Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Caribbean Cruise: Labadee and Return to Orlando

We returned to the ship and began our overnight sail to Labade.  We dressed for dinner and then afterwards headed to the Opal Theater when we had seen a full production of Cats our first night.  We were there to see "Come Fly With Me," a theatrical presentation of song, dance, acrobatics, and especially air borne acrobatics.  We were told that video recording was not permitted and so I only took photos which you can see by clicking here.

However, a certain Thai Anh Nuyen back in 2010 didn't pay any attention to this or maybe there was no such restriction back then.  He did record several segments and posted them on YouTube.  So I have embedded one of his videos that shows the most dramatic performance of the evening.  I am not sure that these are the same performers but the act is the same.

The next morning we pulled into Labadee, Haiti.  Labadee "a port located on the northern coast of Haiti....It is a private resort leased to Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. until 2050.  Royal Caribbean has contributed the largest proportion of tourist revenue to Haiti since 1986, employing 300 locals, allowing another 200 to sell their wares on the premises for a fee and paying the Haitian government $12 USD per tourist."  (Wikipedia)

Frankly it was a bit disconcerting to learn that was billed as a private island is actually a peninsula about seven miles from Cap-Haitian, Haiti's second largest city.  It is fenced off from the mainland and guarded.  Only Haitians employed by Royal Caribbean or licensed to sell goods are allowed into Labadee.  This was not something that attracted us.  If we had not found a cultural excursion, we might well have just stayed on board and enjoyed the extra space around the pools and much better food that was available on shore (even though all the food came from the ship.)  So when we saw an opportunity to experience something of Haiti, we signed up for an excursion:  A Paradise Cove Escape and Haitian Village Experience 

La Belle Kreyol
While the majority of the 6,000 passengers spent the day on the beaches enjoying the beach and other entertaining activities (zip line, roller coaster, seadoo riding, snorkeling, SCUBA, etc.) a small group of us boarded La Belle Kreyol for our trip to Paradise Cove.  Royal Caribbean does not allow its tour operators to take passengers to an actual Haitian village or town but apparently going to the next cove is acceptable even if it is outside the "secure" confines of Labadee.  

We began with an orientation about Haiti and its history from Rosie, one of the guides.  I later learned that she lives in Cap-Haitian and travels the seven miles on a motor bike.  It used to 45 minutes before the road was paved.  Now it is down to about 15 minutes.  I won the
Rosie telling us about the history and present of Haiti
contest to guess the population of Haiti with 10 million, about half of whom live in Port au Prince and Cap-Hatian.  The most intriguing thing I learned was that Haiti is very fertile.  Hispaniola was formed by volcano(es) and there rich volcanic soil.  In paradise Cove we could easily see the volcanic rock that formed the hillsides.  Yet, Haiti has to import food because so many farmers have migrated to the cities and larger towns that there are not enough farmers to grow the food that the country needs.  This is just one of the many factors that complicate economic development in this poorest of countries.  Oh, yes, my correct answer (guess) got me a second shot of rum (ronm in kreyol.)

Once we walked the fifty paces or so to the beach, Rosie divided us into two groups.  One began the cultural tour and the rest of us lounged on the beach or swam in the crystal clear waters.

There was plenty of shade and abundant sunshine, of course.  I try to head for the shade and use long pants and shirts and a funky hat to keep protected from the sun so I don't  have to lather up with sun screen.  Except for my face, of course.  We enjoyed the peaceful quiet instead of the frenetic activity that awaited us back at Labadee.  After an hour or so, it was our turn and one of the young male guides took us up the hillside to visit various sites that had been created to reflect what Haitian village life was like.  We knew this was created for us but nonetheless it gave us information about rural life in Haiti and the opportunity to buy some goods.  We saw how peanut butter, coffee, cassava root flatbread were made and had some samples.  The cassav was particularly intriguing and apparently can be made here in the U.S. with cassava root flour.  We got to see the whole process including the shredding of the root.  Marilyn spent time with some of the craftspeople and ended up buying some candy which she didn't want from a young girl whom she wanted to adopt as a grand daughter, if only for the hour.

We then headed back to Labadee where a second group was ready to visit Paradise Cove.  Once back at the port we grabbed some lunch at the buffet that had come from the ship.  It was not remarkable in any way and certainly didn't reflect Haitian cuisine but we felt we had at least gotten a taste of Haiti from our time at Paradise Cove.  Back in Labadee we encountered our 6,000 new best friends indulging in all sorts of beach activities.  Everyone seemed to have a great time, especially the kids.  Eventually Marilyn found her favorite piece of beach equipment and I spent a hour investigating some lesser trafficked areas to get some photos from a different perspective as they say.  Click here to view more photos of our day in Labadee.

We spent the next day cruising back to Orlando.  We were able to leave the ship in the earliest group and arrived at our hotel were given an early check in.  It felt good to change our clothes and get ready to enjoy a bit of Orlando.  We decided to stay away from the theme parks.  This was Easter Sunday after all and they would be jammed.  Just for the record, we went to Easter Mass on Saturday.  Father Jose officiated in Dazzles, one of the nightclubs on board.  We decided to visit the Harry P. Leu Gardens in or at least near Winter Park.  It was not crowded and so we walked around for a couple of hours.  There was no yet a lot in bloom.  The landscapes were mostly green and a bit flat.  However i was able to get a few interesting images.  Never underestimate what is possible with a few clouds in the sky and some handy water.  Click here to see a few more photos from the Leu gardens including one of Phil Dirt, the Executive Director.  Of course his real name is not Phil Dirt but that's what his name badge said.  Turns out he has a set of "funny names" that he wears out on the property.  By the way, Leu Gardens is owned and operated by the City of Orlando. Click here to see a few more photos of harry P. Leu Gardens.

The next morning, before driving to Savannah for our next adventure, we had a lovely family time with Joe Lawson and his daughter Megan.  Joe is Marilyn's cousin once removed and they haven't seen each for almost 40 years.  We had a great and hearty breakfast at the End of the Trail Restaurant in the Disney's Fort Wilderness Resort.  It was great hearing the two of them get caught up and remembering stories from their youth.  It was delightful getting to meet Megan who will be married this fall.

Next stop is Savannah GA.

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