Archive for travel

If I Wrote John Heald’s Blog – Chapter 3, Part II

Posted in Blog, Travel with tags , , , , , , , on Saturday, 23 July 2016, by Stan



We went to the Punchliner comedy club (¡Hola, Pablo!) just about every night it was open. Mark Hawkins and Just June were our favorites. We enjoyed both of them so much that we saw several of their shows, both the PG and adult versions. For some of the comedians, I think a 30-minute set is too short. How about giving them 45-minutes?

My wife and I were blown away by the Playlist production “Motor City”. I always enjoy hearing songs from Motown’s heyday. The set was unbelievable and the way the cast interacted with the set was amazing. If I tried to describe it here, I’m not sure I could do it justice. If you are on a ship that features this show and you like Motown or even just great set design, you absolutely have to see this production.

And it didn’t stop there. As the “Motor City” finale drew to a close, the after party seamlessly began out in the Colors lobby with the band Resting Beach Face picking up where the show left off. Our ever-present CD Eric hosted and even got in on the action. Have you ever seen anyone use a passenger elevator as part of the show? Eric did. “Shout” will never be the same.

It took a few cruises but I finally got to sail on a ship that has a Guy’s Burger Joint. Over the course of the cruise I think I ate at Guy’s at least four times. The burgers were delicious! For me, it was the combination of the beef used and the grilled buns that made it so good. Plus you get to add your own condiments. Unfortunately, the realization set in mid-cruise that I could not continue to eat there every day. Consequently, because I spent so much time at Guys’, I didn’t get to try BlueIguana Cantina. Guess that will have to wait until next cruise. Anyone else want Carnival to extend BlueIguana’s hours?

Another thing discussed on Facebook quite a bit is live music. I had just finished relaxing on the lounge chairs on probably the hottest day of the cruise and was walking back to the room when I heard the Caribbean duo playing. A live band playing with a real, live, steel drum! YES! This is how I remember my earlier cruises with Carnival. Great music, deep blue sea, no land or other ships in sight, puffy white clouds, a packed Lido deck, people dancing, swimming, smiling, eating, and just having one huge party! Simply iconic. And now this image will join the others in my memory. Thanks, beards, (and John), for bringing back live Caribbean music!

As far as shore excursions go, we took an excursion in every port. On Grand Cayman we took a bike excursion on our own because Carnival did not offer any. Still waiting to hear back from the beards regarding my shameless plug modest request to test out any cycling excursions Carnival adds to their itineraries. Our excursion gave us the opportunity to get away from the resorts and see some parts of the island most visitors don’t get to see. And we had a delicious lunch, too! Sure would be nice if Grand Cayman used some of fees from all that money they hold to build a pier. Well, it looks like they’re going to do just that. But along with the new pier will come admitted “significant and irreversible environmental damage”.

Our next destination was Mahogany Bay, Roatan. I can see why Mahogany Bay is a favorite port with cruisers. Here again we booked a tour with a different company. One of John’s policies here on the blog is honesty. In that spirit, here is my honest assessment. After reading the reviews of what activities/stops one of the excursions actually made, I’m glad we opted for the non-Carnival tour on Roatan. Why? The Carnival tour we considered is called Top 10 Best of Roatan. Time in port is only 8 hours but you have to allow time to get off the ship and to get back on board an hour before sail time. So figure 6, maybe 7 hours on the island. And in that 6-7 hours, we are scheduled to see 10 of the best things Roatan has to offer, and that is including time to relax on the beach. In my opinion, that’s not enough time to enjoy each of the scheduled activities.

In Belize, we took the Jaguar Cave Zipline and Tubing Combo excursion with Carnival. Skies were very dark grey and rain did fall while on the tender. Our tour ran into problems just 5 minutes out of port when the bus broke down. Since this was a Carnival excursion, the company Carnival contracted with was able to dispatch another bus fairly quick and we were able to continue on. By this time it was pouring rain on the way to the site but at least we were safe inside the bus.

We enjoyed the zip lining and the tubing. Our group seemed to get along quite well on the tour. Some even conquered their fear of heights…and zip lines. As we saw each other on the ship later in the cruise, we would stop and talk. Surprise of the tour? Cashew wine. I’ll let you ‘digest’ that for a minute. We were given a sample during lunch and promptly bought a bottle.

At the last port on the itinerary, Cozumel, we booked the Amazing Secret River tour. We almost took a different Carnival tour but I’m glad we chose this one. This excursion is aptly named. It was simply amazing! Apparently while we were exploring the underground river, we missed a heavy rain shower. But another cell dumped on us later, this time while on the ferry from the mainland back to Cozumel, and continued while waiting in line to re-board the ship. We had a little over an hour between the end of the excursion and the last ferry back to Cozumel. We spent the time walking around Quinita Avenida in Playa del Carmen. Too much to see and not enough time to see it all. I would like to come back and visit more of Cozumel and Playa del Carmen.

Writing John’s blog is fun. In 2012, my five-year horizon did not include any cruises. Then our PVP contacted us. That led to booking a Baltic cruise in 2013 on Carnival Legend and my first attempt at writing the blog. Since then, we have taken four more cruises. Coincidence?

I just got a message that because of my work on John’s blog, I am being given a personal escort by Security, per John’s specific orders, to the front of the line for debarkation, with a special gangplank reserved just for me. They want me to be ready in 15 minutes. Wow! John really does take care of his guests! Wait a minute. Today is a sea day…


If I Wrote John Heald’s Blog – Chapter 3, Part I

Posted in Blog, Travel with tags , , , , , , on Saturday, 23 July 2016, by Stan


Hello, my name is Stan. I am sitting here, fully clothed, writing John Heald’s blog today from our inside cabin aboard Carnival Glory. John is back in ex-EU England and will be joining the Carnival Splendor again in late July. I’ve sailed aboard Carnival Splendor twice with fond memories of both cruises. Thanks to Carnival Splendor, we found a new getaway destination: Cabo San Lucas.

How did I get to write John’s blog, you ask? Well, I figured Jacinta might want to help me now that she has settled into her new job. Anything to make life easier for her boss, right? Jacinta started on Carnival Glory as a bar waitress and her life changed on this ship. Glory is her favorite ship, so I asked one of the bar staff there to call her.

My intent was to turn on the charm. I started by greeting her in her native Romanian language. “Bună,” I said. Over the phone, I could tell that she was smiling. She returned the greeting but was not much impressed. She’s much smarter than to be taken in by flattery. I then texted her a photo of yak patties and ground yak to show to John. She chuckled but still wouldn’t crack.

Next I offered to buy John’s hemorrhoid cream. That stopped her in her tracks. Something in her voice let me know I now had her full attention but would need to do better. I sweetened the pot: “Ok, a one month’s supply.”

“You are getting warmer,” she replied, “but it will take a bit more than that.”

“Oh, alright. A year’s supply, then.”


She quickly gave me short but explicit instructions on how to post the blog, then, um, ‘suggested’ that the preceding conversation never took place. Mulţumesc, Jacinta!

In my first attempt at writing John’s blog I forgot to give a huge shout-out to our servers in the MDR on Carnival Liberty. This was back in 2013. Our head waiter’s name was Ben, from Grenada, I think. We had another team member from the Philippines, and one from Croatia. I have since forgotten their names. But we had so much fun with them. They worked together well and took very good care of us. One night, some of the waiters dressed in costumes for a dance. I was wearing a polo shirt from Jamaica. Our Croatian waiter came out with a dreadlocks hat on. Needless to say, that sparked a lively conversation between us. Since that night, whenever I tell friends about that cruise, I mention my Croatian brother from another mother. I also tell them that talking with him is the main reason why I now want to visit Croatia.

Speaking of visiting (and this has nothing to do with cruising but since I am writing John’s blog, I’ll bring it up anyway), I wonder if John has any connection to the town of Healdsburg in Northern California. Was the town founded by his early relatives? Has he ever been to Healdsburg? Does he know that Healdsburg produces several award-winning wines?

I miss John’s Q&A that used to appear here in about this part of the blog. Since we have no Q&A this time, let’s get right to our cruise.

Carnival Glory is on a Western Caribbean itinerary, sailing from Miami, Florida. Embarkation in Miami was our first experience with the assigned check-in. My understanding was that the check-in time was the time you would be allowed to check in AND board. I, and most of the other guests in line learned that the assigned time was for check-in only. Actual boarding would take place later by assigned groups and was a separate process. I wish I had known that. Well, now I know. I guess the intent was to smooth out the flow so there was not a small group of people checking in at noon, followed by an ever-growing crush of guests arriving last minute at the 3:00 pm cut-off time. Not sure how much more Carnival can do to get 3,000 people checked in and boarded in a rather short amount of time. There are already crewmembers roaming the line making sure guests queue up when and where they are supposed to.

When we did get on board, our first stop was our cabin, oops, stateroom. We hung out in our room until time for the safety briefing. Following the briefing, we made a beeline for Pizza Pirate. Seems like a lot of other guests had the same idea but since we were among the first in line, it didn’t matter how long the line was behind us. Eating our pizza on Lido deck as we sailed out of the Port of Miami was a treat. Why? Because that gave us the opportunity to watch a behemoth like Carnival Glory perform a pirouette in a relatively small space in the port as she moved away from the dock and navigated along the canal and out into the open ocean.

Having pizza also allowed us to pass the time while waiting for our luggage to be delivered to our room. But when we eventually did go back down to the room, our luggage still hadn’t arrived. That’s when we met Michael, our stateroom steward. We let him know the situation and that we had reservations for the Emerald Room Steakhouse in a few minutes. Michael sprang into action. Five minutes later he arrived back at our door, breathless, but with our luggage in tow. I told Michael’s supervisor how he went above and beyond what was expected but also want to thank him here. Salamat, Michael!

Glory is a very long ship. I know this because our cab, stateroom is the very first one on our deck, right up by the bow. The Platinum dining room, where we are seated for dinner, is aft. Way aft. There were a couple of times where I stood outside our stateroom door and looked down the corridor. It seemed to go on forever. You think Glory looks big from the outside?

Some of the many benefits of reading John’s blog and his Facebook page are the helpful tips from readers. A couple of months ago, someone shared on Facebook how they solved the perpetual luggage tag problem. We took their advice and ordered a set of these tags. They worked perfectly! Would these be useful to you? Even the porter commented that our luggage was nicely labeled. And I’m sure those tags made it a little easier for Michael to find our bags.

Elevator crowding happened most often on embarkation day. People did rush onto the elevator regardless of whether it was headed up or down. My guess is that with several of the elevators being used by the crew to deliver our luggage, everyone was anxious to get their cruise on, get to their cabin, or to Lido to eat, and had to do so using the few remaining elevators. Elevator crowding didn’t seem to be a problem the rest of the cruise.

On the last few cruises, I’ve been paying more attention to the artwork on the ship. I noticed that the pictures in the stateroom coordinated with the artwork in the stairwells. The nautical theme in the dining areas on Lido deck also stood out. Miniature sails and riggings remind you that you are indeed on a ship, even when you could not see the ocean.

Since this is John’s blog, you know this subject had to come up. Me, personally, I enjoy dressing up for the steakhouse and Elegant Night. But another reason why more and more people are no longer dressing up has occurred to me: suits and dresses take up a lot of space in luggage. And with the weight restrictions and fees imposed by airlines on checked luggage, people are choosing to pack as light as possible to avoid those fees. Extra articles of clothing are among the first items to be left behind at home. So while I’d prefer to wear a suit, this time a nice shirt and tie will have to do. Tuxedos? It’s been more than a decade since I wore one on board, mainly because I see so few other men wearing them.

Slider In the Emerald Room Steakhouse we were very well taken care of by Artem, Goran, Anna Maria, Julia, and Myroslava, all from Russia and Belarus. This time we took John’s advice and spoke with the chef before dinner to see if we could come up with a vegetarian meal for my wife. Chef Rajendra came through with flying colors. He made an exceptionally delicious dish of grilled vegetables. It was so good that I could’ve skipped the steak myself and eaten just the vegetables he prepared. Also, compliments of the chef, was a microscopic slider. Tiny, but very tasty. For my meal I had the tuna tartare, Caesar salad, and spiced rubbed 18 oz. rib-eye. All were excellent, especially the rib-eye! I did notice that in the steakhouse, not one man was wearing a tie.

Surprisingly, I got up and out on the jogging track twice during the cruise. I really needed to run after that fantastic meal in the Emerald Room Steakhouse. It was nice to see arrows painted on the track so joggers/walkers knew in which direction to run. Another nice thing was not having people stop in the middle of the track.

In the Main Dining Room, we were seated at a table for four. We only saw our tablemates once. And then only once after that somewhere else on the ship. In effect, we had a table for two for the five nights we dined there. Which was just fine for us. One thing I want to know, though, is what happened to the bitter and blanc? It was not on the menu. Is it only served on certain ships?

Our wait staff was friendly and individually served us well. But for some reason, they didn’t seem to work together as a team. On previous cruises, there was much more interaction between our servers. That aside, our waiters do deserve a big thank you and a special mention to their supervisors. We were celebrating a special occasion one night. Apparently, unbeknownst to us, a special dessert had been prepared but we left a few minutes after the table was cleared and before they brought it out. They plated it and had it sent to our cabin, er, stateroom later in the evening. What a surprise to return to our room and find it waiting for us.

At the buffets on Lido deck, I saw again just how many people leave a LOT of food on their plates. I saw one plate – left out in the corridor outside of someone’s cabin – that had about 7 slices of different desserts from Lido – all untouched. I think a lot of it stems from people believing that it’s ok to leave food uneaten because they have already paid for it. My thought on that is their cruise would cost a lot less if so much food didn’t go to waste. Another reason might just be that their eyes are bigger than their stomachs.

Something John mentioned on Facebook not long ago was how he likes to walk down Promenade on Elegant Night and watch the guests having their pictures taken in the portrait studios. I didn’t think too much of it until I intentionally paid attention to it on the last Elegant Night. I have to admit; it was fun seeing everyone all dressed up. And everyone that we saw looked like they were truly enjoying themselves, smiling, posing away, creating one more memory of their cruise.


Jazz Around the World – Meeting Place

Posted in Blog, Jazz, Music with tags , , , , , on Sunday, 30 March 2014, by Stan

джаз филармония холл

If you are looking for the Jazz Around the World tour, you have come to the right place. We will meet here at Kanale Speaks – where you are right now – the evening of March 31st to begin the tour. Just what is Jazz Around the World? Here is the press release:

April is Jazz Appreciation Month. In honor of Jazz Appreciation Month, I am hosting  a virtual tour called “Jazz Around the World”. Through the magic of the Internet and YouTube, we will visit 30 countries in 30 days – a different country each day – to hear Jazz from musicians that were born in those countries.

Visitors will be treated to a virtual concert by artists or groups at each stop on our itinerary. The journey begins and ends in the United States, circling the globe as we go.

This is a virtual tour; all you need is a computer, tablet, smartphone, or any Internet-enabled device. Please join me for an unforgettable musical journey.

Hope you will join me for Jazz Around the World.

Caribbean Fantasy: Jamaica 2013 Wall Calendar

Posted in Calendar, Photography, Travel with tags , , , , , , , on Saturday, 10 November 2012, by Stan

Caribbean Fantasy: Jamaica 2013 Wall Calendar (c) Stan Thomas/Kanale Creations

Announcing the release of the Caribbean Fantasy: Jamaica 2013 calendar! This 12-month wall calendar features stunning images of Jamaica by photographer Stan Thomas. The calendar is printed on heavy card-stock paper and each one is individually shrink wrapped.

Order one for your home or office, or both!

Ready to order? Go to my Kanale Creations Calendar page and click the Add to Cart button.

Standard calendar: $17.95 each
Personalized calendar: $28.25 each

Domestic shipping: $2.70
International shipping: e-mail for rates

Tax: 8.75% California tax

If you are ordering a personalized calendar:

With the Caribbean Fantasy: Jamaica calendar, you can add your own special dates. Want to add birthdays? Anniversaries? Events? No problem, mon.


February 3 – Joe’s Birthday

June 25 – Our 25th Anniversary

August 5 – Janet’s Baby Shower

October 15 – Chamber of Commerce Annual Dinner

You can add as many dates as you wish up to a maximum of 25. You can order as many calendars as you wish. However, due to the ordering process they all must be designed the same way. If you want to create another calendar using different dates, you must place a separate order.

Your order will be shipped to you directly from the printer. Sorry, no refunds on personalized orders.

Caribbean Fantasy: Jamaica sample images. (c) Stan Thomas/Kanale Creations

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 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.

11 Days In Jamaica – Day 1

Posted in Blog, Journalism, Travel with tags , , on Thursday, 9 August 2012, by Stan

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.