My father spoke of a mystery place when I was young. A place of sun, fun and drinks. It was a place for adults, but I was allowed to go as long as I didn’t pester him. The stories started when I turned 10. Tropical jungles and pristine beaches with oceans of turquoise blue. Islands in the sea where the booze flows free and the stars at night rival the heart of Texas. Clap 5 times. My first thoughts were of Treasure Island or better yet, Skull Island. I pictured King Kong, beautiful Jessica Lange and Jeff Bridges frolicking around in the waves. I still can’t get that drum rhythm and Kong chant out of my head from the 1976 movie. There is also that huge phallic door jam going on. Watch and see. I had a romantic preconceived notion of the Caribbean. It was adventure, ocean, beaches, solitude and sunsets with a lack of rules and freedom for fun.
Jamaica me Crazy. 4/20 Tribute
My first trip to the Caribbean was in 1984. I was 15. My Dad was a bartender and his vacation was every August at the end of summer when the bar/restaurant would close down for a week or two. August is off season for the Caribbean and well into the hurricane season. Kathy, my Dad’s girlfriend at the time and my future Step Mom, worked for a catering company. Her boss, Mr. Ricci owned a house in Jamaica. The house sat on the top of a mountain on Runaway Bay between Montego Bay and Ocho Rios. It was fully staffed with a cook, maid and Kenny the driver/grounds keeper. Wow, this was heaven. The view from the house and pool was encompassed by the ocean, beach and jungle. This would be our home for the length of our stay. As far as first trips to the Caribbean go, this one would be hard to live up to.
Five of us took the flight down from Philadelphia. My Dad and Kathy planned the vacation with Mike and Sue their good friends at the time. I was the fifth wheel, so to speak. We flew into Montego Bay and were met by Kenny for the ride to the house. In 1984 Jamaica was a bit scary. The government was having growing pains and the military police at the airport made it seem a little unsafe. The house was great. I got my own room and spent almost all day by the pool. The pool was really all we needed. But, as tourists do, we made a few journeys out to explore the island.
Two of the adventures I remember most were actually trips to the same place, Dunn's River Falls & Park. One morning all five of us set out in a minivan to go see the falls. We drove east along the north shore of the island towards the town of Ocho Rios. After several miles we pulled off the road right around the area where Dunn's River Falls was supposed to be. As we sat and looked at the map a very nice man came over and asked if we needed help. And it so happens we did. He offered to show us the way to the falls. We decided, 'that would be great'. So the gentleman got in and showed us the way. We drove a little further toward Ocho Rios and made a right turn up the mountain.
The park was amazing. There was so much greenery, flowers and birds everywhere. The views from the park down onto Ocho Rios were breathtaking. Wow, this was nothing like we had pictured it. It was so different from the photos we had seen and no crowds. Our guide showed us the falls and we climbed down through the pools and slippery rocks. It was an enchanting place. We enjoyed an hour or so of exploration when I noticed two guys approach my father and ask if he wanted to buy some cocaine. Something seemed strange. They were not very friendly and we decided to leave the area. After our guide spoke with the two men he asked us to be dropped off where we picked him up. On our way out of the park we saw a bunch of signs saying ‘no solicitation.’ We also noticed a sign that read, Turtle River Falls, Konoko Falls and Shaw Park Gardens. As we got to the spot where we picked up our guide, he asked for $75 for his services. We thought that was outrageously expensive for what we got, especially in 1984, but we had fun and my dad pulled out the cash and gave him $40 through the half rolled drivers side window. This wasn't enough and the guy wanted more. My Dad said no. The man was standing outside of the driver’s side door, my Dad in the driver’s seat, Mike in the front passenger seat and I was in the passenger’s seat behind my Dad. Our guide wasn't taking no for an answer and pulled out an ice pick and said give me more money. There was some debate about it, but I saw the ice pick. My Dad was kinda shocked, as we all were and he started slowly rolling up the window on the guy’s arm. The man had to pull his arm out as it got to the top. He then started banging on and threatening us through the window. My Dad started up the van and off we went, except he kept stalling the van. After several violent body jerking tries we were off and running with all of us yelling GO, GO, GO. Wow! That was strange! As we drove away we began to put everything together. That guy was no tour guide.
After much discussion, laughter and relief we decided to make another trip to Dunn's River Falls & Park. So the next day we set out once again in the mini van and headed in the direction of the falls. As we got to the point where we picked up our unwanted tour guide the day before, we saw two signs. One sign was for Dunn's River Falls & Park and the other read, DO NOT PICK UP ANYONE PRETENDING TO BE A TOUR GUIDE. We literally pulled over directly underneath these signs and picked that guy up. We laughed so hard. Everything made sense to us now. Aren't we the tourists? But that was just the beginning of a day of laughter.
On day two of our Dunn's River Falls excursion I witnessed one of the funniest things happen to Sue and Mike. We arrived at the park admission gate, paid our fee and parked the chariot. After we got our bearings it was off to hike the falls. What a difference a day makes, this was the tourist trap we were looking for. We made a good choice by getting there early in the morning. I think we avoided the crowds. We hiked the beautiful jungle falls and slid down the natural slippery rocks to the bottom, where the river joins the ocean. It was refreshing. Once you get to the bottom you must climb back up along a path to repeat the climb down or get to your car. The path dumps you out in a small village of shops and vendors that you have to walk through to get to your car.
The village is one road with little shed like shops on either side of the of it. There were a lot of t-shirts, paintings, jewelry and tourist type trinkets for sale. The vendors were very aggressive and when you entered the village they began to yell and practically fight to get your attention. Since we went early we were some of the only people in the park and they were fighting for our attention. It was very confusing, loud and unfriendly. Sue was into shopping and wanted to find some gifts for people back home. She ignored the arguing and went about shopping while Mike waited patiently. I moved to the end of the village to get away from all the hootin and hollering and began looking at a shed with wood carvings. The shed was elevated from a ditch on the side of the road. It was on cinder blocks that brought it up to the height of the road and had a wooden deck that attached from the shed to the road. Under the deck about four feet down was a drain for rain water run off and a jungle of vines and such. This was the shop of a Jamaican wood carver. Inside he had various tools and was working on very tall, thin wooden sculptures of animals and people. The sculptures were about three feet tall and were lined up in rows of ten or more on both sides of the entry to the shop. It was a tight spot. I looked about and found it interesting for a few minutes and moved away from the shop. By this time Sue and Mike had arrived. Mike was checking a vendor out on one side of the street and Sue went towards the wood carver. By the time I noticed where Sue was she was right in the middle of all the wood carvings admiring his work. Right before I could get the words "Sue watch your bag" out of my mouth, she made a turn and hit the first three foot wood carving with her oversized beach bag. Like a row of dominoes they fell, hitting each other, breaking apart and falling down into the ravine below. It was amazing to watch. All heads turned and a loud roar of vendors erupted into laughing and yelling. The wood carver came out and was very upset, angry almost to tears. Sue was standing looking in astonishment at the mess she just made and Mike was horrified. Mike knew immediately what he had to do. He walked over to the wood carver, opened his wallet and handed all the money he had on him to the wood carver making sure to show him it was everything he had. The wood carvers attitude changed immediately. He seemed satisfied and we bolted the scene. The last thing I remember hearing as we moved towards the car was one of the vendors yelling, 'Lady, you come over here now. I've got plenty for you to break,' and a roar of laughter. Once again we were in the van and trying to get out of there fast. We laughed all the way back to the house stopping along the way at a beach shack where every Heineken was finished and Red Stripes were the next to go. The shack keeper loved us. Even I got a few Heineys.
My romance with the islands I had never visited was tested. This wasn't the trip I imagined it would be. The fun we had was not what I expected. I remember laughing the whole time, but also being scared a couple times. It was crazy. Vacation was a time for celebration, so my Dad was letting me drink a little and partake in the local flora. I remember asking my Dad to get some weed. He asked Kenny if he could get a few cartons of cigarettes, some beer and a little weed. Kenny was kinda like, 'your wish is my command' and off he went. Sometime later he came back with two cartons of cigarettes a case or more of Red Stripes and a half pound of weed. I remember Kenny dumping the weed on a cutting board and chopping up the huge buds with a meat clever. When he was done he pushed the cutting board toward my Dad and said here you go. We were confused by this. My Dad finally asked, 'How much is ours?' Kenny said, 'all of it.' I think we gave him $35 for all three items on the list. Kenny then proceeded to roll the biggest "Bomber Joints" I have ever seen. Needless to say it was powerful stuff. We barely smoked any of it.
I ended up sneaking a bunch of weed out of the pile with the intention of bringing it back home. I thought hard about bringing it back and how I could get away with it. I came up with the perfect idea. I took my Speed Stick and sliced off a thin top layer of deodorant. I then removed the rest of the deodorant, keeping all the mechanics intact. With the canister empty I could now stuff as much weed as possible into the Speed Stick. Once it was packed I replaced the thin layer of deodorant back on top and put the lid on. Couldn't smell anything. It was genius. Whatever I had left I stuffed up in the rafters of the Jamaican Mountain House. It turns out my Dad was thinking the same thing. His plan was a little simpler. He just stuck a couple joints in his toothpaste box along with the toothpaste. I do believe he may have put the rest of the weed up in the rafters of his room as well. That weed may still be there today? Hmmm?
The trip was great. We had a great time and got back with no problems. Airports were so much easier in the 80's. For the next month after our return I smoked some Speed Stick smelling Jamaican Pearl. It was a nice souvenir. That December I turned sixteen and as a Birthday/Christmas present my Dad gave me a joint he smuggled back. Good memories. Dad was a good guy.
The following years in Jamaica were turbulent. Jamaica had a large union strike and some revolts with blockades of burning tires in the street. Jamaica 1985. I believe the house we stayed in got robbed at gun point.
I did not return to the Caribbean for many years, but it was always there in my mind. I returned in July of 1998. Jen and I got married at Anse Chastanet on the island of St. Lucia, July 13, 1998. Ever since then we travel to the Caribbean once a year for our anniversary and sometimes twice a year. This year we will be returning to Turks & Caicos. We spent our ten year anniversary there and are returning for our twenty year anniversary this July. Fingers crossed for a second trip somewhere in December for my fiftieth Birthday. We hope to spend more time in the Caribbean as we get older.
Note to Kathy, Mike and Sue. This is my account of what happened. It was a long time ago and I put it together the best I could. What a great memory. I think about it every year when we visit the islands. Let me know if you remember it differently or have something to ad. Write a comment below.