Thursday, December 12, 2013

Jamaica trip (continued): Black River, Treasure Beach, and Mandeville

Crocodile in Black River

For this post I decided not to stray too much from my diary entries.

7/13/13: An even more intense day than 7/12. I took photos on the beach and sat down with Astil Gage of Beeston Spring, Westmoreland for breakfast. Barbara Powell, owner of the Paradise Ocean View Hotel (with her husband), accompanied us to Black River to show us inside the Anglican Church and to view other buildings such as the US medical school and even the emergency room of the local hospital! Our next stop was the Black River Safari and the crocodiles. Two of them fought briefly but it was too fast for the camera. At the top of the river there was a woman's store where I bought a Red Stripe beer and a bridge where people dive into the river to swim. We met a group from Brussels and I had a brief opportunity to practice some Dutch. We dropped off Barbara at her hotel and went into town to buy coco bread and a memory card for my camcorder (which didn't work with the camcorder).

Lunch was curried shrimp at Middle Quarters. 

We went to YS (pronounced "wise") Falls and spoke with the director, Simon Browne, and hopped aboard the shuttle (pulled by a tractor), to the falls and pools. We had a limited amount of time there but enough to enjoy the surroundings. In spite of the number of people there, it still gives off an air of relaxation even as you marvel at the falls.

Only one of many views available at YS Falls

We drove to Treasure Beach and then I dropped off Astil at the gas station to pick up a taxi, then I drove back to Treasure Beach and gave rides to four people in total (one first, then three others) before arriving at the Treasure Beach Hotel. Melonie Wallace, the owner, joined me for dinner where I ate shrimp with mashed potatoes, and ice cream. I had Sauvignon Blanc, Ting and lots of water. The server, Grayon, was excellent and even spread my napkin on my lap. There were similar details when she went to pour water or serve food. 

When I checked into my room (47), I was delighted to see a heart-shaped towel on my bed with flowers. There were flowers in other parts of the room, including the bathroom and even the toilet paper roll! The room also has a small lounge area and features a four-poster bed made by a local craftsman who made all the beds for the hotel.

7/14: This day was mostly for relaxing, and the Treasure Beach Hotel provided a wonderful opportunity for that. Melonie Wallace, the owner, encouraged me to experience the place's atmosphere, and so I walked around the grounds and the nearby beach to allow myself to be swept away by its delightful ambience of lush tropical vegetation and stunning sea views. It was a fabulous antidote to a year of intense work on Consent Decree at McNeil. Speaking with Melonie at breakfast was equally delightful. I met an elderly couple at poolside, and the gentleman who called himself "Uncle Son" happened to be Diana's cousin, back in Jamaica after many years in England. I stayed in Room 47, on the second floor of one of several small buildings (4 rooms apiece) that covered the grounds. 

In the afternoon, I checked out and at Jack Sprat Restaurant met up with Dennis Abrahams, who conducts boat tours and is the driving force behind the community tourism endeavor at Treasure Beach. We had a great conversation and covered topics from politics to waste disposal to health care. The dinner of garlic conch with bammy and festival (a fritter) washed down with Ting soda was great. 

Later at about 6:00 it was to Jake's next door for checkin. As I was on my way to the front desk, I ran into Tracy Barry, owner of The Landing Hotel in Harbour Island, Bahamas. I knew her from email and Facebook but had never met her in person, so it was a wonderful coincidence - two of them in the same day!

I thought of an unrelated trip detail while writing this. It had to do with Number 11 mangoes, a common theme of Caribbean folk songs. Astil had some of these in the car with him. I don't remember where we got them.

Like Treasure Beach, Jake's is filled with details that delight the visitor. The cottages, with what I would call a funky version of Gaudiesque architecture, are designed so that you have a private, unobstructed view of the sea and its pounding waves. The decor suggests a romantic getaway. Your bed faces the sea directly and you can even choose to leave the doors open and hang mosquito netting while you sleep. Likewise, there are beds on the roof of the cottage that afford you the same opportunity. Your bathtub and shower are outside (the toilet and sink are inside in a separate room), and concealed from anyone else's view, and in my case, I bathed under the stars. I loved the terry cloth bathrobes that are made available for coming out of the bath area. The fridge is stocked with beverages which come included. I'm sure the owner knew that most guests absolutely hate the mini-bar system and all the ridiculous lengths that hotel chains go through to track your use of it. There was an iPod player which unfortunately worked only part of the time. The rooms have colorful names, and I stayed in "Octopus 3". There was an octopus in mosaic tiles on one of the walls of the outdoor bathing area.

The crescent moon made a nice reflection on the water. After the moon set, I was treated to an enviable view of the stars.

Capturing some stars after fussing with the settings on my camera

7/15: I rose very early, first at 2:30 and again at 4:00, and at 4 was determined to learn how to photograph stars because the sky was full of them. I fumbled in the dark with my camera and the iPhone searching online for the instructions because the camera's instructions were very limited. I had to learn about shutter speed, aperture and focal length and see how I could control these on the Sony CyberShot. I made various attempts over about 45 minutes until I succeeded learning how to set a 30 second shutter speed on the camera. I took two pictures just in time because the first rays of light appeared at about 5:00 and the stars slowly began to disappear. I can't overstate my delight at entering this new realm of my photography skills. I played around with shots of the sunrise until it was bright enough to revert to the automatic settings. Then I went between loading photos onto the laptop and taking new ones. I showered in the outdoor shower, this time under the morning sky, and got my things ready.

I had a cheese omelet for breakfast (I had had eggs at TBH the day before) and was introduced to Sally Herzell, the owner's mother and the designer of the unique cottages at Jake's. It was a great conversation but we had to stop when it was time to make the rounds at Treasure Beach with Dennis Abrahams. We toured several properties, the Women's Benevolent Society, BREDS and the Sports Park. I went back to Jake's for a tour of the rooms and the spa, drove behind Dennis to Rebecca's house (she is an expat from Massachusetts who conducts tours), and went solo to Mandeville. I was slowed down when my left side mirror hit the open door of a taxi parked on the side of the road (the mirror was smashed but the frame was intact), but proceeded to Mandeville and after a few wrong turns found the Mandeville Hotel. I had an afternoon snack with Diana, her sister-in-law who runs the hotel, and another gentleman connected with Countrystyle. We stopped at a craft shop stocked with items made in Jamaica, spoke with a leather belt maker and a drummer who played a drum he had made (he even planted the tree used to make the drum), and went on to rendezvous with people involved with Countrystyle before proceeding to Valerie Dixon's house for the Homestay. Over dinner we had a lively discussion about how to proceed with Countrystyle and the group wanted to know what led me to be interested. I replied that Diana's initiative was unique in that not only did it affirm the folk culture but also put it squarely in the hands of the people, and that this was the only instance I knew of it being implemented across an entire nation. I had some mint tea and dessert and continued my discussion with Valerie and her husband until late after the others had left.

Heliconias in Valerie Dixon's garden, near Mandeville

7/16: I woke early and accompanied Valerie Dixon to her garden, where she showed me what she was growing and what her gardener was harvesting, and noted that last night's pumpkin soup was from a pumpkin pulled fresh from the garden. Likewise, the goat meat at dinner was from one of the goats that pastured in her field. She just didn't like being there when they were slaughtered. 

Breakfast consisted of ackee and saltfish, white and yellow yams, and breadfruit accompanied with chocolate. I showed Valerie a video from a Latin music and dance performance that I had organized in Philadelphia in 2002 and she asked me to make me a copy. 

Diana first took me to the Blue Mountain coffee factory in Mandeville, and I got a tour of the facility. Later we went to Kingston; I took part of the time asking Diana questions about her NGO and then fell asleep for about 30 minutes because I hadn't slept well the night before.

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