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Could this paradise really be poor, desperate Haiti?

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It has mango and almond trees, soft white sand, turquoise waters, and a perfect breeze. It looks like a secret paradise island. It feels like a secret paradise island.

But, actually, it's Haiti, the poorest country in the hemisphere.

Every week, up to 7,000 camcorder-toting tourists, the vast majority of them Americans, come ashore here off a Royal Caribbean cruise ship for a day of sun, sailing, volleyball tournaments, and sliding on the "world's largest" inflatable water slide.

"It's the best kept secret in the world," says Melody Hickey, from Columbus, Ohio. "Its amazing."

Haiti - usually known for its poverty and political instability - is not a typical holiday destination for the bikini-clad set.

But Labadee seems a world away.

In fact, as far as many of the tourists are concerned, Labadee actually is in a different part of the world.

"Isn't Puerto Rico part of Haiti?" asks a high school senior from Nashville, Mich., getting off the ship to get her hair braided.

"I thought we were coming to a place called Hispaniola," says Cindy Roberts from Madison, Ind., as she bargains for a voodoo bottle at the 'Native Market' set up for tourists. "But I guess it doesn't matter," she says. "So, it's Haiti."

The tourists have a good excuse for their confusion. "Welcome to Labadee!" reads the banner - emblazoned with the face of a Johnny Depp look-alike pirate - strung up on the pier.

A small wooden sign facing away from the incoming crowds reads "Labadee, Haiti." Most, however, just pass it by in the rush to the Ben & Jerry's ice cream stand.


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