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  • Notes from Jamaica



    Quiet vacations are like a shot of oxygen to me. I am always surprised by what happens when my mind is cleared of all the noise. Instead of publishing a travelogue or list of 100 memories from our recent trip to Jamaica, I'm sharing my pop-up thoughts that I noted throughout our stay. 

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    Morning in Jamaica:
    • the smell of just ignited pimento wood and jerk spices, which will eventually turn to ash that floats down on our towels
    • the ring-ringing of a Jamaican blackbird
    • a faint upbeat of reggae music
    • the bubbling of the jacuzzi and the whooshing of the water over the waterfall
    • the purr-inducing warmth of the sun on our skin
    • the deep blue of the ocean slowly turning to a pale bright aqua as the sun rises in the sky
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    I had forgotten how Jamaicans speak to me rather than my husband. One man even called me "Boss Lady." Culturally, I suppose women are in charge here. It's always surprising, often empowering, and sometimes it pisses me off. When we arrived, they separated us into men and women. The men left to supervise the luggage and us women were instructed to fill out all the paperwork. Thought bubble accompanying my pursed lip emojii face: "I JUST planned the whole damn thing, let him fill out the paperwork." It took me a bit longer than usual to slip into easy vacation mode.





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    The ride from Montego Bay to Negril is about 90 minutes. In between the hustle and bustle of the airport and sheltered luxury of the resort, is Jamaica in all its brightly painted, simple shacks, goats all over the place, children in school uniforms, roadside fruit stand, poverty in your face way. You drive on the left side of the road here and people pass you frequently and at high speeds. One of those passing cars was quickly followed by the local police. We caught up to them, pulled over to the side of the road, arms in the air, rifles drawn. 

    A man on the bus kept asking the driver why they tried to evade the cops. Like human motivations are different in Jamaica. We have a code word we agree upon before we leave to use whenever we get stuck with someone we don't like. I turned to The Super Mr. and said, "Tangerine."

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    Negril doesn’t allow buildings to be built above the tree line, but we lucked out with a top floor corner room ("luck" = I requested it). Every morning, after my bird stalking, I sat out there amongst the palm trees -- so many different types of palm trees. Experiencing the place with my senses, watching the birds fly from tree to frond, listening to the trilling beep beep cacacaca’s as they greet each other, feeling the thick moisture slowly expanding in and around the lush gardens, sipping on a chunky mug of sweet-smelling Nectar of the Gods Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee. 

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    When you return to a place over and over you lay down the memories like thin coats of paint, each one impacting and changing the one above it. Sounds like push buttons in the brain light up: I know this one! We have been to this resort five times. Each time different. Each one building on or subtracting from the last. Each one giving us exactly what we needed.






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    Fruit punch with fresh ginger. Grilled snapper on double-layered buttery cocobread. A mound of fresh juicy papaya. Barrels of fresh-squeezed sour sop and guava juice. Lobster straight out of the ocean and grilled over hot coals with a mound of butter. Doughy boiled dumplings. Crispy and chewy fried bammy. Rum cream on the rocks. Pan fried snapper with lime butter sauce. Coconut risotto. Champagne sorbet. Corn with jerk aioli covered with toasted coconut. Sticky sweet gizzada pastries. Dirty bananas for breakfast. Smoked marlin dip and cassava chips. Guava jam on warm banana bread. Jerk everything.


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    Day one: oh my god, why is there a cloud?? Day three: where are the clouds?? Last day: Sunscreen? It's my LAST CHANCE EVER to get some sun! (Reader, I wore sunscreen.)


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    Note to self: always bring flip flops along on walks. In my quest to get as close to the banana tree as possible, I had to endure super hot sand and spike-covered seeds.


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    The changing of the guard starts around 5:30 am when a loud bird -- who I tried to locate several times and failed -- directs the whole production. Tree frogs, thank you for taking the night shift, you are done. Black-throated bue warbler, get busy. Jamaican blackbirds, you are up. White crested pigeons, time to make all that rustling noise in the palms. Queue the chatting of the American Redstart with its red orange stripe flitting about the tips of the palms and who is a late riser. All of it punctuated by the strong drumming of the Jamaican woodpecker.





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    While my anxiety evaporated as soon as I put my stuff away in our room, something gnaws at me while we are here. Are we helping or hurting by coming here? Last time we met the owner of a tour company who told us he went to work in the US for a year and made more than he made in nine years at the resorts. He used that money to start his own business. We all rationalize that we are supporting the local economy by spending our money at these resorts because they provide jobs. I don't know, though. I always feel uneasy about it.

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    Starfish come out between 4 and 5 pm. We take our snorkel masks and try to find them. First time we saw only the perfect imprint of a starfish. Where did he go? And then a giant skinny long fish just hanging out. "BARRACUDA!" flashed through my mind. I immediately and deeply regretted my choice of sparkly shiny nail polish and turned the hell around to get away from it. (Reader, it wasn’t a barracuda.)






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    There is a tree on the way to the West End of Negril that is filled with hundreds of white birds, egrets, and herons. It’s stunning, especially when you see the colorful fishing boats clustered on the other side of the inlet bank. I’ve never seen another color of bird there nor have I seen them in trees nearby. And I forget about it every time until we are upon it and I catch my breath.

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    From the pool, where we set ourselves up with our books before the swim-up bar opens, we watched a common yellowthroat sip the nectar from the domes of some little purple-y flowers and a bright legged crab try to escape the pool deck. By the time he reached safety, he had attracted quite the group of cheerleaders worried about his well-being. It was the most eventful morning of the trip.






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    We spent one of our days at the sister resort further down on seven-mile beach, a gorgeous stretch of coast. I kept thinking about the Tony Bourdain special on Jamaica that juxtaposes his conversations with locals about Jamaican culture and politics, the clacking of dominoes, and delicious super local snacks with the beer-bellied clearly American guy loudly splashing through the water clutching oversized cocktails at his all-inclusive resort. The boom boxes, cowboy hats, and woo-wooing here were such a contrast to the chilled out vibe at our resort. I'm not sure I'll ever understand the urge to impose the familiar on a place like this. 

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    I asked The Super Mr. what his least favorite thing was about our resort. Without skipping a beat, he said exactly what I thought, "sometimes the people."

    There was a woman in the hot tub who -- without shame -- proclaimed there was "no racism in Jamaica ... I mean they did have slavery here and all." And then this: “you know, at home, WOC have a chip on their shoulder.” 

    TANGERINE!!!!






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    Every morning I would get up early to go bird stalking. Yellow-crowned night herons. Green herons. White egrets. The juvenile and immature ones allow you to get a bit closer than the adults. My patience paid off when a heron flew above where I was sitting and proceeded to clean each fluffy feather while I inched closer and closer. Eventually, he got mad at me and flew away.


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    On our journey home on the "Sad Bus" to the airport:
    • I saw a blue and white striped hut with the doors open and lines of straight back chairs filled with locals -- church service on a Saturday
    • A business named "Mr. Available, " which I think had to do with fixing cars but I'm not sure, had a very eye-catching sign.
    • I realized it must be laundry day on Saturday. Every home we passed had their clothes hanging outside draped between palm trees.
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    Further thoughts:
    • rushing ruins things
    • you see things on morning walks that you don't see any other time of the day
    • some of the best things happen when you sit quietly and just observe the world around you