Tuesday, March 13, 2012
jamaica in layers
the throaty purr of the engines rises from deep within the ship's belly and rumbles upward along her metal ribs to the deck outside our stateroom and greets me by transmitting a comforting hum under the soles of my feet. i like the feeling—especially when i'm barefoot, and that's a lot—and the constancy of the warm feline-like vibration. (i will miss it when we say good bye to the ship.) my feet are learning to roll as the ship rolls, to move with her, to adjust to the pitch and instinctively steady themselves. some people feel queasy and ill as we approach jamaica—luckily i have escaped this fate—and as the ship is forced to leave falmouth. storm clouds smother the sun and the sea is too choppy for the tenders to carry passengers ashore. she must change course and tie up at the dock in ocho rios.
uncooperative weather has canceled several of the shore excursions so i go and sit on the pool deck, gab with newly made friends, and let myself fall under the spell of the turquoise sea. some adventurous men head out on their own into ocho rios and are quickly offered the opportunity to purchase all kinds of naughty pleasures and to negotiate "private" guided tours in the hills surrounding the town. i worry about their safety when i hear this and i am relieved when the men return safely.
in the land of reggae, rastas, ganja, and rum, the stories i hear the men tell when they get back to the ship go something like this.
you're barely off the dock when you meet the first man. he's a young man standing on the side of the road and he comes up to you and, in that familiarly pleasant jamaican-accented english, asks in a low voice, "hey, mon, you wanna buy some booze? rum. real cheap." you pass. you keep walking and a second man approaches you in the same manner as the first, "hey, mon, you wanna woman? real pretty." again, you pass. a third man approaches and quietly says, "hey, mon, i got some real sweet ganja. real good stuff, real good deal." you wonder what other treats the island will have to offer as you keep walking on the road into town.
and another story.
you're barely off the dock when a young man—a real good salesman, in fact—wants to make a deal. he will, for 60 bucks, be your personal tour guide on a 3 hour hike unaffiliated with any of the tours offered by the cruise company. (this sounds a little risky but he seems pleasant and articulate and motivated and you know he needs the money, so you count out the cash and hand it over.) he will take you up into the hills (he points to a trail on the side of the road) and he guarantees you will experience a rare opportunity, a first-hand look at the real jamaica, the jamaica most tourists don't have a clue about.
as you scamper up trails and jump across streams you are slowly introduced to the layers, the levels, one at a time. first, the layering of the gorgeous land—the lush, green jungle, the exquisite view of the tall blue mountain peaks in the distance, the towering banana and coconut trees, the winding rivers and breathtaking waterfalls.
next you witness the other levels, the really eye-opening ones, the ones that trickle down from the mountaintops and highlight a modern day type of class system, a social layering based on color (you know how it works—generally, the lighter the skin, the higher the class). at the very top are the vast coffee plantations. a little lower and you get a peek at the large vacation homes—hey, look over dare, mon, dats mick jagger's house, mon, and he rent it out to da best people, but only da best people—hidden beyond the barbed wire. lower still, you view the gated apartment complexes and you think you're at the bottom at long last when you see the wooden shacks and tar paper and cardboard and metal shanties. but you're wrong. there's still another level—the level of the graveyard and the garbage dump.
when you get back to the beginning of the trail you thank the young man for the excellent tour and hand him an additional, well-deserved 30 bucks (your last greenbacks). what's 30 bucks to you? you dig your hands deep into your pockets and pull out what you find—2 lighters, a handful of quarters and dimes, 3 packs of gum, a pack of cigarettes, and a container of mints. you give them to the jamaican. after all, he can use this stuff way more than you.