Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Jamaica part 1 with pictures

12/10/2012  (I've pasted the pictures at the end with no explanations cuz I have 12 minutes of internet/day and don't have time to write captions.  Mostly there are pics to go with the different things I'm writing about.  It's being a terrific trip so far!  No seasickness or major problems, and I've received MOST of my teaching supplies!  When I get all of them, all will be perfect!)

Today was a most interesting day.  I woke up at 6:15, did my morning pages, watched Jamaica appear in the window as the sun rose, did my exercises so my back wouldn’t hurt during the day, had breakfast with my travel companions for the coming day, then gathered my things and went out into the wild blue yonder with a group of six.  My acupuncturist, Debi Farley (terrific doctor, by the way!), used to live in Jamaica in a previous incarnation (i.e. before she studied Chinese medicine) and had a driver while she was here whom she recommended to take me and Gerlinde around.  She contacted him and arranged everything to have him meet us.  All I knew was his name, Mark, and that he would meet us somewhere when the ship docked.
The six of us got off the ship at 8:30 AM.  They waited while I wandered around the port building looking for someone who might be looking for me.  I went outside to where the buses were waiting to see if any cars were there.  There were many taxis.  I went to one of the drivers who seemed less official than the others and asked if he was Mark.  He nodded and asked where I wanted to go.  I covered up my name tag from the ship and asked him what my name was.  He shrugged and asked where I wanted to go.  I laughed and thanked him and said I was looking for the real Mark!  Debi had told me that might happen!  I continued on my search.  I asked the women manning the doors and the gates which kept unofficial people out of the port area.  They didn’t know Mark, wanted to know his contact information.  I told them all I had was his name.  They were very nice and didn’t even roll their eyes when I said that.  They told me they’d let me know when (if, I bet they were thinking!) he showed up outside the gates.  I went in to use the restroom and sent energy out to the Universe asking that he come and that we have a wonderful day with him.  When I came back out, the woman at the gate told me Mark was there.  I went to the gate and asked him what my name was.  When he answered successfully, I went and got my travel companions to begin our journey.
Mark told us he had to take someone to the airport at 10 so he was going to turn us over to his brother (I don’t know if it was his blood brother or a “brother”).  They guy didn’t make a very good impression on us.  Mark asked us to wait a few minutes then spoke with him and arranged to have him take the guy to the airport so he, Mark, could show us around Jamaica til 4.  We negotiated a price that worked for all of us then hopped in the van and took off.
We were an interesting group:  Gerlinde, my traveling companion from Austria, is a woman I’ve known since 1984 when I was living in Vienna, Austria and teaching German at the American International School.  She agreed to join me for the voyage when I realized Chris wasn’t going to be able to come with me because of work.  Bob and Cynthia Atkinson are a couple from Maine.  Bob is one of the writing teachers on board for the Semester at Sea program.  He teaches memoir writing.  His wife is a lovely woman who does energy healing.  Doug (whose last name hasn’t stuck in my head yet) is a travel writer from Minneapolis, MN.  He just recently had a book published by Penguin called something like Europe on 5 Wrong Turns a Day.  There’s a subtitle which indicates that he used his mother’s guide to Europe on $5/day from the 60’s to travel through Europe just recently.  It sounds quite interesting, but I haven’t read it yet.  Dean Jacobs was our sixth traveler.  He has recently spent 2 years traveling around the world taking photographs and working with kids in the schools on cultural understanding  missions.  He brought along several very, very large lenses and a couple of cameras and a monopod to boot.  I felt intimidated with my puny little point and shoot and sort of wished, once again, that I’d brought my good Canon instead even though it is heavy and a bit cumbersome.  It is such a good camera!
It was very interesting traveling with other artists.  Each of us tended to notice different things and to point them out to each other.  It was nice to have such interesting people to share observations with.
We told Mark we didn’t want to do the typical tourist stuff but we didn’t know what we wanted to see because we didn’t know what there was to see.  We ended up with a terrific tour fill of fascinating sights.  I could write 10 pages about what we saw, but will instead try to keep it much shorter than that and just give some impressions:
The Great River runs into the ocean.  On its banks were myriad egrets and herons.  We saw 3 long gar fish swimming along near some minnows.
At a roadside “jerk” food stand, we saw the stove they use –  they put a wheel (yes, from a car – the part that holds the hubcap) on a stand made out of rebar and use coal to cook the food.  Apparently that’s quite common in the countryside where people don’t cook with gas in the house – this is the more common cooking method.  We saw such stoves, called coal pots, outside several roadside stands.
Cars have different license plates in Jamaica.   Different colors have different meanings:
·         Red tag – taxi
·         Green – commercial
·         White with blue letters – private
·         Yellow – gov’t officials

We stopped by the water by the road to see the remains of a steamer which had wrecked in the bay.  The rust on it was beautiful colors, especially compared to the color of the water surrounding it.  In the same inlet, there were almond trees.  Mark smashed the shells of the almonds for us so we could get to the nut inside.  I found the couple I had to be a little bit more flavorful than almonds I usually eat, but also sandier (!).  It was a hard way to get a nut, but very cool to see where they come from.  I’d never seen an almond tree that I know of.  There were hundreds of termites, red and black and white backed, coupling under the tree.  We all stuck our feet in the water for a bit.  It felt glorious – warm and refreshing and so smooth.

Despite the fact that we were very clear we didn’t want to go to tourist spots, Mark next pulled into an area with 3 tables full of wood carvings.  Several men skittered out to greet us, shaking our hands firmly, introducing themselves, and peeling us off, 2 of us to 1 of each of them, exclaiming “We are all one, black and white, we’re all one.  Peace, man.  Respect.” then taking us around the site to see a former sugar cane plantation.  It was nice of them to say those words given the history of the place – 6000 slaves working the place, untold miseries, I’m sure.  The whites do not have a history of good behavior in the Caribbean.  I feel pretty embarrassed walking around here in my white skin with my cruise ship ticket hanging around my neck (we wear that everywhere – it’s our ID and takes the place of our passports for the entire trip – I find that VERY bizarre and disconcerting, but that’s the way it is.)  The discrepancy between the haves and the have nots in these countries is so wide, it makes me feel very uncomfortable.  I commented to Mark that I was surprised not to see more Christmas decorations up – he said that people are really feeling the poor economy these days and don’t have the money to decorate.  The electricity is very expensive because they have no competition so people can’t afford to have lights up.  I find that very surprising.  The only indication we saw of Christmas was in a town square where there was a tall, very skinny, not very elaborate fake evergreen with some decorations on it and no lights.

Sunrise in Jamaica from our cabin window

Our guide and driver, Mark - a terrific guy!

Some beautiful bougainvillea - gorgeous flowers everywhere!

My dear friend Gerlinde, matching the flowers beautifully!, in front of Montego Bay

Montego Bay where my friend Debi lived for a while.

Bring back di Love

"Coal Pot" - a typical stove in the country where they don't have gas.

The Great River as it runs into the Bay.  Herons and egrets stood in great numbers along the shore

No time to finish right now - I'll try to write more about this later!  There is so much more to say!

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