“I can’t really live outside Jamaica. I can be away, but only for a while.”
– by rono
Jamaica doesn’t have the allure of the east Caribbean. The British Virgins, Antigua, St. Kitts, among others come with bragging rights that Jamaica and the west portion of the Caribbean don’t have. Jamaica was a pleasant four day sail from Colombia – carried by the Trade Winds that carried Columbus and others and has been part of history for a long time. So carried by history – Jamaica: here we come.
Jamaica was something of an unknown. We’d done some homework ; like where we could keep the boat and some of the sights tourists might see. But we were unprepared for the rich and complicated and sometimes difficult culture we have come to know.
We knew when we left the boat back in July there were repairs to do, some of them major. The Tayana 37 sailboats are great boats but they are known for a few systemic problems like chainplates and their mountings. The chainplates are the anchor points for the guy wires (stays or also called shrouds) that hold up the mast, so the chainplates are important and a must fix if they break or weaken. On Cetacean we found one chainplate mounting had weakened to the point that it needed to be completely rebuilt. Unfortunately replacing the mounting is like, on a house where plumbing is embedded in concrete; a lot of destruction has to happen before the construction phase can go forward.
For a more complete description of the chainplate rebuild – please see the article under “projects” under projects on the website or click this link.
Besides the chainplate there were sail repairs to make. Since there is no sail loft in Port Antonio there is only one person to do the job:
All the tasks were supposed to take 3-4 weeks. But nothing goes according to plan on a boat or with love or…. So we were/are in Jamaica a lot longer than anticipated.
Errol Flynn marina is pleasant enough; facilities/bathrooms are clean and close by the boats, security is good, and there is a wonderful view toward the bay. WiFi is so-so, or sometimes I call it so-slow. There is a work yard if the boat needs to be hauled or stored.
Unfortunately, marine supplies cannot be found anywhere nearby. Limited marine supplies are available in Kingston, a three hour drive or bus ride.
On a more positive note, boats arrive (and depart) the marina every few days and from all over the world: places like France, Germany, Holland, England, Israel, Mexico, East Caribbean, Canada and the USA, so there are always interesting people, lots of stories and camaraderie among sailors, and lots of different languages. It’s not boring. There is room in the marina for about 20 “small” sailboats and a long pier that will accommodate boats of about 200 feet. A few 100 footers have arrived but usually leave after a week or two.
Like other marinas on this trip, too often marina help think their job is to please their boss, not the customer. The marina has been ok but not great. There have been a handful of great marinas, but it’s not the norm. George, the guy that runs the yard does whatever is great and deserves a separate mention. Highly recommend George. Also deserving a mention, John (hulk) and Rudy – are available for hire to watch your boat or clean or do whatever is needed and are very good and reasonable. I would recommend them too.
There is a beautiful city park adjacent to the marina. It’s a wonderful stroll.
The marina was named after the actor Errol Flynn because he lived in Port Antonio but there was no marina at the time. He had a yacht anchored that he kept off a nearby island in the bay. The story goes he won the island in a poker game. Today it stands uninhabited and overgrown. This beautiful island with a long history of owners and attempted business is just one of the many curious and mysterious aspects of Jamaica.
Although the boat has us working our tails off, we are here in Port Antonio long enough to need to go grocery shopping, get to know the checkers, go to the hardware store, listen to local music and gather for town celebrations. We’ve also gotten to know a few locals and some of the culture. Port Antonio is a small town, there are no traffic lights in the entire town but the place seems constantly in motion with lots of cars and frenetic activity.
Yet there are quiet spaces to be found among the twisty back streets. One local was telling me his neighborhood used to be doctors and other middle class individuals that have since moved elsewhere but still left a nice quiet place.
There is even one American type fast food place in town: a KFC, that is packed every day, all day. The food at KFC (yes we did go there two times) is not great (is any fast food great?) and seems expensive, so I don’t recommend it, but it’s popular with some locals.
Local fast food takes the form of shacks seemingly randomly located around town like Piggies for example.
Piggies sells “jerk” chicken for $4 and is pretty good if you don’t mind the bone fragments. None of this between the joints stuff. Go up to the window order your chicken with festival (a fried bread) or save $0.50 and order without the bread. A good cheap meal if you don’t want to cook, and the jerk is not too hot or spicy.
Higher end restaurants are very few. There is an Italian restaurant that is good and another place called Soldiers Camp, run by a Jamaican and ex-US Army soldier, also very good.
We buy our fresh local foods at Musgrave open air market. In season the Mangos and papaya are excellent, oranges are good, as is a verity of sweet potatoes . Some local foods are totally unfamiliar like ackee, sweet sop, sour sop, white and yellow yam. They look nothing like anything I buy at Whole foods or Safeway. The ackee is poisonous unless prepared properly, and tastes to me a little like scrambled eggs. The sweet sop is like a custard pudding after peeling the skin; the sour sop tastes like a kiwi with big ugly seeds.
But everything is not perfect in Port Antonio. About 99.9% of the people here are black. So occasional we hear “hey white lady” or morning “pretty boy” or some other racist remark. We kind of stick out in a crowd. But we are literally walking among hundreds of people on the streets and to find one racist every few days is probably to be expected anywhere. One the other hand , even one is too many and puts a damper on my attitude here. The smell of marijuana (ganja) is everywhere.
But we’ve met some wonderful people, hardworking , really good people and a few turds. Unfortunately, there are all kinds of people in this world. The cabinet makers and other craft people have been super , well, except for the welder.
We met a goat herder that works as a drywall “mudder” as a 2nd job that looked after us (like he looks after his goats) as we got lost wondering around the “naylor hill” neighborhood.
A few days before Christmas, the town elders held a large party for the children. The party was in the park near us, so we wondered over. Every child lined up to receive a gift. A very warm feeling was the buzz and the children had a great time, even if it was tough on the people giving the party.
It’s mostly the homeless and hustlers that get old quickly. Most, if not all are harmless but annoying. The hustlers are all similar in their approach. Engage us in a conversation: “football” or “where are you from?” or some other random conversation. They take the lead and just start talking. As soon as we appear not interested anymore they ask for money. We never give them money. A few of the street people just ask for money and a few, like the guy with one leg, we donate to. But the guy in the wheel chair we don’t. One local person, an ex US Army soldier and restaurant owner warned us he has three girlfriends and is well off, so we don’t give him money.
It’s not real cheap to live here. The taxes are very high. Both food and merchandise come with high tariffs. I’m sure the idea is to have the people buy local but we and many Jamaicans have grown to like some things from off the island so the the high tariff hurts (the people) more than helps.
The culture is rich in music and the people seem happy . But I can’t help the feeling that the government , even with all of it’s programs for the poor, isn’t helping the country or the people with the high taxes and tariffs. This a country really looking for a way out of it’s economic doldrums but not finding one.
Port Antonio like a few other places, helps make us think about what is important and the relative degree of importance. Thoughts like those keep us from just going with the current of life and just letting the current steer. It’s better to be the one to steer. To determine what is really important and what can be discarded. Especially these days, with the many distractions that technologies like social media provide it’s important to be the steering for ourselves.
Places like Jamaica help us perceive were to spend our time and where not to.