March 2011


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SOS is the commonly used description for the international Morse Code distress signal. No doubt the Japanese have been sending out many an SOS over the past week. Living in rural wydaho I do a fair amount of online (mostly window) shopping. I came across this cool jewelry designer who makes Morse code necklaces. They are giving 60 percent of their profits to MSF, a humanitarian organization that delivers aid.

I just thought they were cute and helped a good cause. They have more than just an SOS choice, and would make a fabulous, unique gift. Check it out.

COATT Morse code necklaces

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I’ve been back from Jamaica for five days and I feel like I’m finally starting to adjust back to the cold snow temps. It seems so weird to think that I won’t feel Jamaica-like heat until probably July 4th or later. Saturday morning I was swimming in the Caribbean and Sunday afternoon I was skiing pow. It snowed 60 inches while we were gone. We missed the biggest day of the year where Targhee picked up 30 inches overnight. My boss at work even closed the office and let everyone go skiing. While I missed the snow, I was happy to be floating in tropical blue water snorkeling, eating lobster, sipping fruity rum drinks and lounging on a beach chair. This was my first trip to the Caribbean and the water didn’t look real at first. It was so clear and blue at the same time. If there were waves to surf I may not have come back. The weather was also perfect. Not too hot, except for a sweaty car ride one day and a trip to town another. It wasn’t humid and there was always a warm breeze.

I’ll try and break down the trip with some photos. It took us awhile to even get to Jamaica. Living in rural Wydaho, it’s sometimes difficult to travel. Thankfully the weather cooperated a little. We left Driggs early Friday morning to drive to Salt Lake City. We started vacation Thursday night though because there was really good music at the Knotty Pine. Chali 2na and Karl Denson were in town so it was a show not to be missed for town that has only one blinking stoplight. When we got to Salt Lake and checked into the airport our flight was going to be delayed two hours. We already had to stay over night in Houston and fly to Jamaica the next morning so it wasn’t that big of  deal. But then fog in Houston re routed us to Dallas to get more fuel. We finally got to Houston around 1 a.m. having left Driggs at 8 a.m. Houston to Jamaica went smooth but then it took us two hours to get through customs when we finally arrived. Needless to say I was really excited that Shannon had already booked us a flight in a Cessna 120 something or other to take us from Montego Bay to Negril. It was a 15 minute plane ride along the cost vs. an hour and half taxi or bus ride. We made it to Negril just in time for sunset.

The pilot. He said in Jamaica they give you a pilot's liscence when you get your driver's liscence. Didn't scare me, I've flown with Dr. Lampitt as a kid.

As soon as we got through customs everyone kept telling us “welcome home,” or “you’re home mon.” A lot of Americans or Canadians we met had been to Jamaica multiple times. It seemed kind of weird at first, because there are a thousand other places I would want to travel and couldn’t see going back to the same place every year. I can see why they keep coming back though. When your not used to that kind of hospitality it feels really good. Besides it’s gorgeous.


On our first night we were sitting on the beach drying off from a swim and having our first rum drinks when we met O’Neil. He introduced himself as Jack Sparrow and I thought, “oh great, he thinks we are dumb tourists.” Which we kind of are I guess, but I didn’t want to buy anything from him or listen to his pitch about the “real Jamaica mon.” The security guard was approaching and he warned us real quick to say he was our friend. So Sparrow kind of weirded me out a bit at first, but he was really nice even though he was a hustler. Everyone we met kind of was. But everyone’s gotta eat. We told him we would find him the following day and set up trip for him to take us to some caves and Treasure Beach.

The next day though, we weren’t any mood to travel. We hung out on the beach took a walk down seven mile beach. Our condo was near the end on the West part of seven mile beach. We walked all the way down, checking out all the hotels and people watching. Locals selling fruit, bracelets, baskets, marijuana, anything you wanted as well as topless women, European men (easily spotted because of speedos) and lots of snowbirds with skin as dark as the locals made for good entertainment. We got talked into a snorkeling/sunset trip that evening and it was a good choice. We snorkeled in some caves on the way to Rick’s Cafe. Rick’s is a famous cliff jumping spot and we went there next. When we got there, I was glad we were by boat. It was a madhouse. Climbing up the cliffs a girl had just hurt her back jumping and Shannon went into EMT mode to help. I bet there are a lot of injuries there with people fueled on liquid courage. Jamaica is great because “it’s no problem, mon.” You can do anything you want. You don’t want to wear a life jacket on the jet ski, no problem. We jumped in once and got back in the boat for sunset number 2.

 

The next day we set out for a day trip to Treasure beach and some caves with underwater swimming. We found Jack Sparrow. He hung out just down the beach from where we stayed. They called it the free bar. He slept on the floor in some old run down buildings. The free bar was the remains of what was at one time an actual bar. They had a cooler full of Red Stripes that they sold for cheaper than the surrounding resorts, though. Goats and a horse were lingering in the grass behind the bar. A lot of old Rastafarians  hung out there as well, rolling joints and selling baskets, shells, are, jewelry and whatever else they had.

We called this guy the Mayor of Seven Mile Beach. He hung out at the free bar, selling baskets he made from telephone wire he found. I don’t think he lived in the back though, because we saw him walking down the beach from town at the same time every day. It’s weird to think that his job was hanging out on the beach all day, hoping someone might buy a basket. Everyone kind of had their turf. They set up at the same place everyday and wandered the beach, but not too far from their hang out.

Sparrow, who’s real name was revealed to be O’Neil, introduced us to DJ who was going to be our driver for the day. DJ was a DJ that wasn’t his real name either. Everyone has a nickname. They called Shannon “General.” Not really sure why. We left Negril and headed west on the Island. On the way we stopped for Red Stripes at all the little huts dotting the road. There was never one far. They only sold beer, a few snacks, cigarettes, and juice drinks.

Our first real stop was the community of Rolling River. There we went to caves with underwater swimming holes. It was pretty cool, but everyone wants a piece of the action. We had to have yet another guide in addition to our driver DJ, Sparrow who set it all up and now the cave guide. He was nice too, though and kept stopping to point out leaves that smelled like lime or ginger or whatever else. The tour was a little cheesey, but we never saw any other gringos and Sparrow kept saying, “the real Jamaica mon.” So who knows. The guide said locals used the caves as a place to meditate. While we were touring there were some people singing some spiritual songs. I don’t know if it was set up or not. There was one really deep swimming hole and it was kind of creepy jumping in because you could see the reflection of the stalactites in the water, so it looked like you were going to jump on top of rocks. It was like 100 feet deep though. Still creepy because it was so dark. Not that into caves, I was ready to go back to the beach. On the way out Shannon tipped our guide $10. And he tried to get more, but we already paid $20 for the tour and it was cool, but not that cool and only like 45 minutes long. Jamaican’s aren’t shy about asking for more. But we felt that was fair and they always appreciate what you do give them. “Respect, mon. Respect.” That’s what they usually say when they want your attention or later if they decide what you gave them was fair. The guide wanted more but thanked us anyway and wished us a long life and good trip.

We got back in the car. Stopped at yet another hut for more Red Stripes and then stopped for lunch.

Before we got out of the car DJ and Sparrow told us to let them handle the fish ladies. It was a bunch of huts on the side of the road where ladies were cooking fish and bread. As soon as we got out of the car they all began swarming us and yelling at us to buy their fish. We wandered down to the water where some men were scaling fish. A bunch of boats were tied up. DJ and sparrow brought us a tin foil package of parrot fish with onions and spices and some bread. They eyes and all the bone were still in, but it was delicious. Probably because it was so fresh.

From there we went on to Treasure Beach, but with so many Red Stripes in me at that point I really had to go to the bathroom. DJ pulled over at another hut and asked the girl if I could use her bathroom. All the bathrooms are outside and look like they would be a gross latrine, but everyone I used were all very clean, sometimes with a dirt floor, but always with running water. Treasure Beach was an even more laid back beach town than Negril. It didn’t have as many hotels and restaurants or people, but it was probably headed that way. The car ride was hot at that point so we were ready to jump in the ocean. We stopped at Jack Sprats, a bar on the water, but there was a live Reggae band at the next bar down the beach. We hiked over some rocks and listened for awhile. There were a lot of locals and a few gringos. Next time we want to hang out at Treasure Beach more. We didn’t make it to the Pelican Bar, which I really wanted to do. It’s out on the water and you can only get there by boat. We just ran out of time. On the way back, it looked like it had rained in Negril, so we missed the day’s showers.

The next morning we went snorkeling out on a reef. It was beautiful. I don’t know what all we saw, but lots of colorful fish and fan coral and other underwater plants. There were two Canadian girls who were in military school with us. They were backpacking around the island and visiting some friends from school who were stationed in Ocho Rios working with other Caribbean military units. They were hoping to get that kind of gig when they graduated.

The rest of the days we mostly kicked it on the beach in front of our condo. Our condo was a little older than some of the other hotels, but it had one of the biggest beach areas and lots of shade. I needed the shade after two days in the sun. We also hung out at the Sea Grape Cafe and Kuyaba. The Sea Grape was right next door to our beach and had cheaper Red Stripes than our condo bar. It was DJ’s hangout.

 

We kind of ditched Sparrow and let DJ take over as our guide. He told us Sparrow sometimes had friends that were trouble. Maybe he was just telling us that so we would give him more of our money and not Sparrow. Anyway, DJ had wheels and Sparrow didn’t. The Sea Grape was also local but a little nicer than the Free Bar. The Free Bar was cool, with a great view and nice Rastas, but the Grape was just next door and had a little bit better vibe. It also had an older Jamaican lady who would rub me down with her aloe plant. I think it really helped and felt great. I told her no at first, but as soon as she started with the aloe it was hard to say no to a mini cooling massage.

We also went fancy a couple nights and spent the rest of our sunsets at Kuyaba. They had the best frozen fruity drinks and ran a 2 for 1 special from 5-6 everyday and had swings in the bar. They also had the most entertaining beach security guard. He called himself Big Boi and had a local sidekick that helped him put up the beach chairs. They never stopped heckling each other.  We asked what the name of their show was and they said Big Boi and the Beach Chairs. We had a kitchen in our condo, but we mostly ate out. The food everywhere was so good. We had lobster a couple nights and also had some street jerk chicken and street conk soup.

The conk soup man carried around a big pot on his bike with a generator that kept it warm. On the beach everyday the patty man also came buy pushing a bike with a bucket full of patties. His bike was rusted and didn’t have pedals or a chain or a seat. It didn’t look like fun pushing a bike that barely worked in the hot sand, but he had a method and was the most popular beach seller. The patties are sooo good. It’s a flakey crust stuffed with beef, chicken or seafood.

The patty man’s bike was just barely in better shape than this one.

We had DJ take us to the airport on our way back. We stopped for lunch at another local spot in Sainte Luce. It was another cool town between Montego and Negril. It was on the ocean but the mountains were also really close. A police officer also stopped for lunch. Everyone was always asking me if everything was ok. It always was. I had heard Jamaica was a little dangerous and dirty. Parts of it were a little trashed with litter, but I wouldn’t say it was dangerous at all. Of course I had a tall 200+ pound boyfriend with me all the time, but everyone relied on tourism so much that they couldn’t afford to have anything bad happen to anyone. Besides the security guards and police officers, the locals were always asking if I was ok or needed anything. They really just wanted you to have a great time and good experience, then go home and tell your friends.

I could have been smoking a joint with a beer in my hand and this cop wouldn’t have cared. As long as you weren’t harming anyone else, it’s no problem, mon. It’s Jamaica. Besides the beauty and music of Jamaica, they really have other parts of life figured out.

I do want to go back. Shannon’s parents have the condo until 2017, so who’s coming next year?

Here’s a link to more photos http://www5.snapfish.com/snapfish/thumbnailshare/AlbumID=6692437014/a=90500458_90500458/