This post is part of a series on Emina’s adventure in the Dominican Republic. She visited the country independently with our sis Nerma and her best friend Ajla (girls trip, wohoo!). Start here for our general impressions, entire trip overview and costs. Then check out this post on our first stop in the DR: Bayahibe and read here about the small hidden paradise in Las Galeras. Then head over to our adventures in the faaaar south of the country (La Cienaga and Pedernales). Stay tuned for the next episode!
Here’s what you’ll read:
- The harsh reality at the border between the Dominican Republic and Haiti (goodbye, beaches and hello, chaos!)
- Is it as dangerous as they say?
- How to get to the border market in Dajabon
- Final vote: Why should you come here at all?
The border market in Dajabon
Ever since it was clear that we were going to the DR, I was determined to make us leave our comfort zone as much as possible. This meant leaving the comfort of the picturesque beaches and face the other reality in the DR. This other side includes the centuries-old issues with their neighbor, Haiti. I’m not going to talk about history. You can google all about it. I want to write about how I experienced this very strong division between Dominicans and Haitians during our visit to one of the border cities to Haiti, Dajabon.
The special thing about Dajabon is the weekly border market. You see, Haiti and the DR share the same island but Haitians are not allowed to enter the DR without a visa and vice versa.There are a few exceptions to this rule, one being the border market. Twice a week (Tuesdays and Fridays) Haitians are allowed to cross the border without a visa and passport and to participate in the market as vendors or buyers. However, they are restricted to stay within 100 yards of the border.
In essence, Haitians come to the market to buy food and to sell many of the things that they receive as humanitarian aid (e.g. there was second hand clothes all over the place). Dominicans come to the market to both sell and buy food, clothes, electronics, hygiene products. etc.
Basically, you will not come here to buy something for yourself. This is not meant to be a tourist spot and that’s why we were there.
Is it dangerous to come here?
The market is quite a mess, to say the least.
Now, first of all, let me tell you that we had been advised against going to Dajabon. There were different reasons for this: (1) It is dangerous, especially for girls (the usual argument), (2) too many pickpockets (“Don’t your even think about taking your DSLR camera with you”), (3) there is nothing to buy of your interest (Trust me, shopping was not the reason we came here), or (4) it is stressful and disturbing (Yes, bring it on!).
But as usual, we went anyway and we were so grateful for this experience. I left the DR knowing that I have seen the good, the bed, and the ugly.
We were the only foreigners that day. But we didn’t feel threatened at any point. In fact, people didn’t really care about our presence. They were too occupied with their own harsh reality. I did have my DSLR camera with me all the time and nothing got stolen. I even had people posing for me.
It was indeed hectic, loud, hot, and stressful. At times, especially close to the military check point, it almost felt as a war zone. It was sad and obscure at the same time. The Dominican army supervises the market and the border crossing. We found it disturbing to watch the discrimination that Haitians are faced with by the military. We crossed the border control on the Dominican side without any problem, by just showing our passports. Haitians, on the other side, had to bribe the military to be allowed to cross the border.
After passing by the military check point on the Dominican side, we wanted to cross the bridge over the so called Massacre River and get to the Haitian side.
(Yes, you read this correctly, the Massacre River. The origin of the name dates back to a battle in the 18th century. But in recent history it is better known for a different event. In short, here’s what happened: During the regime of the Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo – from the 1930’s until the 1960’s, the Dominican Army carried out the so called Parsley massacre against the Haitians living in the DR. Estimates of the total number of deaths vary, ranging from 547 to 12,166. The bodies were dumped in, you guessed it, the Massacre River.)
At one point it got too crowded on the bridge and people started pushing around. We got scared and decided it was the safest to abort the mission, for now (khmmm, there is something coming up very soon!).
How to get to the market
Before we though that we would rent a car to come here, I was researching other alternatives. There are no organized “tours” for the market (for obvious reasons). However, I did find a public transportation route.
If you are staying in Santiago, like we did, there is a direct guagua (minibus) that connects Santiago and Dajabon – no need to change buses! The guagua stop in Santiago is called “Rotunda.” Contrary to its name, it is not a roundabout but rather a spot with big traffic lights.
At this guagua stop, there are guaguas leaving for Dajabon, Mao, and Santiago Rodrigez. The buses are lined up at the back, so not on the road. They all have a sign in the front saying where they are going.
Beware that the distance between Santiago and Dajabon is around 150 km / 93 miles and it took us over 2 hours by car to get there. So, count in at least an additional hour or more with a guagua. The first guagua leaves at 6 am. You want to be as early as possible in Dajabon to see all the action in the morning.
We had the intention to start driving as early as 6 am but that didn’t happen. We danced the night before in Santiagio until early in the morning, had a three-hour sleep and started driving around 8 am. Getting there with a car was fairly straight forward. We used google maps and didn’t even get lost once (that doesn’t happen too often:). Once we made it to Dajabon, we were super exhausted from the ride and just wanted to rest and eat. That’s the first thing we did. There are many decent places to eat, so that was no problem.
My final vote on Dajabon
This is not for everyone. If you don’t want to leave the pretty beaches in the DR, that’s fine. If you want to see what’s really happening in this country beyond the Caribbean postcard hotspots, you’ll want to consider Dajabon. In our case, we wouldn’t change this experience for anything else in the world:)