Back in the days before the internet (gasp!) we had to call the airlines to make reservations. My mother would sit for hours in the middle of the night, when you were guaranteed to get an agent to help, and ask about deals! In 1967 she found quite a bargain – you could fly to anywhere in the Caribbean for $100 (including some South American countries) as long as between each leg you went back to Puerto Rico. Really! So we flew to PR, then to Trinidad, then back to Puerto Rico, etc. Other stops were Venezuela and Haiti.
There had just been a big earthquake in Caracas the month before, and we were taken on a tour of the quake damaged buildings – quite a sight – one of the hotels on the beach was now twisted into an S shape!
But anyway, my sister, Wendy, and I were sunbathing by the pool in Caracas and for some reason the sun really affected me. I’d sunbathed all my life and never had a problem, but I guess the sun was stronger than I was used to, and I started to feel faint. I mentioned this to Wendy, and she helped me into the hotel where I promptly fainted. The hotel doctor diagnosed sun poisoning. such fun.
I ran a fever for days, through our flight back to Puerto Rico and on to Haiti. At this point I had chills and my skin was started to blister and peel, even my lips! yes, my father did joke about that.
There is no way to describe the self-pity of being left alone in a hotel room in Port au Prince, high in the hills, delirious with fever, while the rest of the family goes sight-seeing. ….And realizing that you are hearing voodoo drums beating in the jungle above the hotel. Yes, voodoo drums. At first I thought it was some music coming from the pool, but no. Did I think I was hallucinating? you bet. But no.
My mother tried to arrange a visit to a local voodoo ceremony, but I must admit I was relieved when that didn’t pan out.
Haiti is a beautiful island, the people are incredible friendly. Even though we visited during the reign of Papa Doc, and we were assigned a ‘taxi driver’ (read: Tonton Macoute; i.e.. government agent) upon our arrival in Haiti. But back then, the arrival of tourists was actually written up in the local newspaper! “Welcome to the Vota Family from NYC!”
After I started to feel better, Wendy and I mingled with local teenagers and went dancing, learning calypso. And also ice-skating (a very popular activity in the heat of the summer)!
My memories of Haiti are a kaleidoscope of images – disjointed but strangely beautiful, all with the overlying beat of those drums!
(note: photograph by Marie Arago, Reuters)