May 24, 2008

Feeling the Jamaica Vibe

Jamaica is just what I needed! Four days seemed like it would be too short but it was just enough time to clear my mind, get a bit of a tan, meet cool people and have some fun. As you know I booked this very last minute and had no idea about where I was going. Most times I do some pre-planning and get travel books out of the library. This time I just showed up at the airport and did what I was told. That was the advantage of an all-inclusive holiday.

I stayed at The Grand Pineapple which recently changed its name from Negril Gardens although everyone knows it as that and all the signage has the old name. It is located about 50 miles from Montego Bay which is the big resort area. The ride out to Negril takes about 1.5 hours and is along roads that take you through villages, past schools with kids in colorful uniforms, fields with wandering goats and along the coast.

The resort was fun - very low key. I would call it more a camp for adults but without the organized activities. The staff were extremely friendly and everyone took the time to learn your name and remember it when they saw you throughout your stay. They also always remember what adventures you've taken and when you are leaving. It felt like an instant family.

The first thing I experienced in Jamaica was the language - "ya m0n", "respect" and "what yo name mon" are all greetings. Jamaica time. And if you just arrive they say, "you smell like Canada mon" or "how long you been here mon? Just arrive today?" which is their way of saying you need some sun. Everything in its own time - "soon mon", "20 minute mon" and "not yet mon". I also learned that single women are targets for endless flirtation. "are you married mon?", "where your husband man?", "you have kids mon?" and "you a sexy woman mon".

Walking along the beach on the first day I got a sense of the flavor of the local people - or at least the ones that make their "living" off of tourists. Every beach front business had a spotter out on the sand who would talk you up or more precisely "hustle" you for business. These folks, mostly men, would walk up to you, put out their hand or fist and say "What yo name mon?" or "respect" If they put out a fist you then knocked it with your fist and replied "respect". Then they did everything possible to keep you chatting in the hope that you would buy something from them. That something was always a bit mysterious. Sometimes it was a ride on their jet sky or in their glass bottom boat, or braids in your hair or an aloe massage, "their" art, beer or marijuana. After a while you learned that you just smile and wave, say hello and then move along.

Our resort had us wear a purple wristband so that they knew we were staying there and could just walk in and out of the restaurant area and bar without any questions. The wristband also acted as a clue for locals to know where you were staying, "ya mon, you stay at Negril Gardens mon?" That purple wristband gave it away. But the nice thing was that these locals were actually eyes and ears for you. In the four days I was there they would remember me and ask how I was doing.

One fantastic person I met was Captain Ian. He had a glass bottom boat that was "anchored" near our resort. It is pictured in this photo. If you click on the photo you can also see a couple walking along the beach being approached by a rasta man who was trying to sell them something, anything.

On day two I decided to take a snorkeling excursion and the resort recommended Ian's boat. Since I was alone it was clear that Ian didn't think a one person expedition was worth his time or money so he kept stringing me along. "20 minutes mon". Two hours later he had wrangled up two other guests from my resort and we were soon on our way. Funny thing was I didn't even ask where we were going. This amused the other passengers Wendy and Azreal who had brought along extreme fishing and snorkel gear including a harpoon and leg knife. Azreal looked like James Bond. I was up for any adventure and didn't much mind what it was.

Along with us on the rickety old boat was Soccer - a sidekick of sorts to Ian. His name was Soccer because, well, he loves soccer. He was a superb accidental fisherman using a soda bottle as his rod and an old piece of line and lure for his fishing gear. That guy caught fish after fish while Azreal with his fancy getup caught nothing. It became quite an amusing joke. It was also funny because Soccer could only catch the fish but was afraid to remove them from the line so Ian did the dirty work. We later learned that Ian was a vegetarian - didn't eat anything with a face - and wanted to throw the fish back in the water but Soccer was so happy with his catch so he didn't. Here is Ian removing Soccer's fish from the line.

Ian took us out to an island which was surrounded by coral reef and inhabited by cats. We sat on the beach and chatted while Azreal was like a shark in the water hunting for anything he could stab with his harpoon. Here is a photo of my feet on top of the glass bottom of the boat. Wendy and I searched that window but never saw any fish. Ian said the area was over fished so the wildlife stayed away.

This was a fantastic first day and it ended with a sting ray swimming by the shore near our resort and then dinner on the beach.