Problems in Paradise?
No problems in Jamaica, mon. Only situations and situations can be dealt with.
Those sweet words rung true in my ears as we held our two passports in hand even though I had a badly sunburned back and our wallets were $80 lighter… but we’ll get to that.
Jamaica’s lush beaches and all-inclusive resorts attract more than a million people every year. Kat and I became members of that exclusive group for our honeymoon when we flew from Miami to Montego Bay last Sunday.
“What kind of tourist are you?” our driver Carlos asked.
“I was hoping to see Oracabessa” I said.
“Ah, I know what kind of tourist you are.”
Kat slept most of our two-hour ride to the resort where we were staying, and Carlos managed to talk the whole time. He was nice, but I was tired, and I had been hoping for rest myself.
When we arrived in Ocho Rios, Carlos made sure to secure us for a tour later that week. I promised I’d call him, and he seemed happy about that. He was less happy about my $5 tip which surprised me. I had not learned yet how money worked in Jamaica. I would soon find out.
Kat and I were taken through the pleasantries of resort arrival including the offering of hot towels, special drinks, and tour information. We settled in our room around dinner time, and we decided to take a beach stroll until the patio restaurant began serving. The sun glinted off the water, and the ocean breeze offered a delicate touch as if to say welcome to paradise. For dinner, I enjoyed a red snapper fillet glazed in a lemon sauce with a side of parmesan baked polenta while my wife had some cannelloni paired with a creamy white sauce and sautéed vegetables. For dessert, we delighted in a coffee cake bread pudding with grapenut ice cream. We’d eaten ourselves into a miserable state, and we were immediately ready for bed. The next morning, we were lucky enough to wake up to the same resort. The soft lapping of the ocean waves against the shore was audible in our room, and though the shades were drawn, you could feel the sun was shining.
What a life. Everything here was at our fingertips. Entertainment, food, drinks, all available instantly. We walked past one of the resort hands, a young Jamaican man probably no older than me.
“You guys having a good time?”
“Yes, thank you. We are loving it.”
“Irie, mon. No problems in Jamaica, mon. Only situations and situations can be dealt with.”
That was the first time we heard that phrase. I did not have a hard time believing Jamaica was free of problems. All the smiles that seemed to never fade not only from the couples at the resort but the workers also.
By the time our driver Carlos arrived to pick us up at the resort, my wife and I were already a little agitated. We’d spoken to him on the phone the night before, and he’d given us a price he called a “deal” and we felt otherwise. Whatever, we said to each other. It’s our honeymoon, and there are no problems in Jamaica. So, when Carlos arrived we haggled for a bit about the price, and he guaranteed us this was the lowest we would find, and so we set off on another adventure.
We were taken to a local village called Oracabessa. The town is one main road with small stop shops and restaurants on either side. Carlos pulled over by a local spot called Chris’s Cook Shop and let us out. We were immediately greeted by several young, Jamaican men, and then the owner himself, Chris. I’d recognized him from a show I watched on TV, and we laughed because he knew exactly where I’d seen him. Before Kat and I really understood what was happening, Chris and some of the other men were whisking us away to a rickety wooden porch on top of the restaurant-shack overlooking the bay in the middle of the rainforest. The whole process was incredibly seamless. A table being set, food being brought, and us growing ever more eager with excitement. The food was delicious, a famous local dish of ackee & saltfish, jerk chicken, callaloo, boiled yams and bananas, and coconut water among other authentic Jamaican fare. When Chris came to give us the bill, we felt it was a little steep. The unfortunate truth was we were American tourists, no matter how much we desired to see the local scene. That fact warranted us certain looks and expectations. I handed him the money, and he smiled. “Respect,” he said.
We ventured to a local attraction called the Blue Hole. The road to get there was narrow and unpaved but as Carlos promised it was “well worth it.” We came into a clearing, and there was a tiny little kiosk surrounded by many people in blue swimsuits reading lifeguard. We were surprised to find that we were the only two people there at the time. Though we’d heard that there was a cheaper spot for the Blue Hole tour, Carlos assured us that this spot was actually licensed and regulated, so it would cost us five dollars more. No problems in Jamaica. We shrugged, and decided the case wasn’t worth arguing. Our tour guide, Mike, greeted us and began to lead us down the mountain to our entry point. Kat was worried about her phone, and Mike assured us he would protect it. When we arrived, we slowly made our way into the lagoon, and I was immediately hit with the most intense chill of cold I’d ever felt. The icy waters almost sent Kat into a rigor mortis state, and as I swam to the other side, I tried to encourage her even though my very bones were shivering. She made her way across, and we eventually forgot how cold the water was. Mike swam and climbed and swung and performed all sorts of acrobatics all the while gracefully keeping the phone above the surface of the water. His ability to keep the phone out of harm’s way amazed Kat and I. The Blue Hole seemed to be largely untouched by tourism, and as we climbed into underwater caves, jumped off large precipices of rock into the clear lagoons below, and made our way by rope down rushing waterfalls, we felt we’d been granted an authentic Jamaican experience.
We were feeling irie. The phrase is something the Jamaicans say often, meaning feeling cool or feeling good. We were slowly falling in love with this place, and the attitude of its people, even if we felt that we were being conned at times. After our waterfall-laden adventure, Carlos took us back to the hotel. We handed him the money we’d agreed upon, and he retrieved it with his gold jewelry donned hand while holding a perfectly innocent smile.
The rest of the trip, we discovered how many people were trying to sell something and just how much money they thought we had to spare. We did well enough, avoiding spending too much on a trip where we had much for free to enjoy. On our last day though, we ran into something of a problem. When we arrived at the Montego Bay airport, we walked to the kiosk to check our bags and retrieve our boarding passes. Kat turned to me to get our passports, and then her eyes grew very wide with sudden shock and the sure sign of fear. “I left them in the cab.” She was already moving past me as those words left her mouth, but when she got outside, the driver was already gone. A Jamaican man had been standing near, and seeing the anxiety on my wife’s face, he came over to address the situation. No problems in Jamaica. I suppose she told him the situation because he began asking us a series of questions before telling her to stay put, and that he would take me to find the man. We walked the short trip to the other side of the airport, and he began to speak in the local dialect to someone associated with our resort. The man left for a time to see if he could find out who had driven us to the airport and where he was. While he was gone, the Jamaican man told me that he had to give up his job to help us. Though I was more focused on getting our passports back, I knew what he was trying to say. He’d be expecting payment for his kindness and generosity. No problems in Jamaica. I didn’t really respond. The man from the resort returned, and he said our driver actually hadn’t gotten too far down the road, and that he was turning around. I’d have to pay him too, I thought. Already the price was piling up, but no problems in Jamaica. This too was only a situation, and so we walked back over to tell Kat that everything was fine, and the driver would be returning shortly. The Jamaican man who had helped me was on my hip pretty much the whole time. I knew what he was waiting for. I whispered to Kat to hand me a certain amount of the cash we had. When the driver arrived, I grabbed the passports, and I handed him a sum of money for his troubles. He spoke nothing back to me but simply nodded. When I walked inside I slipped some money into our friend’s hand, and we quickly took off on our way. A few moments later I saw him approaching us. He held a look of contempt.
“Look, my friend, I gave up that job to help you. Don’t you think you have a bit more for me?”
“What are you expecting?” my wife said. She was flustered from all that had just happened, and we were ready to move on.
“Just give me something to make me feel nice.”
“We have no more cash” I said.
He pointed to an ATM down the way, and it was clear he wasn’t going away. We did not expect him to do anything brash, but being in another country hounded by a man for money when your passports were almost gone leaves you in a state of wanting to go the easiest route. There was no time to sit here and argue with this man, and so we agreed to give him some more of our cash, that he might be satisfied and not bother us anymore. We finally made our way through security and arrived at our gate in plenty of time.
As we sat waiting for the plane, a young Dutch boy was giggling as he tried to flip his water bottle and land it on various objects. He kept begging his mother’s attention with each flip. A young couple down from us were busy playing some game together. An announcement came over the intercom: Flight 876 to Amsterdam now boarding…”
“Ugh, we should have just left with what we gave him the first time,” Kat said.
“You’re right, but it’s okay. Don’t stress about it.”
I pulled her in close, and we kissed. She looked up at me and smiled. We were headed home after a beautiful week in paradise.
“No problems in Jamaica,” I said.
She smiled. “Yeah, mon. Only situations.”
We leaned back in our chairs. I looked around the room, seeing all the families happy and free. We still hadn’t left paradise, and if we really tried, in some way we might never have to. I pulled Kat closer, and the young man’s words danced through my mind again as peaceful and true as when we’d first heard them…
And situations can be dealt with.
The young boy giggled again performing one last bottle flip as his parents urged him to the boarding line, and the young couple down the aisle moved closer together. The rays of the sun waltzed with purity and grace through the wide panes of the airport windows reflecting off our plane as it landed to take us home or to paradise, I do not know.