Filed under: Writing
I donâ€™t think Iâ€™ll be splitting my vacations between the beach and the cliffs anymore, but it begs the question, which is better? For me itâ€™s the cliffs.
I love the how the ocean becomes a peaceful void as soon as the sunset lightshow is over. The total blackness spreads out infinitely before you. All sounds fade, save the breeze playing wind chimes in a distant tree.
As you drift off, the gentle lapping of wavelets on the cliffs rock you to sleep and keep your dreams irie. An hour before sunrise they mix with your dreams to launch astral adventures as you rise through the waves into morning consciousness.
The breakfast at White Sands was excellent, if a bit expensive, but thereâ€™s always a premium at a resort. I headed down to the Surf & Talk CafÃ©, about half an hourâ€™s stroll down the beach road with my laptop over my shoulder. My plan was to blog daily from Negril and by Tuesday, five days in, Iâ€™d only posted twice.
After some communicating with the outside world I headed across the street to Selinaâ€™s for a cup of coffee and a visit. I got all caught up with whatâ€™s going on in Negril, what fellow boardies were in town, and how the school theyâ€™re building with the help of Venezuelan soldiers was going.
Later that afternoon I decided to walk north on the beach road to check out that scene. My destination was Margaritaville, I was hoping for some bikini clad co-eds, but after a half a dozen beers and another splendid sunset, I found myself on the fringes of a discussion about US trade policy vis-Ã -vis the Caribbean shipping industry. Ok maybe we did a few shots too.
Heading south on a darkened Norman Manley Boulevard, I dodged taxis till my grumbling belly made me cross the road to visit â€œBest of the West â€“ Boston Beach Style Jerk Chicken Stand.â€ I ordered a beer and a large jerk chicken platter while striking up a slightly slurred conversation with a young Jamaican woman selling a side of loving to go with my dinner. I declined her offer and headed back to White Sands for dinner and a movie in my air conditioned room.
I took a quick shower, popped a movie into my laptopâ€™s DVD player, cracked open a fresh Red Stripe and dug into the best Jerk Chicken in Negril. Itâ€™s all in the packaging. The way they use one piece of tin foil and manage to keep the rice and peas and chicken separate, all topped with that big hunk of bread infused with the essence of the whole meal in semi-gooey wonderment. Aww Yeah!
I was lost in my meal, I had a serious buzz on, I was sitting in my boxers, and I was eating with my fingers. Probably not a pretty sight, but I tell you, I was in culinary heaven! I finished the meal, belched loudly (an Irish compliment to the chef), lit a Cuban Montecristo, and enjoyed â€œShrek 2â€ for the third time as my night faded to black.
The morning found me a bit fuzzy, but full of energy since Iâ€™d slept well. Today I was supposed to meet up with a lady friend of mine, but Iâ€™d received an email a day ago telling me she decided to nix her trip at the last minute. Part of me was disappointed, part of me was relieved, and yet another part of me had been prepared to woo her with my good looks and boyish Philly charm. What can I say? Women just melt when I say â€œYo!â€ Itâ€™s a gift.
Actually when we first started corresponding I thought she was a he, sheâ€™d responded to a few of my early story posts with an androgynous handle. Somehow that got straightened out and in the next few months she encouraged me to write and we became email buddies.
It was cool, but at the same time it kinda freaked me out. She came to know me through my writing, through my unguarded openness on the page. As opposed to my general lack of smoothness around women I donâ€™t know. It was as if she was getting to know me from the inside out.
When I write I throw off the baggage I carry in my off page life, I delve into the feelings and emotions behind everyday experience. My spirituality is bared for all to see, how would she reconcile both Vinnys from Philly? Hell, sometimes even I have a hard time with it, but now she wasnâ€™t coming so all my angst was moot.
I headed to the internet place to post a few pics on the blog and tried to say nice things about White Sands. It rained like crazy while I was there, so I hung out for a while and made faces into the Webcam.
I continued my walk into town, past Selinaâ€™s, the Merrillsâ€™s, Kuyaba and Coral Seas, the heat was stirring up the humidity and suddenly town looked really far away.
I decided to stop in at the Yoga Center to say hello and see if the girls Iâ€™d met on the bus into town were around. I had a nice visit with the Yoga folks, but the girls werenâ€™t there, so I left a message and headed on down the road.
Itâ€™s amazing how fast a torrential thunderstorm can dry up in the August Jamaican sun. It had been less than an hour and downtown Negril already looked as dry as Mogadishu. The people in town seem different in slow season, the sellers are a bit more earnest, the panhandlers more aggressive, the shop keepers seemed curt, and smiles didnâ€™t come as easy. Maybe it was the heat, but I felt stress in the air, it seemed out of place here.
I hit the ATM for ten thousand Jamaican dollars and felt a pang of guilt. Getting a glimpse of just how close these people are to real hardship and just how far I am from it. So much of the money made here leaves here. Itâ€™s a shame really, though at the same time the relative cheapness of the place is a factor in my choosing to come here time and time again.
As I crossed the bridge over the South Negril River a car with the security guy from the Yoga Center hanging out the window approached me. â€œPhilly Mon! Philly Mon!!â€ he shouted as the car came closer, and there in the back of the car was Vivian, her friend and the little girl. Vivian seemed quite animated.
January 13, 2006
Next it was off to the beach, more sexy Europeans and more male butt floss. There should be standards of weight and body hair that must be met before being sent a Speedo catalog.
Continue January 5, 2006
I had on a decent beer buzz walking in through the castle gates. It was still raining so the security guy took me right up to my room.
I couldnâ€™t help feeling disorientated as I was hustled through lopsided porticos and winding stairways of this grand castle by the sea. I tried to get a sense of the place but only caught it in glimpses.
I stumbled though my doorway bags in tow, and I startled Claudia the housekeeper who was busy sweeping water out of my mildly flooded room. She must have opened all the windows to air out the room and was caught off guard by the severity todayâ€™s storm. I guess the place was built primarily to look cool, and it seems some tenets of proper architecture were overlooked.
I plopped on the big comfy bed and told Claudia not to worry about the floor. “Iâ€™m not one of those guests.” I said with eyes closed.
She smiled in that Jamaican way, lighting up the room as she pulled the incongruent doors closed. Jamaican women are so beautiful.
I donâ€™t know how long I slept, but it was still daylight, and from the seaward window I calculated about two hours to sunset. The floor was still a bit damp, but the clouds were gone and the sun had baked everything dry.
The nap did the trick though, my energy level was back and I cranked up IRIE FM. I danced around like a white boy as I unpacked, then I took a cool shower to wash off the residual travel goop.
Showered and cool, I dressed, and headed outside to check out the Blue Cave Castle. The bright sunlight on the white castle, highlighted in blues and yellows made me to spin around to get it all in. The place was so damn cool, like a majestic fortress from a distance, but close up itâ€™s more like a Dr. Seuss book or a Disney exhibit.
I headed out through the gates and took a walk to a little market maybe a quarter mile towards town. The road was hot and dusty, my inherent laziness almost had me hop a cab, but I pressed on, chatting with locals and merchants along the way.
I enjoy this aspect of travel to my little paradise. I read trip reports of people who just donâ€™t get it, a mix of gullibility and probably something worse. It’s almost like it gives them a sense of satisfaction to join the small but vocal chorus of people who perpetuate negative Negril rumors.
I picked up water, beer and some other goodies, bananas, mangos and the like. I had to settle for a pack of ginger snaps, they didnâ€™t have Jackass crackers, damn! On the way back I whimped out and hopped a cab for a mildly overpriced $100J trip to the castle.
I must have guzzled half a gallon of water in the few seconds after I got back to my room, you could never keep hydrated in the August heat by drinking only beer and Ting.
I fired up my spliff and marveled how cool the eighteen inch stone walls kept my little round room, in a few minutes I was marveling how cool everything seemed in my little round head.
The sun was in its last fifteen minutes, as it dropped towards the horizon I walked out to the yard. I met Petrona the hotel manager, we chatted for a while when she asked me if I was â€œVinny from Philly.â€ I was taken aback! No one ever referred to me as that in person. She thought it was pretty funny.
Iâ€™d given myself the moniker for the Negril.com message board a few years back, and I guess I upped the ante when I started my website and began posting my stories and editorials. Iâ€™m not sure if I liked it though, is my anonymity forever compromised? Does it matter, or am I being over-dramatic? Over-dramatic? Me?
Leaning at the garden wall staring out at the cloudy sunset, I couldnâ€™t help but fantasize I was Black Beard himself. Thatâ€™s the magic of this place, it may sound strange, even childish, but any guy whoâ€™s stood at this place and didnâ€™t picture himself in a long double breasted jacked with gold brocades and a tri-cornered hat (parrot optional), well he really missed a great opportunity.
I was just pissed Petrona had wandered off and no one was there to ask me a question so I could answer, â€œAye Matie!â€
Argh! And a mighty fine sunset, it was! I say, I say.
November 28, 2005
Van Gogh is gone. Iâ€™m on another train. I love the rhythmic rolling of the springs on uneven rail. As a kid Iâ€™d lay on the tracks, their parallels touching, an infinite smoothness before me. So smooth, why do trains rock so? It soothes me, though thereâ€™s a part of me that doesnâ€™t understand it.
Such a curious conveyance, a rush hour crowd of seasoned straphangers mime away the trip, some stand, some sit, by two, by three. Shiny shoes, expensive suits and extended accounts. I lean like a scolioid serpent giving my neighbor room without leaning too far into the aisle space.
A girl across from me, bobbed blonde hair a sweet seriousness on her furrowed brow, notices an older man standing. She offers her seat seeming embarrassed to be sitting. Sheâ€™d gotten there early enough to have a seat, her long dangly jade earrings jangle at the collar of her irregular striped shirt of limes and greens. I look over nonchalantly, sheâ€™s writing too.
The older man did not take her seat. She was beautiful in her selflessness. To no one in particular he asked, “Do I look that old?”
Everyone within earshot laughed; to me he didnâ€™t look very old at all. My first thought had been that she was being excessive.
â€œIâ€™m sixty-nine years oldâ€ he stated meaning only.
Damn, he did look good for his age, bravo old standing guy!
NJ Transit trains have such warmth about them. The faux leather seats and the faux oak paneling made sense to someone once. They rile up sweet memories of holiday parade trips with my sisters and the Nolans just old enough to travel un-chaperoned. We struck out timidly fearless with the wild imagination of adolescence into a pre-Rudy New York City. Next it was Grateful Dead shows and CBGB’s adventures blurring years between.
My best memories of NYC train trips are with Kristine when she was six or seven, watching her eyes widen and her mind open, grasping the bigness of the world. Thereâ€™s a great picture of her on my brother Michaelâ€™s shoulders standing under the Broadway street sign at Times Square her arms outstretched and yelling, â€œIâ€™ll be backâ€.
Sheâ€™s working on it.
November 4, 2005
Once I get to the Laundromat I carry one basket in and check out the situation, itâ€™s 7:30AM on a Sunday and the entire line of single load machines are empty, oh yes, this will be a good day!
Continue October 9, 2005
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 –
August 27, 2005
I’ve been looking forward to Saturday all week. I was going to hit the city (Philadelphia of course) to find a quiet, inspiring place to sit and write all day long.
I plan to do this all the time, but invariably something comes up. This day was no different. Yesterday a close friend of the family passed away and I knew I needed to carve out some “me time” to sort out thoughts, memories and feelings. I knew I’d write about it but I wasn’t sure in what form. Is it disrespectful to blog about a death? I thought about it and realized that it would be disrespectful not to.
Friday night I got in from work around 9PM. All the way home I planned out my Saturday, up by 7, breakfast by 7:30, haircut at 8, and catch the 8:32 train into Philly. I was asleep before the first episode of 24 (on DVD) was over. Don’t cha just love that Jack Bauer?
I dreamt I was a CTU agent keeping the homeland safe with my pal Jack Bauer, when all of the sudden we were in a sewage plant, then a pet store, thenâ€¦ I woke up!
It seems while I was snoozing “Rosie The Cat” got into my plate of Buffalo Wings and now she was doing the Butthole Slide on my living room carpet!
How could this much shit be in such a little cat? It was everywhere!
At first I was furious and started yelling at her, but she just looked at me like “Screw You, my asshole is on fire!!”
Knowing it was useless to berate my cat I got the cleaning stuff and went to work. Looking at the clock it was only 6:30 so I still had a chance to enjoy my day.
After a shower and a shave I headed off for breakfast. I sat at the counter of the diner a short walk from my house and also the train station. Usually my coffee stays full, my food is hot, the service is quick and friendly, and my tip is 40%. Probably because I was in a hurry, or maybe the hotty little waitress didn’t get the news that I’m El Tipper Grande, but she did the best to foil my plans.
First I sat at the counter while “Muffy” concluded a rather sordid tale of last night’s escapade. When she finally took my order she poured my coffee and disappeared. Tick, tick, tick, I could feel my day slipping away. Then after a good twenty minutes, my favorite waitress Danielle brought me my breakfast and apologized for Muffy’s incompetence.
I happily ate my meal. I’m not a complainer, after spending twenty years in restaurants I feel their pain, but I did only leave a 15% tip. Danielle usually gets 50%, not because she’s a gorgeous blonde, but because she’s a hard worker with smartass attitude. She kind of reminds me of my daughter Kris.
Now it’s almost 8 o’clock. No time to get home and get to the barber before my train leaves, but as I turned towards the train station I see the 55 Bus coming my way. Somehow I did the math and before I knew it I was paying my $2.00 fare and heading towards the barber shop which was close to the next train stop. I just might make it.
Pulling at the barbershop door, I see it’s locked! Can anything else get in my way today? Just then the familiar bald head of my Russian barber came into view and he unlocked the door. Yeah, I go to a bald barber. Even worse, his partner has a mullet! That was on my mind since I had been growing my hair in recent months, and with the impending wake and funeral, I thought I needed to shape it up. Fifteen minutes and fifteen bucks later, mullet averted, I hurried to the train station.
It was 8:35, either I’d missed the train or it was late, but I wasn’t the only person waiting so I asked an older couple when the train was coming.
“8:50 Mullet Boy.” OK, she didn’t really call me “Mullet Boy” but I was self conscious about my new doo.
I was in Philly by 9:30. And it started raining. At first I was worried, but it was just a sun shower, a light drizzle to get some of the humidity out of the ninety degree air. I ducked into the Independence Hall Visitor’s Center. In a few minutes the rain stopped and I headed off to South Street, a great place to people watch.
It was HOT and it was still so early. By the time I got to 2nd and South, I was drenched in sweat, so I went into the Cosi in Headhouse Square for some A/C and a cold drink. Since the entire Headhouse Square District is WIFI enabled I was able to fire up my computer, sit in the corner near the window and begin writing my personal eulogy for Joe Nolan.
After about an hour I noticed I was getting dirty looks from the staff and decided to take a walk on South Street and eventually end up at the Starbucks at 5th and South. It was even hotter now, but the wind kept the air moving as I checked out all the cool little shops. My day was looking up.
About noon I hit Starbucks, bought a big cold drink and went up to the empty second floor dining room and got a seat near the window where I could feel the sun see the people walking about. At first I hated the Starbucks on South Street, within a year of it opening the several other coffee shops on the strip closed and when you add that to the Gap and the Mickey D’s I feel the character of the place may be changing from a funky bohemian enclave to just another outdoor mall.
Sitting in my space, a burst of creativity came over me and I spent the afternoon dumping my thoughts and memories onto my blog. From where I sat it was a sunny and air conditioned day and it couldn’t have been better. All the tourists and wannabe suburban freaks paraded by adding a bit of color, and eves dropping on the conversations of the folks coming and going added some humor.
I got the 5:10 train back home. It was beginning to drizzle again as the train made its way north. Walking from the station I felt great, I felt like I accomplished something. It was hot and the misty drizzle cooled me off. As I neared York Road, the sky completely opened up. Within a minute the street was like a river and I was hiding under the eve of a small storefront.
Crossing the street I got completely soaked! So after a few minutes I decided to just walk the few hundred yards home in the massive thunderstorm. I knew my computer bag was waterproof do off I went. As soon as I got in the rain I felt great, like a kid walking, well, in a rain storm.
Rosie The Cat looked at me like I was crazy as I stripped off the soaking wet clothes in my tub and took a shower.
I guess a good day can have a bad start.
July 23, 2005
Saturday morning’s calm was punctured by Mark calling to a fisherman a few hundred yards off the cliff.
“Poglai?” He shouted, hose in hand.
“Ya Mon” Replied the fisherman.
Mark called Alex over and had him cut a deal with the fisherman for about 3 pounds of Poglai (It may have been Toglai).
Mark told us this tasty reef fish is only available in the fall and is a local delicacy! Your average Poglai/Toglai is about nine inches long and quite meaty. Ann Marie cooked them while we were out gallivanting and they were sitting in our refrigerator when we returned.
As with most fish in Negril they were cooked whole and looked like they were pan fried with some kind of spices. I don’t know how they tasted hot, but cold they were a real treat! As soon as we were done we sought out Mark and Ann Marie to thank them.
Hanging out this week at Banana Shout with Mark, Ann Marie and the rest of the crew added innumerable insights to Jamaica, Jamaican life, and the expatriate experience.
If I ever write a book of my travels it will be called “An American Expatriate in Negril A Week at a Time.” That’s the flavor of my experiences in Negril, an expatriate for a week. I try to drop into the Jamaican lifestyle as fast as possible and roll with it for the entire trip. I so envy friends who go native for extended periods, the freedom must be amazing!
Usually the worst time in Jamaica is the few moments you let yourself dwell on the impending trip back to the “so called” real world. To put that off for a month or more, wow! Now that’s a trip I am definately going to take! Someday.
On Sunday the boys went to town. We were going to get some breakfast, do our souvenir shopping and see where the day would take us.
Clive picked us up around 10AM and we headed to Selina’s for breakfast and the Sunday Brunch Webcast. It was Nick’s first time to the Selina’s for a webcast, but he realized he’d been to Selina’s before.
The joint was jumpin’! Cowboy and Dave were doing their thing while we stuffed ourselves with Big Roy’s Banana Pancakes. I ordered a few pounds of coffee and we hung around for about an hour meeting and greeting fellow boardies.
We made our way down the strip towards the Craft Market, meeting many disappointed higglers who found us full of ganja and heading out of town tomorrow. It was early afternoon by the time we got to the Craft Market and there were thunderclouds threatening.
The Craft Market had not bounced back from Ivan yet, more than half the shops were closed and almost all of the apparel had been soaked by the hurricane and had a sickly yellow tinge to them. Most of the carvings were the imported and painted crap first timers buy.
Several times the sellers frustrations of not selling, met our annoyance of being sold at! It was as stressful a time as I’ve ever had in Negril, and the now driving rain didn’t help much!
We knew exactly what we wanted, I resigned myself to getting my nieces and nephews t-shirts at the airport, but I was looking for a unique carving for my daughter and Nick was loosing faith that his week long search for a unique mushroom carving would be in vain.
Finally we met a guy who said he was the “Maker.” Unfortunately, though he was the maker, which was good, his stuff was not to our liking, which was bad. I bought a coral necklace from him anyway, for effort.
But this gave us the idea of asking for the “Maker!” Jah bless them, Jamaicans can twist, back pedal and obfuscate with the best of them, but they can’t lie very well when asked a direct question.
Finally we found one “Maker” who had just what I wanted for Kristine, my spirits soared! One down!
There was a guy that had been following us, pleading for us to come and look at his stuff, “Are you the “Maker?” we asked.
His reply hooked us. He said that if we didn’t like what we saw he would make us anything we wanted. That got Nick’s attention. We went into his small shop which was more workshop than storefront. We looked around and his stuff was cool, but all too big and no Magic Mushrooms carvings.
He asked Nick to describe in detail what he wanted. So, with his hands he sculpted the air into his ideal shape. “The Maker” pulled out a raw piece of mahogany about six inches square and twelve inches long. Nick took the piece of lumber and held it as “The Maker” explained exactly how he would free the mushroom carving trapped in the wooden block. Nick was sold!
Then the haggling began. Nick had planned on spending $30 to $40US for the carving, but “The Maker” started at $80. After several feigned walk outs the price was $40 now and $10 more on delivery. “The Maker” asked where we were staying and said he would drop it off at Banana Shout at 7PM.
Walking up to the corner in the now light drizzle of rain to wait for Clive, I told Nick, “You know you just lost forty bucks.”
Nick was philosophical, “Well at least I’ll have a story of how I “didn’t” get my mushroom carving!”
Standing at the corner waiting for Clive, every cab driver in Negril tried to get us to ride with him. At first it was funny, then annoying, and they just kept coming. I wish we would have counted. There were at least twenty five, if not thirty, no kidding!
Soon Clive appeared and we were back at “The Shout” in minutes.
After some herbal relaxation and showers we each took a late afternoon nap. I woke up and it was dark, Shit! I missed my last sunset!
“Last night dinner, you call it!” I shouted to Nick from downstairs where I was still half sleeping.
“3 Dives, Shit Butt!!” He eloquently replied.
As we were enjoying our pre 3 Dives hunger enhancing spliff, Alex came to our door saying some guy had been outside for an over an hour saying that he had something for us. Puzzled we walked out to the street behind Alex, and to both Nick and my astonishment “The Maker” was standing there holding a bag, beaming with pride.
He pulled his Fungi Masterpiece out of the bag and it was exactly what Nick had been describing to Negril’s crafty crowd all week! Nick gave him $20US, ten more than they’d agreed on and triumphantly marched it back to our house. He hid it in his stuff and off to 3 Dives we went!
This was my third 3 Dives dinner in ten days and it was delicious as always, it was dark and as crowded as we’d seen it all week. I guess some of the all inclusive folks were feeling daring!
We stayed up late that night smoking, reminiscing and writing in our respective journals. It was actually light when I got up.
A family of ants had found their way into my bag of sugar and I did my best to not add any to my morning coffee, but I’m sure I got a little extra protein.
I sat out on the porch of Seaside one with my coffee and stared off to the horizon, lost in my thoughts. Just then one of the cement mixing guys came up to the porch with a new looking gym bag.
He told me earlier in the week, he was a jewelry maker and planned to move to Negril and make his fortune. I told him to come by before we left and I’d be his first customer. He’d actually spent a few breaks this past week telling us of his plans, so I was happy he came back.
He opened his bag and there were a huge assortment of beautiful necklaces and bracelets. I needed a few birthday gifts so I picked three necklaces and asked how much. He was so excited to sell me something his haggling skills weren’t very sharp.
He told me each necklace was $10US, but when I offered him $10 for all three, he not only took it, but gave me another one! Then he thanked me, hugged me goodbye and gave me a woven friendship bracelet that I tied to my ankle (its still there).
Nick and I walked down to Sips and Bites for our fifth or sixth breakfast of the week. The place is awesome, as the week went on the portions grew, the bill shrank, and the tips more than doubled.
As we walked back to “The Shout” we knew it was time to say goodbye to our friends. We shook hands with Mark and Alex. Then we each hugged and got pictures with Ann Marie. All too soon Gary was there and we packed out bags into his car.
A sadness came over me that I’d never known when leaving Negril. This trip was more than just a week of partying. I’d met some really great people, and I had some truly unique experiences.
I promised myself that I would share these experiences, take the writings from my private journals and put them out there to see what happens.
Moving forward, I’d live a little free-er, take more chances, open my heart and share my art.
As Banana Shout disappeared around a corner, I knew that I’d finally found a place in Negril I will definitely come back to.
Thank’s for reading!
July 16, 2005
The second story bedroom in Seaside One at Banana Shout is amazing for sleeping, Nick and I got to calling it “The Bamboo Lung.” Screened windows all around with wooden slats similar to those crank operated glass slat windows your grandmother had on her porch. This type of window is very common in Negril at least in the non-air conditioned part of town. Up here the slats were fixed three-quarters open, perfect for privacy and air flow while keeping the sunlight at bay. Add to this a very efficient ceiling fan, and even in the heat of the October afternoon, this room is a cool retreat.
It was Friday morning, early morning, I don’t know what time. I lay in my bed staring at the ceiling fan cutting the humid pre-dawn air, I was wide awake and I feeling great! Two and a half days of being sick were definitely in the rear view, and I felt all that Negril energy popping, calling me to begin my day. I couldn’t lay still any longer.
I stood in “The Bamboo Lung” looking out to the ocean, I was so happy to be back to normal that I decided not to waste a minute of my last three days in paradise. I quietly walked out onto the veranda. I looked at the hammock and then out to sea. I had a strong feeling that I needed to be out there. I tiptoed across the room and down the stairs. As I moved the feeling grew, some force was drawing me to the sleepy coral cliffs, I walked past the coffee maker, grabbed a half smoked spliff from the ash tray and before I knew it I was standing with my toes just inches from the cliff’s edge.
There was no moon this morning, the sky was crystal clear and a zillion stars peeked thru the firmament to greet me. The pitch black ocean was non-existent visually, yet I could feel its life force everywhere at once. Its gentle breeze flowed around and through me, energizing me as I stood at the precipice, lost in time and space, eyes open, fully aware, mind quiet.
I have no idea how long that moment lasted, just that like all such moments, not long enough, but probably just long enough. I walked down closer to the waters edge, either my eyes or my mind had focused to the situation, because I could see every detail of the limestone steps and below me and the coral cliff beside me. I sat on a tiny out cropping in the cliff with my feet resting in the water. I began to time my deep breaths with the rhythmic splashes of the tiny waves at my feet and again was lost in the quiet search for the center of things.
Part of me could see a fisherman about a hundred yards off shore, quietly checking his traps. Mark was stirring, I could hear the hose way off in the distance. The street was coming alive then finally the cock began to crow, morning was here for the rest of Negril, but for a few precious moments I had it all to myself. As I walked back to fire up the coffee pot I realized the half-smoked spliff was still in my pocket.
A cool shower and half a cup of coffee later Nick came trundling down the stairs immediately knowing I was back to normal.
“Weclome Back,” he said as he fumbled for a coffee mug.
“Thanks Man, I feel great!” And I did.
“What time is it, I’m starving!”
“Not sure exactly, but the sun is just coming up which means it’s five or five thirty-ish”
“Which means three hours-ish till Sips & Bites, didn’t you buy eggs?”
“Yeah and bread too, make some breakfast!” I said, all of the sudden feeling hungry.
“Two Mushroom Omelets, coming right up!!” Nick seemed wide awake as he flashed an evil grin and a baggie of mushrooms!
Sometime around mid morning, with our bellies and our heads full, and giggling like drunken girl scouts, we set out to find out where West End Road turned into Lighthouse road.
It was nice walking weather, not as oppressively hot as it had been all week and soon we were at the Negril Lighthouse. It’s funny, from Banana Shout it seems like it’s around the next bend, but it’s probably a good half a mile. Looking up at the impressive structure, I realized I had never visited it before nor did I know much about it. Generally I’m a wealth of worthless knowledge, but the Negril Lighthouse file was all but empty. I approached excitedly, hoping to fill this knowledge void, but alas it was closed due to Ivan damage. A big pile of stones blocked the entrance while a few mean looking and well armed guards gave us the hairy eyeball.
Part of me wanted to keep going and check-out “The Westender Inn” and on to Negril’s south shore, but the out of shape part of me won out so we headed back towards “The Shout.”
As we headed up the barely paved road, we began to hear music blaring from somewhere. The music added rhythm to our trudges the closer we got it became obvious that it was coming from a Jamaican guy rocking out with some kind of Karaoke machine. As we got closer I began to figure out the lyric.
“Hey boys come-a-over-ere
Da Paarty is whatcha gettin’ neer
Don’t cha just a be a-walk-a by
Da music would make ya wanna fly”
and on and on.
“Hey Fellas whatcha name” the man shouted with the aid of his loudspeakers.
“Nick” replied Nick.
Then booming across the yard, “Nick Nick Nick Nicky NicK
Rexy’s place will do da trick
Anyting yar lookin far, I and I show you da door”
and on and on.
Well with an invitation like that we had to make an adjustment to our plans and check this guy out.
We walked across the yard to a pavilion of sorts with the name Sexy Rexy’s painted in faded letters across the front. The place was pretty sparse, a few picnic tables and a makeshift bar in the back. A youngish man offered us Red Stripes and Ting, we got one of each.
From the time we turned from the street into the yard known as Sexy Rexy’s the older man who enticed us in with his rasta flavored rapping, had been singing a song with uninteliglble words, but with all the gusto he could muster. We sat at a bench and rexlaxed out of the heat and enjoyed the entertainment such as it was. Soon the song was done and he enthusiastically came over and introduced himself.
“I am Sexy Rexy” he proudly stated with a big smile, and as we introduced ourselves I remembered hearing of this guy though I didn’t know any details.
I’m not sure how to describe Sexy Rexy, saying he was a character would be a gross understatement. We found ourselves spellbound within the world of his stories. He spoke in length about Ivan, by figuratively walking us down Lighthouse Road, colorfully describing the damage and the current state of every property from Jackie’s on the Reef to The Yacht Club.
When he found out we were at Banana Shout, he told us of he and Mark’s decades long friendship in story form, telling tales of Negril’s past from the Jamaican vantage point. We could have stayed all day, but the pangs of hunger and the need for a ganja refill said it was time to go.
Sexy Rexy went back to his music and set out to lure in a preppy looking couple coming up the road. As we passed them they asked what was over at Rexy’s and I replied, “Jamaica.” An adventurous smile grew on the cute older woman’s face and dragged hubby towards Rexy.
As we walked away I heard Sexy Rexy say over the loud speaker, ‘Hey sista whatcha name”
After a spliff or three and an afternoon nap, the sun grew heavy in the sky. I remembered it was Friday night, so I hopped in the shower, shaved, poofied my hair and put on my loudest Hawaiian shirt. We’re going to 3 Dives!!
3 Dives is about the best restaurant in the world, great food, great people, cold beer, and a sunset that defies description. No one was diving tonight, the webcast was rolling and we just took our time and hung out with strangers who were now friends.
July 8, 2005
“The Biggest Human Event in Planetary History!” A headline blared from some mega media website. A bit heavy handed don’t you think? Well, I was there, and I wasn’t in some cordoned off media area with air conditioning and adult beverages. No not me, your intrepid reporter was in the thick of it, squashed between stinky biker types, soccer moms and half naked teenagers. What I don’t do for you, dear reader!
The adventure began with a walk to the train depot near my house. There were about twenty very young, very hip looking people waiting impatiently for the 7:51 SEPTA R2. A few High School aged girls were flitting about unable to mask their excitement, while the ultra-hip nose ring and Doc Martin crowd looked on disdainfully. I guess I fell somewhere in between, as my tie-dye shirt, canvas shorts and sandals identified me as one of the faithful.
Going to events in Philly via public transportation is usually an adventure and this trip did not disappoint. Packed well beyond capacity with bleary eye-ed Live8ers, the train rolled and rocked its way towards Philadelphia and the big event. Industro-techno music from an unseen boom box filled the crowded car, keeping heads bopping, feet tapping, and really pissing off the conductor who was unable to control the situation. Other than feeling a little weird being the oldest person on the train, the trip was far-out! I mean cool. The cat’s pajamas?
Back in the spring I’d heard there was going to be a Live-Aid 2, and I barely took notice except to reminisce about that long, hot, and very wasted day at the old JFK Stadium when I was a kid.
As the hype grew so did my desire to be a part of history, again. Really it was more like a “wouldn’t that be cool ifâ€¦” kind of thought, but as the big day drew nearer my resolve grew stronger and at 8AM Saturday July 2nd I was on my way!
It was Live 8 this time, not Live Aid, and this time we’re not fighting hunger, but tackling third world debt and trade injustice. I guess I’m not the only one who’s grown up in the last twenty years.
Walking up the stairs from Suburban Station in Center City Philadelphia, I was amazed how crowded the city was at 8:30 on a Saturday morning. I could see thousands of people streaming from everywhere up Broad Street toward Ben Franklin Parkway. What a sight to see!
Finally, I got to the place where I was supposed to meet my friends, but they were nowhere to be found, so after a few minutes I decided to check out the infrastructure for today’s event which was pretty impressive.
The Benjamin Franklin Parkway is about a quarter mile long from Love Park to the Art Museum, you know, the one with all the stairs Rocky likes to run around on?
At several points along the tree-lined Parkway there were huge television monitors with speaker clusters, they seemed so far from the stage, and were right in the middle of the street. How many people are they really expecting?
I counted four very large, well staffed EMS tents with huge pallets of ice and bottled water to keep the thousands hydrated, and even at 8:30AM the police presence was heavy and everywhere.
Parked at 20th and 22nd Streets North and South were big red fire trucks with giant spray arms ready to cool the crowd. I didn’t think the crowd would actually get this far back. There was no view of the stage. Little did I know that in a few hours 22nd street was only going to be mid-crowd.
Lining the entire length of the Parkway were food vendors of every stripe, well almost every stripe, hundreds of them! There was your regular outdoor event fare, Hot Dogs, Cheesy Fries, and Water Ice. There was also Greek, Chinese, Organic, Vegetarian, and even a Falafel stand, but no Jamaican food! What a disgrace!
My gastronomical disappointment was short lived, I was standing just a hundred yards from the stage when The Fresh Prince himself came out and the place went nuts! He spoke of the reason for Live 8, how we were all here so the members of the G8 would take notice of poverty in the third world, especially Africa. I was impressed with my fellow revelers, because they cheered like crazy and we all joined people around the world in raising our hands in the air in an act of unity.
Normally, being a sophisticated slightly jaded ex-deadhead, I would poo-poo this act of unity by the ipod generation, but I was caught up in the moment as the Black Eyed Peas took the stage and found myself jumping and cheering with the crowd.
Then as if by magic, the familiar bass riff of Bob Marley’s “Get-Up, Stand-Up” shook through the crowd and then Rita and Stephen Marley took the stage and broke into the lyrics! Was this really happening? Woo Hoo! What a moment! The sheer power and integrity of the Marley’s created an irie explosion that blew from the stage into the crowd as we all moved as one.
Then it was my ol’ pal Bon Jovi, his familiar “Livin’ on a Prayer” is a Philly classic. Although eighty percent of the crowd wasn’t born when the New Jersey album came out, (hell it was actually an album, vinyl, an LP!) their moms and dads kept the song a staple in classic rock radio.
The day was getting hot and my friends and I decided to move back from intensity of a “Stage View” position. I didn’t really have much need to hear the canned music of Destiny’s Child, but the slappin’ bass line turned us around and I have to admit, Beyonce’s “Survivor” rocked! Something about her voice that cut through everything and made white people jump up and down saying things like “You Go Girl!!” I sometimes feel the need to apologize for my race.
For the next few hours we listened to the music, but spent most of our time people watching. They were all here, though most of the crowd was between fifteen and twenty five there were thousands of kids, this was definitely as family friendly affair. No bad behavior, no obvious booze consumption and all day, ALL DAY, I didn’t get one, NOT ONE whiff of sweet ganja smoke. There were also a large cadre of hippies, and hillbillies, radical old ladies and a smattering of outlaw bikers.
Walking thru the crowd is always a lot of fun, I found one guy who had crowd walking down, he was about 6’3″ very hairy, very sweaty and had his arms over his head, it was like he was a big smelly Moses as the crowd seemed to part before him. What I found sorely lacking were the angry young men and lesbian activists, they were there, but kind of quiet and marginalized, so they didn’t add the flavor I count on them for at these large events.
I dialed back in when Toby Keith was singing some song about “Whiskey for my men, and beer for my horses,” you gotta love dem backward ass country folk.
Next up was Dave, the Dave Matthew’s Band, a big time favorite of mine! The sound was great for an open air concert and I tried to get closer for a better view of Dave, but I only got as far as the 22nd Street North fire truck sprinkler set-up. Dave-shmave, now this was quite a sight! A few hundred folks were frolicking in the cool falling water, like a giant wet t-shirt contest. Of course I watched only for editorial reasons, just to relay the event properly.
This is where I noticed the first of another interesting activity many teenage girls were involved in. They would walk up to a bootleg t-shirt seller, ask for his ID, and when she felt she proved he wasn’t legit, she’d start in on the guy. She would scream, “You fucking dirtbag!! You’re stealing from starving babies!! What the Fuck is wrong with you!! Don’t you have a fucking soul???????? Etc. . .” While her friends who were spaced twenty yards apart all screaming for the police and pointing in the direction of their friend and often the fleeing seller.
It was a pretty funny site these big tough looking guys with a five foot nothing sixteen year old girl just wailing on them. Most just walked away, some argued back and a few ran. Good work girls! Linkin Park was the perfect soundtrack for this, starting sweet and then rocking out!
I found a place under a tree and took some notes as Sara McLanahan’s beautiful voice mixed with the cool breeze and cooled off a million people bringing them to a mellower place. I’d hear Sara before, my daughter likes her a lot, but this was the first time I ever listened to her. Wow, just enchanting.
By the time Stevie Wonder came on I was all the way back to Love Park singing the dozenth “we hate capitalism” type petition of one kind or another. This added to my pile of fliers from NORML, Act-Up, The Lesbian and Gay Task Force, and even the Church of Scientology, though I didn’t see Tom and Katie anywhere.
The mass exodus to busses, trains and parking lots slowed to a crawl as more and more people turned to take in Stevie Wonder’s performance. Dressed in white at his piano, with a full band and choir also dressed in white, “Superstition” was bouncing off the granite museum walls, like a giant surround stereo. Even the cops and vendors stopped and bobbed their heads paying homage to the legendary performer.
Getting out of town was insane, every road was choked with traffic and the over taxed and under prepared regional rail service was rife for one of those human stampedes. It was a hundred degrees in the station, the air was thick stinky, people had that look in their eyes where panic was only an inciting incident away. I got out of there.
I walked a few blocks to Girard and Broad, got on the very crowded but tolerable Broad Street Subway up to Olney Transportation Center and waited for the 55 bus to take me home. While I waited I got a few patties and a few Tings at the Golden Crust Bakery and Grill and pondered the enormity of the situation I’d just left.
July 3, 2005
I don’t remember telling him to hurry, but our driver was a lead foot. The signs whooshed by, as the setting sun threw a bright copper light on their faces. I know I was in a goat induced stupor, but it was beautiful.
Every time I ride thru Negril I try to place my location on the map in my head, as if tracking myself on an imaginary GPS. I feel the need to play this Jamaican geography game because of all the maps in the bibliography of Negril, there isn’t one drawn to scale!
I’m a map guy! Ever since I was a kid it was my job to read the map, to be the co-pilot. On my family’s now legendary vacations, my Dad would give me the map and it would be my job to keep us on track. Of course this made me feel very important, hell I was 8, and without my deft map reading skills, Jah knows where the hell we would have ended up. I scheduled rest stops, I calculated miles till our tank needed filling, and I drove my sisters nuts with trivial map trivia. Looking back I realize that I’d been had! We were going to Florida for god’s sake, there’s only one damned road! Though back then it did change names a few times along the way. Even so, I’m still a map guy.
Soon my mental map told me we’d made it to Tedd’s Shroom Boom. Walking into the yard we were greeted professionally by Garland’s son (I wish I knew his name). The young man was growing up, I spared him the “you’re getting so big” line, though I remembered fondly the day he and my former girlfriend played with his dog in the yard behind the cottage.
Garland, on the other hand, never changes. He greeted us with smiles and handshakes. We took seats on the porch till as he boiled water and brewed his world famous tea. The three of us made mushroommy small talk as the sun set and a warm darkness came over the yard.
You’re never ready for mushroom tea. At least I’m not, I’ve had it a dozen times and every time I’m shocked, appalled and horrified by the overwhelmingly bad taste. I don’t want Garland to think me ungrateful or critical. I’m sure he makes it as delicious as anything that grows in shit can be! Ooh, I get a full body shiver just thinking about it!
It may be the time of year, it may have been Ivan, but the shroomage was milder than my last few visits, and I was very cool with that. After the goat-citement all day, I wasn’t up for anything more than a mild mind expansion.
Back at “The Shout” we mostly chilled for the night. The tea, mixed with Nick’s spliffs, served to keep the talk mellow and the vibes irie.
We spent a lot of time with Mark that night, by this time I’d been hanging out with him for four days, and today there was a change. After the unimaginable stress of watching your life’s work get washed away on the Weather Channel, then the horror of coming “home” to Negril and seeing your worst fears brought to life (this is the part I think is so cool) instead of crying over spilt Red Stripe, Mark took action. He got the rebuild going and on track immediately, more a renewal really.
We arrived only three weeks later and well more than half the heavy lifting was done. For Mark Goat-Day was a milestone, the re-dedication of his “salty piece of land” and the simultaneous defiance and acquiescence to the gods. “I’m staying!! But yeah, I get your point!”
The locals seemed also to be philosophical about all the devastation and loss. I love this about the Jamaican people, maybe it’s because they live so much closer to nature than we do in the states that they understand the give and take on a very deep level. Living in concrete America nature is something we manage, something that occasionally gets in our way. We have snow tires and raincoats, sun block and galoshes. The Jamaicans don’t see the enmity between them and nature, they’re in nature, they are nature. We think of nature of something you see on Animal Planet, a good reason for weekend camping trips to the Poconos (of course the RV has a microwave and cable TV). There are so many things about the life they lead that gives me pause. This is the overriding everything for me. They get it. We’ve lost it.
Is that why so many of us come back to Negril year after year? We tell our friends we need to escape from reality for a week, when really we are escaping to reality.
Don’t get me wrong Jamaicans are in no means a society of monks living in an enlightened state, humming in orange robes. It’s not like that, hell for that matter, I bet a Buddhist monastery isn’t like that either. I guess it’s easier to look at a picture, read an article and make distinctions the last for a lifetime than to get out and see the world!
The next morning I woke before dawn, tiptoeing thru the kitchen area to make coffee, I heard voices on the yard. It was Mark and Nick discussing Negril things as Mark did his morning water ritual.
After a phattie the size of a baby’s arm, Nick and I wandered onto the street and set out to meet our neighbors. Over and over, people we met seemed surprised that we didn’t bail for the week.
We met Sampson, a local tough who told us he runs this area, and if we need anything we should go see him. At first he sounded pretty convincing till we met another guy a hundred yards closer to town who told us the same thing.
A bit farther down the road we met a guy names Robert. Robert was a carver, and he was rebuilding his roadside stand. As we approached he looked up and noticed us approaching, “Hey Mon! Where dat pretty young girl a yours!”
Great line, I thought, first it denoted familiarization, and second it propped up the machismo with the pretty young girl thing. Good job Robert!
Robert was a tall handsome Jamaican man with a few pickneys milling about. Want made him most impressive was that he really did recognize Nick, and was actually referring to a former Negril trip companion.
Nick and Robert greeted eachother like long lost friends, then Robert turned the familiarity into the smoothest of sales pitches.
Then in what I assumed was an ingenious way of totally disarming a prospective higgler Nick said, “Hey, last time I was in Negril I got this really unique mushroom carving, I’ve never seen another like it. It’s sitting on my TV and I need one for the other side.”
Robert looked puzzled, but also looked beaten, for he had no unique mushroom carving. Not to be foiled he countered, “I keep an eye out for one, all a da beach sellers buy from me. You come see me inna few days.”
Wow, I thought my, “I’m trying to conserve cash, and I’m doing all my buying on X” (I fill in whatever is to be my last day in town) was a smooth move, but to add to the authenticity of Nick’s little ploy was he was actually telling the truth! He really did need a unique mushroom carving! Now that’s devious on a whole other level.
Soon we were at “Sips & Bites.” I’d heard of the place, but somehow it’s not a featured breakfast place in the normal Negril lexicon, which was fine by us, no crowd, great food and fast service.
We sat down and a sweet matronly woman dressed in professional waitress garb approached us and offered coffee and menus. We asked if they had Jamaican Breakfast and she said, “Of course we do, you’re in Jamaica.”
Most places weren’t serving the National Dish of Ackee and Saltfish with calaloo and johnny cakes because Ivan blew the ackee off the trees.
“Would you like to start with some porridge, I just finished making it.” She beamed proudly.
“Absolutely! Sounds great!” I replied, but I was really thinking, “Porridge? Sounds nasty, in a Charles Dickens kind of way”, but what else could I say? I had to say yes, it was like your favorite aunt offering you a delicious plate of her famous Kidney Stew, you have to eat it!
In about a minute she returned with juices and two soup cups of porridge. We looked at each other intrepidly. She stood there to watch us take our first taste, and being good sports we dug in. By the time the spoon neared my mouth, the sweet pleasant cinnamon, vanilla and honey aroma filled my nostrils and made my mouth water. As the stuff hit my tongue the flavor explosion was intense, it was like oatmeal on steroids! It was the kind of good that made you wanted to lift the bowl and slurp it down, but you hold back because you want to make the pleasure last as long as possible because it’s something you don’t everyday, kind of like sex with a beautiful woman, well, for me anyway.
Walking back to our cottage we met a Rasta family with a pumpkin soup stand, we stopped to talk and promised to be back this afternoon for a few bowls. I didn’t even know they had pumpkins in Jamaica.
Back at Banana Shout there was a bit of commotion over a new tenant who was taking up permanent residence there. Andy was an interesting fellow with an interesting personality, though it took a while for him to come out of his shell, but once he did he seemed to fit right in. Andy was a turtle.
The main part of the turtle pond was complete and the new resident seemed quite content in his new digs. Tomorrow Alex and Mark would build a waterfall to give his new home some needed ambiance.
After late morning naps and watching several rounds of cement mixing we headed to the little grocery store for supplies. We bought Ting, Red Stripe and a sack full of Jackass Crackers. On the way back we met the Rasta Pumpkin folks again and we each took a bowl back home for lunch.
We pretty much chilled till dinner time, since the heat of the day was a bit oppressive. For dinner we walked over to LTU Pub, which was pretty close by. I had some kind of chicken thing and though I love the LTU, I wasn’t impressed. It was sunset time on a Tuesday and we were the only ones there. I guess with Rick’s closed no one was venturing into the cliffs.
That night we relaxed, but as the night wore on I began to feel uncomfortable at first, then queasy, then downright ill! Before I knew it I was praying to the porcelain god, hugging Johnny, you get the picture. It wasn’t pretty, though I did enjoy being reacquainted with all the wonderful meals I had that day!
I was done. I couldn’t even hold down water or worse yet, Red Stripe! The night was fitful and the next morning didn’t hold much promise. Since I was empty, I felt fine. I was just a bit light headed, but as soon as we left Sips & Bites, I had to leave some Sips & Bites on the roadside. So it went all day on Wednesday, no bueno!
Thursday morning I had an idea. No more Ting! Maybe the acid was doing bad things. I switched to water and Red Stripe, and by lunchtime I was feeling much better!
So much so, in fact, that we decided to walk up to the Lighthouse and do a little sightseeing. All the times we’d each been in Negril neither of us had ever been to the Lighthouse. Unfortunately this time would be no exception. It was closed, and a big pile of cut stones blocked the driveway. So we walked back to “The Shout” and we chipped in with Mark for a Jerk Chicken dinner prepared by Anne Marie the housekeeper.
While she was cooking we realized we needed more cash, so we headed down the road. By this time it was late afternoon and I felt so good to be feeling better and looking forward to my first full meal in two days. We didn’t get more than a hundred yards down the road when Clive pulled up, again as if by magic.
“He really is Psychic,” Nick said as we haggled for a ride into town.
I’m a Scotia Bank regular, but Clive took us to the National Commercial Bank in the other grocery store in town. I’d only ever gone to the HiLo, but this place seemed a bit nicer.
I tell ya, Anne Marie missed her calling, she should be a chef! The meal was beyond description, it had that nameless quality that only home cooking has. She offered to cook for us again if we wanted her to.
Everyone at Banana Shout adjourned to their separate vantage points to watch the sunset. I was on the first floor porch, Nick was up in the second story hammock, and Mark was on his balcony while Alex and Anne Marie sat at a table near Andy’s pond. Physically separated but joined by the great meal and a beautiful sunset, soft music floated in from a car parked across the road. I wondered if everyone felt as I did.
-To Be Continued
May 21, 2005
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 the 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!
April 17, 2005
“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 –
April 16, 2005
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 Negril.com 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 RealNegril.com 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.
April 13, 2005
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! 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
April 12, 2005
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.
April 8, 2005
Part One – Pre-Trip Stress!
As the sun sets over the Negril cliffs, I lay in the hammock on my veranda over looking the sea. On the table sits my journal, a cold Red Stripe and a freshly rolled a Sunset Spliff. A gentle sea breeze washes over me, blowing in from the southeast, the same direction from which hurricane Ivans winds and waves crashed upon this point just three weeks ago.
The Caribbean Ocean completely fills my vision as if in a giant IMAX Theater, framed by the Lighthouse in the south, and in the north by the freshly painted post holding up the roof of my two-story mansion by the sea. I try to capture the scene with my camera, but I only succeed in knocking over my beer, thus scaring the bejeesus out of my tiny lizard friend with whom Ive been sharing this spot the past few days. Its probably not the same lizard each day, but until I see two of them at the same time, he’s my lizard dude, weve bonded.
Im thrilled to finally be here, it seems the entire universe tried to keep me away from Negril this trip. During the booking phase, hurricane Charley was making his way through the Caribbean. I guess I was being pretty selfish as I followed he storm, worrying more about my ten days of R&R then about the people actually in the storms path. Luckily for me and the people of Jamaica, ok, luckily for the people Jamaica and me, Charley did his damage elsewhere. The folks in Haiti werent so lucky. It seems they rarely are.
My buddy Nick is coming along on this trip, he and I go back a bit. We worked as restaurant managers together, then we were co-dependant housemates, and now finally, homeys. I owe my Negril initiation to Nick. His stories of a 1992 Negril trip were inspiring enough to get me to check it out in 1994, and the rest, as they say, is history. Over the intervening years we would each return to Negril several times, but never together.
We first discussed an October ’04 trip while I was planning my April ’04 trip. I was trying to get Nick to come along in April when he mentioned being in Negril for his October birthday. I was like, “Cool! I’ll go back in October!” Can one get too much of Negril?
Nick and I went back and forth on where to stay, and even if we would even go at all. Finally we decided to go and to go to Banana Shout, though from the beginning, destiny seemed to be leading us there.
I’d heard of the book Banana Shout written by Mark Conklin the owner of the resort Banana Shout, so I went to Amazon.com and ordered me a copy. A few days later I received an email from Irene Conklin, Marks wife, thanking me for the order. This personal touch went a long way with me.
The more I read the more I was hooked on Banana Shout. I mean theres a book about the place, how can you not want to go to a place someone wrote a book about? Well yeah, the guy who wrote it owns the place, but still, its like a famous landmark.
Really, the only reason we thought of other places at all, was there were two of us going in on the place, and Banana Shouts prices were so reasonable we shopped around for something more expensive! Unfortunately the more expensive places came with annoying things like phones and TVs that have no place on a Negril vacation. In the end we decided to book Seaside One a spacious two-story house on the cliffs and boy did we make a great choice!
In true “Luck of the Irish” fashion, when I plan a trip to the Caribbean at the tail end of hurricane season, its one of the most active hurricane seasons in twenty years. Charley, Danielle, Frances, Jeanne and of course Ivan, Ivan the Terrible!
I watched in horror as Ivan took his toll on the Caribbean passing just south of the Jamaican coast. The news blackout was maddening. I scoured every story I could get my eyes on like it was the Zapruder film. Looking for anything that would let me know how Negril really fared. The Negril board was down, as were most Jamaican websites, and the US newsies didn’t share my level of concern.
While not a direct hit, winds and waves caused fantastic devastation from Morant Bay to Negril. Negril’s cliffs did their job and shielded the beach from the worst of the storm, but the damage was severe throughout Negril. Gigantic waves from the southeast crashed over the high coral cliffs and washed inland well past West End Road, tearing apart all man and nature had placed there.
I waited two days after Ivan hit before I emailed Irene at Banana Shout. I knew I was being a pain, but my PNS (Pre-Negril Syndrome) was peaking, I was hearing anecdotal horror stories, and of course I didn’t purchase travel insurance.
Irene responded promptly to inform me they lost the two cottages closest to the cliff, most of the foliage, and a large portion of the seawall, but our Seaside One was still standing! She said Mark was Negril bound the following week to check out the damage first hand, and she would be in touch. It seemed Banana Shout would live on, but weather or not she could handle guests in only twenty five sleeps was the question on which our vacation teetered.
Now that was a long week. I wanted to email Irene the second Marks plane landed, but I held out for forty-eight excruciating hours, and again, a response within hours! Anyone who has tried to email Jamaica knows that the œsoon come concept extends to the cyber world also. Irene informed us that Seaside One was in good shape, and was getting a facelift. The rest of the place was being rebuilt and rejuvenated. Irene offered to refund if we wanted to postpone since there would be so much construction, but we knew the worst week in Negril is way better than any week in the real world. I told her as long as they could lash a hammock between a few trees with a tarp over it and a cooler of Red Stripe under it, wed be there!
More to come!!
Seaside One on October 14, 2004
March 17, 2005
(To Download simply right click and select “Save Target As…”)
Banana Shout 10/04 – Post Ivan
A rollercoaster ride experience in Negril. Arriving just weeks after hurricane Ivan. Witnessing the rebuilding of Negril, and the infamous goat sacrifice!
The Road to Negril – Circa 1994
My First Experience in Jamaica. This is a story of my first impressions of Jamaica and how they moved me and addicted me.
Yoga Center Trip 4/04
An exciting vacation in April 2004 when I stayed at the Negril Yoga Center. I’d planned a week of deep thought and meditation, but I found a bunch of rowdy friends and maybe a little romance.
March 7, 2005
Tedds with Yasmine
We returned to the bus/taxi lot to find a ride back to Sav-La-Mar. Being mid-afternoon, there weren’t many people headed to Sav so we had to wait for the taxi to fill. At only 150J a head, the taxis don’t leave till then, preferably not til over-full.
It had gotten really warm and we needed of some refreshment, so we walked over to a fruit cart and ordered a pineapple from the big scary looking vendor. If you never had a pineapple in Jamaica, you don’t know what you’re missing. The Pineapple Guy takes hold of said fruit by the leafy cactussy part, pulls out a gigantic machete and lops off the bottom half inch in one smooth motion. Expertly he carves off the rough skin, and with the speed of a Cuisinart he slices it into thin discs. The discs fall onto a shiny metal plate balanced precariously atop a rickety wooden fruit crate, and at about the time you’re getting over the shock of the menacing twenty four inch blade whipping about, he scoops the pieces into a clear plastic bag and hands it to you with a gold tooth accentuated smile. The entire process takes about forty seconds and only cost a dollar US. What a show!
Watching as he wiped the residual juice off the heavy knife, I nodded and thought to myself, “Theft must be rare from this cart!”
The Pineapple Guy nodded back as if to say “Your Damn Right!”
Back in the shade of the minivan I opened doors on both sides to make the best of the slight breeze blowing over from the town center. We sat quietly and enjoyed both the sweetness of our pineapple and the sweetness we seemed to be finding in each other.
By the time we were finished we were on Jamaica Route A2 headed back to Sav. There were only four other people in the minivan which the driver didn’t seem too happy about.
Yasmine put her feet up, leaned against my chest and closed her eyes for this leg of the trip. My arm was draped over her sleeping shoulder and my hand rested gently on her belly as it rose and fell with each breath. Not wanting to risk waking her, I looked out the opposing window and timed my breath with hers.
The entire time I fought with myself, trying to keep my demons at bay. The normal thing to do would be to fall asleep with her, but my brain would have none of that! “What if you wake her up with your snoring, or worse, with you drooling all over her head?!”
Luckily for my sanity, my innate negativity towards my romantic success was over shadowed by the intoxicating scent of her chocolate brown hair. I found a quiet place in my mind by thinking of a love song written by my daughter Kristine. Somehow her words turned my doubts into hope and gave me peace.
Yasmine woke just minutes before we reached the Sav-La-Mar Taxi Station. We arrived right in the middle of the Jamaican version of rush hour and in minutes we were in a Negril bound taxi. There would be no sleeping on this leg of the trip though, we were stuffed in the back of a small Japanese sub-compact, and between the driver’s exuberance and the Westmoreland roads we were on a rollercoaster ride.
Approaching Negril I remembered we’d talked about visiting Tedds Shroom Boom, I broached the subject with Yasmine and she was all for it!
“Woo Hoo!!” I thought, “There’ll be lovin’ in the hammock hut tonight!!”
I told the driver we needed to get out before the end of the route. I did it just in time because in what seemed like a minute later we were de-taxiing in front of Tedds colorful little yard.
It looked much like it did on my last visit about two years earlier, except this time the sign was inside the fence and I was concerned he may no longer be in business, but, to my relief, Garland came to the door as we approached the porch.
“Hi!!” I said with a big wave. Garland pretended to remember me, but his acting wasn’t all too convincing. Now, since my last trip I’d spoken to fellow Negrilista who told me to make sure I asked for “Double Strength Tea,” something I would soon regret, well sort of, in retrospect I don’t, but that day I did, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
Anyone who’s tried mushroom tea knows it is about as tasty as bat shit. Bat shit, mixed with water and honey. Suffice to say it’s nasty. Yasmine had no idea what to expect, she thought we’d be sitting in a quaint little cafe sipping something more like a cross between Earl Grey and the broth they use in wonton soup. Boy was she surprised!
Garland brought us over our tea and I paid him the $20US he asked for. Yasmine thought I should have haggled but I knew it was a good price.
I can’t describe the look of shock and horror on her face as she took the first sip, but it was a lot like that of Brad and Janet when they realized what really happened to Eddie.
I thought she’d fold like a cheap camera, but, to her credit, she choked down the slimy psilocybin and honey concoction with the demure class with which she did most things.
We were having a really nice time, but I knew from experience we needed to get back to the Yoga Centre before this stuff really kicked in. We said out good-byes to Garland and his son, just as a group of six Hedo People took our place.
We walked out front and hailed a taxi. I knew this was an “In-Town” taxi and would cost whatever the market would bear, but I also knew we needed to get back because the waves of trippy shroomage were beginning to lap ever so gently on the shores of my scull!
By the time we got back to the Yoga Centre were giggling like characters in a Dr. Seuss book. OK, for a minute I thought we WERE characters in a Dr. Seuss book, but the calm was shattered when the driver asked us for $5US for the ride.
Yasmine’s flabber was ghasted, “We only paid 70J to Sav!!” She shrieked in her here-to-fore sexy French accent.
The driver looked at me with eyes that said, “I don’t want to deal with this.” I peeled off 200J (about $3.25US) and he seemed happy to get out of there. Yasmine seemed mad at me for giving in and I just laughed, trying to diffuse the situation and herded her into the Yoga Center gates. We split up and headed for showers in our respective cabins and planned to meet at the breakfast table afterwards.
The “Double Strength” hit hard!! It relentlessly toyed with my sanity as I tried to shower, brush my teeth, and roll a fatty. I tried to take a moment and record this awesome day in my journal, but when I grabbed my pen I was overtaken with the banality of expressing life is such a small, bourgeois, and utterly meaningless form as words or language! Yeah, I was out there!
Walking from my cabin, I came across Alan and the Kiwi couple. I dove right into conversation with them when, unfortunately, I realized the power of speech was well beyond my current mental state. I didn’t see Yasmine so I asked Alan to tell her where I was. At least that was my intent.
Some time later Alan joined me in the Hammock hut and the next thing I know I was knocking on Yasmine’s door. Now, I knew at some level that I was in the full clutches of the “Double-Strength Tea,” but I also knew I had a hundred pounds on poor Yasmine. Physically she seemed fine, but looking into her eyes told a different story. The lights were on and somebody was definitely still home, but they were about to go on holiday for the next eight to ten hours!
Realizing, fresh air, liquids and maybe some ganja would be the best thing to keep us afloat in the midst of these rising tides, she headed across the yard to the hammock hut, and I went to my cabin for supplies. I soon joined her and we shared a hammock. Being with Yasmine made me feel great, the testosterone bubbled up through the waters, but making any moves on a woman in this state would be quite sumbaggedly of me so we rock and rolled with the increasing waves, within the safety of our sturdy hammock.
I awoke some time later, Yasmine was gone, and Alan was there. I knew I had to move, Alan was talking but I was no longer of this planet. I rushed back to my cabin and guzzled several Red Stripes and somehow managed to roll two big sloppy slpiffs. After a cold shower I was stabilized enough to eat the sweet bun in my refrigerator and drink some water. I walked out side and sat at the breakfast table.
No sooner did I relax did it all come flooding back over me, it was still strong, maybe stronger than before, but I seemed able to control it. Maybe it becomes more cerebral and less physical as time wears on. As my vision seemed to melt anything I looked at for more than a few seconds, I felt like Neo in the Matrix. I began to realize this “reality” is nothing but subjective energy fields that on some level we “agree” to see in a certain way.
I began to fixate on a large flowery bush under the spotlight near the center of the yard. It was actually a close knit series of individual shoots all integrated under the surface. On some level we were aware of each other and I was acutely aware of all the energy ebbing and flowing all around me, it was cool. In that moment I gained and understanding of the essence of life, if not the meaning. I knew this was a fleeting moment, and in the morning, like a day in OZ, I would be back in Kansas, and everything would be in black and white.
Over the next hour or so, I was lost between these worlds, debating which was real, and if the “Double Strength Tea” was causing it, or was it opening my doors of perception and allowing me a see it. I guess that’s the big question.
After a night of fitful sleep, and really wild dreams, I was awoken by a knock on my door. It was Eddie my driver I’d hired to take me to the Airport. It was 7AM. I told him my flight wasn’t till 1PM and he said he’d be back at ten.
I was all kinds of confused. The tea had run its course, but there was a residual effect mixing with my hangover, I’d drunken eight beers from about six and midnight and I felt them. Stumbling into the shower, the cold water invigorated me. I must have drank a gallon of water the standing there. I knew the entire place slept till eight so I packed, the whole time very worried how Yasmine made it through the night.
I had a dream where she thought I’d poisoned her, and Alan and I ended up chasing her all over Negril ending up in the swamps behind the strip. I laughed as I recalled my wacky dream but found myself checking my sandals for swamp mud before I put them in my duffel just to be on the safe side.
I dressed in my travel clothes and made for the breakfast table. One of the security guys was high up in the mango tree shaking some fresh mangoes loose, Alan and Marie were standing below to catch the fruit before it hit the ground.
A few minutes later I was having a coffee and fresh mango breakfast. I apologized to Alan for my lack of coherence the previous evening and told him about Tedds, he smiled and took it in stride. I asked if he’d seen or heard from Yasmine. He said he ran into her a few times last night and though she was smiling, she didn’t say anything to him.
She never made it to breakfast and only moaned when I knocked on her door to say good-bye.
“She’s Pissed,” was my first thought, but somehow I knew she wasn’t. I joked to myself, “If she’s pissed it’s because she was denied my lovin’!”
What woman wouldn’t be?
I hopped into my taxi and headed north to Sangster International Airport.
Before I left Alan and I traded emails and I gave him a note for Yasmine. I’d have to wait to contact her since she was headed to Treasure Beach for the next week.
So, as I got back to my life, and made plans for another trip in the fall, I filled my journal with thoughts and memories of my wild week. A few weeks later I received an email from Yasmine, she regaled our day together and how Rasta George helped her find her place in Treasure Beach, and how she met a couple who went on the “Tourist” boat up Black River, but didn’t get to go to “Our” little cove. The funniest thing was while she was under the effects of the tea she thought she had been poisoned and spent some time in her cold shower as well.
As for Patty, Erin and the Kuyaba folks, we’ve kept in email touch.
I’m still a faithful boardie and get to as many webcasts as I can!
March 6, 2005
This was my last full day in Jamaica. This week went by so fast! Next time Im staying at least ten days.
I dont know why but I was so nervous sitting there eating my morning vegetarian yummy-ness, when Yasmine appeared all packed and ready for our day on the road. I found myself apologizing for not being ready to go, I hate when I do that. Hell, it was only 8:15 in the damn morning and Im all, um uh, well, I, ah. She sat with me as I finished my coffee and Alan continued to give us last minute travel tips.
I went back to my cabin to get ready and to tweak my buzz. I did a few breathing exercises to clear my head and chill my angst. Soon my mellow returned and I let the excitement of the impending days adventure take over. I took the two perfectly rolled fatties from my secret place and put them in my pocket, did one last mental checklist and out the door I strode.
The sun and I were a bit higher in the sky now, and boy did Yasmine look great! Energy and excitement seemed to radiate from her. It mingled with mine and seemed to lessen the space between us.
We waved good-bye to our friends and headed to the Negril Bus Depot which is about a quarter mile past the roundabout on the road to Sav-La-Mar. Walking past the roundabout a gaggle of cabbies called to us in their special way, but as soon as Yasmines French accent called back, 70J to Sav? they stopped, just stopped, and pointed towards the bus depot.
In a few minutes we were walking through a sea of white Toyotas at the depot. Again a dozen drivers told us of the deals they had, but once again they heard that French accent they gave up and pointed to the next taxi headed to Sav-La-Mar. I guess the Jamaicans think Europeans are not as flahoolic with their money as we Americans. I didnt care, they thought we were French and it was saving me money.
Since Yasmine had that French thing going for her and seemed to enjoy haggling I let her do all the talking. When Im in Negril I have that Everyones my friend attitude. Yeah, maybe it attracts more sellers and scammers and maybe I dont always get the rock bottom price, but for me thats half of Negrils charm. You have some fun interacting and you pump a few bucks into the local economy.
We paid our 70J a piece for the ride to Sav, once there wed get another taxi to Black River. The driver sat me up front with him, and Yasmine sat in the back of the Corolla with three Jamaicans, a mother, her daughter, and a young man with a broken hand who somehow shoe horned in.
The driver drove like a sixteen year old kid trying to impress his friends, but as we headed out of town I let myself relax. Its one of those give in to the moment situations. The loud thumping reggae negated any ideas of chatting with Yasmine, so I sank into the seat and into the music.
Soon the excitement Id been feeling, the ganja Id been smoking and the energy that was flowing came together. I felt as if I was standing at the precipice of time, fully aware, leaning into the oncoming rush of the present. At that moment I wished Sav was a thousand miles away, I didn’t want it to end, but it was one of those rare mountaintop experiences that are so special because you only get a glimpse at any one time.
Sav was very different from Negril, its less colorful, there are fewer smiles, and the streets were not very crowded. I guess its where people lived and worked, not where they were trying to impress tourists. I hear it really bustles on market day, Im sure Ill be back through.
We unloaded in a small lot near the center of town. There were taxis lined up and a few food vendors with dull makeshift carts who half-heartedly advertised their wares. Yasmine walked over and got a jelly coconut from one of them, while I found taxi number two. This time the taxi was a mini-van, we climbed into what we thought was the two-seater up front as we sipped the delightfully strange coconut water with two straws. When the bus filled up a third person squoze in next to us, so much for the two-seater, Yasmine was a bit squished but at least she was squished against me. Thank Jah for Dentine.
The ride out of Savannah-La-Mar was fast and furious, there were fourteen people shoved in the van, and I felt like I was actually traveling in a foreign country. The people were warm and friendly, they seemed interested in us, where we were from and why we werent on a tour bus. I answered one older woman, how else was I gonna meet you! And they say Jamaicans are smooth.
It seems the entire tourism industry did everything it could to keep separation between tourists and normal Jamaicans, the ones not trained by years of working the tourist trade. Part of me knows that’s how they make thier money, by packaging Jamaica in a polished shell, but another part knows, that sadly, this is too close for most American and European tourists. Maybe, I can help spread the word.
Yasmine and I made chit chat, discussing philosophy, politics, and Paris (the city, not the heiress), it was wonderful. She was a strong, confident woman and yet so feminine. I admit the idea that these qualities are mutually exclusive is a defective mental construct made up of my past bad relationships, yet I could feel a manly confidence build as we sat close, touched and talked.
The terrain really changes as you leave Sav, the lush tropical feel gives way to grassy, almost desert-like conditions, which I guess why the Spanish named it, the savannah by the sea. Leaving Westmoreland Township and entering St. Elizabeth, the road immediately gets better, and the already racing driver picks up speed.
The taxi had all but emptied itself along the route. Most of the group getting out at the town of Bluefields, the boyhood home of Peter Tosh, the second most famous Jamaican reggae star, several more at Whitehouse, where they are building a huge new Sandals resort, more like a small city, really, than a resort. It stands out like a sore thumb, literally, because it is being built on a small peninsula, and figuratively because it breaks up the natural country charm of the area. At every cross road you see small rum shacks and markets, with small country inns sparsely dotting the roadside between. I guess in twenty years the south shore will look like the strip in Negril, hopefully Negril wont become like the over commercialized Hip Strip in Mobay. Old-timers say it already has.
Pulling into Black River, it looked a lot like Sav-La-Mar, though there was a bit more color and much more commerce. We each paid our 150J to the driver, and it struck me what a great trip it was, just over two hours and only about $3.50US.
In Jamaica, the bus depots are not in the tourist part of town, they are in the people part of town. We headed across a small bridge towards the docks along the river. To our right was the Black River Safari, it was the local tourist trap taking a bus load of people up river at a time in covered pontoon boats, complete with music, and sticky-sweet rum punch at the turn around point.
We turned left and headed to local docks along the river. There were a half dozen twelve foot multicolored fishing boats lined up complete with local guides looking for more adventurous travelers like us, just like Yasmines guide book said there would be.
This is where we met Rasta George. Rasta George was the real deal, he told us of an exciting, fun, educational, and romantic trip into the Black River Morass, and all this for only $2US more than the Corporate Tour. He had me at hello, but we haggled a bit anyway. He wouldn’t budge, which somehow was so strange in Jamaica that we said ok and forked over $40US. He told us to wait in a little cafe right there near the docks where we sipped icy Tings and excitedly waited for our odyssey to begin.
About fifteen minutes later we were climbing into a small fishing boat and headed up the river. It was only then when I realized Id given my camera to Yasmine to keep in her bag. As I began taking pictures I focused on an oncoming big tour boat, the people yelled and waved as they zoomed by, and I looked at Yasmine and we said in unison, This is so much better! Rasta George smiled and said that weve seen nothing yet, and for years wed be telling people to come see Rasta George in Black River. He was right.
Rasta George is a tall thin Rastaman, his dreads were tucked into a tam bearing the Rasta colors of green, yellow and red, he wore wire rimmed sunglasses and he bubbled with personality. He was a great guide explaining all about the morass, what rivers fed it and how they come together to form Black River, he knew all about the flora and fauna, and explained how the swamps eco-chain worked.
As if on cue the boat driver Brant, shouted something to Rasta George and pointed to another tour boat also headed up river and paused along the riverside with all its passengers pointing, ooh-ing and aah-ing. As we pulled close we could see that just beyond the rivers edge was a small lagoon with a supposed crocodile swimming around. The tour boat was stopped about ten yards out in the river, but we didnt even slow down as we approached.
Brace yourself! Called Rasta George as we crashed through the mangrove and slid into the small lagoon, and yes there was a crocodile in there with us. At first I was freaked out, more so from the tour boat folks screaming than from the three foot crocodile hastily swimming away from us.
Just a pickney, he whispered to Yasmine and me as we went back out to the river, but as we passed near the tour boat he shouted, No Mon! Can’t see dem giants from a da tour boat, his wink told us he was playing to the tour boat patrons. The tour boat guide gave us a dirty look and gunned the engines on the big boat, as we smugly waved goodbye, feeling pretty good about or decision to see the river with Rasta George.
Tourists, I said in a jokingly snobbish way, which made Yasmine laugh. I looked back a few seconds later and she was still laughing. What? I queried.
You look like more of a tourist than anyone else on the whole island! she said laughing with Rasta George and Brant joining in.
Looks can be and obviously are deceiving! I retorted, and we all laughed and Yasmine gave me an apologetic hug. Yeah, OK, I was wearing blue shorts, sandals, a loud Hawaiian shirt, a bright red Phillies baseball cap and I was furiously taking pictures, but looks are deceiving for I am Vinny, man of the world.
Now with my balls thoroughly broken we continued our trek up river. Soon we came up on a little bar where the tour boat from earlier was docked, the tourists were drinking thier punch and dancing to reggae from a boom box. They were having a grand ‘ol time. Just past the bar was low concrete bridge, far too low for the tour boats and that was obviously where we were headed.
Them tour boats cant come up here, this is why you come with us! Rasta George boasted and into the upper river we went. I’d never felt so separated from the real world as I did then, pulling away from the tourists I had flashbacks to all those movies where the scary part starts just like this. Anytime you go to Negril you know you’re not in Philly anymore, or Kansas, or, you know what I mean, but here, fifty miles from Negril and another ten miles up a jungle river, the feeling is stark.
Up here there are some serious crocodiles, six footers at least, which seem pretty damn big when youre close enough to reach out and touch them. I dont know how many times that day I thought to myself, Is this really happening? Am I really here? Little did I know the coolness meter was about to ratchet itself up another notch.
Around a small bend in the narrowing river was a rickety wooden dock at a tiny little cove. We docked at this little oasis in the mangrove. Yasmine and I just looked at each other. I was thinking this must be the romantic part of the trip Rasta George told us about back in town. I don’t know what she was thinking.
Climbing out of the boat we could see a small thatched hut in the clearing and we walked up to make our introductions. We all got Red Stripes and made small talk as we shared one of the spliffs I brought with me.
The bartender told us to take advantage of the afternoon sun and take a dip in the crocodile filled river. I thought he was crazy, but when Yasmine started back to the water I followed, and when she stripped down to her rather small bikini, I joined her in the water. Splashing around was fun until Yasmine asked if I thought splashing around attracts crocodiles like it does sharks.
Theyre more afraid of you than you are of them! Rasta George shouted from shore.
Ya sure? I asked not expecting a real answer, but I got one.
If I let the crocs eat the people I go out of business quick, no? He answered, which in the moment, made perfect sense to me.
After a few pictures we got out of the water, had a second beer and sunned ourselves on the large rocks like our friends the crocodiles do. After about an hour at our little oasis, it was sadly time to go.
On the way back to town we drove a lot faster and Yasmine and I shared a bench on the boat this time and kind of snuggled as the spray from the water gently washed over our faces. Few words were spoken, we were now on the homebound part of our trip and I was leaving tomorrow early. I dont know about her, but I saw a very romantic evening ahead of us.
Back in Black River we went into the same little cafe and got some bottled water and french fries.
You guys did a great Job with these, I said, squirting some translucent Jamaican ketchup onto the plate.
Fries? she smirked.
French Fries!! I said teasing her.
We had nothing to do with them, she said dryly in that sultry French accent.
I love your accent, I said, immediately wishing I didnt use the word love.
What accent? Youre the one with the accent, she teased back. Americans think everyone has an accent, but them.
Go ahead, bash the ugly American I pouted.
Youre a very cute American, she purred as she leaned over and kissed me.
March 3, 2005