Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Another Jamaican moment

Place, atmostphere, and the element of chance - the unexpected, serendipitous events that make the moment happen - are, for me, the key factors in creating a great drinking experience.

I have many fond memories (many fond drinking memories) of my time in Jamaica, but one of the very best concerns the day my host and I were journeying up into the Blue Mountains just outside Kingston (home to some of the world's finest, and most expensive coffee - my host, an old University buddy, was in fact working out there for a year on research into possible biological means of controlling a pest called the 'coffee leaf miner' [I can't remember the exact details, but I'm sure my friend will remind me], some sort of beetle or weevil
[NO - a moth!!] which, as its name suggests, used to chomp holes in the leaves of the coffee plants).

We had set out on one of the local minibuses, but had hopped off in a hurry only half-way up the mountain when we noticed a rather scary-looking guy get on who a) appeared to be completely out of it on drugs or booze, and b) had a large revolver hanging half-way out of his hip pocket. Jamaica was a bit gun-crazy in those days (gun crime still is a big problem there, I think, but better than it was; the place was really a bit of a war-zone back in the '80s, and there were parts of Trenchtown that were 'no-go areas' for foreigners, and probably for the police as well), and there had been a number of fatal incidents of banditry - or just random psychophathic violence - in the month or two before I arrived; so, we weren't taking any chances. We got off the bus at the next stop (and found a local police station where we dutifully reported the potential hazard - only to be met with magnificent unconcern by the cops).

We then faced a long trek up the mountain in the steamy late-morning heat. By noon or so (having been lucky enough to have been given a ride part of the way by a rather gorgeous young Desnoes & Geddes [one of the island's biggest companies - the makers of Red Stripe beer] executive in her BMW), we were ready to take a rest, and happened upon a roadside snack shop - just a corrugated tin hut, painted in peeling duck-egg blue and perched most precariously on the edge of a precipitous slope; but the deep shade inside was as refreshing as a cold shower, and through the window it offered us a breathtaking view of the densely-forested mountainside. Also, the meat pies were good, and the Red Stripe was ice cold.

We were, however, just going to stay for a quick refuel, because we were at last within striking distance of our destination. But then, looking out of the window, we saw that suddenly our view was progressively disappearing. A solid curtain of rain was advancing swiftly up the valley, a precisely defined barrier of water behind which the tropical forest vanished in a blur. Within a few minutes it had overtaken us, a torrential tropical downpour pummelling on the resonant roof of our little metal shack.

That drumbeat of the raindrops, though deafening and threatening at first, soon became strangely, magically restful. My friend and I turned to each other with a cheerfully resigned shrug: there was no way we could venture outside again in such a storm, so we would have to stay put on our barstools for a while until it had passed over, order another deliciously cool Red Stripe, and chew the fat with the owner and his wife and their solitary other customer.

The rain kept up for two or three hours - two or three of the most relaxed, blissed-out hours I have ever enjoyed.


Anonymous said...

Froog, I finally found it and am beaming internally at the happy recollections inspired by your beautifully-told tale of your brief visit to Jamaica. I have to confess that I had forgotten most of the details except for the chap with the revolver (who was almost certainly an off-duty copper, I gather).

The details of that trip are hazy. Even after reading the bit about the lady Desnoe and Geddes executive I do not recall her (unusual for me to forget hot totty - though to this day I smile when I see 'D & G' on designer fashions!) However, I certainly recall having made that trip up into the Blue Mountains with you - one of many that I made up there in pursuit of the dread Coffee Leaf Miner and other buggery (you have an excellent memory - it is a moth, oddly enough!)

I have happy memories of that and many other occasions sheltering in 'Mr. Sam's' Rum Shop near Mavis Bank (long since a victim of Hurricane Gilbert and resulting mudslides) sucking on rums and cokes and/or Red Stripe and waiting for the rain to no particular rush. Indeed, many similar episodes 'In The Wet' in rum shops and equivalents in various parts of Africa, the Far East, the Indian Ocean, south and central America and the Caribbean remind me of why I spend as litle time as possible in the frigid dump that my parents chose to call 'home'. I find the thunder of torrential tropical rain on tin roofs the most comforting sound on earth - closely followed by the equally deafening roar of the tree frogs that erupts soon afterwards.

The Blue Mountains have a particular magic and majesty, I find - only the Western Ghats in India match them for their vibrant melancholia. But the latter lack the uniquely atmospheric sound of the Solitaire - a bird whose intermittent, mournful whistling boom I can hear in my head now...the backdrop to many a Jack Higgins novel read by the warmth of pine cones burning in the grate to dispel the chill dampness of the mountain air. Four thousand feet below, Kingston - in its perennial blanket of steamy smog - would periodically become visible through the low clouds lazily drifting through the fingers of the rain forest and I would think "I'm glad I'm not down there".

Sadly the mountains in Belize are low, remote and with few cheap but civilised places to stay (though I am one of the few people who can access them through the bug work) - but I hope that when I am out there sometime you can come and enjoy a 'Belikin' or two with me ...not as good as Red Stripe but an atmospheric little 'Tropical Lite' nevertheless.

Great Days :-) I am glad that I was able to share it with someone who appreciated it. The Brown Eyed Girl's only comment about Jamaica was that the chocolate tasted funny!

Froog said...

The chocolate tasted funny?

I am struggling to contain my innuendo-impulse.

Anonymous said...

Pray give up the struggle, oh great Froog and share :-)

She wasn't too keen on the taste of the local WHITE chocolate either... :-)

Froog said...

I can't believe you've forgotten the D & G girl, Mothman. You were drooling over her for days afterwards.

Very pretty, very sassy - and a terrifyingly reckless driver! And she wore these cute little backless black driving gloves....

Marvellous voice, too. Odd accent they have in Jamaica: in the blokes it often sounds like the needling slur of an aggressive drunk; but from the girls it can have such a deliciously playful lilt to it (a bit like Geordie and Glaswegian in that respect, I suppose).

Mothman said...

Froogy, once again I am grateful to you for having stirred fond memories. Outside here in the UK the snow lies foot-deep and the sky (as so often) resembles the inside of a pewter pisspot. But once again I am revelling in the memories you so kindly provide of jungle warmth (of all manner). Thanks :-)

Froog said...

Happy New Year, Mothman! Nice to have you stop by again.

The weather's pretty frightful all across the northern hemisphere at the moment, isn't it? I would have thought you'd have left for Belize (or Haiti?) by now.