Bath, Part 2

Continued from previous . . .

Post massage, we began hiking barefoot up the river; walking on stones, wading or swimming through pools, climbing over small falls and ducking under fallen bamboo.

Mosquitoes were in constant attendance but it was so exhilarating to make our way through progressively thicker rainforest.  It was totally isolated and there was no sign of civilization.  At one point we just stopped and looked at all the beauty surrounding us.

“I think this is what it must have been what it looked like to Adam and Eve in the Garden,” said O.  And not even the discovery of two half burned candles stuck in a rock further down the river could remove the impression of Paradise from my mind.

At a fork in the river we turned left.  The ascent became steeper until we arrived at a beautiful fall, where water flowed over a nearly vertical rock some 40 feet tall.  Standing in a knee high pool with our backs to the rock, water flowing over our shoulders, bright red crabs (or were those spiders?) scuttling out of sight; Jamaica once again flaunted the wonders of Creation.

We hiked the right hand fork in the river, too, and found an even more impressive falls through a narrow opening in the rock.  Taller, with water plummeting straight down from the edge of the cliff.  The basin it emptied into looked still and mysterious and deeply green and appeared bottomless.

Something that majestic deserved a name.  Because of the steeply rising walls of rock that almost completely encircled the fall, we settled on the name Wall Falls.  Or Waffles (get it!?).

Our last stop before taxiing back to Morant Bay was at Bath Botanical Gardens, established in 1779 and the second oldest garden in the Western Hemisphere.  Kind of mind blowing the things you find just across the road from di mon selling chicken foot soup.

bath-botanical-gardens-7-half

And to top it all off . . .

It was evening by the time we made it back to Kingston.  We were walking through Downtown to the buses when a man stopped O and began earnestly inquiring about something.  O shook his head and grinned.  The man persisted and O told him “No” and shook his head again.  When we continued on our way, he was laughing.

“What?  What’d he say?” I asked.

“He wanted to know,” laughter, “he wanted to know if you were -

“What!?  But I don’t look anything like her!” and I started laughing, too.

“It’s not that,” still laughing.  “It’s just so preposterous that she would be here in Downtown at all.”

But let’s be honest, I really don’t look anything like this lady:

mariah-carey-2

IYG (If You Go): Catch a St. Thomas coaster from the Downtown park.  Drop in Morant Bay.  Cost: $250 Jamaican.  Negotiate for a taxi to Bath.  If you don’t mind a walk up the road to the springs, ask to be dropped at the Botanical Gardens.  Cost: $190 Jamaica (it will cost you an addition $150 to be driven all the way to the springs).

Local spot, bathing in the mineral water and river: Free, no charge.  Local massage: “Whatever your heart tells you.”  I recommend letting them know how much money you have for massage (i.e. how much you’re willing to pay) and they’ll treat you accordingly.  $200 Jamaican would be about 5 minutes, $1000 Jamaican would probably be the whole package.

Bath, Part 1

Is it wrong to let a group of riverside masseuses believe that a guy who is a Jesuit novitiate (eventually to be a priest) is your husband?

Because I feel that this is not quite proper behavior for well-bred young misses on excursions to Bath.  Jane Austen could hardly approve of such a course.

I should explain.

Bath (the one in the St. Thomas Parish of Jamaica, not the one in Merry Old England) is the site of a healing mineral hot springs.  It was discovered by a runaway slave with a skin ailment.  Eventually, he returned to his master and was spared punishment in exchange for revealing the location of the waters that had healed him.

A hotel/spa was later built on the site but locals have set up their own no-frills (and much cheaper) operation at the riverside.

Emphasis on no-frills.

The changing rooms alone would give every self-respecting Austen heroine an attack of the vapors.

Two rooms that consisted of two bamboo walls, a plywood divider, and two door-less entries that opened onto the path.  Some of the bamboo had broken off a foot from the top, some a foot or so from the bottom.  And there were pleeeenty cracks in between.

But when in Bath, one must do as the Bathers (?) do.  So I attached my Ghana cloth to a nail on one side and jagged piece of wood on the other.  This did a pretty good job of covering the entry.  For the rest, I trusted to the chivalry of my fellow bathers and my own genius for keeping as many pieces of clothing on as possible while simultaneously changing into a bathing suit.  One learns these things, and like riding a bike, never forgets them.

Now, before arriving at the springs, my friend O (the future priest) and I had already determined that we would NOT be getting one of the “bush massages” offered by the locals.  Mr. Oregon, a Peace Corps volunteer we met in a taxi, had warned us that what they lacked in technique and training, the local amateurs more than made up for in enthusiasm and vigor.  O’s previous experiences at the springs confirmed that these massages really felt like more of a beating and we agreed that we could do without.

The mineral waters were fabulous.  They flowed through small cracks and plastic pipes inserted in the rocky gorge we had entered and fed into a cold, freshwater river.

When the mineral water becomes too hot to stand, you take a dip in the river until you begin to feel chilly.  Then it’s back to stand underneath the bamboo pole that conveniently scatters the steaming water into droplets.  Keep in mind, we were NOT getting massages.

Bath Mineral Springs

(This is a picture I found online.  It was nowhere near this crowded when we were there, thanks to the threatening rain.  Jamaicans do not believe in “singing in the rain” or engaging in any other outdoor activities if there is a chance of a soaking from the heavens.)

Then we made our big mistake.  We struck up conversation with one of the masseuses and smelled his oil (cinnamon and lemongrass were among) and watched Jamaicans being rubbed with oils, covered with hot towels, and smeared in mineral rich mud.

“I could just go talk to him about getting some of the oil but tell him we don’t want to be beaten,” suggested O.

“Sure!  Yes!  That’d be great!  I mean, if it didn’t cost too much or anything,” I responded eagerly.

And just like that, we were baited, hooked, caught, and reeled in.

After O had parlayed with one of the masseuses and a subtly conveyed and appropriately vague agreement had been reached (this is a sacred spot to some so you can’t actually talk about *shhh!* money here), we headed back to the water to wait our turn.

A short time later we were waved over.

“You and your husband can sit here,” he said, pouring hot water over a stone ledge.

By mutual consent, we agreed to let that one lie.  I’ve already learned that you’re less likely to be hassled if the Jamaican men assume you’re attached to whoever you’re traveling with.

But I had to bite my tongue to keep from laughing when it was my turn to settle on a hot towel laid over a stone bed.  All at once, the hilariousness of getting a massage in the middle of a rainforest in the company of a “husband” who is actually in the process of becoming a priest hit me.  It didn’t help matters that the masseuse had adopted a soulful expression as he began applying oil and hot stones.  I’m sure it was a big hit with the middle-aged ladies who made up 85% of the clientele but I just found it funny.  Plus, it tickled when he did my toes.

Before long though, the hot mineral water, the oil, the stones, and the steaming cloths (not to mention the cooling rain that had begun pattering on the leaves overhead) were working their magic.  I was definitely feeling One Love vibes for the whole island.  Gosh, make that the entire Caribbean!

“Where are you from?”

“United States.”

“Have you had massage before?”

“Only one.  But it was only back and shoulders.  It was nice.”

“How much did it cost?’ he asked casually as he rolled another hot stone over the back of my leg.

Ha!  Not falling for that one!  I may be relaxed but my mind is still wide awake.  As great as this was turning out to be, I couldn’t pay US prices.

“It was free because it was a demo.”  Which, fortunately, was true.

“Oh.  So he is your husband?”

Time for the massage to appear to be doing its work.  I responded with an ambiguous “Mmmmmmm.” and left it at that.

I’d already been asked for my first and last name so one of the other masseuses (Kevin) could find me on Facebook.  I could imagine what I would be dealing with if they learned I was just here with a friend.  To be specific, a friend who was going to be a priest.

Still, I can’t say I’m proud of allowing people to assume things just to avoid unwanted male attention when I travel.  Jane Austen aside, I hate to be dishonest.  This is one of those things that’s on my list of “Moral quandaries that I haven’t quite settled to both the satisfaction of my Conscience and the practicalities of my day-to-day life.

 

To be continued . . .

You know you’re in Jamaica when . . .

You can cut your pineapple in the guesthouse lobby.

Palm tree shaped car air fresheners.

It’s second nature to smash and brush off the ants that crawl all over you.

Your hat is bloodstained from killing mosquitoes.

Businesses post “No Ganja Idlers” signs.

You’re pleasantly surprised when you don’t have to reach through the car window to let yourself out of the taxi.

Bald men wear what’s left of their hair in dreads.

You’re tempted by the maddeningly laid back attitude of your taxi driver to start yelling “Halfway Tree!  Halfway Tree!” or “Gordon Town!  Gordon Town!” to attract additional passengers.  (God forbid we go anywhere with less than 5 adults in the car.)

A Rubis gas station is your go to meet-up-with-friends/unknown driver landmark.

rubis

You get regular cravings for patties.

You’ve ceased to mind the flies.

When guys sidle up to you and start being friendly, you prepare yourself to turn down a marvelous opportunity to buy – no, not a Louis Vuitton handbag.  No, not a Cartier watch either – homemade roots reggae mixes on CD.

Public parks post signs that say “No hair braiding.”

Your taxi driver has two rear view mirrors.

You only buckle up when both of these conditions are present: 1) You are sitting in the front seat.  2) There is a policeman in sight.

Your friendly neighborhood school crossing guard has dreads.

Blue Lagoon

“Brooke!  Brooke Shields!  Do you know you are looking like Brooke Shields?  She starred in movie Blue Lagoon.  All you white people can swim!”

I’m pretty sure the ONLY resemblance between Brooke and myself (we’re tight like that – first name basis and so on) is, um, well, hmm.  Let me think here . . .

We’re both white?

Both female?

Both went swimming in the Blue Lagoon?

Sorry, but not coming up with anything substantial here!

However, the Rasta mon who addressed me from the “romantic” bamboo raft he was piloting around the Lagoon was so friendly and the romantic couple he was piloting were so good-natured that it was easy to overlook his twisting of the truth. 

Besides, if he wants to compare me to Brooke (*sigh* Life is so difficult at times), who am I to complain?

And honestly, who could be bothered by much of anything when they are leisurely paddling around in the middle of this:

Blue Lagoon

Those colors are not an exaggeration, I assure you.

If you were to dig a hole deep enough to hold a 21 story building with a toddler standing on top, you’d have the Blue Lagoon.  Locals told us that it’s 213 feet deep and that no one has ever been able to dive all the way to the bottom (the Rasta mon offered me a medal and a spot in the next edition of Guinness if I could manage it).  People used to believe the place was actually bottomless.

The water is incredible.  In the space of a single stroke, you go from ice cube cold to chai tea warm, the result of freshwater flowing from the Blue Mountain mixing with the warm salt waters of the Caribbean Sea. 

And it’s so clean and clear that any pool owner who visits surely feels chagrined at the amount of time he/she puts into attaining and then maintaining what happens naturally here in Jamaica.

Best of all “No shark, no snake, no alligator!” the pilot of GoandBadFishKilla told us after we had climbed a tree with the aid of a knotted rope and made the leap into what is purportedly the deepest spot of the Lagoon.

 

IYG (If You Go): From Port Antonio, catch a St. Thomas bus or taxi, but tell the driver you want to drop at the Blue Lagoon.  Cost: $125 Jamaican.  There is no charge for swimming in the Lagoon itself. 

The place is not at all developed, so there are no changing rooms or lockers to hold your belongings.  Deal with the first by a) putting your swimsuit on under your clothes before you come (cheap option) or b) hiring a pilot to take you by boat to some of the surrounding islands and using his lean-to to change (not so cheap option). 

Deal with the second by a) coming with a friend and taking turns watching the stuff and swimming (cheap option) or b) buying souvenirs from one of the many stands that line the path to the water and asking the owner to watch your bag “so no one steals the amazing beaded necklace/bamboo carving/creepy mask I just bought from you” (not quite as cheap option).

Ramone, the Bumblebee

Aerodynamically, the bumble bee shouldn’t be able to fly, but the bumble bee doesn’t know it so it goes on flying anyway. – Mary Kay Ash

I’ve read that this isn’t accurate (scientifically, anyway), but I still find a lot of truth in the message behind the statement.

Ramone is semi paralyzed on his right side.  His right arm and hand curl up permanently by his shoulder.  He drags his right leg behind him, landing on the inside of his right ankle with each step.

He doesn’t realize that he shouldn’t be able to run, much less while toting a water pump and aiming it at the aunties, so he does it anyway.

 
He doesn’t realize that the hand pedaled carts that have been built for the residents require the use of two hands, so he drives them anyway.  Up and down, back and forth, round and round the Jacob’s Ladder compound.  In reverse.  Forwards.  Around sharp turns.  Over the bumpy dirt road.  Left arm working overtime.  Huge smile as firmly in place as the British bobby hat that always perches on top of his head.
07091705.interactive.bNo one has told him that dancing is out of the question, so he does it anyway, hoisting himself up onto the wooden stage in the CarePlus Centre to join several other residents in choreographed dances to up-tempo praise and worship songs.  Watching him, I realize that he honestly doesn’t know that only half of his body is following the moves.  When he tires out, he somehow makes the foot and a half step down from the stage on his own, completely bypassing the ramp that’s been built for the convenience of all physically challenged residents.
 
Ramone is a bumblebee.

Kingston to Port Antonio, or, 2 Hours and 20 Minutes on a rural transport coaster

Have you ever packed 40 adults (to say nothing of assorted packages, children, and a baby nicknamed Anna Banana) into a 26 passenger coaster?

Coaster

You doubt?

You say it can’t be done?

Au contraire, my good mon.  Au.  Contraire.

First, keep the AC blasting while waiting for the coaster to fill overflow.  This will lull your passengers into a false sense of spaciousness (“I do not sweat, therefore I am not crowded”).  It will also prevent them from bolting (back out into the heat) when the overfilling process drags on and on.

Second, if any of the passengers does complain about sharing a seat they paid good money for with one (or two) other people . . . sincerely, repeatedly, with-your-heart-in-your-eyes, BEG them to get off and wait for the next bus.  They won’t, of course, and you will have very effectually quelled the unruly one.  (And you can be sure that every one else will think twice about revolting.)

In fact, this technique is so effective that later on the refractory passenger will obediently serve as an intermediary between yourself and the rest, handing fares and change back and forth with nary a bleat.

Third, (and this is the most important part) turn the AC off as soon as the vehicle starts.  Your passengers will begin to sweat profusely and realize just how closely acquainted they are becoming with each other, but what care you?

You can ride with the side door wide open, the wind blowing in your face, on the lookout for more.  Always more.

This is your time to shine, to reach new heights of clown car-dom.

Three – better make that four – no five! – adults can be uncomfortably mashed standing in the area between the doorway and the first row of seats.  They will all find the same two outcroppings on which to stake their tenuous hold on an upright state in life.  This will be difficult for some, yes, nigh unto impossible for others, but the coaster must be packed!!!

And if things get really desperate, you and one of the young men can always hang out the open door.

 

IYG (If You Go): Catch the Port Antonio coaster on the Burger King side of the Halfway Tree Bus Terminal.  Cost: $450 Jamaican.  Incredibly scenic ride through the mountains and along the coast.  Final destination is the Port Antonio taxi rank, which is a short walk to Queen Street (several guesthouses), the bay side restaurants, and the heart of town.