“Sonje lapli ki leve mayo ou”. – Remember the rain that made your corn grow. (Haitian proverb)
After all the stark contradictions I’d witnessed in Haiti, the sharpest contrast of it all was seen during an afternoon spent at the beach in Labadie. Here along the northern coast of Haiti sit two vastly different worlds: Labadie, a small, poor Haitian seaside village and “LABADEE®”, the private trademarked beach leased by Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines since 1986.
Labadee is the largest tourist draw in all of Haiti and its beautiful, luxurious compound is a far cry from the poverty and despair witnessed right outside its gates. No Haitians are allowed within the high-wired fences and security of its pristine grounds unless they are work on the property. Inside the compound lies a fantasy world of crystal white beaches, zip-lines, inflatable rafts, watersports and all the food you can eat with a gigantic cruise ship floating in the background. Outside the compound lies poverty and despair and people living on less than the price of a beer a day.
I had heard that this was one of the most gorgeous beaches in all of Haiti and we were going to try our best to check it out even if it was supposedly private. I was armed with a few facts about the property and Royal Caribbean’s relationship to the community. A history that is shrouded in controversy yet filled with potential. A couple hundred Haitians are employed at the compound and Royal Caribbean has done some things to help the neighboring community. I was curious to see for myself what I discovered.
As we left, Cap-Haïtien I noticed a huge improvement in the roads. The same roads that took us over 8 1/2 hours to travel only 148 miles/239 kilometers from Port-au-Prince to Cap-Haïtien were dramatically better on the way to Labadee. Instead of rugged, washed out potholes some of the road was as smooth as silk and the roads that were in need of repair had an entire team of construction workers on the job with even a Chinese engineer. It was shocking to see that the roads leading to a major tourist draw were better than the roads in the nation’s capital. But it was a sign that the right money talks and perhaps it will enable Royal Caribbean to bring its estimated 600,000 tourists a year (1) who come to Labadee to get out of the private compound on excursions and visit some of Haiti’s fabulous historical and cultural sites.
The views leading up to Labadee were spellbinding. Rocky lush green shoreline and brilliant blue sea for as far as the eye could see. White sandy beaches and luxurious houses and resorts. It felt like we were in another country! This was not the Haiti I’d seen over the past five days.