Perhaps the highlight of my visit to Jamaica was a spectacular concert by legendary diva Roberta Flack. Technically, it was in celebration of the 50th anniversary of Half Moon Resort, one of the snappiest properties on the beautifully verdant tropical island.
But the underlying theme of survival and renewal after the island was bruised and battered by Hurricane Ivan was, perhaps, more pertinent.
Roberta had hardly launched into her second song, “Hey, Jesse…” when her gaze became fixed upon me, as I stood directly in front of her at center stage. As she drew her hand and pointed her index finger at me I was briefly startled, but innocently assumed she was about to introduce me as her favorite reporter from back home.
Instead, she solemnly intoned “do you know that what you are doing is illegal!” I was taking her picture with my cell phone camera, which I meekly folded, and slipped into my pant’s pocket. I sent my apologies after the program, although a dozen photographers flanked me on both sides using digital cameras without drawing reprimand.
Just as she reached her stride, pregnant, dark and menacing clouds overhead could hold their peace no longer and burst forth, violently drenching all her fans who had gathered in the open-air Royal Pavilion on Half Moon’s well manicured grounds.
It was a grand storm, we were on the north shore of the island and the audience was facing the ocean. We could see long, jagged lightning bolts arcing over the neighboring Cayman Islands and Cuba. The staff ran out and distributed hundreds of stylish black and white umbrellas, but not a single person left.
Roberta had a powerful, emotional grasp on every soul, and the people were ready to celebrate. They weren’t about to bend to a mere thunderstorm.
Next, the North Carolina native launched into a very erotic version of her hit, “The Closer I get To You.” Handsome Tony Terry joined her on the duet, their bodies coming so close together and so tightly entwined that it was hard to tell where muscular Tony ended and Roberta began. They were virtually face- to-face, but that didn’t interfere with the oh-so-sweet harmony.
The Prime Minister of Jamaica and the Governor General, representative of Queen Elizabeth II, got up and started to shake their booty’s. No one, no matter how high and mighty, seemed immune to Roberta’s charismatic embrace.
Jamaica is an island rife with surprises, and adventures.
It was here that I visited my first clothing optional resort, the world famous Hedonism II.
There was a swinger’s convention from the United States going on, so it was virtually wall-to-wall naked Americans. I walked by many private rooms with the doors left completely ajar by exhibitionists showing off.
Of course, the immaculate beach was the best place to ogle men and women au naturel. There’s also a long, clear waterslide you can slip down on in the buff.
Hedonism’s General Manager invited me to dinner, and explained that what happens at Hedonism, stays at Hedonism. Their literature echoed that sentiment, and further outlined their philosophy, basically, if it feels good, do it. Virtually anything naked, or naughty, as long as it is consensual, and adult is fine. Public sex is not encouraged, but after dark anything goes on the beach.
He told me theme parties are the rage, Halloween is particularly festive, but there is always something going on. There could be fifty women dressed as French maids, as uniformed school girls, or in heavy leather. That particular night I was surrounded by hundreds of male and female revelers in skimpy sheets holding a toga party.
BLOWHOLES AND DORSAL FINS
My greatest thrill was swimming with dolphins! First, you get familiar with them, pet them, and feel their flippers and delicate skin as they lay right alongside you in shallow water.
Then as you each gain confidence in each other, you can swim with a pair of well-synchronized dolphins, well actually it’s more like hitching a ride. The trainer had me hold on to the dorsal fins of two dolphins on either side of me, then signaled the sleek mammals to take off, and we flew around the cove! By the time we made it back my trunks were around my ankles! But I was able to pull them up before I lifted myself up out of the water.
But dolphins are not the only friendly animals ready to take you on a magic carpet ride. Chukka Cove offers horseback swimming. You take a two-hour plus horse back riding tour of the island, up into the mountains and then back down to the shore, where the horses gallop right into the Caribbean Sea, and swim! You’ll get a little damp, but it is a heart-pounding thrill worth a change of clothes.
Two of the best adventures available anywhere in the world. And the animals are extremely well cared for.
JERKED CUISINE & ENGLISH TEA
Jamaica’s delicious and unique cuisine has justifiably achieved worldwide renown. The centerpiece is probably jerked meat, Jerked Chicken or Pork. Jerk is a rub made up of many island spices, Allspice in particular.
Jamaicans have adapted East Indian cuisine to local conditions by substituting goat meat for lamb in curries. Many agree that curried goat is even more tender and flavorful than the original.
Here you’ll find the hottest chili sauce in the world! The lovely name Scotch Bonnet (AKA Habanero) hardly conveys the fire within the innocent-looking yellow pepper sauce bottle. Several brave Mexican amigos taste-tested Scotch Bonnet for me, and who should know chili better? My friend Hector’s big black peepers rolled in his trembling head like the reels in a slot machine!
A milder substitute is the gravy-colored Caribbean One Stop Savory Sauce, which contains traces of notorious Scotch Bonnet diluted with tomatoes, sugar, vinegar, even bananas, mango, raisins and other ingredients.
Callaloo is one of the most popular vegetable side dishes, what we call collard greens.
Jamaica is also a great destination to try something completely European. English Tea! I was surprised at how enjoyable my afternoon tea was. It began with my choosing the type of tea to try from half a dozen choices. I picked three; a familiar Ceylon tea, a strong brew from the largely tribal Indian state of Assam, as well as a light citrus tea.
But an afternoon tea is so much more than just sipping the hot beverage. I drank sparkling French champagne and rapidly consumed warm British scones with a cup of freshly whipped cream on the side, three finger sandwiches, and a tray of magnificent petite deserts including sliced Jamaican Rum Cake.
I had my tea at the Ritz-Carlton Spa and Resort, but tea is served at almost every five star hotel and resort, and you don’t have to be a guest to enjoy tea, and spend an hour, or two exploring the grounds, gift shop and seashore.
Perhaps, our Revolutionary War Boston Tea Party put an end to his majesty King George III’s tea ritual in our republic, but it is a charming relic retained in this commonwealth member where his successor, Queen Elizabeth II, is still head of state.
Most resorts feature multiple restaurants, many of them facing the ocean, or right on the sea, such as Hedonism II’s beach hamburger grill.
The Grand Lido Negril Resort and Spa boasts five on-property restaurants. Each is included in your all inclusive package at no extra charge, room service, too.
Perhaps the most elegant restaurant on the island is Piacere, where reservations are required because of heavy demand for seating, but it is also at no additional charge as part of your package at Grand Lido Braco.
Only a few restaurants have not reopened, post Ivan. Margaritaville’s façade slipped into the sea, but I witnessed the energetic rebuilding program.
Norma’s By-the-Sea is now Norma’s Under-the-Waves!
Handicrafts are a good buy in Jamaica. Hand-woven baskets are particularly attractive, especially beach bags. Hand carved wood is available in many designs, even erotic.
Quality tee shirts, many in brilliant tie-dye patterns, glorify Bob Marley, ganga and Reggae, as well as other island themes.
A TALE OF TWO TONGUES
The English language is one of Britain’s greatest legacies to the people of Jamaica. But technically, the island is bilingual. Actually, the term is diglossia, defined as the use of one language in certain spheres of life and another language on other occasions and situations. The Queen’s English is the medium of instruction in schools, and in the workplace, courts and government.
But Patois is the lingo of the family, and home. Virtually everybody speaks both. Only in isolated pockets in the Blue Mountains will you find people who speak only Patois, a blend of Spanish, English, French, indigenous and African languages.
The island was first a Spanish colony, then English, then Spanish, and finally English through independence in 1962, with a French interlude sandwiched in there, somewhere.
Everywhere the friendly people understand you making it easy to order something not on the menu, just try that in the Netherlands Antilles where English is a distant third behind Papiamento and Dutch. I couldn’t get the concept of a grilled cheese sandwich across on Curacao.
Air Jamaica is the national carrier, and offers a wide selection of “Love Bird” West Coast departures at very reasonable rates ($313 to $414 roundtrip from Los Angeles to Kingston, or Montego Bay, Jamaica or to Grenada) or any of its other departure cities.
Photos contributed by Mary Gallagher, a frequent Jamaica visitor.