22 March 2019 | Jamaica
We are departing this morning from Jamaica for Panama. We've been on the northeast side of the island, so I'm counting on a couple of hours of cell phone signal as we go around the island toward the south. Maybe I can get a blog post done?
The last couple of days have been the usual rush of provisioning, cooking, and getting everything back in its place. This time we added socks around the glasses and cups - they were so noisy on the last passage! We are all set with 2 dinners of "Cape Horn Chicken" from Amanda Swan-Neal's book, Cruiser's salad (cabbage, almonds, hard boiled eggs, a bit of onion, a can of chicken and some salad dressing), Bean-corn-tomato salad with cilantro, lots of lime juice, a bit of oil, garlic, and Carrot-raisin salad, with a bit of added fresh pineapple. The settees in the main cabin are all set up with their lee-cloths to prevent us from falling off, and the watch schedule is set. I'm actually on special dispensation from the watch schedule to get this blog done before we lose our signal!
Jamaica was an amazing, delightful place. We docked the boat in Port Antonio, definitely not a tourist resort, but a great window on Jamaican life. As we have been doing for some time, we are buddy boating with George and Sue Stonecliffe, who are aboard their boat, Julia Max. Sue and I have enjoyed seeing the street market several times - it seems to be open every day and the best looking fruits and vegetables happen at 7 am. The only things we couldn't find here were celery and cilantro. No call for those, I guess. There is a call for garlic, which is plentiful for local cooking, but all comes from China. I recognize those little mesh bags, with tags like "Beauty Garlic".
In part to find those slightly more exotic groceries, we made a trip over the Blue Mountains to Kingston. We hired a driver who took us through the mountains, to a coffee plantation, and then to the Bob Marley Museum in Kingston, before hitting the "Mega Max" grocery store just before we headed back. The roads are good along the coast, but once you head toward the mountains they become very bad AND full of traffic. Some places are too narrow for two cars to pass, much less the frequent big trucks. Lots of potholes. Some sections are unpaved. Bridges that made me close my eyes and hang on for dear life. There are coffee bushes and banana trees interspersed among them, primarily to provide shade. The beans on the coffee bushes seem to be at all stages of ripeness. After an hour or so of this we stopped at Dennis's coffee shop and farm. I think this exists primarily for the tourists, but is still an indication of how everything was done before the factories came along. They have pickers as well as area farmers who bring in bags of beans, year round. The beans are dried and then pounded in a mortar and pestle that look like they belong in a museum. The pestle is about the size of a baseball bat, but quite a bit heavier, made of a local dark hardwood. The mortar is simply a hollowed out log. Once the shells/skin are removed by the mortar and pestle, they are put in a heavy cast iron pan over a campfire, and a guy stirs the beans for about 45 minutes until they're dark brown. Of course they have a classy looking old crank grinder mounted on a heavy wood counter. They gave us some coffee, and it was indeed excellent. We bought a bag of roasted beans which we'll probably crack open on this passage.
I'm not much a fan of Bob Marley's music, but it was indeed interesting to learn about his life and his political importance to Jamaica. The Jamaicans attribute their present democratic government to his "peace and love" campaign which culminated in two opposing political leaders joining hands over his head during a huge concert.
The Mega Max had the celery and cilantro, but the prices for everything were astronomical. We got out of there quickly and returned to Port Antonio via a slightly better road that skirts around the Blue Mountains.
Quite the opposite of the Mega Max prices was what I had to pay for my haircut: $700 Jamaican dollars which is the equivalent of about $6 US. I got a nice haircut (quite short) although done 95% with electric clippers. Sue watched the whole thing, although she didn't screw up her courage to have her hair done the same way. Throughout the process I watched a guy across on the other side of the salon having his long hair put into multiple braids. We have seen such gorgeous, elaborate hairdos, for men and women, throughout the Caribbean, but this is the first time I have seen part of the creative process.
Yesterday, for an interruption in the passage preparation, Craig, Sue and I went out on a diving trip. I've been opting out of diving, and just doing snorkeling, simply because it's so much less trouble and you can see almost as much. In this case, I saw something the divers didn't: Four spotted eagle rays, seemingly out for their afternoon stroll, flapping gently across the sand. At one point they did a beautiful circle, going around 2 or 3 times like synchronized swimmers, then heading off on their stroll again. We were in an area which has been declared a sanctuary, and the fish and coral are beginning to come back. I saw lots of huge elkhorn coral. A solitary barracuda followed me for about 15 minutes (apparently a normal behavior for them). I didn't much likely his slightly open mouth bristling with sharp glinting teeth. But I saw other beautiful fish in many colors. One of them was turquoise blue on the front and grey in back. I described it as the color of that motor catamaran we saw in Guadeloupe - "Rock Star" - which turned up in Port Antonio while we were there. The color was like those early-sixties turquoise appliances. Not complimentary, to my mind, on a boat, and absolutely startling on a fish.
Well, we'll head out to sea and away from the cell signal soon, so I'd better wrap this up - See you all in Panama, maybe about Tuesday?
Best wishes to all
Craig & Barbara