Saturday, December 29, 2007

Jamaica - part 12

On account of all that driving, we decided against an even longer trip to Dunn's River Falls on the north coast, and to pass the following day more locally. Instead we hired a cab to take us to the Royal Palm Reserve just outside Negril. I had read up on this little piece of eco-tourism, which features a uniquely native species of palm. Like the Black River, it proved to be very Everglades-like, with a long wooden boardwalk trail leading through a lush wetland teeming with birds, butterflies and tropical foliage. It was great, but had a sadly overlooked and forgotten quality. Without the driver, we would have never found the place, sign-less and tucked away at the end of a dirt road. Although it was morning, the preserve was already uncomfortably hot, and the thought of the beach was really appealing.

Back at the beach, I decided to take advantage of the kayaks the hotel provided, and explored the whole of Bloody Bay. The water being clear, there was a creepy sensation of being suspended in midair, a sensation that was no doubt compounded for those para-sailing. There weren't reefs but areas with rocks and seaweed; otherwise the bottom was sandy. The nearly circular bay, which was once a haven for pirates and later an assembly point for the British fleet, is today mostly lined with resorts. Beyond the two points at either end are reefs, a little island called Booby Cay, and the somewhat rougher Caribbean Sea. Understandably the kayaks were restricted to the bay, and even there you had to be mindful of the occasional crazy jet skier.

The hotel also provided snorkels and masks, which I used just to see if there was anything to see. Maybe I would find a lost watch or ring? Instead I stumbled upon an actual living creature: a small sting ray, the size of a fried egg and the color of sand, nearly blending in with the sand but miffed that I had blown its cover. Apart from that encounter, there was nothing but sand.

The section of beach to the north of us seemed not to belong to any resort, but rather to "the people", most of whom were Rastafarian craftsmen carving wood and selling their wares. Along the beach was a thick jungle with clearings where some of these guys lurked in the shadows. It was a nice beach to walk down, but impossible not to get accosted by these beach merchants.

I gave these merchants a fair look at their wares. On the whole I get along well with Jamaicans, but some of these guys were pushy, and couldn't take no as an answer. The idea of "just looking" doesn't exist for them; they immediately start wheeling and dealing, and if you say you're not buying anything now, they ask "when?" and "where are you staying?" If you say you're not interested in their souvenirs, they immediately start offering you everything under the sun -- ganga, mushrooms, scuba tours.

There was one item I did like -- a piece of wood carved in the shape of Jamaica, showing the name and location of each parish, with the Jamaican flag painted in the background. As a geographically minded person it spoke to me, but also as an art object it had a lot of soul. I told the vendor, who was refreshingly non-pushy, that I would be back for it tomorrow. I kept my word and bought it the next day. The man remembered me, and after taking my money said, in the most beautiful patois, "the Lord will walk with you every day for the rest of your life" or some such thing.


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