Great Huts Great Escape
Trip Start Jun 01, 2008
14Trip End Ongoing
"Engreed," says Marlan in his slow, low voice with his mahogany arms folded across his mahogany chest, "I should be the one to take care of you." His hair falls in bleached twists around his large still-cloudy-from-his-last-joint eyes, which he aims down at me in a look that says he means business.
I laugh, as the last molassesy traces of ganja fade from the air. "Oh yeah? You want to take care of me? Do you have any idea how high maintenance I am?"
"Feel my heart," he says, taking my hand and placing it on his sternum. "It's beating like a drum."
I can, in fact, feel his heart thumping in his chest. I admire it for a second and then push him away
He smiles his brimming white grin and shakes his dread-locks, muttering something to himself in Patois. "Okay, Engreed. I'll take you surfing."
Marlan (real name Jason) was my surf instructor in Jamaica. He was also my snorkel guide and gateway to all things Jamaican while I was there on vacation with Laura. When I was sick, Marlan gathered local herbs and boiled them to make me a tea. While snorkeling he steered me away from sharp sea urchins and barracuda and towards the most beautiful parts of the reef. After snorkeling, he gathered wild almonds from the beach and showed me how to crack them open with rocks and eat them. He took Laura and me to spend an afternoon at the Jamaican national surf camp outside Kingston, where we learned that, in addition to surfing, Jamaican surfers love to play dominoes. They also love to get high, especially while making reggae music about getting high.
I was amused and a bit surprised to see this stereotype fulfilled so completely before my eyes. Other things we'd heard about Jamaica, like about how violent it is, we fortunately did not notice first hand. This was my first trip to Jamaica and Laura's second. Before going, I had no expectations other than it as a beautiful vacation resort
Here are some things I observed:
Jamaicans are an expressive people. So many people told Laura and me how grateful they were for our tourism, and some people even sang it to us. There was rarely a moment in the whole six days when I couldn't hear music, playing either from the resort sound system, from a club down the road, from a taxi or bus radio, from someone's Mp3 player, or just from someone singing. Jamaica is committed to music.
It is impossible to miss the religion in Jamaican society. It seemed that every fifth building was a church and gospel music shared the airwaves with reggae.
Immediately upon arrival, you can tell that Jamaica is a relatively poor country. Most of the buildings we saw along the roads were small and rickety, but even those in extreme disrepair were painted in bright and cheerful colors
On Blue Mountain coffee
Also uplifting was the Blue Mountain coffee. Grown in the rolling Blue Mountains of Jamaica, the brew is smooth and rich and was served to us every morning for free at Great Huts. Mm.
The slave trade has made an indelible mark on Jamaican society. Great Huts had several pieces of art featuring chains, shackles, and images of captivity. Also, the local language, Patois—pronounced "patwa"—was developed by African slaves in the 1600s to conceal communication from their European masters. Wikipedia tells me Patois is a mixture of European English and African languages. And it sounds so cool! One phrase I heard a lot was, "Seya," literally, "See you," figuratively, "I hear what you're saying," or "I understand." True to its original purpose, modern Patois is very effective in concealing communication from European and North American tourists!
Speaking of speaking, Great Huts had many animals—dogs, turtles, guinea pigs, rabbits, lizards, hermit crabs, parakeets, some unknown animal that left mysterious tracks in the sand floor of our hut, and most importantly, a talking parrot named Lilly
As far as I could tell, Lilly couldn't speak Patois, but she could speak English. Well, one word, anyway. And that leads me to the next point of how interesting it was to be in a foreign country, where I was so clearly foreign, but to share a common language with everybody. On the one hand, this made it really easy to bond and communicate, which fostered a sense (perhaps false) of ease, comfort, and familiarity. On the other hand, it also meant I could understand every catcall and every ridiculous thing being said to me by people who wanted something from me. I couldn't pretend that I didn't understand, like I sometimes do in other countries where English isn't the native language. Overall, though, I'd say the English was a win.
The roads were full of them. It made getting everywhere a slow and bumpy ride.
On local elections
Local elections were in preparation the week Laura and I were there. This manifested itself in roadwork and clearing of brush on the side of the road by fire
On life and death
Life and death felt closer in Jamaica (not just because of the potholes and crazy idea of driving on the left side of the road). Two Jamaicans told me about losing close family members. Marlan lost his mother to illness—he wasn't even sure what disease it was and described it as something probably having to do with evil spirits—and George, the friendly security guard at Great Huts, told Laura and me about losing his older brother to gang violence. As Laura and I were driving from the airport the first day, we passed a funeral procession. One of the other guests at Great Huts, Dave, works for the Medical Relief Foundation doing training for EMS personnel in Jamaica. He said the country was in extreme need of defibrillators and first aid training for first responders. With hurricanes a regular occurrence in mid- to late-summer, Dave said many people die unnecessarily due to lack of medical supplies and people qualified to do suturing. On the other hand, one of the dogs at Great Huts gave birth to eleven puppies while we were there—ten survived—and I also got to hold Marlan's two baby goats born a few days before Laura and I arrived
We had been warned that Jamaica was extremely violent and that we should not try to immerse ourselves in local life. We had been cautioned to stay on the compound as much as possible and hire private taxis instead of taking public transportation. When we arrived, Laura and I found the atmosphere to be quite okay, mon. Granted, there were signs of violence. Almost all buildings we saw had bars on the windows and doors and loiterers could be seen at all hours of the day. But people were generally non-threatening to us, and though hawkers continually offered us tours and jewelry and romantic encounters we didn't want, I never felt they meant us any physical harm and generally backed down after the third or fourth or tenth refusal. One of the chefs at Great Huts, Lance, told us that Portland parish, where we were, was the safest in Jamaica. On the last day, Laura and I even felt comfortable enough to take the public bus to the airport. Though the journey took way longer than anticipated (the bus left late and stopped every kilometer and had us running for our plane in the end!), it was a beautiful journey along the sea and over the Blue Mountains with Whitney Houston's gospel album booming over the sound system.
One negative thing to say about the trip is that we noticed quite a bit of homophobia. After we had heard a few locals slip anti-gay comments into normal conversation without shame, Laura and I Googled "homophobia in Jamaica" and came across several articles that cited it as the most homophobic country in the world, complete with anti-gay laws on the books
On Great Huts
On a happier note, I cannot say enough good things about Great Huts, a rustic, eco-resort on a cliff overlooking Boston Bay: www.greathuts.com. It was a pristine nature oasis with breathtaking views at every turn. We stayed in the Kaya Hut with a sand floor, an open door, and mosquito netting on the beds. The public bathroom and shower had ambient, but not hot, water. We brushed our teeth in the company of bright green lizards blinking and scampering along the bamboo walls of the bath house. Hammocks hanging throughout the landscape provided us with many hours of relaxation. The open dining area and lounge was a soothing place to convene with staff and guests. The Rock's Cafe on the edge of the cliff was an inspiring place to watch the sunrise, meditate to the sound of the ocean, and take in the majesty of the bay with its cerulean waters, blonde sand, and green hills. I fell asleep every night to a symphony of crickets chirping, frogs peeping, and other melodious wildlife warbling to the back beat of waves and distant reggae.
On achieving a state of zen
I went to Jamaica with one goal, to achieve a state of zen, and Great Huts provided the atmosphere for me to do it
Last but not least, on Laura
Laura was the best travel buddy. She was as cool as a cucumber the whole time. I had the flu for the first three days, and she didn't push me to go out. Then she wasn't feeling well and I was and she didn't push me to stay in. We did things both individually and together and were remarkably on the same page the whole time, even to the point of splitting every meal we ate. (Great Huts' food portions were huge!) So, thanks for being such a good co-traveler, Laura. We'll always have Great Huts!