Maceo Leyva, special correspondent
ÎLE DE LA TORTUE, Haiti.— Located
off the northeast coast, this 180-square- kilometer
island is home to 27,000 residents who make their
living in fishing, commerce and tourism fueled by
pirate stories. Its name, based on the island’s
geographical shape, is attributed to Christopher
Surrounded by crystalline blue
waters, with tropical temperatures and bountiful
vegetation including a number of unique palm species,
this small mountainous enclave appears to have been
born a legend.
The country’s two official languages
are spoken here, French and Creole, and the majority
of residents are Catholic.
The island is known as a long ago
pirates’ haven, since during the 17th century it was
the preferred hide-out of buccaneers and corsairs
who plowed the Caribbean Sea, including several
illustrious figures. The most legendary of these was
the British pirate Blackbeard, who established a
It served as a source of inspiration
for writers like Emilio Salgari, Robert Louis
Balfour Stevenson and Walter Scott and as a model in
their adventure novels The Black Corsair,
Treasure Island and The Pirate,
Curiosity about this pirate world
led me to investigate their homeland and refuge, the
Île de la Tortue. I hoped to learn about their
adventures and understand the whys and wherefores of
Everyone agrees the island has a
forgotten, mysterious air about it, but, "Yes," a
friend exclaimed, "There are Cuban doctors there!"
The Cuban Medical Brigade reaches almost every
corner of Haiti’s length and breadth, another good
reason for me to visit the legendary enclave.
Royler Valdivia, a young intensive
care nurse who has spent the last 18 months on the
Île de la Tortue, served as my guide and met me in
Port-de-Paix, on the main island.
The day of our sailboat trip was
calm; the Haitians slept. According to Royler, at
times the sea is rough and they begin to pray,
foreseeing trouble. He is always confident and makes
the voyage seated on the edge of the boat like any
other of the 50 native passengers. He usually makes
the crossing twice a month.
Everyone knows him on the La
Salles, run by a local family and he
occasionally lends a hand as the boat sets off or
As we sail, Royler never forgets his
role as a Cuban healthcare provider. He carries
Gravinol tablets and a bottle of water which he
shares, especially with the children.
He spoke of the trip’s "litany," of
the return crossing - usually "calmer" – and the
dolphins which see him off, the "kindness" of the
Haitians who sail the boat, who safely delivered us
to the smaller island, and gave us a hand when
boarding a dory to the dock. They helped us scale
the cliff which welcomed us - on a motorcycle.
Once on dry land, Royler is required
to attend to every medical emergency which emerges,
and do so without electricity or any other
conveniences of the modern world. He contemplates
the sunset every evening and watches the boats come
in, as each day comes to an end.
Royler will stay here happily for
two years, he said. He will continue to travel on a
boat powered by the wind and, perhaps someday, write
his own legend.