Every year I make one trip into Sav la Mar. Savanna la Mar or “Sav” is the Westmoreland Parish seat and bustling city in its own right. It’s where you pay your taxes, get your drivers license and shop.
From the time I arrive in Negril until we make this pilgrimage I keep a running list of the items I need that I either can’t find in Negril or that I know I’ll find at a lower cost in Sav. These items are usually household in nature – a nutmeg grater, a large plastic bin, a large bucket and a medium sized pot.
The mission is not only to find the items – but to find the best quality items at the lowest price. You see, pretty much every store in Sav will carry these items at various price points and levels of quality. After many years of doing this scavenger hunt I have narrowed my “haunts” for these types of items to Brumalia, Fontana, Bashco and Woolworth. My partner in crime and Sav shopping mentor Peg has a bit of a different mission today. She has five government agencies to visit, her binder filled with paperwork needed to get other paperwork that will ultimately provide her with her TCC, or Tax Compliance Certificate – a piece of paper vital to the package that will ultimately provide her with a work permit. It is not going to be an easy day for Peg. Jamaican bureaucracy is not an easy road to navigate. It seems you have a hard time leaving an office without being “one form short”, forcing you back home, empty handed to retrieve or obtain said form and bring it back the following day, week or month – however long it takes until you get it right. Peg is feeling confident today, confident that she has dotted all her I’s and crossed all her T’s while at the same time aprehensive that she might be missing that one form.
We head out to the car park in downtown Negril early and immediately hear all the drivers calling out their routes: “Lucea, Lucea”, “West End, West End”, “Sav, Sav”. We hop into a route taxi bound for Sav la Mar, followed by others heading in that same direction.
The route taxi passenger ebbs and flows as the car speeds up the road. At times it is just Peg and I in the back seat – at others there are a total of four of us with one baby in a lap. The half-hour ride to Sav seems to take no time as we are dropped at the taxi stand in front of one of the newer shopping centers in town. Our first stop on our scavenger hunt will be Brumalia Hardware and Fontana – a store similar to CVS or Longs but with more and varied “stuff”.
Next on our list we head over to the first government office that Peg has to visit. I hang out with her in there. The clerk carefully examines the contents of her binder – her paperwork as far as this office is concerned (for now) is in order, she receives her stamp and can now proceed to the next office. Since this next stop for her is going to take a while we agree to part company and meet up when she is finished. I can now continue on my scavenger hunt – walking from store to store and examining their stock. For the first time ever I have brought my camera along so my plan is to “stop and smell the roses”, take a really good look at this city and capture it digitally on my Nikon Coolpix. I’d always felt uneasy about taking pictures in Sav but today I figure, “what the hell”. I’ll for certain be the only white face folks about town will see, so I might as well be a “tourist white face”. Off I go on my own little adventure.
Savanna la Mar, meaning “Plain on the Sea”, was established in 1730 by the Spanish. Much of the town was obliterated and rebuilt due to hurricanes that hit in 1748, 1780, 1912 and more recently, 2004 and this past fall of 2010. Evidence of the destruction in this fall’s Hurricane Nicole can be seen most predominantly in the ruins of the Baptist Church. A ball of lighting formed and and sped “tornado-like” right through the church and the area immediately surrounding it. It demolished a church that was built in 1835.
The Catholic Church, otherwise known as the Westmoreland Parish Church was constructed in 1903. It is a grand church of Catholic tradition -lovely grounds, stained glass windows, magnificent masonry and a small cemetery in the back.
The Court House is located in an area called Norman Square and was built in 1925. There’s a large outdoor corridor where people wait for their cases to be called. A placque on one of the outside walls commemorates Queen Elizabeth’s visit in 1966.
Right next door to the Court House is a structure that has always intrigued me. It’s gated and locked tight so I’ve only ever had a somewhat distant wide-angle view of the thing. It is made of cast iron and resembles a gazebo.
I have come to find out that this structure is actually a fountain, presented to the town by a Westmoreland Planter named E.J. Sandler. There are eight columns connected by arches (making it look like the gazebo I thought it might be), the fountain in the center. Above each of the arches is a carving of a Pelican, along with the phrase “Keep the Pavement Dry”.
It doesn’t really matter what time of day it is – you can find school children filling the streets in Sav pretty much all the time. At the north end of town stands the Manning School, established in 1739. As far as I can tell, it is an all purpose school who’s students range in age from nine to fourteen.
The younger children walk by me, eyes wide, some either yellling “whitey!” or whispering among themselves as we pass each other. This is not done in any sort of intimidating way, more just as a commentary or curiosity for seeing something unusual on the street.
Historic landmarks aside, I take in the smells and visuals of this bustling city: The open sewer trenches, uneven sidewalk pavement, the small bars overflowing with patrons in the mid-day sun. There are many shops with their wares uniquely displayed outside, pushcarts all about, moving parcels from one place to another or carrying shaved ice for the eager children lining up around it. There are several vendors on the street selling everything from brightly colored plastic flowers to fruit to brassieres. The larger more established stores are surrounded by the smaller wooden ones, cook sheds advertising things like Cow Foot Soup. I make my way down Great George Street to visit my shops of choice, stopping into Hurry Hurry for the sole purpose of browsing through their amazing selection of fabrics.
The call comes in from Peg and we reunite at the HEART office and get her final piece of paperwork. Then we head back to the office we started at and voila! She has everything she needs for her TCC, which will be ready for her to pick up next week.
My scavenger hunt brings me back to the first two stores we started at – Fontana and Brumalia – they have the best quality items at the lowest price. Like surgeons we enter each store, pluck the items from the shelves and in no time we are back at the taxi stand, bundles in hand. It takes a few minutes longer than usual to flag a Negril-bound taxi since we have coincided with school dismissal but soon enough one comes along. We load our packages in the back and head back to Negril.
All in all it was a tiring but successful day in Sav. Peg has her TCC in the works – I managed to get everything on my list (not a usual occurence on these shopping trips, I must admit). We are exhausted and hot but agree there’s only one way to celebrate a successful Sav trip – and that would be at Canoe. We sip our Caesars, walk on the beach, enjoy friends and reaclimate to the Negril vibe.