St. Elizabeth to Little Ochi & Points In Between

Sell everything. Bring No 9 Hardy Fishing Rod, polo sticks and come.” Lionel Densham – This urgent telegram was the beginning of an enduring love affair between the Densham family and the tiny Jamaican fishing village of Treasure Beach, on Jamaica’s south coast.The geography of Jamaica’s south coast is remarkably diverse.Traces of iron have colored the sand black and their picturesque beauty stand out like little dots against the rocky coastline. The Black River, Jamaica’s longest river sustains 125-square miles of wetlands called the Great Morass; largest wetland habitat in the Caribbean.  The Santa Cruz mountain range forms the backbone of this region and is responsible for the dry grasslands of the Pedro Plains.

The South coast especially the parish of St.Elizabeth is considered the bread basket of Jamaica. The soil is maroon red and rich in minerals, especially bauxite ore. Farming is a way of life – so much so – residents’ plant scallion and thyme in their front yards instead of flowers. Tall green stalks of sweet sugar cane stretches as far as the eye can see, shoulder to shoulder, dense as thickets. The Appleton sugar estate, makers of rum and other distilled liqueurs is located here. We drove through the tiny village of Middle Quarters, just outside the town of Black River, which is famous for its peppered shrimp.

This is rural Jamaica; the roads are narrow and in disrepair. Potholes hide like trapdoor spiders waiting to pounce on unsuspecting motorists as they navigate th enarrow roads. Chickens add to the litany of stray animals that act as obstacle course in a daring dance of driving skill and nerves. Clapboard structures paint fading, interiors dim, serve as bar, hangout spot, a place for local gossip; quintessential Jamaica.

From Montego Bay it’s a three hour drive to Little Ochi in St. Elizabeth. Before starting, have the right frame of mind; don’t rush, take your time, enjoy the scenery, your destination is “just around the corner.” I’m planning to drive through Cambridge, then turn left for Santa Cruz, then on through Middle Quarters, Border, Bluefield, and then a sharp right turn at the foot of Spur Tree Hill and down into Alligator Pond.

The pristine landscape is soothing and we arrive in Little Ochi, feeling relaxed and content.  Little Ochi is perched in the middle of a mile long “fisherman’s beach.” Local fishing boats are fiberglass, long and canoe shaped with an outboard motor for power. They pull right up on the black sand beach, laden with the days catch. Seagulls ride on the air currents above, as people crowd each boat, haggling over prices and inspecting the catch. The sea, the boats, the seagulls, inject an electric vibe that breaks our reverie and reminds us it’s time to eat.

Little Ochi seafood restaurant. The restaurant which sprawls out onto the beach has an open kitchen and gazebo like huts made from old fishing boats on stilts. A cook approaches and politely asks if we are ready to order. It’s a simple process, you choose.

They have two refrigerators, filled with lobster, conch, a variety of local fish (yellow tail snapper, parrot fish, grunt, goat fish, butterfish, and bonito). He puts my choices in a small plastic bucket and takes them into the kitchen. I had chosen conch, a pound of lobster tails, and a large three pound snapper. After some discussion with the cook, I decided to have curried conch, lobster with garlic sauce and the snapper, deep fried and smothered in escoveitch sauce.  As a side, I chose two traditional favorites, bammy (a five inch round cake made from cassava), and festival (similar to a hush puppy, but denser in texture), and a bottle of ice cold Red Stripe beer to wash it all down.

Just remember to pay the cashier before going outside to sit. I asked the cook, to send the food as it was ready, that way we could eat at our own pace. Only thing left to do, sit and soak in the ambiance and of course sip on a cold Red Stripe beer.

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Greetings from Negril

A Brief History of Negril

Negril’s seven mile long beach is among the best in Jamaica and perhaps the world. The white sands slope gently into sea water warm and crystal clear.

Ricks Café, located in the West End of Negril is breathtaking.

Best bar in the world! For sheer beauty and location, I’m sure it ranks as one of the best. From Hopewell, Hanover it’s an hours’ drive to Rick’s Café in Negril. The drive is much quicker, since they built the Highway 2000. The road to Negril ten years past was narrow, winding and studded with potholes. To make an arduous journey more challenging, it was faithfully patrolled by stray goats, cows and donkeys. Only a few decades ago, telephones and TVs were unheard of. Telegrams delivered from the Negril Post Office provided communication. Few hotels existed

The main road was the beach, known today as Negril’s “second high-way”.

Negril’s’ beauty and tranquil feel was reserved for the brave few “in the know,” who were willing to make the tortuous three hour journey by car, or pay for an expensive small airplane flight into town. Initially, development was very slow. Then in the 1960’s the American “flower children” discovered Negril. Accommodation was very limited and the few establishments on the beach did not appreciate or encourage “the hippies”. So these young foreigners, college kids, draft dodgers, Vietnam veterans, gravitated to the West End and The Rock and lodged in the humble homes of the local people, renting a room, a bed, or a space for their sleeping bags and eating out of the family pot.

It was a beautiful example of symbiosis. As a result the landlords in Redground and along Lighthouse Road prospered, extended their houses and put in modern conveniences as the hippies came in ever-increasing numbers. In the early days, the more affluent landowners were worried about Negril becoming a “Hippie Haven” and set up a committee to deal with the problem of “long haired, ganja-smoking, foreign visitors”, but the reply from the villagers was “let those that have the problem deal with it”.

Today my car slides along the highway as if greased, the sky mirrors the sea, vivid blue and vast. Time spins backward and as the bushes and trees fly by, I cruise into a slice of Jamaica, where the air resonates with the cultural revolution of the 70’s. Peace, love, drugs, sex and hippies. A young man on a scooter fearlessly weaves between cars, the heavy scent of his marijuana spliff wafts through my car window and out into the surrounding country side.The idyllic charm of this sleepy fishing village with the seven mile beach is disappearing one all-inclusive hotel at a time. Tourism drives the economy here, and the major hotel chains are cashing in, claiming and dividing stretches of pristine white sand beach, like pirates squabbling over treasure. Behind the well-manicured lawns and Hibiscus hedges, lie massive edifices of steel and concrete, an insulated haven for  tourists and the worker bees employed to make sure their stay, is blissful and oblivious. It was inevitable, and with the construction of the highway, Negril is rapidly on its way to joining the ranks of other tourism metropolis’s like Montego Bay and Ocho Rios.

I didn’t get a chance to catch the sunset at Ricks Café, but I caught these pictures on my way home to my grandma’s house in Hopewell, Hanover.

This scenic spot was a popular stop for motorists, now behind the wall the gigantic sprawl of the Iberostar Hotel & Resort. Out of curiosity, I stopped at the historic fort Charlotte on the outskirts of Lucea, Hanover. The fort is in ruins, but the canons though covered in rust, are surprisingly intact. My favorite picture was of a group of high school boys playing a game of cricket. Wonderful cricket, a game introduced to Jamaica by the British, although our colonial masters are long gone, their influence on Jamaican culture is still present and visible.

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Cooking Ital Jamaica Rasta Roots & Culture

“Never forget your cultural identity it says who you are as a chef.”  Jomo Morris

How would you like to spend the day with a group of holistic Rastafarian’s? Would you like to learn to cook with local herbs and spices? Interested in a diet without salt or chemical additives? Are you curious? What would it taste like? Would you enjoy the mesmerizing sounds of Nyabingi drumming and chanting? Are you feeling adventurous? Leave your shoes behind and journey to the Montego River Valley in Porto Bello, Montego Bay. It will be fun; today we’ll tag along with students from the Hopewell high school in Hanover, St. James. Join me in pictures, where the sun is warm and the smiles genuine. Enjoy Rasta Village Jamaica

What Is Ital Cuisine?

The word Ital (pronounced eye-tal) derives from the English word “vital”, with the initial syllable replaced by the letter I. This is done to many words in the Rastafari vocabulary to signify the unity of the speaker with all of nature. Rastafarians derive their beliefs and morality from intense personal meditations and prayer. The primary goal of adhering to an Ital diet is to increase “Livity”, or the life energy that Rastafarians generally believe lives within all human beings. Rastafarians believe that food should enhance life rather than diminish it. Food should be natural, pure and from the earth. What is Ital is therefore vital.

Ital cuisine uses no salt and avoids food which are chemically modified or contains artificial additives.

People who follow an Ital lifestyle are strict vegetarians. Ital cuisine focuses on the nutritive as well as the medicinal value of food.  This comes from a system of beliefs by practicing Rastafarians that:

  1. Meat is dead, eating it would work against “life energy”.
  2. Human beings are natural vegetarians based on physiology and anatomy.

Ital cooks utilize a variety of ground provisions such as peas, beans, nuts and vegetables which are chemical and fertilizer free. Fish or dried fish can be consumed but not shellfish. Flavor comes from the food itself and the addition of herbs and spices.  An important ingredient to tasty ital cooking is coconut milk, in which food is steeped. In addition to coconut milk, Ital cuisine utilizes the flavor of the Scotch bonnet pepper, onions, scallion, thyme and pimento berries.

An Ital Cuisine Menu – (taken from the Jamaica Daily Gleaner)

Stew: Peas and peanuts, Irish potato, carrot, callaloo, coconut milk, scallion, thyme, pepper, salt, pimento seed.

Sip: It’s called sip, and not soup, as it contains no meat.

Yatty: This is similar to patty but the Rastafarians say yatty as it contains no meat. It is made mainly of peas and beans and flour used for making the crust.

Vegetables: Callaloo, cabbage, carrots.

Processed vegetarian produces: Mince, chunks and tofu.

Peas: Gungo, lentil, round red peas, black eye, split peas but not cow peas. Only the women are allowed to eat red peas as it is said that when men eat red peas it causes their carnality to rise (lust of the flesh).

Sweeteners: Wet sugar, honey and molasses.

Ground provisions: Irish potatoes, bananas, and plantains are some of the few (except those from the vine).

Solids: Flour, rice (white, brown, black or wheat) and cornmeal.

Nuts: Peanuts and almonds.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Don Quixote Your Carriage Awaits

“I do not deny that what happened to us is a thing worth laughing at. But it is not worth telling, for not everyone is sufficiently intelligent to be able to see things from the right point of view.”  ―Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, Don QuixoteCall me Don Quixote, dreamer, adventurer, wanderer – a modern day knight, intent on enjoying the cool breezes and warm sunshine drenched shores of Jamaica. No rush, no pressure, I’m enjoying the day as it unfolds. This is my second day in Jamaica and I’m in the mood for adventure. Yesterday, my mom made the three hour drive from Port Maria, St. Mary. I was delighted and

it was a wonderful surprise. She had made plans to spend the night by my auntie Marlene and return home today.

After breakfast – I decided to visit the Green Grotto Caves in Discovery Bay. By car it’s an hours’ drive up the North Coast, between Montego Bay and Ocho Rios. It made sense; it’s on the way to Port Maria, so why not ride with mom?

My plan – to hitch a ride, do the tour, take some pictures and then catch a minibus back to Montego Bay.

A mother’s care and genuine concern for her children, no matter the age, is special. As we travelled along the coast, our trip had the comforting and familiar cadence of family long used to each other’s company. It was if I had never left and even in silence there was no tension. We talked – mother and son, about life in Jamaica and America, relationships, my future, her impending retirement. We shared amusing anecdotes about my brother and sister, dredging up old memories and finding new ones.

My trip to the Green Grotto Caves was in Vain

 I was greeted by a pleasant young lady, with not so pleasant news. She explained, “The 45 minute tour costs $20 U.S. / $1700 J.A.” “But”, as she cut short my self righteous indignation with a smile, “with Jamaican identification the cost would be $500 JA.” I hadn’t thought about that. Don Quixote had assumed that his strong Jamaican accent and handsome face would have been enough, but not today. “Oh well” I told my mom, “at least I can ride with you to Ocho Rios and do some sight-seeing there.” Not much to see in Ocho Rios. Today was a “ship day” meaning that a cruise ship was in port.

The economy of Ocho Rios is tourism driven and today the hustle and bustle of vendors and tourists gives the town a carnival feel. I had no intention of being a tourist in my own country, instead I went to a local bakery, and had a patty and coco bread with an orange juice (JA$250).  It is a cheap way to eat, but it was good enough for my needs and by the looks of other patrons, it suited them just fine. I went to the barber’s shop for a trim and shape up (JA$350). I was in and out of the barber’s chair in less than 30 minutes. He was such a professional with a clipper and straight razor, I gave him an extra JA$150 in appreciation. It’s hot, even though I’m dressed for the weather in a T- shirt, shorts and slippers. Time to catch a bus and head back to Montego Bay. It’s getting late and I’ve had enough of Ocho Rios. The police are everywhere, visible and present on the highway waiting with radar gun in hand for the errant speeder. According to my mom, “the government had recently gotten a shipment of radar guns” and obviously they were happy and eager to use them. It’s okay though, some things never change and you can still pay your way out of any speeding ticket. In Jamaica, negotiation is expected; they’ll be disappointed if you don’t.

I guess the bus driver was not aware of the presence of traffic police on the highway.

He passed every bus, truck, car and bicycle in front of him. I’m not heading to Montego Bay; I’m racing to Montego Bay.

Some  things you  overhear when taking public transportation

A young man speaking on his cell phone in the seat beside me, “Hello Andrea,( pause) what’s up? “I was outside looking up at the sky and the stars last night and my mind ran on you, so I decided to call you today.”

Imagine me rolling my eyes and laughing (holding it in) but laughing. People still say things like that, whew – hilarious!

 

As the World Turns…………..Contemplate Freedom

“Freedom is never dear at any price. It is the breath of life. What would a man not pay for living?” Mahatma Gandhi

Today – What to say about today. I’m leaving and am happier for it. Last night, was my final night at the restaurant I’ve been working at for the past eighteen months. Working for a hotel has its benefits – health insurance, vacation time, opportunities to work in different departments, opportunities to transfer from one property to another but sometimes corporate policies can overshadow and dictate the dynamics of a kitchen. It’s does little for the morale when cooks are poorly paid and work in an environment where the bottom line is a barrier to promotion ; even worse when the chef’s best answer when asked about moving up is to suggest transferring to another property (given with a blank look and a shrug of the shoulders).

No plan, no idea, no clue, no help

I questioned my decision to become a professional cook. Was this the best I could hope for? The seeds of doubt had been planted and they gnawed at my conscience even as I prepped my station for dinner service. What’s the point? I was suffocating. My job had become claustrophobic. I didn’t care anymore. And in despair I decided to leave. It took some time, to plan, redo my resume, search the internet. My career, my dreams, my hope was brought to a smoldering stand still.

“Luck is when preparation meets opportunity” Senecs the Younger”

And then, a call for an interview; then a second and a third and finally a menu tasting for the executive chef.  I cooked my ass off to get the job and now my time in this place, is at an end. I’m free

My to do list

Sign off on my separation paperwork with Human Resources.Take part in line-up for the last time with my coworkers and pretend I’m sad to be leaving.Work sauté for the last time, break my station down for the last time, clean the coolers for the last time, clock out for the LAST TIME. Drop my name tag and I.D. off in the mail slot of the HR dept. Have a few drinks with my coworkers. Go home, pack for my trip to Jamaica. Try to get a few hours’ sleep.

There are no Flights to Egypt.

 I’m slouched in a chair at the airport terminal and some part of me absently notices that the monitor has no flights listed for Egypt. The world is avidly watching the chaos and turmoil as Egypt struggles for democracy. I’m quietly boarding a plane to Montego Bay, Jamaica. Personal problems pale in comparison to the struggle of millions fighting for freedom in Egypt. It is a humbling thought. As individuals, we are miniscule in the grander scheme of things.  And here I sit, a world away, in the relative safety of an airport as history unfolds in real time, televised blow by blow, one nation’s plight, broadcast around the world, on TV screens, computers and smart phones. I’m passionate about cooking, but the events unfolding, embodies passion so visceral, it burns. True passion, is not constrained by words, but manifests itself in our deeds and actions. It influences our approach to life; from cooking, to beliefs and values, even our very sense of purpose.

The German philosopher Immanuel Kant states that:

 “Freedom is independence of the compulsory will of another, and in so far as it tends to exist with the freedom of all according to a universal law, it is the one sole original inborn right belonging to every man in virtue of his humanity.”

 I hope, as the day dawns and the sun rises, so shall Egyptians become free and democratic citizens of the Middle East.

Where your final destination is the airport.

 

 

 

 

 

1. – to eat here, buy a plane ticket

2. Check in at the airline counter

3. Go through the security checkpoints. Remove all metal objects; take your shoes off, belt, sweater, and hat.

4. Ride the bullet train to concourse E

5. Take the escalator upstairs and turn left!!!