About a decade ago I decided it was time for a vacation. Three weeks ago I finally took one. Well, more like a working vacation, but I'll take what I can get. After thinking about it for quite a while, Poetry editor Kaite Hillenbrand and I decided we'd go to Jamaica. Specifically, we decided we'd go to one of those inclusive retreats wherein we would be less likely to have to make any life-altering decisions like what to eat or drink or where to crash after eating and drinking too much. We decided on the Sunset Jamaica Grande Resort in Ocho Rios, Jamaica. For about the cost of the airfare ($1005.00), we stayed at the resort for a week ($1020.97). All food & drinks were included in the price of admission, which I include now because I always wonder what trips like this costs when I read travelogues.
Our trip started at 4:30AM at the offices of Connotation Press, and from there we drove to Pittsburgh International Airport where we caught our first flight. We arrived in Montego Bay around 3:30 that afternoon. Jamaica is not littered with airports, and even though it is the third largest island in the Caribbean, it's not all that big either, so most flights from the States end up in Montego Bay. From there we were taken by a pre-determined shuttle to the resort about an hour and a half away. It was a lovely drive, and for the first part of it our driver told us all kinds of fun facts about Jamaica, the road we were driving on, and Celine Dion-- don't ask. He also taught us to say phrases like, "Ya mon!" and "No problem, mon!" We thought these were just clichés taught for the benefit of the tourists, but they were not. Virtually all the locals we met in Jamaica say these phrases with great frequency.
In addition to taking us to the resort, our driver stopped at a bar where anyone that wanted could purchase an astronomically expensive rum punch, which we found to be more prevalent than water during our trip, and jerk chicken, too. We were also offered something else but I'll get more into that later. We finally arrived at the resort about a quarter to six in the evening after dropping off nearly everyone else on the bus at various resorts along the way.
Once we checked into the hotel we made our way up to our room on the eighth floor. Unfortunately, our room door wouldn't lock or even close, the sliding glass door to the balcony with the exquisite view wouldn't open, and there was a huge puddle of air-conditioner run-off water in the entranceway. Although both of us have traveled enough to know things everywhere aren't the same as they are in the USofA, a fact we are grateful for, we did expect something a little closer to what we were promised in the brochures, and when the bedside lamp cord caught fire I decided it was time for another room.
After moving to a more functional room on the six floor with a lovely view of the harbor our vacation was officially underway. I'll take a moment now to say everyone, EVERYONE, we met during our trip outside the resort, and everyone working at the hotel, was as nice and courteous as we could possibly have hoped for. We wrote off the poor condition of the first room to "stuff happens" and dove headfirst into some time off.
The Sunset Jamaica Grande Resort, besides having a very large and impressive name, is a family resort. It's designed for both adults and children. There are bars, nightclubs, and restaurants everywhere on the property for the adults, and there are waterslides and a junior VIP club for the kids. There are other resorts nearby that are more geared for an all-adult clientele and feature things like nude island retreats and such, but we weren't feeling anything like that daring and besides, we found out about them after we booked our trip. Ha!
Snorkeling, assisted sailing, more than a half dozen swimming pools, two hot tubs, a gym, a gigantic buffet, a tiny casino, tennis courts, and private beaches are the features that stand out most at the resort, and over the course of the week we visited nearly all of them with our new friends Kyle & Jenn who were visiting from Toronto. On a side note, virtually ALL the tourists we met were from Canada and most all of them were from Toronto. Go figure.
Knowing I was going to be writing this travelogue, as I really NEVER take just a vacation like a normal person, I knew we needed to venture out into the city and countryside in order to report back to you. We had a lot of choices for adventures at our disposal. The places that stood out the most to us were Dunn's River Falls, a highly tourist-visited set of waterfalls that people climb up and that stretch for a long way into the mountains, a helicopter flight over the island, or maybe Bob Marley's house, where people can purchase a joint and smoke it on the tour of the house. However, I didn't want to report about any overly visited places. And with the cruise ships docked in the harbor outside our resort, there were literally boatloads of tourists everywhere while we were there.
Instead, Kyle & Jenn met a Rastafarian named Marcus that told us of a place called Blue Hole in the mountains about forty-five minutes from the resort. Formed by water cutting through limestone, Blue Hole rests in a rainforest and is absolutely freaking gorgeous. I mean, GORGEOUS! The water was so blue it made taking pictures and video extremely difficult because it turned all the light surrounding it blue, too.
At Blue Hole we met our site-guide Kevin, who is the one on the video helping Kaite and near the end doing a flip from the rope swing. A lovely young man, Kevin was patient and caring and helped ease all four of our general "what the hell are we getting into this time!" nerves. We spent a few hours playing at Blue Hole and when it was time to leave it took the three of us to finally get Kaite out of the water. Once back in the van, however, Marcus asked if we'd like to visit a marijuana plantation. Although there was much laughing, since there were no takers we headed back to the resort.
After we arrived back at the Sunset Jamaica Grande Extravaganza & Used Auto Sales, I decided to take a little trip of my own. And this goes to what I was previously writing. After dropping Kaite off at the resort, I jumped back into the van with Marcus and we headed to the plantation.
Before I go any further, I would be remiss if I didn't state that as we exited the Jamaican customs at the airport in Montego Bay when we arrived, I swear to you not fifteen feet from customs, a local asked if I would like to purchase some marijuana. At the bar/restaurant we stopped at on the way from the airport to the resort two more individuals asked if I wanted to purchase some marijuana. At one of the hotels we dropped people off at and on the private beach we went to immediately after sorting out the room issues I was also asked if I wanted to purchase some marijuana. On the way to Blue Hole from our resort our driver stopped at a vegan bean patty restaurant and asked us if we wanted to purchase some marijuana. Noticing a trend here? And did I mention that marijuana is illegal in Jamaica?
Now don't get me wrong, I am a big proponent for the use of marijuana. As an epileptic, I find many of the issues directly associated with the disease are substantially alleviated by the use of marijuana. And I belong to a good group of people that are currently working very hard in West Virginia to institute legalization, or, in the very least, medicinal legalization of marijuana in our home state.
Marcus and I returned to the road that took us to the rainforest and Blue Hole and eventually he pulled off the pavement onto dirt, and a hundred feet later we were at a now defunct growing spot. The Dread Rasta that met us there was sweet and kind and very, very mellow. He lived in an old wooden shack used for drying the plants surrounded by orchids and rainforest and peace. The place was defunct because the police had recently been in the area looking for plants so he moved his higher up the mountain, but there were at least 50 and probably closer to 100 plants drying in his tiny shack above his bedroll and pillow.
The Rasta farmer handed me the plant seen in the picture and insisted as much as a Rasta can that I smoke my fill of a strain he called, "Long Finger." They obviously dry it with the water leaf on so I removed it before smoking. Thick, very dense, almost gooey, it was difficult to break up. Extreme sativa. Not for the occasional smoker. An outstanding, clean, and very powerful experience as if a key that unlocked the darkest passageways of the seizure chains that ring me like a noose, and it set me free. For a moment I was no longer bound to the disease and I am wholeheartedly grateful for any opportunity to forget that I am an epileptic who is getting more unwell with each new day by merciless misfiring synapses-- by my own brain. After this experience I am even more certain that one free & clear good day can act as a healing springboard to last a guy like me for years. And I'm even more certain that there is a way for me to live that, although currently considered unconventional, will increase the quality of my life by almost unimaginably pure and welcome ways. I'm counting on it.
After the visit to the plantation Marcus took me back to the resort. At this point Kaite & I had only one day left and we spent it having coffee by the ocean, sailing, packing, lounging on our balcony, dancing at a nightclub, and as always eating and drinking and eating and drinking and eating and drinking.
I won't bore you with the details of the trip home suffice to say it took us nearly 13 hours, involved four trips through customs, Kaite getting groped by a TSA agent at the layover airport in Charlotte, and a two hour drive home from the Pittsburgh International Airport wherein some freakshow tried to run us off the freeway. And the day after we got back to Morgantown we got six inches of snow, but neither of us seemed to care. We were still the ones with the ear to ear grins living on island time. Oh, and neither one of us had removed our wristbands from the resort yet... just in case.
Ya mon! ♥