Archives – January, 2011
There’s an ethereal quality to The Castle’s morning stillness. Whispering a subtle greeting, the day shifts gently into being. A familiar opening. I sat quietly watching as The West End stirred lazily. By 6AM the road was awake, and the distant whine of a fisherman’s outboard brought with it the faint smell of coffee wafting across the yard.
I walked to the ledge and saw no one. My eyes were no longer sharp enough to see if the urn light was green, so I made my way down the cool stone stairway, across the prickly tropical grass, and over to the coffee hut. Though in full percolating glory, the coffee wasn’t quite ready to go, so I padded back upstairs for my binoculars to spy on the fishermen who, by then, were dotting the horizon.
Well into my third cup I heard Kris stir back inside the room. By the time I went inside to ask if she wanted a coffee the stirring had stopped. A blessing and a curse, Kristine inherited the “sleep of the dead” from me. We can sleep though anything, I once fell asleep during a Van Halen concert. True story.
We had our breakfast at Teddy’s Hideaway, actually back in the restaurant, which was a lot nicer than last trip. Teddy’s has really found an audience in Negril. When Petrona and Susan first added a food at The Castle I thought, “Cool, this is so convenient.” and the first time I only had a few breakfasts. It was nice not needing to forage for every meal, but wow, the Lobster Thermidor is something special. On the previous trip with Mom and Dad our best meal was served by Teddy out in the yard at sunset. It was a great time.
Early afternoon brought Meg and Jay in from Montego Bay with Kenny. I’d known these two Deadheads for six or seven years by that time, and it was the first time they were meeting “The Kid.” I hadn’t realized how often I refer to my beloved daughter Kristine as “The Kid,” so much so that when I asked, “Do I really?” they all started laughing. Jay said, “Dude I knew you for like five years before Meg finally asked you her actual name.” It’s funny when a mirror is held up like that. I’d truly never gave it a second thought. When I returned from Jamaica I began asking friends about this and every one told me the same thing. Sorry Kid
The four of us walked over to Choices for pre-sunset dinner that night. Choices is always a good choice. A key feature to staying at The Castle is the number of excellent restaurants and bars within walking (or stumbling) distance. The food is always good at Choices, though for the life of me I can’t remember what I had.
Back at The Castle, we watched the final moments of sunset and relaxed in the yard with some fellow travelers. It was still fairly early though Kristine and Meg were showing signs of fatigue while Jay and I were raring to go. Saturday night is The One Love Reggae Show at The Seastar Inn! We were encouraged when I logged on to theRealNegril.com Webcast to find the party already swinging. I entered the chat room to say hi, and Rob offered to send the Seastar taxi to pick us up. How cool is that?
The girls encouraged us to go and have fun. They were both tired and decided to stay in and do their nails, or their hair, or whatever it is that girls do. We did make an attempt at changing their minds, but it soon proved to be without fruit.
The taxi they sent was huge and very well air conditioned. Within minutes Jay and I entered the brightly lit oasis that is Seastar. We sought out the Webcast Crew and made our introductions with the folks hanging in the general webcast area. It was great to see Rob & Lisa, but I was taken back when they asked, “Where’s The Kid?”
The Seastar Drummers were just taking the stage as we settled in. What a magical experience, I am always moved by the total way produce their music. I didn’t realize I was in a drum induced trance till someone yelled, “Vinny!” I may have been that I was a bit drunken too. Jay had started an unhealthy shot roller-coaster. He bought a huge round of shots for the group, so it became my responsibility to handle the next round, then another guy felt similarly obligated, and so on. I’m not sure how far it went. I have a convenient rule about the number of shots I will do in one night, I don’t count them.
I have a fuzzy recollection of leaving, and then piling out of a smaller taxi into yet another bar, or was it two other bars? I missed sunrise Sunday Morning.
January 19, 2011
It doesn’t have the same ring to it, but I feel like I’m cheating on Negril.
I’m sitting here at Has Beans Coffee Shop in sunny Brooklyn doing research on St. John US Virgin Islands. One of our clients is opening a restaurant there in a few weeks, so I have to go to configure their system and train their staff.
Yeah, you like that? I “have” to go. Life’s tough
The people in my office that do things like book trips waited till last week to book my room and it looked like St. John was going to be full. The situation wasn’t unexpected, early February is the busiest time in the Caribbean. So the plan was to book whatever we could on St. Thomas, and then I’d have to ferry over to St. John every day. All things considered, not the worst commute.
To their defense we are always waiting till the last minute to schedule things. In the restaurant opening business the actual opening date is a moving target dependent on city, county and state inspections, and often on a general contractors misplaced optimism. We usually work locally, so we can afford to install one week, train the next and wait around to “Go Live” until they’re ready, but when the job is far away we try to knock it all out in a five day span.
Last week I walk into the office and my scheduling coordinator looks at me like she’s expecting me to become “Ballistic Asshole Man” at any minute.
“What’s wrong?” I ask.
“I found a place for you on St. John,” she said as if she wasn’t finished.
“Cool, so why the face?” I say waiting for the other shoe to drop.
“The place is kind of a hole, but it looks “pretty” clean . . . I sent you the link.”
So I went to my desk and pulled up the website expecting to see “Black Beard’s Rusty Crotch Inn,” but the “Inn at Tamarind Court” didn’t seem foreign to me. It’s a small place with only around twenty rooms half of which are sleeping rooms with a shared bathroom. I was booked in a Standard Room with a queen-size bed and my own bathroom. The place has a little bar and a restaurant, and is kind of shoved between the road and a mountain. My kind of place, my first thought was that it’s almost Negrilian.
When I went to TripAdvisor.com the place didn’t look as good as on the hotel’s website, but with TripAdvisor you need to read between the lines. Still the place looked fine for a week.
But, just for dramatic effect I stormed across the office to the scheduling coordinator’s desk and told her I was very upset with her.
“You really don’t read my blog do you!”
January 16, 2011
From my dimly lit table next to a steamy radiator, I sit quietly as Brooklyn braces for the forth snow of the season. You’d think we were in Bulgaria with shortages of everything. I don’t get it, the bodega on the corner is always open, and I’m sure the Chinese place mid-block will be serving lunch tomorrow. I don’t panic. I guess I’m easy.
SO, where were we? Yes, we were heading out of Montego Bay with Kenny on the road to Negril.
Our airport beer supply lasted only till around Hopewell where we stopped to grab refills. I sat back relaxing as Kenny gave Kristine the Grand Tour. It really never gets old, this was my lucky thirteenth trip to Negril, and I wanted Kris to relax and enjoy without feeling as if we were on a schedule. This was her first time here in five years and she had a few things she wanted to do too. So when Kenny started asking about day trips and the like I deflected. I wanted to maybe do a Black River trip, but wasn’t ready to commit. We had friends coming, and who knows who might be staying at The Castle, that so often changes everything. I did book Kenny for the return airport trip.
We hit a lot of traffic moving thru Lucea, but a slight detour stopped us in front of Lucea’s famous clock. It seems so out of place and its probably apocryphal history just adds to the wonder. Like my Mom, Kristine loved seeing all the kids in their neat school uniforms making their way to and from school.
We picked up speed as we ran the stretch south from Lucea to Green Island, so much so the first “Welcome to Negril” sign seemed to sneak up on us. Seeing that sign always elicits a cheer and a toast though its actually closer to Orange Bay. Kenny explained that the early signs are for the All-Inclusive crowd to think they are actually in Negril when in reality the most of the big AIs are in Hanover Parish. Westmoreland Parish where the town of Negril actually is starts maybe three-quarters of a mile south of Sandals.
Kristine’s nose was pressed against the glass as we ran along the strip. Passing Selina’s, she asked about the kids, then over to Kuyaba, where she stayed on her last trip saying, “Let’s have dinner at Kuyaba tonight,” as she searched for familiarities in the faces that went by.
A chip off the ‘ol block, she spent most of her week, five years ago to the day, bopping around the Kuyaba neighborhood mingling with the Jamaicans. Through our many conversations prior to her trip she felt right at home soon after arriving, much to the concern of her boyfriend who seemed to feel the need to “protect” her. That didn’t last too long.
We pulled up to the Blue Cave Castle and the gates opened as if by magic and we rolled onto the property. “Holy Shit! This is sooooo cool!” Kristine emoted as she climbed out of the van spinning around in an attempt to take it all in. I took care of Kenny, we thanked him and said we’ll see him tomorrow when he dropped off Megan and Jay.
Through the archway and into the main part of The Castle, there were a few people in the covered patio area, and a others milling around. We said our hello’s and went up to the second floor to Deluxe 3. When her roommate bailed we decided to share a room. At first I didn’t love the room. I’d been in the room before, not to stay, to party and only for a few minutes. What threw me was the lack of the big window opening to the patio I’m used to in “Deluxe 1” and “Deluxe 4,” but as we unpacked taking dibs on the various dressers and the like, Kristine opened the back door onto the patio and my entire view of the room changed.
“Deluxe 3” is this very large room but then its opened to this huge patio area, part of it shared with the lower tower room and part of it private. Over our week there I fell in love with the room, it was cool and breezy, private and wide open. The patio became the centerpiece, and over the next seven days three different groups of people would inhabit the adjacent room slightly changing the the patio flavor with each shift.
After a castle tour, it was time to head over to L&M Grocery to stock the fridge. When we left The Castle the street was quiet, but by the time we crossed and got to the No Limit Bar a few familiar faces popped up. Always staying at the same place adds the dimension of getting to know people in the neighborhood. Of course faces come and go, but there is a core that remains trip to trip. The jerk chicken guy who is always grilling at the foot of the Willow Gate with the red bandanna was there and I introduced him to Kris as the neighborhood’s foremost chicken jerker. He is also a good man to know for a few other things. We ended up having a beer at No Limit Bar, we needed a beer, it’s what, thirty yards from The Castle gate to L&M. A thirsty 30.
We eventually made it to L&M and the lady at the counter perked up when I came in with my daughter. Eight months prior I’d taken my Mom into L&M who asked a lot of questions about the different products you can’t get in The States but that she’d seen in Ireland. I don’t know her name, but she knows me and gives me a good deal when changing those first US Dollars. We loaded up on Red Stripe, some Guinness, mangoes, water, bananas, vodka, Ting, various fruit juices, and spice bun. All life’s essentials.
We turned the fridge on high and loaded it up. Kris was puzzled to see me stuff even the fruit into the fridge until I told her about the tiny but voracious Jamaica ants. “It’s like National Geographic in here.” Please don’t take this to mean I’m saying The Castle is buggy, on the contrary the place is spotless, but as Jeff Goldblum said in Jurassic Park, “Life finds a way.”
Don’t get me off on a rant about morons from Crooked Musket, Kentucky who on their first trip out of Sisters Pretty County, whine on TripAdvisor about the lack of Five Star accommodations for $75 bucks a night in Negril. “Ya know Earl, when Tallulah and Clevis got hitched, well after Pa done brought the scatter-gun to bear, they paid $75 bucks at the E-Cono Lodge in PokeCuzin and they ain’t never complained about no dang lizards!”
These days any idiot can put their opinions on the internet
Anyway, we ate an early dinner in the yard by Chef Teddy just before sunset, and The Kid didn’t last much longer than that. I sat up a while that first night staring up into the clear night sky counting my blessings. Kristine had gotten through film school, and had moved to Brooklyn only blocks away. It was the first time since her Mom and I split coming up on twenty years ago that we were in the same zip code. We were spending more time together than we had since she was in middle school. I’d been in Brooklyn for almost three years, had a sane roommate, and found a wonderful spiritual community at the Zen Center of New York City, and though my writing career hadn’t taken off yet, work hadn’t sucked so bad in the previous few months. All in all, Life was good. Praise Jah.
January 15, 2011
Kristine was probably having seconds thoughts as the Negril breeze drew closer, and my Negril mania heightened. “Bug spray, you need really good bug spay!” “We need to be on the road by 4AM, I’ll get the taxi to pick me up first and we will come by your place. Don’t oversleep.”
Finally the morning came and I arrived at Kristine’s place at about 4:05AM. I was relieved to see the lights burning in her second floor apartment, and a wave through the gloaming as she heard her phone ring. In minutes we were whizzing down the Belt Parkway making JFK Terminal C in about half an hour. Checked in and drinking coffee at the gate a few minutes after 5AM, we were finally on our way.
True to form Kristine was getting to know all the people sitting near us on the plane. We managed to cheat a little realizing our seats were A and C, so when B came we just moved to two unoccupied seats behind us. I was half-expecting a hassle from the flight attendant, but this was Air Jamaica. No problem.
The flight into Kingston was uneventful, the Kid slept most of the way. My browbeating not to oversleep was handled as only one in their early twenties can. She stayed up. I relaxed and read my book. I tried to watch the “Irie Vibes” or whatever they call the in flight programming, but that didn’t last too long. I may be a ball of anxiety pre-trip, but once on the way all that stress really slips away.
My expectation of flying into Kingston was that all the Port of Entry passport crap would happen there during the layover, so once in Montego Bay just grab the bags, hop into Kenny’s Taxi, Red Stripe, spliff, and the road to Negril. But as often happens with expectations, they were dashed as we sat starving in the terminal area where the only open food outlet was Burger King.
Now I’ve spent a dozen vacations in Negril without having it my way, but we were tired and got, well, I don’t remember what we got. I do remember it hitting the spot, and about fifteen minutes before we boarded our Mobay flight Kristine wheedled a few cocktails out of the lady setting up the terminal bar. It was after all, a little past 9AM, and it was Kristine’s Birthday.
The flight to Montego Bay was breathtaking on several levels. The vast Jamaican mountains with their smoky blues and exuberant greens brought on oohs and ahhs from we on the starboard side, while the crisp Caribbean Sea captivated those on port. Punctuating the splendor, the morning sunshine heating the moist mountain air formed dramatic updrafts which offered us a staccato rhythm that bounced that huge Airbus A-320 all the way to Mobay much like the rocky Jamaican roads would do in decades past.
Upon safe arrival in Mobay (there was applause), we walked briskly to immigration and cruised right through. The same thing with customs. Nice. Right outside the door a some kid had a sign saying “Vinny” and when we walked over he handed me a cellphone. It was Kenny! “I’m stuck in a little traffic my brother, run a tab the beers are on me!” Even nicer. It was definitely time for an icy cold Red Stripe, so we made out way to the bar and ordered up four beers. Four? Yeah, we knew the first two would be empty by the time the transaction was completed. Judge as you might.
I love to people watch at the airport bar in Mobay. The hustlers sizing up their prey, people from Iowa attempting to sort through some local drama, I just take it all in. Kristine is beginning to decompress too. I just smile as she takes a long pull from the brown squat bottle. There is something magical about how those first beads of outdoor Jamaican sweat are quenched by that first Red Stripe on the back of your throat. It sneaks up on me every time.
An older guy offers us a ride but we decline. We buy him a beer, and he tells us about the depressed business climate on the North Shore. “Hey man, all the cool kids go to Negril.” I say as Kenny’s bounds into the area, “VINNNNNYYYYY!!!” I introduce him to Kris, and at once we are in his warm embrace both literally and figuratively.
We learn that Megan and Jason had booked Kenny for their ride in the following afternoon. I love to drum up business for Kenny, he has never screwed me. Ever! He’s on time, he gives a fair price, he tells a good story and, most of all, my Mom really likes him.
Kris and I feel a second wind come on as we cruise though Montego Bay proper, and on along the coast. The party had just begun!
January 10, 2011
Normally I post lots of photos with my stories in order to break the monotony of the telling, This next series of posts will be mostly sans photo since my daughter Kristine has forced me into a no pic post pledge.
This last Negril trip was one I’d been hoping to do for years. Taking the Kid to The Castle. She is always so busy getting her adult life off the ground, but on Christmas 2009 I suggested a birthday trip the following May. She was in.
The original plan was for her to bring her roommate along, I’d pay for the room and Kristine’s airfare, and all her roomy would have to handle was her flight. I spoke to Petrona at The Blue Cave Castle and tentatively booked two rooms that shared a patio. The lower tower for me and Deluxe 3 for Kris and her friend.
So many times I’d traveled to Negril alone. Everyone thought I was weird, but you’re never really alone in Negril unless you want to be. My family being amazing, loving and always willing to look past my weirdnesses, encouraged my frequent trips, and finally in 2007 I talked Dad into spending a few days in sunny Negril. I am proud to say that Dad “got it,” and through his story-telling the family maybe “got it” a little too.
For several months upon returning, Dad’s affirmative response to any question was “Ya Mon,” yeah, the apple doesn’t fall to far from the tree. But all those Ya Mon’s must have made an impression because when Dad and I began discussing a return trip in we were able to talk Mom into coming too.
I’d been to Negril many times. I’ve gone solo five times, with friends or girlfriends five times, twice with my parents, and now finally a trip with Kristine. This would be her second Negril trip. I’d sent her and a boyfriend (grrr) back in ’05 for her nineteenth birthday. Some people were a bit scandalized at the time, but I knew Negril was a friendly safe place as long as your not an asshole.
When there is a Negril trip in the offing I check airfares almost daily, I read airfare and airline related news, and I keep an eye on the Negril.com Message Board all to predict the airfare climate on or about my planned trip date. I love to get an amazing deal on airfare, though lately it hasn’t been so easy.
This trip I wanted to book in early March, but couldn’t get a solid commitment from the Kid’s roommate, so I held off. It was killing me. It was a great rate, like $289 R/T from JFK (Yeah, I know! Killing me!). A few weeks later the Kid told me her roommate had lost her job and couldn’t do the trip. I feigned disappointment and booked the next day at a decent rate of $315 each. I was glad to have Kris all to myself for the week. It would be the longest time we had ever spent together since she was a very little kid (insert ominous minor-key organ chord here).
Around this time, my friends Megan and Jay said they were planning a get away too. It all happened pretty fast, but after a few emails plans were aligned. Book, Pack and GO! The stage was set!
January 9, 2011