For the past three years, construction has been under way to pave the road between Les Cayes, on the southern coast of the southern peninsula of Haiti, to Jérémie on the northern coast. As such, I thought I wouldn’t be sharing any more “road stories” with you. The old road was narrow, rocky and treacherous as it wound up one mountain and down another. With progress has come improvement on both ends of the road, but it has left the middle portion relatively untouched. Thus, fodder for more exciting road experiences! Here’s the latest:

I spent a couple of weeks in Milwaukee and was scheduled to return to Port-au-Prince on the morning of Saturday, November 10th. Nick Matthews, our volunteer engineer, was to fly out to the US in the afternoon of the same day. So, we made plans to meet in Port- au-Prince to discuss a few things before going our separate ways. On Friday morning, the 9th, Nick, Junior and Miller, our truck driver, started out on their way from Jérémie to Port-au-Prince. Around 9am, they were about 3 hours into the 6 hour trip when they came to Riviere Glace, or the Ice River. It’s a river that runs between the mountains and is fed by multiple mountain streams. There’s no bridge over the river, just a concrete “apron” on the bottom. Well, it had been raining all through the night and when they got to the river, it was deep and flowing with so much force that no vehicles were able to pass through. Over the years, we have heard multiple stories of cars and trucks being washed downriver, sometimes with fatal consequences for drivers and passengers.  So, there is a very healthy respect around here for the Ice River. The guys decided to wait it out, in hopes that in a few hours the river would go down and they could cross and continue with their trip. Little did they know what was in store for them! As the day wore on, more and more vehicles lined up on both sides of the river, waiting for passage. The rain that had initially stopped picked up again and the river became more fierce as they watched. After hours of waiting, the driver of a pickup truck announced that, if he drank a little moonshine, he’d take his chance with the river.  Unfortunately, it was an inebriated decision and everyone watched in alarm as the back of the pickup was turned around in the current and the truck washed downriver. Fortunately, it got caught up on some rocks and the driver was able to scramble up the riverbank to escape from danger.

Here’s a photo of the waterlogged pickup:

A few hours later, on the other side of the river, a brave, but not-so-smart truck driver decided to battle with Mother Nature as well. This time, his aim was a bit off and he drove the truck off the cement apron and onto the riverbed, where he stayed for hours.

Here’s the lopsided truck in the river:

My three compatriots spent the night in the jeep and finally made it across the river around 5am, racing to Port-au-Prince, where they met me at the airport 10 minutes before my arrival. We laughed together at their sleepless, but exciting night, and talked about the treachery of the Ice River. After running some errands and seeing Nick off at the airport, Junior and I headed back to Cherlie’s house in Port-au-Prince to rest. The driver wasn’t going back to Jérémie with us, so I was going to be driving the jeep back.  Since I had only slept for an hour the night before leaving for Haiti, I decided to sleep for a couple of hours and then drive through the evening to get home. If we waited until the next morning, we wouldn’t get home until Sunday afternoon and I had to get prepared for a full day of clinic on Monday. Too much to do in one day, or so went my reasoning!

By 5pm I was awake, refreshed with a shower and in the jeep with Junior, on our way out of Port-au-Prince. We made a quick stop in Aquin at Junior’s house to drink a cup of coffee and Junior’s mother packed up a bowl of hot rice and meat sauce for us “in case you get hungry”.  An hour later, we found ourselves at the Ice River, with the depressing sight of 5 big trucks and 3 pickups waiting in front of us. It had been raining in the mountains again and the river was in full force, stopping traffic on both sides as it had done the day before. So much for laughing about others’ experiences! We gingerly made our way down to the river’s edge, and decided that it would definitely be a night spent in the jeep. So, we turned off the engine, locked the doors, ate the delicious rice and sauce and settled down for a fitful night of sleep, interrupted periodically by more vehicles pulling up behind us, voices talking, radios blaring, etc. We made it across the river at 6:30 in the morning, with three guys standing on our rear bumper to give us more weight! It was a little added security and made my heart beat a little less rapidly. We were home in Jérémie by 9am and had a wonderful, relaxing day unpacking and getting ready for a busy week. We said more than one prayer of thanksgiving during the day, and renewed our respect for the forces of Nature. Another road adventure in a country full of surprises!

-Dr. Wolf

Truck Crossing the River

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