Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Jamaica 2016 Day 2. Negril

I woke up at 6 am, ready to go, only to find out that Future had locked the place tight so I couldn’t even get to walk in the beautiful garden. Finally at 8:30 am he made an appearance, and only because he had promised to drive one of the girls to one of the hotels to catch a canopy tour. I tagged along and got dropped near downtown, with the fixed idea in my mind that I had to (a) had breakfast, and (b) get me a set of wheels. Breakfast was easy, as I spied a hole-in-the-wall place that was making a brisk business packing lunches for day workers. I went in and, in between the craziness of serving to-go lunches, got a nice serving of brown stew with chicken (a famous Jamaican delicacy), steamed collard greens, baked potatoes and banana, and two dumplings that were dense and flavorless but clearly packed with energy.

My search for a rental scooter was, alas, disappointing. A couple of leads I got from people on the street led to places that had already closed, and when I finally asked a tourism policeman he told me that he did not want me following anyone who promised to show me a place (that is when robberies happen), that there were no rental places in MoBay (that is what we locals call Montego Bay), and that I was going to have to go to Negril, 70 km away to rent a scooter. He also sternly admonished me to take a taxi to the bus depot “because that is not a part of town where a solo visitor should be seen walking around”. OK, I bowed to authority, took a pesero and 10 minutes later was on my way to the town of Lucea, where I changed buceticos, and after maybe an hour grand total I was delivered to the taxi terminal in Negrin. Note to self: Next time make sure they drop you off in downtown, and not 5 kilometers in the outskirts.

I was happily walking down the road when the first of many “volunteers” stopped and, after a brief conversation, convinced me that he would take me to the best place to rent a scooter. It was OK, and he earned his tip, but in retrospect I wish I had done more shopping before settling for a Susuki 125 cc scooter for $40 per day. Once in charge of my own transportation I was beset by touts who wanted to guide me to the waterfalls, and the beach, and the countryside, which of course was the last thing I wanted to do. Unfortunately one of them distracted me at the petrol station, and I ended paying ten times as much as I needed to (JA$5,500 when it was really JA$550; had I been able to concentrate I would have immediately figured out that I could not have possibly put US$55 in the tank). I did come back to the petrol station, and managed to shame the guy into giving me back JA$2,500, but it was still the most expensive gas tank I have filled.

Not feeling like going through the gauntlet of the touts I just took a random road out of Negril, and making use of my much celebrated sense of orientation managed to navigate through a network of charming little roads, farms, and countryside, while still joining the main road between Negril and Lucea. I had already passed Lucea on the way to MoBay, when, at about 2 pm, I see a black wall of rain ahead of me. “Rats!”, I thought, “I need to find shelter on a small roadside restaurant.” 30 seconds later I was drenched to the bone and was forced to skid under the canopy of a large tree. Ten minutes later the rain had abated a bit, so I was back on the road and, half a kilometer later, found the most idyllic roadside shack, right by the bay, where I was given welcoming shelter by the two young women tending the counter, and the smiling older waitress. I order a Red Ribbon beer, and sat on a stool to see the rain pass. Right at that moment the movie High Crimes (2002, Morgan Freeman and Ashley Judd) was starting, and Joan (the older lady) and I got hooked on it, discussing the events as they were being disclosed and being generally involved as the peanut gallery. After the movie was done I asked for dinner, and Joan was glad to fix me a plate of jerk pork (a kind of spicy carnitas), rice with beans, and collard greens. I was almost finished when she came and sat by my side, and very seriously she directed me to get back home before it was dark. “Jamaican people are very nice”, she said, “but there are a few who are not so nice, and I don’t want you to get into trouble.” So we said goodbye, she told me once again to drive carefully, and an hour later I was in MoBay, just in time to buy some essentials in the supermarket and reach my beautiful villa.

There are four guests right now: A young New Yorker who broke his toe and came to convalesce in Jamaica, a Norwegian slip of a girl who is taking a leap year in her studies, a black girl from Phoenix, and myself. The Phoenix girl is a riot: she came to celebrate her 36th birthday, and her passion is body sculpting, so she has some pictures of herself bursting with muscles while at the same time keeping an hourglass figure. Together with Future we all sat together, shooting the breeze, sharing the camaraderie that forges between free traveling spirits. It was nice!

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