Thursday, August 29, 2002

As promised, here is the full recap of our trip to Jamaica. Pictures to follow.

The Jamaica Trip

We left the apartment at 4:30 AM Monday morning, too early for civilized people to be awake. Liz had gone to bed around 11 PM the night before, but I, as usual, stayed up late playing computer games, so I only had about three hours sleep. But that’s what sleeping on the plane is for.

Airport security and check-in at JFK was easier than I thought it would be. I was astounded at the number of bags some people were bringing onto the flight. It seemed like most of the passengers were moving back to Jamaica by way of our flight. The flight itself was uneventful and almost enjoyable: we sat in the exit row so we got plenty of leg room, and ate decent food. We watched most of The Time Machine but they had to stop the movie with a few minutes left since we were about to land. So now I have to rent it to see how it ends. (Jeremy Irons needs to get a new agent. First he chews the scenery in the wretched Dungeons and Dragons movie a few years ago, and now he’s overacting again as a subterranean ruler in an inferior film adaptation of H.G. Wells’ novel. It’s just sad to see a great actor in bad films like these.)

The Montego Bay airport in Jamaica was not what I’d describe as a modern airport; it strongly reminded me of the old terminal at Shannon, Ireland. It looks like it was built about 50 years ago and they’ve spent the intervening years fixing things and doing spot repairs. But we were through customs and immigration in a few minutes and by noon, we were on the shuttle bus to our resort, Grand Lido Negril. There were two other couples on the bus with us: one married the previous weekend, and one celebrating their 16th anniversary. Nearly everyone we met were newlyweds on their honeymoon; there were only a few couples there just for a vacation.

The bus driver stopped about 15 minutes into the ride at a convenience store and we bought a few bottles of Red Stripe to drink on the way. We made a bathroom stop an hour later (you don’t buy beer, you rent it) and the driver pulled over a few more times to get out and chat with people operating roadside shacks. Around 2 PM we pulled into the resort. Check-in took place in the piano bar (more Red Stripe) and they sent us to the buffet for lunch while our rooms were prepped. Another hour, another beer and some great food later, we were in our suite.

Putting off sleep for later, we finally got out onto the beach at 4 PM. There was a long strip of beach right outside our room that served as the main beach, and a smaller, rockier section of beach on the other side of the main resort building that was the “clothing-optional” beach. We did visit that side on two occasions, but what we opted to do about our clothing is none of your business. Suffice it to say that for the most part, the people you want to see on the nude side of the resort don’t go there (or go there and keep their clothes on); instead, the people who you’d rather leave their clothes on decide to bare all. We went for a swim in the main pool, or, rather, Liz went for a swim. I tried to swim a little, misjudged how deep the pool was, and found myself in deeper water than I liked, forcing me to struggle to the surface. After that embarrassment, I stayed in the shallow end or on a raft anytime I was in the pool. I definitely have forgotten anything I knew about swimming. Several times that afternoon we were approached by locals trying to ascertain if we were interested in buying marijuana. I guess they got the right message, though, and after Monday they didn’t bother us again.

Monday night’s dinner was at the reggae beach party, which featured a calypso steel drum band, dancers, and a fire-breather. The band was amazing to watch: legs and hands constantly in motion, some drummers playing more than one drum at a time, covering reggae tunes and pop songs. After the band finished their set, the staff held a reggae dance contest, in which Liz and I were somehow drafted to participate. Liz made a valiant effort, but against tough competition, didn’t make it out of the first round. The women’s contest went on entirely too long, with multiple rounds, while the men had to stand around and wait. Finally, it was the guys’ turn to collectively “shake it.” I busted a few of the moves in my arsenal, but held off on my signature leg grab, figuring I needed to save something for the second round. Unfortunately, I wasn’t picked to move on, so I’ll forever wonder if I could have won the contest and the prize (a bottle of rum) with my leg grab and other “Solid White Dancer” material.

Tuesday through Friday followed the same pattern for the most part. We would go to the beach in the morning and spend a few hours reading, floating in the ocean waters (clearer and warmer than any beach water I’ve ever seen, but no waves to body surf -- my only complaint), and try not to get sunburned. We would have lunch either at the buffet or from one of the outdoor bars where they served jerk chicken and beef patties. The late afternoon would find us in the pool or in the room, waiting out the rain. It rained almost every afternoon, sometimes a heavy thunderstorm, other times just a brief, cool shower. Usually we were able to go back out after the rain, at least to the pool, but sometimes it would rain so much that we’d just call an end to the beach part of our day and stay in. We had a private, outdoor Jacuzzi in our suite, so we were able to stay in the water even in a heavy rain.

On Tuesday night we had a tasty seafood dinner at one of the restaurants: I had marlin and Liz had red snapper. The food was great but the portions were entirely too small, even by our standards of fancy Manhattan dining. After dinner we went to the piano bar, where “laser karaoke” kept everyone entertained for a few hours. I was tempted, but I didn’t sing anything. Maybe on Wednesday night, I told myself.

A thunderstorm on Wednesday afternoon nearly ruined our scheduled “couples” massage, which took place outdoors in a gazebo by the water. Luckily, the rain held off, so we had relaxing aromatherapy massages side by side with thunder as accompaniment. That night we had dinner at the resort’s showcase French restaurant, where we enjoyed a meal that rivals anything we’ve eaten here in New York. Liz had a chicken breast with Gruyere cheese risotto, and I had roasted stuffed quail. The signature dessert, a white chocolate piano with chocolate mousse filling, was so amazing to behold that I had to take a picture of it before we defiled it by eating it. After dinner, we went back to the karaoke/piano bar again. There wasn’t much in the song list that I knew and could sing, but they had one song I could manage. So I got up and rocked the house with my imitation of Jim Morrison by performing “LA Woman.” One guy was so impressed that he kept complimenting me on my performance whenever he saw me the rest of the time we were there. I think Liz was embarrassed, but entertained. She did get a few pictures of it, but unfortunately, we don’t have any recordings of the event.

Thursday was another relaxing day, except for both of us getting sunburned. We had dinner at the pasta restaurant (Liz ate goat cheese ravioli, I had jerk sausage in tomato sauce over penne) then went to the piano bar, where we had just missed the resident pianist’s show for the evening. Two women were there, enjoying a few drinks before they had to leave the next day, and the pianist was kind enough to play a few songs for the four of us past his usual quitting time.

We spent almost all day Friday in the pool, cooling our sunburns. It was the only day that we didn’t have any significant rain in the afternoon, so we could have gone on an afternoon cruise, but I guessed wrong on the weather (who knew?) and we just stayed in the water. That night’s dinner was a massive buffet with raw bar, and the entertainment was a four girl group from Kingston. After dinner we were back at the piano bar for a sing-along that lasted a few hours and featured many songs we’d been singing all week at karaoke, like “Mac the Knife” and “Piano Man.” (I think that “Piano Man” is required material if you’re going to work the cocktail pianist circuit anymore; they probably don’t let you in the cocktail pianists’ union if you can’t play it.)

Finally, on Saturday, it was time to go. Though with the way the resort and the airline set up departures, we had about half the day at the resort to buy souvenirs, have a few more drinks, and one last meal at the buffet. The bus ride back was a little shorter this time, and more crowded. Security at the airport was much tighter than at JFK, if you can believe that. There was the initial metal detector check, which was nothing unusual, but then they searched all bags and checked all the men’s shoes at the gate. The flight had lots of small kids, and most of them seemed to be in our section near the back of the plane. Once again the food was good, but we didn’t get a movie this time, so I didn’t get to see the end of The Time Machine. Once again, customs and immigration weren’t a problem, but getting out of the terminal was. It must be a cultural thing. The flights coming into our terminal were from Jamaica (of course), Colombia, and Taiwan, and it seemed that everyone leaving the terminal had twenty family members waiting outside customs for them. There had to be at least three hundred people between customs and the exits, and they weren’t making it easy for anyone to get out. I couldn’t believe that on a Saturday night in New York, these people had nothing better to do than wait for Grandma to get off a plane. After a half-hour wait, we finally got into a taxi and we were back home by midnight. The cats were, as always, happy to see us again.

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