Saturday, July 25, 2009

Fear and reggae in Jamaica

JAMAICA – All reggae music sounds like terrified people screaming hysterically as their bus takes aim at oncoming traffic.

Our tour guide droned out her memorized monologue as our bus careened down a narrow two-lane Jamaican highway, its driver playing chicken with oncoming traffic, apparently trusting that the size of his vehicle would convince opposing drivers to give way. Bob Marley blared in the background. Over and over and over.

The guide politely blathered on into her microphone, apparently unconcerned that her passengers couldn’t have cared less about what she was saying, focused as we were like a laser beam on the oncoming traffic. Marley kept singing about love and peace.

Oh, shut up, I was thinking – and I wasn’t alone. There’s precious little love and peace on Jamaican highways, near as I can tell. And our cruise terminal was set up like an army base – when we eventually, miraculously, returned from our excursion (a rushed visit to a beautiful but crowded river cascade where we linked arms with other bewildered foreigners and stumbled our way from the bottom to the top), uniformed soldiers used mirrors to check the bottom of our bus to find either bombs, stowaways or the odd small car we hadn’t been able to shake from the undercarriage after it had failed to clear our path.

Is there only one reggae tape in all of Jamaica? The country is justifiably proud of its native son, but the same tape for five hours of road time? It would get worse. Our guide began singing along. Imagine reggae karaoke by someone who can’t carry a tune, on a bus that occasionally nudges competing cars off the road. Over and over. Where’s the rum?

From what I could tell when I dared take my eyes off the impending doom that was the road in front of us, Jamaica appears to be a poor but beautiful country. It’s a large island (for the Caribbean) with mountains and rivers and coffee plantations, unlike places like the Caymans, which will soon entirely disappear under the waves as the icecaps melt. In Jamaica, on the other hand, the poor folks will suddenly have oceanfront property. Unfortunately, I had chosen unwisely when deciding how to spend our day in Jamaica on one of our many cruises, selecting a trip to Dunn’s River Falls.

How was I to know it was more than two hours one way and involved playing bumper cars with full-sized automobiles? The next time you’re in Jamaica, try to find a single car without at least a half-dozen dents. They do not exist, since Jamaicans clearly consider driving to be a contact sport. Is this a symptom of listening to too much same-sounding music? Does it mean anything that the only reggae song I actually like tells the story of shooting the sheriff (but not the deputy)?

We should have gone to the Appleton distillery, which makes the world’s finest sipping rum. Or, better yet, we should have taken a 10-minute cab ride to the beach and sipped some of that rum all afternoon. Perhaps we could have walked downtown, eaten jerked meat and bought some Blue Mountain coffee. These would have been sensible, enjoyable experiences.

No, instead it was demolition derby, island style. We kept wondering why we hadn’t seen an accident. On the way back from our trek up the falls, we got our answer – a nasty three-car pileup at some unmarked intersection. Our driver paid it no heed and barely let off the accelerator. What’s a few more dents, anyway?

I always try to do too much when I visit a place, afraid that I’ll miss something and never be able to return. Dumb. Big mistake, particularly in Jamaica. Relax, mon.

1 comment:

  1. It's funny how everybody keep hating on our music especially(Americans) when it's the best music in the world.
    Reggae music is fun and uplifting...Only boring people like you hate Reggae!
    We Jamaicans love our music and don't care about what you or no one say want to say about it!!!