserca Air flight to Caracas was on time and very comfortable and after being hounded by porters and security men trying to ‘help’ for a small tip, we got the shuttle bus to the Eurobuilding Maiquetia hotel a short drive from the airport ($100). This was a pleasant, standard business-style hotel and we relaxed a bit and used the free internet in the business centre before having a dinner picnic in our room of all the food and drink Sheila purloined from the lounge and her stash of chocolate from England. We had no intention of venturing out into the city, we had been warned!

Weds 9th. We were up at the unearthly 3:30am again and checked in for our flight to Santo Domingo. The lounge was open and we got a cup of coffee and a sort of sausage roll thing for breakfast but there wasn’t much there.

Part 3 – Hispaniola Island

Dominican Republic

Again the Aserca Air flight was on time and comfortable and, having paid an entry tax of $10 each, we were on the ground in Santo Domingo. We went to the Antiguo hotel Europa in the colonial quarter and got a nice if small room. However, after a bit of poking around Sheila discovered that a much bigger and better corner room with a balcony overlooking the street junction below was available so we moved there. We got a taxi to the Caribe Tours bus station, had a look at the buses which seemed very comfortable with on-board toilets, TV, etc and booked tickets to Cap Haitien (pronounced Haysh-yen) tomorrow. After returning to the hotel we walked to the nearby Plaza España and chose Harry’s Bar to sit and have a super lunch of a plate of hams & salamis, a plate of French cheeses and a bottle of rosé wine, while watching the tour groups being escorted round the square. All this happened in bright sunshine but by the end of the afternoon a tropical downpour kept us indoors and by the time it finished we just went down the street to get a nice toasted sandwich and a coffee from a little, friendly hole-in-the-wall sandwich shop.

Thurs 10th. We got the 9am Caribe Tours luxury bus to Cap Haitien. The bus was very comfortable and there were only four passengers on board. About 12:00 we stopped at Santiago and we had a few tasteless snacks from a vendor in the bus station, which was a mistake because as soon as we got back on the bus they gave us our lunch! It was picky chicken and rice and we should have saved it to give to the beggars at the border.

Haiti

The border with Haiti was chaotic on both sides and we were pestered by beggars and shoe cleaners as we exited the Dominican Republic, crossed the bridge over a stream and entered Haiti. Cap Haitien is in a wonderful location around a sweeping bay and up the hills rising behind, but the Haitians certainly know how to trash a place. The sea shore was feet deep in plastic bottles and rubbish all round the bay and along the Boulevard. All the streets were ankle-deep in mud and the side streets had open sewers running down them. The first two hotels we tried (Auberge du Picolet and Roi Christophe) were lovely oases in the devastation but they were both full and the third was so awful and expensive that we urged our taxi driver to drive elsewhere despite being quite worried about finding a place to stay.

Cap Hatien
Finally he drove flat out up a really steep lane, horn blaring, scattering the locals to all sides (if he’d stopped he’d never have got going again) to the Habitation des Lauriers, a restored old house with wonderful views over the whole city and the bay from the armchairs on their verandah.
Cap Hatien cathedral
We felt much happier looking at Cap Haitien at arms’ length without having to be in the mudbath down below.


Brenda and Leslie, the owners, welcomed us and we chatted on the verandah before having a delicious meal of filet mignon in mushroom sauce and fish filet, accompanied by generous glasses of very nice wine.

Fri 11th. The last four nights we have slept in four different countries but now we plan to slow down a bit. Yesterday had been a respite from the apparently never-ending Haitian rain but it poured down all night to refresh the mud, so after breakfast we sat in the rocking chairs on the verandah reading and looking at the city and the bay emerging as the mist cleared. Because of the muddy state of the roads we didn’t attempt the climb to the Citadel or King Christophe’s palace or to walk down to the town (everyone assured us it was perfectly safe and crime levels are really low despite the poverty, but we didn’t test that out). We had a nice lunch in the restaurant, more enjoying the view although it stayed cloudy all day and in the afternoon watched a pirated, very new Jack Reacher film in the lounge. After dusk we sat in the open-sided lounge chatting with Brenda and Leslie (an interesting character apparently descended from a British pirate!) The meal of tender steaks in peppery mushroom sauce was delicious.

Cap Hatien cathedral
Sat 12th. Typical! Bright sunshine just as we have to leave. Leslie very kindly gave us a lift down to the bus station, with a bit of a sightseeing tour on the way, stopping to take photos of the cathedral and other interesting buildings.


Dominican Republic again

We got the 8am bus back to Santo Domingo, going through the border very smoothly and stopping briefly in Santiago where the bus filled up with other passengers.

Hotel Europa Santo Domingo
We arrived at the bus station about 5pm and David, the hotel’s taxi man, was there to meet us and take us back to the Hotel Europa, which felt like coming home.
Harrys bar Santo Domingo
We went down to Harry’s bar and had the same delicious meal of meats, cheeses and a bottle of rosé wine.


Sun 13th. After breakfast on the rooftop terrace we set out on the colonial city walking tour but didn’t get very far. The Santo Domingo triathlon was in progress and we stopped in the grounds of Fort Ozama to watch the athletes running through, after their swim and their cycle ride. Exhausted by their efforts we went back to the room and had a sandwich from the corner shop for lunch.

Alcazar de Colon
Then we set out again and did the walking tour through the plazas, parks, streets and gates of the old colonial city, looking at Colombus's palace, churches, museums and fancy hotels in historic buildings


A noisy band had started playing in the small square in front of the Franciscan Monastery ruins just up the street from our hotel but they weren’t very good and we watched a Dire Straits concert on TV to drown them out. We went to Angelo’s Italian for dinner, another of the row of open-air restaurants on Plaza de España and had a lobster tagliatelle (not a patch on Sebastian’s) and risotto with mushrooms and chorizo sausage which we shared half each, with the first Leffe Brown beers we’ve seen for a while.

Parque Colon Santo Domingo
Mon 14th - Tues 15th. We completed the walking tour, having a look round the ‘first cathedral of the Americas’ by Parque Colon ...
Fort Ozama Santo Domingo
... and Fortress Ozama, the oldest colonial military edifice in the new world ...
Calle el Conde Santo Domingo
... and a walk along Calle el Conde, the main shopping street, where we stopped for a delicious frozen raspberry yogout.


We had a walk along the Malecon, a promenade by the sea in the sunshine, then rather than risk our lives crossing the racetrack of a road to get back into the colonial city, we let a horse and carriage take us back to the cathedral for £4. We had another sunbathe in the park. The town was full of German tourists from a cruise ship moored opposite the fort, but by midday they were all getting back on their coaches and the restaurants were empty. We had a lunch consisting mostly of Leffe brown beers and a salad at Angelo’s.

Plaza Espana Santo Domingo
One evening we went to brasserie Pat’e Palo, which has operated continuously since 1505 in a lovely old timber-framed house on the plaza. We sat outside watching the full moon and soaking up the atmosphere and had a very expensive meal. They tried to charge $5 for a bit of bread which is free in the other restaurants, but Sheila wasn’t standing for that! The next evening we went back to Harry’s and had more wonderful meats and cheeses and rosé wine.


Weds 16th-Thurs 17th. We flew home a rather long way round via Guadeloupe and Paris.


Two fat ladies
Two fat ladies shooting the breeze!


If you would like to see more of our travels, please click here ...... Globe