My aunt and grandparents joined me for a weeklong Western Caribbean cruise. Since none of my visitors were beach bums, they signed up for a variety of shore excursions. I was able to join them for two. The first was a Coastal Cruise in Labadee, Haiti.
The “cruise” was on a catamaran that left from a pier next to the ship. It was run by a tour group called Discover Haiti. Our tour guide, Tony, was a wealth of information. I had previously just been to the beach in Labadee, so having the opportunity to learn more about the village and the rest of Haiti was really wonderful. I was so intrigued by what he was saying that I actually took notes!
Haiti translates as “man of mountain”, which is fitting, as 85% of the country is mountainous. The country has 9 million people, and makes up 1/3 of the island Hispaniola. Haitians primarily speak Creole. They are educated in French, and learn English in high school. We met some local fisherman during our excursion, and were told we could speak to them in French, but they would answer in Creole.
Before the earthquake in 2010, the unemployment rate was 72%. It is now all the way up to 80%. Many people are fishermen. We were shown examples of some nets used for fishing, and also met some fishermen. Some showed off their catches, including two massive crabs and a stingray on a spear. Others tried to sell shells and various other items to the guests on the tour. Our guide told us that they go out around 5:30 or 6:00am, and around noon, when we saw them, they hurry back to sell their fish. They don’t have proper refrigeration, so they try to sell everything as soon as possible. Some of the men were in simple wooden boats. Others were in latins—small boats with no engine and sails made from sheets. The fishermen row out in the morning, and use the sails to push them home at the end of the day.
Unsurprisingly, fish is a staple of the Haitian diet. Their main foods are fish, rice, and beans, with red snapper being the most common fish. Locals know the water well, and gage depth by the color. There is a lot of drug trafficking, and it is not uncommon for ships smuggling drugs to get in wrecks because of the 17 barrier reefs in the area. There are estimated 450 shipwrecks around Hispaniola, one of which we were able to see. It had been there for 14 years!
We also went past a small island, named Amiga Island by Christopher Columbus. Columbus first came to Haiti December 5, 1492. Our guide joked that his teacher taught them that Columbus’s ships were named the Nina, the Pinta, and the Pina Colada!
Labadee is on a peninsula. It was named after a French man that used to live there. Land is very cheap. For example, a small beach we passed was bought for $20,000. A beautiful two-story home with solar panels was built for just $80,000, including land and labor costs. Royal Caribbean has a 99-year lease for Labadee Beach. The village of Labadee has three districts. There is no police station, as family and friends discipline enough. Tony said there also isn’t a doctor. When he is ill, he goes to see his grandmother for tea and other remedies. He said they also walk everywhere. There are hardly and cars and motorbikes. Even a riding a bicycle is a sign that you’re “trying to be fancy”.
Upon learning that I worked on the ship, Tony tried to give me a free drink. I thanked him but said no. He also said that I shouldn’t have paid for the tour. I laughed, saying I work for the cruise line, not him, and he and his team deserve the payment. He was eager to ask questions about life on the ship, and I was curious about his life in Haiti, and how he enjoyed his work. It was an interesting conversation with a very optimistic young man. It was proof that money doesn’t buy happiness.
It was so nice to have time with my family, and to explore new things in my usual ports. I highly recommend the Discover Haiti Coastal Cruise to anyone that may be venturing to Labadee!