Jamaica - a country that offers more than a postcard
I have had my first thoughts of stopping the project and turning back home. But there are many I do not want to let down - including myself.
As a white skinned tourist in Jamaica you can be sure that you will be "attacked" everyday. Not by criminals but by those who believe they know what you want: beaches, waterfalls, reggae, marihuana, artwork, parties and much more. That is the holiday life for many and it is easily accessible.
Like any other country Jamaica consists of people and the lives they live. Most Jamaicans don't care about swimming and stay on land. They have children, they go to work, they get stuck in traffic, pay their bills, shop for groceries, debate the weather and watch sports. I think that many Jamaicans are aware of a dark shadow that is lurking above. A shadow of economical struggle and a lack of jobs. The sun is still shinning, the mountains reach for the sky and the ocean meets the sand on the beach... So which world is real? How often do you visit the museums of your own country?
Jamaicans are absolutely full of life and have a very charming ambiance and a "to die for" accent. You probably know about Bob Marley, the bobsled team, reggae and the gorgeous landscape of this Caribbean island. If you let yourself meet with a Jamaican then you are guaranteed the most spectacular sense of hospitality. However I sensed an increased focus on making money over making friends. This does not include everyone. Far from! But I just noticed a few differences in terms of profit that weren't as prevalent in other Caribbean countries. As an example I can tell you that I have traveled with a great number of buses since I left home nearly 16 months ago. Never have I been charged for bringing my luggage. In fact I have also traveled with my luggage in multiple busses within Jamaica without being charged. But this 1 time I was told that I had to pay for an extra seat because of my luggage. The bus was far from full.
Normally the busses fill up fast. Like this minibus which had 21 people inside at 1 point!
In my opinion this stands out from the other Caribbean islands I have visited. Perhaps it is fair that I should pay for that extra seat since I am in fact occupying it. But I am sure that the outcome of the same situation would have been different anywhere else in the Caribbean. I believe that I would have been offered to use the seat as long as the bus was not full - and in case the bus filled up THEN I would be charged. That was the case in Grenada. It should have been in Jamaica too.
Now I'm not saying that I base everything on that bus episode. I have many similar stories. The bus story just explains what I want to say in regards to the financial gain mentality.
Lars from http://www.amersports.com helped out and replaced the old Salomons with a pair of new ones. I received new pants from Berghaus, Christmas presents from people back home and much more when my girlfriend arrived :)
I feel like I'm far behind on administrative chores. I tried to catch up with some of them while my girlfriend was here but in the end it was better to prioritize her :) We had a great time walking around and visiting various locations in Portland. Portland is the part of Jamaica which is up towards the northeastern side. My girlfriend and I were told that if we wanted to see the real Jamaica then we should go there.
This is Anneli from Finland...or after 25 years in Jamaica perhaps I should say she is from there.
For the first few days we stayed at a guesthouse called FinJam. When we arrived we decoded the name as we learned that the owner was Anneli from Finland who had spent around 25 years in Jamaica. Finland - Jamaica = FinJam.
When "NotNice NightFlamez" isn't smiling and selling coconuts he might have another life too? Check him out on Facebook ;)
The beaches are beautiful, the green nature is everywhere and coconuts are massively available along with certain sorts of tobacco. Jerk pork, jerk chicken or jerk anything is a special way of preparing the meet and it tastes really good!! 1 night while enjoying such a meal we ran into a group of locals who were very happy to speak with us about everything. The topic of full-joying things came up which is an interesting idea. Don't enjoy...full-joy! Enjoyment needs to end...full-joyment lasts for ever. Something like that...
It may be hard to see in this picture, but there is 3 of us :) The amusing video is here:http://youtu.be/ktwg5cD3LZQ
After about an hour and seemingly out of nowhere an aggression arose between 1 of the elder men we were speaking with and a man sitting nearby. Before you had the time to say "ya man", our friend had smashed the bottom of a bottle towards the ground and was know "armed" with his razor sharp weapon. The other man, now standing in the middle of the street, pulled out a large shinny "Crocodile Dundee" type knife and was ready for the broken glass bottle. WHAT IS GOING ON seemed to be on our mind as we watched this improvised violent event. Our friend with the bottle, having seen the huge knife, now picked up a rock with his other hand and held it over his head like a scorpions tale.
And then nothing really happened? The man with the knife walked off into the night and our friend with the bottle went back to drinking. That's when we decided it was late enough to retire and headed back to the guesthouse.
Streetfood is often really good - the smoke from the kitchen almost filled up the room.
The next day we told Anneli about what had happened and she simply couldn't stop laughing which was a strange response. But according to her those two men do "the same show" every week. "They are harmless" she said. It puts a different perspective on it all.
My girlfriend and I played cards almost everyday.
Later that week we moved to another guesthouse to see something else. It was only a short drive east from Port Antonio where we had stayed at FinJam. Now we were staying at the Polish Princess which turned out to be an amazingly good choice. And now we were ready to play tourists for a while.
We booked a trip down the Rio Grande on a bamboo raft. The driver scheduled to pick us up drove us to the starting point and we met our "captain": Carl "Benz" Thompson. He goes by the name of Benz and is 48 years old. He sings in a calypso band and like many other Jamaicans he would sporadically burst into song from time to time. Benz spent most of his life on the river and had plenty of tales to tell. You could say that Benz is a world traveler who never found his way off the island.
"Benz" on his bamboo raft.
Among the things he told us was a tale about how important tourists are to the countries image and economy and how well protected they are for that reason. At first I was nervous that this bamboo trip down the river would be alongside the road with vehicles passing by all the way. And I was somewhat worried that salesmen would stand in the water and offer us stuff for the entirety of the trip. But after about 10 minutes the river bent off to the left and the road disappeared to the right. As well as the salesmen disappeared behind us and the spectacular Jamaican nature opened up before us.
In the old days when Errol Flynn was inside this little passage then all the other rafts had to go around. Because he was likely making love to whichever woman he brought with him ;)
For those of you that are familiar with the actor Errol Flynn (he was active long ago) it might be of interest to know that he started the bamboo rafting for tourists. At least according to Benz. Errol Flynn came to the river one day when the only bamboo rafts there were carrying bananas. Making a longer story short he offered 3 times the value for a "tourist trip". That would have been about $3. After that day there was little interest in transporting bananas and soon after that trucks would have developed to carry the bananas anyway.
Belinda in her kitchen.
We had our lunch that day on the river shore. Belinda walks about 1 hour every day to get there in the morning and then 1 hour and a few minutes to get back. When asked how late she leaves she said: "sometimes dark catches me on the way..." Belinda's cooking might have been my best meal in Jamaica. And that says a lot because the food is generally pretty good.
It is hard to describe how wonderful it has been to have my girlfriend by my side for almost 2 weeks. But it's safe to say: VERY VERY MUCH! :) We've done many things, seen a lot, spoken to many and heard a great deal. I will finish this blog with a series of pictures and a few comments. Because we set our mind on reaching the peak of Blue Mountain on our own and without a guide. And we did. But it was quite the adventure.
1 time we struck out!! We had some Jerk pork which was mostly lumps of fat - with lots of hair!! Bwdr.
THE ADVENTURE OF BLUE MOUNTAIN PEAK
Blue Mountain Peak is the highest mountain in Jamaica at 2,256 meters (7,402 ft). It is the home of Blue Mountain coffee. We started our day at 06:00am and left early. Barbara, our wonderful host at "The Polish Princess Guesthouse" gave us a ride to Port Antonio.
From Port Antonio we found a bus to Buff Bay. From Buff Bay a route taxi brought us closer to our goal. But still pretty far from it. But then we met these two wonderful women! Donna and Kelly! :) 1 with a bottle opener on her cap and the other with her long hair standing straight up into the air. They were great fun and very charming. They helped us negotiate a price with Neek and his taxi.
We left Donna and Kelly and drove into the Blue Mountains with Neek. After negotiating a little more he agreed to bring us as far as he could if we paid for the gas. That brought us up to some pretty rough roads where a 4-wheel drive would have been preferable. Our ride came to an end when we approached a road construction team which had blocked the road with a huge amount of dirt.
So now we were on foot. And we kept it at a high pace because we were still far from the trail. It was a very quiet road and everyone we met told us that there was no way we would make it up there and back in 1 day.
But after a decent amount of walking we met a minibus with two gentlemen who were going the opposite way - transporting bananas...and smoking....tobacco...
They were farmers/businessmen. Roger was driving and Fatha was smoking. We had a lot of fun speaking with them and negotiated a price to take us to Hagley Gap. That went pretty well and their very very very old minibus impressed me on the somewhat rough roads.
But then we had a flat tire...
We left Roger and Fatha with the flat tire. Everyone was smiling and there was no doubt that they would have replaced the tire in no time. Now we were walking again.
We stopped at a small shop which reminded me of Nepal for some reason. Inside we bought some instant soup from a woman and asked if she could boil us some water. No problem! :)
I think mountain people are nice no matter where you go. They are in my opinion :)
It took us about 7 hours to reach this far. We knew that the trail from the guesthouses should be about 4 hours hiking and we still were not there. But according to google maps we were getting closer. So we pushed harder and began walking up the steep mountain road. My girlfriend showed impressive strength!
We met a woman along the way. She was smiling in her garden and we briefly spoke with her. She believed that we could make it to the guesthouses and perhaps...but only perhaps to the peak. But certainly not all the way up and back down to Port Antonio.
We pushed on. That is when Devlon came by in the oldest jeep I have ever seen outside a museum. He wasn't going far since he was simply delivering some coffee - but we could come along.
Devlon behind the wheel. That was exactly what we needed! He took us up the steep road and closer to the trail. We left each other smiling and continued on foot. We still hoped to reach the peak.
After a while we met two other hikers. And they turned out to be Danish too? What a coincidence. They said they came from the peak and that it was about 4 hours away from where we were. So we continued hiking. We approached the guesthouses, passed them, approached the coffee fields, pushed through and up, and up, and up...
The trail was charming and easy to follow - in daylight! But how about when it would soon begin to get dark? And how about coming down?
WE REACHED THE PEAK AFTER ONLY 3 HOURS! YEAH BABY! Well done of both of us. We did a quick "high-five", caught our breath and headed down again as it was getting dark.
And then it got dark. Eventually we had to pull out a flashlight in order to find our way down.
Quite often we were enclosed within the clouds. It was a beautiful trek but know we needed to think about getting back or spending the night in a guesthouse? As we approached a guesthouse we went inside and met Jahb. Jahb is the rastafari owner of that particular guesthouse and he gave us a price on a chartered jeep to go back down to Buff Bay: USD 150. A high price but also a long distance and it was 8:00pm. We thought about staying for the night and created a quick "cost/benefit" analyses within our heads. Then we opted for the jeep.
It was dark and the rastafaris generally do not like having their picture taken. But Jahb is in that dark picture. He called for his son Nebo who showed up a little later with his friend Roger. Roger and Nebo zigzagged down the Blue Mountains at the typical Jamaican quick pace. I stayed awake all the way down. We even hit a snake that was trying to cross the road. The snake would have picked the right time if it hadn't been for us - the only ones on the road. There was nothing we could have done. Once we spotted the snake it was too late: gadunk gadunk. And we continued. It took us 3 hours to get down (we spent 8 to go up).
From Buff Bay we caught a route taxi back to Port Antonio and another one back to the guesthouse. We arrived at midnight, 17 hours after we left. We had done it.
As it is often the case: the journey was much more interesting than the destination.
And they lived happily ever after... ;)
Media coverage has been very good in Jamaica. In 1 day I appeared on a morning show, spoke with a newspaper and went on the radio. In the picture I'm speaking with Omar at Love 101 FM. He probably delivered the best radio interview I have ever experienced. He has some real insight into life. All media arrangements were setup by Jamaican Red Cross - another Red Cross branch who have gone out of their way to help. Thank you! :)
Shakespeare is often quoted for having said: "parting is such sweet sorrow". Or perhaps he wrote it. It's tough letting someone you care deeply about leave your even if it is only for a while.
Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - NEVER giving up!! Never!! ;)