J trip Day 3
Writing “day 3” feels funny. The first days were so epic an experience that day three seemed, then, so far into the trip. Now I have to concentrate to remember day three, just a little. I think it was two days ago, I would like to catch up. Maybe I can be quick with this one.
It’s fun to watch people as they hang on to this feeling of having to do something, go somewhere. And as no one around them moves they get so restless. Some people find something to do like read, some show frustration at being bored, others change gears. Zach really changed gears yesterday. I think I saw him hanging out in my hammock the evening before, then yesterday I’m not sure if he ever got out of the hammock except to move a little and use the restroom. I’m in that hammock now, I can see why he stayed here. The ‘guys’ left for a considerable beach adventure and he stayed right here. It’s a double nest hammock, synthetic silky nylon stuff – HUGE to lay in but can pack into a ball the size of a grapefruit. Despite the temporary electrical line wall directly in front, the cliff top view of the morass and distant mountains to the right, beach and water to the left, and grass in a breezy shade, is more than enough to calm the nerves to a very stationary state.
Well on what was MY day two, and the group’s day 3, some people had changed gears, some had not, some were in the process. I took off. I wanted to know local prices of important things like fruit, fish, rice, beer. I wanted to get over my inhibitions and meet people, see the beach. A friend of Mary’s was leaving the hill and offered a free ride down to Negril beach. I ran around and invited anyone to come, told Chris to be ready in 2 minutes, and packed a little bag. I brought an old army rucksack. It has been well used and shows, and attracts little attention, blending in if needed. Can a white person blend in? Yes and no. Depends on the white person.
No one else was in the car when I jumped in except the driver and his two kids. Chris is still learning to move quick and seize opportunity. I was dropped off at an old Rastaman’s place along the beach across the road. Thunder is his name, and I knew him from years ago. There were two other vacationers in there just hanging out, month long trips each. I sang Son of a Sailor and played guitar. Then we drummed. I got some water and ran off. They gave me a card with a phone number and said I could use most people’s phone for 100J, just ask them. Jamaicans can buy a phone card for 100J and it’s worth their time (about $1.25). If I were to ever get stuck or need a ride they have a taxi driver who stays there. Darnell. Darnell was the driver who waited at the airport for 3 or 4 hours and somehow missed our adults who arrived the first day. He drove two hours there and two back with a long wait and never got paid. It turned out good, as it often does, that we compromised and gave him a strong tip even though we had to hire another taxi, each group, and spend much more money all the way around that it should have been had we all come down on time on the first flight. Not everyone felt good about the whole thing, but it pays to make things right. That’s also why I recommend bringing more money than you think you will need, or at least have access to an account through a credit or debit card for cash extraction. We call that margin. Darnell spent an entire day to get us and needed some sort of repayment. Now I had his number and could roam all of Negril and always have a backup plan. As I walked out of Thunder’s door he passed on a pound of coffee for Mary, on the hill. Thunder, pronounced Tunder, roasts his own fresh coffee straight from the fields and sells it in bulk to anyone able to bring some back to the U.S.
The beach was hot. My partners had taken a walk on the beach and had a little sour in their mouths from the typical first time experience. The beach is a little like Cherokee in my home state of North Carolina. There are some legit things there, there are pockets of wonder, and there are tourist bear-traps, suck-you-in parasites that can clean you out of cash. This, my second day in Negril, I still had these soft places that needed to harden, fast. One beach vendor shoved some coconut pieces in my hand and demanded so much money. He dropped his price in half when I said no and then started hassling me. When he got upset I put his coconut pieces back in his bag. He stormed off cussing about whatever, I didn’t care. Sometimes a seller will tear open a bag or item as they hand it to you so you feel obliged to buy it. I remember now, being too nice causes so much more friction and strife than being solid. To the next vendor I said, “no mon, tanks, respek”, and he went on without a word other than, “Irie” – everyting cool.
The beach is capital property, everything is most expensive there. But if you travel and look and relax the sweet spots appear. Little quiet shacks desperate for money dot the shoreline between large restaurants and immaculate resort beaches. I spoke to the Hobie Cat sailing captain; one boat was $40 per hour, the other $50, a little further down the beach. Red Stripes sold not for the tourist $400, or too much $300J, or even typical bar $250J, but on sale at $150, cold. That’s under two bucks and the supermarket has them for 140 or 130 cheapest. The brand of rum that Jamaicans are all into now is JB, cheap and good, they say. Well, I could agree. Many little bars provide chairs, as do the resorts and hotels. It’s a fine line here what belongs to whom and what you have to do to use what. Some places don’t mind visitors to sit and draw in other visitors who eventually spend money in the craft booths or cafes. Other places rent the chairs, some are private chairs belonging to some vacationer (who, as one of our members discovered, may not take kindly to you using theirs), and some are there for you but they appreciate if you just support them somehow. I was just cruising. I did take a break and drink a Red Stripe. At both far ends of Negril’s ivory sand and turquoise water beach are little forests - cool and nice to sit in. If you have a friend to help watch bags you can swim, but the side closest to the river is probably more polluted. I recommend what I found last night for a local swim spot but you’ll have wait on that. Just like this story has to wait. We just paid for a car today, $50US, and have it for 24 hours. I’m going to head off with the team and go to some private beach and farms, check on business ideas, and eat lots of fresh fruit.
Today’s sojourn was a huge bang for the buck, but I’m convinced you have to at least be a Jedi to survive driving on the roads. Back to the story; tonight I am writing with a red headlamp on to light the keypad, inside my little tent, naked, listening to the incessant night sounds. In addition to wandering aimlessly along the beach I wanted to connect with my Dad’s old friend out in the West End. This Rasta supposedly helped save my Dad’s life thirty years ago and the pair reconnected during a visit 2 years ago. He was the man to see about selling special items that may find themselves useful on the island. The only lead I had was a seaside castle where Dad stayed. He told me, “Look across the street.”
So after asking around, talking to security guards and getting a tour of the castle itself, I headed up a road. Deep holes and piles of rubble marked the off-white surface. The picture was even more complete next to an apparently abandoned concrete house and burned out vehicle. A man bathed, mostly naked, out of a rusty pipe hung on a concrete wall. Kids played in the street and goats milled about. The weather was exceptional, as it has been the entire trip – breezy and sunny, just right, not too hot, not at all cool.
What are these little things we acquire as learned behavior that allow us to travel with confidence outside the confines of the tourist route. Why is it that on one walk the smallest of bothers are brushed aside and a mutual respect ensues between the traveler and the street seller, and on another the constant barrage of harassment is enough to keep a traveler closed in and isolated for the duration? I can’t think of any way to describe it other than having dead-hard confidence and at least attempting to recreate as much of the local lingo as possible. One phrase, “Whattagowan sistren, irie” is enough to establish yourself as someone not to be scammed, hassled, or otherwise molested. Pushing back, not folding in, walking toward a group not away, smiling when the opportunity arises but not before or falsely. Looking for a chance for repor, something in common, and a genuine heart of compassion for the hard times of a hungry people. The Jamaican people live in a hard place. Over 200,000 a year apply to get a visitation permit to the United States, very few of that number get approved. They are stuck and have only what they can scratch out on their own to survive. Even so, there is a palpable feeling, this visit at least, that they really appreciate the visit. The roughest and tumblest of the beachcombers know that without a tourist destination they wouldn’t be combing the beach. Same for the guards, the drivers, the fruit vendors who sell along the road to anyone willing to buy. I wandered past a house of of ladies who giggled and whistled, asking if I wanted someone to show me where Winston lived. I declined and scrambled up a wall of sharp rock; coral or limestone or something, shards, razors, steep. An old water hose snaked up the cliff. When I found Winston, beyond where the road stops and up past more than a few curious stares, he flipped out. For the next 10 minutes he excitedly told everyone around how he has known my Dad for thirty years, that I am his brother, or like a son, and that I was a yaadi, a Jamaican, and that no one was to give me a hard time anywhere.
They speak fast in Patois and slanted English, most people can’t understand them. I understand enough that I only have to fake 20-30% of the conversation and can get the meaning from context and inflection. If you speak some slang back to them or respond to their toughest word play then they are afraid, and respect that they don’t know exactly what you can and cannot hear. I told Winston about things I brought to trade and share profits with him if he could help, and that we may come stay at the Cliffside castle later in the week. He was quick to tell me about his Sister’s place right next to the castle for half price with a shared kitchen and gave me her number. We looked at it as well. Sure, it was a little run down, but it was breathtaking – sharp cliffs with a small walkway down, a jump off point, and perfect view of the sunset. I think one of the great treasures of Negril is the sunset over the sea. Before I left he begged in an upstanding way for some money for food for he and his wife. Working security at the cliff resorts is his main profession but they only have a little work each week as of late. He also fishes but the motor on his boat is in need of unavailable parts.
Let’s get one point across very clearly. If your heart breaks over every case of severe need you will die of a broken heart in Jamaica. And you will go broke trying to help everyone. Of course there are scammers and sob stories left and right, in front and behind, but there are enough legitimate charity needs for good people and kids that you have to be vigilant and sparing with what you choose to do. Furthermore be strong with your personal boundaries and what you are willing to help with. After a brief thought about Winston, that my Dad might have died without him a long time ago (an incident which I learned got Winston 3 broken ribs), I gave the man a $1,000J and said goodbye for a day or two.
Camera pictures from this part of the trip are fairly sparse. First impressions are meaningful and the people struggle to survive. Taking pictures of their hardship could be rather offensive and displaying costly items is not wise until one gets the real feel of how things are. I always seek fellowship with Jamaicans on my own mountain roots, my family’s history on the island, places I stay and who I know. We share roots skills, things about plants and animals, work and building, and family. Jamaicans respect a father, or a mother, and give extra stock to those who raise a family.
Winston grabbed me a taxi and commanded the man to give me a local Jamaican rate. That was the information I needed. I set off for the bottom of Whitehall Road. Somehow, and many would not, I enjoy the walk up the hill through the island ghetto. It’s much nicer than it used to look in some ways, in other ways it’s just a run-down network of concrete houses, shacks, broken pavement and electrical wires that look like a natural answer to any possible overpopulation on the island – that being sudden death for anyone foolish enough to go near them. It’s a scene made sadder by the attempt at modernity that seems to lurch a step forward before falling backwards a half-length and then struggles to maintain position between a people in poverty and a government unable to assist.
The evening after returning to my cherished little hilltop was filled as most of them were; martial arts, talking, trying to use the restroom when water ran and do things like brush teeth and fill up a water bottle, more training with Brian, drinking various liquids for maintenance of health and enjoyment, and training some more. Chris was already developing blisters from so much training with the bokken and escrima sticks. That was a good sign. Chris and I were going in a different and unexpected martial arts direction. Rather than working on the Jiu Jutsu or stick techniques Brian and I had planned we began studying an old sword form. The traditional family style form has a rich heritage and includes many unusual manipulations of the blade with the left hand. Chris and I worked tirelessly on the techniques continuing to refine them before moving on. We made it through the first three ‘forms’ of seven, which are strung together as one long complicated performance. Chris demonstrated unusual learning aptitude and picked it up faster than myself. The sword form occupied many spare moments in our concrete dojo. The dogs stirred the night to a raucous chorus, music jammed in every distance and direction, and I laid to rest in my hammock over a sea of lights and a dark ocean of water before me.
Somehow the mix of strange and uncooperative night sounds seemed to merge, as if directed by a divine hand, DJ Jah, the music intertwined in melody and beat to complete a marvelous symphony that could never be recreated. The same station on different stereos on opposite sides of the hill created a rather psychedelic musical field, time delays and echos from the cliff wall not withstanding. I recorded it for use in a musical work of my own. My iPhone was sparingly employed throughout the stay for various reasons, but the portable music studio was a good resource for cataloguing the local tongue as well as music and ambient sounds.
My earplugs found good use, and yet, I was beginning to enjoy it. Brian found contentment in aiding hard won sleep with certain local concoctions of the tastiest variety.
a very Appalachian style kitchen - enough to make an ol mountain boy feel right at home