Sergio and I woke up at about the same time and simultaneously started preparing for a nice soak in the hot water. We descended the stairway from our second story room where an attendant showed us to a vacant tub, and he started the hot water flowing. We relaxed in the soothing waters while deciding what our plans would be for the day ahead – but it became quickly apparent that the Bath Botanical Gardens and relaxing on the beach at Morant Bay were all we wanted to accomplish.
The Bath Botanical Gardens, established in 1799, are the oldest gardens in Jamaica. Descendants of Captain Blythe’s original breadfruit tree populate the gardens along with the otaheite “Ethiopian” apple and multicolored bougainvillea. The gardens, though very beautiful, are much smaller now than at the height of their popularity.
Back at the hotel, we contacted the front desk and tried to get assistance with a taxi to take us to the beaches at Morant Bay. “Yes, Mon!” and “No Problem”, both delivered with broad grin, did not however, produce a ride – so we started walking down the winding mountain road. We walked for about an hour in the unforgiving Jamaican sun, getting very thirsty and wanting a ride R.E.A.L. bad, when a cane truck stopped and the driver, ‘G-Money’, invited us into the cab. G-Money said he was not going all the way to Morant Bay but would drop us at Port Morant where we could then secure a ride into downtown Morant Bay. When we arrived in Morant Bay, capital of Saint Thomas parish, I was surprised at how much different it was than Ochi or Port Antonio. Sergio and I were the entire tourist population! People moved in a slower, more deliberate fashion and everywhere were the reminders of the turbulent past. A statue of Paul Bogle, a National hero, graced the front of the courthouse where the 1865 Morant Bay Rebellion started.
My trusty book recommended the Goldfinger Guest House as a safe, inexpensive place to stay so we looked around town to find its location. After checking in and changing into swimming attire, we made our way to the beach for curry goat and Red Stripe. Sergio headed for the water to cool off while I went over to watch a dominoes match. The local domino champs put on their best performance for the stranger in their midst and, when I asked to play; they began to playfully mock me in thick patois! I found a partner who was willing to play with a stranger and we sat down for some serious dominoes. I prayed for divine intervention by JAH himself but to no avail. We were “six-loved” very early on. Losing was really a form of winning as it broke the ice and got us invited to a session later that evening at the Morant Villa Hotel. We spent the rest of the day alternating between the water and a shady spot under a palm tree, until the sun finally disappeared behind the cloud-shrouded Blue Mountain Peak. We went back to our room to rest and dress for the evening’s excitement.
We arrived at the Morant Villa Hotel nightclub about 10:30pm and could readily see that this would be nothing like the evening in downtown Port Antonio. First, there were about 60 people there and only about 10 were female. The majority of the people sitting in the corner furthest from the bar were Rastas and they were attending merely as spectators. Sergio and I took a seat at the bar. As I ordered us a cold Red Stripe, a youth next to Sergio asked him where he was from and what we were doing here in Jamaica. Sergio took his beer, turned, and proceeded to introduce me to Marcus, so named in honor of Marcus Garvey, credited with starting the Rastafarian Movement. I shook the youth’s hand and offered to buy him a Red Stripe. He accepted a warm one and then he and Sergio went back into a lively conversation.
The night’s session was a “dub” contest where the lyrics are cut from the music and upcoming hopefuls supply their words over the music. Several of the local Rastas got up to sing and the “One Love” feeling filled the hall. At about 1:00am Sergio and I took a taxi back to the Goldfinger and arranged a ride into Kingston in the early morning. Our driver lived in Morant Bay but made his living driving tourists and locals to and from the Norman Manley Airport during the day. He told us he made about $100 US on a good day and that he was able to supply his baby’s mother and two children with a good life and still keep a lady on the side. How often have I heard THAT story! As we were leaving at about 6:00am, Sergio and I decided to pack that night, so as to be ready to move when he came to pick us up. After packing, we just lay back on our beds to rest until then. We never even mussed up the beds. Morning and a new adventure would come soon enough!
Respect Bill Evans