Haitians have a saying, “Beyond the mountains are…more mountains.” This is not just an allegory for life’s many obstacles; the mountains were the deciding factor in the first successful rebellion of the West African slaves brought to Haiti. The Haitian revolution (1791-1804) marked the defeat of Napoleonic forces, the most powerful army of the time. Haiti then established itself as an independent, black republic.
Cap-Haïtien, also called Le Cap, is a city in northern Haiti founded in 1670 by the French. The city was then known as Cap-Français and hailed as the “Paris of the Antilles.” Endowed with the deepest bay in the Caribbean, Haiti was home to many pirates, including the infamous Black Caesar who for nearly a decade raided ships from the Florida Keys and later served as one of Captain Blackbeard’s crewmen aboard the Queen Anne’s Revenge.
Rolanda Delerme, fourth generation voodoo priestess
Haitians are known to practice Vodou, a West African term for mystery ancestor and the force of nature which was morphed and mutated into a negative Hollywood image. Vodou (or Voodoo) is a monotheistic religion that is often misunderstood. Vodou merges Catholic and African beliefs to form a unique set of rituals which is commonly practiced in Haiti and New Orleans.
One of the most profound parts of being a traveler vs. a tourist is the open mind you acquire. When I told people I was going to Haiti, 10 out of 10 souls told me to be extremely safe, as they peered at me with alarmed faces. Understandably, as literature online paints Haiti in an unfair light. Haiti is even listed as a Level 3 threat on the US Department of State website. A Level 3 meaning “Reconsider Travel”: Avoid travel due to serious risks to safety and security. This can create preconceived notions that someone seeking a meaningful travel experience should be aware of.
The reality is Haiti is a poor island ravaged by natural disasters and political corruption. Villages do not have doctors, proper schools with teachers, or every day clean water. Trash is literally everywhere in the urban areas because there is no sustainable system to create a landfill, and little to no education available with respect to recycling. Also, the job market is negatively impacted by subsidized rice imported from The States, rather than Haitians growing rice, and clothes shipped over from China, rather than textiles being made locally.
Packed Perfecty’s purpose is to reimagine travel. The creation of a one-stop-shop digital magazine is a key factor; another is education because knowledge is power. Behind the curtain, we are participating in a mindful and conscious travel creation. Traveling impacts other cultures as much as it impacts you. When you are mindful of your impact, then you become truly open to all kinds of possibilities and relationships.
Corporations and individuals alike need to understand the footprints we leave on other societies. Royal Caribbean’s presence in Haiti is a prime example. The ship pulls into the bay, and like clockwork, a gang of jetskiers disembark for a few hours, while the other RC passengers come out to the man-made beach pumped full of sand taken from other places. These tourists never venture out and quarantine themselves inside the Royal Caribean’s haven.
My question to Royal Caribbean and others in the same business is how can you become part of the solution of creating a more positive impact for your guests and for countries you travel to. Can you encourage your passengers to buy local crafts, food, and beverages? Or encourage your passengers to go on cultural tours, meet the locals, and invest money to help boost the economy?
Carnival’s man-made beach and waterslide
Mission trips also create unforeseen issues. People come to Haiti with good intentions, like wanting to build a school, which has the potential of becoming a white elephant (much like stadiums built by Olympic host cities that turn into unused wastelands).
What Haitians need is eco-friendly tourism and jobs, so they can become self-sustaining. They can build their own schools and grow their own food and hire teachers to educate their young.
Kin Travel hires the locals. They practice the ‘teach a man to fish’ model and employ the local villagers to work at camp. What Kin is doing is connecting a new generation of travelers to a new generation of sustainability providers, leveraging more resources for non-profit and social enterprise to unlock the potential of travel to act as a greater force for good. In addition to creating jobs and operating almost entirely through local supply chains, they focus impact efforts on education and community health in an isolated village called Port Francain, as well as artisan entrepreneurship and eco-sanitation solutions throughout Haiti.
Kin Partners with:
ProDev Haiti – improving the learning environment and leading a teacher training program for two schools.
MPowerd – bringing light to families to improve household health and study/work hours.
Haiti Design Co. – empowering artisan entrepreneurs through training, resources and market access.
SOIL – creating access to healthy sanitation facilities and converting human waste into rich, organic compost critical for agriculture and reforestation.
Upon stepping outside the Cap-Haïtien airport a group of us are met by Brian, the Co-founder of Kin Travel, who offers us each a cold Prestige, the local beer.
We are then driven across the town, while Brian provides a brief history lesson on our way to Lolo’s – a fantastic restaurant whose founder’s mission is to bring incredible, locally sourced food to Cap-Haïtien.
After lunch, we are bused to the dock where we are all loaded up into a small boat and taken to a hidden paradise off Haiti’s north coast, known as Labadie, to camp.
The camp is a well-designed safari-style, tented camp on a 150-acre private beach cove. It is breathtaking and only accessible by boat and foot.
The itinerary is a perfect balance of adventure, cultural immersion, and R&R. Every day we have yoga and meditation, a daily adventure, family meals, sunset cocktails, and a window for leisure. Every day offers an adventure of some kind – alternating between active and restful, but it’s all very intuitive, balanced between new friends and privacy. I am used to retreats offering too much on the agenda, so I do not feel like I am rested, but Kin’s strategy of “feeling out the vibes” allowed for downtime where you can connect with new friends in the ocean, go uni fishing and snorkeling, or read a book in a hammock.
Without giving all the surprises away, here are some activity highlights:
Hike to the mountain village of Port Francais to experience the warmth, learn about our impact work and play soccer.
A day-sail aboard gorgeous, 62′ Balancé for a history lesson on Caribbean piracy en route to a tiny paradise island for fresh BBQ.
A stroll through the beachfront village of Labadie with stops for dominos and moonshine tastings. Pro tip: The former becomes much more entertaining following the latter.
Hike or horseback ride to La Citadel – a mountain fortress and UNESCO world heritage site.
A visit to a makers workshop at Haiti Design Co.
A day of tanning and beach games at Paradise Cove.
“The people who come on this trip curate themselves,” said Brian Co-founder of Kin Travel.
The individuals who came to Haiti were a mix of entrepreneurs, performers, and adventurous souls traveling alone. Each person had an inspirational story to tell – each brought something wonderful to the candlelit table.
Brian, the knowledgeable Co-founder of Kin, has been active in the nonprofit space for many years. He has lived in Kenya, which is the another Kin Travel destination.
Dillon, Brian’s right-hand man, grew up coming to Haiti and is extremely well-known and well-liked around the island.
Lisa is Dillon’s wife and the wizard of Oz: behind the curtains making sure camp is running smoothly.
Flannery is the sassy award-winning NYC-based chef – also the winner of Chopped – who creates “next level” nutritious meals.
Your room is a gorgeous 16′ bell-tent with either a queen
or two twin beds, memory foam mattress, fine linens, lounge chairs, furnishings by local artisans and swag from local, social enterprise partner Haiti Design Co.
The rest of camp is a Swiss Family Robinson dream. The main tent accommodates a lounge and full bar, a family dining table beneath an almond tree, a jungle kitchen, jungle shower, candle-lit bathroom, fire pit, and yoga space/dance floor.
The takeaways from Haiti are immediately impactful. Friendships and connections you make from venturing out of your element on foreign soil, on an epic adventure hike that may be a bit strenuous, or jumping off of a sailboat, bonds you to your new friends. The families I met and the love that was shared by the Haitian people who worked at camp was heartfelt, and something that I will not forget. That warm hospitality and gratitude for their homeland had a profound impact on the locals, as well as on us, as we are not all tourists; some of us live to be travelers.
A BIG THANK YOU TO KIN TRAVEL! YOU CAN REACH OUT TO THE GUYS HERE: firstname.lastname@example.org