Sunday, April 28, 2013

Traditional Jamaican Life

So this post is pretty much a response to last night, which turned out to be one of the most bizarrely authentic Jamaican experiences I've had while I'm here (in terms of the night as a whole I think)

The night started out with a trip to a local community theatre by all of the volunteers and some of the staff from Great Huts and the shelter to see the shelter manager's daughter Jolene perform in a pantomime entitled 'Love Tun Up.' It's at this point that I should note that due to a number of factors, primarily being that I'm so very disorganised and was running extremely late last night, I forgot to bring my camera, so there are no photos from the night.

The pantomime itself was a very interesting experience. It began somewhat shakily with a power blackout that lasted about half an hour, although that wasn't really the theatre company's fault. I was actually kind of worried that the kids wouldn't get to perform their play, but thankfully everything resolved itself. The performance was kind of like a medley of different performances ranging from dancing, to an acapella sextet (I think that's the right word?). The pantomime was also really good, although I won't lie, at times I really had to strain to understand the patois haha

After the play we moved up the road to a local bar in Fairy Hill where Gayleon, one of the handymen from Great Huts, was DJing alongside with his soundsystem 'Carib Sound.' We rocked up and kicked things off with an awesome chicken curry, cooked by a bloke who had set up shop on the side of the dancefloor, before getting stuck into some dragon stouts and enjoying the music. It was really crazy seeing the change in Gayleon as he DJed, normally he's a relatively quiet guy, but once he got (p)on the decks it was intense, he was jumping on the mic shouting out everyone and stuff, really cool to see. I also got shout outs for calling for rewinds on both 'Human Nature' and 'Sidung.'

So far, pretty tame right? Everything changed with the arrival of an artist (whose name escapes me) who was originally from Boston Bay, but who found fame and was coming back to play a set at the bar that his mum owns. He also brought his producer, a guy called Russian, with him. Anyway, they brought 'Team Russian' with them, which was an elite cadre of female dancers that proceeded to do things that I have never seen before outside of videos on youtube.

The following clips may give some idea of what we experienced:

Things got pretty intense towards the end of Gayleon's set and there may or may not be some videos of me trying my hand at daggering now lurking somewhere on the internet. Unfortunately the police rocked up at 2am and demanded that everything be shut down, at which point a lady who owned a club down the road said that she'd open it up so we could keep the party going.

Things then proceeded to get even more intense.

I will say this about daggering, it's absolutely fucking exhausting. Some select quotes/mental thought processes from the evening include the following:

"I'm sorry I didn't catch hold of your leg that one time, I didn't want to drop my beer"
"Who even uses these muscles in normal life?!"
"I knew getting a table involved was a bad idea, I think I've pulled my hamstring"

Nevertheless at 5am, a shell of my former self, I had to call it quits. I'm now waiting to head to the gorgeous Winifred beach to chill out and recover for a bit before work this afternoon. I'm heading SCUBA diving on Wednesday with any luck, so I should have a new post later this week relating how that went, until then:

Tuesday, April 23, 2013


Apologies about the lack of posting recently, I usually try to write something on my days off, but I spent them in Kingston this weekend, sans laptop, and thus had to hold off until today. Coincidentally however, that's what today's entry is going be about.

I left for Kingston on Saturday morning with one of the other volunteers, Stephie, and following a 30/45 minute wait for the bus to leave (the buses here don't really follow a timetable per se, rather they just wait until they're full and then leave) we headed off for a very picturesque, albeit slightly squished, trip through the Blue Mountains to Kingston. This two hour trip, literally from one side of the island to the other, cost $3.50 Australian. I call bullshit on the price of Perth taxi fares.

Devon House
Once we arrived in Kingston we managed to find our hostel (Reggae Hostel) pretty easily, and after dropping our bags off we decided to start exploring. The first stop was Devon House, a stately home built in 1881 by Jamaica's first black millionaire, and home to Devon House Bakery and Ice Cream (our main reasons for visiting). Our first stop was the Bakery in order to sample some of the gourmet Patties on offer. Patties are basically the Jamaican version of a meat pie, except the pastry is a bit flakier and closer in appearance to a Pasty. I was really keen to get involved with the lobster patty, but unfortunately it's out of lobster season here so you can't get them anywhere. Nevertheless, the meat patty I had in place of it was excellent, with deliciously flaky pastry and just the right amount of spice. Next followed the ice cream. I went with mango and guava and was very impressed, although Stephie had some issues with the rapid melting of her ice cream, as it quickly became apparent that Germans don't have much experience with eating ice creams quickly in the heat. 

Bob Marley Museum

We then walked to the Bob Marley museum, although we decided that our dedication to Bob Marley did not extend to the $20 US entry fee, so we just wandered around the courtyard and took some photos, while marvelling at the sheer size of the American tourists wandering (waddling) around the museum grounds. We spent the rest of the day wandering around New Kingston, before attempting to find the National Stadium. It took us quite some time to do this (and no small amount of walking), and as a result we missed the cheerleading competition that had been taking place there.

Later that afternoon we got back to the hostel and had a few beers with some of the other guests, including a couple of Colombian girls who took great delight in teaching everyone how to salsa dance. I also spent a good deal of time being amused by the antics of Fiyah, the hostel's resident kitten, who would lie in wait in the grass before stalking, and attempting to pounce on, everyone who made their way to the bar.

We went for dinner at the Usein Bolt 'Tracks and Records' restaurant, which I was initially sceptical about, thinking that it was going to be one of those lame 'branded chain restaurants that serves shitty tourist food. In actual fact, the food that we had there was amazing and some of the best and most authentic food I've had in Jamaica so far. I also conducted experiments to determine whether the 'Reggae' sauce they had could compare with the alliterative juggernaut that is 'Reggae Reggae' sauce. Unfortunately, while good, the sauce just lacked that something that the extra 'Reggae' obviously brings to the table. Being the committed scientist I am, I also conducted other experiments to determine the differences between draught Red Stripe and bottled Red Stripe.

After a brief stop off at a rooftop bar in Halfway Tree, we headed back to the hostel and hung out with the guests there for a bit. Astoundingly, one of the guests had whipped out his portable 7-inch record player and we chilled out drinking a few beers and listening to rare 7-inch reggae and dub tracks that he'd bought in Orange Street that day. A couple of kiwi guys tried to convince me to hit a club with them, but unfortunately the day's ridiculous amount of walking had taken its toll so I had to crash.  

Downtown Markets

The next day (after deciding that we would stay one more night) we headed to go check out Downtown Kingston with a Dutch couple from the restaurant. Unfortunately, it being a Sunday, the area was a bit dead, but we nevertheless managed to check out some markets and wander down to the waterfront. At this point the Dutch couple went off to chill on the beach, while Stephie and I headed back into the centre of town to go and check out the Botanical Gardens. The gardens were pretty cool, and it was nice just wandering around and checking out all the different areas there. Then we headed back to Devon House for more ice cream (this time I went for the stout flavoured one).

That night we linked up with some Americans, the Kiwis from the night before, and a bunch of other people from the hostel to have a few beers and then party. The options were a beach party, 'Dub Club' (an event in the mountains), or the weekly Sunday street party that goes on in Raytown. We ended up choosing the party in Raytown as apparently it had an amazing vibe and we were definitely not disappointed. Highlights included the rasta lady who dreadlocks that dragged along the ground, women daggering with cars in order to stop them driving through the centre of the dance and the discovery (once we got back to Port Antonio) that we had actually been very brave to check out that party as apparently it's normally a pretty locals only thing.

Car Daggering
On that note though, I have to say that I never felt unsafe or threatened in Kingston. Everyone had been all 'don't go downtown/to Kingston you'll get stabbed/raped/robbed,' but I had a wonderful time there. I'm definitely looking forward to going back and spending a few more days there towards the end of my trip. 

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Parties and Such

So I thought I'd write up a little post about the parties and that I've been checking out over here, to give a little insight into what it's like. Last thursday was our first big party night owing to a couple of the other volunteers being away last weekend and Stephie being sick still, so I was itching to have a big one. Every Thursday there's a big party in town, called 'Roadblock' which is held out the front of the Roadblock bar. Basically they set up some massive speakers on the side of the road, decks in front of the bar and then everyone raves until midnight, at which point the bar closes and everyone kicks onto 'Cristal,' the club up the road.  

We kicked the night off with Appleton Special and a bottle of Ginger Bigga, Bigga being Jamaica's premier soft drink (apart from the various incarnations of Ting). I was quite surprised to find out that none of the volunteers had ever had rum and ginger beer before, apparently they don't even have ginger beer in Germany according to Stephie. Tunes were supplied by the Heatwave (again, who no one knew about either), and after a few drinks we decided to head down to Roadblock.

The set up down there was pretty epic, with some massive speaker stacks on the side of the road and the DJs set up between them. It was a duo performing, although it seemed like one guy was in charge of mixing while the other guy took care of all of the 'dis one fi all ganjaman' and 'all the gyal dem sidung and wine' duties. The sound was pretty epic and there were some excellent daggering displays, including one woman who must have been approaching 40!! Towards the end of the party a whole bunch of guys got up on the mic and started battling which was also pretty awesome to see, unfortunately I didn't get any footage because, knowing myself, I had been reluctant to take out my camera while getting drunk and risk losing it so just stuck with my iPhone (this will also explain the slightly poorer quality photos in this post). Hopefully though I can get some in the future.
The DJs at Roadblock
After Roadblock wound up, we all traipsed down the road to the club 'Cristal.' It was here that I learned that Jamaican clubs do not only have dancers in them, they have topless pole dancers. Also, (and this one really surprised me) it is totally acceptable to play the Backstreet Boys, sometime a few tunes in a row!! Another excellent feature of Jamaican clubs is the ability to buy bottles of rum over the bar, $3000 Jamaican dollars ($30 Australian) will get you a bottle of Wray and Nephew (which, I have discovered, is where Mosca got the name for that tune), which is a 68% white rum. Suffice to say potential for messiness is extremely high here.

Friday morning was not very pleasant, although as those of you who have me on Facebook may know, it was a whole lot less pleasant for housekeeping. Nevertheless, I had the weekend off so party time on Saturday was on the cards. We had seen a few billboards advertising the 'Sex Appeal' party at a club up the road so we decided to head there, after finishing off Thursday night bottle of Appleton. We met up with a local girl and her boyfriend that Stephie knew, and then headed down to the beach, where everyone was having a pre party before heading to the club.

This turned out to be one of my 'purest' Jamaican experiences so far I think, everyone just chilling out, listening to music on a big soundsystem while a Jerk BBQ place nearby served up food for everybody. All these guys next to me in the line were suggesting what to order and the best proportions of sauce, yam, bread etc. In the end we decided just to stay on the beach since it was free and excellent, and the place up the road had a $500 cover charge, I think we ended up going home at 4am, and as I fell asleep there was still music drifting over from the beach....

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Crab Battle

Gecarcinus ruricola
Allow me to set the scene. A few nights ago it really poured down throughout the evening, so much so that it actually woke me up a few times. 'Nothing out of the ordinary there' thought I, 'it's approaching the wet season here and we've been getting a bit of rain most days anyway.' How was I to know that the rain was to prove the harbinger of something far more sinister....

When I finally woke up to get ready for work and such, I swung my legs over the edge of the bed to be greeted by a startled crab, which appeared to have been assessing my shoes for (I assume) suitability for use in whatever diabolical plan it had in store for me. Upon realising the jig was up, the crab very quickly scuttled away onto one of the rocky pillars in my room. It stood there, glaring at me from its craggy lair while I composed myself and frantically searched for my camera in order to document the occasion. Unfortunately, while I managed to locate the camera, the crab took advantage of my momentary distraction to flee to an undisclosed location, where it bides its time, plotting its revenge.

I informed some of my co-workers at breakfast that day, whereupon I was informed that it's approaching 'crab season' in Jamaica and soon we'll be overrun with Gecarcinus ruricola. Apparently the hut that I'm staying in is the favourite location of these crabs as well, owing to a large rock that occupies the back of the hut, replete with numerous nooks and crannies for them to hide in. 

The Crabs' Lair
The crab madness didn't stop there though. That evening, following my shower I went to put my towel back on my makeshift towel rack, to find out that number of hermit crabs had decided to claim it as their own. I've since discovered a number of hermit crabs call the rock at the back of my room home, where they clatter about incessantly. I haven't heard from Rustly Jim in a while now and I'm beginning to fear the worst. 

One of the Hermit Crabs (apologies about the lack of focus)
Apart from the crustacean troubles, life has been continuing pretty well here. I'm getting to know a few of the people who live in the area around the resort and there's seems to be some kind of musical gathering every night of the week at the various bars in Boston. Last night we went out to have a few beers at what I can only describe as what I imagined every Jamaican dance party would be like. The DJ was set up with this massive homemade soundsystem, playing heaps of dub, reggae and dancehall and chatting in between every track, loads of 'Big up all ganajman' and 'This one fi de gyal dem' calls as well as frequent air horn samples. There were a couple of guys cooking up some jerk pork and chicken and everyone was just chilling and vibing out. 

The rest of the week looks to be shaping up pretty nicely, we've got the roadblock party on Friday night, then I'm going SCUBA diving on Saturday. I've also decided to bite the bullet and take some surfing lessons, so I'm going to try and fit that in somewhere too. Until then I'll leave you with a track that a mate from Winchester had featured on XLR8R a week or so ago, it's a really nice chilled out number, perfect for a lazy afternoon. 



Sunday, April 7, 2013

The Shelter

The Shelter

So I thought I'd write a wee bit about the shelter and the work I'm doing there. Basically the whole thing is set up as a place for the homeless of Port Antonio to get back on their feet. When someone decides they want to make use of the shelter, they have to sign up to this thing where they set themselves goals in order to find jobs, get somewhere to stay permanently etc...

As far as staff goes, the shelter has 4 permanent staff who do three shifts between them over the day, so that there's always someone at the shelter 24 hours a day. The volunteers come and work either from 8:30am-2:30pm or 2:30pm-8:30pm. While we're there, our duties are pretty varied, basically just whatever needs to be done around the place. This could range from preparing meals, administering medicine or general tidying to leading everyone in morning meeting that includes stretching, discussions of how people are feeling and what their plans and goals for the week will be.

The clients at the shelter all vary although the majority of them have some kind of mental health and drug abuse issues, so things can be pretty challenging at times. To give an example there is one lady who is both deaf and mute, however owing to her poor upbringing she never learned to read and write and thus can't really be taught sign language, since it relies on the learner already understanding the letters that are being signed. Communicating with her can be pretty challenging as you can imagine.

The road from Boston Bay down to Great Huts

Nevertheless everything I've experienced has been really positive so far. Most, if not all of the clients have been very receptive and friendly and the staff are a really good bunch too. Other than that I've been doing a lot of chilling at the beach and just generally trying to find my feet in the area. The beach is pretty awesome, just a little bay with the resort on one side. All the locals hang about, fisherman try to sell their fresh catches or at least try to entice you to a nearby restaurant with it, rastaman wander about and it's generally chilled out vibes.

Unfortunately there hasn't been a lot of opportunity to party yet. One of the volunteers, Sophie, has been sick and the other two volunteers had to go down to Kingston for a few days on Thursday, so I've had to take it pretty easy thus far. Nevertheless, one of the staff at the shelter, Salai, says that he'll take me out this week and there's apparently going to be a party tomorrow (Monday) night at the bar out the front of the resort too. Tonight is also dub night at a sports bar up in Boston so we might go check that too. I'll be sure to update later in the week to fill you all in on how it goes. Until then, here's a track by Busy Signal that provides some very convincing reasons as to why you should come to Jamaica.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

So I've bitten the bullet and decided to start a blog of sorts to document the things that I'm going to be getting up to while I'm travelling this year. Areas covered will include my time in Jamaica, forthcoming archaeological adventures in Reading later this year, as well as music, photographs and anything else that takes my fancy. I'm also going to attempt to jazz up the blog a bit once I figure out exactly how to do that.

So to begin, I arrived in Jamaica on the 31st of March, and following a 2-hour drive I arrived at Great Huts (the eco-resort I'm going to be staying at). The drive itself was pretty uneventful, unfortunately I arrived pretty late in the evening so I couldn't really see anything out of the windows, which was disappointing as apparently the drive over the mountains between Port Antonio and Kingston is quite picturesque. Once I arrived an checked myself in I pretty well crashed straight away, owing to the lateness and my tiring day of travel.

The next morning I had a chance to explore the resort a bit more thoroughly. I'm currently staying in a small hut (the 'Kaya Tent', which sleeps two, but at the moment I'm the only occupant. It's a wee bit dark inside, owing to the lack of windows (I suppose the closest structure I could liken it to would be a yurt), but there's some electric light in there so it's not too bad. The hut also appears to have a resident mouse that I've spotted a few times, I've named him 'Rustly Jim,' in honour of his nighttime dalliances. The whole resort is pretty awesome, it's designed to be like an African village, and everything is built out of bamboo, branches and other natural materials wherever possible. There's also a private beach as well as an assortment of parrots.

As well as myself, there are three other volunteers staying at the resort. Two of them are med students who arrived the day after I did, while the other volunteer is a German girl who has to take on volunteer work as part of her degree. She's been here for about a month now and has proven extremely helpful while I've been trying to find my feet. We all have communal meals at the resort, which are included as part of our volunteer package. It's pretty standard fare for breakfast, with assorted Jamaican cuisine in the evenings; jerk chicken, rice and peas etc.

Speaking of which, dinner is about to be served, so I'm going to wrap this post up, expect more in the next few days, I'll try and explain the work I'm doing and apparently we're going to attend a 'roadblock' party on Thursday night which I'm sure will warrant a write up :D