alexeye: (Default)
[personal profile] alexeye

We're back from Jamaica! It was an amazing trip - one of my best vacations ever.

This is a public journal entry, so that everyone I know can read about our trip at their leisure. Most of our photos can be seen at Flickr –

Many of the photos are unfortunately blown out. That’s what happens when you still aren’t entirely comfortable with your camera, and you go to a country with very, very bright sunshine. Oh well – I think most of them came out well all the same.

Wednesday –

We woke up around 3am in order to make our 7am flight. Unfortunately for all concerned, that flight was delayed for two hours, as the airline miscounted all of the luggage in the hold, and had to take it all off, re-count, and put it all back on again. While we were on the plane. For two hours. Lovely. Apparently they have some sort of sticker system that is needlessly complicated, and . . . whatever, they’re idiots.

So, we got to Montego Bay (“MoBay”) about two hours late. We were worried about finding Angie, Ben’s Peace Corps friend, because of the delay, and because we had neither cell phones or Jamaican money for pay phones. Jamaican money is also measured in dollars (Jamaican dollars are sometimes called “Jay”), and we were unsure of the best way to change it. Turns out that it’s smarter to not bring a ton of cash, as we had, and just use the Jamaican ATMs, which are everywhere.

Angie had chartered a taxi to take us to her house, which was about two hours away. I’m not sure how public transportation works in the larger cities, but most transportation on the island comes in the form of route taxis, which you can pick up from the road, or charter, if you’re friendly with a taxi driver. Angie knows a few, and Duncan, the cousin of her friend Glen (also a taxi driver), brought us in from MoBay. We also met Angie’s boyfriend, Malcolm, who works for Sandals.

The ride from MoBay to Ocho Rivers (“Ochi”) is about two hours. It would be a lot less on American roads, but then you would also have to factor in the somewhat more cautious driving style of Americans. Jamaican drivers tend to drive really fast. We rode in some near-terrifying taxis during our visit, but Duncan and Glen were both very good drivers. Anyway, the ride was beautiful – we were right along the sea for most of it, and the other side was generally cliffs covered with vegetation. In the more populated areas, there were a lot of very large houses under construction – Angie told us that Jamaicans who live out of the country often send money home for houses to be built that they can live in when they return, rather than simply building a house when they come back.

In the cab, I had my first sugar cane, which was wonderful, though it took me a little while to learn how to properly eat it. If you’ve never had sugar cane, it’s highly recommended, but since the fibers of the cane are not really edible, you have to chew and suck on them, then spit the fibers out.

Ochi is a big tourist destination. We stopped for a minute to say hello to Glen, who was shooting a music video. He’s a reggae singer, and his stage name is Kurrency (Angie gave us a copy of his CD). Glen is Rastafarian, as were many of the coolest people we met on the trip.

Angie lives just outside of Ochi, in the small roadside town of Boscobel. She shares a little house right on the ocean, and as soon as we got there, we walked down to the water and went swimming. This was my first swim in the Caribbean, and the water was wonderful, if a bit choppy due to the lateness of the day. This wasn’t really a beachy area, instead we walked down stone steps in the cliff side in order to reach the water, but there was a little bit of beach next door, where some local fishermen lived.

After swimming, Angie took us to her favorite vegetarian restaurant in the area, St. Mary’s Fulltime Vegetarian Kitchen, run by a Rasta named PowerPlus (St. Mary being the parish that Boscobel is located in). PowerPlus didn’t have any electricity, because the owner of the land was trying to make him move out, but he made us an amazing veggie meal, which we ate by candlelight, right by the road. One of the main ingredients in veggie cooking, or Ital, is called veggie chunks – there are three different kinds that we learned about, but they’re all dehydrated, and made of TVP (texturized vegetable protein), the same stuff that tempeh is made of. With drinks (amazing pineapple juice), I think our meal came to about $3US each.

Walking along the roadside after dinner, in the dark, can be a little bit dangerous, because there aren’t so many street lights, and I’ve already mentioned the character of most Jamaican drivers. But Angie had a light on the top of her cell phone, so we made it back home, and got ready to go out. Apparently, there isn’t much nightlife in the area that isn’t tied to tourism, so she suggested that we go to Margaritaville at the Sandals in Ochi, which had a “pool party” theme – this meant that if we wore our bathing suits (there was a pool and a water slide at the bar), we could get in for $6US, and drink all we wanted from 9pm-1am. She told us that it was usually touristy earlier in the evening, but as the night went on, more Jamaicans would show up, and the music was a mix of dancehall and American hip-hop. However, the crowd that night turned out to be almost entirely Jamaican, and the music was a really strange mix. We stayed out for a few hours, but since Ben and I had been up for about 22 hours at that point, we left around 1am.

Security was really tight at Margaritaville. The rest of the resort was like a ghost town, but apparently the guards were more worried about Jamaicans bringing weapons to the bar than waking the tourists. There is a fair amount of organized crime in Jamaica, which most tourists don’t get to see.

Thursday –

We had a big day planned. After breakfast, Glen picked us up at 9am to take us tubing on the White River. This was our only real opportunity to see the inside of the island, which is basically a rain forest, and boasts an incredible number of plants (And animals! We saw a mongoose and its baby crossing the road in front of us – apparently, the British brought them to Jamaica to help eradicate the snakes, but they didn’t like the taste of them, so the mongoose mainly steal chickens). Because Malcolm, Angie’s boyfriend, knows a lot of people in the tourist industry, we got in to the tubing place for $25US. Not each, total – the price for tourists is usually $50-80US a head.

Tubing was amazing. It was so early in the day that we had the river to ourselves, and our guide, Allen, was cool enough to let us get out of the water and use a neighbor’s rope swing for a little while. Most of the water was shallow and crystal-clear, with rapids every once in a while. Most of the time we just laid back on our tubes and stared up at the canopy and the bamboo that grew huge along the sides of the river.

We told Allen that I’d never had coconut water before, so near the end of the ride he jumped out of the river and cut down a handful of coconuts for us. We each had one, and he lopped the top off with a machete, making a small hole where you could drink from if you tipped your coconut back. These weren’t the fuzzy coconuts that most of us see in American grocery stores, but smooth hard young ones, yellowy-brown on the outside and thick on the inside. There is very little meat, or jelly, on the inside, but lots of water. It’s very good, and filling, and after we were done, he chopped them in half, making a little spoon out of the rind, and gave them back to us so we could eat the jelly inside. It tasted less strong than dried coconut, but very yummy.

Glen picked us back up from the main area – a botanic garden, with an amazing selection of flowers – and dropped us off in Ochi for lunch. There I bought a skirt from Cooyah, the Jamaican clothing store that sells lots and lots of Rasta-themed clothes. There are naturally a ton of Bob Marley t-shirts, but strangely enough, Johnny Cash is also quite popular.

Angie took us to a veggie place for lunch, where we had our first patties. Patties look like calzones, but are about half the size (you can also get mini patties at some chain restaurants). Patties are often beef, pork, or goat meat, heavily flavored then fried in suet or oil, but these were tofu with veggies, or veggie chunks (in this case, the smallest kind, called “mince”). They were heavily spiced, and very, very good. At the veggie restaurant, we saw an Asian Rasta family (I think they were Thai, but it was hard to be sure), with the full head wraps and dreads. They had three little girls, and I’ve got to say, they were pretty much the most beautiful and adorable children I’ve ever seen in my life. I also got some veggie chunks to bring home and experiment with.

In the afternoon, Angie took us to Port Maria, where she works. Port Maria is east of Boscobel, and is close to where Noel Coward lived the last few decades of his life (his house, Firefly, is a tourist attraction, but we didn’t go). I liked Port Maria a lot – first, she took us to see some ancient cannons on a hill looking over the town – they were brought to Jamaica during the Seven Years’ War, and are reportedly the oldest cannons in the Western Hemisphere. Then we walked down the hill into the town, stopping at the civic center where Angie’s final Peace Corps project is located. She’s been working on a local craft shop, featuring the work of carvers, potters, painters, textile makers, and basket weavers. Ben bought a great hat from the store, and I think I’m going to ask Angie to bring a piece of the pottery home with her when she finishes her tour at the end of August.

The civic center also served as a day care location that day, and two little boys took me around the building, helping me find great shots of Port Maria.

We walked through the town – Angie showed us her office, and we stopped in at a few local markets for food to cook for breakfast the next morning. The town was full of (mostly) young men sitting curbside in groups. Some of them would yell out at us when we passed by, as we were the only white faces to be seen. This was pretty common while we were there – only a very, very small percentage of Jamaica’s population is white, and it’s not common for tourists to walk around in places like Port Maria without the barrier of a large tour group. All of this attention bothered me very little – Angie was a confidant and knowledgeable guide, and no one was really threatening, just loud.

Being white in Jamaica, when you’re living there, must be very strange. For instance, Malcolm is a white Jamaican, whose parents came over from Scotland (I caught a little of that in his accent). Thought it’s obvious when he opens his mouth that he’s from the island, many black Jamaicans assume that he’s a tourist. Angie gets this all the time, too, though she’s been there for two years now. It was most noticeable when we either were getting route taxis (haggling for the “local” price), or when we were out at night.

We cabbed it back west (total route taxies taken on Thursday – eight), and went to a local art gallery housed at a place called Harmony Hill. There was a wide selection of painting, sculpture, and other work, pulling from a very large group of international artists, though all of them had lived or worked in Jamaica for at least some time. The wife of the man who owns Sandals was one of them, and her paintings were actually quite good. I bought a bracelet in the gift shop that was made of seed pods dyed acid green.

We went back to Angie’s house for a swim – Ben taught me how to snorkel for the first time, as there is a reef right off of Angie’s. I’ve got to be honest – snorkeling freaked me out at first. Swimming over the wavy grasses before we reached the reef was a little unnerving, as I felt that there was so much I couldn’t see. I was also a little bothered by the lack of peripheral vision, but once I started seeing fish and other things out on the reef, I relaxed a bit. We even saw a stingray on our way back in, which was the highlight of the afternoon.

For dinner, we returned to Harmony Hill, which has an amazing Italian restaurant on its first floor, owned by an English woman who was also our waiter. The dinner experience was lovely – we sat out on the patio with candles and wine, and the other customers (mostly white folks – a large group from Habitat for Humanity, and some tourists from Ochi), were all very laid-back. The food was amazing, especially the pumpkin soup, and they bought all of the local ingredients that they could. The only weird part of the meal was actually in the form of Angie’s roommate, a woman in the Habitat group who got up several times to sing. And I mean SING. Her song choice was a little bizarre (“Danny Boy?” “Summertime?”), and her voice was LOUD. I had to stifle giggles a few times, but we escaped before we made fools of ourselves.

After dinner, we lazed about at Angie’s for a while, smoked, then went to bed.

Friday –

We got up early again, made breakfast (a sad attempt at crepes), and Glen picked us up to head back into MoBay. Malcolm had scored us day passes at the nicest Sandals in the city, which cost us all of $16US. We had a laid-back ride, the highlight being Glen’s stories (he’s an amazing talker) and the songs he made up from random phrases we said. We were stopped by the police at one point (Jamaican police are notoriously corrupt. Angie said that she wouldn’t even ask them for directions if she were lost. They’re also nicknamed “Red Stripes,” because of the red stripe down the side of their pants, and, of course, because of the beer).

We passed a huge baxelite plant, and I got a picture of the dome of it. Baxelite is used in making aluminum, and is the same red color as clay. It’s all over the country, and is one of Jamaica’s biggest exports, along with bananas. Still, an overwhelming part of Jamaica’s economy is tourism.

And we saw it on Friday – the tourism, that is. The resort we went to was full of Americans, and as we got there, they were dancing at the pool bar to “I’m Too Sexy.” And humping the cement sculpture lions. I’m not kidding.

Our day passes got us pretty much everything we wanted – pool, beach, food, watersports, and all the alcohol we could drink. As we were taking advantage of this for $16US, we thought we should make the most of it – most tourists pay $300US a night for the same privileges. We swam in the pool for a while, drinking “Dirty Bananas” (rum cream, blended banana, banana liquor, and Blue Mountain Coffee liquor) and Red Stripe. Then Ben and I went kayaking, and the three of us went on a great snorkeling run. I saw tons of purple sea fans, lots of brain coral, a spotted sea snake, mini jellyfish (too small to sting us), a school of clownfish, and lots more. I started to feel much more comfortable in the water, and even got much better at diving by the time our hour-long run was through. I’m now very much looking forward to trying it again.

We got the dive boat to drop us off at Sandals’ mini island, which boasted the naked beach (nobody was actually naked, thank jeebus, as the average age was about 40), a pool, and a Thai restaurant. We lazed about some more, walked out to a small reef, teased the caged parrots, and played with hermit crabs. I started to develop a lovely sunburn, which I treated with Bloody Marys. Once we left the island, our day pass was running low, so we hit the food and the bar again, then waited in the hot tub for Malcolm to pick us up.

Dinner was at a Cuban restaurant with the most hilariously bad service I’ve had in my entire life. The waitress had no idea what any of the food was, so she had to ask the Cuban bartender every time we asked a simple question (“Is the soup vegetarian?”). They had no mint for mojitos, so we had caprihanas. Oops. I forgot that white rum, in Jamaica, is basically lighter fluid. No one drinks it except old men. However, it made the service even more comical – at one point, I was served a plate of plantains that I hadn’t ordered, only to have it snatched back, without a word, about two minutes later. The waitress would ask one of us if we wanted something, then ignore the rest of us, walking over to the bar and gossiping with other customers. I have no idea how long dinner lasted but by the end I was laughing so hard that the other patrons were staring. I blame the white rum.

We went to a very swank bar after dinner, called BlueBeat. It was a jazz bar, attached to a very nice seafood restaurant, and reminded me of lounges on the Sunset Strip. We drank $10US martinis, and reveled in the good life. The music was loud but good, and the crowd was a mix of Jamaican and tourists. We were on the “hip strip” of MoBay, which also featured a good number of strip bars. Strip bars in Jamaica, as Angie explained to us, were different from what we’d expect in the US. The music was better, and the crowds were often much better than in the touristy clubs that made up the bulk of the nightlife. So, of course, Malcolm took us to a nearby strip club after we were done at BlueBeat. It was really tame, but then again, the last strip club I went to was in Tijuana. Strip clubs in Jamaica are often notable for having white dancers, most of whom are Russian. These Russian girls can make obscene amounts of money, if they’re smart, which not all of them are – drugs and prostitution are common and, obviously, very dangerous.

That kind of capped off our evening. We’d been drinking since noon, so it was about time to go home.

Saturday –

We had an early flight, so there wasn’t time to explore more of MoBay. Sangster International Airport is kind of crazy – we didn’t have a departure gate for about an hour, and when I finally asked why it wasn’t on the screen, I was told, quite naturally, that we DID have a gate number, it just wasn’t listed. There wasn’t so much of a line to get on the plane, more of a mosh pit. Tourists had an obscene amount of rum with them, and most of them were, like me, a delightfully painful shade of red. They were also very loud. I can’t say that this trip has really done much for my impression of Americans abroad, or of the tourist industry. I know we were very lucky to have such an amazing guide, and to see the “real” Jamaica. Spending that last day at Sandals, after two days of getting to know the island, was very surreal.

Other stuff –

• Ting is amazing. It’s basically sugar, carbonation, and grapefruit. I love it, and must find out if it can be imported.
• There are lots and lots of stray dogs in Jamaica. Also – goats. Very few cats, though.
[ profile] gov_moonbeam, I saw your “Little Prince” road sign! It was as we were leaving Sangster on the first day, and I got very excited. I looked around for another so that I could take a picture for you, but there were none to be found. Road signs in Jamaica are few, far between, and generally ignored.

Date: 2005-08-01 02:35 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Great Photos! You know, it does sorta sound like an episode of the Amazing Race...

Date: 2005-08-01 02:38 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Thanks! It felt kind of like one, especially when we were trying to get on the plane back to the U.S. And when we were tearing around the northern coast on Thursday.

Cooyah deh!

Date: 2005-08-01 08:57 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Aaaagh! Thank you for the wonderful story and for the shoutout to my speedbump theory :)!

Man, you are making me totally sad that I don't live in that kind of environment anymore. That totally sounds like my lifestyle when I lived in Antigua and sadly, I think no work/live experience in my life will ever top it! Even if I could find Ting here - it's lovely with a little vodka and sadly I've only found it once at Central Market in Austin. Not to mention the cravings I sometimes have for pumpkin soup, or a cocowater

Dinner was at a Cuban restaurant with the most hilariously bad service I’ve had in my entire life. The waitress had no idea what any of the food was, so she had to ask the Cuban bartender every time we asked a simple question (“Is the soup vegetarian?”). They had no mint for mojitos, so we had caprihanas. Oops. I forgot that white rum, in Jamaica, is basically lighter fluid. No one drinks it except old men. However, it made the service even more comical – at one point, I was served a plate of plantains that I hadn’t ordered, only to have it snatched back, without a word, about two minutes later. The waitress would ask one of us if we wanted something, then ignore the rest of us, walking over to the bar and gossiping with other customers. I have no idea how long dinner lasted but by the end I was laughing so hard that the other patrons were staring. I blame the white rum.

Yeah that's about par for the course with "service" in that part of the world. It is best just to enjoy the experience. It's too bad you never got the full experience of taking "public" transportation (which is usually some guy who got a loan from the bank to buy a minivan) because it's about the same. Once you get over your North American expectations of things being prompt and orderly, you start to appreciate situations like that as such a perfect example of how things are different.

Re: Cooyah deh!

Date: 2005-08-01 09:44 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
we did take one "route van" out from ochi to port maria, and angie was sharing some of her stories about having 25 people in about 5 cubic feet of space. we only had about 12, so it was relatively comfortable.

one of our best rides was actually right after one of the scariest - there was a rasta guy squeezed in with the 3 of us in the back seat, and he could not stop praising the driver for actually driving the speed limit. he LIVES there, and was so amazed that he actually tipped the guy.

we had some hilarious service at breakfast the morning after our cuban meal. we swore that the busboy was randomly distributing drinks as he saw fit. i blame malcolm, who hadn't been with us for a meal before the cuban place, as our service had been exceptional up to that point.

Re: Cooyah deh!

Date: 2005-08-01 11:40 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
randomly distributing drinks as he saw fit

Ah haha! Yes that's exactly it! And perfect description of the "near death" bus riding experience. The absolute best though, is when you're waiting in the bus for it to fill up and each driver's "helper" (the guy who gets passengers & collects money) starts hustling passengers. Once you understand dialect, it's fucking hilarious how they try to get people to come on their bus & compose really elaborate insults towards the other bus!

Re: Cooyah deh!

Date: 2005-08-02 12:01 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
my trip would have been so much richer had i been able to understand patois. i have a very bad ear for that kind of thing - i have to turn on the subtitles when watching many irish movies, for example.

Date: 2005-08-01 09:04 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
that sounds like the best graduation present ever!!

Date: 2005-08-01 09:45 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
it really was!

Date: 2005-08-02 03:52 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I love sugar cane! Did you try sugar cane juice? It was the tastiest thing I've ever had in Cuba.

Date: 2005-08-02 12:18 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
i didn't, which is a shame. but i had so many other yummy juices - the best was a pineapple juice with ginger in it. i smelled like ginger for the rest of the day.

Buckeroo Banzai!

Date: 2005-11-10 04:14 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I just love the title of your journal...I just love that ridiculous movie, too.

November 2008

161718 19202122

Style Credit

Expand Cut Tags

No cut tags
Page generated Sep. 26th, 2017 02:22 pm
Powered by Dreamwidth Studios