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Friday, January 22, 2010

Sand on the snow

Sprinkling sand on the snow…

I wasn’t trying to melt the snow, exactly, and it wasn’t an obscure ritual, although it felt like it could have been, a melding of cultures and climates.

I returned from Jamaica two days ago, and am slowly unpacking and readjusting. Just noticed the sand collected in the bottom of my daypack, and so shook it out onto the snow on the front porch. This return has been particularly jarring it its contrasts. I always used to have a slightly dislocated feeling upon returning after a time away, but in recent years that feeling had subsided. This time, though, the contrast has been especially unsettling.

Perhaps it is the extremeness of the contrast, although I have certainly experienced that before, particularly in our many visits to the Bahamas years ago. I don’t have an explanation, just an observation.

There is a stark beauty here at home, too, with the snow covered lake and the sharp, crisp air and sunshine today.Nevertheless, I would prefer to still be on a porch on the beach in the tropical sun, listening to the waves! Even the snow aficionados in the family (that’s everyone but me) are sighing with regret that we aren’t still back on the island, even as they make plans to ski next weekend.

It was an unusual trip in that there were six of us, Loring, me, Max, Carolina, plus Max’s girlfriend Meg and Carolina’s friend Alanna. We’d never met Alanna before, (Carolina made her "interview, poor thing, via skype as to how she'd been to Peru and loved it!) and Max and Meg had broken up a couple of weeks before the trip (and then reunited) so I had a certain amount of trepidation about how things would play out. But it couldn’t have been better, all six of us got along very well, enjoyed just about everything we did, most of it all together ( except for the kids’ late night forays down the beach to the beachfront bars – the Chill Out in Long Bay, and Jack Sprat’s in Treasure Beach. I declined the slippery hike up the river to the waterfalls (probably a good idea, although I missed the Rasta guide’s impromptu song along the way.) And Loring and my early mornings on the porch, from sunrise until the kids woke up 4 or 5 hours later, a shame on all the beautifully sunny days.

It was Loring’s turn, to choose a winter beach vacation, after our recent summer travels to Europe, Italy and France, Krakow and Prague. And I needed someplace with some culture to explore. I hadn’t considered Jamaica as a destination before. My major impression had been of upscale resorts with high walls, separated from the mainstream of Jamaican culture. And hedonistic winter and spring breaks. All that does exist, of course. But we never saw it, the closest a couple of busloads from Montego Bay visiting the same waterfuls that we were at.

We never ventured to the northern part of the island, where the major resort areas are, except for our flight into Montego Bay. We went first to Treasure Beach, along the south coast, and then to Long Bay, outside of Port Antonio, on the eastern side of the island. In both locations, we stayed at villas right on the beach, each in a glorious location in a quiet, small community. The villas were the most rustic and most inexpensive I had been able to find. Although both had managers and housekeeper/cooks available, in neither place was the cook a necessity. Most villa ads brag about the staffing, and many about being part of a gated community, neither of which we wanted.

Cacona Villa is a four story (more about that in a minute) villa with more than ample room for all of us to spread out, 4 bedrooms, spectacular views from the porches. Alanna’s first incredulous comment was “did you realize it was g oing to be this nice?!” Mott, the owner, had mentioned that the gate was always kept closed, and the manager, Clint, lived on the property. There was a faded, barely legible sign resting on the gatepost reading “please keep gate closed at all times.”. In fact, the gate was never closed, which didn’t bother us a bit, and didn’t look like it had been in years. We never felt at all concerned about security.

We were greeted by Clint, and his four year old son, Ocean, a little sweetie. Our ears hadn't adjusted to the lyrical Jamaican accent and patois yet, and it took a couple of tries before we undertood his wonderful name.Unfortunately, we didn’t see much of Ocean after our arrival. We met Nadine, (that's Nah-dine, not nay) the cook and housekeeper, the following day, and arranged for her to cook supper for us a couple of nights. She lives about a twenty minute walk away. We told her, after she’d made all the beds, swept, etc, that we didn’t need her to come more than a couple of times to clean(once we’d ascertained that she was getting paid in any case.) She made us wonderful pumpkin soup, curried fish, coconut rum cake.

Villa Cacona is a work in progress, as is much construction in Jamaica. As in many other poor areas we’ve travelled to, people begin construction, and continue it as they have the funds, or sometimes never at all. Wherever you travel in the country, (aside from the wealthy enclaves) you see buildings with rebar sticking up as the beginning of the next level to come. So, at Cacona, there was a lower level with three bedrooms and two bathrooms, where all the kids settled in, a street level with kitchen, dining room, living room, bathroom, and best of all, the expansive porch with hammocks and chairs and magnificent views. On the second story, where our bedroom and bathroom were, there was also a walled in but not completed second bedroom plus a large porch. And, there were steps leading up to an additional level, which perhaps will one day have another bedroom, or perhaps just open air roof space.

I kind of liked the incompleteness, it gave the place an air of potential! It isn’t the deluxe villa that most people would prefer, I imagine, and for that reason was priced very reasonably for something directly on the beach. As Mott said in his online ad, “ if the fact that the third floor isn’t complete concerns you, we should talk.”!

By the second day, Carolina and Alanna were already discussing how they could swing coming down next year with a bunch of friends, and they are still talking about it.

There is also an outdoor/ indoor fish pool that runs thru the living room, bathroom, and down to the lowel level and is the home to a turtle and a bunch of little fish. And, an outdoor shower nestled in between the coconut palms! Heaven!

And there’s a separate apt. attached to the house that is rented out to Dennis, a Peace Corps volunteer. For the first few days, we didn’t know his name, and so just called him”Peace Corps Guy.” There are a number of PC folks in Jamaica, but he’s the only one with a room on the beach, and admits he’s got the cushiest location. He’s working with various community groups, on establishing an internet café, among other things, and helping a group of women with a crafts cooperative they’ve begun. I want his job!

My mother tells me her well travelled friends have said to her “ 17 days in Jamaica? What could they do for all that time? They must be terribly bored.”

Well, let’s see, for several days we didn’t leave the beach, perhaps walked down the left to a calmer swimming spot than the one directly in front of the house. Or to the right a ways for supper and drinks at the restaurant down the beach a piece. It was especially nice, and romantic, to walk back up the beach after dinner in the dark with the waves lapping at our toes.

Every day, before and after hanging out on the beach, we sat on the porch in hammocks and lounge chairs and read or played cards or Scrabble. One day, we rented a car and driver for a day long trip up into the mountains, to Jamaica’s oldest rum distillery, Appleton Estates, to a spectacular set of waterfalls to swim and play in, and to a national festival in a small village mountain where the descendants of the runaway slaves still live. Another day, we went by boat along the coast and then up a jungle river where a number of crocodiles live. (we saw one, spotted by Alanna, not by our guide. Good going, Alanna!) There was also a rope swing, used mostly by locals, from which to jump into the river. While we were there, a couple of teenage boys soaped themselves off, climbed the tree, swung from the rope and jumped in. Our gang, other than me, did the same, just sans soap. On the boat trip back, we stopped at the famous Pelican Bar, a building on stilts on a sandbar in the middle of the ocean. Surrounded by a few tourists, a few locals, a large number of pelicans, and several rays, we drank our beers and sodas and relaxed.

One day we walked down the road instead of the beach to check out the few other restaurants, shops, villas and inns in the small community. A couple of times we went to the little” shopping center” (internet café, hair salon, liquor store, two grocery stores without much for groceries, a bit of produce when the truck came in.)

Jake’s Hotel and restaurant are the tourist hub of this tiny community. The accommodations look wonderful, kind of SoHo beach primitive, chic and expensive. I think we were all happier in our own private enclave, with its expansive space, privacy from one another as well as others, kitchen, etc.. I did meet a couple from Manhattan at the fruit stand across the road, who had arrived the night before, as we had. They seemed impressed at how “organized” I was. I’m not sure what that meant other than that I had a daypack to put the fruit in!

Jake’s is owned by Jake and Sally Henzell. I believe he is the son of Perry Henzell, who produced and directed the film “The Harder They Come” with Jimmy Cliff, in 1972Loring and I saw it back then, and again just a few days before we left the States. For some reason we both thought Cliff was dead (had we somehow confused him with Marley?) but he is very much alive and about to be inducted into the R and R Hall of Fame.

Suffice it to say that we weren’t ready to leave when our eight days were over. Bored? Never!


Anonymous said...

you are very helpfun thanks im from southfield/ newwell st elizabeth. but i move away to seek better life as the only thing you can do there is farm and a few other little job and many of the young ppl that just got out of school mostlt sit at home girls have babies and a few got away to kingston for more schooling i was one of that set i know i wanted to get away so i can become a better person. So now im married and living in canada edmonton very cold here as im typeing its snowing outside it was sunny all for along time but here somes the snow.
so after money years of living over here this is my frist time going back and ill be staying at the same vills as you did. ill let you know how it goes only for 2 day. but i really want to see how nice it is i really hate the top $$$$$$$$ villa that cost too much for renting.

Joanna said...

Hello Almira! I just saw your comment today. I usually don't write except when I am travelling, so hadn't seen it before. I was really interested to read what you wrote, and glad you found my info helpful. Have you already been to Cacona? What was it like to go back after all this time? I would really like to hear about your trip! Joanna