Labadie, Haiti

The Two Contradictory Worlds of Labadie and “Labadee” Haiti

“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.

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 Citadelle Henry, Cap-Haïtien, Haiti

Discovering the Heart of Haiti’s Past at the Citadelle Henry

“Citadelle Henry is a living testimony of the determination of the people to consolidate their right to be sovereign and free, and to decide their own destiny. It is a place of remembrance and reflection, a symbol of dignity and freedom”. – Transcription on a plaque posted at the entrance to Citadelle Henry 

Perched high above the ocean within the lush green confines of the mountain Bonnet-à-L’évêque that surround the small farming community of Milot are two of Haiti’s most prized possessions and symbols of freedom, Citadelle Henry and the Palais Sans Souci. Both built in the early 1800s during the reign of Henry Christophe, an important leader of the slave rebellion that led to Haiti’s independence, these two UNESCO World Heritage sites are perhaps the most impressive and iconic monuments in all of Haiti. They are definitely worth a visit to grasp an understanding of Haiti’s tumultuous, heroic past which enabled this tiny nation to become the first free black nation in the world.

We set off after breakfast from our hotel in Cap-Haïtien towards Milot. Although Milot is only about 17 miles south of Cap-Haïtien, it of course took an hour to navigate through the swarms of pedestrians, cars, motorcycles, and rough roads to reach Milot, a small town located at the base of the mountain and the entry point for Citadelle Henry and the Palais Sans Souci. Thankfully we had our trusted driver Nixon at the wheel of our six-passenger van steering the way through the madness. Yet of course it didn’t fail that we got lost trying to get our of town and had to hire another motorcyclist to show us the way. It was becoming a common trend!

Cap-Haïtien, Haiti 

Leaving Cap-Haïtien and heading north to Citadelle Henry.

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While the Palais Sans Sousi is located within the folds of the Bonnet-à-L’évêque mountain on the edge of town, the Citadelle Henry is perched high above Milot (over five miles up) on top of the mountain and requires quite an effort to get there. Given the heat and the potential for crowds, we decided to visit the Citadelle Henry first.

Reaching the Citadelle Henry is not for the faint at heart. There are basically two ways you can do it: On foot or on horse. If you go on foot, it is requires a couple of hours to reach the top depending upon your fitness level and the heat. If you go on horse, it is quite easy and only requires your patience dealing with squabbling horse handlers trying to continually negotiate a higher tip for the 30 minute ride up.  We opted to ride the horses which ended up being a great decision given the hot and humid weather.

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Habitation-Jouissant, Cap-Haïtien, Haiti

Taking a Step Back in Time in Cap-Haïtien

“Sonja Lapli Ki Leve Mayi Ou” – Haitian Proverb meaning “Remember the Rain that Made your Corn Grow” 

After an eight and a half hour treacherous drive, our van finally arrived into the outskirts of Cap-Haïtien. Once the richest and grandest city in the entire Caribbean, due to a powerful sugar and coffee industry built on slavery, Cap-Haïtien’s history is long, violent and heroic. It was here under French colonial rule that Haiti won its independence in 1804 after a bloody revolution and became the first free black republic in the world

Today, the remains of a once grand city whose history can be seen in the layers of peeling paint and the crumbling of its French colonial architecture is a reminder of the poverty, hardship and natural disasters that have continued to devastate Haiti since the arrival of Christopher Columbus in 1492. While greed, violence, and corruption are a common thread throughout this impoverished island nation’s history, there is also a rich cultural heritage that goes back for centuries. There is no better place to learn about Haiti’s past than by spending a few days visiting Cap-Haïtien.

As we entered the town, I noticed a slight resemblance to the colorful run-down streets of Havana. Just like Havana, if I closed my eyes I could almost picture the once remarkable beauty of the place before its demise. Layers of pastel-hued walls gave the city an ironically cheerful feel despite the piles of uncollected trash, the mismatch of junk sold along the street and the darn right brutal shape of some of the roads and buildings. The corniche which is the long boardwalk that lines the sea was probably the place to be and be seen years ago yet now it is filled with congestion, garbage and dirt. Off in the distance as far as the eye can see lay some of Haiti’s most beautiful beaches with perhaps one of the most lovely ones of all being open only to the foreign cruise ship passengers spending the day in Haiti’s luxurious, private and exclusive Labadie. Directly south in the lush green mountains lies the famous fortress, Citadelle Henry, which is one of the primary reasons for visiting Cap-Haïtien besides the beaches.

For me, I wanted to visit Cap-Haïtien for the culture and history. I had never been to the northern side of Haiti and knew that it was blessed with a rich heritage and was once known as the “Paris of the Antilles”. Unfortunately two days would not be nearly enough time to explore the city and its surroundings. But it did give me a different experience in Haiti.

Cap-Haïtien, Haiti

Cap-Haïtien, Haiti

Cap-Haïtien, Haiti

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Rural Haiti

What it is Like to Drive Across Haiti: Our Drive from Port-au-Prince to Cap-Haïtien

“Sonja Lapli Ki Leve Mayo Ou”  (Remember the rain that made your corn grow) – Haitian Proverb

Driving in Haiti is not for the faint at heart. It takes a certain breed of traveler to come to Haiti and even a more particular kind of traveler to drive across the country. To say that the roads are treacherous would be an understatement. In all my travels to remote parts of the world where I deemed the roads to be bad, I have never ever experienced such potholed, rugged, rough and perilous roads as I have in Haiti.

What I found most shocking of all is that the roads in the nation’s capital, Port-au-Prince, are perhaps the worst. Getting around in the capital can take hours given all the washed out, rutted roads, the broken down cars left in the middle of the street, the congestion of way too many cars, people, motorcycles and trucks on the roads, and the chaos of it all. Hurricanes, earthquakes, heavy rain and other natural disasters have continued to wreak havoc on Haiti’s already overwhelmed infrastructure. So has poverty. Yet what makes matters worse is the fact that poor governance, bad management of international aid money, corruption and greed have not fixed the insanely bad infrastructure. Hopefully they will someday.

Needless to say, you must be mentally prepared to drive in Haiti. It takes patience, an open mind and a strong desire to see the real deal, the real Haiti. For my adventurous, curious soul, our drive across Haiti from Port-au-Prince to Cap-Haïtien was perhaps the most profoundly eye-opening experience of the entire trip. After two visits to Haiti, I felt like all the pieces finally come together and I understood her.

Hotel Montana Pétionville, Haiti

View from the Hotel Montana in Pétionville and overlooking Port-au-Prince

We rose early to prepare for our estimated 5 hour drive to Cap-Haïtien. We left just as the sun was rising over the valley below our hotel perched high up in the hills above Port-au-Prince. As we drove down the main road from Pétionville, the city began to come to life. Street vendors were out setting up their stands of everything you can possibly imagine to be for sale on the side of the street: Fresh produce, clean drinking water in tiny plastic bags, used clothing, tires, bicycles, mattresses, electronics, cellphone chips, shoes, electrical wires, books, pots and pans, and even TVs. I finally figured out where all my donated stuff to Goodwill ends up. On the streets of Port-au-Prince to be resold.

We left before 7 because if we left any later, it could take us over two hours to get down from the neighboring suburb of Pétionville to Port-au-Prince. It is the only road connecting this well-to-do, wealthy suburb of expats, government officials and businessman with the chaos of downtown Port-au-Prince where they work. If one car breaks down along the way, it is over.

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We passed through the center of town just as everyone was commuting to work. Lines and lines of people stood waiting along the roadside for their chance to get on an over-crowded tap-tap, Haiti’s decked out pickup trucks that provide transportation for the public. Sometimes there is an all out fight between two people trying to push their way on the last remaining spot on the tap tap especially since this is the only form of public transportation in the entire city.

Motorcycles pass by with three, four and even five people on. We even saw a man carrying a couple of live goats and another man with a generator on his back. The motorcycles are very dangerous as they zoom in and out of traffic with their life on the line. I am sure that motorcycle accidents are a daily occurrence in Haiti.

We finally made it out of the city without too much trouble. Just the usual broken down cars, traffic jams and rugged, potholed roads to slow us down but nothing major causing us delay. We had our driver Nixon bringing our group of four woman to Cap-Haïtien. Thankfully we had a nice air-conditioned van, filled with bottled water and a few snacks for our long drive ahead. We also had quirky Nixon who despite his questionable actions proved to be an excellent driver on such crazy roads.

Cap-Haïtien is only about 148 miles/239 kilometers north of Port-au-Prince but given the road conditions it can take anywhere from 4-6 hours. Little did we know that our adventurous ride would take us a whooping 8 1/2 hours with nowhere to stop for lunch and public toilets at a minimum. Like I said, it was a trip for the adventurous soul.

Google maps print out states that 148 mile/239 km drive should take roughly 6 hours.

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Atelier Calla, Port-au-Prince, Haiti

A Visit with Haitian Bone and Horn Artist Christelle Paul

“Sonje lapli ki leve mayo ou” – Remember the rain that made your corn grow (Haitian proverb)

I had never heard of Horn and Bone art until I first visited Haiti two years ago and met with Haitian Horn and Bone artist Christelle Paul, founder and chief designer of her workshop Atelier Calla“ in Port-au-Prince. Horn and Bone art began within the walls of Haiti’s prisons in the 1950s. To pass the time, the men in prison enjoyed playing games and they ingeniously discovered they could use old horns and bones to make pieces for card games. The art continued to evolve over the years being passed down from generation to generation.

Christelle has always been passionate about art yet she pursed a career in business and worked in the banking industry for many years. One day back in 2006 she was out shopping and noticed that there were a lot of products made out of horn and bone yet none that she really liked. This inspired her to start creating her own horn and bone jewelry based on the designs and ideas she desired. What began as a hobby suddenly grew into a passion. Yet the journey from being a full-time banker to full-time artist was a long one.

A series of setbacks such as the devastating 2010 earthquake stopped Christelle from following her dreams. A inspiring meeting with world renown designer Donna Karan was the final push Christelle needed to leave banking and pursue her passion for Bone and Horn art full-time. Her workshop Atelier Calla“ was opened in October of 2011 and today her team employs a handful of artisans within the community who were once unemployed. Her mission is to provide fair wages and work opportunities to help young, unemployed people find a fulfilling, sustainable career in the arts. She is a remarkable woman.

The last time I was in Haiti in 2015, I had visited Christelle’s studio to learn more about this unique kind of art and also hear how her studio and workshop have helped other Haitians pursue a career in Horn and Bone art. Since my past visit two years ago, Christelle has moved to a new location in the center of Port-au-Prince in her mother’s home that was abandoned after the 2010 earthquake. Christelle is in the process of rebuilding the house as her studio and workshop. The roof fell down and walls have crumbled leaving a big part of the house in ruins. However, Christelle is determined to rebuild and get her new studio and workshop all fixed up. She has done it before seven years ago after the earthquake struck and she lost everything. She had to start all over again, working seven days a week while raising three young children yet succeeded. She attributes her strong resilience to simply being Haitian. The path is never easy but with hard work, perseverance and resilience I am certain Christelle will succeed.

Driving from our hotel to Christelle’s studio. Conditions in Port-au-Prince are still very difficult and the infrastructure throughout the country significantly needs to be improved. This is a challenge for entrepreneurs as it makes getting their products to the market difficult. 

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Jean Baptiste Jean Jospeph, Isador Gallery, Haiti

A Step Inside the Studio of Vodou Priest and Artist Jean Baptiste Jean Joseph

“Kay koule tronpe soley, men li pa tronpe lapli” – Haitian proverb meaning “A leaky house can fool the sun but it can’t fool the rain”. 

No visit to Croix-des-Bouquets is complete without a stop at the studio of world-famous vodou artist and priest, Jean Baptiste Jean Joseph. Jean Baptiste’s Isidor Gallery has been receiving customers from all over the world for years and some of his most impressive pieces sell for thousands of dollars. Yet despite his fame and notoriety, like many of the other highly successful artists of Croix-des-Bouquets Jean Baptiste has decided to stay in Haiti and continue his work and mentorship to other aspiring artists. This is what makes Croix-des-Bouquets so special.

Stepping into the Isidor Gallery feels like stepping into a dream. The scent of incense flavors the air and the walls are filled with a riot of colorful, imaginative vodou flags intricately designed and handcrafted. The lights are low or even off, and the hot, humid heat of Haiti adds to a slightly dizzying effect. To be inside Jean Baptiste’s studio and to see his work, gives one a true sense of Haiti’s rich, intricate culture and religion. It feels like magic.

Croix-des-Bouquet Haiti

Jean Baptiste Jean Jospeph, Isador Gallery, Haiti

Jean Baptiste Jean Joseph was born in 1967 in La Vallé Bainet and was raised in Croix-des-Bouquets, a community known for its metal artisans in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. At a young age Jean Baptiste became passionate for folk art and textiles. Following his dream and passion for beadwork, he worked in a small factory where he honed his skills by sewing pearls and beads onto wedding dresses. Then in 1991, thanks to the receipt of a small loan from a friend, Jean Baptiste opened Isidor Gallery in Croix-des-Bouquets.

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Croix-des-Bouquets, Haiti

A Visit to Meet the Metal Artisans in Croix-des-Bouquets

No trip to Haiti is complete without a visit to Croix-des-Bouquets. Croix-des-Bouquets is a unique artist community on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince that has grown into one of the largest, sustainable metal art communities in Haiti. It all began in the 1950s by a local blacksmith named Georges Liautaud who began using recycled oil drums to create amazing freestanding sculptures of art known as “fer découpé”. Liautaud mentored and inspired many metal artisans within the growing community of Croix-des-Bouquets and although he passed away in 1992, his most celebrated apprentice Serge Jolimeau continues to be a moving force within the community. Known as the godfather of Croix-des-Bouquets, Jolimeau opened up his land to the artisans so they have a place to work for free and learn the trade through apprenticeships.

Today, Croix-des-Bouquets has over 1,000 metal artisans with over 60 different shops and studios creating social change and opportunity within the community. It is a magical, happy place filled with energy and life. Although Jolimeau travels the world with his art, he continues to reside in Croix-des-Bouquets where he supposedly never even bothers to lock his door. It is that kind of close-knit community; a sharp contrast to some of the neighboring slums.

Croix-des-Bouquets is located on the edge of Port-au-Prince in the district of Noailles. You can tell you have arrived in the right place by the non-stop clanking of the hammers on metal. Beautiful handmade metal signs hang outside each workshop and the entire place is alive with the sounds of creativity. I felt like a kid in a candy shop looking at row after row of artwork with each piece being more spectacular than the last. My camera in hand and notebook ready, we began our tour of Croix-des-Bouquets and I was thankful it was not my first visit. Taking it all in for the first time can be quite overwhelming.

Croix-des-Bouquets, Haiti

Croix-des-Bouquets, Haiti

CULTURE Haiti TRAVEL BY REGION
Observatoire, Port-au-Prince, Haiti

Where to Eat and Stay in Port-au-Prince, Haiti

“Anpil men chay pa lou” – Haitan proverb meaning “Many hands make a load lighter”.

To say that the bustling, congested and vibrant capital of Haiti, Port-au-Prince, is a bit chaotic and overstimulating would be an understatement. Monstrous traffic combined with endless honking horns, pedestrians, street vendors, motorbikes and every thing imaginable being sold on the street leaves you with such an immense sensory overload that your head is spinning by the end of the day.

As a newcomer, it is hard to conceive that peaceful, beautiful places coexist with the utter chaos of this hectic city of neglected potholes, broken down cars and uncollected garbage. However if you dig deep within the local culture and outskirts of town, you will be surprised at what true treasures Port-au-Prince has to offer.

Above the urban sprawl rising up the northern hills of the Massif de la Selle lies the affluent suburb of Pétionville which was founded in 1831 and named after Alexandre Sabes Pétion (1770-1818), a Haitian general and president who is recognized as one of the founding fathers of Haiti. Today Pétionville hosts some of the most desired restaurants, shops, hotels and residences in the capital. The views from Pétionville are beautiful and the air is much clearer and calmer than in Port-au-Prince.

However, the growth of Pétionville has not come without a price. A lack of governance in development has led to some serious problems with squatters. On the outskirts of Pétionville, a massive slum of rural migrants have dangerously built homes moving up the slopes of the mountainside, offering little protection against mudslides, heavy rains and earthquakes. The slums are always in view and are a big contradiction to the large mansions and wealth of Pétionville.

Oftentimes it was hard for me to wrap my head around the luxury I was experiencing and the horrible conditions just across the way. Yet, as a conscious traveler to many developing countries, it is something I just have had to accept and hope that at least my voice as a blogger and my tourist dollars will somehow help.

Hotel Montan Pétionville, Haiti

Off in the distance, moving up the hills at the edge of Pétionville lies the slums. These were built illegally by rural migrants who came to the city.

Pétionville, Haiti

Sadly these slums are poorly constructed and prone to washing away during mudslides. A lot of destruction and devastation happened here too from the 2010 earthquake.

From Port-au-Prince, there is one main road that winds up the mountainside to Pétionville. The road is narrow and depending on the time of day, traffic can be horrific especially if there is a stalled car. It is best to plan at least an hour from downtown to Pétionville unless you leave very early in the morning or very late at night.

As you drive up the mountain, the road is filled with art stands selling all kinds of local Haitian art. The views of the city are spectacular but it is hard to stop since there are no shoulders on the road.

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One thing I love to do when I travel is stay and eat local. Being conscious about where my tourist money is spent and how can have a big impact on the local community. Sadly, the majority of revenue earned from tourism often goes into only a few hands (large international corporations or wealthy elite) and very little money goes to support the local community. This is a huge missed opportunity because supporting local businesses creates a ripple effect that benefits entire communities of people. More local jobs means more income enabling more people to send their children to school, buy food and afford homes. In a country of vast unemployment, sustainable local tourism has an enormous potential to help eradicate Haiti’s crippling poverty.

I was pleased that our guide Haitian-American Natalie Tancrede of Explore with Nat selected all locally run and owned venues for our stay in Port-au-Prince. We could have chosen to stay at the beautiful new Marriott Hotel downtown but instead opted to stay at the tranquil, family owned Hotel Montana in Pétionville. It was my second stay at this beautiful hotel and I would go back there in a heartbeat.

Here is my list of the best places to stay and eat in Port-au-Prince.

Where to Stay:

Hotel Montana

The Hotel Montana is a true gem. Located up in the hills of Pétionville high above Port-au-Prince Hotel Montana has been run by a Haitian family since 1947 and is designed in Haitian Art Deco flair. The grounds and 45 rooms are stunning and the staff is delightful. There is a large open-air terrace that has a restaurant, bar and pool affording breathtaking views of the city below. The personalized service is lovely and it feels like a home away from home for many of the guests.

Hotel Montana Pétionville, HaitiHotel Montana Pétionville, Haiti

Pétionville, Haiti

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Cap-Haitien, Haiti

Ayiti Nan Kè-m: Haiti is in my heart

“Dèyè mòn gen mòn” – Haitian proverb meaning “beyond the mountains, more mountains.”

At the heart of rush hour, 4.53 pm, on January 12, 2010 the earth shook with a ferociously and cruelty like never before. In 35 terrifying seconds, a 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck near the town of Léogâne, only 16 miles west of Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince flattening hundreds of thousands of buildings, hospitals and clinics, and killing over an estimated 200,000 while injuring and displacing hundreds of thousands more. The catastrophic earthquake and its aftermath was the worst urban disaster in the world with an unimaginable loss of life and destruction of a nation that for hundreds of years has hovered slightly above the brink of collapse.

If the death and destruction of the earthquake was unfathomable, the resulting desperation, suffering and attempts to rebuild the country was even worse revealing just how fragile the social, political and economic systems in Haiti truly are. A cholera outbreak introduced by UN peacekeepers killed thousands more. The lack of social services in rural communities brought even more poor rural migrants into the already overwhelmed Port-au-Prince to live in tents or as squatters. Meanwhile corruption, greed, and a gross mishandling of funds made the rebuilding of Haiti even harder. Billions in promised aid was never delivered. People were displaced and living in horrible conditions in tent communities. And the list goes on.

But slowly over time, Haiti was rebuilt. The rubble was removed, the roads were repaired, and hospitals, clinics, schools, and buildings were reconstructed. Then came Hurricane Mathew this past fall bringing Haiti down to her knees once again. The damage was immense- estimated to be over a billion dollars – and the country is still trying to rebuild once again. Against this backdrop, I went to Haiti.

Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

The sun sets over Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

“Ayiti Nan Kè-m” – Creole meaning “Haiti is in my heart”

I will not sugarcoat it. A week in Haiti was perhaps one of the most intensely emotional travel experiences of my life. However, if you are able to look beyond the potholed roads, the piles of trash, the unforgiving, overbearing poverty and the desperation in people’s eyes, then you will able to see something truly unique. Beauty and hope.

Cap-Haitien, Haiti

View from our hotel overlooking Cap-Haitien.

Juxtaposed against the stark ugliness is a beautiful resilience and strength in the Haitian people and their land. An extraordinary magical culture of music, art, food and religion. A stunning rural countryside with mountain after mountain- a sea of green against the aqua blue waters and white sandy beaches that make up coastal Haiti. A place that despite its complicated history and immense challenges, offers an outsider something extraordinarily life-changing and unique.  A week in Haiti was perhaps one of the most moving trips of my life, and that says a lot given how much I have already seen throughout the developing world.

CULTURE Haiti TRAVEL BY REGION

Haiti Bound: A Week Exploring Culture and Adventure

“Dèyè mòn gen mòn” – Haitian proverb meaning “beyond mountains, more mountains”. 

Two years ago, I had the opportunity to visit Haiti as part of a social good blogging trip to learn about the amazing artisan market that is helping put Haiti on the map. It was a life-changing trip that challenged a lot of misperceptions about this beautiful place. I wrote quite a lot about the trip and had always wanted to go back but the timing never seemed to work out. (To view all my posts on my past trip to Haiti, click here. There are a ton but these are some of my most favorite posts on my blog to date!).

Carnaval 2015 Port-au-Prince

Our group, #Bloggers4Haiti

Fast forward, and I am now sitting in the Miami International Airport waiting to catch my flight to Port-au-Prince, Haiti. I will once again be traveling with my Haitian-American friend Nathalie (Nat) Tancrede who at the time ran the artisan program in Haiti. But this time, I will be doing something completely different. I will be joining Nat on her first adventure and cultural tour for her new travel business, Explore with Nat, as her storyteller and social media companion. I can hardly wait!

I will be live blogging and social media sharing during the entire week in Haiti and it is my goal to show the world the beautiful, amazing parts of Haiti – not the sadness they read about and see in the media. As a dedicated writer, I did what I always do before going on a trip. I purchased a travel guide – or shall I say the only travel guide on the market. Haiti is not currently known as a tourist destination and only the most off the beaten path travelers seem to venture to the tiny nation. It is my aim to uncover the beauty and culture of this often misunderstood place, and I will have a week to do it.

During my past trip, I visited Port-au-Prince and Jacmel, a lovely coastal town a few hours away from the capital. This time I will be exploring a few new places such as Cap Haitien and a beach resort near Montrouis. I will be learning more about the historical and cultural side of Haiti which will be utterly fascinating.

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papier-mâché artisans Jacmel Haiti

Haiti: Where life imitates art

A year ago I had the wonderful opportunity to go to Haiti as part of a program to view Macy’s Heart of Haiti products and meet the artisans behind the beautiful art. It was an incredible trip in many ways as it opened my heart and mind to a different side of Haiti that is often not discussed in the press. Instead of seeing tragedy, hardship and destruction I saw amazing resilience, hope and creativity through the arts. While many challenges remain for the people of Haiti – it still is the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere – there also lies opportunity and beauty especially through its vibrant, dynamic arts.

Let me introduce you to a few of Haiti’s artists and some of the beautiful work they are creating to lift themselves and their communities out of poverty.

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Sunset over the Sea on the Royal Caribbean

How to remain optimistic in winter: Head South

“In the depth of winter I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer”. – Albert Camus

Here in Minnesota we are in the midst of winter. The days are short and cold and in January it rarely gets above freezing. Winter can last anywhere from 4-5 months depending on the year. This year, we have been fortunate as we had an incredibly mild November and December, and despite a sub-zero week it has been mostly in the 20s and 30s. For me, that is almost tropical after last week’s -20.

“So how do you do it” many people ask me in bewilderment and shock when I tell them where I’m from. Simple. I embrace it, and I take a break.

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