Archives – April, 2007
I woke early Thursday morning, and though I tried to go back to sleep, I found myself staring at the moon-lit ceiling of Deluxe 1, our room at the Blue Cave Castle, for what seemed like an hour. Without waking Dee, I slipped out of the room to stretch my legs in the still morning air, another beautiful day in paradise.
From the cliff face I looked down toward the beach. The twinkling lights lined the crescent, the water below gently splashed in the caves and on the cliff, but otherwise the morning was very silent. It was the perfect moment for meditation, to become one with nature, but I was totally preoccupied with the mornings impending tasks. Dee was leaving today. Clive was coming for her at nine o’clock for a twelve thirty flight. I knew I’d miss her, but part of me was looking forward to the three mellow days ahead.
After spending five or six hours on the water the previous day, we’d gone to Kuyaba for a nice dinner. The sultry April evening, and a bottle of better than expected French Cabernet added a special touch to the always excellent meal. Unfortunately, we hadn’t realized how much the day has taken out of us, and we found ourselves dozing in our desserts.
I was hoping for a romantic last night in paradise, but we were so exhausted, I barely remember the drive back to the Castle and I woke still in my clothes.
I sat with my legs dangling over the cliff’s edge as the daylight crept across the bay, trying to capture the mix of thoughts, feelings and emotions I’d experienced these past few days. I love mornings in Negril, for me they are the antithesis of sunset. Of course there are the obvious reasons, sunrise and sunset are opposites, but while sunset is a party, a celebration of another great day, and the beginning of a promising evening; sunrise is a solitary experience where, if there is anyone else about, words are rare, and personal space is respected.
I’m brought back to the present by gentle clanking in the coffee hut. I look over to see the inviting green light meaning the morning coffee is ready, and I pad across the lawn to fill a cup from the urn of fresh brewed Blue Mountain coffee.
The sun was up by the time I finished my second cup, and a few of our fellow castle-mates were milling about in the pristine morning air. I went inside to hop in the shower, see if Dee was awake yet, and maybe to order some breakfast from Brown Sugar.
“What time is Clive coming?” Dee shouted into the bathroom.
“He’ll be here at nine sharp, he’s always on time. Do you want some breakfast?” I answered.
“Yeah, I need to get a little sun before I go.” And off she went.
Its funny how Brown Sugar’s portions get bigger, and the delivery times get faster as the week wears on. Part of me feels bad how much impact a 200 to 300j tip can have. Maybe just a tinge of American guilt, I was brought up Catholic after all.
I lay in the sun for a while with Dee. Only for a few minutes though, I’m a burner, not a tanner. It amazes me how dark she gets in only a few days. She has more melanin in one square inch than I have in my whole body, so I just lay there and enjoyed all her square, and not so square, inches.
Eight-thirty came quick. I must have dozed off. I went into our room and Dee was dressed and stuffing her belongings in her suitcase. Clive was early. A couple from Ohio was also leaving, and Clive had been hired by the Castle as their airport transfer.
Dee said her goodbyes to the staff of the Castle. She’d gotten pretty friendly with Susan, Petrona, and especially the two dogs that lived on the property. I didn’t get their names.
We stowed Dee’s bags in the back of Clive’s van, and within a few minutes we were on the road. I asked Clive to stop at the Scotia Bank in town to get some cash. The Ohio couple seemed impatient with me. I got some US dollars for Clive’s services and for some flying money for Dee. The Ohio people gave me a strange look as I handed Dee a stack of bills saying, “You were worth every penny.”
“I’m worth a lot more than this.” Dee replied; joining me in the teasing of these relatively uptight people. What I didn’t notice is that Clive was looking on too.
He gave me a big smile, “Vinny is a big man for sure!”
Dee and I joined him in laugher, “I’ll explain later me friend.” I said, and with that we were back on the road.
The trip was quiet. Dee seemed lost in her thoughts and the Ohio people slept most of the way. I chatted away with Clive as each milestone took us closer to Montego Bay and Sangster International Airport.
Sangster was packed. I never thought Thursday as a big travel day, then again, I never really gave it much thought. The US Airways line snaked all the way across the terminal. It worked out that Dee and the Ohio people were on the same first flight to Fort Lauderdale. They would go on to Cleveland, while Dee was headed back to Philly.
It was 11:15, and the line was barely moving. Since I had no place to hold I went looking for someone in a US Airways uniform to see what was up. I grabbed the first guy with a clipboard and gave them Dee’s flight number. He came back with me, and whisked Dee and the others to a special line. We said our good-byes.
A few minutes later I was back in the noon-day sun looking for Clive. I hopped in the van, and we motored into downtown Mobay.
“It’s Lunchtime Vinny. You ever eat Rasta I-tal food Vinny?” Clive asked.
“Yeah, sure. Vegetarian food right?” I answered, hey, I’m a traveler not a tourist.
“Not like the places in Negril, we’ll go to the real thing.” Clive’s seemed different. The tour guide facade coming down.
I’m always looking for an authentic experience, so I was psyched as we drove through the back streets of Montego Bay. The crumbling infrastructure was at once depressing and encouraging. The buildings need work, the electric grid is precarious at best, but the people seem upbeat and active. Everyone headed here or there all trying to make a buck in the daylight.
We pulled up to a small strip mall. The storefront window was painted black with yellow, red and green writing. There was also a prominent yet simple yellow and black Rasta Lion.
I hopped out of the van as Clive bumped fists and spoke in rapid-fire patios to the several toughs standing out in front. They gave me the hairy eyeball as I walked past, but since I as with Clive, known to these guys as Buffalo, his other name, I was ok.
Inside I was surprised. I feel bad for being surprised. I don’t know what I expected, but the place was very clean, the people behind the counter wore spotless white uniforms and had the demeanor of monks in a temple.
Clive ordered his food, and asked how hungry I was, while extolling the virtues of i-tal food. I asked for something light, and Clive ordered for me. I couldn’t understand a work he said.
I reached in my pocket when our food came up. Clive touched my arm and motioned for me to keep my money. He paid and took our food to a picnic€“style table in the next room. I grabbed my fork and was about to dig in, but waited as Clive finished a prayer over his food.
“We need to give thanks. We’ve got food to eat.” Clive said, regaining his normal personality.
“This place is different than I imagined.” I stated looking around. “It reminds me of a Jewish Kosher Deli in New York City.”
“We’re not Jewish, but we do have rules about how we prepare our meals. Rasta-style!” Clive was serious as he ate.
“Is there a current relationship between Jewish and Rasta? The whole Lion of Judah thing, I know a little about that.” I said.
“Yah Mon, it’s a likke like that.” Clive said, but he didn’t elaborate. I figured he didn’t want to get into a religious conversation with and infidel in this place. I let it go and finished my meal.
We took a different route back to Negril, heading south out of Mobay through beautiful country. I figured we were going over the hills to Sav-La Mar, but after about an hour we stopped in a town called Grange Hill deep in the hills of Westmorland Parish.
The place was quaint, a real outpost deep in the heart of Jamaica. I was sure I was the only tourist within miles. I loved this place, the people were nice, no higglers. Clive went in a store to talk to his comrades, and I bought a newspaper and a bottle of water.
The verdant beauty of the area made my heart soar. I pretended to read the paper, but I was really soaking in the scenery, the people, and the town. I resolved to do some research on this place, and to come back for the day.
Clive’s business was done, and in no time we were pulling up to the gates of Blue Cave Castle. I shook Clive’s hand, and confirmed my 2PM Sunday pick up.
One more after this
April 15, 2007
“So, are you heading up to Alfred’s for the beach party?” I asked Georgina, a beautiful Jamaican girl who’s attention to me was motivated by commerce, not by any interest in forty something American men.
“Let’s go to Triple-X, I have friends there.” She offered, suddenly bouncing back into sales mode. She thumbed her cell phone, calling someone as if the decision was already made.
“Sorry Sweetheart. I can’t leave, it would be rude. My friends are over there, and we have plans.” I sat up shaking off my daze, and then standing up in hope of an easy break.
“What? You don’t like me? I thought you were my friend, you can’t party with your friend?” She was speaking faster now, a slight edge emerging on her smiling face.
“Let’s not argue about it Sweetheart. I like you very much, but I’m going to find my friends now. You’ll have more fun with your friends.” I really wasn’t blowing her off. I just didn’t want to get caught up in a situation I couldn’t handle, and the next step was either to shit or get off the pot, as it were.
We went back and forth like this a few times, but she wasn’t very persistent. Could it be possible that she wasn’t all that jazzed about having sex with me? I thought not. Maybe since it was early, only ten-thirty or so, there was still time to work her magic on a less morally upright fellow.
“My ladies are gone, you get me a taxi?” She asked, meaning, “It’s the least you can do you cheap bastard.”
“Sure, OK” I said warily. I wasn’t sure if this was another ploy. We walked in to the bar area of Kuyaba, a waiter gave me a stern just walk through look as he stood in the way to the bar.
Near Kuyaba’s gate I saw a driver who looked familiar. I asked him to take her anywhere she wanted to go.
“Come on Man! You’re not going with the girl? What’s wrong, you don’t like Jamaican girls Man?” The big driver’s voice boomed, and in some way he was letting off the hook.
“Yeah, I like her. She’s beautiful, but she’s looking for her friends, not for an old man like me.” I said trying to match his big voice and bravado.
“Ahh, too much to drink?” He laughed, as I came right up to him.
“I’d hate myself in the morning.” I said quietly as I handed him 1000j.
“Respect,” he said with a serious nod, as we bumped fists. “Get in ‘de car girl.” His booming voice returning.
I said goodbye to Georgina, gave her a few bucks for her time, and off they went.
I walked back to the bar, stopping at the bathroom to wash my face, and to get myself together. A few heads turned as I returned alone, their expressions mixed.
“Barkeep, beer! I need to put these flames out.” I said quoting Tom Cruise. Looking around I saw my friends. They hadn’t gone anywhere, they had just moved to a lounge table with cushy chairs.
“We thought you got a better offer.” They weren’t sure what had happened. “Um… she looked like a nice girl.”
“I’m sure she is, I’ll introduce you when we get to Alfred’s.” I assured them, but our second wind had blown out, and we never made it to the beach party.
April 11, 2007
After a great meal at Selina’s, we headed over to Kuyaba for dessert. We’d planned to relax, digest a little, and then to ride our second wind up the beach to Alfred’s for the Thursday Night Beach Party.
Does Kuyaba just keep getting nicer, or do I forget every time I visit? You can’t beat the location, a great bar and restaurant just yards from the bay. The ever present salt-kissed breeze whispers through the abundant foliage keeping all conversations private. But it’s the attention to detail, the constant small improvements that I noticed. A decorative stone walkway here, a new lounge section there, a likke splash of design in a newly built stairway, all keep Kuyaba fresh and new every year.
We begged off table seating, who can resist those hanging-hammock-barstool-chair-like thingies Kuyaba is famous for?
I’m glad these chairs haven’t spread all over town. I love the way they get more comfy the more you drink.
Since this was dessert we dared the bartender to surprise us with something unique from his blender. We weren’t heading to Margaritaville that night. These creations were to be glorified milkshakes doused with over-proof rum. I forget what he called them, but they were full of creamy coconut yummy-ness while still packing a punch. After two my sweet tooth was sated, and I switched to Red Stripes. In general my foo-foo drink tolerance is pretty low.
This was Megan and Jason’s last night in town, so I decided to take an evening walk in the surf to give them some time to make googly eyes, and to whisper sweet nothings. The beach was beautiful that night. The faint lights of the beach-side businesses mixed with a three-quarter moon infused the sea with an aquamarine translucence that gave off a soft glow. I’d spent so many nights up in the cliffs these past few years, it felt as if I was discovering it for the first time.
I was lost in the moment, communing with the sea, I didn’t notice a group of five or six Jamaican girls drawing near as I stood ankle deep at the waters edge. I smiled and said hello. I couldn’t help but to notice they were all dressed to kill, though undressed to kill might be more accurate. I think I was staring. I assumed they were headed up to Alfred’s Ocean Place to party.
“You look like you’re having a good time.” A light-skinned girl with the spiky braids said as she came close in the way certain island girls do when flirting unattached older men in flowery shirts.
I didn’t know what she meant by saying that. Was it; “Hey, you look really drunk, may I take advantage of you?” or; “Wow, you look like and unaffected party animal, and I want to be a part of your world if only for a few fleeting moments.” My problem is, in that moment of boozy bravado I assume she means the latter, and in the morning my empty pockets realize she meant the former.
“I’m Georgina,” she said with a pearly white smile. The other girls kept walking.
“Hi, Georgina, I’m Vinny.” I played along. I knew my virtue was well intact, and I wasn’t going to be swayed by this twenty year old vixen. The devil on my shoulder smiled wickedly, while the angel on the other knew he was still in control.
We made small talk, the usual meeting a Jamaican thing: Where are you from? Is this your first trip to Jamaica? Where are you staying? Do you like Jamaican girls?
She noticed my beer was empty, and she asked if I’d like another one. I said yes, and she waited while I pulled some cash from my pocket. I gave her 1000j, and told her to get something for herself, big spender that Vinny.
Being past the dinner hour a waiter cleared the surf-side table for two Kuyaba usually sets up to entice folks into a romantic sunset dinner. I took a seat. Georgina returned with a beer and a shot glass with some kind of red stuff in it.
I was surprised when she pounced on my lap and poured the shot into my mouth. Trying to act cool, as if this happens everyday, I reached for my beer, her ample Jamaican ampleness just inches from my face. Taking a swig I tried to regain the upper hand.
The devil on my shoulder was reaching for my wallet, while the angel just looked pissed. She poured what I thought was her shot of rum, mixed with some sickly sweet proof hiding agent, down my throat, and asked again if I wanted to party.
I feebly tried to make light of the situation, but her coconut oil lotion, the rum and our precarious position were conspiring against me. Luckily physics bailed me out. Her ninety-five pounds bouncing on my lap was just enough to cause the back legs of our folding chair to loose footing in the wet sand, and forced her to hop off as I rolled sideways onto the sand.
She sat on the opposing chair, and we did another shot. I could feel her reeling me in. My friends were nowhere to be seen, I had a pocket full of money, and Georgina had my full attention. By this time the angel had gone to bed, and devil was bartending.
April 8, 2007
I never thought to have dinner at Selina’s. Sorry Selina I’ve always thought of your place for brunch, beans and Bloody Marys, but not anymore.
I met Petra at Selina’s Sunday Brunch Webcast. I knew she was German, and that she recently moved to Negril. We didn’t talk much, but I envied her moxie for making the big move.
A few days later I stopped at Selina’s to load up on some fresh roasted Blue Mountain Coffee, and to grab some lunch. While enjoying my cheeseburger in paradise, Petra came by and we got to talking. I was surprised to learn she was the new chef at Selina’s, and after hearing her story I was intrigued. Petra, a classically trained European chef, began spending her off-seasons in Negril a few years ago. I guess she liked it because she moved to that particular harbor this past year.
We spent some time talking about Jamaica, Germany and the fact that we had food in common. She likes to cook it, and I like to eat it. Actually, I was in the restaurant business for over twenty years, and I think of myself as a wizard in the kitchen. It was great to know there was a fancy-shmancy euro-chef right there in Negril, and I promised to try her food before I left town.
It turned out I didn’t have to wait very long. Upon telling Megan and Jason about my new chef friend we decided to start their last night in Negril celebration with a meal by Petra. We met up at the Castle around 4PM. My room there, along with the adjacent patio, had a spectacular ocean view, and we partied through the most beautiful sunset of the week.
We toasted Megan and Jason’s last night in paradise, and their first real trip to Jamaica. Jason had planned a romantic sunset dinner at The Rockhouse for their last night, where he planned to ask her to marry him, but he couldn’t hold his water and he asked her within twenty-four hours of arrival. Maybe not exactly how he planned, but still a moment they will remember forever.
Soon after sunset the mosquitoes started biting, so we hailed a taxi for the ten minute ride to Selina’s on the beach. We sat at the bar and ordered a round when Petra came out to tell us about the specials and discuss the menu. Yeah, discuss the menu. It was nice; the usually wide open Selina’s seemed smaller and more intimate in the darkness.
I was sold on the special. I’m easy. My friends told Petra what they liked, and she suggested options. We had another round of drinks, and our food came out quickly.
I had the Vegetable Lasagna. It was beautiful, not some kinda-sorta Jamaican knock-off like the reggae version of Freebird. This was excellent; a small caesar-like salad with two pieces of grilled baguette. The pasta was tender, dare I say home made, with a variety of local vegetables in a creamy cheese sauce. All baked and topped with crunchy herbed bread crumbs.
My friend Jason some kind of Escoveitch Fish, he came to enjoy that Jamaican style of cooking. Megan had Grilled Snapper in a light butter and wine sauce with local vegetables. Both Jason and Megan were groaning in culinary delight as they ate.
I was in a struggle with myself, do I devour this delicious meal like a rapacious Leaping Slug, or do I savor each bite like a mature adult? I came down somewhere in the middle. This was hands-down the best meal of the trip, and one of the best meals I ever had in Negril. Petra’s hospitality in Selina’s humble relaxed eatery created an elegant and satisfying evening.
We said our good-byes and waddled over to Kuyaba for dessert. There’s always room for dessert
April 2, 2007