A Tale of Two Road Trips – Part III

Part III

“One of the inescapable encumbrances of leading an interesting life is that there have to be moments when you almost lose it.”
Jimmy Buffett, A Pirate Looks at Fifty

December 22, 2012

We woke the next morning to fresh coffee and Bigga preparing Ackee and Saltfish for breakfast. Our mission for the day was to touch the eastern-most part of the island. Coming from the western-most part we thought it be a significant journey to start our exploration.

Through the cane fields

Through the cane fields

We hit the road early passing through small towns south of Long Bay. Using a combination of a map and verbal directions from the street we found ourselves turning into a tremendous sugarcane plantation and processing plant. We followed the narrow unpaved roads through the cane fields, occasionally passing an abandoned bus or van where workers o just folks were taking shade from the beating sun.

We kept following the road that seemed to go on forever. Just as we were feeling that we were hopelessly lost a wooden hand written sign confirming we were on the right path.

Directional Signage

Directional Signage

From that point it wasn’t too long until the sometime overwhelming odor of decaying cane was replaced with a salty sea breeze. We found ourselves on a “real” road hugging the coast. Sadly, that “real” road was overcome with sand, a casualty of Hurricane Sandy. We chose not to ride further in the sand as sand and motorcycles do not mix well.

The Point Morant Lighthouse

The Point Morant Lighthouse

There it was – not too far in the distance, The Point Morant Lighthouse. West meets East, we felt we should have planted a flag to mark the occasion. We walked around the beach for a while but the wind was intensely harsh and constant; the sea was rolling angrily at the same time.   We checked out the debris scattered about the beach, a good deal of it brought in by Sandy, no doubt.

Creepy baby doll

Creepy baby doll

Soon we were riding back through the cane fields; the ride back didn’t seem to take as long. We stopped in the small town of Duckenfield Hall for a box lunch of fried chicken and rice. It was still early so we discussed our options as to what to do next. Pulling out our list of recommendations we decided on Bath. It was kind of on our way back to Long Bay and we all felt that healing warm waters would be a nice relaxing thing to do.

Small town

Small town

December 13, 2013

We all sat around the large kitchen table that morning drinking coffee and deciding what to do with our day. Amazingly enough, Thing 2 was pretty coherent considering that he had held court with the Germans for a good three hours after the rest of us had gone to bed. I wanted to check out Blue Lagoon. I’d seen such nice photos of the place. Les, Ron and Peg were down; Thing 1 and Thing 2 not so much. They wanted a break from being on the bikes. Their plan was to spend the day at the beach close to home. Bigga gave us the lo-down on the Lagoon. Yes, there would be “guys” there but nothing too harassing. All we’d need to do is throw one of them a Nanny to “park” and they would leave us alone.

Blue Lagoon

Blue Lagoon

To get to Blue Lagoon you drive off the main down a narrow road/hill where huge villas and resort walls surround you. We pulled into a small gravel parking lot where we met “the guys”. As Bigga said, there was really no pressure or harassment – we handed one of them the Nanny to park.

“Did we want a boat ride?” he asked. We politely declined. There’s a small rocky beach near the parking lot that was completely taken over by some photo shoot so we proceeded down to the only access to the Lagoon, the dock. The dock area is tiny and there are more than several boats tied in to the left. The only swimming access was to the right, a tiny beach-type of walk in access. Ron and Peg checked things out then sat on a bench next to where souvenirs were being sold, with no view of the water. Our guy said, “Welcome to Blue Lagoon! Well…its green today because of all the rainfall.”

Blue Lagoon Boats

Blue Lagoon Boats

Green water withstanding, the lagoon is beautiful. I looked across the water and saw it was ringed with trees and bush and in many cases a small beach had been cleared and there were chairs, maybe a table and a lounger. I knew that these days most of the lagoon was surrounded by private homes, villas and resorts. I saw some of the young people from the photo shoot swimming across to another somewhat less developed area across the water. While I was interested in what was over there I knew it was too big a swim for me. I walked into the lagoon gingerly – the water had a bit of a “nip”. Once submerged though it was simply delicious. I swam around, close to shore trying my best to avoid the boats. Unfortunately, one of those boats pulled into the dock. I hung back as far as I could as the boat unloaded, the smell of gasoline could have ruined the whole thing for me if I’d let it. I reluctantly swam to shore through the perceived effluence of the vessel’s motor. There was none, or not that I could detect however the idea of swimming where an outboard motor grossed me out a bit. To dry off I attempted to lay out on the dock for a bit. I got up pretty quickly; lots of people were walking back and forth on the small space that was apparently not meant to be a “chill spot”. I was disappointed that there really wasn’t a place to relax and enjoy the beauty that surrounded us.

P1090821I joined the rest of my group at the bench. We were sitting next to a sweet young Jamaican man whose leg as obviously mangled. Being that we were the boo-boo brigade with fresh bandages on newly acquired wounds war stories of motorcycle accidents became the topic of discussion. We talked bikes and injuries with the young man for a while. Les was having a small issue with our bike that we were looking to take care of before we made the trek into the mountains and we knew that motorcycle mechanics were scarce in Long Bay. Our new friend was more than happy to help and turned us on to his “guy” in St. Margaret’s Bay, just past Port Antonio and on the way to Buff Bay.

A large tour bus pulled in and we took that as our cue to vamoos. We said goodbye to our new friend and checked Blue Lagoon off of our bucket list. While the spot was lovely the experience was less so. The fact that there was no place to relax and enjoy the setting, that the swimming access was so small and crowded with boats bummed me out a bit. The only was to really experience the lagoon would have been to have taken that boat ride which for us was more money than we wanted to spend on a half-hour “tour” – that and all that motorized boat activity seemed to be environmentally unfriendly. I would have much preferred to have jumped in a kayak, canoe or rowboat the gently float around the water at our own pace and explore what was on the opposite shore.

December 22, 2012

Traffic on the road in St. Thomas

Traffic on the road in St. Thomas

The ride to Bath was beautiful as we snaked through the hills of St. Thomas. The road was narrow and rough and we were surrounded by lush foliage. When we approached Bath the first thing we saw was a huge pink building that looked like an effeminate penitentiary. It was, in fact, THE hotel at Bath.

As we pulled into the parking lot no less than ten men, yelling and talking over each other, surrounded us each trying to be our “guide”. There was no getting rid of these guys and we did need to know which way to go so we went, with all ten guys surrounding us. The path to the river was narrow but not harrowing. Several vendors were set up along the way selling drinks and food, but none called out to us as we passed. Perhaps it was because these guys that were “with” us did not shut up the entire walk. Several times they would stop dead on the trail and argue with each other in patois over our heads. Each time we’d have to yell at these fools to move just so we could continue on, even though our better instincts told us to turn tail and run in the opposite direction. I never once felt threatened but I was seriously irritated. After what seemed like miles and hours we arrived at the river. We were directed to the warm water spots and waded in. Our “entourage” hung around, making some small talk with Les and Ron. Peg and I settled ourselves on a ridge on the opposite side.

The river was beautiful and the water warm. Sadly my irie was so mashed up at this point that any hope I had of relaxing in warm healing waters was dashed far, far away.

I’m not quite sure what happened next; it’s all a blur. Suddenly, or not, I was getting a massage with hot and cold water being poured over my head and body. Peg was also getting a similar massage. I don’t know why it happened so fast and so slickly but something in the back of my head was telling me to just go with it. I remember laying face down on a rock in the river, being rubbed with pimento oil, doused with hot water, then doused with cold water and thinking “you are getting a massage in a river – embrace it!” Still I knew that I’d have to pay for this on some level, probably the cash level.

I’m not sure how long we were pummeled, but after it was all over Peg and I sat limply on the ledge. At some point one of the guys had asked for my camera so he could take pictures of me “enjoying” the springs – I had the presence of mind to refuse. Peg, unfortunately, did not and handed her camera to him. Her “photographer” snapped some pictures and returned the camera. We looked at the out of focus and poorly composed images with humor and Peg graciously thanked the guy.

Then our “masseurs” approached. OK – here we go. He asked if we enjoyed our massages. He asked if we wanted to buy some pimento oil. Then the hammer came down. I had in my head what I was willing to pay as he pontificated about how a massage like we just had would cost “x” amount of US dollars but they were only requesting a gratuity of…wait for it…$50US. I had no words so I just burst out laughing. Thankfully Les and Ron stepped in and the negotiations began in earnest. Ron is awesome at this, his patois is quite good and very deliberate so these guys knew right away that they were not dealing with a newbie tourist who wandered up the wrong lane. An agreement was reached civilly, no yelling, no bumbaclots but definitely some sour faces. As the masseurs each walked away glumly with their 3000JMD (each) the rest of the “entourage” all huddled in again; each wanted a “guide” fee. Ron and Les were firm in the fact that if any fee was to be paid it would only be paid to two of them; one guide for each couple. As we left the river there was a repeat performance by the Hardy Boys, arguing with each other as to who exactly would receive this “fee”. They argued with each other and pled their cases to Ron and Les the whole walk back. At one point Peg’s little photographer friend saddled up to her, hand out, wanting his fee for photography services – 1000JMD. Peg reached in her purse, pulled out a Nanny and handed it to the kid, giving him the look that said, “Now take it and SHUT UP”. He did and bolted up the trail leaving his compadres behind to fend for themselves.

A mere few feet from the parking lot we were stopped dead in our tracks; the moment of truth had arrived. Les and Ron announced that each guide would be receiving 1000JMD and that was it. Les handed the bill to one guy, Ron to another. Amidst the bumbaclots, foot stomping and outrage one of the guys from the group snatched the bill out of one of our “guide’s” hand and took off. Immediately the victim began whining to Les, trying to plead his case as to why Les should re-compensate him. “Dude,” Les said, “You have a better chance getting the money back from that thief, cause I’m broke-pocket.”

As we approached the bikes there was a kid standing there with a wash bucket. I’d had just about enough. Before the kid could say anything I threw my hands up in the air. “Go ask your friends for money – they just took all of ours!” He gave me a look like I’d just drowned his puppy, really, really crestfallen. I caved and Les and Ron handed the kid 300JMD each. We pulled out of there, leaving Bath in the dust.

As soon as we got some distance between Bath and us we pulled over for a smoke by the side of the road and burst into uproarious laughter. All our annoyance and irritation melted away into humor. Here we were, two full-time residents and two veteran visitors who “know the runnings” and who had just been run over by those runnings. We laughed about how people complain about aggressive vendors in Negril, none of whom could hold a candle to these guys. These days when I read complaints about Negril’s hustlers I smile and think of Bath.

Here it is again though; a perfect example of how Jamaicans shoot themselves in the foot. This is yet another naturally beautiful gem in Jamaica ruined by its self-appointed ambassadors.

December 13, 2013

After Blue Lagoon we headed to Boston Bay for lunch. The place where jerk was originated, it gets a lot of buzz as THE place to go for this uniquely Jamaican cuisine. We ordered our food; chicken and pork with roast yam on the side. Roast yam is not something you find at the jerk joints in Negril too often but it is a staple of Jamaican cuisine. Just a little butter, wrapped in foil and roasted on an open fire, I thoroughly enjoyed eating my roasted yam. More than I enjoyed eating my jerk chicken; it wasn’t bad but it was earth shattering either. The simplicity of the yam was more to my liking, so much so that I’m inspired now to build a fire pit in our yard in Negril to roast yam…and conch, fish, and those little snail-like things that cling to our cliff walls.

Boston Beach

Boston Beach

After we were done eating Ron settled himself into a game of Dominoes while Peg watched. Les and I took a walk and found ourselves at Boston Beach. What a pretty little beach! It would become my favorite on the east coast of Jamaica, a beach I would love to return to in the future. The vibe was super chill with young hard bodied surfers all around from all over the world. There was a small “shack” where you can rent a surfboard or boogie board. The beach itself is not all that big, not even big enough for a decent walk so we sat down on a bench in the shade and watched the surfers paddle out and cut through the waves. The young and relaxed vibe and the surfers reminded us of our Northern California beaches – without the fog, the wind and the cold.

Endless Summer

Endless Summer

We strolled back and encouraged Ron and Peg to return with us to that bench on the beach. We sat for a while, and then as we were leaving a man came running up to us from the small restaurant next to the changing rooms. He was really excited; he recognized Ron from Negril. Apparently he’d worked at one of the more popular jerk places in Negril – was it 3 Dives? I can’t remember. He had a big smile and told us his story. He’d moved recently from west to east and was now running this jerk restaurant. It was too bad we’d already eaten but I look forward to the next visit where I can breeze past the pushy jerk vendors and enjoy a quiet meal at this guy’s place on this fabulous beach.

 

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