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Published: December 31st 2009
Our First Port
Notice the not so happy look about the rainy day. Amanda and I had just finished running.
After our departure from Miami, we spent our first full cruise day underway. It was quite relaxing, getting acquainted with the ship that isn't a ship (it's more like a floating mall) and enjoying the good food and entertainment. We pointed toward our first port of call, Labadee, Haiti a.k.a. the Fake Town.
C'est vrai? Yes, I said Fake Town... authenticized with a few native Hatians and what have you got? A cruise island town built specifically to rake in money.
Haiti seems to instill a lot of fear into people, and I can say that it's with good reason. With a history rich in violence, it seems that people have much to fear as an outsider or an insider. Between uprisings, civil unrest and coups up until about a decade ago... well, you can google the rest. At any rate, on to the fake town explanation.
Labadee is a port nestled on the northern coast of Haiti. It's a private resort leased to Royal Caribbean International. Royal Caribbean International has contributed the largest proportion of tourist revenue to Haiti since 1986. They employ 300 locals and allow another 200 or so
to sell their wares on the premises. This is all for the low cost of paying the Haitian government about US$6 per tourist. What a deal, huh?
Much to my chagrin, the resort is completely tourist-oriented. You know me, I prefer to have a culture shock experience. It is guarded by a private security force and fenced off from the surrounding areas, as passengers aren't permitted to leave the property (sounds like Hotel California a bit). It is also blocked off from the remainder of Haiti by some Oahu-looking mountains. A controlled group of Haitian merchants are given sole rights to sell their merchandise and establish their businesses in the resort. When reading the port information on the website, it sounds like an island, but it's actually a peninsula contiguous with the island of Hispaniola. The cruise ship moors to the pier at Labadee, they had just finished that capability about a week prior to our arrival. The water was quite beautiful, though we pulled in on a rainy day (yes, we were a bit disappointed). Attractions include a Haitian flea market, beaches, watersports, a water-oriented playground, and a zip-line.
I speak enough
Yep, complete with rain, rain and more rain.
French to get in trouble, so I used it to my advantage. I'd listen for a bit to the street vendors, I should say the extremely pushy street vendors, and if I heard them getting shady, I'd use my words. "Bonjour. Ca va? Non, merci..." Oh! You speak French?!? "Oui, monsieur. Un petit peu." Where you learn French? "L'ecole". (School) "Je parle francais comme une vache espaniol." (I speak French like a Spanish cow) Oh yeah, they loved that one and realized I wasn't going to take their pressure. Bless Amanda's heart, she has never been exposed to anything third world or even second world... she's too nice for her own good and has a difficult time saying no. These vendors are good at being pushy and seeming super poor, they easily take advantage of the middle to upper class ignorance of the cruisers. They thrive more than others on Haiti, having permission to sell to the cruise ships. I try to explain a little of that to her, but her heart strings are not callused to these half-truth (more like eighth-truth) sights. I tried to hover over her a little more at first, Dave did well, so I left
her to his care. Alone, she would have been a newly dropped carcass to vultures and hyenas at the same time.
Most of the wares are wood carvings, paintings and shells. Again, it's a bit upsetting for me to see the massive amounts of "shell deaths" set up for my fellow tourists. They dive into the water, retrieve an exquisitely live mollusk and it's hardened home to die, what would seem to me to be, a horribly painful death of drying up. I, like all others, can appreciate a beautiful shell. I just prefer to collect it the more humane way, by rarely finding an uninhabited home that washed up on the shore or sits on the sand bottom as I dive. I admired their wares, but only bought a few, less painful, objects. Namely, a couple of nice paintings and 2 wooden bowls. They were supposedly mahogany, I doubt it, but gorgeous nonetheless.
Afterwards, we spent the rest of our few hours in a beach chaise, catching what few rays peeked out of the clouds. I think I would have preferred to remain underway for an extra day vice visiting a "Fake Town",
but I guess that leaves nothing but improvement for the next port visit, right?
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