Jamaica Dear: Sex, Drugs and Rockin' Reggae
Mar 19, 2008
David Rich 1400 Words
71 Jamaican dollars=$1 U.S.
Jamaica Dear: Sex, Drugs and Rockin’ Reggae
Landing in Kingston sired a whirlwind of airport chaos, jolly cops and a benevolent taxi driver, segueing into a busload of happy crackpots for a three hour laugh-fest to Port Antonio. What an introduction to the sunny isle of rapacious sex, teatime ganja and happy music about gal business, good tea and gunplay, surrounded by constant comics.
As I wandered by the airport police station a constable in a short skirt called, Hey mon, where you goin’? Perfect opportunity to find out.
Port Antonio, I said. How do I get there?
Come in here, darlin’. You got them choices. She stared at the heavy bag I levered to the ground.
Yeah, it’s heavy, I said. It’s an extra bag I don’t need. Maybe I could leave it here for a week, until I fly back out. She was going to do it, asking her harried boss, who practically withered the poor constable with a single glare.
To avoid being mugged the nice constable said I should take a private taxi to the Half Tree transportation hub in Kingston, safe but expensive. Everything was expensive in Jamaica, except sex, drugs and the on-going beat; prices on par with London and Tokyo. This fact gave me instant entrée to every Jamaican by asking: Why Jamaica Dear?
The dreadlocked cabbie said, Hey mon, where you goin’? He grabbed the heavy bag from my palsied hand and tossed it in the trunk.
How much to Half Tree? For the bus to Port Antonio.
No sweat, mon. Jump on in. $1200 Jamaican. That’s about $30.
Jamaicans seemed uniformly lousy at math; the presumptively astronomical Jamaican price cabbie Claude had quoted was only $17, mere shekels for a safe and very long drive indeed. We’d barely jetted away when Claude said, you gotta try this, mon, skidding to a stop at a cold jellies stand, chilled baby coconut juice by straw in de coconut. It tasted the same as in Guatemala the month before; flavorless. The nice cabbie jived the cool jellies saleslady, jumped back in the cab and pointed out a dramatic Bob Marley Statue in fake gold; maybe it was brass. Claude found an ATM, let me out to get in line and sped off with my luggage, leaving me hoping to see him again. Five minutes later he came strolling up and got a big tip.
The bus Claude put me on for Port Antonio was the original party bus used to play hooky from school, where anything goes and does. The snappily dressed lady next to me sat quite near. We were four across in a space meant for three and she wasn’t small. Crammed circumstances create instant enemies or instant friends, and friends were a better choice. Ms. Plentiful Palaver was a sit-down comedian, sparring for hours with the kid taking the money. The bus shook as much from patrons in stitches as from frequent potholes above cliffs plunging sheer to a raging river below, a nightmare of green in between. Duke, a Rasta musician turned farmer, sat on the other side of me and insisted carrying the heavy bag from disembarkation in Port Antonio for half a mile (a whole kilometer) to find the guest house I’d arbitrarily chosen on the Net.
I asked Duke, Why is Jamaica so expensive? Jamaicans love to be interviewed and Duke pontificated, Because de gov, he steal the taxes. It was the same everywhere. I saw a TV ad urging viewers to rat on government corruption and read in the Daily Observer that government debt was 128% of GDP, among the world’s highest percentages; the treasury was bare.
I’d asked Claude the taxi driver why Jamaica was so expensive and he said, Hey, mon, it’s because we got the best stuff! Claude high-fived me. He could be forgiven because we’d been discussing the place of Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee and similar mountain-grown vegetable matter amongst the world’s hierarchy of great harvests.
I’d asked Ms. Bountiful Palaver and she responded the same as anyone from anywhere might, Mon, It’s de oil prices. They sounded high at $70 Jamaican a liter, or $3.80 U.S. a gallon, and I said, Closing in on four dollars most everywhere, mon.
And she snapped, You from around here, mon? We doubled over. The key was a belly laugh for most everything. Show respect by laughing at weak jokes, often veering into helpless hysterics.
Street hustler Steve opined that Jamaica was dear because, It tied to the American dollar, mon. Steve had a point; any currency declining more rapidly than the dollar was in trouble. In 1989 five Jamaican dollars equaled the U.S. kind, but 19 years later it was 71 to one. A grocery store clerk told me, Everything imported, mon. All expensive. Other proffered reasons included, No Jobs, mon and Because you a tourist, mon. Always charge tourists more. Probably the truth of why Jamaica was dear lurked in there somewhere, or all of the above.
The most popular Jamaican dance was the Soca, a Soca festival kicking off carnival in Kingston two days before I arrived. The Star newspaper provided copious photos. The dance could only be described as guy bumping babe’s bum to shouts of Back it up! Back it up! Back it up! In the same issue a Star poll found 70% believed vulgar music led to immorality, unclear whether referring to lyrics or bumping. The result was reported by the Observer Newspaper: 85% of Jamaicans were born out of wedlock to very young mothers.
The government was doing its best to slow down the illegitimacy explosion, a photo in the Star newspaper showing students Attending the Ministry of Education’s expo on ‘national sexuality and reproductive health’ enjoy[ing] themselves as they make a game of putting condoms on a wooden penis recently at the National Arena. It looked quite real.
Meanwhile the U.S. State Department warned Jamaica could be cited as a country tolerating narco-trafficking. That wasn’t difficult to understand when the local curios dealer offered ganja, hash and magic mushrooms under the table, or on top: my choice, and at breakfast the big guy sitting on the next stool was happily stripping a stem redolent of that which poor Bill Clinton never inhaled. His proud result was a supercalifragilisticexpialidosius spliff, which should have lasted long enough to complement the colorful sunset.
The State Department failed to mention that the world’s largest cash crop was homegrown by Americans for Americans, ganja worth $35 billion, based on government reports; enough money to pay for a day and a half in Iraq. Inhaling could be better.
Guidebooks say the failure to attend Dunn’s River Falls near Ocho Rios would be the same as skipping the Eiffel Tower in Paris, plus cooler and moister. The Falls required a daisy chain to slip-slide up its 600 feet (183 meters) of limestone steps, cascades and travertines. The starting point for Dunn’s River Falls was an idyllic beach of which Jamaica has more than one, in fact hundreds on the coral ringed north and west coasts.
It’s the water, mon, aquamarine air lapping at the beaches, boats floating on glass and all-inclusive resorts exceedingly dear and cramming the coastline, guarding patrons from likeable (and not so likeable) locals. The best alternatives were Negril and Port Antonio, neither developed beyond the bounds of common decency. There be colonial estates, the Errol Flynn Marina in Port Antonio, a dozen championship golf courses, and relative peace and tranquility at either, plus loads of jerk chicken and pork I thought disappointingly bland but easily fixed by heaping on hot sauce.
Negril was Jamaica’s paradigm of cool, beginning with guesthouses on coral cliffs perched over a turquoise sea of astonishing beauty. Negril’s north beach was seven miles of powdery stuff, behind which sat the Great Morass, a legendary swamp with uncannily powerful alligators, flapping birds and perfect reflections. Restaurants offered succulent magic mushroom omelets, the perfect way to start a psychedelic day, a good description for the day I left. On the flight from Montego Bay to Kingston Air Jamaica kindly got rid of my eternally heavy bag, lost somewhere in Jamaica dear. Still, for ruffian raga music, reefers and rum, checking out ancient forts and botanical gardens, no one can beat Jamaica most dear, for sex, drugs and rockin’ reggae.
When You Chill: Flight specials to Jamaica light up the Net, ranging from $300 up, double that for all-inclusive resort vacations. Guest houses and inexpensive hotels range from $50 at the bottom to practically unlimited. Local transport is a joy or a curse depending on one’s frame of mind. The locals number among the kindest on the planet, and also the most schooled in techniques of parting the tourist from the nearly worthless U.S. dollar.