Archives – August, 2005

Blue Castles and White Sand – Part 1

Up, Up and Away!!

I’m like a little kid, up at 1:30 for a 7:15 flight. The excitement for this trip snuck up on me. I’d been so busy at work I guess I’d put it off, but now I can hardly contain myself.

There was nothing to do. I’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 4” 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, “Where to sir?” 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 “Phantom of the Opera”.

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 1950’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 “Jamaica Journal”, and no matter what I did I couldn’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, tomato…

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 I’d been such a nudge about being prepared for this trip.

I’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. “Ya Mon, I and I be flying to Jamaica, and you gwan to Cleveland.”

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 “When you father gets back…” threat to restore order.

I empathized with the kids, I was nearly as wound up as they were, and if it wasn’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.

I’d heard horror stories about Air Jamaica’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, it’s no wonder air traffic controllers are always portrayed as stressed out maniacs. It’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. It’s the post Sept 11th “Guy on Plane” thing. We all have to look around and nod, if you don’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, “How the heck are we supposed to ‘member all that?!?” The whole plane had a collective chuckle, but then every conversation on the plane changed to, “Ya know the kid has a point …”

Across the aisle was a family of three. The afore-mentioned daughter was a 50/50 bundle of flight dread and first “vacation on a plane” wonderment. Her dad was a big guy and we had a few those “guy you sit next to on the plane” conversations, and I knew I’d easily beat him to the emergency exit so I was friendly.

A big thing about Air Jamaica I hadn’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 doesn’t say lion to me, and Chris Rock’s character was just a bad imitation of Donkey from Shrek!

There were a few of those “we have to make adult references for the parents” parts that were pretty funny. My favorite being Ben Stiller as “The Metrosexual Lion,” cursing at the ruins of the Statue of Liberty like Chuck Hesston in that Ape movie of my youth.

Stair Truck!

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 wasn’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, “All I have to declare is my genius.”

She didn’t get the joke, gave me that Jamaican “whatever” 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 “about” twenty minutes! “About” in Jamaica can mean a lot of things, so I figured I’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 “Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville,” an airport bar disguised as a roadside beer shack. The bartender was busy making expensive foo-foo drinks for “de tourists” 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 “Specialty Menu”. I watched as the bartender poured a quarter shot of cheap island rum in the glass, filled it with the virgin piña colada stuff, and pushed the straw to the bottom. The first sip is all booze, and on cue Girl #1 says, “Ooh these drinks are so strong!” The bartender smiles, and takes their $18US. I’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, “So you plan on smoking this or eating that, yada, yada, yada…”

I swatted them away using my best, “I’m enjoying my Ting and I’m not buying anything” vibe and for the most part it worked. I’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 I’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 Cousin’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 “To Jamaica!” I still couldn’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 Selina’s for brunch Sunday morning and we’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

Don’t get me wrong I’m a huge Jimmy Buffett fan, though maybe not quite a Parrothead. I love the music and I’ve read all his books.

BUT, I’m torn over his ultra slick corporate style Margaritavilles. I know at 42 I’m not his target audience and I’m sure he’s profitable for the year by the time Spring Break is over, but he seems to be everywhere. At the same time it’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 “Jimmy Buffett/Margaritaville Welcome to Negril” billboard. We’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.

“First time to Negril?” 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.

“My name is Everton, I am the guy who will show you the ‘Real Jamaica!’” 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 girl’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 Vanessa’s hand and held it as I confirmed Sunday at Selina’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 –

Vinny

Leave a Comment August 27, 2005

Webcam Redux!

I decided to turn the camera on the webcast last Wednesday night.

I took a few pictures of Rob, but my cheapo camera wasn’t very kind to his dashing expatriate good looks!

I was going for the “Hall of Mirrors” thing

Peace :)

Leave a Comment August 24, 2005

Cuisine de Negril – Eat with your fingers!!

It’s all about Selina’s!!
Nice family, great food and a Bloody Mary for breakfast. I ate breakfast at Selina’s three or four times this week. “The Big Nyam” a few hours before plane time kept me full till Philly!

The Best in the West
Late night Jerk Chicken Fix. I love the way they jam the bread in with the chicken so by the time you get back to your room it’s all warm and gooey and delicious!

Jenny’s on the West End
Great Food, Low Prices. Brown Stew 250J, Ackee & Saltfish 300J!

Chippewa Village and Buddah Grove
Good Pizza at Buddah Grove. Stop by and say hi to Rose for me! The resort was empty, but looked like a nice place!

Miss Sonja’s
I felt like I was adopted for an hour! Patties on a whole other level!

Damn! Now I’m hungry! I’m going out for a Cheesesteak!!

Vinny

Leave a Comment August 21, 2005

Back in Philly!! Photo Dump!!

Ahhh the Negril Sunset!!

Smokey Joe’s Great Jerk Chicken!!

This is my kind of restaurant!!

A little “Rackspotting” on the beach!!

The Jungle!! Fun place, and the Jamaican girls seemed so friendly :)

More to Come . . .

Vinny

Leave a Comment August 20, 2005

Last Day, Shopping Day!

Ok, Who wants to by this place?? Needs a likkle work :)

Back again at Surf & Talk, a great little place. Water, Ting and Really reliable DSL access.

Headed over to Selina’s to get some of her World Famous Coffee. I have to do this early so I can fit it all into my luggage!

Rob’s buddy Ken flagged me down on the way here and we cut a fair deal to the airport. I’ve been pretty good with taxis, spotting the route-taxi and paying standard fare. Even when they try to jam you for double it’s still only 50J. Which would have been a tip anyway.

Dreading packing my stuff. I hate the finality of it :(

I tried to lenthen my stay but it was either Saturday or Monday, not Sunday. So I’m headed out if town at 2ish.

Next post I’ll be statesitde!!

Peace,

Vinny

Leave a Comment August 19, 2005

Thursday in Paradise

A wonderful day here in paradise!!

Did some investigating yesterday, checked out a bunch of properties. Been pretty mellow, hooked up with some friends early ended up at 3Dives for the webcast. My sister was on and Rob from Real Negril.com was talking her into a Jamacia vacation.

Signage in Negril is often interesting :) But at least it gets to the point!

Political Correctness hasn’t caught on in Negril!!


Peace,

Vinny :)

Leave a Comment August 18, 2005

Wednesday Night @ 3Dives

Another webcast, since my entire family missed me on Sunday!

But I don’t hold grudges and I will avail them another opportunity to see the wonder that is me!

Me in Negril even!

Had a few great meals at Selina’s, got some great jerk chicken from the Mr. Chicken cart, the one who’s right across from Kuyaba all the time.

Did Kuyaba grilled Lobster dinner Monday night, great stuff, and the presentation is awesome!

Pictured above are a few of Andy’s cousins, these two living in the Blue Cave Castle pond.

I’m at the Surf & Talk right across from Selina’s. It’s been a great little place to plug in and keep in touch!!

Leave a Comment August 17, 2005

Blue Cave Castle Rocked!

I’m gonna miss Blue Cave Castle! Great place! Great morning coffee! Overall an amazing bargain for the money. It’s so nautical and cool yet silly at the same time.

I got a look into one of the more expensive rooms and they looked really nice and were still only $20US a night more than the Tower Room I was in.

Anything my room lacked in creature comforts and airtighness, it made up for in coolness! I’m in a tower where the window at the head of my bed is directly thirty-five feet over the surf.

AND it had a great shower! You can’t overstate a good shower in Negril, and that was a good, fatwater shower!

Stay Tuned!!

Leave a Comment August 16, 2005

Stair Truck! Woo Hoo!!

Hey Mons,

How is everybody out there NOT in Jamaica! I’m so glad to finally be here! I’m working on day one trip report.

Overview:

  • Air Jamaica was cool!! Cheese Omlette and Ting – What else is there?
  • JUTA was kind of long but met a few very cool people, especially this one … (hmm, maybe I’m getting a little ahead of myself :)
  • Blue Cave Rocks! I’m in the lower tower room. It’s in a freaking tower!! A turret or a rook even, how cool is that?
  • The view out my window is all ocean, an amazing sunset view!
  • Right in the middle of evertyhing on the west end.
  • Jennies for breakfast!
  • Over to Easy Rock but thier DSL was down. So over to Mi Yard I came after half a dozen beers at Mary’s Bay.
  • Now I’m cleaning the spam out of my email! which is vinny@negrilnotes.com

Signing off for now!

Peace out from Mi Yard in Negril

Vinny from Philly

Leave a Comment August 13, 2005

I’m so close I can taste it!

I’ve been saying a lot lately, which got me to thinking. What is my favorite taste of Negril? Is it the coffee? Roadside Jerk Chicken? Breakfast at Sips & Bites? Big Roy’s Banana Pancakes?

Actually I first thought, “What is the best taste in Negril?” but that’s something you can never get any two people to agree on, I cant’ even agree with myself.

Then I thought, “Is it the tastes you get only in Jamaica or the lingering tastes you bring home with you? The treats that make you sit back in your comfy chair and reminisce?”

Certainly the “at home” tastes are more available. I found a site where I can have Pickapeppa and Ting shipped to my door. How cool is that!!

I’m less than 24 hours away! 3 Dives here I come!

Leave a Comment August 11, 2005


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