Sunday, September 28, 2014

Day 6: Manchester Reunited!

I know, I know. It’s been a while since my last post. I’ve been busy with some other projects, like finishing edits on my new novel The Butterfly (due out early next year) and working on a third novel.  But (with a trace of melancholy) here’s how I spent my last days in Jamaica.

Saturday morning started off beautiful and sunny. Since we’d been beating the road all week we decided to take it easy and relax in Mandeville. This was real family time and we spent it shopping (but, of course!) and exploring the town centre, which was alive with the sights and sounds of people getting ready to continue Emancipation Day celebrations. When I think about it now, the aromas of fresh baked patties from the Juici bakery and the fresh fruit from the open air market still fill my memory. The pace is always easy in Mandeville and I was really getting used to it. By now, I was also used to being driven around on those narrow roads that wound up the mountains and no longer worried about whether I might end up in a gully as we rounded each bend.

At home, we relaxed on the verandah, taking in the warmth of the sun and catching up on some reading. Andrea even managed to get a pic of the elusive and camera shy Talia, deeply immersed in her book.

I'm reading "Til the Well Runs Dry". Not sure what Talia has there, but I think it's a card shark's handbook or something.
No trip to Jamaica is complete without having sampled some seafood offerings from the Caribbean waters, so it was off to Little Ochie, a restaurant in Mandeville where you actually get to pick your fish and have it made to order. We had red snapper and parrot fish, served with rice and peas. Since the fish was being freshly prepared, we passed the time playing cards. I was happy when the food came – not only because I was hungry, but also because 12-year-old Talia is a bit of a card shark and I of course prefer eating to losing a game.

Our last evening in Mandeville was spent at the Manchester reunion, an event that brought together classmates from the entire parish, spanned several generations and included those living abroad in places like England and the U.S. who were home to visit family and reconnect with old friends. The awards ceremony honoring local businesses took place inside the school while people mingled outside, listening to music and catching up with each other. The food was great (Chinese food, Jamaican style!) and the atmosphere was just right. I didn’t want the night to end, knowing I would have to be up in a few hours to head to the airport, but my desire to stay up soon gave way to commonsense and we headed home.

Andrea and some of her classmates - quite a fashionable crew. I was the photographer - the least I could do since I crashed the reunion. :-)
A few hours later and I was off to the airport. I had mixed emotions about leaving on yet another beautiful day. A part of me didn’t want to leave; I’d had such a good time. But, part of me missed home too. I guess that’s the blessing of having a good life.

At the Montego Bay Airport. I'm smiling, but I'm missing my island already!

Besides, there’s always next year…

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Day 5: Portland – a Writer’s Hideaway

Whenever I travel anywhere a thought that always comes to mind is, “I wonder if I could live here?” I’d enjoyed every day of my stay in Jamaica at this point and certainly could see myself visiting all of the same places, but it wasn’t until we arrived in Portland that I had that feeling – I could live here. At the very least, it would make a great writer’s retreat or backdrop for a story.

When my cousin and I were first planning what we’d do when I got to Jamaica, she suggested we spend a day in Portland. I’d said, “Okay…what’s there? What are we going to do?” Andrea had replied, “It’s beautiful. You just have to see it. Maybe you’ll get some inspiration for your next book.”
Riding along the coast

Grove of coconut trees

Right she was. Portland is indeed beautiful. Located on the northeast coast, it was quite a hike from Mandeville, but well worth the drive. The streets were quiet the morning we set off, as people prepared to celebrate Jamaica’s Emancipation Day. We passed through St. Anne’s Parish, also known as the Garden Parish where you’ll find the majestic Dunn’s River Falls (if you have never climbed the falls, it is definitely something you must experience). Passing through this parish already had me in a mellow mood, but when we got to Portland I definitely felt a level of peace and comfort that exceeded what I’d experienced so far. The houses on the hill had perfect views of the sea and even those closer to the road had the same advantage.  I could imagine sitting on a balcony somewhere enjoying my morning tea and watching the sunrise above the rippling sea as I tapped away on my laptop. Yes, it’s really that nice.

House overlooking the Rio Grande

So what to do once we arrived? Well that question was easily resolved. When I was a child my parents had lots of reminders of Jamaica around the house, including a wall hanging with various depictions of Jamaican life on it. One of the pictures was of a man rafting on the Rio Grande, so when we saw the sign for this, we knew what we were going to do.

Rafting on the river was everything I thought it would be. The sun was warm, but not too hot and the water was a clear, vibrant turquoise blue. We had two raft captains for our group and they were contrasting characters – Trevor didn’t say much, except to point out the occasional duck or other attraction. Roy was quite talkative and every once in a while he would slow the raft he was guiding to share some interesting trivia with us - apparently many celebrities like to raft here too.

Halfway through our ride we stopped near the shore to take a dip in the cool water. All I can say here is, “Ahhh! Very refreshing.” On the way back our captains let us take a turn rafting. I did pretty well if I do say so myself. I was sorry when the ride was over – we did the one-hour tour and it seemed way too short. We will definitely go back and take the three-hour ride at sunrise. I’ll be bringing a good book and my notebook with me too.

After the Rio Grande we were torn between Somerset Falls and the Blue Lagoon (yes, the setting for the Brooke Shields movie).  Our river raft captain suggested Somerset Falls.  I must confess I did want to see the place that shared a name similar to my novel title, Somerset Grove, though it is not the actual setting for my book.  Somerset Falls is a gathering place where you can take a swim in the pool, grab some jerk chicken or fried fish and relax while a deejay plays a mix of hip hop, R&B and dancehall tunes.  Since it was Emancipation Day, Somerset Falls was filled with local families enjoying the day off. We had plans to celebrate too, so we headed back to Mandeville.

By late afternoon, the preparations for Emancipation Day were in full swing. Every small town we passed through on the way back was abuzz with activity as sound systems set out by the roadside pumped out smooth reggae beats.

Mojitos Café was the spot for us that night. The café owners had taken over the entire plaza, draping it with white fabric throughout and filling the air with a blend of old and new hits. Again, the vibe was easy as people mingled and relaxed. I was tired from the long day, but I didn’t want it to end, knowing I would be going home in two days. I finally gave in around midnight. I guess I can’t hang like I used to, but it was okay. I’d had a great day and yes, I was inspired.  

Up next: Manchester Reunited!

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Day 4 – Montego Bay

Another beautiful and sunny day in Jamaica! This time we drove to Montego Bay to tour historic Rose Hall, once home to the infamous Annie Palmer, a woman said to have killed three husbands and numerous slave lovers before her own death.

But first, Montego Bay – situated on the north coast of Jamaica, “Mo’ Bay” is a popular resort town and will be host to the Jamaica Jazz & Blues Festival in late January – I’m told this is a must, so you know I’m already plotting my return.

The drive here was beautiful with amazing views of the shimmering blue ocean on the left. Rose Hall sits up on a hill where you can get a perfect view of the sea. The house is beautiful, with large bright and airy rooms. We got some great shots outside too. See?

Rose Hall 

Entrance to Rose Hall

View from the balcony at Rose Hall

Our tour guide Thesa went into full character, dressed in her traditional costume as she let the story of Annie Palmer unfold. Here’s the short version:

Annie moved from Haiti to Jamaica in search of a rich husband. She met and married John Palmer, owner of the Rose Hall Plantation.  Annie killed him and her next two husbands along with a number of slave lovers before she finally met with the same fate. There are those that claim they’ve seen Annie in the house or their pictures never quite turn out right because of a certain glow that appears in all of their shots. I didn’t notice anything while I was there, but I also wasn’t keen on the idea of taking a candlelight night tour of the place – why take a chance? No, we had our witch’s brew punch in the dungeon-turned-bar during the daylight hours and kept on moving.

Entrance to the former dungeon.

Last stop of the day was Discovery Bay, where Columbus allegedly discovered Jamaica…and the Arawak Indians that were already living there. Hmmm. Okay.  Anyway, this is a great little place to stop to get a quick tour and history lesson for whatever you’re willing to pay. You can also pick up souvenirs or just hang out and enjoy the view.  

Discovery Bay
Our tour guide showing us where sellers would have their bananas tallied...Come, Mr. Tally Man...

We ended the day snacking on jerk chicken at a nearby outdoor restaurant then headed back to Mandeville. Montego Bay is nice and full of great tourist spots to enjoy.  I got some great inspiration for the novel I’m currently working on and another one that I’m outlining. (Sigh. Writer's ADD kicks in.)

Next stop: Portland!

Friday, August 22, 2014

Day 3 - Sunset in Negril

Day 3 – Negril!

We started off the morning with a traditional breakfast of ackee (fresh from the tree in the backyard) and saltfish, plaintains, breadfruit and bammy. And yes, I did get a picture this time…after my cousin Andrea yelled –uh – reminded me to do it. :-) 

After breakfast we put on our swimsuits, got ready, and headed out for a sunny day of lounging on the beach, right? Wrong! Jamaica had been experiencing a drought for several months, but the rain everyone had prayed for finally arrived as we made our way down the coast. No worries, though. Even in the rain, Jamaica is still beautiful and we had a great time singing along to Beres Hammond’s soulful hits as we drove. Here's a sample:
One of my favorite parts of this road trip was going through Holland Bamboo in Saint Elizabeth’s Parish. Tall bamboo trees stretch out above from both sides of the road, creating a beautiful tunnel that will leave you in awe.
Holland Bamboo

The rain stopped by the time we got to Negril and that little resort town was alive with activity. People were milling about, shopping, eating, or just "liming." Of course we had to go to the famous Rick’s Café, where the brave dive off of tall cliffs into deep blue water and you can watch one of the most breathtaking sunsets while being serenaded by a reggae band.

Andrea and me at Rick's Cafe


Sunset in Negril
A couple of hours later and we were back in Mandeville, tired but feeling good. I was anxious for the next day – a trip to Montego Bay to see Rose Hall, once home to one of the most notorious women in
Jamaican history – Annie Palmer!

Friday, August 15, 2014

Day 2 - Relaxing in Mandeville

Day Two – Mandeville Town Centre!

I woke up early (Jamaica is one hour behind, but I still got up at around 6 a.m.).  I went back to bed when I learned that nobody gets up that early unless they have to.  No problem, I can rewind it. 

Up at around 8:00 a.m.  After breakfast, we headed to the town centre of Mandeville, which is the capital of the Parish of Manchester. It was laid out in 1816, and still maintains much of its historical charm. Walking around, I imagined where my grandmother might have sold her produce in the open market or the library my dad would’ve stopped at on his way home from school. It’s a bustling town, and I can see why it’s a favorite destination for returning expats - cool climate, friendly people, all the conveniences you need and some sweeping mountain views to boot.

Back home for oxtail and rice and peas. It’s amazing I stayed awake after eating that meal (sorry folks, again, I was too greedy to take pictures). But, stay awake I did and it was back down to Mandeville Town Centre to check out the night life. We ended up at Mojitos Café Loft, an upscale lounge managed by the laid back and friendly Dermot.  If you want to know where Mandeville’s professionals go, this is the spot. The vibe is easy here, where white furniture and cool martinis set the scene for winding down the evening and Dermot makes you feel right at home here.

My cousin Andrea and Dermot of Mojitos Cafe
Hanging out in Mandeville was a great way to begin this vacation before we started to explore the island. I was ready to hit the road though, so first on the list for tomorrow…Negril!

Friday, August 8, 2014

Day 1 - The Caribbean is calling me!

Caribbean life…Jamaica bound!

Day one of my long awaited vacation found me up at an ungodly hour heading to the airport so that I could arrive in Jamaica in the morning. Well worth it! Even though it’d been so long since I’d been to Jamaica, I felt an easy familiarity as soon as I made my way outside the airport to find my cousin Andrea waiting to greet me.

The ride home along the coast was beautiful, but the trip up the mountains to Mandeville, my dad’s hometown, was amazing. Seeing all those stunning homes nestled in the hillsides almost made me forget the drive up on those narrow winding roads to get there (yikes!).

A delicious dinner of curry chicken and rice and peas awaited me when I arrived at the house (sorry, I was greedy – no time for pics). But before that, we went out in the backyard and picked up a few things for breakfast: ackee and avocados (look at the size of these!).

It was a long day, so we wrapped it up by enjoying a glass of wine and the cool mountain air out on the verandah. Island living - I could do this.

Next post...the Mandeville town centre!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Catching up...

It’s early morning and I’m sitting in one of my favorite coffee houses in the H Street corridor in Washington, D.C. It’s Caribbean Heritage Month and they are playing reggae (The Joint on Sirius XM is one of my favorite stations). I don’t know if it’s in honor of Caribbean Heritage Month or whether this particular barista just likes this station but either way, it works for me.

As an author, my mind is now divided between writing and marketing. My first novel, Somerset Grove, is continuing to do well. Most recently I was honored to be one of three featured authors at the International Reggae Poster Exhibition hosted by the Embassy of Jamaica at the Organization of American States that was held in May in Washington, D.C. I’m also really excited to be going to South Africa in 2015 to do an author talk. (And ahem, if you're looking for a great summer read...)

Writing has also been productive for me – I finished the first draft of my third novel, The Butterfly, which is now with my fantastic editor. In the meantime, I’ve started my fourth book and  I’ve also written a couple of short stories. Competing with all of that is that lost second novel - that prodigal son that disappeared on me when I was a quarter of the way through writing it. I let it go and just like the parable, it has returned to me and I’m welcoming it back with open arms. Maybe the time wasn’t right for me to work on it when I had started it, but I feel that time is coming closer now.

So what’s on tap for the summer? I’m planning a visit to Jamaica with my wonderful cousin, Andrea Peart. Part research trip, part reconnecting and part relaxation, I’m looking forward to embracing the sights, sounds and aromas of that beautiful island once again (though if Andrea has anything to say about it, we'll be balancing that relaxation out with some good live music!). I will definitely post pics when I’m back!

In the meantime, I can’t leave this post without telling you what I’m listening to, can I? It’s Superman, by Tarrus Riley. It’s a song that should be enjoyed on a rooftop on a sunny evening. It has a relaxing vibe and Tarrus Riley has such a soulful voice, you can’t help but lean back and think about the good life.

That’s it for now…