I know what you’re thinking. You’re wondering what happens if you don’t like the other guests. It’s a small place and you’re all there together, isn’t it sort of hard to be alone? Actually, no. I’m not the most social of travelers. My wife and kids make friends much more easily than I do. I like to sit on the beach or by the pool with a Red Stripe and a book, and let the time just slip away. For a good part of the first day at Lost Beach I did exactly that. I knew the other guests must still be there, but I don’t remember seeing them. The kids would disappear for hours at a time, and I figured they were playing with their new friends. We had brought cereal and milk for them, coffee for my wife, and I think I had a package of cheese crackers and a Rum and Coke for breakfast, so we didn’t really need to go to the dining area all morning. Maybe the other guests were at breakfast while I was at the pool, at the pool while I was in my hammock, and at the beach when I was on my porch. Or something like that. We may have had Pizza and Frozen Milky Way Bars (available at the bar) for lunch, but I don’t remember seeing any guests then either. I do remember the owner, still reading her novel and drinking white wine, while her two teenage daughters came and went like they owned the place (oh, yeah, that’s right, they do). Today was Jamaican Independence day, and the locals had been planning a big party just up the beach to celebrate. We had promised the night before that we were gonna party too, but that could have been the wine talking.
Mark is in charge of the pool. If you go there early in the morning, you’ll find him there, the only Jamaican I’ve ever seen with hair died blonde on top, American-surfer style. Usually he’ll be cleaning the sides of the pool or the filter, a halo of sweet smoke following him as he works. On our first full day, we saw a lot of him.
First, he gave my wife a tour of some parts of the resort we hadn’t really looked at before. There are new buildings under construction on the other side of the pool. They look very much like the ones we’re sleeping in, but we’ve been told they will be single bedroom suites when finished. Mark explains that he’s been working on the construction of the resort since it started, and he can remember when it was nothing but brush and a beach. He is particularly proud of the stone walkway he built. This is the same walkway that runs from the lobby, behind our rooms and all the way to the pool. There, just before it reaches the new construction, it stops. Written in stone on the ground, right at the point where the walkway ends, are the words “Soon Come”.
Mark and Harold are cooking some land crabs over an open fire for lunch. These crabs are all over the place at night, they are remarkably large, and it’s comical to watch one scampering sideways across the dining room floor. Don’t worry, they seem deathly afraid of people, and run away at the slightest approach, so there’s no danger of being pinched. Between sucking on crab legs, Mark explains that he’s always wanted to travel along the Mississippi. He’s convinced that people along that river have to guard their land with shotguns, a concept he seems to find romantic. After their meal, Mark and Harold show our children how to open a coconut with a machete. We all try the cool, sweet coconut water, and sample the jelly from a wet coconut, and the meat of a dry one. My son insists on buying his own machete (several sizes are available at Lost Beach’s general store), and spends the rest of our trip hacking at every coconut he sees.
After lunch, my wife decided to take an afternoon siesta in the air-conditioned room, and I opted to sit on the porch and watch the world not going by. The kids had been gone for awhile, playing with their new friends. Music from the independence day celebration was floating down the beach…
…I was awakened by my daughter, who was asking me if she and her little friend could go down to the big party. No, I say, still half asleep, I don’t think you should be leaving Lost Beach property without an adult, it could be dangerous. Then why was her brother already down there? she asked. Suddenly, I’m wide awake. If my wife finds out about this, my son will be killed, and I’ll be next on the list. I spot Mark heading toward the party (he’s already been there several times today, but keeps returning because he’s still on the time clock). The girls and I catch up with him, and I ask if he’ll take us there. No problem, man. I figure that since I can only understand about half of what he says, he should be able translate the patois for me, so I can find my son…
In order to get to the party, we pass by the area where all the local fishermen pull their boats onto the beach. These fishing boats are really nothing more than large canoes. As we approach, the music gets louder and louder, and the air gets hazy with smoke. The smoke is a heady combination of ganja and jerk cooking. We discover that my son and his friend have stopped short of the celebration and were starting to turn back. The crowd was intimidating even to them. But we already have Mark with us, and I can tell he’d be disappointed if we don’t at least make an appearance…
The two boys, two girls, Mark and myself plunge into the crowd. Hope wharf is a small community, but it seems like everyone has congregated in this one spot. There is a giant sound system blasting reggae music, and oil cans set up as barbecues are everywhere. I ask Mark where the speakers came from, and he shrugs and says from someone’s house. I’ve seen a lot of the homes around here, and I can’t imagine this stereo fitting in any of them. Mark introduces me to someone, but I don’t catch his name. He’s a tall thin Rasta man, long dreadlocks, missing his front teeth and reeking of ganja. He talks to me for at least ten minutes, but I have no idea what he’s saying. I do know it is something about all the love he has in his heart. He hugs me, and each of the kids about ten times.
Next Mark introduced us to Musty, a man who was in every way the opposite of the man we had met before, very clean-cut and muscular. After exchanging Jamaican handshakes all around, Musty stood there with a huge grin on his face, holding up an imaginary fish. He looked at me expectantly. I must have looked confused, because he eventually asked if I had ever seen the Lost Beach brochure. I assured him I had. I looked at Mark, hoping for clarification. Mark was smiling and nodding, saying something, but between the music and the patois, I couldn’t understand a word. Finally it dawned on me…Musty’s picture was in the brochure, holding a fish! Musty and Mark both looked at me oddly, and I could read their thoughts…how can these Americans be so dense? I was afraid to even look at the Rasta man’s reaction.
Musty is a fisherman, who was once employed by Steve, the American owner of Lost Beach. He and the Rasta guy had wonderful warm things to say about Steve, and seemed to appreciate the fact that he chose THEIR community to build his Jamaican home. They also were thrilled that the guests would take the time to visit their party. Musty dives for a lot of his catch, and seemed very proud of his lung capacity. He pointed out to the awestruck boys that he doesn’t smoke (well, maybe a little ganja, in a quiet aside to me) and that he has to eat healthy. He was one of the original employees of Lost Beach, but decided he would rather work for himself, money just isn’t that important to him. Why should it be, when he has the sea to sustain him? My son told Mark that he wants to go fishing with Musty before we leave. Ya man, no problem.
Mark was punched out for the day, and I could tell he intended to stay at the party until it ended. So, we said our goodbyes (more hugs from the rasta man) and headed back home. The whole way back the kids were asking who that man was and what he was saying. I shrugged. All I know is that he loves us, I explained. As soon as we got back to Lost Beach property, the kids disappeared again. My wife awoke from her nap and we prepared for dinner. When we arrived at the restaurant, the whole crew was there…the two other families staying there, the owners, and their two daughters. In addition, we also met Courtney, a local boy who had practically grown up with the two daughters. Beth, who was still drinking white wine and reading a mystery novel, explained that the family had been coming here for at least eight years. Beth had designed the place, and when the girls were off school they would all come here and supervise construction. Courtney, according to the assembled crowd, was an excellent gymnast, and was hoping to come to the states to continue his gymnastic training. Supposedly, he had just learned how to play Gin Rummy, and he was busy cleaning up at that game with assorted family and guests.
Blackouts are common in Jamaica. So common, in fact, that there must be some hotline you can call to find out when the next one will occur. Al and Karel had informed us to expect the power to go out that day from 3 to 5 PM. Never happened. That evening, however, as we were waiting for our food, the lights did go out. Instantly, Audrey, our waitress for the day, appeared tableside with candles and lanterns. The candles made the restaurant seem even more beautiful and romantic (if that’s possible). The lanterns were there to use if we needed to make our way back to the room, something the kids did every five minutes or so. You wouldn’t think lanterns would be necessary to walk those few steps from the restaurant to the room, but at Lost Beach, when the lights go out, it is truly and wonderfully dark.
In what seemed like no time at all, the power came back on. Everyone had a great dinner, and Courtney beat everyone at Rummy. One family was due to leave the next day, and their daughter had requested a chocolate cake for her last night (once again, NOT on the menu) and we all had a piece. My daughter even ate some conch soup and pronounced it delicious, until she found out what was in it.
After dinner, everyone gathered on the beach for a bonfire! I’m not sure if this was in honor of Independence Day or the departing family, but it was appreciated. More wine appeared from someone’s room, and the owners contributed a bag of marshmallows before retiring for the night. My daughter roasted marshmallows for everyone on sticks that Courtney found. After, the kids and the remaining guests hit the pool again, for another late night swim, but my wife and I just sat on our porch, sipping drinks and savoring the moonlight and water. I made a mental note to myself, tomorrow I really HAVE to call the office.