Friday, May 13 – Day Seven: We finished eating breakfast and had a cup of fever grass tea before shaking hands with all the assembled friends and having a reverse safari back to the car to pack up and leave. Shereth and Marshall walked down to the road while I backed the car down the narrow path and onto the road. Once on the road, Marshall came to the window and said, “Your back tire is flat.” I got out of the car and looked at the tire before popping the trunk to check the spare. Spare seemed okay although bald as a racing slick but there was no jack in the trunk! Marshall suggested I take a slow and easy drive down to the shop at Peyton Place where the owner had tools and we could change tires there. I drove slowly down the road as Shereth and Marshall walked on ahead. When we got to the shop. Blakka, a taxi driver friend let us use his jack and Marshall grabbed the tire wrench from the trunk.
Within minutes the spare was on the car and the flat tire safely stowed in the trunk. I invited Blakka and Marshall to join me for a cold drink for the assistance before heading down to the Oasis station in Maggotty where the owner would fix the tire for a mere $200 Jamaican dollars. When he checked the tire, a 2” long nail had been imbedded in the tread, and the worn off head allowed a slow leak to give me the problem. He replaced the spare with the repaired tire and off we went. Car problem number one successfully dealt with.
We drove to Santa Cruz and found the road to be washed out in the middle of town. We took a detour around the back streets and came back out on the main road next to the bus park. Now back on the main so all was okay, right? Unfortunately not! A mere two or three miles up the road in Pepper, the car began to sputter and just stopped dead in the road, but I was able to coast off onto the berm. I turned the key and nothing happened. Shereth got out of the car and went to ask for help from a couple of youth that were hanging around a soccer field. They gave her the phone number of a local mechanic and when she called, the car started up again and we were finally on our way! Car problem number two successfully dealt with.
We got to Gutters and began the Spur Tree ascent into Mandeville when the car again began to sputter and died right on a major blind curve! Shereth redialed the mechanic and he came up to take a look at the problem. We waited for nearly an hour for him to come up, take a look and then took the battery out of his truck and put it in the car. It started right up and the alternator light was on. He took the battery back to his truck, started it and then took it out and brought it back for me to start the car and follow him back to Pepper to his garage to replace the belt. About an hour and $2,850.00 Jamaican dollars later, car problem number three was successfully dealt with and we were again on our way!
Everything was fixed and the tensions that had built up over the situation had now melted away and it seemed like nothing ever happened. We ascended Spur Tree and caught the highway to Old Harbour around Williamsfield. We needed to stop in Old Harbour in order to get some fresh fish for Shereth’s mother when we visited her in Bog Walk. Everyone calls her “Auntie Verna” even Shereth so I was often confused when I heard her name in a conversation. We decided to find a Guest House (just before Old Harbour) so we could spend the night, get the fish in the early morning and planned to be in Bog Walk by late morning.
We wanted to reach St. Ann’s by nightfall. We searched for a reasonable place, but nightfall made it nearly impossible to see places along the road and before long we were entering Spanish Town and decided to stop at Shereth’s aunt to get a location for a Guest House and say hello at the same time. We drove up and down a dark road until Shereth recognized the driveway. We pulled in and walked up to the door of the house. Shereth knocked loudly and called her aunt’s name three or four times before her face peeked out around the closed blinds of the front door. It was chilling to hear her aunt nervously warn us to get back in the car, lock the doors and close the windows and get out of Spanish Town as it was not safe for us to be there. We got back on the road and headed up the Rio Cobre river canyon, across Flatbridge and into Ewarton before the car sputtered and quit again! Shereth walked across the street to a bar and came back with five young men who convinced me to guide the car into the driveway next to the bar where it would be safe until the next morning. I was a little reluctant but, when I considered all the alternatives, it seemed like a reasonable decision. One of the youths knew a cousin of Shereth’s so she started calling him her cousin to make me feel a little better about the decision.
We locked up the car and two youths gave us a ride to Charlie’s Guest House and Bar just off the main in Ewarton where we got a room for $700 Jamaican for the night. After having a cold beer and some fried chicken, we went to the room to spend the night. I fell asleep almost immediately as the strain from the day’s drive had taken its toll. I awoke first in the morning and took a cold shower from the pipe sticking out of the wall in the bathroom and dressed for the day. I left the room to give Shereth some privacy to shower and dress but on the way out, I had to chuckle at the posted guest rules telling how to dispose of personal items used while staying there!
Well, it was another day and we still had a broken vehicle. When Shereth came downstairs, she called her “cousin”, and he said he would be there soon to give us a ride back to our car. So far, so good!
Saturday, May 14 – Day Eight: Shereth and I walked around the parking lot of Charlie’s Guest House examining the brick driveway, which consisted of oven brick from the Ewarton Bauxite Factory’s smelting ovens. We realized that this community would not survive without the employment that the plant provides for the citizens. We also talked about the situation we were in and how we would react in various scenarios. I could see she was a little more concerned this morning but I also knew I could be in no better hands so that calmed my fears significantly. Suddenly, a car wheeled into the driveway and rapidly climbed up to the parking lot where we were standing. It was Shereth’s “cousin” and his friend who drove us there the evening before. We exchanged pleasantries and I started looking for any signs that trouble was ahead. I could not detect any so, again, I began to relax and let the situation come to me and I would deal with it as it came. We returned to the bar and into the driveway where we had parked the car.
Everything appeared in order. People started to gather around as a local “mechanic” came and started to work on the vehicle. He replaced the battery with that of the car in which we arrived and the rented car started right up. He surmised that we needed a new battery but the rest of the group thought having a man with a voltage meter check it out first would be prudent. I concurred and they sent for him. In the meantime, the guy began to remove the alternator and the drive belt that we had put on in Pepper the previous day. He “bench tested” the alternator and said it had a “loose wire” and then he put it back and tightened the belt. In the meantime, the man with the meter came and checked the battery and found it was putting out current and just needed to charge up which the re-installed alternator would now do since the “loose wire” was found and tightened. I was getting a little skeptical at this point but kept the conversation going on a light and friendly level. Now, it was time to leave and the hands started coming out asking for payments. $1000 to the lady whose house where the car was parked for protection. Next, $1000 to the guy who slept in the car as the electric windows could not be rolled up. Now, $1000 to the man with the meter and another $700 to the mechanic who did the “work”? Finally, $1000 to the guy who drove us back and forth from the Guest House! Okay! Okay! I reasoned that I would have paid $3000 to $4000 for a decent room so I wasn’t so far behind as the car was fixed and ready to go but then the “cousin” put out his hand too! Enough was “Enough”! I wasn’t going to deal with this situation any more and just threw up my hands and began to walk away.
Shereth was reading the situation and jumped in to talk to her “cousin” just as Auntie Verna came into the yard in a taxi. I walked over and introduced myself as Shereth was having a discussion with her “cousin”. Auntie Verna had two cold jelly coconuts in her bag and pulled them out along with a foot long cutlass to open them with! Suddenly, the situation was changing and the demand for money was cut in half. Shereth wisely took the cue and paid the “cousin” $500 before coming over and hugging Auntie Verna. Oh well, the car was fixed, right?
We took Auntie Verna to breakfast and I just sat and listened as they caught up on old times. I could see where Shereth got her strength and I admired both of them even more. Auntie Verna had to get back home and the road where she needed to catch a transport was just down the road. She wanted to walk there to make it easier for us to get on the dangerous road and not have an accident. Shereth nodded it was okay so I agreed and graciously accepted the invitation to stay in her yard on my next visit. We were on our way again. Next stop, Runaway Bay to pick up Shereth’s son Rudo who lives there. She wanted him to stay with us for a night and we could drop him off at his father’s place on Sunday afternoon. I like Rudo so that was no problem for me either. The drive from Ewarton takes you over Mt. Diablo and we stayed on A1 through Claremont that dropped us into St. Ann’s Bay, which is a beautiful driving experience. The radio reception was great up there as well so we were singing along to IRIE-FM and laughing all the way to St. Ann. Finally, we were on the coast road again and drove into Runaway Bay. Shereth called ahead and made sure Rudo was ready to pick up. Owen, Rudo’s father, unofficially runs a community park on the ocean to the right of Breezes and the Craft Market. He takes his van to the beach every day and sells refreshments and some snacks to tourists and locals who love this spot to hang out and play dominoes all day. Sounds just like the type of place I would love to retire in Jamaica! We picked up Rudo and chatted with Owen for a while before heading up in the hills behind St. Ann’s Bay near the village of Lime Hall.
The road was twisting and slick as we turned at the square in Lime Hall and went up the hill to the old church, where we took another short but rutted road down into the Essex Estate to Stanley Gray’s place, Teresinajamaica. The Guest House is perched on the side of a hill with a distant view of the ocean. The architecture looks unique from the outside and immediately upon seeing it, we knew we would enjoy our stay. When we drove down the steep driveway into the gated yard, Ruth Lawrence (the caretaker) came out to greet us and took us to the room we booked for the next two nights.
The spacious Guest House has 3 nicely appointed guest rooms downstairs at this time, while an upstairs loft is still under construction. The high vaulted ceiling made the communal area of the kitchen, dining room and living room all flow nicely together. I decided to take a nap while Shereth took Rudo over to the day bed in the living room where he would be sleeping during our stay. Rudo immediately went over and turned on the TV and the DVD/VHS player where the movie “Titanic” was cued up to play. Nothing like a long movie to keep a young boy occupied while Shereth assisted Ruth in preparing a wonderful meal of Brown Stew Chicken with rice and peas and steamed vegetables.
The smell was making it difficult to sleep so I got up and took a nice hot shower and dressed for dinner. After eating, we curled up on the sofas and watched a VHS tape made from a local TV broadcast of Comedians in Jamaica. Before too long, Rudo was asleep and Shereth picked him up and laid him gently on the day bed where she curled up next to him to sleep. I watched them for a while before turning off the TV and lights before going on to bed.
Sunday, May 15 – Day Nine: I got up early and took a short hike down into the ravine next to the Guest House, where a small, but rain-swollen stream meandered through the dense foliage. I stayed on the small footpath, as venturing off that path would be a muddy and possibly dangerous excursion. I was amazed to find so many different orchids growing along the path. Upon returning to the Guest House, I told Shereth about the orchids and she jumped up to get a digging stick and container. Everywhere we go Shereth is constantly looking for plants for her garden so having the chance to get several varieties of orchids couldn’t be passed up. Rudo and I went out and washed the car as the muddy roads had taken a toll and Rudo wanted me to be “styling” as I drove around. I set him to washing the bumpers and rims as I worked my way down from the roof. Next thing I know, Rudo had stuffed the hose into my waistband and I was getting soaked! I laughed and mockingly chased him around the yard to his glee. It was nice to hear him laugh, as he can be so serious most of the time. I know I would enjoy spending more time with him on future visits. Shereth yelled at us to quit horsing around and finish up the car washing, as breakfast was ready. She came out on the verandah and slowly shook her head at the two “kids” washing the car now in earnest. She was trying to look vexed but she was smiling through her pursed lips.
We sat down to a nice meal of boiled cabbage with salt fish, scrambled egg and toast. Yes! “REAL” toast! Boy! I never realized how much I enjoy it with breakfast. We got ready to drive down to St. Ann’s Bay and do some visiting around the area. We stopped by Sea Lawn Coral Beach where Mikey Dread was back in charge and this was my first visit back to one of my favorite places in Jamaica in some time. The old vibe of the property had returned and now I was feeling like staying there again on a future trip. Rudo ran down the path to the ocean and Shereth followed as Mikey and I talked about old times. Mikey laughed and said I was welcome anytime and “no problem” whenever I decided to return. A short time later, Shereth and Rudo came back to the verandah and I told her what Mikey said about staying here. She smiled at the offer as she used to like it here when she first visited and welcomed the opportunity to return with Rudo on the next visit. We said our goodbyes and headed towards Runaway Bay where we would meet Owen and drop off Rudo for school the following day. We stopped along the way and purchased some fruit and vegetables and at a market for some chicken for the meal Shereth was planning for that evening. Rudo wanted an ice cream so we stopped by “I Scream” for a cone on the way to the beach park. We dropped off Rudo and told Owen we wanted to rent a couple of DVDs for the evening and he directed us to a friend of his who rented them out from his house. We picked up a couple of titles before returning to Teresinajamaica for the evening. After a wonderful meal and a shared bottle of wine, Shereth and I relaxed back on the sofa for an evening of movies. Sometime in the middle of the night, I woke up on the couch to a blank TV screen and noticed Shereth asleep on the day bed. I quietly turned off the lights and headed to my room to sleep. Once inside, I opened the door to the small private verandah and watched as the sky was awash with the flickering lights of the “peeny-wallies”. It is just this kind of experience that makes Jamaica so alluring.
Monday, May 16 – Day Ten: My last full day in Jamaica. Time to travel! I got up early and started to pack the car as I expected Shereth wouldn’t be ready until the late morning, but she surprised me by getting everything packed and ready by 9:00 am. We hugged our new friend Ruth, and promised to drive safely before getting on the road. We decided to stop and see Owen before heading out ,and planned to get something to eat later in the morning around the Falmouth area. We pulled into the park where Owen was working and the domino games were in full swing.
We chatted for a few minutes and then got back on the road. On the way out of the park, I noticed a rooster picking bugs off a cow’s underbelly as the cow laid on the grass. I had never seen anything like this before and according to Shereth and Owen, neither had they. I tried to snap a picture but the rooster wouldn’t cooperate so you just have to take my word for that! It was getting ungodly hot and muggy already as we kept getting on and off the new pavement on detours and lane diversions where the road was still under construction. I took one detour just before reaching Falmouth, which took us a mile or so off the main and through a couple of small villages before being directed by signs under a new overpass being constructed.
Suddenly, it happened again. The car just quit and the smell of battery acid permeated the insides of the car. Immediately I though the engine was on fire and ordered Shereth to get out of the car and move away as I popped the bonnet and surveyed the situation. The battery acid had just cooked its way out of the six cell caps and the battery was smoking. It is during these periods of helplessness that tests our friendship and helps me to adapt to the Jamaican way of doing things. Luckily, Shereth had dressed up for the trip and her outfit was attracting the passersby. A guy was walking under the overpass as we pulled over and he was the first to come to our aid. He assessed the situation and asked if we had any water to put in the battery. No, of course not. Then a guy stopped by to help and offered to give Shereth a ride to get some water. Of course he did! Before Shereth was even out of sight, a road worker came by and offered to jump the car. We told him about Shereth going to get water and he agreed to wait until she returned. Nearly a half hour later, Shereth and the driver returned. She had a couple of bottles of distilled water and our pedestrian helper took the water and evenly distributed it among the cells and told me to crank it up. Amazingly, it started right up so the driver and the road worker said their goodbyes and I offered the pedestrian a ride into Falmouth where I needed to exchange some money. He thanked us and took us to a Cambio and waited with Shereth to make sure we had no problem resuming our journey. I got the change (which included two $100 bills) and walked back to the car. I offered our pedestrian friend the $200 but he would not accept the money as the ride was just payment. The car started right up so we thanked our helper and off we went.
Since we figured we would be in Sheffield by mid afternoon, we decided to wait on food until we arrived back at her home where she would cook a good meal. Montego Bay was just ahead and we were cruising along just fine. We traveled up over the top road and turned down on Howard Cooke Drive along the water when it happened again! This time the car just quit about 100 yards before the busiest intersection in Montego Bay in the center of THREE lanes! How could this get any worse? This time Shereth lost it and got out of the car cursing before going over to a shaded area where some idlers and higglers were resting. Before waiting too long, five guys came over and pushed the car into the area where a truck mechanic assessed the problem. Shereth got on the cell phone and called the car’s owner and began to rant and rave. After settling down a little, a decision was made to have the car towed to the police impound yard where her father would pick it up later. Once Shereth got off the phone and started talking to the assembled group, the car owner’s name came up. It turned out one of the youth was a former boyfriend of the owner and proved it by calling her on his cell phone. He offered to just set with the car until her father arrived to defer the payment necessary to do the tow and to pay the impound fees. He further offered to call a taxi friend to take us to Sheffield to which we readily agreed. I distributed about $1000 Jamaican dollars around to the pushers and to the mechanic before the taxi man arrived. Again. Problems were easily solved and the Jamaican “can do” spirit overcame the obstacles put in our path. Well, at least we didn’t have to deal with this cursed vehicle anymore! Shereth was sure Obeah had something to do with our problems but I am a little more pragmatic about the situation.
The taxi driver stopped by a KFC so we could get a bite to eat and I bought him a meal too. We chatted a lot along the route towards Negril and when we got to Lucea, Shereth got our taxi driver “Cleon” (876) 410-0314 to stop at the Fish Market so she could purchase a few fish for that evening dinner. He waited patiently without any hint of being put off by the request. His driving was very good and safe so it made the trip a real joy. Before too long, we were passing through Negril and on to Sheffield. Cleon took us right up to the front door. I had been dreading the paying of the fare, as we didn’t agree to a price. I don’t haggle too much when traveling with Shereth as she has a way of keeping costs in line. Cleon asked for $3000 Jamaica, which was a good price especially since we did the stopping along the way. We paid him and thanked him for the ride before heading inside to get out of the extreme heat. Many of the local residents kept stopping by as I have stayed here several times in the past and knew most of them by name. Judith, Shereth’s housemate and her daughter Lexi came home and the rest of my evening was taken up playing dominoes with Lexi. She is very good for a young girl and delights in beating me. The smell of the Escovitch Fish was wafting through the house and I knew I was in store for a great last dinner in Jamaica.
Tuesday, May 17 – Day Eleven: My last day. I packed in silence, as it is never easy to leave my friends. Shereth got up early and fixed a good breakfast of ackee and salt fish with Johnnycakes and fresh juice. We knew we would be saying goodbye in a couple of hours, so conversation was awkward. She had arranged to have an old friend and taxi driver, Ian, come by and pick us up to go down to Whistling Bird where I would catch the bus to the airport. The bus arrived and the driver put my bags in the back. I turned to hug my friend Ian and tried to pay him but he said next time, my friend.
I turned to Shereth who had a tear in her eye. I have never had a friend quite like Shereth and she seems more like part of my family instead of just a friend. I think she feels the same. I hugged her tightly and whispered that I would soon come back. She just nodded with a smile while wiping a tear before turning to Ian and asking him to take her home. I watched Ian drive away as the bus pulled out to go to RIU to pick up its full load of passengers. My batteries were recharged and I was ready to face the world in America. I kept my face pressed tightly against the window glass hoping no one could see the tear running down my cheek.