Friday, June 1, 2012

Va-cayman-tion 2012: The Cruisening: Day 7 - Ocho Rios, Jamaica


We parallel parked our floating gluttony box in Ocho Rios right at sunrise. I know this because we were awake, against the sensible laws of the universe. Gregory ran out to photograph it, and I stayed in slathering myself with the 50SPF. By the time I glanced at the--wait, was that a hill? Yes, Jamaica has hillsides, like 700 feet above sea level. Grand Cayman and Key West are flat.

We had be up early, early today for our day excursion into Jamaica. It started early and the boat was leaving at 2PM, so we had to get right to it.

We had been filled with nightmare stories of the horrors of Jamaica, and its very anti-gay sentiment, its aggressive 3rd world desperation, and its general seediness. I will say that all of that is true. However, the place we went to, Mystic Mountain, was awesome. It's basically a theme park, and was very polished and nice, but more of an adventure than say Disneyland. We had two things planned: the zip-line and the bobsled (or toboggan). But unlike a conventional theme park, it requires things of you, rather than passively being strapped securely into a ride vehicle and being spoon fed an experience in a specific and certain way, you need to be present and alert which made it really engaging.

In order to get to these attractions, the bus drops you off at the park, and then you have to take a ski-lift to the top of the resort. The only downside of this is how long the ride is to the top. It's not necessarily a huge distance, but it moves really slowly. I'm pretty sure I saw an entire tree grow in the time it took us to get to the top. The view is spectacular, though. You can see the entire bay, the ship, the beach and much of the town.

The vegetation is spectacular too, very tropical rainforest, lots of gigantic birds, huge bugs, I saw a bee carrying an arm, I saw a tree of spiders and then some gigantic spiders on a web, luckily nowhere near us, and heard but didn't see some velociraptors stamping around below.

We made it to the top and were instructed to do the zip-line first since it took almost 45 minutes to do, and they wanted to make sure that people who signed up for it were able to do it. We were saddled up with helmets and harnesses, and were taken over to the launching point. We had two guys helping us and they were awesome. And hot. Very athletic and charming. Messing with the guests is part of the shtick, so they would say things like "slow down" when there is no way to slow down, or as you were leaving, "no wait, not yet!" when there was no way to stop. They were transparent about it though, and everyone had a really good time.

The zip-line tour consisted of two zip-lines, a vertical drop, which they sold as rappelling. Then you cross a suspension bridge and then two more zip-lines. Rappelling my ass. They hooked you to a rope and then dropped your ass about 20 feet, catching you about a foot off the ground. Hilarious. They made jokes about, "don't pee-pee on me," and "no golden showers," which was a little strange to hear since since I typically associate that with a different context, and they just mentioned it like a casual term that everyone knew. The main guide kept calling Jill "Queeny," and his goal was to make her scream in terror, but he couldn't make her do it, no matter his antics.

All of this was through the tropical forest. You basically end up about halfway down the mountain, and you have to catch the ski lift on the way down, return to the bottom and stay on it going all the way back to the top. I had opened a business and it went bankrupt in the time it took us to get back (of course it went bankrupt. I know nothing of Jamaican commerce.).

At the top, we stood in the never ending line for the bobsleds. Luckily Gregory and I are professional line standers. We can deal with the worst of queues. The ride was a lot of fun and you could basically go as quickly or as slowly as you wanted. It was a very smooth roller coaster for one. This shit would never fly in the states, and I'm glad I got to do something like this. This attraction, too, took you down through the forest with drops and spins and twists, it was really cool, but rather than leaving you down there, you got hooked to a line and like a roller coaster, it pulled you back up the hill to the top, letting out back where you began.

There was a red-flag point near the end of the fast part, where you needed to slow your vehicle yourself. In America there would be some fancy auto braking system. I wondered how many people slammed into the connection without slowing at all. And there was one guy stationed down near the red flag area, who was reading a book, helping people make the connection to the cable which connected to your ride vehicle and took you back to the top. It was funny because while the park is a nice setup, there are some things about it that are primitive, like this guy sitting in the middle of the forest at the connection point at the end of the ride. There is no concrete pathway to where he is stationed. There's no underground series of tunnels or "backstage." There is a trail through the forest and he sits there on a lawn chair reading a book making sure each customer slows down properly and makes the connection safely. But he just supervises this. There isn't actually anything he physically does. I just want to make that clear. They probably put him down there for the dumbasses that couldn't figure out what to do, or that didn't slow down and splattered their limbs all over the forest. That would at least explain WHERE the bee found the arm.

Speaking of eating arms, by now it was time for lunch and we were going to head back into town to find a restaurant that had jerk chicken, which, if you come to Jamaica and don't have Jamaican Jerk Chicken, what is your damage? Gag me with a spoon, mon! Mystic Mountain had a little restaurant and after taking some pictures from the rooftop observatory we decided for the sake of convenience to just go there. It was delicious, and one of the guys there brought us a couple of extra things to sample, just single bites of a plantain, something made from cassava, and a kind of hush puppy, a bread that was only a tiny bit sweet, just a kiss of sugar and cinnamon and then deep fried. They were all really delicious.

Before we returned to the ship, we were delivered to a small taste of the shopping experience here. Although similar to Grand Cayman in appearance, there is a palpable difference in the level of desperation. The way people hock their wares here has an urgency about it. Even the busses have signs, saying "It is customary to tip your driver upon safe arrival," or something to that effect. Two of our table-mates were saying their tour guide on the waterfalls (another excursion we decided to not attend), was very aggressive with them about getting his gratuity.

As we left this grouping of shops that all seemed to sell exactly the same thing, we walked a block back to the ship. You would think with only one city block to go, we could get to the ship without hassle. We were panhandled at by two legless people, shouted at by a man selling food, and a man with a guitar and a tooth asked us if we wanted to buy anything from him to smoke. I wonder what it could be?

As we crossed the security checkpoint and began to walk along the pier, there was a young boy probably around 14 or so, selling necklaces, three for $5. He had sneaked past the security point and was down on the rocks out of sight of the police. He was proffering black beaded necklaces to the guests returning to the ship. I thought about trying to buy some just so Gregory could get a picture of him, the blue water, and the white salty sand and rocks, and his dark skin, and the desperation. The problem with this exchange would be he was a good six feet below the railing, so am I supposed to drop my dollar bill down to him and he throws the necklace up to me? How about the fact the wind was blowing? I could not figure out exactly how that was going to work, other than that little fucker stealing my dollar and leaving. And I didn't want to have to shout, "come back here with my necklace!" or possibly have him shot by security for skipping over the gate.

We returned to the ship and I went out again to work on my tan. I desperately want this sun and humidity to be burned into me. I just know how cold it's going to be when we return to freezing Southern California. There has been so much that we've done and so much more that I have taken away already from this experience that I want to keep--more even than I have written. I looked for trinkets hoping I could find something appropriate to serve as a memento. So far, I have only found junk that I don't need or want. And I think of all the crap I already have back home, and feel even that is unwieldy at times.

We decided to attend our regularly scheduled dinner tonight. Jill wanted to dine in the buffet. They had some kind of self-award winning fish entree. Gregory and I weren't impressed. They had some kind of beef with a mustard crust and some really good mashed potatoes that was excellent. Dessert had us visiting Alaska. Baked. It was Baked Alaska. I had never had it before and was curious to try it, but I also wanted the amaretto cake, which was basically a chocolate ganache in a cake shape. It was amazingly chocolatey. I wish I had only gotten this. The Baked Alaska was good, but honestly that cake was amazing.

We decided to see the last comedy show of the cruise by the comic Macio. He was okay. He riffed on a bunch of racist stuff, because we all know how hilarious racism is, and the crowd laughed. Some of the jokes were genuinely funny and he did a lot with interacting directly with the audience. It was fine enough, but I was kind of glad when it was over, partially because we didn't have seats and had to stand in the back.

I'm so exhausted now, and I'm thankful we have a day at sea tomorrow. Our last full day of the cruise. I can sleep in and have real breakfast. I'm looking forward to that.

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