Archive for August, 2012

11 Days in Jamaica – Last Day

Posted in Blog, Journalism, Travel with tags , , , on Saturday, 25 August 2012, by Stan

Ocho Rios Sunset - (c) Stan Thomas/Kanale Creations


Sunday June 24, 2007

Today is our last day in Jamaica. After breakfast I decided to take a walk around Ochee. Since it was an early Sunday morning there were very few people out. It was nice and quiet. I had to force myself to slow down and really take everything in. For some reason I walked an extra block eastward toward A3 highway. I had never walked out on this street before during my previous trips here. Of course, everything was closed but I was still enjoying seeing all the businesses for the first time.

When I got to the highway, one of the newspaper persons was selling the Sunday Observer. I decided to buy a copy to read on the way back to the airport. It also gave me a chance to spend some of my Jamaican coinage.

Turning back northward, I walked up a street I had only driven by in the past. Everything seemed new to me although I knew all of it had always been there. I must have passed at least 3 churches on my short walk. Then I passed one in a tiny strip mall.

Why this particular church caught my attention, I do not know. Maybe God knew that the message from this one church is one I needed to hear. So I drew closer to the door.

The church was packed all the way to the back door. Although it was a typically hot Caribbean morning and a bit more humid than usual, it was still packed. There were four or five floor fans blowing full force. Parishioners fanned themselves with paper fans. I couldn’t help but think how many Americans are sitting in big, air-conditioned churches right now. Would they still come to church if it was 90 degrees/75% humidity outside with no air conditioning inside?

One of the ushers invited me inside. I thanked her, but declined, explaining that our group was leaving in about half an hour. Even though I was standing outside the door, I was not alone.

Inside the preacher was delivering his sermon, which could be heard from where I was standing. He was drenched in sweat, his clothes looking like he had just taken a shower in them. But he was undeterred by the heat. He was fervently preaching about love. “Love without action,” he said, “is deceitful.” He gave a few contemporary scenarios. Time had gone by so fast that I didn’t realize it was time to get back to the hotel already.

One of my regrets is that I had never been able to attend a church service while in Jamaica. We’ve always had to perform or leave on Sundays. Next year, if I am blessed enough to return to Ochee, I think I will try to attend a service at this church.

We loaded up the equipment truck and headed back to Mo Bay and the airport. I was glad see to that the stretch of road from Falmouth eastward was finished. It was good to ride on a smooth road for a change. We got to the airport, got our equipment and ourselves checked in, got through security, and waited for the boarding call.

Unlike last year, this time we had plenty of time after checking in. Some band members snoozed in the chairs downstairs while others shopped. I stopped in at Jamaica Farewell and bought my usual bottle of Sangster’s Rum Cream. Too bad you can’t get this stuff in the States. Well, actually you can, from a company called Jamaica Direct, but they charge a hefty shipping/courier fee. I went this route last year. Even with the shipping/courier fee, it was still worth it.

Jamaican Bobsled Cafe, Montego Bay - (c) Stan Thomas/Kanale CreationsFour of us were hungry, so we headed off looking for something to eat. One of the members said an employee at the Jamaican Bobsled shop told him about the café upstairs. So that’s where we went, the Jamaican Bobsled Café. They have several restaurants on the island. Arguably, the most famous one is on Gloucester Avenue in Montego Bay.

It was close to boarding time when we finished our lunch. We headed back to the terminal area. Once we found the gate, we found out that the plane was going to be delayed. Figures. So this edition of our Jamaica trip ends the same way it began, with a late plane.

11 Days in Jamaica – Day 10

Posted in Blog, Journalism, Travel with tags , , , , , , on Thursday, 23 August 2012, by Stan

Beach at Negril Treehouse Resort - (c) Stan Thomas/Kanale Creations


Saturday June 23, 2007

Two years ago we were able to stay in Montego Bay overnight before leaving Jamaica. We took a side trip to Negril and watched some of the cliff divers at Pirate’s Cave. We had a time constraint so we didn’t get to stay very long. That meant even though I wanted to try it, I didn’t get to jump off the rocks.

This year was different. This year we had all day Saturday off. I was determined to get back to Negril. Early in the week I started talking up a possible excursion to Mo Bay and Negril around the band. By Saturday, Dave, Rory, and Robert committed to going with me. It was going to be a very long drive from Ocho Rios all the way to the west end of the island and around to Negril. Chris and Papa Wilson answered the call yet again to drive us.

It was a kicked-back day, no rush, no reason to hurry. It was a good time to enjoy not doing much of anything. All of us at one time or another dozed off for a while. Chris pointed out some places of interest to those who were awake. He commented on the noticeably increased police presence on the roads. We assumed it was to catch speeders. (I later found out from The Gleaner newspaper that the police were adapting to criminals’ tactics; bad guys from one parish would come and do their dirty work in another parish. But, to make it easier to slip past the constables, they would leave their weapons in the parish where they committed the crimes. That way if they were ever caught, they’d be clean as far as weapons go).

As we rounded the western end of the island just past Mo Bay, Chris directed our attention to a massive construction site along the ocean side of the road. We couldn’t tell what it was going to be but his guess was another mega-resort. It looked like a small city. He said that it would be good for the residents of the town in that it would provide much-needed jobs. By this time we had been on the road for almost three hours. We did endure one traffic jam in Montego Bay due to bridge construction.

Soon we pulled into Negril. Chris again went into tour guide mode, pointing out all the hotel properties we passed. Sandals, Beaches, Riu, Hedonism II, Swept Away, Couples, and on and on.

There’s a spot that Chris and Papa Wilson took us to in ’05, just beyond what I refer to as ‘hotel row’. It’s called the Negril Treehouse Resort. This is where we stopped for lunch. We piled out of the van, stretched our legs, then made a bee-line for you-know-where.

The circular, open-air restaurant surrounds a bar. It sits right on the beach. On occasion, a beach-goer will walk in, still dripping wet, and order a drink or three. Chris and Papa Wilson took a table near the hotel side of the restaurant while the four of us sat on the beach side. I ordered Jerk Chicken, expecting it to be similar to what most hotels serve, i.e. ‘watered down’ for the tourist palate. I asked the waitress how spicy it was. She replied that the chicken itself wasn’t spicy, but they could add extra sauce if needed. She asked how spicy I wanted it. “Very,” I said.

Our meal arrived promptly. Beverages? Of course, Red Stripe all around. A dark-colored sauce glazed the chicken and there was a generous portion on the side. Again, thinking this was the ‘lite’ version, I brushed on the extra sauce like I was painting a fence. Then I took my first bite. Whatever image you have in your mind now is probably close to what happened. My nose started running, the thermometer rose, the steam whistle blew, but my head did not explode. I was in heaven. Yeah! Now that’s what I’m talkin’ ‘bout! That’s how I like my Jerk Chicken! But this was a new taste I had not experienced before. I thought I knew Jerk Chicken. Now I have to rethink everything I thought I knew.

After eating, Dave and Robert decided to go walk around and get a little sand and water between their toes. Rory and I stayed and just kicked back. I did take a few photographs meanwhile.

Robert and Dave came back to the table. We got up and walked over to the gift shop. Outside was a policewoman with a machine gun slung over her shoulder. Once I again, I wondered why this did not make me at all nervous. If policemen in the States walked around with machine guns, I’d be nervous, but not here.

Our next stop was Pirate’s Cave. It’s just up the road a bit from the Treehouse Resort. Along the way, it felt like we crossed over into a wholePirate's Cave - (c) Stan Thomas/Kanale Creations new world. You leave the commercialism/tourist part of Negril behind. This section of Negril looks more like a smaller Caribbean island like Grand Cayman than it does Jamaica. Dave commented that what we should have done was planned to stay the night and just be beach bums here all the next day. Next time we may do just that. The vibe is certainly laid back here.

One couple was eating lunch out on the patio at Pirate’s Cave when we arrived. I looked around and did not see the cliff divers. We walked along the edge of the rocks, taking in the view of the huts off to the left, and the azure Caribbean Sea 3 stories below. The cliff diver must have either seen or heard us come in.

Diver at Pirate's Cave - (c) Stan Thomas/Kanale CreationsRobert and I were ready to jump. Rory and David said they’d be happy to just watch us. ‘Donovan’ – I’ll call him that because I forgot his name – gave us some instruction. Step out, no need to jump out very far. Keep your legs straight and your arms at your sides. Robert went in first. He came back up the stairs from the cave below. Looked easy enough, so I stepped up to the edge. I had come all this way just to do this. There was no turning back now. I looked out and jumped off. I picked up speed quickly and soon heard the rush of the air in my ears. Then I heard Donovan yell, “Tuck in your arms!” Obediently, I pinned them to my sides. I remember thinking, “I should have hit the water by now.” I finally did hit the water in what felt like an explosion. I had done it! What a rush!

Swimming back to the cave took a bit of effort because the water kept rising and falling. I climbed up the stairs and reported back to the guys. I was ready to try a dive now. Donovan had cautioned me earlier about diving and recommended that I jump first to see what it was like. He did two dives to show me how to do it right. I told him I was ready. I stepped to the edge again and…… “Man, that’s a long way down.” All the things that could go wrong started running through my head. What if I over-rotate? What if I don’t position my hands the right way? We didn’t have any more gigs to play so Lee couldn’t get too mad if I did get hurt. Ooh, getting hurt might hurt. So I backed down. The guys told me that was a smart choice. Still, I wanted to jump in again. I convinced Donovan to do a tandem; he dove while I jumped. Chris got it on film. Check one more thing off the bucket list.

Much has been said about Rick’s Café. All the hotels feature a trip to Rick’s where you can have dinner, see the famous cliff divers, and watch “the most beautiful sunset in Jamaica.” I asked Chris to drive us by there just to see what this Rick’s Café was all about. Rick’s was less than five minutes further up the road. We turned into the driveway. In the parking lot were 15 or more big tour busses and tour vans. Security guards were directing traffic. We looked at each other and told Chris to keep right on going. After the relaxing day we’d been having, the crowd here would have ruined it completely. Personally, I think Pirate’s Cave is much better place.

Chris drove out of the driveway and headed back the way we came. Robert turns to me and says, “So, Stan, where are we going next?” It made me feel good to know that everyone enjoyed the day. Chris and Papa Wilson deserve the credit for turning me on to Pirate’s Cave and the Treehouse Resort two years ago. Maybe I should start working on another trip for next year now.

Darkness had long since settled over the island by the time we got back to the hotel. Long excursion, a lot of driving, but a good time was had by all.

11 Days in Jamaica – Day 9

Posted in Blog, Journalism, Travel with tags , , , on Wednesday, 22 August 2012, by Stan

(c) Stan Thomas/Kanale Creations

Friday June 22, 2007

Today is Friday. We have our last gig of the trip tonight. I have no plans until then. Funny that even though this is mostly a vacation, I still keep waking up around 6 am. I usually go on down to breakfast before it gets too crowded.

I hadn’t lain out on the beach all week. After breakfast, I ran the stairs, changed clothes, headed back down to do just that. It was still early enough that only five or six people were in the water. I picked out a lounge chair and laid down. The bright sun was climbing higher in the sky. A few big clouds gave the sun something to briefly hide behind once in a while.

The people in the water were far enough away that their voices were barely carried ashore. The gentle sound of the waves lapping the shore was louder than they. A few chairs to the right of me, a family was seated, trying to catch some rays. There was no one on my left. What a peaceful scene. I was going to enjoy this. I drank my water and quickly dozed off.

My bliss lasted nearly three hours. What shattered it was the arrival of a group of about eight people. They were loud. Instead of taking the lounge chairs in the row behind me, they dragged the chairs up closer so they were now in line with mine, surrounding me. I tried to shut my eyes to shut them out but I knew getting back to the bit of heaven I had just been jolted out of wasn’t going to happen.

Five minutes later I hear, “Stan!” A few of the band members were walking around and spotted me on the beach. They asked what I was doing (!). We ended up trading places; all except Leroy walked over to the area where I was, while Leroy and I walked back toward the hotel. Leroy had mentioned wanting to do some more shopping so I went with him.

We walked through Soni’s Plaza, down past the Craft Market, all the way down to Taj Mahal. Since we had gotten in the habit of not dressing like tourists, walking around town was so much easier. It was kind of like being in two worlds; in the gift shops that catered to tourists, the store clerk stayed very close to us, never letting us get out of sight. In the stores that catered to locals, we got quizzical glances, something like, “you look like you’re from here but something just isn’t right.” On the way back, I talked Leroy into stopping by Island Grill.

Island Grill is a Jamaican fast food place that is giving Burger King and KFC a healthy serving of competition. They have something like 14 outlets across the island. There is something about the fries they serve there. I tried them for the first time in Kingston last year. They are the best-tasting fries I have had anywhere. Leroy agreed; those fries are the bomb!

Today was also the last chance I’d have to try an Indian restaurant called A Passage to India. It is right across the street from the hotel. I had seen the place and the billboards countless times but had never tried it. I told Rory that I was planning to go, mainly because Ronnie, our alto player last year, wanted to go.

We walked up the winding staircase to the restaurant. We were the only diners there. Another group came in much later, but for the most part it was just us. The dining area was covered, open air, with a patio and a larger indoor dining area. Service was a tad bit slow, probably because everything was cooked fresh.

Our appetizers arrived. They were so good we practically inhaled them. For the main course, we had lamb tikka and chicken tikka along with garlic naan. (Why horn players would eat at an Indian restaurant before a gig, I don’t know. Why horn players would order garlic naan before a gig, I don’t know. But I’m glad we did on both counts.) The naan came to our table straight from the oven. The flavors in the tikka sauce were like a well-balanced symphony. All the different spices seemed to burst out at once, but none overpowered the other. We ended up sopping our plates with the naan. Ronnie, thank you for the suggestion!

Usually I feel a touch of sadness when we play our last gig here. It means we’ll be leaving Jamaica in a day or two. This time I didn’t feel as sad because some of us were going to Negril tomorrow.

Tonight we played two sets for the dinner crowd. People would walk by and look. Some would stop and take pictures of us as we played. Those who were dining would bob their heads in time with the music. Others got a little pep in their step as they passed.

David, our alto sax player, really dug into his solo on one of the songs. He played through the changes like a master. I wish someone had recorded it because it should be used in the classroom to teach students how changes should be played. A perfect example of improvisation. I was so mesmerized that I missed my entrance at the end of his solo.

At the end of the set, Lee thanked the crowd for listening and the hotel for having us. We took our bows and packed up our gear. Some stayed and ate dinner while others took their gear back to their rooms. God willing, I’ll be able to join the band here again next year.

11 Days in Jamaica – Day 8

Posted in Blog, Journalism, Travel with tags , , on Saturday, 18 August 2012, by Stan

Cool Cool Runnings - (c) Stan Thomas/Kanale Creations


Thursday June 21, 2007

Each year we visit Jamaica, Lee likes to charter one of the party boats for the band. It’s a chance to get everyone together and have a good time. The boat is a catamaran. We normally book it during one of the off days when the cruise ships are not in port.

We normally head out just after noon. On the way to the dock, my friend Tony came seemingly from out of nowhere to say “W’apning”. Tony runs the powered water sports. He’s got jet skis, parasailing, glass bottomed boats, etc.

On board the boat, the crew introduces themselves. Standard safety instructions follow as we cast off. We sail slowly around the shoreline and anchor near a reef. It’s time for snorkeling. Some of the guys swim way out past the reef. The first-timers always comment on the different types of fish they see underwater.

This year, one of the enterprising locals had some of his crafts loaded onto a kayak and paddled out to our boat. He had the usual conch shells, beads, and carved art. His ingenuity paid off; several people bought items from him. Too bad for his land-bound colleagues.

After snorkeling and swimming around in the waters of the Caribbean Sea, we pull up anchor. Slowly we head for another spot to anchor for lunch. Our crew cranks up the music and really gets the party started. People on the shoreline hotels come out to watch. Local kids start dancing. One of the hotel guards even threw down, doing a dance that can only be described as “The Jamaican Stomp”. All the attention we attract is good business for the crew; the name of the boat, “Cool Cool Runnings” (its big sister is named “Cool Runnings”) is written in large, bold, blue letters on both outer hulls. Party-minded guests are thinking, “I wanna be on THAT boat!”

Lunch is usually jerk chicken, rice and peas, salad, and dinner rolls. Free-flowing fruit punch and Red Stripe beer is provided to quench our thirst. I never get tired of jerk chicken. While we eat, we chat with the crew.

Following lunch, the crew stows the empty containers. The DJ turns up the music again. We head out toward sea into the wind. The deckhands unfurl the main sail. The waves get bigger. The boat starts pitching. The crew starts inviting everyone to dance. Of course, it’s Soca dancing. While all this is going on, one of the crew shows off her jumping skills. As the boat pitches upward, she jumps an instant before it reaches the wave’s crest, launched by its upward momentum. She is headed upward as the boat rides down toward the trough. When this is done right, you get some serious air. She certainly did it right. We tried too. It only took a couple of good waves to get the hang of it.

‘Round about this time, the flying fish leap out of the water and begin their legendary glide. There must have been a big school nearby because they came up a dozen or more at a time. No wonder this is one of the highlights of the trip.

Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end. We slowly headed back to the dock. Our cruise was nearly over, but the music kept pumping. Hotel guests got one more chance to envy us. We reached the dock and tied up. Some people still had their sea legs when they stood up to get off the boat. We said goodbye to the crew. Hopefully, we’ll see them again next year.

One of the band members had made dinner reservations for ten of us at La Diva, the hotel’s Italian restaurant. This is the most popular restaurant in the hotel. We all showed up at the appointed 8:30pm time slot but had to wait almost half an hour.

The meal itself was very good. I had the rack of lamb with mint jelly. In fact, everyone in our group was pleased. During the meal, we toasted to Lee’s wedding anniversary, and to our bass trombone player, Dennis’ anniversary. One lady at another table brought her 5-year-old son by our table. He sang an anniversary song to Lee. The mom said it was the kid’s idea.

It took quite a while before each course was served. Since were a large group having a good time, we kind of overlooked it. But it was growing late. The place actually closed while we were there. In fact, the freezer had been locked up by the time we ordered dessert so they had to go find someone with the key to open it again. It was 11:30pm by the time we finally left. Even with the wait, I will come back to La Diva next time we stay here.

11 Days in Jamaica – Day 7

Posted in Blog, Journalism, Travel with tags , , , , , on Friday, 17 August 2012, by Stan


Wednesday June 20, 2007

This is a day I always look forward to when I return to Jamaica; the day when I get to hang out with Lancelot. We’re usually gone all day long. Today he said he would show me the center of the island and the town of Mandeville.

Lee wanted to play some more quartets this morning after breakfast. I had to call Lancelot and ask if we could leave half an hour later. He said it was not a problem.

The quartet session went well. We played most of the same charts as last time and one different piece that was even more challenging than the others. I had to leave the group a bit early to go meet Lancelot.

I went back up to the room to drop off my horn and change clothes. As I walked down the hotel’s driveway, Lancelot pulled up. It’s always good to see him. He’s full of wisdom, sayings, and is a wealth of knowledge about Jamaica.

We headed out. I did ask if we could stop off at  Walkerswood. They make the seasoning I use when I make jerk chicken at home. They have grown enormously in the past couple of years and now have a big factory. Their product line has grown, too, and is now readily available in the States.

Next we drove through the town of Moneague. We drove by Moneague College and through some of the side streets before heading back to the highway. Once we got back on the highway, Lancelot stopped at a small roadside fruit stand for some pineapple. He knew the Roadside fruit stand in Jamaica - (c) Stan Thomasproprietors and talked with them for a moment. It seems like he knows everyone on the island. He offered me a slice of pineapple, confidently saying that it was “so good, it will put Hawaiian pineapple to shame.” Jamaican pineapple is good; more orange in color than the Hawaiian variety, but I have to say nothing tastes as good as fresh pineapple from Hawaii.

While watching television, I remembered a conglomerate company called Lasco made several public service announcements about the shortage of milk on the island and their attempt to resolve the crisis. I asked Lancelot about this. He said that a few years ago, there were more dairy farmers on the island but they weren’t being paid enough for their product. So they stopped raising dairy cows and went into other crops that paid more. As a result, Jamaica now has to import most of its milk products. Sad because according to Lanceleot, all the government had to do was buy the milk and supply it to the school children. That way the dairy farmers could stay in business and there would be enough milk on the island.

As we drove over some of the many hills on the island, Lancelot pointed out the thin pipes that supplied water to the residents. Pipes which frequently broke. Pipes which are woefully inadequate to supply the growing population. Many residents have water tanks in which to store water. These are sometimes filled by water trucks. Since the government does not take a proactive approach to upgrading the water infrastructure, residents are forced to take drastic measures to get action. When the pipes break and are not repaired in a reasonable amount of time, and the water trucks don’t come, residents will block the roads. NO traffic gets through. That means commerce is virtually halted. Alternate routes are available but involve driving hours out of the way.

Linstead has developed quite a reputation. The crime rate is high. Lancelot pointed out one store that he says had been robbed 20 times already. He explained the reason for most of the crime is because there are few jobs. Several of the factories that used to be on the island have shut down and gone to other islands like Trinidad. Of course, that leaves nothing for the youth to do. And, as one of Lancelot’s sayings goes, “the devil will find work for idle hands.” Coincidentally,  The Gleaner, one of Jamaica’s newspapers, ran a story that Sunday about one of the candidates running for office campaigning to clean up the horrid conditions in Linstead’s marketplaces.

Each large town we drove through had a franchise or two of the ubiquitous Burger King or KFC. As we came into Spanish Town, I remarked to Lancelot that I hadn’t seen any McDonald’s. He replied that there were no Mickey D’s on Jamaica. What?! A country where there is no McDonald’s? He said the last one closed in 2005. We covered a large part of the island during the day and sure enough, no golden arches to be found.

What happened? I found out after we got back to the states that the golden arches had been under a black cloud since they first tried to come to Jamaica’s shores back in ’94. Apparently the international fast-food Goliath lost a court battle against a local David and McDonald’s was prevented from doing business on the island for a few years.

When they were allowed back on the island, Mickey D’s was late to market – believe it or not – and never did establish a foothold. Jamaicans had by then already pledged allegiance to Burger King and KFC, in addition to their own home-grown chain called Island Grill.  According to this commentary, not only was McDonald’s late to market, they didn’t even research the market.

Rejoining one of the main highways not far from Spanish Town, Lancelot abruptly pulled over next to a roadside coconut stand. He bought two coconuts, one for each of us. He asked me if I had ever had coconut water before. I told him the hotel served it on occasion. He told the proprietor to cut the coconut so I could drink the water. One skillful chop from his machete and I was drinking fresh coconut water. I drank as much as I could, all the while thinking about what Tom Hanks’ character, Chuck Nolan, told Wilson about coconuts in the movie “Castaway”.

While Lancelot talked with the proprietors, he started using part of the coconut to scrape the ‘meat’ out of the inside and was eating it. Once again, the proprietor picked up his machete. Whack. Whack. Chop. Soon, I was scraping the inside of the coconut and eating the meat, too. It dawned on me right there how many people you see here walking around with machetes. They are used to cut down fruit, chop down trees, clear vines and brush. They are used to cut open fruit, trim hedges, cut grass, and chop meat. And I never for one moment felt uncomfortable about how prevalent machetes are in Jamaica.

Over his lifetime, Lancelot has lived in all 14 of Jamaica’s parishes. Out of all the towns in all the parishes, he says he wants to live in Mandeville. He was practically beaming as we drove into the town. Mandeville sits on a hill and offers an excellent view in many places. It reminded me a lot of San Francisco.

Driving through the town, we passed a military installation. As we passed by, a large helicopter flew in and landed. We passed quite a few upscale homes and many gated communities. Then, Lancelot turned up a narrow street, which led to a building resembling a plantation house. This was our destination. It was called Bloomfield Great House.

Bloomfield Great House actually was a working coffee plantation back in the 1800’s. The main building has been converted into a restaurant. Inside was a beautifully-decorated restaurant with indoor and veranda dining areas, private dining sections, and a big dining area for large groups. On the walls hung many works of art by Jamaican artists. The tables were covered by primary-colored tablecloths. Long streamers of sheer fabric were draped from the ceiling. Use of these vivid colors created a very vibrant atmosphere inside.

We were seated on the veranda. From here you have a commanding view of Mandeville and large part of the center of Jamaica. It was breath taking. There was a slight breeze blowing. I ordered a combo lunch, which came with shrimp and chicken, vegetables, and of course, rice and peas. Lancelot had a club sandwich with fries. We talked a bit while we ate but I spent most of the time just being absorbed in the view. So this was Mandeville. I think I could live here, too.

On the way back we took a slightly different route to connect back to the highway. Lancelot showed me some one of the places he used to live. We stopped at another place that offered a scenic view of the interior of the island. Then we headed back to Ochee.

Lancelot stopped at the Oasis petrol station to fill up the tank. One of my side ‘projects’ on this trip was to photograph some of the billboards and other signs in Jamaica. I hopped out of the car, camera in hand, and quickly snapped a couple of pictures of the station’s sign. Upon returning to the car, a gentleman, who I assumed to be the manager, came trotting over. He anxiously but politely asked if I “would care to disclose why you photographed the sign.” I blurted out my best “no problem, I’m just taking pictures of signs” speech. Understanding what I should have said, Lancelot instantly came to my rescue, telling him, simply, “He’s a tourist.” At first I was offended. Because Jamaica has become a second home to me, I don’t think of myself as a tourist. Then I realized that the manager thought I was a local.

Our trip took us through the parishes of Saint Ann, Saint Catherine, Clarendon, and Manchester. In addition to the towns mentioned earlier, we visited Ewarton, May Pen, and a host of others. Our last stop was at Faith’s Pen for some jerk chicken and pork. It was dark by this time. In my haste to get back to the car, I took a shortcut behind a building and ran into a barbed wire fence. Incredibly it was only a couple of strands high where I hit it. Thank God it only left three superficial scratches.

We arrived back at the hotel and I bid Lancelot farewell. Some of the band members were sitting in the courtyard. Since I had been gone all day, they wanted to know where I had been. I told them about Mandeville. While we chatted, more members of the band walked by. I was very hungry by this point and the aroma of the food from Faith’s Pen was making me even hungrier. I offered some of it to Leroy, then excused myself to the poolside grill and ate the rest.

Later on that night I ran into Lee. He told us that we are scheduled to be the opening act at the first Wine and Jazz Festival in Palmdale. This is going to be a big gig for us. Jeff Golub, The Rippingtons, and Richard Elliot will be performing. I’m really looking forward to this one.

11 Days in Jamaica – Day 6

Posted in Blog, Journalism, Travel with tags , , , on Thursday, 16 August 2012, by Stan

Blue Mountains - (c) Stan Thomas/Kanale Creations

Tuesday June 19, 2007

Today was the day for the Blue Mountain bike tour. I had booked the tour at the same time I made the reservation for The Ruins at the Falls. It started kind of early but they would be providing a small breakfast on the trip.

Earlier in the week I called Lancelot to let him know we were back on the island. I met Lancelot in ’02 on my first trip to Jamaica. He gave me a tour of Ocho Rios that you will not find in any brochure. Since then, each year I come back, I look for him and he takes me someplace new.

This year I told him I wanted to visit Port Antonio. He said that I wouldn’t want to go there because, “the roads are atrocious.” Now if a Jamaican tells you the roads are bad, believe him. The roads around the island are perpetually under construction but for him to single out this road is really saying something.

As our tour van left the last hotel picking up the tour-takers, the roads along the north coast deteriorated. The highway was torn up for interminable stretches. Man, was Lancelot ever right! I could see why he talked me out of going to Port Antoinio – which we ended up passing through on this tour anyway. We bounced along through town after town until we came to Jasmine’s Seafood Restaurant, Jasmine's Seafood Restaurant - (c) Stan Thomas/Kanale Creationsour first rest stop. Our driver, Cleve, told us – jokingly, I hope – that when it is time to go and you are not in the van, “Cleve will leave.” Everyone got back to the van on time.

Leaving town, we headed up the winding roads into the famous Blue Mountains. The roads narrow down to one lane. If you meet an on-coming vehicle, one of you must back up until you reach a part of the road wide enough to allow you to pass. Often this is done with one vehicle in the bushes, an inch or two away from the rocky mountainside, or a hair’s breadth from the edge of a steep drop-off. The space between the passing vehicles is virtually non-existent.

Up the twisting road we went. Cleve told jokes and called out points of interest. Then he told everyone to look toward the left, toward the mountainside, for a “pink rooster”. So all the passengers obediently craned their necks hoping to see this alleged pink rooster. Turns out that at that very spot, the mountain on the right side drops off very steeply, and the road is barely wide enough for the van to travel. Most of the passengers fell for the pink rooster bit on the way up, but there was no way to distract us coming back.

At the café, we stopped for a small breakfast of fruit, toast, eggs and juice. Here we met our guides, got fitted for our helmets and pads, and got a brief overview of the day’s ride. We were to take the van higher up into the mountains while our cruiser-type bikes followed behind on a trailer. Then we would mount the bikes and leisurely ride down. Lunch would be waiting for us back here at the café. We were to continue on down the mountain and end up at a waterfall/pool for a refreshing dip.

Robert, the guide - (c) Stan Thomas/Kanale CreationsThe brochure says that this is one of the most scenic bike rides in the world. Can’t argue there. It certainly was beautiful. We stopped many times while our guide, Robert, pointed out various things like plants and the different types of things they are used for. We stopped at scenic vistas. We stopped to see actual coffee plants and coffee plantations. We stopped to see crayfish traps. We stopped to let the slower people catch up. Since it was all downhill, we didn’t need to pedal hardly at all.

Lunch was, of course, jerk chicken. The guides gave a demonstration showing how coffee goes from berry to brew. The smell of roasting coffee wafted through the café. Packaged coffee was available to purchase but only a couple of people bought any.Berry to brew - (c) Stan Thomas/Kanale Creations

Mounting our bikes again, we continued down the mountain. School had just let out and we saw several schoolchildren walking up the hill. They stuck out their hands enticing us to high-five them as we rode by. I will remember the smiles on their faces forever. Who’d of thought that a simple high five could make a kid so happy?

One of the more interesting things Robert pointed out was a beautifully designed building known colloquially as “The Stab House”. It was secluded, far off in the distance. It is said that men would bring women who were, ahem, not their wives, up here for a romantic weekend.

Suddenly our guide turned off the main road – if you can call it that – onto a dirt road. We had to walk our bikes a few yards until we stoppedWaterfall in Blue Mountains - (c) Stan Thomas/Kanale Creations near the main road again. Our ride ended here. Refreshments had been set out in anticipation of our arrival. Our guides told us that we could go swimming here if we liked. From where we were standing, it didn’t look like much. Robert led us down a trail, past some boulders, and lo and behold, there was the waterfall!

I brought my swim trunks but didn’t go in. Most of the others did jump in. A few of the locals were swimming around. Soon they began diving off the head of the waterfall. I got a couple of good action shots of them, but the sun was directly in front, killing the photo.

Cleve retraced our route back to the same restaurant we stopped at in the morning. Once again, Cleve did not have to leave anyone when it was time to go.

Since the bike ride was so laid back, I wasn’t at all tired but the heat made me sleepy. I tried to catch a few winks but the condition of the road made it impossible. My daily commute back home can range from four to as much as six hours. Much longer than this trip. Yet I was losing patience with this highway fast. Somebody get me off this road. Please!

Meeting John from Scotland and Kelly from England did make bouncing along this road a bit more bearable. We talked for a while. Turned out they were staying in the same hotel as we were. They invited me out for a beer but I needed to get something substantial on my stomach first so I had to take a rain check.

If you are not very athletic and want a nice, easy ride, then this is an excellent excursion for you. You actually get to get out and walk around the famous Blue Mountains. You get to see this area from eye-level as opposed to bus-level. I, on the other hand, was expecting a more vigorous ride. All in all, you cannot beat the scenery on this tour.

11 Days in Jamaica – Day 5

Posted in Blog, Journalism, Travel with tags , on Wednesday, 15 August 2012, by Stan

Ocho Rios - (c) Stan Thomas/Kanale Creations


Monday June 18, 2007

Leroy and I went into town after breakfast to look for souvenirs. This was his first trip to Jamaica and he wanted to go into town with someone who had been before. Years ago I had learned not to dress like a tourist when walking around outside the hotel. It may have worked too well this time; when we tried to enter one of the stores, one of the clerks blocked the doorway and was obviously reluctant to let us in. I realized later that almost all of the shopkeepers we visited that day followed us quite closely while we were in their stores.

While shopping, Leroy found a few things he liked and bought them. I found a polo shirt with the national flag of Jamaica. There’s something about that flag… I also saw this slammin’ hat that I just had to have. I knew if I didn’t buy it I’d be kicking myself until next year.

About a mile from the hotel is the Taj Mahal. Only a handful of people were there when we arrived, which meant we weren’t rushed; a rare experience in such a well-known tourist spot. That was short-lived. Almost on cue half a dozen tour busses and shuttle vans pulled up and disgorged their passengers. Time to leave.

On the way back we passed the mall next to the craft market. It had another row of shops in back, well off the street. In the five times I’ve been here I had never ventured to see what was back there. Leroy was game so we headed down the walkway. For a minute I thought I was walking down Degnan Aveune in Leimert Park back home. Here were shops with art work, furniture, fabrics, a bookstore, a printer/graphic designer, and more. I didn’t see any tourists. I could’ve hung around here for hours.

Our second performance at the hotel was during dinner. If we can start early enough, which we did this evening, we’d be able to do the gig, put our axes away, and come back down for dinner with plenty of time to enjoy it. Some of the guys like to eat during the break. Although I want to, I usually hold off until after the gig. Eating that close to playing affects the amount of air I can blow through the horn. And that baritone takes a LOT of air. Besides, you run the risk of blowing food particles into the instruments. If you’ve eaten onions or garlic (or both), you can image what will happen to your mouthpiece.

Not much else was going on so I went back up to the room for the night.

11 Days in Jamaica – Day 4

Posted in Blog, Journalism, Travel with tags , on Tuesday, 14 August 2012, by Stan

Ocho Rios Jazz Festival at Shaw Park Hotel. (c) Stan Thomas/Kanale Creations


Sunday June 17, 2007

After breakfast I watched another cricket match in the lobby. One of the employees, Oral Murphy, stopped by. We started talking. I told him that I didn’t understand the game. He explained it to me, filling in the parts I hadn’t picked up on yet. It started to make sense. I finally understood the game of cricket!!!

We are kicking off the Ocho Rios Jazz Festival today. Chris and Andy, our drivers, arrived to take us over to the Shaw Park hotel. It was a short drive over so we were pretty well rested.

Not only did we have plenty of time to set up, we had time to check out the venue. Right on the beach! I am – actually we all are – truly blessed to be able to be playing here. For you young people reading this, this is just one example of where music can take you.

Band at Ocho Rios Jazz Festival. (c) Stan Thomas/Kanale CreationsAnother band was on stage doing a sound check. By what they were playing, my guess was that they were a Ska band. They were wearing green and gold shirts with “Jamaica” embroidered on them. I guess they got everything dialed in quickly because they weren’t on stage very long.

We took the stage next and got set up fast. The sound check progressed and everything was locking in…except the keyboard. For some reason no sound was coming out of it. It worked fine for the previous band. David, our keyboard player, and one of the stagehands figured it out; just in time because the festival announcer came up a couple of minutes later to start the show.

He welcomed the audience to the festival. When he announced our band, he noted that we were making our 17th appearance at the festival, calling us a “fixture”.

Lee was ready to give us the downbeat; a one, a two, one two three… as luck would have it, seconds after we started a slight breeze picked up and blew charts off of our music stands. Time to break out the clothespins.

Sometime between sound check and downbeat, word got to Lee that our set was being shortened to half an hour to make room for a performance of local school kids. Apparently they had made quite a bit of progress in their musical skills in a short time. So the organizers decided to include them in the festival.

Since our set was now half as long as planned, we had to really pay attention to Lee to see which charts were up next, and who would be playing solos on them. It seemed like as soon as we started, we were playing our closing number “In the Mood.”

Back in the Artist’s room, which is actually one of the hotel’s cottages (I would love to stay here for a couple of days), I remarked to Lee that my horn wasn’t even warmed up because when I opened the spit valve – or as it’s politically correctly called now, the water valve – nothing came out. Most of the other band members wanted to play more, too. It was a long way to travel for a 30-minute set. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining and have no business complaining. I’m sure almost anyone would love to be here, even if it’s only for 30 minutes.

Our set now finished, some band members walked around the hotel grounds, some ate, and some watched the other groups on stage. I did all three. Houston Person was on the bill but we had to leave before he performed. I did get to meet him, though.Playbill from 2007 Ocho Rios Jazz Festival

The kids that came on after us were pretty good for their age. They looked to be junior high age. Their set included a Ray Charles chart, and, of course, a Bob Marley tune.

Kathy Brown at Ocho Rios Jazz Festival. (c) Stan Thomas/Kanale CreationsKeyboardist Kathy Brown came up next. She has become a regular at the festival. I recall seeing her perform several times. She has a unique style about her music. She can take a familiar tune, put her own special touch on it, and make it sound like you’re hearing it for the first time. I wish I had written down some of the songs she played.

Chris and Papa Wilson arrived to take us back to the hotel. On the way back we passed “The Ranch” one of the Jerk Centres I’ve been wanting to go back to. Once we got back to the hotel, instead of going directly back to the room, our bass player, Leroy, and I hung out in the lobby with Chris for a bit, just shooting the breeze.

Not long after we got back a group of us headed out into town. Dominic and Dave sped off in search of conch down at the end of the pier. The rest of us kept slowly walking down the street. Lee decided that he wanted some patties and invited us to join him. A patty is a beef-filled pastry. Mother’s, Tastee, and Juicy Patty have locations all over the island where you can get one of these tasty treats. Stop in at one of these places and grab an authentic Jamaican patty. If you do get a patty from one of these joints, here is a word of caution you’ll thank me for later: the beef filling is akin to molten lava. I didn’t know this the first time I got one from Mother’s during my first visit to Jamaica. I spent a couple of days afterwards with strands of skin hanging from the roof of my mouth. The way to eat one is to carefully take a tiny bite from the end, let it sit for a while, then take slightly larger bites as the filling cools to a more reasonable temperature. Beats me why these things need to be that hot inside, but they sure are good. Wash it down with a Red Stripe, Ting (my favorite), or a DG Kola Champagne. Nowadays you can get patties with chicken, beef with cheese, vegetarian, crab, lobster, goat, or just about any other type of filling. You’ll find the more exotic variations in upscale restaurants and hotels. Rest assured they will not be as hot inside as at the local food outlets.

We sat around on the patio of Tastee’s talking for quite some time. While there, one of the locals came by trying to freestyle. His lyrics were often vulgar. He made several of the women in the eatery nervous. It didn’t take long for the security guard to usher him out.

When we left Tastee’s, Lee saw Ernest, one of our driver friends. Lee chatted him up for a bit. Next thing we know we’re piling into his van. He took us to Taj Mahal Plaza where we did some looking around. The Taj Mahal is one of the places where we get a good deal on the world-famous Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee. There are many imitations that locals will try to sell you at their shops. Just make sure it says  JABLUM on the package. Jablum can go for $50 or more per pound in the states. When Lee sets it up right, the band will buy in volume, lowering the price to a fraction of what it sells for back home. Since the Taj is only about a mile, if that, from the hotel, we walked back.

I had been wanting to try out the Ruins at the Falls restaurant since the first time I saw it five years ago. The guest information said that they could set me up with reservations and a ride to and from the restaurant. The lady attending the desk happily made the arrangements. She also told me that she could book the Blue Mountain Bike Tour for me.

At the appointed time, I arrived in the lobby and met my driver Robb. A young guy, he owns his own business, Alton’s Reliable Taxi Service. He says he’s only been operating for a few years. So far he has proven the reliable part.

We arrived at the restaurant and Robb escorted me in. The hostess met us as we passed through the foyer. She escorted me to a table outside, right by the roaring 40-foot waterfall. It was the best seat in the house.

The Ruins at the Falls is known for its waterfall, for which it is named. Water plunges down from an unseen source into a pool. The area is surrounded by many different types of ferns and other flora. Looking up from my table, you see the high canopy of the trees, which is adorned by stars peeking in through the branches. Jamaicans have a saying about Ocho Rios; they call it the place “where Heaven spills into the sea.” Whoever first said that must have been standing right here.

On this trip I allowed myself a couple of indulgences. This meal would be one of them. It was also Father’s Day. An overwhelming menu made it hard to decide. I chose the surf and turf; local steak, local lobster. On the side came vegetables and mashed potatoes with an interesting twist; a pagoda of dry chow mein noodles. (The menu mentioned Chinese influences). A glass of white wine completed the meal.

Since I was the only patron in the restaurant, it didn’t take too long for the meal to arrive. I dug in immediately. The steak was tender, cooked medium rare as requested. I think I detected just a hint of teriyaki flavor. The lobster tasted, well, like lobster. Nothing to detract from the taste. For lack of more descriptive prose, it tasted like good lobster should taste. Which is a good thing. My wine selection was a glass of house wine. It, too, was good; not too sweet, not too dry.

Between bites, I kept thinking about how blessed I am to be here in Jamaica once again, dining at this restaurant. The beauty of this scene was unmatched. I didn’t want it to end. But end it did. I wondered why I had not come here before now.

As I was walking back to the foyer, Robb showed up, as if on cue. We talked all the way back to the hotel. Next time I come here, I’ll have to find Robb and ask him for suggestions of places to go.

My plan was to go back to the room and watch television. That plan was changed when I saw some of the band members sitting at the crowded lobby bar by the elevator. I joined them and some people from England who were also there. Somehow we ended up toasting “to the queen!”

For some reason B-52 popped into my mind. Though the bartender, Romayne, had heard of it, he never made one before. We huddled up and talked about what was in it. He didn’t have the correct ingredients so he improvised. What he came up with was pretty close.

Our new English friend and I were talking about the cocktail when it arrived and before I knew it, my band mates had ordered a round for themselves. That was rapidly followed by a larger round for the people standing behind us and the other English couple on the other side of the bar. Poor Ramayne must have built at least 50 of those B-52s over the course of the night; they were being ordered 10 at a time. It is a relatively time-consuming task to make one of them because they are layered. Near the end of the night, he must gotten tired of the effort required and just started pouring the ingredients together without layering them. I found out the next day that this evening had become known around the band as “B-52 Night” and I was tagged with a nickname for this trip – “The Instigator.”

Karaoke is something I will watch. Getting me up to sing is next to impossible. Our director, Lee, is only the second person to ever get me behind a Karaoke mic. (Here in the hotel, the Karaoke ‘machine’ is actually a live keyboard player named Maurice.) He had picked out Lionel Ritchie’s “All Night Long”. That song has a special meaning for me because it was one of my friend Roberta’s favorite songs. She passed away just before Christmas last year, God rest her soul, so it just felt right to sing it. Maurice started off and before I realized what I had gotten myself into, I was singing in front of about two dozen people. It went surprisingly well. The patrons at the bar were even singing the chorus. I hope no one got that on tape.

11 Days in Jamaica – Day 3

Posted in Blog, Journalism, Travel with tags , , on Saturday, 11 August 2012, by Stan

Saturday June 16, 2007

Lazy day today. Had a big breakfast, ran my 10 flights of stairs and went back to the room.

During breakfast, Lee asked me to play in a saxophone quartet. This is a different format for me. I haven’t played Classical since college. And never on baritone.

Our quartet consisted of our two alto players, Lee on tenor sax, and myself on bari sax. These guys have played around the globe, recorded extensively, and worked with some of the best musicians in the world. And here I was getting a chance to play with them. Lee whipped out a chart and away we went.

I felt like I had been thrown into the deep end. But I swam. The format forces you to use all of your skills. Most importantly, you gotta count. Everything else is based on that. All the nice harmony, tight unison, solos, and counter-melodies mean nothing if you can’t find ‘one’. We played a little over an hour in styles ranging from Classical to Jazz. What an experience!

After playing the quartets, I went back up to my room again. A cricket match was on. Cricket is very big here. On my previous visits I would watch it but could never figure out how this strange game was played. With no plans for the day and a whole room to myself, I vowed to learn cricket. West Indies was playing. Since we are in the West Indies, I rooted for them.

Just as I was learning about bowlers and fielders and targets, I heard the sound of a key card being slid into the lock and the door opened. Two ladies with their luggage were standing in the doorway. Apparently they had been assigned the room. A quick call to the front desk got things straightened out. But I had a funny feeling my time flying solo in this room would soon be over.

My suspicions were confirmed at dinner. Something told me to try the key card before closing the door. Sure enough, the light showed red, meaning the key no longer worked.

On the way to dinner I stopped at the front desk to see what was up. We ended up bringing Lee to the desk to get to the bottom of things. They got it taken care of and I got booted out of my room. Oh well. It was nice while it lasted. Now I’m sharing a room with two other guys. Fortunately it’s the two alto sax players. Eb in the house!

11 Days in Jamaica – Day 2

Posted in Blog, Journalism, Travel with tags , , on Friday, 10 August 2012, by Stan

Sunset Jamaica Grande. (c) Stan Thomas/Kanale Creations

Friday June 15, 2007

Our first day playing. 12:30 downbeat. This trip I’m holding down the baritone saxophone chair. Last year I played baritone in Jamaica for the first time. For me, the best word to describe playing bari is “fun.”

I had a good-sized breakfast to start the day. Then a quick run up the 10 flights of stairs to my room. If I can run 6 to 8 floors without stopping I feel good. Today I did all 10 floors before my legs turned to lead. Not bad.

The hotel staff was wrapping up setting up the PA system when I arrived at the gig. So we were able to start on time. The first tune on the first gig is the first chance we have to see how the whole band sounds together in the open air and heat/humidity of the Caribbean. Today we sounded very good right off the bat. By the second chart we had locked in. This trip featured a very hot sax section and it was living up to the billing. We were tight, very balanced.

Midway through the set, our lead alto player, Rory, took a solo. He was on fire! Burning! I was enjoying it so much I almost missed my entrance.

All too soon the first set was over. Last year after a gig playing baritone, I was worn out. Walking the few feet to dinner was a chore. I felt like a boxer who had gone the full 12 rounds, walks back to his corner and collapses, spent, onto the stool.

Not this year. This time I felt energized after the first set. I was ready to go a few more rounds. My year-old Cannonball bari sounded incredibly good. It roared. It soared. Floor-rumbling bottom end. Notes in the staff sounded like a bowed bass. 3-hour set? Bring it on!!

Something happened during the break. Maybe it was too long. Maybe we ate too much. I don’t know. But whatever happened, that chemistry the band had during the first set was gone.

Lunch in the Grande Palm Courtyard was just about over. No use rushing to put my axe away only to come back down to a closing buffet. On a whim I went over to the Jamalicious Café. They were serving one of my favorite Jamaican dishes; curry goat. How good was it? Let’s just say there was a whole lotta lip-smackin’ goin’ on.