Turn Towards Tragedy: Travel Edition
I arrived to Marsh Harbour and immediately felt the Bahamian warmth — in the breeze that brushed my skin, in the bright array of colors before me, and most deeply in the warm smiles I received. In February of this year, I hosted a Yoga & Sailing retreat that departed from Marsh Harbour — the island that was just demolished by hurricane Dorian. Even as I type that sentence, chills rush over my arms and I can still barely believe the tragedy that has befallen this beautiful archipelago — the Abaco Islands.
After an absolutely beautiful week sailing the surreal blue waters of these islands, I immediately started planning the next retreat for 2020. I’ve reserved sailboats, and made plans with locals that I had the pleasure of connecting with during my trip this year. Now, that’s all gone. Not only do I remain ignorant in knowing if these same people are still living, I’m quite sure their businesses are no more. There is nearly nothing left of the island I plan to visit in just five months.
The strange thing is, right when I learned about the devastation from this storm, I knew — I’m going back. I have the next Yoga & Sailing retreat planned for February 22–29, 2020 and I have this deep knowing that it’s still going to happen, in the Abaco Islands.
To visit this tragedy torn archipelago, let alone plan a yoga retreat there, seems like the last thing I should do, but I also don’t ever believe in acting from a place of “should”. It will be much more effort on my end, navigating the possibility of such an endeavor but I also understand that is one of the most helpful gestures I could perform for this country. This has been confirmed by The New York Times, Forbes, Travel + Leisure, and many other publications — as tourism accounts for a significant portion of the country’s economy. Bahamas Prime Minister Hubert Minnis said, “One of the best ways that people around the world can show their support and solidarity… is to visit our other islands by air or by cruise ship.”
I’m very familiar with the devastating effects that ecological and economic tragedies have on the tourism industry. My family lost our business due to an attempt at expansion that coincided with a destructive hurricane season in 2004, followed by the Great Recession, and then the BP oil spill. The latter was the cherry on top that finally sent my family filing for bankruptcy. Our lenders acted quickly, and took the property that my grandparents had spent decades building. If only people had known that our doors were still open for business, if only the hotels weren’t empty in reaction to the headlines in the news, if only they would have still come.
Florida, officially known as the “Sunshine State,” was dubbed the “Plywood State” by media after it was battered by four hurricanes in only six weeks during the 2004 hurricane season. Nearly every square inch of Florida felt the impacts from at least one of those four storms. — according to NOAA.
I visited both the U.S. Virgin Islands in 2018, and Puerto Rico in 2019, just over a year after Hurricane Maria wrecked both of these locations. Noticeable damage remained, but I was there to enjoy something that hurricanes can’t always blow away — culture and sunshine. I had an incredible experience while buying some produce from a roadside stand in Puerto Rico, which provided a chance to connect with a shining soul. Here’s the excerpt from my journal when I wrote about it later that day —
In broken English, she began to share her story — where this produce came from. “A City far from here”, she told me. Her and her husband had many fruit trees. “But Maria, Maria took everything”, she said as she guided her hand flatly forward, “like a plain.” She shared, after I gave some condolences, how Maria gave her a lesson. She wanted to make sure she was using the correct word in English. Lesson, yes. I was curious. “What lesson?” I asked. Her eyes brightened as she spoke next, and just a few words in to her story she paused to exclaim, “mira!” as she brushed her arm to show me her goosebumps. Four months she and her community lived without water, without electricity. But, they bathed in the rain, they washed their clothes in the river, and they ate dinner every night — together. “Ahh” I said, “comunidad.” She said to me, while smiling ear to ear, “Maria estaba loca, pero Maria es buena.” Maria was crazy, but Maria is good. RESILIENCE BABY. Community >
I could see the happiness in her face, I had felt the peace that encompassed her, even after experiencing this horrific storm and the wreckage it caused.
I trust that the Bahamian people are resilient. I feel that they will rebuild, and be better for it. I plan to go back to contribute and connect to this resurrection.
The vital points of traveling towards tragedy.
Setting expectations. Understand the possible repercussions of traveling to a place that is recovering from a disaster. Airports may not be open, travel to the nearest one that is. Have a reliable contact on the ground, that can confirm what is and is not available. This can range from taxi service, to open restaurants, to medical care — depending on many factors. Pack like you are camping, not expecting to have the amenities of a hotel at your disposal. And most of all, be safe.
Giving. There are a plethora of opportunities to give while visiting tragedy torn locations. A recent example is a bridal party with a trip that was planned to the Bahamas September 12–15, only days after Dorian blew through the islands. The bride chose not to cancel her trip, but instead her bridal party used the opportunity to bring 50 bags of supplies to donate.
Getting. There is a reward of turning toward tragedy, as ironic as that sounds. What could you possibly “get” from a place that has been struck by disaster? Remember my story from Puerto Rico? That. Experiencing the resilience of our fellow man is an enormous gift, that we often don’t get the chance to touch and feel in our convenience-ridden modern societies. Travel deeper, get more.
Some of the most beautiful moments that life can offer are in the container of tragedy. These are the times where our Being is highlighted in the face of death, disease, and destruction. How we show up, and what we learn from these moments, will be what defines us and our experience of life.
If you are interested in sailing the Abaco Islands this February, get in touch here.