Wednesday, July 15, 2009

May 30

On Saturday we all piled into the bus and traveled east to the Bath Fountains. We also stopped at the Bath Botanical Gardens, which are located at the bottom of the hill, below the springs. The garden is said to be the oldest on the island; it is home to the island's first breadfruit trees. Breadfruit it a popular dish in Jamaica. The first time I tried it, I had it with Jerk Fish, but breadfruit was served as a side with almost every meal. It can be pan fried or roasted over hot coals. Breadfruit is everywhere, I almost couldn't believe the fruit isn't native to Jamaica. The garden also had the biggest tree I've ever seen, unfortunately I'm not a fan of any of the pictures I've taken of it. I was admiring the tree until I read a sign that stated the tree is referred to as the hanging tree. Residents with a death sentence were hanged from the very tree I was standing under. So, I moved on and focused my camera elsewhere. For instance, on these invasive vines and this lovely lady named Laura. Laura was the other shutterbug on the trip; she was always snapping pictures. If you keep checking my blog, hopefully you will see a photo shoot featuring Laura. She is one of the most beautiful people I've ever seen, not to mention her amazing hair, so I asked her if she would be interested in a portraiture session and she agreed. I can't wait to get some shots of Laura or Selassie Pickney as Kingsley would say.

Then we boarded the bus and drove up a mountain; when we stopped we were surrounded by rasta men. They were all trying to offer us their services, but my professors already knew who they wanted to lead us to the springs. We followed Rasta Patrick and Rasta Steve on a short hike on the hillside. Several of my classmates were freaking out about being on the side of the mountain, but I thought it was beautiful. Although, I came close to falling because I was living life through my camera lens. The rastas were being very protective after they realized I don't really watch where I'm walking. I was soon befriended by a rasta named Pepe. After a fifteen minute walk we arrived at the hot springs.

The river was shallow, but flowing and there were locals bathing under the springs. Pepe helped me across the river and then the massage began. He dipped my towel in the hot springs and draped it over my shoulders. It was really hot and sometimes it actually hurt because my shoulders were recovering from my first day sunburn. The massage was about forty minutes and was probably the most relaxing thing I've ever experienced. The entire massage was like a meditation period. I closed my eyes and tried to concentrate only on my senses. I could feel the smooth stones under my feet and the hot steamy towel over my head and shoulders. I concentrated on the massage and listening the the song Pepe was singing to me. I could smell and feel the oils and herbs that Pepe was rubbing on my arms, legs, and face. The oil is said to sooth mosquito bites and the river mud to have healing powers. The sulfur springs were also known to have healing powers and the rastas encourage you to drink from the hot springs. After I washed the mud from my hair and body, I took a big gulp of the water in hopes that it would at least keep me well for my time in Jamaica. After I was done with my massage I was chatting up some rastas. Most of them have worked here their entire life. Some were giving massages, others guided hikes and some cooked festival and rice and peas to sell to visitors. After I walked back, I enjoyed coconut water and jelly and I bought a bottle of the rasta man's oil to take back to the states. I loved Bath and I wish I would have had time to go back. It was only 1,000 Jamaican dollars for a 40 minute massage, which is about $11 American dollars. I haven't ever bought a massage in the United States, but I don't think I could buy such an experience for only $11 dollars. I cannot wait to return to Bath and call Pepe.

After the Bath Fountains we went to a canal in the mangrove trees and a private beach..hahaha. This is where we were told we were going. I think a lot of students were disappointed with this part of the day. I don't think it was so thrilling that I would do it again, but I am definitely glad I went. We walked on a path through the marsh where we were attacked by thousands of mosquitoes. Then we boarded tiny wooden fishing boats. I got on the first boat with five other people and there were three other girls in the second boat. The second boat was a bit shabbier and almost sunk when they first got in. Jill had to sit in wet clothes the entire time because the boat tipped and let in a lot of water. After everyone boarded and was settled down, our captain paddled the boat through the mangroves. The roots were fascinating and if it weren't for the mosquitoes, I would probably return to paint the scene that was before me. I think I would have liked the trip if we would have talked to the captain more, but I think everyone was consumed with worry about the success rate of these boat rides.

Once we reached the private beach, we realized it was nothing more than the canal emptying into the sea. We tied the boats and ventured onto the shore. The sand was almost completely covered by conch shells. This beach was a spot where conch fishermen would cut out the snail and throw the shells on the shore. It reminded me of an elephant graveyard. I found a large beautiful shell and decided I wanted to take it home. This nice man decided it was his personal honor to clean my conch shell. I thought he was simply going to brush the sand off, but instead he waded into the water and completely scrubbed and flushed it for me. These pictures show the beginning of the cleaning process, but he literally spent ten minutes making my shell gleam. We barely had any time to explore the beach, which disappointed me, but my stomach was growling at this point.

We headed back and boarded the bus to drive a few miles to Beverly Smith's house. Miss Smith invested her time and money in the canal and beach excursion. She is trying to market the spot as an alternative tourism site. After the canal trip we were invited back to her home for dinner. I can still remember how delicious this dinner was. I had a plate filled with fish, rice and peas, cabbage salad and plantain fritters. She gave us an absolute feast and I was grateful to be invited into her beautiful home. After a traditional Kumina song we had to jet because we were on our way to an actual nine night.

A friend of Blacka's had died while he was welding a drum full of gasoline. As the Jamaicans would say, the drum exploded and he got mashed up. The Kumina is a celebration of life that takes place nine nights after a death. It is also the night before the funeral. I had a feeling that I didn't belong there because I didn't know the deceased, but those thoughts quickly subsided when I arrived. Everyone said that even if you don't know the victim it is a gesture of honor and respect to attend their nine night. The nine night resembled a party. There was much alcohol to be had and music to dance to. It is a celebration of one's life, similar to the dinners that are usually had after American funerals. Everyone is hanging out and trying to clear their head of sad thoughts, but at the same time sharing stories and memories of their friend. I hung out with kids most of the time and I met the deceased man's young daughter. She invited Alex and I to the funeral the next day and even though we were feeling unsure about attending, we couldn't say no to her. So the next day we attended a Jamaican funeral, but of course I'll post about that experience tomorrow.

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