Trip Reports

Staying Conscious in Jamaica Part 1 of 3

Written by Bill Evans

Amazed. That was the only word I could muster when my boss agreed to let me go on a 12-day motivational trip to Jamaica. Maybe it was the constant, “Jamaica..dis an Jamaica dat” that tipped the scales or the mere fact that he would not have to see or hear me for an equally long motivational time. Either way, I could think of nothing for the next 28 days until the evening before I was to leave for the airport in Fort Lauderdale when abruptly came a “Ring! Ring!” I nervously shot a glance at the alarm clock. Had I overslept? Panic! No! I reassured myself. That is 5:30 “AM” that I set the clock for! Somewhere in my mind order had taken over.

Calmly, I reached over and answered the phone. A beautiful voice asked if I was Bill Evans and a paused before answering. Normally I become a little confrontational not wanting to be bothered by sales calls but how could I refuse this siren song. “Yes, I am him…errr “He” confused as to the proper personal pronoun. “Your flight has been cancelled” came this matter-of-fact statement from such a pleasant source. Seems like she paused for half an hour or more before continuing, “You have been placed on a flight leaving two hours and fifteen minutes later.” “Will that be okay?” She paused again. “Err…sure,” I muttered. “Goodbye” we exchanged pleasantries and I heard her hang up the phone. Say. Is this a cruel joke to make me miss a flight? I wondered. Nah. Who would do such a thing? I hurriedly signed on the Air Jamaica site to see that the normal 3 flights a day had now been reduced to two and the first one tomorrow would be at 12:20pm just as she stated. Whew! Close call. I decided to turn off all the lights and huddle in the corner not wanting to tempt the Jamaican Gods into mindless retribution. Sleep took over the task of protecting me until the alarm jolted me awake.

The day had come! My friend and landlord, Paul Bhamra, took me to the Tri-Rail Station in Boynton Beach in plenty of time to catch the train. My motto is, “Always on time, sometimes early, never late” and this military approach to travel usually serves me quite well until I reach Jamaica and then the “Likkle more” or “Soon come” mantra tends to throw the well-oiled schedule out the seldom-washed window. I got to the Air Jamaica Ticket Counter at precisely 9:00am and, after a speedy and efficient check in procedure, I learned that the flight would be delayed an additional hour. Time for breakfast! We boarded the 12:20pm flight at 1:35pm to depart at 2:05pm for the 1 hour and 18 minute flight that would touch down in Jamaica at 2:23pm precicely! Man! I need this vacation. Shaking my head slowly I muttered, “Trust me on that!” I put the watch deep into my camera bag vowing not to retrieve it until I returned home.

It was close to 3:00pm when we entered the Immigration Hall only to discover nearly 300 other travelers nearly equally divided into 10 lines that all moved inexorably slowly and solemnly as cattle to slaughter until the vaunted stone-faced and bored officer managed to place 3 ink stamps onto 3 documents without going over the border of the target document. The lack of air conditioning, close quarters and the nearly one hour wait caused the sweat on my hands to smear his little stamp but I quickly hid the faux pas until I descended the stairs into Customs. Had I been thinking with my sharp accounting mind, I would have anticipated the nearly 300 or more people scrambling to get their luggage together and separating into the “Nothing to Declare” and the “Items to Declare” lines. Somehow I envisioned a nearly empty hall and an eagerly summoning Customs Officer inviting me to her station for a swift and courteous processing. I grabbed my luggage and bulled my way over to the far wall and entered one of the three lines each with about 50 people straining above the din to hear “Next”. I really hate this process.

About 10 people back in the line were 5 returning Jamaicans each with 3 to 4 heavy suitcases and pushing a few television-sized cardboard boxes forward with their feet. “Nothing to Declare?” I eagerly strained to hear the conversation with the suspicious Customs Officer. “What in di bags dem?” she pointed in the general area of the mountainous collection of containers and waving the finger widely from side to side with emphasis. “Tings”, the older lady shot back. “Whaa tings?” the impatient officer came back. “Mi tings”, the lady retorted. An audible sigh and some spirited patwa later, three were let through and two were sent to the search counter. Much later, it was my turn. I was tired, sweating and losing my patience but I was determined to get this over and get on my way. “What do you have in your bags?” she deferred to the King’s English and waited for a reply. “Not tings”, I mused under my breath before giving a laundry list of tourist necessities. Somewhere after support hose and a truss later, she mindlessly waived me through. Now, I had to go to the Tourwise kiosk to see if my reservation was intact even though it was over three hours later than scheduled. Oh, well we would just have to make due whatever was the outcome when a true burst of efficiency later had me in the back seat of a bus full of RIU visitors a sharing the narrow seat with two Samsonites and an American Touristor. On my way to my home for the next four days: Whistling Bird!

Friday, May 6 Day Two. I was so wiped-out from the hassles in traveling the day before; I went to bed early at around 10:00pm. Jim, Whistling Bird’s owner, had given me “Doctor Bird” cottage with two bedrooms so I had more room that I really needed so I had the luxury of having unpacked in one room and sleeping in the other. The stirring around the kitchen in the early morning hours told me that it was nearly sunrise so I got up, showered and dressed. My friend Shereth called me the previous evening and we made plans to eat breakfast on the beach in the late morning so I decided to take an early morning swim. I was just leaving the water and heading for the room when Shereth came walking in. We said our greetings and I excused myself to change for breakfast.

When I returned, we walked down the beach to Alfred’s where I am overly fond of the Jamaican Breakfast. “Bill!” an excited voice piped from the bar area at Golden Sunset. It was Bunny and he was talking to Daddy Ran the owner while setting up his jewelry for the sparsely populated tourist passerby’s who would shoot a quick look but mostly just walked as in a trance not wanting to acknowledge the vendors along the beach. Shereth and I invited Bunny to eat breakfast with us but he just took some juice, as he needed to finish setting up. We agreed to stop by on our way back. I love the breakfast there. Boiled bananas, Johnnycakes, yam, calaloo and a very good ackee and salt fish main entree. We ate slowly and talked and talked about what was going on in our respective lives. I am so blessed to have such great friends in Jamaica! Somewhere during the conversation, I asked Shereth if she had seen Clarkie lately and she nodded she had but over a week ago. She said he was still living at the Yacht Club and then asked if I wanted to visit him. She is a mind reader too! We decided to visit with Bunny first before going to the main to catch a taxi to the West End. As I normally travel to Jamaica in May and Shereth’s Birthday is in May as well, she took the opportunity to pick out a lovely necklace and earrings to be my present. I was glad as I sometimes have trouble shopping for people. The price was right and I was glad to give Bunny a little business at the same time. We sat at the counter and chatted with Daddy Ran and James Bond for a time before heading for the main.

When we pulled up to the Yacht Club bar, Clarkie and three acquaintances were in a spirited game of Lute. Clarkie was way behind but an incredible string of dice rolls pulled him past the leader and gave him the victory. Quickly and without words, the Lute board was cleared of the markers and a set of dominoes magically appeared. Now, this is what I came for. Five long sets later, I gave two six-loves in the meantime, we got tired of sitting in one place so I got up and walked over to the table where Shereth was giving Tarot readings. I brought her a new deck with special symbols for her to learn and in just one day she had it down very well.

Waiting until she finished reading a friend’s cards, I approached and asked if she was hungry. She nodded yes so I asked Clarkie if he would like to join us at Sweet Spice for a nice meal. He eagerly accepted. Clarkie, a Rastafarian, eats no meat so he had fish and vegetables while Shereth and I each had the curry chicken.

The meal with a couple of drinks came to $21 US and the food was great! After eating, we walked to the Negril Bus Park where Shereth knew a Sheffield route taxi driver who dropped me off at Whistling Bird before giving her a ride home. Clarkie just grabbed a route taxi and I gave him $100 Jamaican for the fare. When I got to Whistling Bird, I went to the bar for a nightcap and reasoned with Bim and Miss G long into the night.

Saturday, May 7 Day Three. This was a fate-filled day and one that changed my vacation. Sometimes you do things for a reason and sometimes you do things impulsively that turn out so good that you can only discern the reason long after you do them. Sometimes just changing your mind on where to eat or where to visit opens up a whole new array of possibilities and adventures. This day was this kind of day. It all started when I asked Shereth if she would like to eat another Jamaican Breakfast at Alfred’s and she suggested going there by way of the main instead of the sun-scorching beach, as the sun was merciless. Once out on the road and walking,

I noticed a sign for MisSonia’s on the morass side between the Jungle and Bobby Ash’s place. I told Shereth that I used to eat at the old MisSonia’s when it was down on Juba’s property next to JahBs and that I would like to give it a try. She agreed. We walked in and sat down when a tourist older than me with a broad grin and sporting a wide brimmed hat brought two menus to our table.

His name was Richard Tripp and he was helping MisSonia fix up the new place and she was letting him stay with the family in exchange. We struck up a conversation and quickly saw that he and I were very much alike. Several times during the conversation he would bring up the word “Kentucky” and kept saying that he should take me there. Finally, I decided to give it a try so we made arrangements to pick him up on Monday when Shereth and I would be getting the car and heading towards Accompong Town where I planned to spend three nights before heading to Runaway Bay and Lime Hall.

Shereth and I decided to split a fish sandwich and a veggie pattie for breakfast with a couple of cold Tings to wash it down. We talked for another hour or so before I told Shereth I needed to stop back at the Yacht Club to pick up some papers from Pirate. When we got there, Pirate was just leaving so he handed me a brochure for a place called Abeokuta Private Nature Park that he convinced me that I should visit on this trip.

I always trusted Pirates judgment so I agreed to stop on the way to Kentucky. Pirate shot me a glance like I had lost my mind. “Kentucky?” he quizzically asked. “You going to Kentucky?” to which I just shook my head in affirmation and chuckled. Slowly shaking his head in disbelief, we shook hands and went our separate ways.

Shereth asked me where Abeokuta was and I told her in Dean’s Valley to which she asked, “Can we stop at a church in the mountains just past Darliston?” “The turnoff is just past Dean’s Valley.” I agreed to do so on the way to Kentucky.

It was getting towards sunset so I suggested we return to Whistling Bird for a nice dinner and some serious dominoes. Chef Turner outdid himself with some nice King Fish in a light crème sauce and some delicious pumpkin soup. I saw Jim coming up the path and he came over to sit down. He told me he had a room open for Sunday night if I wanted to stay on and he wanted me to accompany him to the Jazz Fest they hold every Sunday at Roots Bamboo. How could I turn that invitation down? I thanked him graciously and told him I would be ready to go the following day at 6:00pm as the music is from 6:00pm to 10:00pm. Wow! I started out the day with no plans until when I would drive to Accompong Town and now Jah has provided me with some new adventures! Shereth was staying over in the spare bedroom so we decided to continue the party over dominoes at the Bird’s Bar. We sat and played cutthroat until these two guys, one from Argentina and the other from Boston, told us they would like to play. I took the guy from Argentina as a partner and Shereth the guy from Boston.

While playing Alphonso the Jewelry Artist came by with his wares so we suspended the game while everyone around the bar began to try on pieces and before long Alphonso had sold several pieces. Alphonso and I have been friends for a number of years so he told me he would return the following evening to talk as he now had to go home and re-size a couple of the rings. I told him I would look forward to that meeting.

The long day had me a little tired so I begged off and went to bed. Tomorrow would be another day with more adventures!

Sunday, May 8 Day Four. Breakfast at Sienna’s, Jazz at Roots and Alphonso on White Rum makes for a long day. I must admit that I was kind of looking past this day as I love the open road and visiting old friends and new places. After all, even old friends used to live in new places I came to visit. I got up early to shower and dress as quietly as possible as not to wake Shereth who was sleeping deeply in the other room. She is not a morning person and I have learned not to engage her in conversation before 10:00am if I wanted a pleasant start to my day. I shut the door and placed the key on a note on the floor telling Shereth I would meet her at the Bird’s bar where I would be having coffee and talking to Lilly. I did ask her to get up a little early if she could the night before so I was pleased to see her walking down the path dressed to go by 10:30am. Soon we went on a pleasant stroll down to Selina’s and a great breakfast.

When we arrived at Selina’s The Live Web Cast was in progress and a host of tourists and locals were straggling in for the live music of the Jamaican Cowboy. We ordered and began eating our food when the Jamaican Cowboy started his show.

I was very impressed with his singing ability being able to sound like Johnny Cash one minute and Willie Nelson the next. He also improvised the lyrics to put himself into many of the songs he was singing. A man accompanied him on a rumba box and another on a bass guitar player both of whom were very good in their own right.

While we were eating, a lady approached and asked if I was “Accompong”. JamaicaMiss had been sitting at an adjoining table and was looking my direction a lot. At first I thought she was just flirting with me and I was flattered but now learned she wanted to chat a little about Jamaica and that pleased me even more. I always love to talk about my true love, Jamaica. I could easily see JamaicaMiss was a loving and caring person and loved Jamaica as much as I do. I needed some time to write and think and Shereth needed to go home to water her houseplants and get dressed for the Jazz Concert later in the evening. We walked out to the main together and I waited until she hailed a taxi before walking back to Whistling Bird.

I spent most of the afternoon talking to some tourists and writing in my journal until around 5:00pm when Shereth came down the path. She asked me for the key so she could shower and change before I needed to do the same. Just knowing she was here and that we would easily make the show made me relax a little. Shereth sent the key to me and I went to get dressed as she went out to the main for something.

I finished and went to the bar to wait for her when Jim came down the path in his party shirt and grabbed me to walk down with him. I left word with Lilly to tell Shereth where I had gone and to please meet me there when she was ready. Jim and I got there just as the musicians were setting up.

Jim is a real Jazz Aficionado and I consider myself one as well. I was surprised to learn that this free Sunday show had been going on for some time and yet nobody seemed to know about it. I would advise any tourists or locals who wanted to spend a great evening listening to top quality jazz and enjoy a superb dinner by candlelight on the beach for less than $7.00 per person, not to pass this up. Somewhere during the first set

Shereth showed up fashionably late and fashionably attired as well. We grabbed a table and ordered dinner with drinks. I had curried chicken and she had brown stewed chicken. The cool jazz sound of the band was floating through the warm breeze off the ocean making for a very special evening. Frank, the trumpeter, was blowing these long trilling notes that had the hair on my arm on edge.

The repertoire was very impressive as well. Old standards from the greats like Brubeck, Chuck Mangione and Bill Evans were tastefully mixed with jazz renditions by as diverse a group as Bob Marley, Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin. Each song was new and refreshing in arrangement and the singing was very good as well. Towards the beginning of the final set, a lady singer joined the band for some songs. I would best compare her sound to Etta James mixed with the smoothness of Esther Satterfield.

Her rendition of Natural Mystic was unbelievable! I was so sorry to see the show end. Shereth and I stayed on for a final drink together before heading back to the Bird for some dominoes. Shortly after arrival, Alphonso came in with a re-sized ring for the tourist from Boston who was leaving in the morning. Alphonso is known to imbibe in the White and tonight he was really on a roll! After collecting his money from the tourist, he came over and sat with Shereth and me. We were starting a dominoes game and we invited him to join but he had no interest that evening. Alphonso was insistent on talking to me and telling me how he felt. Knowing him for as long as I have, he has rarely wanted to chat much so I was curious as to what he wanted to say. The conversation went something like this: “You are different from most tourists” he began while poking at my chest for emphasis. The smell of the rum was overpowering but he continued to drink more. “You are blessed” he went on, “Do you know that?” to which I responded “Thanks for saying that as I feel blessed”. “No!” he became more insistent and came closer. “You are truly blessed” and then turning to Shereth said, “You are blessed as well”. She smiled in the knowledge. “I know what I am talking about” he continued. “I see an aura of blessing around both of you!” Now, at this time I was secretly thinking that the rum had blurred his vision and that everything had an aura around it by this time. The funny thing about this conversation is that it has stayed in the front of my thinking since that evening. Yes, I am truly blessed! Blessed with great friends. Blessed with a Beautiful Country that I love. Blessings have been bestowed on me in great quantity and numbers. Well, it was getting late and after checking out we would be getting the car to rent from a friend of Shereth’s and heading out for new adventures. Sleep perchance to dream.

About the author

Bill Evans