Haiti - the second trip or

Enjoy it, it could have been worse!

by DL7CM, Hans-Rainer Uebel

After my first Haiti trip to Ile a Vache in the south of the island at the same time last year, when everything ran smoothly from propagation conditions to logistics, it would be Haiti again. I decided that because of the demand. But the somewhat exhausting journey needed to be simplified if possible. This time we should go to the north for the sake of simplicity, I hoped. Everything looked fine for the new route

Beside me, Hans, DL7CM, Sid, DM2AYO came again, and also Manfred, DK1BT, and Juergen, DL7UFN. Both had enough experience from other DXpeditions and it was really not a beginners’ team.

Then there was still the matter of the call sign, 4V200YH. Very distinctive and also possibly difficult to get used to, but I think not more difficult than a reciprocal call like HH5/...etc. 4V is a special prefix for Haiti, last assigned in1995 and then only to native Haitian operators.

Haiti should this year celebrate the bicentenary of its independence. Therefore the "200 Years of Haiti" in the call. However, at the moment this looks unlikely.

The flight was with the holiday carrier LTU. They took the amateur radio equipment as special luggage and the flight was problem-free…… if one overlooks the customs officers, who wanted to see all nine items of luggage unpacked and x-rayed. We took off against the earth’s rotation. Wonderful, time simply goes more slowly. Takeoff was on January 27th, at 0900 Berlin time, and arrival in Puerto Plata in the north of the Dominican Republic was at 1400 local time on the same day.

However, the planned overnight accommodation in Puerto Plata failed to materialise. In the D.R., a general strike with roadblocks was announced for the 28th and the 29th. This meant that we had to leave right away, on the 27th, by car to Dajabon on the Haitian border. However, since the border was open only from 0800 to 1700, we had to spend the night there. No matter, we passed the evening by having a few beers. With only 72 km remaining to our destination, Cap Haitien, we were timing our arrival at the hotel to begin transmitting in the evening with all three stations. No one suspected that the northeast route from Cap Haitien to Ouanaminthe, the border city on the Haitian side, was only a dirt track or, more exactly, a series of connected pot-holes with dirt underneath. We took six hours to travel the 72km!

Finally, we arrived at our hotel! It made a favourable impression so…. "Enjoy, it could have been worse". But things soon did take a turn for the worse! Although the hotel was reasonable and the management was friendly and helpful, the hotel was not on the top of the hill, as described. It was on the southern slope and the top of the hill was directly towards the north. North is USA, north east is Europe and north-north west is Japan. Thus, our full power output was directly into the mountain and specifically into a plot of land with an iron fence and a guard, which lay directly above us. The situation map pulled from the internet (see www.qsl.net/dl7cm/haiti2.htm) shows a compass rose rotated by 90°. Who could have suspected such a thing when planning the trip?

Apropos power, with the unpacking of the station we found that all three linears had transport damage. From the three, we made two and one day later they were up and running, as far as that was possible. But more on that later.

First, the antennas had to be put up. That was the next problem, which we had to nibble at for days. We could only find extremely small areas and even then still in unfavorable places. Four antennas were to be put up. The beam was installed on the nine metre mast we brought with us and fastened to a palm in the inner court. At least it looked over the top of the hotel roof. However, it still pointed into the mountain. The low band ground plane wire antenna should have been fastened to a 10 metre speed mast and the mast to the top point of a palm tree. That would bring the top to the appropriate height and make a rather nice vertical antenna. However, nobody wanted to climb up the palm tree. After a long palaver with the staff, the speed mast was finally tied to a mangrove tree. The HF9 went up on the other side of the house. There was a two metre wide strip before it went steeply downhill. Everything was clear between east and south west, but who is there in that direction? So far things weren’t too happy, but they could have become worse... and they did become worse. Static and only weak signals on the HF9 and the low band antenna was simply useless on 160m with an S7 noise level. Only the big guns came through. Thus we could not continue. Each antenna, each piece of wire within the hotel complex picked up this noise, at least on 160m. A new location had to be found.

We decided to go to the Cormier Plage, a hotel nearby - only 6 km, but that meant a one hour travel time. This hotel could already have been "it" if the owners had bothered to answer me during the planning phase. Yes, indeed, the situation here was better. It was located on the beach with a clear takeoff in the correct direction - the mountain was to the south - but there was no generator... and no guests. The hotel was as good as closed. Thus we had to make do with what we had.

The HF9 was moved and it looked good as it was 10m higher than before. Expectations were high, the transmitted signal was much better, but the noise, the noise! A little transmission cabin of Radio Cap Haitien was next door with all kinds of thick cables which disappeared inside. This wouldn’t do either. We found a suitable place two days later at the upper boundary in the middle of a shrubbery which seemed to be far enough away from all the interference sources so one could regard it as acceptable. It was the only antenna with a bearable interference level.

We invented then a technique to listen with the HF9 and to send on 160m with the low band ground plane. And it worked! A lot of stations went into the 160m log. Additionally, a further antenna was established running up the steep, rocky slope. It was a wire about 35 m long, which was tuned on the bands from 40m upwards. The further the antennas were apart, the better the parallel RX-TX operation.

After much effort we came to the operation itself. The propagation conditions were not good. Openings on the upper bands were short. One had to work hard. 10 and 12m were always dead bands. I cannot remember a DXpedition ever having to call CQ so often. Finally, somebody notices you. At last, we are on the cluster and... the band is alive!

N6RT, Doug, gave us his hand to install a search log. Daily we tried to feed him with our qso datas by email. Sometimes there was no SAT-Link and during the last week voltage was so low, that the monitor did not work. Short hand I used my laptop. See this page and also www.dx.qsl.net/logs .

Into bed at 2300, wake up at 0100 for the greyline in Europe on 160, 80 and 40, back into bed at about 0330, wake up again at 0600 for the local grey line, and then two hours sleep sometime in the afternoon. Not too bad we found. What can go wrong now?

Oh, just the beginning of a rebellion in the country. Once at night-time we heard some shots. Otherwise there was nothing to notice in Cap Haitien or was there? By the second day the air conditioning system was not working. There was no diesel to be bought. The hotel generators - by the way there were five - were now being operated on low power. The AC supply was so soft, if two of us keyed the "00" from the call at the same time, the light went out and the relays in the linear dropped out. Could things get still worse? They could!

On Sunday, February 15th, we began to take down the antennas. On Monday morning, we needed to be back in Puerto Plata since our flight was in the afternoon. We had not yet finished packing when our Haitian guide appeared and explained that the vehicle which was supposed to fetch us could not come over the border from the Dominican Republic. In addition, there would be road blocks everywhere. We had to start immediately. Somehow, via a secret route in the north, we came to a road block - burning cars crosswise over the road. There we stood, all of us with our luggage. We would still be there, if we had not had our Haitian guide.

We carried our luggage through the road block and, believe it or not, on the other side we had to continue our way on motorcycles. Each of us on a pillion seat, with two suitcases and across them an antenna bag. Five km further on we unloaded in a village, four white people with much interesting luggage under the eyes of very many black ones. It became dark. Finally after negotiations we got a car. It was a local transportation minibus. Up and away, together with five local people.

The driver took us along the dirt road at 80km/h towards Ouanaminthe, the city at the border. He probably knew why. We didn’t …. yet. Then, suddenly, we hit the back of the driver’s seat. Road block... and slowly we moved sideways into the bushes. What a night! When I kneeled down there, I had never seen the stars as clear as on this evening. Nevertheless, everything was pitch black in the middle of the bushes, only twinkling flashlights and harsh, albeit hushed, words of command. Hands over the heads - body search. Afterwards, the luggage came off too. Money and everything else which seemed saleable was confiscated. The IC706 transceiver was probably regarded as a radio.

A white is a "blanc". Every "blanc" is immeasurably rich. Before God, it is legitimate to decrease his wealth somewhat. Once you have seen the poverty you will understand it.

After one hour, the nightmare was over. We were nevertheless glad because we had come away with our lives. It was bad enough, but it could have been still worse.

At 80 km/h, with both baggage and humans ignoring the speed on this "road", we continued to drive towards the border. Finally we reached a hotel in Ouanaminthe. The next morning, the luggage was loaded on to a cart and we pushed it towards the border, right through people swarming like ants on an anthill. After some hours, we were then actually on the Dominican side and we still got on our scheduled flight.

We had sweated and we had suffered from mosquitoes, but even after giving so much effort, our goal of 30.000 QSO’s had not been achieved. Only 16,500 were in the log. Nevertheless, we are proud, because we believe that we gave our best under these adverse circumstances.

Despite strains and losses, despite the question, "Why don't you operate there and not here at this and that time?"….."You probably were in the pool"…. and despite the letters from a certain DL with 12 QSO’s and only one SASE, DXpeditioners are a hardy bunch and the question soon becomes again, "Where do we go next?"