Where has the time gone? Some things I wanted to mention but haven’t had the time: One of the best parts of our vacation was giving Jamaicans gifts. We brought toys and school supplies, lighters and more. One morning, there were a group of local boys playing at the pool. Harold eventually chased them away, saying that their parents didn’t know they were there, or they would have been in trouble. I guess it wasn’t too much of a hardship, because they still had a whole ocean to play in! Before they left, my son gave each of them a little metal toy car. We bought a pack of six at the dollar store back home, that means the total cost of each was about 17 cents. I’ve never seen so much happiness come at so little expense. The boys played with these for hours. And the smiles were so big and so genuine. One little guy, too shy to speak, kept going up to my son, poking him in the ribs, and making motor sounds.
School supplies were also appreciated far beyond the cost. I had expected these to be appreciated by the women, all of whom seemed to have children in school, but the men seemed equally grateful. I swear Harold had tears in his eyes as he told us of his daughter’s plans to be a lawyer some day. Bic lighters, (not the clear generic kind) also seemed to be prized gifts…I guess nothing says ganja like a Bic! And we had packed way too many of those peanut butter crackers (the food at meals was so good, we didn’t eat a lot of snacks). Everyone made sure to thank us for the “biscuits”. We even gave away the rafts and sand buckets we had brought with us.
But the gift that got the best reaction was the one we gave to Egbert… Yes, THAT Egbert, the one with the stick…
Lots of activity at Lost Beach this morning. The new arrivals were from a different time zone and were up way before any of our family (and I think before most of the staff). Apparently, they had made arrangements the night before for a massage. This was the slow season (although I can’t imagine that this place would seem too crowded even at peak times) and that meant that a lot of staff members were sharing jobs. Marcy and another maid had been alternating days all week. Today would normally be her day off, but she showed up in shorts and wearing headphones, instead of her usual maid’s uniform. She set up a table under a palm tree on the beach and went to work kneading that couple’s troubles right out of them. I don’t think she was entirely successful with the male half, though. We saw his wife at the pool later that day and she said he had called their business office back in the States three times already! I can only hope that Jamaica got to him eventually and that he decided to abandon any effort at conducting business from there. The real activity was in the water, though. There had been a really nice boat sitting in the parking lot since we had arrived. Today, Steve was going to put in moorings for it.
The moorings consist of 10 gallon buckets filled with concrete to which buoys have been attached. Mark and Harold bring each bucket out to one of the small fishing boats, and drop it in. Why the bottom of the boat doesn’t drop out, I’ll never know. Then Steve and Musty hop in with them, and Steve directs the crew on where to go. Once they’ve located the exact right spot, Musty, the bucket, and a big hose drop into the water. The hose is connected to a compressor in the boat. Musty sinks to the bottom with the bucket. Air from the hose is used to push sand away from the bucket, effectively creating a hole. Musty finishes making the hole with his hands if necessary, and once the bucket is safely in the hole, he covers it with sand. Then he returns to the surface for air, the boat returns to the beach to reload, and the process would be repeated once again.
This went on for the whole morning. No one moved too fast; Mark found time to walk by his admiring fans again and again, and Musty and Steve spent long periods huddled together in conversation that only two fishermen from different countries could understand. But by the time we were all finishing a late lunch, the moorings were in place. The next batch of tourists to arrive in this little town would have a nice new fishing boat, bobbing in the waves and shining in the Jamaican sun, to greet them
After lunch, Romy decided to show the kids how to do his card tricks. My son was catching on quickly, but my daughter, being the youngest, began to feel like we weren’t paying enough attention to her. She started crying and ran off to play with the dogs. There are two amazing things about this event. First, this is the only time I can remember any anger or sadness from either child the whole time we were in Jamaica. Normally, one or both of them is mad at me, or at their mom, or at each other all the time, but not here. Secondly, when my daughter ran off to the beach, we didn’t worry at all. Back home, we watch the kids like hawks. They are not allowed out of our sight unless we know exactly where they are and whom they are with. But here we were, in another country, surrounded by people we’d known for less than a week. And yet I have never felt safer letting my daughter roam. Musty told us he wanted to give us a present for the kids. So my wife and I followed him down to a small stand of trees on the beach past the fishing boats. Using his hands, he dug into the sand and pulled out two huge, perfectly matched shells. He had found them on one of his dives and hidden them earlier. We watched as he took them out on to the beach and carefully slammed them on the sand to release the mollusk inside. Once the shells were empty, he went into the water and polished them with sand. They looked perfect, but he still wasn’t satisfied. He said the inside still needed to be cleaned and there were some very small barnacles on them, and he needed a knife to get them off. He suggested we walk to his parent’s house to get one…
We walked along the beach for awhile, past where the Independence Day celebration had been just a few days before. But now the beach was empty and quiet. It seemed like Musty, my wife, and I were the only people in the world. I asked Musty who owned this stretch of beach, as all the locals seemed to use it. The fishermen kept their boats there; they hauled in their catch to sell it there; the children played in the water there; and the whole town gathered there on their holiday. He said something about how he thought some guy used to own it, but he died. I asked Musty why everyone called Mr. White by his last name, and he told me the man probably wears white a lot. I asked Musty about the man we had seen along the road whose hair was taller than he was, and he said we should stay away from that man, and it probably wasn’t his real hair. I asked Musty why they called him Musty if his real name was Leonard, and he said a teacher had started calling him that because he ran so fast.
If you’re confused about something, it’s not a good idea to ask Musty about it. Unless you want to be more confused.
We veered off the beach onto a dirt road, scattering dogs and goats as we went. Eventually we reached Musty’s parents’ house, which was a small, neat, and brightly colored home. His mother and sister were on the front porch, a TV blaring inside. Musty ran off to find a knife, and his father appeared from somewhere to welcome the guests. We chatted for awhile, and we found out his father had been to the states before, doing some migrant farm work. Everyone wanted to know if we were enjoying our stay in Hope Wharf, and seemed genuinely delighted that we were. No one seemed to find it at all unusual when we told them that we envied them for living here.
Finally, Musty returned with the clean shells and made us smell the inside. They smelled like rum, and they still do today. They smell like Jamaica. Musty invited us to his house next, but the sun was relentless, and all we could think about was getting back to the pool. “Next time,” he said, assuming we would be back.
When we arrived back at Lost Beach, my son cornered Musty and showed him every page of the book he had brought with him (and had practically memorized while lying in a hammock on the beach). My son has been saving money to buy a salt-water aquarium, and his book was filled with color photos of every species of marine life imaginable. Musty told him all about how he had tangled with a hammerhead shark, and took his time looking and commenting on each picture. Later my son confided in me that Musty had claimed to have seen every one of the fish before, even some that are found only in the South Pacific.
Soon it was time to clean up for dinner, and when we arrived at the restaurant, we discovered that Romy had made a heart and my daughter’s name out of flowers and left them at her spot on the table. Suddenly, the card tricks had become unimportant, and she was the most important person there. Jamaican men really know how to charm the ladies. While we waited for our dinner to arrive, she spent her time rearranging the flowers to read “We Love You, Romeo”.
Once again we were the only guests for dinner, as the other couple had headed into Negril for the evening. But we were far from alone. Steve, Beth, and the girls were there, and Al, and Courtney and Boy George, of course. A day or so ago I gave Beth a book I had finished, and within a day she had read it (along with drinking plenty of white wine, I’m sure). The night before, Steve had stayed up all night reading it, too. She claimed he woke her up several times to tell her what the hero SHOULD have done. Even with the lack of sleep, the owners were not too tired to tell us the story of how Lost Beach came to be.
Steve and Beth had been coming to Negril for years. Steve loves to fish and Beth loves to just relax. The names of their dogs (Cheech and Chong) make me think that this couple may be old hippies. Eventually Negril grew into a resort area, and they began to miss the old, sleepy little town. Steve had been successful in real estate back in the states, so he decided to try to find a place to recreate the Negril they remembered. He was on his way to look at a piece of property when he became hopelessly lost. Finally, at the end of the road, he found a lonely, unspoiled beach that was for sale. Hence the name Lost Beach. I’ve mentioned that above the open air restaurant is a deck with more tables which may be filled some day. But there is more up there. Above the bar area and lobby is the library, which has thousands of paperbacks and a full-size pool table. Also up there are the rooms where Al stays and the rooms reserved for the owners when they are in Jamaica. On this, our last night at the resort, my son spent time playing pool with Courtney and George, and my daughter sang along to all her CD’s with Sara and Molly in their room. My wife and I were free to sit on the beach.
If Negril is made for sunsets, then Lost Beach is the perfect spot for a moonrise. The first night we were there the moon was perfect…big, almost full, creating dancing white sparkles on the water. But by now the moon had waned a bit, and the nights were not as bright. This lack of moonlight turned out to be a blessing on our last night. As we watched the stars come out we saw, for the first time, a cloud of white stretch across the sky. This was the Milky Way, our own spiral galaxy which is always surrounding us, but can’t be seen from the bright lights of home. We were at a small hotel, in a very small town, on a tiny little island, in a great big sea. And we were looking at the cosmos, and realizing that in all of God’s vast creation, we could very well be in the one perfect spot to see it all.
Every day, an older gentleman in a dusty blue uniform makes his way from Sav-La-Mar to Little London. There, he catches a ride on a scooter taxi down the long dirt road that leads to Hope Wharf. When he arrives he stops near the front desk of the Lost Beach Resort and punches the time clock. It’s a long hard ride from Sav to Lost Beach, but this toothless old man is happy to have this job, and proud that he is so necessary. He spends the rest of the evening and all night long patrolling the grounds with a big carved mahogany stick. His name is Egbert.
When we first arrived here, we felt reassured to find out that there was a night watchman. After all, hadn’t our friends warned us of the dangers that we might face in Jamaica? And we grew so used to the security guards who stood at each end of the beach at Riu, keeping the higglers away. But after a few days, we began to realize that there was no one in Hope Wharf who would wish us any harm, and outsiders would be so out of place here that they wouldn’t last long enough to cause us any trouble. Why, then, did Egbert need his stick?
Because Egbert’s job was to chase away cattle, that’s why. There are no fences in Hope Wharf, and if a farmer has some cows, they are allowed to roam freely. Unfortunately, the owners of Lost Beach had invested a good deal of time and money into landscaping the property. And without Egbert, the cows would eat all the vegetation. One of the more interesting sights at Lost Beach was to see a small stampede of cattle on the beach in the moonlight, with Egbert and a few dogs following behind, stick swinging in the air.
Al told us that he sometimes wakes up late at night and wanders down to the bar area. There he finds Egbert, diligently listening for cattle, but watching the satellite TV. No matter what station the TV is set to at bedtime, it’s always on the Western channel by morning.
On our last night in Jamaica, we started to pack for the trip home. We still had a few items that we didn’t intend to take back with us. My wife called Egbert over to our porch and started to give him some food and lighters. He told us he couldn’t carry them around all night, but if we would leave them with Karel when we left he would take them home the next day. But then my wife pulled out some lotions and soaps we had picked up at Riu. Would your wife like some of these? They quickly disappeared into the pockets of his uniform, and he gave us the biggest grin a toothless man can give. He was ready to leave when my wife opened the refrigerator and called out for him to wait. She handed him a full bottle of wine that we hadn’t had time to drink. Somehow this managed to go into a pocket too, and the smile got even wider. A bottle of wine and gifts for the wife… Egbert was going to have the night of his life tonight.