Walking through the Arrival and Departure halls at Montego Bay's (Jamaica) Sangster International Airport, one is treated to the sight of throngs of tourists either flushed with anticipation (arrivals) or looks of dread (no pun intended; reluctant "departers"). But one does not encounter anywhere near these numbers of tourists in the towns and villages that dot the country's enthralling, fun-delivering North Coast. Why? They are "imprisoned" behind the walls of the all-inclusive hotels, having a great time, I am sure, but a "time" that could have been even better if it had been adequately spiced with the appropriate amounts of unmanaged, free-form island flavor. We went down to the North Coast last weekend to celebrate a friend's birthday and I share some of that local flavor in this post.
Attendees at the birthday bash converged on the North Coast from New York, Orlando, Cayman Islands, and Kingston and Ocho Rios in Jamaica. The Orlando contingent (four of us) took a JetBlue flight from MCO and de-planed at Sangster in a little over 90 minutes. Depending on time of arrival, and congruency with European flight arrivals, getting through Jamaican immigration and Customs can be a bear (timewise) but, on this occassion, we waltzed through officialdom and out to the pickup area in less than 1 hour. Our practice is to have a Beef Patty and Red Stripe beer at the Snack Shop just outside the exit from the Arrival Hall but Paul's (our host for the weekend) brother was already waiting so we loaded up and headed out.
From Montego Bay we headed east along the North Coast Highway towards our final destination in Priory. But a trip from the airport would be incomplete without a stop at a roadside Jerk Center, the Jamaican equivalent of a highway rest stop. At these centers you can dine on local delicacies (Jerk everything, Oxtail, fish, Curried goat, shrimp, soups, etc.), drink the ever-present Red Stripe beer (plus other beers and alcohol), and take advantage of the bathroom facilities. Our new favorite Jerk Center is Ultimate, located in the town of Discovery Bay. It is safe, with great food and a wide array of beverages, clean facilities, excellent service and frequented by friendly locals and the occasional small tourist bus. We bought platters of Jerk Chicken, Jerk Pork, Bami (cassava flatbread), and Festival (corn bread fritters) and chased them with Red Stripe and Grey Goose Vodka. The party was underway.
After the "snack" and drinks at Ultimate, we traveled to Paul's home in Priory to welcome friends, chat, drink some more, and prepare for the evening ahead.
At around 10:00 pm, we headed out to Ocho Rios, one of the top North Coast towns. On our prior trip to Jamaica, we had discovered a cute restaurant/bar/nightclub named Mongoose and we were headed there to see if it would live up to the memories. My wife and I had contracted with a promoter for a live variety show as a surprise for Joy (the birthday celebrant), said show to be performed at the club.
The club was not as busy as on our prior visit (a Saturday night) and most of the patrons present were occupying outside seating. A beautiful long table had been set up on the inside for our party so we sat, ordered drinks, and listened to the DJ while waiting for our show to begin.
And what a show it turned out to be. Folk dancers, fire-eaters, balancing acts, limbo dancers, broken-bottle repulsers, and a local Reggae artiste. And all this for Joy. And the other patrons who now streamed inside. And for the passers-by, who occupied every vantage point with a view into the space.
But a great time was had by all. Joy was ecstatic. At the conclusion of the show we turned to dancing and cajoled, bribed, and begged the DJ to play until the wee hours of the morn. We left the club at 4:00 am. First day in the history file.
©Wine -- Mise en abyme