Thursday, March 23, 2006

Thoughts on Jamaica

The NYTimes had a piece on Port Antonio, Jamaica, a lush wonderland that we visited last November. While I liked this piece, I actually recommend reading this other travel essay also published by the Times from last year. It's more fun and really captures the spirit of the place better than this recent snapshot. (This also begs the question of why the Times repeatedly does the same articles on the same topics over and over again. Gawker makes fun of them all the time for doing this, but it's really lazy journalism. If anyone was around during Christo's "Gates" project in Central Park last year, you remember - every frickin day there was a mandatory Gates article - we get the picture, orange fabric in the park. Pretty. Isn't there something going on in Darfur?)

As for Port Antonio - if you ever get the chance - go! The article says it's a more "authentic" Jamaica, and while one could argue with that, (I'd say the all-inclusive resorts are pretty authentically Jamaican as well. I believe the island pioneered the concept, brilliant beast that it is.) I do believe it is probably one of the last strongholds of laid-back tranquility in the Caribbean. It's also the wackiest place we've been (and we've both been to the Sinai, so we know what it's like to get served by stoned waiters). It rained a lot when we were there so instead of languidly lounging in the Blue Lagoon beach we drove our little rental car - driver on the right side, British-style - through the flooded mountainous street (there's maybe 3 streets in the whole Parish) dodging little kids in their various school uniforms on their way to class, and taking in the local culture because there's not much tourist infrastructure there.
Some highlights:

-Chang's "No-Fresh" convenience store.
That's the nickname we gave this rather spacious convenience store located halfway between Port Antonio and Boston Bay. Basically, the Asian guy running the store sold every possible thing that was preserved, canned, dried, pre-packaged, dehydrated, bottled, etc. Nothing fresh. Fruit? Nope. Vegetables? Uh-uh. Nuts? In a vacuum-sealed bag. This was Jamaica, my friends, land of fruit stands on every corner, men with banana clusters chillin by the beach, yet this store owner shunned all matter of comestible unpreserved. Remarkable.

-A machete is a necessary accessory.
We're not phased much by seeing weapons up close, after all we live in Miami, and we've both been to Israel where accidentally grazing a young soldiers rifle as you find your way to a seat at the shwarma shack is a commonplace occurrence. But nothing prepared us for seeing so many people carrying around large, comically exaggerated, machetes wherever we went. I guess it makes sense if you're a freelance banana salesman, but it seemed like the locals considered a machete a household essential, kind of like a can opener... Crocodile Dundee-style. So at first it's shocking, especially when you're hiking in Reich Falls and there's no one else around except for some Rastas with Machetes. But then you realize it's an accessory like anything else. Like a Bluetooth. And I find THAT more frightening.

-Port Antonio is a great place to open up a Surfshop/Pizzeria
We met a guy who was starting this restaurant our last night there. He had a great white beard, bright blue eyes, and a Native-American wife who was getting over the loss of their son by painting in the rooftop studio. We spent the night drinking warm Red Stripes because his fridge was not fully working and talking about the wonders of the Nonni fruit, a medicinal plant whose extract the Jamaicans at the table insisted cured most ailments. There was also a man who could survive for days "in the bush." It was a calm night and we had a view of the beach across the street. Port Antonio may have "potential" but frankly, they're doing just fine the way it is.


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