Archives – April, 2005

The Day of the Goat – October ’04 – Part 5

As far as pagan rituals go, goat sacrifice is definitely my favorite, mainly because the price of admission is so reasonable. No cult to join, no strange or unfashionable attire, no tongue-twisting incantations, nada! And the lack of these superfluities take nothing away from the experience, it was awesome, even the goat seemed to understand and be okay in his role.

I was up early, well before the sun. I made coffee and rolled several spliffs for the ride back from the airport with Nick, and at least one to spark my morning routine. I was enjoying myself on the lower balcony this morning listening to the “gleep gleep” of the

      Jamaican Tree Frogs
, much more ganjafied then usual, when in clockwork fashion Mark appeared to begin his pre-dawn plant watering. The past few days we kind of acknowledged each other’s presence but didn’t actually speak till well after sunrise, today was different. There was a goat-y exhilaration in the air, and neither of us tried to hide our excitement for the new day.

Since hearing of goat blessing in the previous few days, I began to notice how many businesses in town had either a goat’s scull on the wall or on a shelf behind the bar, or had a tanned goat skin nonchalantly hung somewhere in their place. I told Mark about my findings with some amazement, and he looked at me in a “Whaddaya think I was bullshitting you?” kind of way. I guess some things take longer to sink in than others. This goat thing was new to me.

The wake and bake had done me in and I found myself sleeping on the downstairs cot after my morning shower. I was startled awake by a strange and annoying sound. It sounded metallic, like one of the guys brought some sort of broken down piece of construction equipment and the motor had a bent flywheel and it was scraping on concrete or the housing of whatever it was, jees it was irritating! Every time the noise would come, the guys, who seemed to be in the lot right behind my cabin laughed and or made comments. It was like one of them was trying to start the infernal machine but was having no luck and the Monday morning quarterbacks were giving him advice.

This seemed to go on and on, thus thoroughly shaking the cobwebs from my head. Suddenly the noise moved to the side of my house, like right outside the back door, and its character changed as now I was hearing it in my completely awaken state. I opened the door and my entire world seemed to crash in around me, it was a goat!! That sound was THE GOAT!!

All this goat talk, goat writing in my journal, casual goat conversations on the street and even goat cold-turkey as I fought the impulse to order curried goat which screamed to me from every menu I looked at! Never once, not for a second did it ever occur to me that I’d actually be meeting the damned goat!!

I didn’t know how to act! He was a stocky, healthy, cute little fellow. Was I supposed to pet him? My mother’s voice boomed in my head, “VINCENT! Don’t play with your food!” I was lost!

I’m a supermarket guy! I’d been to slaughterhouses, I’d even helped butcher a deer, but these were controlled environments, I never met my dinner in such an “in your face” kind of way. It’s not like seeing a cow in a field and knowing in an abstract way that we eat cows, there he was. He was looking right at me!

God, I felt like such a chick!

All this happened in mere seconds. Mark broke thru my fog by calling over with a smile, “Hey don’t name him!!” Everyone laughed.

“Damn!” I thought to my self, “I just called him Goat Dude, I hope I didn’t jinx anything!!”

After a while things calmed down and the goat was tied to a tree in the yard to relax a little before he was killed and eaten. I have to give it to the little guy, he was a feisty little bugger, and he stood proudly as if to say, “Baaaa!! Yeah Buddy, Eat Me!!”

The guys got to work while Mark sent one of them to the store to purchase the accoutrements for the special meal of Curried Goat and Mannish Water. Zero hour for Goat Dude was to be eleven AM, there was plenty of time.

I scurried up to my balcony to try to capture this experience in my journal, but looking back I was a bit whelmed over and wasn’t making much sense, no profound insight came through.

Gary, our driver, arrived at about ten AM and was ready to head out to the airport right away, but when he found out about the goat he chilled out and waited for the big moment. At about ten thirty the guys took a break and a few began washing up and standing near the goat. Mark called me to make sure I didn’t miss anything, and with little fanfare it began.

Now this was not my moment. I didn’t think it was appropriate to inject myself into the actual scene, so I stood back and took pictures of the once in a lifetime event.

Two of the stone masons took the goat and strung him up in the small tree by his hind legs. Mark took his best survival knife, more like a straight razor actually, and posed with the guys and the goat like he was going to actually kill the goat. After a few photos everyone stood back and let the two stone masons, now butchers, do the deed.

It was much less gruesome than I expected, though I was ready for the Texas Chainsaw Massacre. One guy held the legs from kicking around. The other took the razor in one hand, and a large sponge like one used to wash a car, in the other, and he simply slit the throat. There was very little blood. A third guy placed a bucket under the goat and after a few kicks the goat dude hung silently. The knife guy then cut off the entire head and held it up in the air to the cheers of all attending.

I was fascinated how well these guys knew how to skin and gut the animal as it hung from the tree. Americans would starve in the wild. I remember hearing my dad tell stories of killing chickens and plucking them for his mother, I guess people raised on farms still know about these things, but to us city folk it’s as distant and foreign as a Fritz Lang film.

Soon the head was in a pail with the other mannish parts. Feet, heart, penis, scrotum, testicles, liver, spleen and a few other choice innards waiting for the water to get boiling, while the rest of the goat was being butchered for the Curried Goat.

By this time Gary and I were running late for the airport run, so we took off. Gary drove fast like a regular Negril taxi driver. We didn’t talk much during the ride, I was in my own goat induced high and Gary was minding the potholes, another gift from hurricane Ivan.

After a bit of an ordeal, we found Nick and packed his bags into the tiny Japanese subcompact. Damn I missed Clive! But at least Gary drove fast. We made it back to Negril in record time. So we wouldn’t need to stop, I’d prepared all proper refreshments needed for the hour plus ride. It was my plan to help Nick slow to Jamaica time as quickly as possible, but to hurry someone into slowing down doesn’t work too well, though there was a certain level of day one decompression.

In the state I was in I’m sure the main subject on the return airport trip was the goat, and luckily Nick knows me well enough to filter my over-animated prattling and grasp the concept and the significance of the situation we were walking into.

Nick had just finished reading Mark’s book on the plane and was in the ideal frame of mind to jump right into a Jamaican cultural experience as we entered the Banana Shout gates.

“Hi! I just finished your book!” Nick beamed as he shook hands with Mark.

“Thank You and welcome! You picked a great day to show up!” said Mark, motioning to the cooking area.

The next few hours were a mixture of unpacking, goat discussions, Red Stripe, Ting and ganja, lots of ganja! Nick was as thrilled with the place as I had been. It was still a construction site, but today work was stopping early and about four in the afternoon everyone gathered near the boiling cauldron of Goats Head Soup. I know “boiling cauldron” is a bit over the top, but this was truly an over the top situation.

One of the guys was ladling the soup in into styrofoam cups and passing them around. It’s hard to describe the taste of Goat’s Head Soup. It was a bit like gamey chicken soup, though a bit heavier. Very spicy and flavorful thanks to the chef of the day, but as I got to the bottom of my cup there were things in there I couldn’t identify.

“Don’t worry, we ate the testicles earlier!” Mark assured me as he caught me looking suspiciously in my cup.

“Ok, in that case” Nick countered, and began devouring the unidentified chunks of, Jah knows what.

I wish I could say I did the same, but I whimped out and only ate the vegetable looking things, though I’m sure I got some foot, penis or goat guts anyway.

There is something magical about Goat’s Head Soup, no sooner did we drink it did we really become part of the celebration. Maybe the guys seeing us bravely consuming brought us into their confidence, or maybe the act of eating the soup, it actually becoming part of us, gave us that visceral understanding of the reality we were facing. Either way, I had a feeling of complete presence, of momentary enlightenment, every fiber of my being was aware and a part of all that was happening around me.

The Negril sun backlit the celebration as the Curried Goat was served over a generous portions of rice. The white rice against the bright green dish was mesmerizing, it was beautiful. When Mark handed me my plate, I felt like I was in a church, the same hollow silence seemed to engulf you, although people were talking all around. A solemnity to eating something killed before your eyes for a very specific purpose far beyond that of simple nourishment. The essence of the first taste exploded into my mouth, and a feeling began to come over me, an excitement of spiritual energy and a connection with everyone there. I wanted to think I was just really stoned, and just feeling an irie vibe, then I looked around to knowing smiles and nods of understanding, and I knew. Praise Jah!

Along with everything else the meal was delicious! There were no seconds, the cook eyed his portions perfectly and was scraping the corners of the pot as the last pilgrim was fed. There were about a dozen of us sitting around in some sort of group trance when Mark pulled out a small bottle of over-proof rum, I wish I remembered the exact details of the rum blessing, I just rode the wave and reacted to Mark’s directions.

Mark passed me the bottle and I took a drink and passed it back, he then passed it to Nick who also took a sip, which kind of shook me from my daze. Nick hadn’t touched alcohol in ten years, and the fact that he made this exception made me realize he was as swept up in the moment as I was. Mark offered us beers with our meals, and when he found out Nick didn’t drink, he instantly knew and appreciated Nick’s participation in the event, they became fast friends.

As the sun began to set, Nick and I began to plot out the week’s activities. Nick’s birthday was Thursday 10/14 so I said we should visit Tedd’s Shroom Boom that day, Nick countered, “Let’s go now!” And we did.

We walked out to the street and hopped in a cab and we were off for sunset at Tedd’s.

More to come!

– Vinny

Leave a Comment April 17, 2005

Running wildly after beauty with fear at our backs

“Running wildly after beauty with fear at our backs.”
– Natalie Goldberg (I’m a big fan! She’s my unofficial writing guru.)

Wow, Great Quote! I do writing practice so I can see my “selves” (selfs?), see them in black and white, on paper, not to fear them, but to acknowledge them.

Therefore I become unburdened by the selves I carry around with me, the denying self, the frightened self, the beaten self, the insecure self, and on and on…

When I write I can allow them, ok them and choose to move beyond them. Or not. I can pick a more positive self. Or not. With this knowing I can choose beauty, love or fear, even evil for that matter.

When I am closer to clarity or center, I feel better about my place in the world, but as stress or insecurities take hold, the darker selves become more evident. Damn, I sound like a psycho! All my selves? But isn’t everyone conflicted and split? For me journal writing, meditating and guitar playing clear distinctions and lead to oneness.

Just a thought –
– Vinny

Leave a Comment April 16, 2005

Weekend in Paradise – October ’04 – Part Four

Saturday and Sunday 10/9/04 thru 10/10/04

I was up before dawn, stumbling disorientated around my new digs. I’ve come to love Negril at sun-up, the way it slowly wakes, rolls around for a while and then gets up for work. This morning I went out to the second floor balcony, sat at the small table and began to write in my journal. Somewhere in the garden I heard a gentle motion and looked over to see Mark getting the hose for what I would come to know as his watering ritual. Everyday in the morning and in the evening Mark would be watering his new plants, coaxing them to take root in their new home.

The sun seemed to be in no hurry this morning, it was the new moon, the sky was blacker than usual and the ocean was a deep black void. Then almost imperceptibly over the next half hour the sky turns every possible shade from deep purple to a hazy blue. Way out on the horizon the clouds are the first to react as the sun peeks over the hills behind me.

My morning meditation is usually performed on my stinky blue country colonial style couch with some soft esoteric music playing and often a little incense burning. I sit quietly and sink into the music, raise my awareness, and with eyes closed and senses sharp I drift off to find the center of things. Some times are more satisfying than others, but the discipline has helped to quiet the voices in my head.

In Negril you never have to close your eyes to meditate, the such-ness of the place is so complete, so close to the center that you realize you’re already there.

As the light strengthens the fishermen begin to work the reef, they work much closer to the cliffs than they do the beach. Most of the boats are small one man skiffs though a little farther out larger craft with three to four men seem to be using traps.

Mark noticed me and came over to my porch and waited till I came back to earth and we said our good mornings. He invited me over for coffee and I enthusiastically said yes. Mark was living in Seaside Four which is on the second floor of the office or main structure. Seaside Four also survived Ivan and seemed no worse for wear.

Talking with Mark was cool. His book “Banana Shout” had taught me a lot about the old days of Negril, but raised many questions and avenues for discussion. The poor guy was at the mercy of my relentless query. Mark had amazing stories about every famous and infamous visitor to these parts not to mention all the characters who came to live and work in paradise.

Mark told me he was thinking about killing a goat in the next few days to thank the stone masons for all their hard work, and to ask the gods to bless this new venture. In Jamaican, Caribbean and African culture the killing of the goat is a very meaningful gesture. Mark had killed a goat on the property across the street that he owned and it’s still standing, no goat was killed on this side and it got hit. Now Mark never said there was any cause and effect here, but it was better to be safe than sorry as a wise old Jamaican once said.

We talked in some depth about the killing of the goat, how the Rolling Stones named an album Goat’s Head Soup after spending some time in Negril and participating in a goat killing event. I learned all about Mannish Water, AKA Goat’s Head Soup which is actually made from the goat’s head and his “mannish” parts. It purports to enhance your mannish prowess and make you “strong like bull.” They take the rest of the goat and make “Curried Goat“, now that’s real Jamaican cuisine. I was excited about this meal and hoped Mark would go through with it. I’m always looking for real Jamaican experiences and this would be as real as it gets!

Saturday was housekeeping and communication day. I walked over to the little market a few blocks away and picked up all the essentials, Red Stripe, Ting, coffee, water, sugar, bread, eggs, bacon, milk, and some fruits and veggies. I felt good having a full refrigerator, again I was trying to be cost conscious on this trip and the prices at this little bodega were very low. Also Seaside One was so much more like a house than a hotel room that you lived there for the week, and not just slept there.

While walking back from the store I met a driver named Clive, he had the cleanest and most polished minivan I have ever seen. He talked me into being my driver for the day. I needed to go into town to send a few emails and to post a message on the board to communicate my impressions after a day in town to the Negril faithful concerned with the whitewashing of facts by the tourism folks.

Clive drove me crazy as we cruised into town. He hit me with every sales pitch one could possibly stuff into a ten minute drive, there was no way I would be driving anywhere else with this guy!

I went into the internet cafe on West End Road with the hoochie-mama sign out front. I had an “Italian Ice”, called a “Water Ice” in Philly, and I emailed my buddy Nick and my daughter Kristine.

I also posted on the message board about how cool Banana Shout was. I think the lead was “Banana Shout Lives!” and the body was a thumbnail damage assessment on Negril and her environs.

After computer time I began walking into town, I planned a stroll along the beach then maybe a beer at Kuyaba, but after about half a mile I was sweating like a fat man in a sauna, because that’s pretty much what I was. No sooner did I begin to rethink my plans then my new best friend Clive was pulling up next to me with the air conditioning on full blast.

“I LOVE YOU MAN!” I emoted as the door opened and the cold air hit me.

“Vinny, you need to watch yourself out here!!” Clive teased as we pulled away. “What kinds of fun you looking for this week? Clive is your friend, I take care of everything.”

I guess Clive grows on you because as of that moment he was our driver for the week, and he did seem to be able to get everything we needed all week, though we didn’t take him up on the young girls offered on every ride.

It was just after noon when I got back to “The Shout.” I planned on spending the afternoon in the second story hammock, and that’s what I did except for running downstairs for ice cold beers from our ice cold fridge from time to time.

Part of me felt bad just watching the workmen working so hard, of course I rationalized by thinking that this much work was probably a real windfall for these guys as full employment is rare in Jamaica. There were three crews working. One was building Seaside Two attaching the corrugated zinc roof and building something inside. Another was framing forms for the poured concrete walls and posts on Seaside Three. Then there were the stone masons, several guys shaping irregular limestone blocks and fitting them into place in the seawall like mosaic artists, and thier two helpers mixing cement. Now that was hard work, these two were the lowest on the totem pole and I guess after some pre-determined time mixing cement with your eyes open and your mouth shut you graduate to stone mason.

A few days later I walked past a small yard about a hundred yards past LTU Pub where an old truck was dumping half dozen huge limestone boulders six to eight feet around into the yard. As I walked by I was floored to see the real low men on the totem pole that would be thrilled to be mixing cement all day. These guys had the job of breaking these huge boulders into small irregular blocks about ten to twelve inches around, loading them into barely functioning wheel barrows and bringing them to the various construction sites along the cliffs. There was no shade and I immediately stopped feeling sorry for myself having to walking uphill in the ninety degree heat, but in true Jamaican fashion when I made contact with one of these guys he flashed me a big bright smile and waved. I love this place!

Let me tell you, watching two guys mix cement by hand for hours on end is the most relaxing thing you can imagine, I’m not sure if it’s the rhythmic scraping and shoveling sound, or if I was amazed watching the ingredients change form, or maybe I was just really baked. First they pile an assortment of sand and gravel in the center of what will become the patio, then they form it into a ring just like when you make pasta, and add water into the center. The sand and water is mixed from the outside in, till it forms a smooth mortar. I tried to figure out what kind of cement they were making. Wall mortar was thick and dry, medium concrete for poured forms like posts and finally a thin slurry used like stucco to cover the cinderblock walls of the houses.

Later I climbed down the cliffs to the waterline to watch the sunset. I brought a few Red Stripes and a sandwich with me and had a little picnic. This is a great little place to hide from the world. The coolness of the water is like air conditioning. If the sun gets too intense there is plenty of shade in the shallow coral caves. It was a bit cloudy that night and the setting sun kicked up oranges, yellows, silver and gold from the water. Depending on the time of day you can see every color in the spectrum reflecting from the ocean, it’s no wonder Caribbean art is so colorful and vibrant.

Being right on the waterline, I could see miles and miles in each direction and since the ocean is completely flat in all directions you get the feeling of looking through a wide angle lens and get a feel for the curvature of the earth.

Looking north towards the beach I could see a large craft coming my way. This wasn’t a fishing boat and as it got closer I could see it was a large double hulled boat moving quickly. Closer still it I could hear music and finally could see it was full of dancing partying people. It was a strange feeling because the cliffs were so deserted, but the all-inclusives were obviously well stocked.

It was hard to make out what boat it was since it was silhouetted by the sun, but it was coming straight for me, so it wasn’t too long before I saw the name “Wild Thing” painted on the hull and a bunch of people frolicking on the deck. Damn, I needed to get into town. This boat was full of hotties! I waved and they all waved and back, I guess they were still making their nightly trips to Rick’s Cafe maybe to ooh and aah at the destruction, but they’ll be no cliff diving tonight. There must be a channel between the reef and the cliffs because the boat came only twenty yards from where I sat.

I laid down on my beach towel just inches above sea level and watched as the sun kissed the top of the ocean. Sailors of old say you can hear a hiss as the blazing sun hits the cool water.

I woke sometime later, it was dark and for a minute I didn’t know where the hell I was. I laughed at myself, “Boy am I glad I didn’t roll over.”

One place you don’t want to be just after sunset is near the water without bug repellant. I got bitten all over, and even with a cool shower and some of that bug bite stuff, I had a long restless night. I was tempted to go buy a bottle of over proof rum to knock myself out, but as the morning stirred I felt great.

I used a coffee percolator for the first time ever, running restaurants for years I knew the process, but back in days of percolators I was under the coffee drinking age. I cooked an egg, put some jam on some sweetbread and went up to my balcony to enjoy my second Negril sunrise.

Out on the horizon there was a huge cargo ship I assumed was headed to the Montego Bay Freeport. I tried to use the zoom on my digital camera to read the ship’s name but there was too much haze. I had more than a hundred and eighty degree view of the ocean that it took half the morning for the ship to cross my view.

It was Sunday in Negril which meant Selina’s for the webcast. This time I made sure I’d sent everyone a link to the site and was ready to mug for the camera. I walked out to West End Road figuring it wouldn’t be long before a taxi came by, but as soon as I cleared the gate, I heard an engine start behind me and the unmistakable sound of Clive’s voice.

“Vinny needs a ride? Where’s Vinny going?” he said as he was right next to me.

“Hey Clive! How much to Selina’s?” I didn’t remember telling him about Selina’s, I was beginning to think he was psychic.

“I’ll give you a good price!” He countered, not answering my question.

I got in and told him I liked his van and how he always seems to know when I need a ride, but when I ask about price I expect an answer, I even told him I didn’t care what he charged as long as it’s fair. I really had no problem paying a premium for his good service and comfortable reliable transport.

One great thing about Clive is that he drives slow, really slow. I love to explore and I’m too lazy to walk all the way into town so this is a happy medium. I told him I’d be hanging out at the beach most of the day and I’d be starting back around three. I also told him Nick was coming tomorrow and we’d need a ride in the evening. I’d already made plans with Banana Shout’s driver to pick up Nick, and I would have gladly paid twenty or thirty dollars US more for the comfort and charm of Clive’s Island Tours.

Selina’s wasn’t too busy. October is one of the slowest times of the year in Negril and being only a few weeks post Ivan compounded the effect, but it was still nice to see Rob, Selina and her family, I met Coinmon and a woman named Laura I’d emailed off the board as I relentlessly posted my “sleeps” countdown.

I’ve been to Selina’s many times and always have a great meal, but unfortunately since the hurricane there was no ackee thus no Jamaican breakfast, so I ordered Big Roy’s famous Banana Pancakes. Woohh Hooo!! A definite 4 out of 5 angels on my “Heaven on a Plate” scale.

The coffee is always great so I tried to buy some of Selina’s famous beans, but she wasn’t doing a roasting till later that week, this was great because I’d still be in town next Sunday and would be in for the webcast. This ten day vacation thing rocks!

It was overcast that morning so I took the opportunity to walk Beach Road all the way up to Firely and out to the beach. The view from the water’s edge was awesome, I hadn’t seen the view from this end of the beach in a few years, and I was proud that I’d walked this far up and still had my breath. I’m not a beach person per se, I don’t like to lay out slathered with oil and I’m not a big swimmer, though I float pretty good, but I love to walk along the beach in the cool of the day, and since it was cloudy, the whole day was the cool of the day, and I seized the opportunity.

Walking up the road about three miles or so took an hour and a half, walking down the beach took about four. I do a lot of stopping. I love stopping at the little bars along the beach, talking to the bartenders and waitresses, and watching people walk by. Conversation comes easily for me, but it was easier still since the lack of tourists and Ivan were top of mind for everyone.

It was about four thirty when I popped out on Beach Road cutting though Travellers, I planned to stop in at the Yoga Center to say hi when Clive pulled up in his icy cold van. You gotta love this guy!

Back at “The Shout” Mark declared tomorrow was goat day! Wow, I was so excited to witness this pagan ritual, I steered all subsequent conversations goatward. Finally I realized I might miss the whole thing because I was going to the airport to get Nick at eleven AM, which was right about goat time.

This brings me back to where I began this tale. Laying in my hammock with my lizard friend looking on, having enjoyed my quiet first three days, but looking forward to the more kinetic week ahead.

Leave a Comment April 13, 2005

Goat’s Head Soup – A Little History!

The Rolling Stones Goat’s Head Soup

Inpired by Jamaican “Mannish Water” which they first experienced in Negril!

Recorded at Dynamic Sound Studios, Kingston, Jamaica.

Following the enormous success of Sticky Fingers and Exile on Main Street, Goat’s Head Soup found the Rolling Stones jetting down to Jamaica in 1973 and tweaking their rebellious image with a bit of voodoo imagery. Kicking things off with “Dancing With Mr. D.,” the Stones picked up the thread of “Sympathy For The Devil” and gilded their already hedonistic reputation with some Satanic allusions. References to Beezelbub aside, Soup offered up some of the Stones’ more heartfelt ballads including “Angie,” “Winter” and “Coming Down Again.”

Of course, being known as “The World’s Greatest Rock ‘N’ Roll Band” means a number of songs more than back up this moniker. Among them are “Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker),” propelled by Mick Taylor’s wah-wah pedal and Billy Preston’s electric piano, and the twang and slide guitar of “Silver Train.” With an abundance of cheeky attitude despite a slew of slow songs, the Stones close Goat’s Head Soup with a backhanded tribute to groupies called “Star Star.”

Leave a Comment April 12, 2005

Banana Shout – October ’04 – Part Three

It was like night and day as we rode up West End Road and into the cliffs. The storm damage was terrible! Everywhere I looked were bare trees, washed out yards, and half standing buildings. The farther up the cliff line the worse it got! My heart was in my throat as we rounded the bend bringing us to Banana Shout.

The first thing I saw hopping out of the bus were the ruins of Rick’s Cafe, looked like Rick’s Baghdad, not Rick’s Negril. Lost in the moment, I heard my name called and turned to see a tall Jamaican man unlatching the bright orange gate to Banana Shout.

“Welcome, Welcome!! I am Alex!” he said as we shook hands.

For weeks now I’d been preparing myself for this moment. I knew there would be damage and construction, but my head was spinning. As I entered the gate and tipped my driver, the realization that I would be spending the week on a busy construction site made my spirits sink. The shirtless grey haired man approaching me picked up on my disillusionment. He warmly greeted me and thanked me for not canceling my reservation.

“Hi, I’m Mark,” he stated holding out his hand.

As I shook his hand, it was like I was meeting a rock star or a head of state. Again I wasn’t prepared for this, I felt like a groupie, or a dork, or a dorky-groupie.

We walked through the small parking lot that was now a depository of building supplies, around the house to Seaside One. Ahead of me the yard opened up. I was stopped dead in my tracks. The view was amazing. Her name was Anne Marie. She was the housekeeper, actually my housekeeper, since I was the only guest. Her smile could have lit up the entire town. The power of speech eluded me as we were introduced, so I just smiled and shook her soft, gentle hand.

The rest view was great too! My front door was fifteen yards from the edge of the cliff and the entire Caribbean Ocean was mine to enjoy. Things were looking up!

Mark opened the door to my mansion by the sea and showed me in. The smell of fresh paint mixed with that of ocean salt as he showed me the spacious house. The kitchen, bathroom, refrigerator, lights, water heater, beds and balconies with hammocks, the place was huge, and it was all mine! Ok, I was going to make a comment on how to start a kitchen remodel, but that all was just too good to spoil, really. Walking out to the downstairs balcony, Mark pointed out the closest restaurants, the local food store, and even where I could watch football on Sunday if I was so inclined, though of course I planned my vacation on an Eagles bye week.

My spirits were buoyed by this awesome cabin, and by Mark’s ebullient character. Alone, I walked around bouncing on beds, opening drawers and looking in cabinets. I decided to explore the second floor before unpacking and since it was really hot I stripped out of my travel clothes and down to boxers before ascending the newly painted stairway. As I turned to look into the room, all I could see through the screened room front was ocean. Like an excited child I raced across the wooden floor past the two queen-sized beds to the door. Opening it I was blown away by the view, the ocean was everywhere, the midday sunlight danced on the rippling waters throwing up an impossible assortment of colors.

I was master of all I surveyed, and I was nearly moved to tears when one of the workers yelled, “Hey SpongeBob!” It was only then that I realized a few things. First, I was on the balcony in my underwear in broad daylight, and second, I was wearing bright yellow SpongeBob SquarePants boxers.

I retreated back inside while the guys all had a good laugh (I convinced myself they were laughing with me). I padded downstairs and cracked open a Red Stripe bought on the way from the airport and started unpacking. I guess the redness in my face made me thirsty. My buddy Nick wouldn’t be arriving till Monday so I got dibs on the upstairs closet, and the bed under the fan. I began to make myself at home.

Sitting at the big table downstairs, I broke out some herbal refreshment purchased up in Green Island (apropos name), took out my trusty pack of Rizlas, and headed on to happy land, my second taste and my second slide into Jamaica time.

By this time it was about three in the afternoon and the air wasn’t moving, so I opened all the window slats, kicked all the fans into high gear and hit the shower to wash off the travel dust.

I didn’t bother with the water heater, I’d always enjoyed cool water showers in Negril, and this one did not disappoint. I described this shower as “glorious” in my journal. I couldn’t tell if it was the Red Stripe, the ganja, or the water, probably a combination of the three, but I felt it was my soul that was being washed. The chatter in my mind ceased and I was transported to another place. The clatter of the construction outside took on a rhythmic musical texture, and I felt the spirit of this place wash over me. Toweling off, I was drawn to sit quietly up on my balcony and enjoy this feeling for as long as it would last.

Luckily I had the presence of mind to pull on a pair of shorts. I don’t think I could have convinced myself they guys were laughing with me if I walked out to the balcony naked.

I reclined into the brightly colored hammock and noticed a small green lizard looking me over from the support post. I introduced myself and began to survey my surroundings. The “Shout” had really been slammed, the two cottages in front of my place to the right and left had been almost completely leveled, and there was a gaping thirty foot hole in the seawall. The formerly jungle-like garden was naked, the wind took the leaves and the waves took the smaller plants. Throughout the property small saplings were planted in newly restored terraced beds, and several crews of Jamaican men were working extremely hard to bring the place back to life.

Mark shouted apologies for the noise, but I was so deep in my own experience that I almost didn’t hear him.

“Not at all, the place is great!” I replied lazily from my perch.

“It’s a lot quieter at night,” Mark said, maybe thinking I was just being nice.

“No really, this is great!” Lack of eloquence aside, I meant it, this place was really cool. There was something here, a kind of energy, an enthusiasm, and I was just scratching the surface.

About an hour before sunset the workers packed up and headed home. I’d unwound enough to do a little exploring, so I ventured forth from my house and made my way over to the cliff. I was trying to reconcile what I was seeing with my memories of the place I studied for months on the website. It was sad that the beautiful eden was gone, but simultaneously it was somehow exciting, the opportunity to create another, better place, a clean canvas on which to paint a new beautiful picture.

I climbed down the maze of stairs to the water’s edge. Over the years Mark had built this labyrinth of stairs, walkways and platforms along the cliff face. From this angle I could see how much of the seawall had been taken out, not only was a thirty foot length missing but the gash went fifteen or twenty feet deep. For a moment I had the feeling that it would be fun to go out the next morning and help with the wall building. I sat with my feet in the water till that feeling went away. Hey, wall building is back breaking work, and I’m on vacation.

Walking back to my cabin, I ran into Mark, he was watering the plant beds and we spoke of Ivan and his fury. Banana Shout is located in a tiny cove about three hundred feet wide, to the north is Catcha Falling Star and to the south is Rick’s Cafe. Both points were all but washed away, looking like ancient ruins against the setting sun.

The seawall from Banana Shout used to wrap around the cliff to Catcha Falling Star right out to her point where there was an octagon shaped concrete bungalow. The sunsets from there must have been amazing, but it’s gone, completely washed away.

Ricks looked like a bomb hit it. One of the most commercially successful places in town was no match for ol’ mother nature. Ivan ripped down the bright awnings and the wooden decks. He smashed through a big chunk of the main structure, and piled debris against the large cinderblock walls along the road. Rick’s deepened my understanding of the tragedy that befell this town. I’d been to Rick’s so many times that I had a clear “before” picture in my head and the after picture blew my mind.

Mark described how the ocean rose up, how the waves came in, and almost as bad, how they went back out. For the first time I got a glimpse of how terrifying it must have been, this quiet, peaceful, yet vast ocean, turning to an indescribably huge monster attacking relentlessly like the Jason, Freddie and Michael Meyers combined.

From my second floor balcony I watched the sunset. It was magnificent, as the first one usually is, though I’d slept through it on my last trip. I tried to capture the moment in my journal, but the majesty of the scene before me had me slack-jawed and silent. The view from Banana Shout is among the best views of the Negril sunset available, I’m sure there are a few as good, but none better.

As I sat there I knew this trip was to be very different from the others. Something profound had happened here, it was more than just a storm, more than a seasonal happening that the cheerful Jamaican people took in stride. I knew that being here at this time would afford and opportunity to get to know the people around here in a more personal way, to gain a deeper understanding of this little neighborhood. I really began to look forward to Nick’s arrival. I knew he would “get it” and partner with me in this quest.

I walked the two hundred yards over to LTU Pub right past the closed Rick’s. On the way I met a few locals, the first guy I met couldn’t believe I was on vacation.

“Who’s takin’ guests?” He asked

Banana Shout,” I replied, “I got here this afternoon.”

“If ya need anyting, ya know, I’m Marcus this is my town!”

“Sounds good Marcus! I have a buddy coming Monday and we’ll be looking for you!”

That’s how so many of my conversations went that weekend, and as time went on I realized I was just about the only guest on that entire section of West End Road, say from Primrose Lane to the Lighthouse. Everything was closed since the storm.

Across from “The Shout” there is a small family run beer stand with flirty young (too young) daughters. I picked up a six-pack of Red Stripe and a few bottles of Ting, and walked back to Seaside One.

I crashed early that night, I don’t do watches or clocks on vacations but it couldn’t have been much past nine.

– More to come

Leave a Comment April 12, 2005

Negril Bound – October ’04 – Part 2

Somehow this section got deleted or failed to import from the old “Blogger” format – Enjoy

US Airways is a sad way to get to Jamaica. I kick myself every time for not spending a few bucks more to fly Air Jamaica.

I buy my tickets online as cheap as I can find them, usually months in advance, so I expect to be strapped to the wing, or stuck between two sumo wrestlers. This time I got the aisle seat, clear shot to the emergency door, only one or two people to trample, not bad. You see, between the time I bought my tickets and departure day, US Airways declared Chapter 11 and I figure they’ve been cutting corners somewhere. Paranoid? Just a little.

Philly is a hub for US Airways, which means for me it’s non-stop to Montego Bay, but for many it’s a connecting flight. Caitlyn was one of these people, a pretty thirty-something woman who connected all the way from Phoenix on the third leg of her trip. I had to compliment her; she was quite perky for someone who just spent the night on planes and in airports.

We discussed all things Jamaican, this was her first trip to the Caribbean paradise, and in true Cliff-Clavonian fashion I played the roll of salty expatriate, spouting off advice and answering her every query in much more detail than necessary. I didn’t care, I was headed to Negril, I was happy to be talking to a pretty woman and she seemed intrigued with my vervy knowledge.

In the real world I’m usually self conscious around women I don’t know, but something comes over me when I’m in the “Jamaican Way.” I let loose! I drop the burdens and baggage I carry in my normal life. Hmm, I’m thinking there’s a lesson here. Maybe that smooth, charming fellow I let loose on vacation should come back to Philly with me and see what happens.

Caitlyn definitely made an impression on me too, she was going to Negril for her Dad’s birthday and was staying at an all-inclusive about as far from Banana Shout as one could be and still be in Negril. So I decided to enjoy our plane time and not to get my hopes up for one of those “From Here to Eternity” moments, though I did show her my vulnerable side by tearing up when Peter Parker and MJ finally had their romantic moment on the tiny airline movie screen.

Walking off the plane I came face to face with the ever forward march of progress, well, in Jamaica it’s more like a cool rhythmic gait. Anyway, the renovation I witnessed the previous April had been completed. The stair trucks were gone and a shiny new jet way greeted us! We walked in cosmopolitan luxury through the jet way and into the newly air-conditioned arrival area. I hated it!

Am I becoming and old head? A highlight of previous trips was that hot blast of salty, fragrant Montego Bay air hitting you like the proverbial ton of bricks. The dazzling Caribbean sun blinding you as you stepped from the plane to the stair truck and clumsily made your way down to the asphalt for the hundred yard walk to the terminal.

For the past few years I heard my friends in Negril tell stories of the “Old Road to Negril,” I always feel left out, I’d only been on the old road once and it was a truly magical experience, but still, it was only once. I was jealous for their memories and would sit and listen to yarns for hours as Red Stripes and ganja mixed with smiles and sunsets to create the cocktail that makes this place so special. Well now I can pine for the stair truck! Sure it’s less romantic than a two hour road trip through jungle towns and potholes, but I’ll always miss it.

I hung out with Caitlyn through the immigration line. I invited her to breakfast at Selina’s Sunday morning, and we said our goodbyes as she went to get her baggage, I carried on.

Dodging Red Caps I made it to the JUTA bus counter and paid $20US for the bus ride to Negril. I promised myself not to blow money on stupid things this trip, like an $80US private taxi ride to Negril. I told the JUTA folks I’d wait outside for the bus, a decision I immediately regretted. It was HOT, and there was no way back inside without going through the airport security gauntlet.

I found myself in a small fenced in lot where the fancy hotel jitneys lined up to take their overpaying fares to all inclusive wonderfulness. Other than the lady in the small refreshment stand, I was the only one out there. I was terribly dehydrated, it was ninety degrees in the shade, but there was no shade! So I broke with my tradition and ordered a Ting instead of a Red Stripe for my first taste of Jamaican refreshment.

That’s my moment! I don’t know why. Not the landing, not the passport stamping, but that first taste! Oh yeah! I was in Jamaica! Maybe being gravitationally challenged for much of my adult life gives sway to my taste buds when it comes to the sensual understanding of reality. Maybe it’s just that when I finally slow down after the immigration, customs, Negril transport blur, the first thing I do is get a drink and relax, giving me time to look around and see that I’m really here! Whatever the reason, it’s a great moment, the beginning of my slide into Jamaica time.

The JUTA bus was filled mostly with Hedo people, which surprised me because on my 1994 Hedo trip, the resort sent a ramshackle old bus to pick us up.

I sat in the front, which is my custom, and right behind me were the two most excited twenty something guys I have ever come across. I luxuriated in their enthusiasm, it was truly contagious, and as if to pour gasoline on their fire, I told them of the wildness and wanton sexuality waiting for them, for I had “been there” and “I knew.” They had read that this week was a lifestyles week and expected a “totally wicked-awesome time.” The younger guy, the red head, was literally drooling.

I didn’t have the heart to tell them that the large majority of swingers looked more like their parents than supermodels on a sex binge, but what I did tell them was they were in for a great week, because as different as Hedo was from my preconceived notions, it was among the most bizarre, wild and fun times I’ve ever had.

All the talk on the bus was of Hurricane Ivan and what kind of damage we were going to run into in Negril. From my vantage point the northeastern shore looked untouched, but like many things in Jamaica it’s all a matter of degree and perception. Some people see only poverty, saying they are so upset and they feel so badly for the people, but these same people would never go into a Jamaican person’s house, share a meal and get to know them, get to understand what Jamaican life really is. They just compare it with their suburban 60 by 120 and feel superior.

Soon we rounded the bend at Lucea and headed down the west coast towards Negril. There was some damage, mostly just piles of trees and brush that I wouldn’t have noticed if the driver didn’t point them out.

Entering Negril, the piles of debris became more obvious. Our first stop was Hedonism and it looked great. The entrance was brightly colored and all the plants were manicured to perfection. This brought a sigh of relief, I was expecting devastation, I was guardedly optimistic.

Leaving my Hedo friends behind, we were off to Mariner’s to drop off a couple from Toronto. Through the heart of the beach resorts from White Sands, past Selina’s, to Kuyaba, the obvious but limited damage was encouraging. The overall impression is that the entire town needed a paint job. The usually bright signs and facades were dull and weather beaten.

Finally alone in the bus we hit the roundabout and headed up West End Road.

Leave a Comment April 8, 2005

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