Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Jamaica Reflections

With time-watching now a thing of the past and no work commitments, time didn't stand still – it was mine to do as I pleased with. Ironically, I didn't lie-in. The sun rises early every morning in Jamaica - no clocks going back or forward – real time sets in and the best and the least hottest time of the day was early morning.
        I'd wake up to the sounds of a cock crowing and dogs barking mostly as hunger was calling. Days ran into night and nights kept fulfilling their promise of relieving the day's heat, just like the ocean's tide coming in and out.
        Not being a good swimmer, I wasn't keen to get into the ocean, although I didn't mind getting my feet wet on occasions. Maybe it was genetic? But I wasn't all that interested in plunging/swimming in the sea. My mother never swam; she 'didn't like the water,' she said. I never asked why.
        I became a sun-worshipper but not the kind that would lay for hours in the sun; I didn't need to go to such extreme measures. All that was required was for me to sit watching the ocean, usually on a stocky tree trunk, and the sun's rays would subtly tinge my skin so that after a period of three months I'd develop a deep brown-skinned tone, which meant I too was not only at peace spiritually, I was blending into the colourful landscapes.
        Of course this was nothing new; millions of people all over the world travel to see other countries and continents, modern cities and the ruins of ancient towns, they travel to enjoy picturesque places, or just for a change of scene. But why did I keep returning to Jamaica? What was it about this small island, which hosted thousands of holidaymakers for a couple of weeks a year and yet for me, called me back again and again?
        I guess I was one of those 'tourists' during my first visit in 1996 when, seeking a budget holiday with a lively night-life and shops and craft markets packed with bargains, I felt right at home. Mo'Bay as the locals call it, is the second largest city on the island and by far Jamaica's most important tourist resort. More than 30% of the country's hotel rooms are there. However, the resort town of Montego Bay is as far from the 'real' Jamaica as you can get, which is why it is essential to hire a car so you can discover and immerse yourself in country-life. If you're seeking authentic offbeat Jamaica, move on.
        Luckily my first two-week introduction into Jamaica gave me an opportunity to move on. The first week my friend Anne and I did the usual tourist activities, including a visit to one of the city's three 'public' beaches – Doctor's Cave – which I was taken aback by as there was an entrance fee, something I'd never heard of or ever experienced on holiday. The beach was surrounded in an ugly fashion by wire fences and tall concrete walls. There's no doubt this unattractive beach meant my visit was a one-off.
        The only time I revisited Montego Bay, apart from landing at its Donald Sangster International Airport, was in August 2000, specifically for Reggae Sumfest to see world-class reggae artists. However, I have to say although I wasn't disappointed, by far the most authentic reggae festival was 'Rebel Salute,' held in January at St. Elizabeth. I was lucky enough to meet a Rastafarian called Larry who invited me along; in fact that was the reason for my second visit to Jamaica that year. I'd become so hooked after my first reggae concert experience, I wanted more.
        Having never been to a reggae concert in Jamaica, I didn't know what to expect and was almost hypnotised by the sheer magnificence of it. Even before I arrived, I witnessed a 3-4 mile roadblock like you've never seen. I walked a few of those miles passing parked cars all the way along the route to the concert. People were chatting, laughing, selling food and drinks. The venue itself, a sports arena, was just the right size as there must have been 3,000 of us. My first priority on arrival was to go to the toilet, which was a good thing as it became out of bounds later on. My friend Larry and his four 'colleagues' as he liked to call them, decided on a space. Our driver slept in readiness for the car drive home.
        By now it was around 10pm and the all-night-er concert was just getting started since it would go on until around 8am. Larry had thoughtfully put a chair in the car for me to sit on as he rightly said, “Standing for long hours will get you mashed up.” The concert's atmosphere was trouble-free, friendly and exciting with loud cheers of 'More Fire', flags of red, green and gold waving majestically throughout the sky. Fire crackers were set off individually to demonstrate appreciation of an act. Lighters and fuel cannisters were used to lighten ascended streaks of yellow throughout the sky sending massive clouds of smoke and smells of fire burning. Most importantly, I witnessed brilliant music, professionally presented using top quality sounding speakers. It was impossible not to enjoy this; I felt as though I'd gone to heaven. The cool, somewhat strong winds were keeping me from drifting mentally to another dimension. The whole experience was just electric; full of wonder and magic.
        During all of this, mobile vendors paraded selling cigarettes, chewing gum, lighters, peanuts, biscuits, drinks and of course marijuana. I was surprised that this was the one and only occasion that the police relaxed their powers!
        At about 3am, people gradually began to rise up. “What's happening?” I asked Larry.
        “The main artists are coming on stage,” he said.
        For the next two hours, we were blessed with performances from Luciana, Capelton and Beanie Man; the best was definitely saved for last.

To be continued...

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