Up, Up and Away!!
Iâ€™m like a little kid, up at 1:30 for a 7:15 flight. The excitement for this trip snuck up on me. Iâ€™d been so busy at work I guess Iâ€™d put it off, but now I can hardly contain myself.
There was nothing to do. Iâ€™ve been packed for over a week, so I sent a few last minute emails and tried to drift off keeping one eye on the ever slowing clock. Finally it made its way to 3:45. I took a shower, changed into my traveling clothes and called the cab.
At about 4:15 the cab pulled into my driveway and the man that emerged gave me pause. He was 6ft 4â€ slightly hunchbacked, bald and of course he had no neck. He wore those out of style thick plastic glasses, the kind Bill Gates wore in the seventies. He looked like a henchman, an evil henchmen straight out of central casting.
I was surprised when he spoke normally, I was half expecting a Peter Lorre accent, â€œWhere to sir?â€ followed by a satanic echoing laugh. You know the Mmmmua ha ha ha ha kind.
I know I tend lean to the over dramatic, but when he started the engine there was what sounded like a funeral dirge playing on the CD in the dash. I knew I was trapped! I was waiting for the doors to mysteriously lock and for black gloved hands to come out of the seat and drag me off to, well, wherever evil seat hands drag one off to.
My suspicions were allayed when the next musical selection was a Muzak version of that crying Argentina song, and I realized he was listening to instrumental versions show tunes! The last one must have been from â€œPhantom of the Operaâ€.
Show tunes!? Boy did I call this one wrong, now I apologize in advance for making generalizations about grown men who listen to show tunes, but evil henchman is not one of them.
By 4:25 I was alone at the SEPTA Train Station in Jenkintown, PA, a little town on the main drag out of Philly. It looks like the 1950â€™s came here and never left. A classic Philly area downtown complete with an old gothic looking train station, all the buildings in town are made of the tell-tale stone block ubiquitous in the area. It was quite beautiful in the pre-dawn haze.
I found a bench with some decent light and began to write in my â€œJamaica Journalâ€, and no matter what I did I couldnâ€™t get that damn Evita song out of my head!
Until 4:50 it was just me, then the first morning commuter arrived, and by 5:00 there were twenty five people waiting for the scheduled 5:01 R1 Center City/Airport train.
Sitting on the train I let myself doze. I was finally on my way! No evil henchmen or nineteenth century train stations to fuel my over active imagination, some might say paranoia. Tomato, tomatoâ€¦
To my left was an older completely preoccupied woman rifling through her documentation like one of those people who have to keep checking to make sure the stove is off before leaving the house. I was glad Iâ€™d been such a nudge about being prepared for this trip.
Iâ€™d made an exhaustive packing list. Not wanting to forget anything, I even posted the list on my blog to elicit advice from fellow Jamaica nuts like me. I received some great suggestions and a few condemnations too. I took it all under advisement and still over packed.
As the train rumbled along Philadelphia’s brightly lit skyline came into view, it’s so beautiful at night. Fifteen minutes later we pulled into the Airport and at 5:41 it dropped me at Terminal A.
Stumbling from the train with my big awkward new bag I could see the Air Jamaica counter through the giant wall of glass.
Getting through the airport was wonderfully uneventful. Security was a breeze and twenty minutes after arriving I was drinking coffee in the terminal looking at that big colorful plane sitting at Gate 15.
The gaudy paint job seemed to taunt the other planes on the tarmac. â€œYa Mon, I and I be flying to Jamaica, and you gwan to Cleveland.â€
Unlike my other Jamaica trips, there seemed to be more families traveling together. Moms, dads, kids and grandparents, it was nice to see. The kids were running all over pretending to be airplanes, while already exhausted moms were forced to pull out the â€œWhen you father gets backâ€¦â€ threat to restore order.
I empathized with the kids, I was nearly as wound up as they were, and if it wasnâ€™t for the restraints of societal expectations regarding middle aged men, I would have taken flight too!
About a cup of coffee or so later, I was boarded and relaxing in seat 7C on Air Jamaica Flight #44 Philadelphia to Montego Bay, with connecting service to Kingston. The planed rocked gently to a reggae beat as it filled. The people kind of danced their way down the aisle while the attractive flight staff got everyone stowed and sat.
Iâ€™d heard horror stories about Air Jamaicaâ€™s flights being delayed, even disorganized, but we pulled away from the gate at 7:16 only a minute behind schedule. Unfortunately we had to wait in runway traffic, which was pretty cool to watch. Fifteen planes lined up nose to tail waiting for their turn on the runway, itâ€™s no wonder air traffic controllers are always portrayed as stressed out maniacs. Itâ€™s a miracle they do this every day never have accidents.
As the Flight Attendants danced through their security hand gestures, I looked around at my cabin mates doing the obligatory smile and nod, trying to spot any possible bad actors. Itâ€™s the post Sept 11th â€œGuy on Planeâ€ thing. We all have to look around and nod, if you donâ€™t I think you risk getting thrown out of the club.
Done, the flight attendants walked back to their stations, and in that moment of silence, just before the passengers shift from feigned observance to the pre-flight ritual back to previous conversations. A little girl in 7E (same row, far window seat) blurts out, â€œHow the heck are we supposed to â€˜member all that?!?â€ The whole plane had a collective chuckle, but then every conversation on the plane changed to, â€œYa know the kid has a point â€¦â€
Across the aisle was a family of three. The afore-mentioned daughter was a 50/50 bundle of flight dread and first â€œvacation on a planeâ€ wonderment. Her dad was a big guy and we had a few those â€œguy you sit next to on the planeâ€ conversations, and I knew Iâ€™d easily beat him to the emergency exit so I was friendly.
A big thing about Air Jamaica I hadnâ€™t expected was how I felt those Jamaican vibes so soon after take off. Maybe it was the music, the Jamaican flight staff, or the duct taped soap dispenser in the rest room. It was like they brought a piece of Jamaica up to Philly to pick me up.
Usually the culture shock happens as you make your way through the airport in Montego Bay, but as I sat back in my seat eyes closed and headset on, listening to Bob Marley and sipping and ice cold Ting, I felt as though three hours were added to my trip.
The movie was Madagascar. It was pretty bad, though it had its moments. What can I say? Ben Stiller just doesnâ€™t say lion to me, and Chris Rockâ€™s character was just a bad imitation of Donkey from Shrek!
There were a few of those â€œwe have to make adult references for the parentsâ€ parts that were pretty funny. My favorite being Ben Stiller as â€œThe Metrosexual Lion,â€ cursing at the ruins of the Statue of Liberty like Chuck Hesston in that Ape movie of my youth.
After a smooth landing, I bolted past the overhead compartment-emptying passengers and was third in line to de-plane. As I stood there, preparing to OJ through the airport, low and behold out the First Class window was an approaching stair truck! Woo Hoo! If I wasnâ€™t hooked on Air Jamaica already, this did it!
I closed my eyes and braced myself for sweet jasmine breezes of my memories, but when the door opened all I could smell was the exhaust from the baggage truck obviously in need of engine repair!
Disconcerted but undeterred, I bee-lined for the Immigration area and was second in line. My passport was being stamped as two plane loads of folks cued into long slow lines behind me. I was one of only six people in the baggage area when the baggage carousel started moving, and by the time the throngs enveloped me, I walked over to an empty Customs booth, bag in tow.
The tall scowling customs lady asked if I had anything to declare and being kind of an asshole, I answered as I usually do, â€œAll I have to declare is my genius.â€
She didnâ€™t get the joke, gave me that Jamaican â€œwhateverâ€ smile, and waved me through.
I went right for the JUTA counter and paid my $20US for the Negril Shuttle before asking how long the wait would be. The ticket lady said it would be about twenty minutes for the next run to Negril. They always say â€œaboutâ€ twenty minutes! â€œAboutâ€ in Jamaica can mean a lot of things, so I figured Iâ€™d have a beer and probably have to wait at least an hour.
New to this side of the airport was a miniature version of â€œJimmy Buffettâ€™s Margaritaville,â€ an airport bar disguised as a roadside beer shack. The bartender was busy making expensive foo-foo drinks for â€œde touristsâ€ and I bellied up and ordered a Red Stripe.
I usually get a real kick out of my first Red Stripe in Jamaica, but giving five bucks to Jimmy Buffett for a skunky beer, kind of spoiled the moment.
The two ladies next to me ordered drinks off the â€œSpecialty Menuâ€. I watched as the bartender poured a quarter shot of cheap island rum in the glass, filled it with the virgin piÃ±a colada stuff, and pushed the straw to the bottom. The first sip is all booze, and on cue Girl #1 says, â€œOoh these drinks are so strong!â€ The bartender smiles, and takes their $18US. Iâ€™m sure Jimmy was smiling too.
I had enough of that show, so I told the JUTA lady where to find me and I headed outside to get some sun. Since I was last here they built an awning next to the refreshment shack, which was great because it was about 350 degrees out there. I bought a ting and relaxed in the shade as the usual assortment of sellers came by like flies hitting me up for a sale of one kind or another. Of course they first get a little conversation going, â€œSo you plan on smoking this or eating that, yada, yada, yadaâ€¦â€
I swatted them away using my best, â€œIâ€™m enjoying my Ting and Iâ€™m not buying anythingâ€ vibe and for the most part it worked. Iâ€™m amazed how un-smooth the airport sellers are. Maybe you start here and graduate to Ochi or Negril, or maybe the pickins here just that easy.
Half an hour later my driver found me and took me to a big red bus. I sat alone in the air conditioning for fifteen minutes before a couple joined me. They were in their twenties, from Italy and were staying at Country Country. I bought them a beer and we spent the next few minutes attempting to overcome language barriers.
The next to board were two young ladies from Chicago, one with a little girl. We began chit-chatting and they said they were staying at the Yoga Center, I told them Iâ€™d stayed there once and told them all about the place. Vanessa, the one sans child, was very nice and cool to talk to. I played tour guide through Montego Bay and the northwest coast. We chatted all the way to Cousinâ€™s Cove where we stopped for that, stretch your legs, take a pee and spend a few dollars break.
The Italian couple bought me a cold Red Stripe and we all toasted â€œTo Jamaica!â€ I still couldnâ€™t understand a word they said.
Since we were getting close to Negril, made sure I asked Vanessa, her friend and the kid to come by Selinaâ€™s for brunch Sunday morning and weâ€™d do something fun afterwards. Vanessa and the kid seemed excited about it but her friend was giving me the hairy eyeball.
Jimmy Buffett & Negril
Donâ€™t get me wrong Iâ€™m a huge Jimmy Buffett fan, though maybe not quite a Parrothead. I love the music and Iâ€™ve read all his books.
BUT, Iâ€™m torn over his ultra slick corporate style Margaritavilles. I know at 42 Iâ€™m not his target audience and Iâ€™m sure heâ€™s profitable for the year by the time Spring Break is over, but he seems to be everywhere. At the same time itâ€™s great a big name from the States is dumping money into the Negril economy.
All that said, I cheered along with my bus mates as we passed the â€œJimmy Buffett/Margaritaville Welcome to Negrilâ€ billboard. Weâ€™d made it! And with out a Jamaica Mistaica!
We pulled up to the newer Riu Resort and it looked really nice close up, though I never heard of anyone liking the place. Then to Country Country to drop off my Italian friends, and this place seemed really nice!
Right after that our driver got a call and transferred me and the Yoga Center girls to a local taxi for the rest of the run through town. It was a little before noon and the sky opened up as we squeezed into the Japanese subcompact.
â€œFirst time to Negril?â€ our driver said as we tore off down Norman Manley Boulevard. I could tell immediately he was an operator and a smooth one to boot.
â€œMy name is Everton, I am the guy who will show you the â€˜Real Jamaica!â€™â€ The girls seemed impressed as he talked them into taking me out to the West End explaining the rain will be over by the time they get back to the Yoga Center.
The little girlâ€™s face was pressed up against the window as she took in the sights of this strange place. Everton played tour guide through town and up into the cliffs.
In a few minutes we were at the majestic Blue Cave Castle. I was blown away how cool it looked close up. Even with the rain and clouds it was bold and bright! I put one of my cards in Vanessaâ€™s hand and held it as I confirmed Sunday at Selinaâ€™s.
As they sped off towards town, I made my way into the Castle and was taken to my room in the tower.
Stay Tuned –
Leave a Comment August 27, 2005