In Haiti, tap-taps are basically local, public transportation on four wheels; it can be a former US school bus, but also a pick-up truck. While we were still in Port-au-Prince, the tap-taps we saw were quite large vehicles, full of splendidly painted exteriors with religious or erotic scenes, and often with religious slogans on top, and a loud sound system inside. There were some smaller vehicles, less bright, but doing the same job: transporting passengers from one part of Port-au-Prince to the other. Outside the capital, we did not see the brightly coloured tap-taps anymore. Most tap-taps here are pick-up trucks, where the back side is open-air, with some wooden planks that stick out of the back of the car in order to accomodate passengers even more passengers. Even though locals advised us to always travel in the cabin, we decided to sit in the back of the truck. We thought it would give us more fresh air, but it proved to be a great way to get into touch with Haitians. It is amazing how total strangers are haphazardly put together in the back of the truck, and soon develop into a tight group, sharing the pain and the hardships of the long trip to the final destination.
One of the memorable tap-tap rides we took was from Cap Haitien to Pignon, on our way to Hinche further south. We waited more than 3 hours for the tap-tap to leave, and made the mistake to discuss a price before: it is better to just get on and pay what the others are paying. We knew we would leave when full, but "full" is defined differently here in Haiti: we counted 23 passengers only in the back of the pick-up truck when we left! Passengers were clinging to the back of the truck, children were invariably parked on the floor of the pick-up truck with some luggage. Most luggage was tied to the truck from the outside, while live stock (mostly chicken) were put on the floor under the seats (and, we thought, sometimes also under the luggage). Then there were passengers standing in the pick-up truck, and some more sitting on the roof of the cabin. A heavy overload, and we saw some pick-up trucks almost falling apart. The real journey started when the road turned into a dirt track and the driver had to navigate his truck as if he were riding a boat on a wild sea. We turned, swayed left and right, often felt like capsizing, were launched into the air whenever there was a deep bump in the road, the truck complained by moaning and cracking, but everytime we thought that it would break or we would not be able to go on, we amazingly did.
The roads were absolutely terrible even without rain and mud; our average speed was barely above 10km/h. Amazingly, the driver sometimes stopped whenever asked by people along the road to do so, and would descend from his seat, circling his poor pick-up truck with the eye of a vulture, examining the people and the space inside, before deciding that something could still be improved and people could still seat in a more economical way to accomodate even more luggage and passengers. Shockingly, no one ever complained to him - they would as soon as we would be on the way. Over and over again, we were astounded by the creativity of the driver to fit even more people in the given space of the pick-up truck. To compensate for the misery of the ride, the passengers quickly bonded, were talking, joking, laughing, and singing to pass time and to survive. Newcomers were normally frownded upon in the beginning, but mostly absorbed quickly in the ride. Treacherous mountain roads became a backdrop to a jolly crowd. We managed to forget about the dangers we were running, all the things that could go wrong - and indeed, we had little choice. Bouncing up and down the hard wooden planks made us feel our behinds for days after long rides, but now, with the pain gone, tap-tap rides have been etched into our memories as the most genuine excursions we took in Haiti.
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