On a recent trip to Jamaica with my good friend, Joseph, I happened to learn more about the country’s culture in one night of drinking and smoking than I have learned with (mostly) sober weeks in other countries.
Saturday night, Joseph and I planned on going out and checking the nightlife scene where we were staying, in Negril. We first went to grab a second helping of jerk chicken, which was stationed at the entrance to the driveway of the place we were staying, Villa Mora Cottages, off Norman Manley Blvd.
The guy at the end of our cottage’s driveway served each of us a generous helping of chicken. A few of his friends were sitting at a table adjacent to his grill, and we ended up getting into a conversation with them. One persistently offered his services as a taxi for us to get around later that evening, and we told him we’d keep it in mind. Just before we left with our chicken, he gave us his opinion on a nightlife destination – just 100 yards away was the Jungle, a popular club, he said, that offered unlimited drinks all night for $15 USD.
We kept that in mind as we ate, and then headed over to check it out. The Jungle at 9:30 pm that Saturday had a presence that exuded a feeling of trying to access the estate of a plantation owner on the island. It was walled and set back quite a bit from the main road, Norman Manley Blvd., and the main gate had a logo and a guard posted on each side. A ticket booth was just in front of the gate.
We couldn’t see inside the establishment, and we tried unsuccessfully to get the girl at the booth to allow us a peek inside before committing. We ended up skipping the Jungle that night, deciding instead to maybe just buy a few six-packs and drink the night away on the beach.
We took our rental car back out, drove down to real Negril (at the southern end of Norman Manley Blvd.) near the roundabout and went to buy beer. We barely caught one supermarket as they were closing, and bought two six-packs of Red Stripe beer, a bottle of Appleton Estate rum, and a bucket to hold it all in and fill with ice on the way to the beach. We tried the de facto ice retail distributor in Jamaica, Burger King, but they had no ice. We were told to try some of the bars around the road or on the beach, and finally we found a gas station with ice to fill our bucket.
We drove back to our cottage to drop off the car, filled up the bucket with the beer, rum, and ice, and then walked back down the long driveway towards Norman Manley Blvd; the beach was just on the other side of the road. As we neared the end of our driveway, Mr. Jerk Chicken eyed our bucket and came out to meet us. “What you have der?” he asked. He saw the beer and asked for one, then took two. Story of our Jamaica-visiting lives.
Joseph and I walked across the street and through the lot of another hotel property to get to the beach. We got stopped once more by a guyselling tickets to a Bunny Wailer concert, taking place several hundred meters south of us on the beach. Bunny Wailer is the last of the original Wailers group alive, the famous reggae band from decades ago, the other two being Bob Marley and Peter Tosh. It was actually quite a big name internationally, let alone there in Jamaica.
We skipped the concert, as we already had a plan and a bucket full of beers, and settled on a location straight in front of our cottage. The beach was dark and desserted, and we pulled around some beach lounge chairs and arranged them into a comfortable position.
Before we could even sit down, a guy came up to us, having seen our overflowing bucket of alcohol. I didn’t waste any time; before he said a word, I told him to leave. He probably wasn’t used to many tourists who did such, but he recovered instantly from being initially taken aback.
“Let me help you carry that heavy bucket o’ beer,” he said. I replied to him that we didn’t need any assistance, we had just reached our final destination. He tried further to find a way to “help” us somehow, probably with the hopes of getting a beer or cash as a tip, then switched tactics.
“Can you give me a beer, then, and I’ll be on my way?” he asked. We told the guy that we don’t have enough to give out, and he complained that we have a huge bucket full of beer.
“We’ve already maxed out our quota on giveaway beers,” I told him, explaining further that we gave two to the jerk chicken guy. He bugged us some more, and we refused just as often, until he finally walked away, mumbling under his breath.
We started drinking, and he passed by once again, mumbling something to us. Just as we thought that we were done being harassed for free beer, he came up to us once more.
“What can I do to have a beer?” he asked, and we replied that it wasn’t that we didn’t want to share with him, but that we couldn’t keep giving out beer to everyone that asked, because we wouldn’t have enough for us, and also that we’ve already handed out free beers to others. He told us he didn’t have money to buy beer, but if we gave him money, he would buy more beer for us. We looked at each other and came to the same conclusion – we’re not going to give this guy money so he can perhaps just run away with it.
“Man, I’m 40 years old! I’m honest man, you know?” he replied, appearing quite offended. He then told us that he would leave all his items in his pockets with us as collateral. He handed us a cell phone, a fat joint, but the clincher was a little electrical tester. He told us he fixed car problems for a living, and this little tool was his life.
We handed him a twenty and asked him ton pick up two six-packs; he was back in no time. I felt like a schmuck for giving him a hard time and doubting him, but I’m a New Yorker, which means I’m perpetually cynical and skeptical.
After that, we talked like friends. His name was Rohan, and we laughed and smoked and drank. He told us that several hours later we would walk to where the Bunny Wailer concert was happening, and he could sneak us in.