Thursday, September 8, 2011

Top of the Third, Part I: Getting Back to Myself in Jamaica

I wondered if they could smell me coming, because I certainly could smell them as soon as I crossed the little wooden pier and passed the guard stationed on the white plastic chair at the end of the hotel property. The ganja smoke seemed to start just where the sanitized beach stopped and the real one began: early-morning rake lines from tidying staff ended abruptly, and palm fronds and rocks and trash now crunched underfoot. I put my flip-flops back on.

Nodding to the bored guard in his starched uniform shirt and tie, I felt very white and very green. I sniffed myself -- odors of hotel bodywash on my skin and shampoo in my hair -- and thought, this is the scent of Iberostar. Of tourists. We all smell the same when we’re here. I hesitated. Can they smell the Hotel People before they see them? Yeah, it probably goes both ways.

I’d started out from my cool clean room about twenty minutes before, with the idea of a long beach walk, i-Pod in one hand, ice-cold bottled Wata in the other. Past the blare and spectacle of beach aerobics, past symmetrical rows of reddening sunbathers, past waiters bearing Red Stripe and pina coladas. And suddenly, the little all-inclusive universe just … ended. Never able to turn back, anytime or anywhere, I always need to discover what’s next, what’s Over There. Climbing over the pier planks, wading around a tight group of twisted trees, I finally saw the source of the smoke.


Rows of shacks like these line the beach
past Iberostar at Montego Bay
Shacks in various stages of falling down stood hard against each other; wood carvings, wet brushes and open jars of poster paint, shells, t-shirts, wind chimes, and hundreds of other handmade or mass-produced souvenirs buckled shelves and tables inside. Rough lobster traps lay at the water’s edge. A white mongrel with a black belly ran to me, tail wagging. Dark lean men, some without shirts and shoes, stood or sat among the shacks, talking with each other or painting or smoking joints. I lost my composure for a second; they were all simply beautiful. Some had short cornrows or dreads, others’ hair was cut close; some looked to be teenagers, others in their twenties, a few middle-aged -- but all were ripped and without an ounce of fat on them -- “good specimens,” as I often jokingly refer to well-built men.

“Miss, you come look at my shop?”