Deep West

2015 turned out to be a pretty stressful year….I won’t go into detail you’ll just have to trust me on that. As I do every year, I skid into my trip to Jamaica and this year was different only in that I felt I needed the respite more than I ever have, including the fateful year when seven of my people died on me.

I have been told to “reflect”. Even though the person who demanded this of me certainly did not mean for me to reflect on my recent stay in Jamaica…that is EXACTLY what I have reflected upon. I share those reflections with you.

This season we didn’t do a whole lot of running around – no motorcycle rides, no road trips. We were very content being homebodies for the most part. For thirteen years now we have been doing our “extended-stay” thing, all of them in the same yard, nine in the same house. We love our yard and our home there and we generally spend that first week nesting and stocking the house. This year, no different. We have a beautiful pool and seafront and I relished my mornings with my book and coffee on my back patio, facing the sea, taking the early morning sun and listening to the yard wake up, taking in my environment with every sense I have.

“Our house, is a very very fine house….with two cats in the yard…” Yes, we had “vacation pets”. Well, we shared them. Our dearest friends there have two cats, one is fourteen and a bit wobbly on his feet but still sweet and gentle though frail and senile. The other is a 2 year old “cat” who doesn’t really behave like a cat. Karma is quite the character and makes herself at home pretty much anywhere. She slept with us a few times when we couldn’t extract her from the house. She’d come over for dinner…she had her own plate and her Mama would feed her what we were eating. I’d come downstairs and find her snoozing on the couch as her partner and crime overtook the lounger on the back deck. They were a joy to have around and really took the sting out of so missing my cats back home, the only shadow I ever have on my stays in Negril. She followed my husband down to the cave below my house one morning, climbing the rocks, completely alert and definitely “looking” for something when all of a sudden Les hears a loud squeal. Upon just a little investigation Karma showed him a Seagull sitting on a nest of eggs deep within the twisted rock – we would never have known she was there. Karma and Pita were a huge part of our experience this year. In fact, I’ve dedicated a decent part of my movie recap to them.

I am not a gardener; in fact, I tend to kill things that come out of the soil. While cleaning house one day Les discovered what looked like a bean sprouting in a “puddle” of icky water by the sink. Upon closer investigation we discover it is not a bean – it’s a peanut. My husband being an avid gardener dropped it in the soil. Like everything in the tropics this thing just took off. My “bestie from the block”, Karma’s Mom is a botanist and explained exactly how peanuts grow. They flower but then the flower’s stem, aka the “peduncle” bends towards the soil so that the flower touches it. From there, the peanut grows. Most think the peanut comes from the root but no, it comes from these flowers, bending over and literally “planting” it below.   Well, this revelation was too cool for words and we honestly did not expect to see this happen but within a day there it was – a peanut flower! By the end of the day it had “done its thing” and bent over into the soil. Each day, a new flower…sometimes two, sometimes three…each doing their “thing”. We were enthralled with this plant and it flourished so in the short time it was in our care. In fact, we were so obsessed with this that another friend referred to it as our “ant farm”. When we left we gave it to our yard guy. We fully expect at the very least that he will harvest a ton of peanuts (having grown up in country growing them on a regular basis) or perhaps he will corner the market in Negril Peanut Farming and become a gazillionaire. Wayne the Peanut Mogul…that would be too cool.

I’d say a good part of my stay was spent preparing food, making the most of the incredible ingredients I could source locally – fresh produce, fresh fish and more chicken than anyone would ever want to eat. My house has a two-burner gas range, no oven. I plan to put my recipes together and call it “two burners, one love”. (Soon come!)   My “focus” ingredient this year was Plantain and I developed a nice recipe for Plaintain Latkes, inspired by something I ate at Zimbali one year. It’s basically a potato latke using both green and ripe plantains shredded instead of the potato. Fried in coconut oil…it was a huge hit. I also gave a try at Plaintain Lasagne…it came out good but does need perfecting. I pulled out and perfected my brown stew technique on fish and chicken and came to a realization that when cooking chicken on a two burner range “brown stew” technique applies no matter what the seasoning and vegetables are with the chicken. Using this technique I made Chicken Adobo, a Kerali-Style curry Chicken and Chicken Tikka-Masala to name a few. We find some Spring Roll wrappers at the supermarket and made spring rolls with Jamaican ingredients and flavors. Of course, with fresh fish from the fisherman’s village you can’t wrong with Escovetch or even a cornmeal crusted fried Bonita, kinda New Orleans catfish style. For all the food-centric stuff I’ve described I returned home a few pounds lighter, as I always do. Aside from eating clean food for the most part, keeping it seasonal and local, just as I do at home I am way more active there than here when I’m parked for most of the day at a desk in front of a computer.

We did manage to eat out on occasion. Breakfast at Jus Natural a couple of times, take-out from Sips and Bites, had my AhBee burger, German Bar and of course LTU. Got Jerk Chicken from Tony and once from Bourbon Beach (I like Tony’s much better, it was a time and place thing for Bourbon Beach.) We celebrated two occasions at Ivans, my favorite restaurant in Negril – once was hub’s birthday and the other was our last night in Negril.

Which brings me to Bob the Duck. Hey, just because our posse has “settled down” a bit doesn’t mean we’ve abandoned our motto of “practice random acts of silliness”. Anyone who’s been to Ivans knows the famous Ivans Ducks. You, know, the wooden ducks with rain boots. They are everywhere, we often tease the owner about that. The night of Les’ birthday one of those ducks…Bob…hopped in the back of our friend’s pickup with us and spent the night. I came downstairs in the morning, bleary eyed a bit from the Vodka-Grapefruits of the night before and saw him there on the table. “Right”, I said out loud. “THIS happened”. From there it was a runaway train. Our friends from LA and Toronto came over and with their encouragement Bob went out on the town…a vacation from his post at Ivans, he was bent on seeing all Negril had to offer.

Bob hung out in the yard, spending time at the pool and taking in the views from our patio. He met Karma. Bob played dominoes at Doras. He drove Niah’s van. He visited the Lighthouse. He went to the beach. He ate chicken at Bourbon Beach (a duck eating chicken?   Yeah…Bob’s a bit depraved). He went shopping at HiLo. He went to Ricks where he became an immediate celebrity, having his photo taken with many tourists for their vacation albums. He caught sunset at LTU. Then he went back to Catcha, took his place amongst his bredren where we noticed that he was the only one there with red boots. As Bob told his tale to his fellow ducks his escorts enjoyed a cocktail and a quick game of Trivial Pursuit with a couple from LA that I only knew online but was so pleased to meet in the flesh.

We rarely went out at night, only a handful of times in the months we were there. We checked out AhBee’s music thing which was nice…the band was good and the vibe mellow. LTU is our go-to spot for evening fun and we definitely went there a few times for drinks and company.

Then of course there were the “parties” we were invited to and planned. Our friends got married at Half Moon Beach and it was an awesome wedding. They had a “regular” ceremony with a great officiant who did use the word “God” once followed by a full on Hindu ceremony (they flew the Hindu priest in) which I found to be totally interesting and moving. The ceremonies were on the beach and they had their reception over on “the island” better known to most as Calico Jacks.

Our friend had his 60th birthday party at LTU and it was a blast. He went all out with food and a quasi-open bar. Tons of people there….lots the poor guy didn’t even know but who felt “welcome” enough to glom his food and drink, lol. I think he might have gotten a date out of it but you know how people can be. Didn’t bother me, the place was packed and the mood festive. My girls and I even jumped up on the bar for a dance, something none of us had done there in a good ten years. Considering the number of friends and tourists with cameras I know my image looking completely spastic is out there on someone’s vacation video.

With the success of that party hub decided to throw me my own “surprise” party there the Saturday before we left. The surprise was of course that my birthday was still a week away. It was a great way to gather all of our peeps in one place for our “last hurrah” for the season. I love sitting at that bar and looking around and seeing every face there is a face I know. The love is overwhelming.

I enjoyed plenty of day-time reveling. Every week the ladies would gather at Canoe, take our corner table on the newly expanded veranda and soak up cocktails and solve the problems of the world. This was usually followed up with a stop at Hermine’s Bun Bun shop right across the street from our gate for another beer and more problem solving. Big up to the women with whom I am so close, like sisters with…there was a core group of six of us, all but two full time residents in Negril…and have been for decades, two and three times longer than some who expound poetic about their newly “found” lifestyle online. I’ve learned so much from these ladies over the years about how to really LIVE there that I have no problem saying that is exactly what I do for the relatively short time that I do it. Big up to these women who own their own businesses and know what it is like to etch out a living on a Jamaican economy and not to rely on a North American pension as a retiree. They are tough but gentle, not bitter as some expats become and fully and totally have a love and pride of place that I’ve never seen before anywhere. They are truly wise about the way of the world there in a developing country where the living is not always easy.  They take the good with the bad and we discuss plenty of bad in Jamaica but they never forget why they chose to live there and always appreciate the great parts of living there that for them outweigh the many tough issues and times. Between them and my Jamaican friends I’ve learned so much about being one with the island and at the same time I’ve learned more about myself and what I do and do not want to do with my future. Just ten years ago we were seriously contemplating buying and building there. Now…we are more than satisfied with what we are doing and our “big plan” is just to do it for a longer period of time when that space opens up for us. I’ve learned appreciate where I live for most of the year, and I’ve learned to be grateful that I am so blessed to go from one garden spot on the planet to another. I can come home to Bodega and stand out on my porch overlooking the pastels of sunrise to the east or the brilliance of the sunset to the west…I can inhale deeply and smell and smile the distinct aromas of rural Northern California. I can fill my eyes with the lush beauty of winter here – the verdancy of the meadows and hills, the pops of yellow as the first daffodils of spring come from the earth. I can attain that same peaceful feeling that I have in Negril when I do the same thing early in the morning facing the sea as the day breaks and the sweet smell of the tropics fill my nostrils and I give full thanks for LIFE.

This year was about finding balance as it turns out. Taking time to appreciate my surroundings, my loved ones and the food that nourishes us. Keeping up with work that keeps my boat afloat without a minute of resentment, rather full joy and full creativity with a relaxed and open mind. Such a difference when I look back just nine years ago, when I read my blog entries and it was all about the party, the fun and the non-stop “adventure”. I wouldn’t change those experiences for the world but I can now sit back and say “I did that, I loved that…maybe in a small way I miss that…but I was there WHEN…”. Despite recent horrors, gun violence, traffic accidents and the sudden and tragic death of a young man who called me Auntie (thank god, not violence but a seizure) – I will be back “same bat channel, same bat place”.   I look forward to that but moreso, I look forward to the next nine months with a peaceful mind and love in my heart.

Here’s my annual video…enjoy.

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