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Final Day in Jamaica – Pam’s Birthday
Mid-flight en route back to New Jersey – Wednesday, November 7th, 2018
When I opened my eyes on the last full day of our honeymoon in Jamaica, the pale blue sky peered over the balcony and climbed into our four post bed into the space between dreaming and reality. Light and ethereal, each blink revealed a bit more of the world I’ve come to love, inviting me to ease down the floating wooden staircase one more time. I didn’t know then, but in those fleeting moments, the lens through which I’ve viewed the world finally lined up with the way the island of Jamaica communicates to your soul.
I started the day by setting down a steaming cup of coffee on a table right outside of Pam’s room. It was her 61st birthday and I knew that that would be the first thing on her wish list. Stepping outside into the blaring sun, we gently made our way down to the volcanically-formed cliffs of Negril at Sun Down Villa, careful not to spill any of our precious liquid energy along the way. We stumbled upon Rick and Steve lounging, plucking at a ukulele as the notes drifted and eventually faded into the warm, Caribbean air. Pam and Rick decided to take a cruise on their Vespa down to the beach where their love of the island first began over thirty years ago.
Heather, Steve, and I abruptly made a move towards Just Natural Fish and Veggies, the local food joint in the bush of Westmoreland. Our first trip there, Pam had her eyes on a locally-crafted blue canvas bag with a crudely-but-beautifully painted sunset and we knew we had to get it for her. We enjoyed another meal and chatted with our favorite hosts, Theresa and Christine, as they shared unsolicited marital advice about loving one another and your children. Our favorite anecdote was Christine’s memory of when she first got married: “oh in those times, we would make love anywhere it was dark — in the bush, in our bedroom, it didn’t matter. But remember, always lock your door and wear a nightie!” Satiated in body and mind, we scooted from the richest Jamaican experience we’d had to date.
All of us eventually regathered and began our trip to various cliffside resorts. It began at the Tensing Pen, where we were met at the gate by a security guard who stared at us like we stole her lunch money back in high school. After authoritatively mumbling into a walkie-talkie, she granted us access with a stern finger wag in the general direction of the bar. Nonetheless, the resort was cozy, kind of like the Lost Boy’s huts in Peter Pan, connected to one another by rope bridges and shaded winding cobblestone paths. We originally planned to go to there to jump from one of these wooden bridges suspended over the sea, so Pam could wave her proverbial finger to the process of aging, but we were told by the security guard that we weren’t allowed to enjoy any of the amenities. After quickly slugging our round of Red Stripes, we were on to the next one.
Lucky for us, the next stop was much more accommodating. No finger-wagging security guard, no restrictions, only a large modern lobby to welcome us like something out of Forbes magazine. We normally wouldn’t expect genuine hospitality from a place as lavish as the Cliffs Resort, but two men changed it all. Trevor, who went by Johnie Walker, and Omighty, shortened to Omight, rolled out the Jamaican equivalent of red carpets. These two healthy, young, vibrant Jamaican men made drinks while they sang to their favorite tunes like they were bartenders out of the movie Cocktail, giving us free shots and asking us if we wanted to snorkel on The Cliff’s private coral reef. Nothing like any of the other resorts we visited, we felt the camaraderie that’s typically found in Irish pubs in New York City, like you can have any conversation with the person next to you (for better or worse), all while gazing out at a pink Caribbean sunset.
Our final stop on our invasion of all-inclusive resorts was a place called Xtabi. The dining patio was sprawling with empty candlelit tables and vacant chairs, making the space seem sad with lost opportunities of romance. A small cat meandered between the legs of our chairs, quietly mewing and purring with the hopes of a free meal. Pam and Rick ordered their favorite dish, lobster thermidore, which I consider a cheap (albeit expensive) favorite, because anything would be delicious smothered in butter, garlic, and cheese. Steve ordered the shrimp scampi which strangely came with rice and it made me wonder how available pasta is on the Caribbean islands. I ordered fried chicken because my ambition at trying local cuisine hit the roadblock of Americanized resort food. The best part of the meal was walking beneath the resort in the caves, listening to the waves slam against the tunneled walls, echoing their strength into our ears. I felt like I was in a scene from the Goonies.
The first couple days in our AirBnB we were a little hesitant to walk the streets as motorcyclists tore by the vendors and local restaurants with reckless pride. We wanted to engage with the real Jamaican culture, but were not sure of a proper access point for two under-informed tourists. Yet like those hummingbirds in Barney’s garden, Heather and I hovered from place to place, learning to stop and trust the people inside those brightly colored shacks one at a time. We made friends at resorts, Johnie Walker and Omight, and local spots, Theresa and Christine, learning that there are friends all around us if only we are open enough to look. Upon our initial arrival, we stayed behind the high gated walls of Sun Down Villa, but in the end, we saw that the sunrise and sunset, in all of their naturally beautiful glory, were just as welcoming as the pairs of eyes that greeted us behind all of those brightly colored doors.