Hello friends, and welcome to another installment of Adventures of the Bear Team! Dena and I will celebrate our tenth wedding anniversary in just over a month. As we approach this milestone, I’ve decided to post a piece I wrote about our honeymoon trip to Jamaica. I hope you enjoy it!
“This way! That way no good. Maybe you fall that way!”
I was standing waist deep in water. My feet had finally stopped throbbing from the cuts, scrapes, and stubbed toes I had suffered during our trek. Granted, the only reason they weren’t throbbing anymore was because I could no longer actually feel them. To call the water cold would be to call the Grand Canyon deep.
“Step here! That way no good. Very bad that way!”
These words from our guide, who stood just above, beckoning us ever upward. Since more than anything I wanted to avoid whatever the “very bad” might be, I gingerly stepped around the slippery spot he had indicated, and hoisted myself up to a safe standing place; safe in this case being a relative term. I helped my wife, Dena, up beside me, and we turned to watch our fellow unfortunates struggle onward.
It had been a long, grueling ordeal. My legs and feet no doubt resembled swiss cheese from all the sharp protuberances along the way. My head pounded. I had an upset stomach, and hypothermia wasn’t far away. Each member of our group wore an identical look of grim determination on his or her haggard face. We were tired. We were battered. We were bruised. Worst of all, we had paid for this.
Dena and I were on our honeymoon in Jamaica (official motto: “We have goats!”). Why Jamaica, you ask? The decision was anything but a hasty one. During our exhaustive (and exhausting) search for an appropriate honeymoon site we, at one time or another, considered many possible locations: San Fransisco, Greece, Hawaii, Miami, Paris, Amsterdam, Atlantis, Australia, Bermuda, London, Costa Rica, Mexico, the forest moon of Endor, Dagobah, New York, Japan, Uranus, Savannah, New Orleans, Myrtle Beach, Boardwalk, Park Place, Antartica, Argentina, Seattle, the Gaza strip, and Camelot.
But we eventually settled on Jamaica. An island paradise. Birthplace of the legendary Bob Marley. Certainly it would be the best possible place for a romantic getaway. Using the internet we were able to obtain, for slightly less than the gross national product of Denmark, a reservation at Sandals. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Sandals, it is a resort located in Montego Bay which, I believe, perfectly captures the spirit of Jamaica and its “no problem” attitude. Because there are certainly no problems there. On the resort I mean. Anywhere else in the country all bets are off.
Our reservation was described as “all inclusive,” which I assumed meant that everything was included. But you know what they say about assuming: You make a me out of ass and you, or something like that. Actually, “all inclusive” means that you get plane tickets, a room, and enough rum to pickle the entire Atlantic Ocean. Everything else, including but not limited to sunscreen, a bathing suit to replace the one you left at home, a disposable camera because you forgot the film for your two-hundred dollar Kodak, cosmetics, Excedrin (trust me, you’ll need it), sunglasses, toothpaste, underwear (you never pack enough), bug spray, aloe vera, and straw hats can be obtained from the gift shop for little more than triple the price you’d pay at home. Fotunately, Jamaican people have a great fondness for American money.
On the morning we were to leave for Jamaica we arrived at the airport, as instructed, at six a.m. sharp. Unfortunately we were unaware that airport time runs approximately two hours behind whatever time zone you happen to be in. So our wait was considerably longer than expected. It turned out okay though, since there are so many things to occupy your time: standing in line at security checkpoints; standing in line at baggage check-in; standing in line at the snack bar, etc.
Eventually our plane left Atlanta, and we were on our way. Next stop, Jamaica! Well, not quite. First there was a two hour layover in Miami. Again, we barely had time to experience all that Miami International Airport had to offer: Having our bags searched by DEA officers; being sniffed by drug dogs; removing our shoes and belts while having security swiped us with electronic wand-fun stuff like that!
Leaving Miami, we began to get excited about our destination. We would be in Jamaica in less than two hours! As we flew over the Carribean Sea, we were afforded a spectacular aerial view of Cuba; or least we would have been, if it weren’t for cloud cover so heavy it was like flying through a bag full of cotton balls. Eventually, the plane began to descend. Minutes later, we were taxiing down the runaway at Sangster International Airport.
Actually “international airport” is quite an extravagant name for what closely resembles a goat pasture. Other ameneties which seemed to be exaggerated included “runway,” which looked like an asphalt driveway poured by drunken do-it-yourselfers, and “terminal,” which I was surprised to find didn’t contain livestock. Apparently designed to minimize costs, a hangar had apparently been deemed an uneccessary extravagance. Instead, we embarked on our Jamaican vacation by climbing down a set of metal stairs that would fit right in at a mobile home park in Alabama. (just kidding Alabama natives! Please don’t shoot!)
One thing we learned quickly at Sandals: You must let the waiters and doormen do everything for you. Nothing incites the ire of resort workers more than a failure to do so. They will carry your tray, pull out your chair, open the door, etc. This is all very nice. However, should you make the grave mistake of attempting to do something for yourself, you will suffer their ultimate wrath. One night, while dining at one of the restaurants located on the resort, (not a Jamaican restaurant; the only eatery that served Jamaican cuisine was named “The Oleander Room.” We did not visit the Oleander Room, and mercifully so. Later in our stay we would discover that the oleander plant is extrememly poisonous) Dena had the gall to serve herself a desert. The waiter informed her, in no uncertain terms, that the establishment was “not self serve.” It was quite a haughty attitude for an eatery with sand for a floor.
Another interesting fact about Sandals: whatever amount you pay for accomodations at the resort apparently does not include unlimited utilities. The only way that the electricity in your room works is if your key card is plugged into a receptacle on the wall near the light switch. And you only get one card. Due to this unforeseen circumstance, we spent the majority of our time in Jamaica attempting to cool our room. Every time we left, the air conditioning would shut down. Since sweating is the number one pastime in Jamaica, followed closely by waiting to see if an Air Jamaica flight will crash through the ceiling in the middle of the night (the runway is practically adjacent to the hotel), A/C is a neccessity. In retrospect, we would have been better served to simply sit in our room for the entire week. In fact, had we done so, we would have avoided the sheer terror which awaited us later in our stay.
All guests at Sandals are welcome to go anywhere they like while in Jamaica, as long as the destination is on the resort. Due to the criminal element (hey, if you lived in a five room house in which only one room had such extravagances as furniture, walls, a door, etc., you’d be a criminal too!) going beyond the boundaries of Sandals’ property is strongly discouraged, unless you are in the company of a “tour guide.” Tour guides are everywhere in Jamica, offering trips all over the island. For scarcely more than you would pay for a fifty-four inch plasma screen television, you can explore Jamaica the way it was meant to be seen: from the window of a beat up, speeding van, the driver of which obviously wasn’t offered a driver’s ed course in school. In a moment of sheer insanity, perhaps brought on by several hours spent in the resort “pool bar,” (Yes, it is exactly what it sounds like! You are in a swimming pool, and you can wade over to a bar and order a drink! Without getting out of the water! Isn’t that great?! Why don’t we have this service here in the U.S.? When will our elected officials get off of their lazy rear ends, return from their “fact finding” missions on the French Riviera, extinguish their Cuban cigars, put down their top shelf cocktails, and bring the pool bar to America? Why don’t you write your congress person today? What, are you too busy playing Nintendo Wii to get involved? Don’t act like you don’t know what I’m talking about. You bought the Wii “for the kids,” but who are you kidding? You play it more than they do. Be an adult and admit it)! What was I talking about? Oh yeah, the pool bar. After several hours sipping drinks there, we decided to pay for one of these trips.
Our tour would take us from Montego Bay to the neighboring city of Ocho Rios, and would feature a visit to Dunn’s River Falls. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Dunn’s River Falls, lucky you! No seriously, the falls are a Jamaican national treasure, and a true wonder. A cascading, six-hundred foot high waterfall that empties directly into the Carribbean Sea, the site was featured in the James Bond movie “Dr. No,” and is one of Jamaica’s top tourist attractions.
The Sandals employee who helped us schedule our tour urged us to buy a waterproof camera for the visit to the falls. Ha ha! Why would we do that? We had a nice camera already. Why would we need a waterproof camera when we were just going to walk alongside the falls? It wasn’t as if we were going to be in the water anyway. We thanked her for her help and walked away, still laughing to ourselves over her shameless attempt to sell us unneccessary items.
The following morning, we embarked on our adventure. We hurtled along in our tour van, swerving every few seconds to avoid overturned cars, fifteen goat pile-ups, and massive cracks in the pavement. After half an hour’s travel over the rough and traffic-jam laden road, I began to have serious doubts about the wisdom of our decision to leave the resort. At roughly the halfway point of our trip, we stopped at a rest area/market. After navigating a sea of vendors selling everything from hair braids to wood carvings, I finally fought my way to the restroom and went inside. Having waited in line for the opportunity to do my business, I was the last one to leave the restroom. As I was finishing up, a Jamaican man entered the room and approached me.
Being approached by a stranger in a public restroom is not normally a desirable occurrence. Wary of whatever the man might want, I headed for the door. But before I could exit the room, he stepped in front of me and inquired if I might enjoy a “party pipe.” Aware that Jamaica’s greatest cash crop is marijuana, I knew immediately what he meant. Being unfamiliar with national drug laws, which for all I knew could be draconian (you know, like the ones in the U.S.), I politely declined. Not to be dissuaded, the man walked across the room to where an air freshener was mounted to the wall. He pulled off the cover, and withdrew a Woody Harrelson sized bag of marijuana and a hand carved wooden pipe.
“Here you go mon,” he said. “Party pipe, for sometimes. Don’t worry, the police will not search the van.”
Again, I expressed my doubts about the wisdom of such a purchase. The man followed me out of the restroom, still trying to make the sale. I walked over to Dena, the salesman in tow, still espousing the virtues of his “party pipe.” After a brief conference with my wife, we thanked the man for his offer and then boarded our van to continue our trip. As the van pulled away, we were able to relax, secure that we had made the right decision. After all, a party pipe could really come in handy!
Next up on the agenda was a stop in the main shopping district of Ocho Rios, which means “eight rivers” in Spanish. Of course, there are actually only four rivers, but so what? Whoever said you had to be good at math to name a city? We browsed through the gift shops, constantly declining offers to have Dena’s hair braided in the Jamaican style. After a while, we returned to the street and waited for the rest of our group. Suddenly, out of nowhere, a Jamaican man sprang in front of us and began furiously strumming a guitar and singing. When the performance was over, we politely applauded. At this, the man held our his hat and asked for a “donation.” We explained to him that we only had enough cash for admission to the falls (the truth). A look of disgust immediately bloomed on his face and he turned away, but not before thumbing his nose at us. I guess that’s what you get these days for being a rich, greedy American while traveling abroad.
At last, we arrived at our destination. Our group, which included an English couple, a Spanish couple, and several other Americans, piled out of the van and filed toward the ticket booth. After paying our admission fee, we trudged over to the falls. And they were spectacular. Pristine water flowing down from the mountainous center of the island gradually descended to the sea. A fine mist hung in the air, a welcome respite from the heat of the summer day. But then I saw something that troubled me greatly. A group of people, in many ways similar to our own, was climbing the falls! Not beside the water, mind you, but in the water! What kind of crazy, out of their minds people would attempt such a foolhardy feat?
Now here we were, in a country know more for its illegal drugs than for its legal ones. A country where the best hospitals, for all I knew, might double as goat stables. And we were clinging to the side of a sheer cliff with a waterfall pounding down upon us!
“Step under the water. I take your picture,” said the guide.
He might as well have been telling us to hop into a shark infested pool for a swim. I notified him of our unwillingness to get under the fridgid water. He made it clear that we could not continue without doing so. This is a common occurence in Jamaica. You, as a tourist, are bound by national law to have your picture taken at each and every tourist site available. So we stepped beneath the water.
Eventually everyone in the area calmed down, once they realized that the blood curdling screams were merely the result of the subzero water and not a fellow tourist being dismembered by a giant lizard. Dena and I clutched each other tightly as the icy water poured over us. Our guide snapped a few pictures, and we lunged for dry land. After toweling off we were approached by members of the Dunn’s River Falls staff and asked if we would like to purchase a video of our climb. What a great idea! Now, instead of merely embarrassing myself in front of a group of strangers, I could embarrass myself in front of friends and family for years to come! Not a chance. What happens in Jamaica stays in Jamaica, thank God!
On our last night in Jamaica, after consuming a few Red Stripe beers, and sampling several bottles of liqour from the well stocked cabinet in our room, we set out for a night of revelry. Well, revelry might be a bit strong. Actually, we went down to the pavillion, had a few more drinks, and listened to a live band. It was great, though. Looking out over the ocean; dancing to Bob Marely’s “One Love;” enjoying a beautiful Jamaican night as a newly married couple: It doesn’t get much better than that; the fact that I can’t remember much after about 11:00 pm notwithstanding.
The next morning it was time to leave Jamaica and return to the “real world.” After snapping a few last photos, we boarded our flight. In a few short hours, we would be back in Georgia. As we left the island nation and our honeymoon behind, we reflected on our trip, as well as our wedding. Meeting “the one” is a shot in the dark, and we had hit on our shot. We had sampled many wonderful drinks, nearly died several times over at a popular tourist attraction, and spent hour upon hour searching for a cool place to take a break from sweating. But beyond all of that, we had spent our first few days as a married couple. Amid the whirlwind of planning, the wedding, and the trip, our union was solid.
As we taxiied through the goat pasture and lifted off into the air, I took a last look back at the island of Jamaica: the mountainous central portion; the green forests broken by cascading waterfalls; the white shingles of beach meeting the endless blue-green waters of the Atlantic Ocean; and the people, with their heavy accents and complicated history. A nation poor in terms of money, but exceedingly rich in culture. All in all not a bad place to spend a honeymoon, though it would be more than a decade before we would leave the continental U.S. again. Despite all that is wrong with our homeland, I couldn’t wait to get back to safe, familiar shores. Now if we could just survive another encounter with the wonderful people of customs and immigration….Say it with me now: There’s no place like home! There’s no place like home!