Port Antonio is one of those places that seem to exist only in Hollywood movies so when I learned that it was Errol Flynn who made it the “in place” to vacation and film during during his reign as Hollywood’s Number One Movie Star, I was not surprised. He and other Hollywood stars began to purchase all the property they could and, at one point, he even owned Navy Island which stategically divides the harbor. Sergio and I dressed for a possible day out on the ocean if we could arrange to hire a boat and captain. The owner of the Little Reef directed us to Huntress Marina on West Street where we would find small boats that could be hired for a day. We decided to walk and enjoy the hustle and bustle of the capital of the Portland parish. As we approached the Marina area, we met a German tourist who had been staying in Port Antonio for the past two weeks. We inquired about a place to eat breakfast and he pointed to a thatched hut on the end of a jutting pier. The boards creaked and bent as we carefully made our way over the planks into the little cafe where we ordered Akee and Saltfish and Blue Mountain Coffee. Three cups of Blue Mountain Coffee later we were jabbering so much we decided to swear off caffine for a while. We had heard that there was a Marlin Fishing Tournament going on the weekend we were there but found out that, due to some factors we could not discern, it was to be held the following weekend. Oh well, we would live without it I guess! A guy from Key West Florida overheard our jabbering about wanting to go fishing and invited us to see his 32′ sailboat, “Dreamin’ “, so we walked over to his mooring. Kenny said he sailed down to Jamaica a couple of times a year and supported himself by little hires. We negotiated a fair price for a one-way, half-day trip to Manchioneal Harbor with some stops along the way to begin tomorrow at noon sharp and we were to meet him at the cafe. We decided that we wanted to do some shopping while here so we headed first to Pete’s Record Store and purchased some Reggae that was so obscure that even Pete hadn’t hear of some of the artists! Pete directed us to a place called the Portland Craft Design Centre, Ltd. where we should talk to Derrick Byron, the owner, who is widely known for his Rasta carvings. A 3′ tall Rasta carving was just inside the yard and I immediately decided I wanted it. I asked the price and started to “negotiate” for what I thought was a fair and honest price. We started swapping stories and began to develop a real liking for each others “flex”. Derrick had his lady bring us White Rum and fruit punch and would not take any money for either the first, second or….third glasses! I told Derrick that I would love the carving but we we backpacking and just couldn’t carry the heavy carving with me on our adventure. He asked when we would be leaving and I told him it would be Sunday, eight days from today on Air Jamaica at about 5:00pm from Montego Bay. He looked me in the eyes and said, “If I meet you at the airport with the carving, would you buy it for $80 US?” I thought for a moment and said, “No!”, paused to let it sink in and added, “But I will buy it for $90 US!”, and started to laugh. We shook hands on the deal, exchanged addresses and stumbled our way back to West St. and the Musgrave Market to buy some fruits and vegetables to take back to our hotel. We were going to sample the nightlife that evening and were told it didn’t start til about midnight at most places downtown so we ate, talked and rested until about 11:00pm and made our way down to West Street to visit the infamous Roof Club.
While walking up West Street, I could hear the tin roof on the Roof Club reverberating like base drum. We looked at each other and smiled. This was our first, but not last, excursion into Jamaican “Dance Hall”. The DJ was switching smoothly from one hit song to another as the dancers seemed to receive the sonic energy and pulsate in unison. I found out why it was such an infamous place as withing 20 minutes I was offered almost anything that was ever; Grown! Raised! Born! or Imported! I firmly, but politely, told everyone that we were not interested and before long were able to just relax and enjoy the music. The night went dizzily onward as we went next to Tunnel 54 Club and then, finally to the Mango Tree. About 3:00 am we exited the Mango Tree and I realized that my hearing was shot and I was exhausted by all the activity. We hailed a taxi and when the dull red LADA pulled up we saw Alton’s smiling face! Things have a way of coming around full circle. He took us back to the “Hollywood Island Style” and agreed to come back to pick us up at 10:00am Sunday morning as he reminded us that a taxi was hard to find on Sundays. We thanked him again and wandered off to our room. The “White Rum Dreams” were very vivid as I thrashed and chased the White Rabbit all night…..Port Antonio would always be someplace special to me. Tomorrow will be something new and exciting.
Respect Bill Evans