February 18, Jamaica
It’s been rainy and overcast since our arrival on Thursday, so our first pictures lack the sunshine but are rich in foliage and color. Yesterday, Clive, the local fisherman (and dweller of the mangroves) stopped by on his hand tied bamboo raft and sold us bananas. Dave gave him some new fishing lines. Today is market day in town and we are salivating for fresh fruit and Jamaican jerk. With bags in hand we go foraging for food—a five hour adventure. We have learned to first browse and watch where the locals stop and shop, so we walk up and down various streets checking out the shoppers, shops and stands.
A man yells,“150 for 12 juicy juicy, here mon get you from me.” Then when we get closer to his wheelbarrow of oranges he says, “100 Jamaican dollars for you, mon.” The books say the “hagglers” will banter and barter with you and you should counter offer 20-30 percent less and settle in the middle. When we say “no” we need to do so politely, and here that means thrown in some humor with the “Need more time, mon.” So we reply, “Too much for these weak arms to carry for now, need more time.”
Across the street from the clock tower and taxi parking lot is the open air market. Here we enter and are immediately assaulted by a sensory overload. Music is blaring from a wall of 4 foot by 8 foot stacks of speakers, the aisles (?) are ragged paths through the excess stock, children, people sitting on the floor, and you gingerly cut your way through. Goods are hanging down from the rafters so Dave ducks below 5 1/2 feet as the vendors yell, “Look here, buy here, you need what, maybe coffee, t-shirt, we have what you need, come see,” as they take your arm and guide you to their 4 by 8 booth of wares. I see some hand carved wooden spoons and the Rastafarian artist shows me his collection of handmade items, there is a smile and eye contact that is friendly and accepting on his face. We talk and I admire his handiwork. Then I tell him that we have no Jamaican dollars yet and we will see him on Monday. An elderly smiling man walks Dave through the t-shirts and Dave indicates he sees one he likes so the man gets it down and it is his size. But we are browsing first, so we say, “We have no money, just got here, we need the bank, we’ll be back after the bank.” Of course he tells us the way to the bank and then adds, “You remember me, mon, best t-shirts in whole market”. We then cut our way through this maze, music still blaring, smells mingling together—fresh fruits, coffee, spices and spicy cooked food wavering through the air. Out of the corner of our eye we see the hindquarters of various animals hanging behind a chicken wire fenced-in area. We follow that glimpse only to meet a wall—no door—so we turn and try to follow the wall by zig zagging through the smiling vendors and again hit a wall but no door. On our third attempt there is the door. Inside this cage are more than 12 smiling butchers, each with their own cutting block of a tree trunk, displaying their meat. The choice was beef, pork, and goat—some had only one kind. We found what we wanted and decided we would come back later now that we knew where the elusive entrance was to be found. More smiling vendors offered us their wares and ended each encounter with a smile, solid eye contact and the words, “Remember me”. Many of the vendors are elderly, some are sitting and humming to the tunes, but all are ready to give you their full attention and talk you out of your money. Eventually we see an exit and are now in the outside market where the fruits and vegetable stands line a narrow alley and are shoulder to shoulder. Most are 3-4 feet, some are 8 feet long. Everyone grows the same things and green beans are in season. Ackee is new to us and is one of the traditional foods used with saltfish. We are then stopped by a “hustler” who tells a story of woe and then asks for a dollar. We say we haven’t been to a bank yet and he points to where money can be exchange. We leave with the words, “We’ll be back, later” and walk off. As we pass the money exchange office, he loudly yells, “There, stop there and get the money, mon”. But we have nothing to exchange…
Our walking takes us pass school children out for lunch break, locals out looking for parts and things, and we just mingle into the mix of things as well as two pale while people can. As we pass we greet everyone with a simple greeting and are answered with a smile, eye contact, and an inquiry on how we like Pt. Antonio. Our wandering takes us pass many more open stalls, shops with glass windows and door, and chicken wire enclosure of their stock if it is a hardware store, or parts store. As we cross a bridge the air is smelled with delicious spicy food…but its source is unclear. We walk further and see a bar with many cars parked in front. There we see people eating, people carrying away boxes and bags of food. So we follow the new smells and find a chalkboard with checks by the items being cooked today. Dave tries the curry goat and I get the jerk chicken. It’s is full of flavor and you can’t beat the hole in the wall ambiance. There is one table and it has dominoes on it. We sit there and are joined by one of the locals that offers to tour the island with us using his car—we turn down the unlicensed taxi man with dilated eyes and just enjoy his company and insights on the island. He buys his own drink and continues to talk to us as we eat. Little do we realize we are preventing some afternoon games of dominoes—a serious pastime on the islands.
Now well fed we head back to the market, get the fresh cut meat—you buy the 5 cent plastic bag from a bag vendor after it is cut, pick out some new to us fruits and veggies, buy a loaf of fresh bread, and head back to the boat. So far we haven’t entered a rum bar. We’ll save that for another day, another adventure.