"Just another day saving the world," Jake Marshall said as the sun set at Royal Caribbean's Haitian port of Labadee. We'd spend the previous six hours parasailing, zip lining and riding a roller coaster through the jungle of the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. So his sarcasm referenced the fact that we'd come down here for a Waves For Water project — receiving the customary good for you and how generous remarks from friends and family — yet here we were, running wild amongst 3,000 pasty middle Americans, humming the Talking Heads' Once In A Lifetime from our oceanfront cabana. And you may ask yourself, well, how did I get here?
We got here by plane. Miami to Cap Haitian direct to a forgotten Caribbean paradise, with Jon Rose and local Fritz Pierre-Louis greeting us with ice cold Prestiges. When people hear Haiti they hear poverty, earthquakes and civil unrest. But there are waves here, too. Good ones. And a charming beachfront resort called Cormier Plage that will take you SCUBA diving and then feed you lobster. Rough it? You could. But that's a choice, not a necessity.
Along with beers (and water for groms/world champs), Jon and Fritz had water filters and buckets waiting for us upon arrival. On our first full day we surfed a bowly right near the hotel before heading to the mountain town of Dondon, where we did a demonstration for 20 families and left each of them with a system that will provide up to 1,000,000 gallons of clean water. Bu-bye Cholera. Bu-bye, Typhoid and Giardia. And the next day, after two improvised clean-water strikes, it was bu-bye, Jon and Fritz. They gave us 10 filters and buckets and said, "Fun hanging, now go do it yourself."
But before we could do it ourselves we got invited to an afternoon on a private island — Haiti's answer to Tavarua. We snorkeled and napped in hammocks and ate fresh caught lobster and crab for lunch. The entire day, with professional surfers, NGO workers and ex-pats indulging in life's finer things, looked like a vacation scene from Entourage. It was there that we met the site director at Labadee, who invited us to be her guests when the next Royal Caribbean ship came in. With the surf forecast to be flat, we accepted the invitation and spent another day being spoiled rotten and saying to ourselves, if this is do-gooding, we can do no wrong.
We expected poverty and found it, but discovered riches around the corner. We expected a trip with heaviness, and have felt it, but also belly-laughed with new friends on big boats. We expected the waves to be perfect on Tuesday, but we were wrong. It was too big. So what to do on yet another lay day in paradise? "We could give away the rest of the filters," Carissa suggested. So we did, and the experience was even better than the private islands, decadent meals and parachuting behind a speedboat. I would tell you about it but right now the swell is dropping and the tide is rising, so I'll save it for another day. —Taylor Paul