I find it hard to tell people that I’ve been to Haiti, because as much as the brochure for this cruise told me I was going there, it wasn’t really Haiti. Of course, I don’t know anyone (outside of missionaries, and I don’t know any of those) who want to go to Haiti proper, but this whole experience was so surreal and overwhelmingly sad that I still get stuck thinking about it sometimes.
The island that we went to was technically part of Hispaniola, but it was either owned or rented by Royal Caribbean exclusively as a port of call for their ships. This information was not something that I came upon by any amount of sleuthing; it was apparent immediately by the fact that the only people working on the island (aside from vendors, which I’ll get to later) were the employees we had been getting to know all week.
They walked around selling us overpriced fruity cocktails and little foam fans that mist you with water. They set up an elaborate buffet on one side of the island and herded us toward our scheduled activities. Before our activity was scheduled to begin, we had quite a bit of time to enjoy the island.
This island is paradise, essentially. It’s surrounded by mountains and water that’s shockingly blue. It was like a new shade of blue created just to be beautiful and make your heart swell. Gentle hills overlooking the water stand like sentries on either side of the beach. Thatched gazebos with picnic tables in them sit on top of these hills so naturally that it seemed like they grew there just so you can sit in the shade while you stare at the water. The white-sand beaches were flawless, except for the hypodermic needle I found laying in the sand on the less-attractive side of the island.
There were two open markets with vendors selling hats and boxes that read "Haiti" and all other typical tchochkes that you can find in any island market. The vendors working at the market were actual Haitians, but it was very apparent that they did not live on this island. The island was tiny; we walked from end to end and there was nothing resembling a residence there. I very much got the feeling that these were people shipped in to give the island a feeling of authenticity. There was a desperation about them that I have never encountered in any other market of this kind. One thing I will never forget was after haggling over the price of a straw hat. I tried to excuse myself by telling the vendor that I had to go get something to eat, and he just looked at me and said, "Can I have some food?"
This island was one of the most naturally beautiful places I had even seen, or will ever see, but it made me feel so spoiled and white and guilty. I don’t know what everyone else took away from the experience, as they seemed to be having a great time, but I’m not going to assume anything. I just felt awful.