Friday, June 26, 2009

Pirates of the Caribbean

Chapter One: The Adventure Begins

Ever since Beck and I have been dating, and I’ve been working at the hospital as well as playing guitar in Rock Bottom (and some good poker games), we’ve been hitting Cancun about every six months. Beck had never been on a plane before she met me! Nor had she been South of the Border, as it were. Each trip has been a blast, a real trip to paradise. Usually we’ve gone alone, although my mother also went this past Cancun trip, as she basically goes for free as a travel agent.

We, well, were getting spring fever, and I started pressing mom about any good deals to, well, anywhere! Someplace warm! She found a good price on a weekend in Negril, Jamaica. YAH MON! Never been there, but it sounds warm and wonderful! So, on a whim I booked it, got Tommy, our old guitarist to cover me on guitar for the weekend, and counted down the days ‘til I could get some warm weather!

Now, as fate would have it, the day we flew out it was 70 degrees in St. Louis! What’s up with that? Our flight was an afternoon departure as opposed to the early morning Cancun flights, so we enjoyed a bit of the spring like weather here before departing. Had lunch at Si Senor’s, our favorite Mexican restaurant, and I swung by J. Gravity Strings to have some minor guitar work done on “Bob”, my Ibanez, while I’m away. Just a pickup switchout I’d been meaning to get around to.

This was a monumental flight for Beck as she was attempting it sans medication. See, one reason she’d never flown anywhere is because she’s deathly afraid to fly! Just can’t stand the thought of it! But, since I was giving her such good reasons to climb on board (trips to paradise like Cancun), she could talk herself into to it with the provision that she maybe just would have a little Xanax or something to calm the nerves. And, that worked fine.

But, Beck is very health conscious (as you can tell by her dazzling, sexy appearance), and really doesn’t like taking medication. So, this time was going to be sedative free! She was ready! Our past 6 flights (out and back three times) have all been very pleasant. One slightly bumpy trip back the first time out, but that was manageable. She’s finally got the confidence to handle the stress involved.

And, the flight out was a piece of cake. We watched the in-flight movie Ghost Town which was mildly amusing, but it helped to pass the time on the three hour flight down. Well, just under three hours. We watched the sunset as we cruised over Cuba (I didn’t know we could fly over Cuba!), casting a beautiful orange glow throughout the cabin. Got a nice picture of that posted on MySpace. As night fell, I couldn’t really see much of where we were flying over, but as we began descent into Montego Bay, I could see the horizon of night lights dotting a coastline as we approached. Jamaica at last!

The landing was a bit of an adventure as the pilot decided to show us his barnstorming skills, pitching the craft a bit and throttling around. Beck crushed my hand with fear in her eyes as the cabin swayed and dipped. Yeah, I was more than puzzled myself, but filled with excitement having almost reached a new destination, I simply hung on for the ride. Not one of those “grease the plane in” jobs commercial pilots normally employ. That will get your heart racing a tad!

Touchdown was uneventful, however, and the next thing ya know, you’re hitting customs, getting the passport stamped and officially in a Third World country! Wild thing about Jamaica is English is its official language, so everything around seems very familiar. It’s not until you step outside the airport and travel the streets that you realize this isn’t the US.

Jamaicans speak English with that cartoonish accent everyone is familiar with. It’s no joke, they all sound exactly like that! They speak what is called a Jamaican Patois, and while it’s basically an English dialect, when they start conversing amongst themselves I quickly noticed I didn’t have a fucking clue what they were saying! They speak quickly and with “slang” that only they understand.

After finding our Apple Vacation rep and discovering our shuttle bus to take us to Negril, Becca and I relaxed in our seats towards the back of the bus as more vacationers piled in. A back door was opened as one of the crew appeared and began dealing “ganja” right there on the spot with some tourists! They haggled over price and argued quality. Later the dealer approached me, but I politely declined. Not interested, thanks! He made his way through the bus gently offering weed. Becca was incredulous! I knew they sold it here, and I would be confronted, but I admit I didn’t expect it as soon as I arrived!

Once everyone was onboard, we pulled out of Montego Bay and headed down a narrow, two lane highway along Jamaica’s northern coast heading towards Negril, located at the western tip of the island. Jamaicans drive on the left as the English do, opposite of what we drive.

“Left is right,” the guide in front informed us over the bus intercom with a thick Jamaican twang, “and right is suicide!” The bus erupted in laughter.

We passed corrugated tin shanties and run down businesses along the way, examples of the poverty that Jamaica suffers from. Very eye opening. Small groups of Jamaicans gathered at various places, probably celebrating a Friday night, milling and carousing. The “guide” along with us explained it was about an hour and twenty minutes to Negril, sometimes faster, sometimes not. It depends. No problem, Mon.

The bus slowed a number of times to navigate tight bridges, oncoming traffic, groups of pedestrians, and occasional road hazards as we plowed on through the night towards the resort. To our right, I could often make out the Caribbean through the darkness, but only as a shadow it seemed. The night was very dark, and the moonlight was yet to shine upon the sea as it was yet to rise.

I relaxed and watched the bright red LED digital clock mounted over the driver’s seat counting down the minutes until our arrival at “paradise”: the Club RIU Negril resort. Around us, vacationers conversed to pass the time, and I leaned in to listen, getting a flavor of those around me along for the trip. One older gentleman seated next to my left announced this was his sixteenth trip to the island, along with his wife. They simply love coming down here.

From behind me, one of the other tourists wasn’t shy about his vacation plans.

“I’m going to get ‘Chinese-eyes-ed’ and chill out!” he proudly stated. Yah mon, no problem. This was the pervading mood in Jamaica I would come to learn. Yah Mon! Everything is No Problem. And get baked.

And, he proceeded to do just that, sparking up a doobie in the back of the bus during one of the quieter moments of the trip. Almost like high school in Granite back in the 70’s and 80’s! I guess it was a joint. Could have been a pinch hitter, I dunno. Didn’t actually witness it. But, the pungent scent of skunkweed was undeniable, and as we approached oncoming traffic or entered an urban area of one of the tiny towns that dotted the Jamaican coastline, the light would illuminate the interior of the coach revealing a blue-white haze wafting through the cabin. It’s the Magic Bus! The Magical Mystery Tour! Note-to-self: don’t bring the kids next time!

We arrived at the resort around 10pm, and the staff manning the front desk busted ass to get the whole bus registered and rooms assigned as quickly as possible. I tugged my luggage up to the desk, and surveyed the premises.

As typical of RIU resorts, the lobby was luxurious and welcoming. Adorned with statues and mahogany marble tiles, they first impressions are one of elegance and demeanor. There are no walls fore or aft under the expansive roof of the resort as the entire lobby is open air, allowing the cool tropical evening breeze to blow thorough. Across from the lobby desk was the next most important feature, the lobby bar! I could use a cold Jamaican beer!

We were placed in room 4101, which I recognized as the forth and last building on the resort, farthest away from the heart of the place. One of the complaints I’d read about when I looked up reviews on about the place was getting a room out in Building Four. Those that got stuck out in the hinterland complained about the walk. Guess I was about to experience that for myself! No problem, Mon!

“I’m hungry!” Beck said smiling, bouncing with excitement. “I must have a contact high! Munchies!” Perhaps it was the ganja, but more likely was we were both bouncing and excited to be in Jamaica: a nice, long weekend in paradise together!

We labeled our bags to be delivered to our distant rooms and struck out to find a food buffet still open at this hour, after a quick stop at the lobby bar for a draft beer of course. Or two. Rhythmic sounds of Reggae music permeated the air as we made our way towards the left edge of the resort. Instantly we were immersed in the culture of the island: warm sea breezes, cocktails, the smell of ganja, and music; fun, upbeat music filled the air around us, welcoming us to paradise.

At “The Coliseum”, a large covered stage area, virtually around the corner from behind the front desk lobby, a local reggae band wailed away to a crowded house. The crowd spilled out from the tables of the cabaret-like setting out towards the main bar that guarded the main pool. Sort of an indoor/outdoor amphitheater, and very cool! Smiles and cocktails abound, and the driving reggae beat felt refreshing.

We stopped to gather it all in, and I was greatly impressed. The performer was of top notch quality, and the band's sound was first rate. This was the real deal! Now, most reggae all sounds the same to someone like me that isn’t really into it, but it is a music of passion, not unlike The Blues, and this guy had real soul! There was no mistaking it.

Adorned with the stylistic dreadlocks, a thin, whispy black man with a billowy white shirt darted and danced around his microphone stand to the classic reggae beat, strumming his Stratocaster along and belting out refrains. I had to smile. Not exactly like the corny “Three Amigos” clad Mariachi one would encounter in Cancun! This was electric, this was soul, this was Jamaica. Yah Mon! No problem!

We managed to find the late night buffet still open, and while the selection wasn't overwhelming, we got some decent food in our bellies, and had a drink or two as the Reggae band wrapped up their set. We were officially settling in.

Ready to party some, we decided to hit the disco Pasha located on the resort next to the Coliseum. It was a tiny, dark bar with a modest dance floor and driving dance music. While it wasn't very crowded at first when we arrived, as the other bars on the resort closed up shop, many other late night partiers found their way down there with us. At one point, it held a decent size group, and all of us were drinking heavily! Yah mon! The bartenders were friendly and laid back as the typical island norm, and by the looks of them, pretty high too. They made it known you could get what you needed from them, as well.

After a brief trip to relieve myself (I'd broken the “seal”) Becca met my return with wide eyes of concern!

“Good lord!” she said. “Sit here!” She was a bit uncomfortable. Where the hell did she think I was going to sit?

“What's wrong?” I asked, sucking down another draft beer.

“No sooner than you get up, and they start hitting on me!” she said.

“Who?” I said, scanning the bar with a raised eyebrow. “Those guys?” I asked, pointing to a group of young men, obviously hammered, and sparking a joint. Punks!

“No! The bartenders!”

Wow, no kidding? Eddie Murphy's gag from Raw describing the womanizing Dexter St. Jacques swinging his dick, romancing your estranged girl played in my mind. I'll bet they are some players. Bastards. Honestly, no different from Eddies, though. Hell, the WOMEN at Eddie's are even more forward towards her.

We attempted to keep good humor about it, and she told me how he said he could “take her AWAY”, but she added “to where? I'm already here?”

Finishing our drinks, we decided to head back to our rooms and retire, where I'd make Becca forget all about Dexter St. Jacques.

I'll take you away! No problem, Mon.