11 Days In Jamaica – Day 1

Carnival ship at Ocho Rios. (c) Stan Thomas/Kanale Creations

Thursday June 14, 2007

There are some things that are unsurpassed in beauty. Sunrise at 35,000 feet is one of them. Orange sun rising above the indigo horizon…. Over Mexico now, heading south. The shores of the Gulf of Mexico are clearly visible but the clouds are rapidly getting thicker.

Banking eastward toward the Caribbean and I know Jamaica is not far. The clouds now spread out as far as you can see. For the amount of different cloud formations up here, you’d think there’d be some severe turbulence. But the flight has been as smooth as glass most of the way. A drop in the pitch of the droning engines announces our descent. Moments later, the Jewel of the Caribbean appears outside our starboard windows.

We cross the runway threshold and seem to hang 10 feet above the concrete for what seemed like too long. I thought to myself, “You can set this bird down anytime now.” Finally the wheels touch terra firma. Our rollout takes us to the east end of the runway where we turn right and circle back to the terminal.

Getting off the plane and through immigration was a breeze this time. All of our axes and luggage made it safely. When your axe becomes checked baggage it makes for an anxious trip every time you do it. TSA can be as bad as the baggage handlers, especially when they open your case upside down and/or don’t close it properly. (If that comment sounds like it’s coming from personal experience, that’s because it is).

Donald Sangster Airport in Montego Bay has been under construction for several years now. This year a pleasant surprise awaited us: Customs had been moved to a new wing of the airport. It was big. It was beautiful. It was air-conditioned!

At Customs, each member of the band has to open the case containing his axe and show it to the agent. The serial numbers must match a list that had been sent to them a few weeks before our arrival. No glitches this time so we breezed through Customs, too.

Outside, our drivers Chris and Papa Wilson were waiting to shuttle us over to Ocho Rios. They found out about our flight delay and had moved the vans to a waiting area until we arrived.

One of the kiosks outside sold refreshments, including Red Stripe beer. Half of the band promptly descended on the kiosk, some of them literally getting their first taste of Jamaica via a cold Red Stripe. I opted for a Ting.

Digicel billboard. (c) Stan Thomas/Kanale CreationsI always read the billboards along the road. It helps me connect with the island. Cellular phone companies dominate. (By the way, that is $8 Jamaican, not US. $8 JMD is about 9 cents in US currency). Banks and public service announcements are plentiful, as are food ads. This is what the government and big corporations spend a big chunk of their advertising budget on.

That got me reflecting on an article I wrote a couple of years ago for the Expo Update called “Jamaican Economy Blown by Winds of Change.” The island is sure changing. New luxe resorts like Riu and Gran Bahia Principe have sprung up. Condo/villa complexes like the Palmyra with price tags of $500,000 to over $3.5 million are being built. Rantré pu wè si sa byen vré. Yo di ki péy a shanjé.

Usually we stop at Yow’s, about halfway to Ochee to stretch our legs and get a bite to eat. Here the band inhales the requisite beef patties and more Red Stripe. I went for jerk pork, which they were out of last time. I washed that down with a Kola Champagne.Yow's. (c) Stan Thomas/Kanale Creations

Back on the road again, which is perpetually under construction. It was a bit better this time. The road bypassing Falmouth was complete. Looking back, I do miss driving through the town itself, but not the bumpy road. Less than an hour later we round a bend and beheld Ocho Rios. Carnival’s Triumph was in port. That lets us know that today is not a good day to go shopping.

I think the longest wait we had so far was getting checked into the hotel. One thing about this trip is you never know whom you’ll be rooming with. Another is we never know which days we’ll be playing, save the Ocho Rios Jazz Festival. And even those days can change after they’ve been assigned. But hey, this Jamaica, mon. No problem, right?

Through a mix-up with the rooming situation, I ended up with a room all to myself. At first I wasn’t going to say anything but I figured it would be better if I did let someone know. Besides, I’d have a clear conscience. The maid was told and our leader was told. I fully expected to have a roommate but so far I’m still by myself.

At 8:45 I went down to dinner. After eating, my first thought was to go back up to the room and get a good night’s sleep for a change. But the finals were on and even though I’m not a big basketball fan, I did want to see this one.

Mike joined me in the lobby midway through the 3rd quarter. For a while there I thought the Cavs might just avoid being broomed but that was short-lived. Mike was pulling for them, being from the Midwest, himself. San Antonio won the game and the championship. That was my cue to go back to the room and get my sleep.

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