Greetings from Mexico City, my final days in Latin America are coming to an end fairly sadly as I´m feeling quite ill and have been bed-ridden for most of the day unfortunately.
It has been another month of real extremes, from a difficult but ultimately enjoyable week in Haiti to an awful Dominican Republic, happily the last couple weeks with my German friend have gone brilliantly in Mexico. Within a copula days of arriving in the Dominican Republic from St Kitts I took the long bus to Haiti to a town called Petionville 15 minutes away from the capital Port-au-Prince. I´d been mulling over the decision over whether or not to go to Haiti for several months and whilst I think I always knew I would I´m still delighted I made the decision to do it. It is a truly fascinating place being both the 1st country ever to obtain independence from a colonial power and the only place where a slave rebellion was successful. But since then things have gone very wrong.
Only 5 places in the world have a higher security rating on the Foreign office website and as the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere it was not too easy to travel around; in one phrase I would describe it as 'an African country in the Caribbean'. It is a seriously poor place with no electricity or water even in the main cities and like in much of Africa unemployment is at 80% of the population which means that after "Eh, blanc" the following phrase would always be "Gimme money". However, I think perhaps the most memorable thing about the country was the landscape, being too poor to afford oil or gas for basic heating and cooking needs means that like Easter Island the hills have been completely stripped bare of trees for fuel. It´s the most mountainous country in the Caribbean but is dotted with the scars of landslides as with no trees there is nothing to hold the soil down and in turn this means that little rain falls which in turn means the crops are low quality. In this vicious cycle the situation has deteriorated to the extent that there are only sufficient resources for 3 million of its 8 million inhabitants.
The country is really just chaotic, it brought back unpleasant memories of traveling in Africa as things just simply didn´t get done and buses would be delayed for 2 hours for absolutely no reason. Added to this the incomprehensible creole language, the constantly scary heavily armored UN peacekeeping patrols and it should´ve been just torture but it was great. I was staying at an American run orphanage for street kids in Petionville and it was great fun playing with them and teaching them English in the evenings. I also spent a day at a sister orphanage for disabled children which in Haiti is quite a depressing place. It´s an extremely superstitious culture (mainly through Voodoo) and disabled people are often seen as literal manifestations of evil. I heard some truly shocking stories about how some of the children were treated and it was really incredible they were so happy and perennially smiling after such incredibly tough lives.
I also went to perhaps the most impressive man-made structure in the Caribbean called La Citadelle, a fortress built by the first king to protect against any new attacks from the French. Nestled high up in the hills it´s the most obvious source of national pride in a country devastated in so many ways. Whilst there are posters up saying that "Haiti will rise up from the ashes like the Phoenix" I think it´ll be some years and much hard work before they have a standard of living comparable to their neighbors.
On leaving Haiti I returned to the Dominican Republic and I don´t think I've ever been more disappointed in traveling somewhere. I was so happy to be back in Latin America after the English speaking Caribbean but I just found it truly depressing. About 20 years ago the government decided to really focus on tourism in order to stimulate this very poor country´s economy. This has worked to some extent but has had very negative effects in other ways. Virtually all the prime real estate has been sold for golf courses, high security resorts and private beaches so it almost feels like a social apartheid between tourists and locals.
As there's so little industry beyond tourism boys all dream of making it to the MLB, if they fail as a white person they are constantly trying to rip you off and particularly in the capital city and on the beaches a horrible percentage of the population seem to be trying to sell you drugs or sex. Some places were unlike anywhere I´ve ever been before, whilst I was told "It´s nothing like Bangkok" to quote one expat bar owner "The sad truth is that from about the age of 16 maybe 60-70% of Dominicanas (women) can be bought".
Backed up by tropical storm Noel which killed quite a few people and meant I was surreally stuck on the beach chainsmoking and drinking expensive cocktails with the drummer from the Scissor Sisters I think I had my lowest moments of my entire time away. As a heavily pregnant 18 yr old was desperately trying to get my attention as she still hadn't got a client at 3am and her pimp was screaming at her in the middle of a bar it´s fair to say I realized I will not be returning to the DR anytime soon. Most of these negative impacts of tourism have come about due to American tourists and specifically them being banned from Cuba. One of the major fears when Castro dies is that if Cuba is opened up in the same way that the Dominican Republic has been it will go down the route described above, perhaps an odd way to end my comments on the Dominican Republic but I've little positive to say about what the country has become.
I was truly delighted to leave the DR and return to wonderful Mexico, as soon as I touched down my quality of life just leaped up in almost every way. People spoke to me in Spanish again as opposed to the "Hey my friend, how much money can I get out of you?" patter that I´d become accustomed to in the Caribbean. Really friendly people, incredible culture and history, awesome food and perhaps the best beer industry in the world means it has been a great couple of weeks. After spending a few days in the lovely colonial town of Puebla I met up with my Bavarian mate and its been incredible fun ever since. It has been odd traveling with a German as on the one hand everything is organized 6 days in advance including meals and an itinerary organized to the nearest hour I've also been forced to get up at 6.30 every day and find myself under constant peer pressure to drink yet more beer.
We had a great time on the coast in one of the best surfing beaches in the world in Puerto Escondido and then followed by a fantastic time in Acapulco. I absolutely loved it there with the incredible bay and residences running up into the hills bringing back fantastic memories of Rio. We watched the cliff divers and went waterskiing but my favorite activity was undoubtedly the sunset cruise around the bay. As the closing shot of my favorite Bond film Licence to Kill I somehow felt more complete after having done it!
From Acapulco we've spent our last week or so in Mexico City and what a fantastic city it is; there´s so much to do you could easily spend 2 weeks sightseeing around the Aztec ruins, fantastic museums and quirky neighborhoods. This is my 3rd time I´ve been to Mexico and just wish I had longer in this fantastic country.
Tomorrow we fly to Los Angeles and will have around a month up the West coast as far as Vancouver before I fly to New York for a final week of shopping before I finally come home for Christmas after over 15 months away.
Thanks for reading. For the penultimate time,
from Mexico City