Mid-winter dream of Haiti

Yesterday was #BlueMonday, a day that draws attention to the low mood many feel in mid-winter in the Northern Hemisphere.

Though the origins of Blue Monday are attributed to a marketing initiative of a travel company, there is a reason it resonates with us.  Winter is long here.  This year it seems extra long because it started early with a wicked wind storm back on November 2-3, eleven weeks ago.   And we’ll likely still be feeling winter’s affect for at least that many weeks ahead of us no matter what happens with the groundhog on February 2.

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January 21, 2019 and winter has taken over our yard.

Living in Canada for the past 50 years, I’ve had my fair share of winter.  I’ve done the things people say to do to get through it, sliding skating, snowshoeing, skiing and even dog sledding (that adventure deserves it’s own post at a future date).

Truthfully that’s the only thing that has worked for me is a winter getaway to somewhere south. On the years I have been able to do this, winter passes by just a little bit easier.  Last year, my husband and I took a 5-night cruise and soaked up the warmth in the Caribbean.

Here’s where the contradiction that is me comes out. Although I want the warmth, I’m not a beach sitter, and I prefer to learn about a place I visit.

Perhaps that’s why in the depth of this winter, I keep looking at the images of one of our favourite stops on last year’s cruise, Royal Caribbean’s private resort in Labadee, Haiti.

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Royal Caribbean’s resort at Labadee Haiti and Independence of the Seas docked at the Port (March 2018)

The water was aquamarine and the beach was lovely but the best part of our journey, and probably our favourite part of the cruise, was a shore excursion to the actual village of Labadee, a short water taxi ride from the resort.

When Royal Caribbean came to this area of Haiti and leased the now resort area long-term from the government, it took vacant land of a former plantation and transformed it over a period of time into an adventure beach destination for adults and children.

After a cursory look at the beach and all the people hanging out there, we were swept away by Royal Caribbean destination tour staff to the location of our water transport to the village.

We were curious about learning more about Haiti, which is why the shore excursion appealed to us.  My husband had spent March break the prior year in Dominican Republic, the other country that shares the island of Hispaniola.  He’s a high school teacher and was volunteering his time to work with students to build two community centres for remote villages.  When he was there, he saw life challenges of the people of both Dominican Republic and Haiti.

dscn2731After our short water taxi ride, at the pier in Labadee village, our guide Antonio greeted us warmly and told us the story of Haiti depicted through artwork on the pillars of the small pier, then we learned how the houses in the village are built by neighbours helping neighbours, first by making the bricks in an eighteenth-century earth oven and then by lending a hand to each other to construct homes.

The actual village of Labadee is nestled safely in a cove at the base of a mountain range, with houses built on the low land and up the sides of the surrounding hills.  The village, accessible only by water, is sheltered from many of the challenges that plague other parts of Haiti.

Here in Labadee village, we learned from Antonio the various plant remedies traditionally used as part of ritual to treat symptoms of epilepsy, diabetes, hypertension and even the common cold.  We were also given a demonstration of a voodoo ceremony, and later shown how a rudimentary rum is made from sugar cane.

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Voodoo ritual demonstration

Antonio also shared with us the positive changes the village has experienced from its relationship with Royal Caribbean.  Not only are there employment opportunities at the private resort, but also he explained how Royal Caribbean helps families from the village who have students wishing to go to high school in Cap-Haitien. The village school goes only to grade 9, and the high school is a water taxi, and a ferry ride away.

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New hotel development in Labadee village (March 2018)

The opportunity to learn about the culture of Haiti touched us and we still fondly speak of Antonio and the experience of our tour in Labadee.  While we were there he pointed to a new hotel construction on the other side of the small harbour, an investment from outside Haiti but one that points toward opportunity for the village.  Finally, he shared that the village is continuously improving and they have been working with Royal Caribbean to give more access to the village for passengers.  While this is a work in progress, they are hopeful.

I look forward to future visits to Labadee to see how they progress with their goals.

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