Wild Jamaica

After some time, the dolphins at the center of the pool retreated under the water and we were greeted by the trainer. He was a latino guy with a stout frame, weathered brown skin, and sharp eyes. He explained a little about dolphins, how the park works with them, and so on. We were all looking about wondering when the dolphins would appear when suddenly the trainer blew a whistle and a couple of dolphins appeared. The dolphins were a bit larger than I expected, more robust and muscular looking that I had initially suspected. They were also less menacing than I had previously thought as well, nice even. The trainer ran them through a number of tricks: jumping, shaking hands, kissing (yeah kissing), and most unexpectedly, singing. Their level of training was astounding. Every command and cry from the trainer was met with highly synchronized actions on the part of the dolphins and obligatory feeding of what appeared to be sardines. Needless to say, I was conflicted about the entire ordeal. This had been the brainchild of my sister and she was completely psyched then and in the moment about playing with dolphins, kisses and all. I, on the other hand, was good after a few minutes and wanted to escape. No matter how cute they were–and they are easily Pokemon level cute–I wondered about their conditions.

The dolphins are exceptionally talented at Dolphin Cove.

After about an hour or so, we were told that the tricks were done and that the show was over. We clapped at the legitimately good work performed by the trainer and his dolphins and exited the pool. I was relieved. An attendant waiting on the entrance side of the pool smilingly took our vests and the dolphins resumed play on their own. They wouldn’t have to do it again for another hour or so. After handing off my vest, I made my way over to the area near the complex lobby and found our bus guide sitting under a gazebo, talking with other guides. I was starting to notice a pattern. A large part of my various guides and chaperones days were relegated to waiting for folks like me to do the same thing day in and day out. Being from a city like New Orleans, which too has a strong tourism economy, I understood this ritual well. She was now nursing a handkerchief and actively blowing her nose. While I’m not necessarily a hypochondriac–it’s totally going to sound like I’m a hypochondriac–I tend to bring my “just-in-case” medicines with me when I travel. Our guide had been hustling so hard and had been so considerate and funny, it pained me to see her sick, so I dug into my bag and I gave her a few packs of Alka-Seltzer. “Here”, I said handing over the medicine. “Take this”. “What is it?”, she asked, looking both appreciative and cautious. “Alka-Seltzer”, I replied. “You get a little water in a cup, put the tablets in and when they dissolve, drink it. It’ll make you feel better.” She nodded and thanked me, in her usual joking way, sent me away and advised that to ride on the speedboat with one of the park guides. I expressed that I didn’t know that was a thing, but suddenly felt happy all the same.

When I got on the boat, I was met by an uncle like figure who seemed like his only job at the park was to helm the boats, hit on women in said boats, and offer me a hit of his Bob Marley. I couldn’t believe I was being asked to hit the weed before hitting the high oceans, but I was and as is my custom, politely declined. Like the others, he couldn’t believe there was a person who didn’t smoke, in particular, that I didn’t smoke. “Is he high now?”, I thought to myself. “He has to be”. Was I cool with this? Before I could let the anxiety about being tossed out into the ocean set in, we cast off from the dock and shot off into the ocean. I would have to be. The waves were deep and thick, cresting about us, crashing into us with force and vigor. Whitecaps were popping into and out of existence. The wind was whipping about furiously and it felt nice in the dense Jamaican air. On more than one occasion, I felt like I was going to pop up from the boat or it was going to capsize, but in the moment I didn’t care, despite my earlier fear. Everyone around me, myself included, and even the other boats whizzing around were all smiles. As we ventured further out into the ocean, the skipper led my small group on the boat in various cheers, of which, “yah-man” he shouted with particular vigor. I joined along with him, enjoying hearing my shouts of “Yah-Man” drowned out by the roar of the engine and swallowed whole by the entirety of the ocean beneath my feet.  

I never like doing things like roller coasters until I’m on them. The same goes for the boat ride

 

I Take Care of You and You Take Care of Me

Connor and Deon were in Kingston–Jamaica’s capital city–out visiting their extended families on the island, while my family and I were in Ocho Rios. I worried for them, not because of Kingston’s more lurid reputation, but because they were choosing to drive the treacherous Jamaican highways unassisted with a car that had more in common with a ball of crumpled aluminum than anything drivable. The day before they left, we’d loosely–and very drunkenly–chatted about going with them, but it didn’t happen. Not wanting to waste the goodwill, on a whim we made plans to go to Negril on the western end of the island the day after Ocho Rios over breakfast.

I had heard good and interesting things about Negril. I loosely knew it was a beachy place that had a reputation for partying, though the same could probably be said for Jamaica as a whole. I didn’t quite know what we’d do when we got there, but I was sure we’d figure it out. It’s easy to get trapped in a sort of “western bubble” if you let yourself and I didn’t want that to happen again. Twice, I had been to the same tourist strip in Montego Bay. I wanted something a bit more authentic, something just short of slum tourism and something more than novelty stores. Negril would have to be the place. With that in mind, I corralled my family, summoned Alton for a quick meeting on the day’s itinerary and set a time for 10 am. This time, I was more direct to let Alton know that I wanted to do a bit of local shopping and or get better Jamaican food than what I got on the street. I wanted something he’d eat and to go to a place he’d go…you know, when he wasn’t a kid turning up at Margaritaville.