10: THE NETHERLANDS
11: BACK TO GERMANY
18: CYPRUS WIND DOWN
22: MEXICO Y ESPANA
MY FIRST TRIP ABROAD, THEN JAMAICA THE NEXT YEAR
The wonderful summer at EXPO ’67 and my trip to New York were the catalyst for many trips to come. In the Montreal Gazette morning paper, I discovered a company that arranged for cars to be driven to various locations. One was asking for a driver to ferry a car to Daytona Florida. I called a long time friend and future travel mate Rick and asked him if he would be interested in a Christmas trip to Florida…Rick had been to Europe at least once by then, so he was more than eager to set off. We arranged for the car. We paid an advance fee and took delivery of the car. The client was a retired MD. We met him to assure him we were good prospects, as it were. Rick didn’t have a license so I was the designated driver for the three day ride. We left Montreal at near midnight Christmas day.
As we crossed into the US near Plattsburg NY we were surprised that the border agents were so eager to check out our luggage. We had a covering letter from the MD, whose car we were ferrying. Regardless they wanted to check out the luggage. I flashed my military ID but I may as well have been from the moon as they were men on a mission. Of course we were concealing nothing, so this search was rather annoying.
We learned a good lesson near Albany New York . Southern US police speed traps were legends with Canadian drivers ;but, no one gave us a hint that New York State was eager to slap on fines as well . I was cruising along the New York Freeway at about 80 mph when an “Officer of the law” flagged us down. We were on, what could best be called a limited budget. I went to the police car with Rick. The officer was not too impressed when we told him we were students and that I was a 2nd Lt in the Canadian Army…an ace card, I had again falsely presumed. Over the police radio we heard, ”Judge Wells awaits your arrival”. We were told to follow the officer to a small town. We were having a bit of a chuckle over the “Awaits your arrival” notice. We speculated that if there was a noose or a hanging tree out front, our “arrival” might not be a smooth one. The judge read the charges and the possible penalties which seemed to range from prison time to $500. I of course all but begged to be let off. He admonished me, which I humbly accepted and got off with a $10 fine. It was time well wasted and the $10 could have been better spent; but, it did have the effect of having me carefully observe the speed limits.
We drove by NYC on the New Jersey side, it was around 4 AM and traffic was low compared to what it could have been during the day. Thank God for Christmas holidays. I got sight of Manhattan briefly and I told Rick of some of the autumn trip I had taken to the Big Apple ( I have never figured why they call it that though, time for Google search). We passed by a small town in one of the few open areas between NYC and Washington, in New Jersey. The town was Cherryhill NJ. It was the home town of my first contact on ham radio some three years previously. I was on Morse code. Ham radio was a factor in my wanderlust as over the years I made contacts with every corner of the globe….. Still great memories and a great technical hobby.
We spent the first night in Washington DC at the YMCA. The “Y” was setting the pace for the type of accommodation I would seek out. It was clean, cheap and available. We didn’t spend much time touring about as I was pretty tired from the drive. The next summer, 1968 I would spend a week in DC as part of my summer Army training…a lovely and historic city .
The next day we drove to somewhere in South Carolina. We passed by the “South of the Border” motel on the North /South Carolina border. This of course brought back memories of my first Palm tree some 12 years previous. I can’t recall the name of the small town where we stayed but I do recall going to a local burger haunt and asking for vinegar with my French fries ( called Fries in most of the US). She said that vinegar with 'fries' was a Canadian thing…interesting. The next day as we approached the Florida border Rick and I were eating apples we had bought at a grocery store the previous evening. I opened the window slightly and kind of slipped the core out the window …just as a police car was approaching. I must've given him a rather furtive glance. He flashed us over. I got out of the car and had my papers at the ready. I was afraid he would be fining us for “littering”; but, as I said from the lesson in NY , we were doing the speed limit. I imagine that I must have given him a strange look when I spotted him, after the apple throw away. Again a search of the car, even after I showed him the letter from the MD. I forsook the military ID this time . No harm done and we were on our way.
We arrived in Daytona, our destination, at around 1 AM. Rather than spend money on a motel we decided to go to a back road and sleep. We tossed a coin and Rick won the coveted front seat, the back was piled full with the MD‘s winter luggage . So I slept on the side of the road in a sleeping bag. I was almost asleep when a police car pulled up ( Most times I have ever been under suspicion before or since). He had his hand on his gun so I put my hands up. Rick got a laugh out of that; but, I told him, in French, that these people may not be too accepting. We were again given the car search and told to be on our way. We found a parking place near the hotel where the MD was staying and got a few winks both slumped in the front seat. We stayed a day in Daytona. Nothing really exciting or of interest to us; but, it was warm compared to Montreal. And I brought back some memories of my trip with my parents many years previous
I had heard that some car rental companies will sometimes need cars ferried between cities. We struck gold as Hertz needed a car taken to Miami. I told them I was a 2nd Lt etc…(gotta make points where one can.) . This time my ID worked . We hitched out to the car location; but, again the long arm of the law appeared. The officer asked if we had any money. I knew he was wondering if we were vagrants so I said , “YES” . Rick felt that if we said we had money he would tell us to take a bus. So while I said “YES “ Rick said “NO”. The officer laughed and said , “Okay which is it ?” We told him what we were doing and he seemed to be okay with it. “If you walk along with a thumb out I won’t get too upset…” Rick asked if he could drive us, which provoked a laugh… I did ask what would happen if one were to perhaps find an orange or two in a nearby orange orchard. He told us to forget it, there was a $2000 fine…ooppss. We did make it to the car lot and picked up a Chevy Convertible no less…not bad for two guys on a budget. Nice drive to Miami, not quite as much snow as Montreal, said he sardonically.
We found as cheap a motel as we could get; but, we realized Miami was not quite what we wanted. We called home and “borrowed” some money from our parents. Both sent funds via Air Canada to pay for tickets to Nassau and a return home from Nassau to Montreal, by air. At the American Airlines ticket center I learned that being a front line ticket agent can be challenging. One man had his ticket cancelled as he had not called to confirm his reservation. He lit into the agent “reminding” them that he was a share holder etc…. it was another lesson learned. One gets more flies with honey etc…not that I want to attract flies.
When it was our turn at the counter Rick told the agent “I’m not a share holder” It seemed to make her day . We got on the flight , which was an American Airlines connecting flight, as I recall. A woman of around 40 sat beside us. Rick seemed to pick up on it before I did; but, it become evident that she was what we would now call a “cougar”. She kept leaning into me “pointing out” various scenes. Not to let an opportunity be lost Rick asked if the friend, who was picking her up at the Nassau Airport, could drive us to town….brilliant. we saved a few dollars and even got a hint to call them New Years Eve for possible dates…something that seemed of interest to me but Rick set me straight ..
Nassau was exotic fare to me, my first foray off continental North America . Bay Street was the main shopping area of Nassau. Bay Street buildings were, in my mind, an echo of times past. The people seemed friendly and a ready smile was common. Rick had heard about Conch shells so we stopped at a small local restaurant and asked about this treat. The meat is almost like octopus. We really enjoyed something different and this small culinary find became a “regular” for us. It was New Year’s Eve soon to be 1969 .and we checked out a few of the bars.
It seems a bit farfetched now; but, at the time I felt like I was in a Hemmingway novel. The faces seemed to have an adventurer look, the prevailing bar din seemed more exotic, likely a perception of my imagination; but, it was esoteric. Later that night we began to feel a bit tired. Rick came up with the proposition that a safe place to sleep outdoors was in a graveyard ,as locals were likely superstitious and would not bother us. We caught a few winks at around 10 PM. We later wandered back into town without back packs, which we left at the grave yard. There was a mid-night service in a small church and the voices, of the local parishioners, were something I recall as being sincere and devout.
In Nassau they have a street festival that starts at 2 Am or so. It is a sort of parade that that is best described from this Google search result:
….. “The origin of the word "Junkanoo" is unknown. The most popular belief is that it's derived from "John Canoe," an African tribal chief who demanded he be allowed the right to celebrate with his people even after he was brought to the West Indies as a slave. Others believe the name is from the French "gens inconnus," which means "the unknown people" and refers to people wearing disguises and thus being unknown
Rick and I had succumbed to the temptation of demon Rum once again , so we figured the best way to see the Junkanoo would be from a roof top. We climbed a tree and lay out on one of the slanted projections that cover the sidewalks on Bay Street. The parade lived up to the billing we had been told to expect. But ironically by 5 Am. we were starting to tire a bit, we woke up an hour or so later after the parade had ended, we were covered with a light dew. The memories were great and a New Years Eve not to be forgotten.
The Next day Rick called upon his travel experience to Western Canada and he suggested the Salvation Army as a home away from home. We found out where the local “Army” residence was located and we made our way there. The fellow who ran it was from the UK. He tried to dissuade us by telling us that “There are only local boys here” We later found out that not all white visitors wanted to mingle with locals. Something we had not even considered. In fact our “roomies” were a treat. It was more or less a home for homeless kids. At first they were standoffish. These two tall ( 6’3” and 6’4”) white guys seemed to present an imposition, at the least. The ice was broken when Rick had a before dinner nap. He tends to talk in his sleep and got into quite a short conversation with some “REM” friends. The lads thought it was all great fun, and any tension they had, was lowered. In fact Rick showed a few of the lads a bit about basketball. It was interesting talking to them as they shed a light on local events that one would never garner in tourist areas. Nothing earth shaking but an appreciation for some area events was gained. .
The next day we rented a small scooter. I went alone to the scooter rental office and Rick hid around the corner. The owner of the rental place expressed doubts that the scooter would take my weight. Little did he know that Big Rick was lurking around the corner ! So some 400 lbs set off. Now the Bahamas are not noted for major mountains, in fact even the hills were about a 100 foot rise at a very low rate of climb. But, even at that we had to walk the scooter up a few hills. Someone had told us about the abandoned Sir Harry Oaks estate. It was fenced in; but, hey nothing could keep us out. Okay the gate was easy to jar open. It was quite a place even in the state of disrepair in which we found it. There seemed to be about 20 bedrooms, each with a phone and a off suite bathroom. Sir Harry Oakes made his fortune in gold mining. He was born in Maine USA but became a British Citizen. His Kirkland Lake Ontario gold mine was once the most productive in the Western hemisphere.He was murdered under mysterious circumstances in 1943 in Nassau . The case was never solved but fingers did point at the man who eloped with his 18 year old daughter, Count Alfred de Marigny .
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alfred_de_Marigny" \o "Alfred de Marigny
When I got back to Montreal I looked up Sir Harry in the Montreal Gazette’s archives. Count de Marigny was from Mauritius. At one point in the report he was referred to as “The overly suave Count de Marigny". This description caught my eye and for years I continued to hearken back to it, particularly when I encountered an overbearing and presumptuous person whom I naturally tagged “Overly suave”
It seems a bit naïve when looking back through years of travel experience; but ,this trip to the Bahamas was special for a number of reasons. I felt I was really on an exotic adventure. Going into bars I looked on the patrons as some kind of adventurers as I have said . When in all likely hood they were on the make and likely just out to get drunk. Okay call me a cynic
One evening we decided to go “Over the Hill” , an area where ‘locals’ went out in the evening. We were the only tourists; but, the feed back was anything but negative. We started talking politics with a fellow in one of the bars. Rick, in particular, has a great fascination with politics, so his questions were both pointed; yet, showed an interest. After an interesting evening of conversation with one particular gentleman Rick asked , “ If you were to have one of those bottles which would you prefer” He replied “The man born in 1820 still going strong”. So we got him a Mickey of Johnny Walker , a 10 ouncer. It was a small price for a memorable evening. In fact meeting a “local” and talking about his country set a standard for my future travels.
Where possible I would try to meet local people, talk with them and go beyond the sites. Mind you I was never adverse to seeing what foreign lands had to offer in terms of tourist attractions. It is just that meeting people was and still is, as important. To potential young travelers, this is a major piece of advice. Meet the people ,see the sites and come home a better person.
I still tell people I stayed at the internationally known “Salvation Army”. It was in fact quite a positive experience. I never pass the Sally Ann Christmas kettle without giving a nice donation in thanks for their hospitality. Our bill for three days was $5 and included breakfast and supper. Our first supper was curried bologna soup. My dear mother was exemplary as a parent; but, the most exotic spice I had ever had was salt . I really was a bit worried about offending anyone. I still have a total aversion to onions so the thought of curry was momentarily terrifying. But , I was hungry and the soup was in fact a gourmet treat to my inexperience palate. Again another lesson learned. In my future travels I sought out local fare eagerly and profited in culinary experiences as a result.
Our days were, in fact, spent sightseeing as I have told about Sir Harry’s estate. We also did the beach thing. The water in Nassau is still among the most beautiful I have experienced. A combination of clear shallow water and white underlying sand lent an intense blue hue to the water. One day we decided to step it up a notch and we snuck into the British Colonial Hotel, one of the Hilton chain. We more or less meandered in the front entrance, did a “yes we are staying here” tour about the lobby then decided to try the pool. I was busily taking in the joys of the big pool when I noticed someone come up to Rick. When I got out, Rick told me we had been offered a sea boat cruise…then he broke out laughing. The fellow had told us to leave after I got out. Rick asked how he spotted us…he pointed at out rather worn towels we had brought from Montreal. “It’s your gear that gave you away..” But he was pleasant and we were not thrown out by the scruff of the neck. Again, another lesson in “blending in” which would come in handy in later subterfuge visits where we were not paying guests. The trip was an adventure in many ways, not the least was learning the ropes .
On one side street near the Salvation Army Hostel I spotted a tall amateur radio antenna. That evening we noticed lights on so we dropped by. The fellow was very eager to show off his "rigs". We talked radio and I got a chance to "fire up the rig". I was able to contact a ham op. in Montreal. He called our parents and let them listen in on our conversation. All very good fun. Ham radio was my internet in those days.
When it came time to leave we decided to call our cougar er..I mean lady friend from the flight from Miami. She and her friend , with whom she was staying, drove us to the Airport…
Back at McGill, I missed the first day of a post Christmas holidays , class. My lab partner , Lynn, told a small fib and said I was missing a day of a 3 day special course due to “A flu”. I turned up a day late and the Prof said “Looks like you had a rough time with the flu” I was not aware of the subterfuge so I kind of blew it. But as the year went on I was able to look back with a lot of enthusiasm and I looked forward to more travel.
JAMAICA Christmas Holidays 1968
The previous year’s trip went so well that Rick and I were naturals for the following Christmas holiday. This time we got a head start. I called the MD, whose car we had driven, and we got him to pay us rather than an agency. So effectively we got our way paid to Florida. Rick had his license this year so we drove straight through. It took 29 hours and by the end of the drive we were hitting it in 15 minute stretches ,with us alternating at the wheel. We arrived at around noon or so in Daytona . We tried the car rental company to get a ride free to Miami but no luck this time. So we took a bus to Miami and another to the Airport. We got tickets to Montego Bay Jamaica; but there was an overnight stay. Rick went outside and slept under an airport overpass while I chose the luxury of sitting up straight all night in the Airport. The seats were such that one could not stretch out in a civilized way, they had arm rests between the seats on the benches . I did manage to doze off and one time some people beside me, woke me up with their loud talking ..I apparently stirred with quite a flurry and started speaking French for some reason . This had an interesting effect as a woman beside me started to talk with me and she seemed intrigued by the French…Hmm in retrospect a COUGAR ???? probably not .
Later I was awoken by a husband and wife complaining about their hotel. Compared to what awaited me I was not impressed. Beaches etc were on my agenda. I learned to always accept what was offered as long as I was not overpaying. I have traveled the first class route and expect first class treatment. But, I found lesser accommodations just as enjoyable. A hotel is a place to shower and sleep .
The Air Jamaica flight got us to Montego Bay at noon, we disembarked in an amazingly warm day. In a matter of minutes I came to understand the referrals to “Island Time” . When it is warm and sunny why in hell hustle about…”No problem mon” We asked around about some good places to “camp” and several people told us about Negril beach, which had not been ‘developed’ at that time. So off we set out, walking first across town to the main road to the West. Our first ride was with a German fellow who was an editor for the German magazine “Der Spiegel”. He was pleased when I told him of my visit to Germany. He had been a WWII paratrooper and Rick, historian he is, asked some good questions. It always seems sad when you meet people with whom Canada had been at war. A lesson many in power should learn. The fellow was both friendly and he seemed to enjoy Jamaica so he gave us a good heads up on some places to visit and enjoy. Our ride was about 30 minutes, a little less than half way to Negril, as I recall. As we walked along waiting for our second ride, Rick and I found a coconut, not the small hard shell variety we were used to seeing in grocery stores but a full soft coconut is what we picked up . The trick was to get at the inner “seed. As fortune would have it we were near a 4 or 5 meter ( 12-15 foot) rise near the road. I scurried up the rise and Rick threw up the coconut. I threw it down on the road, fully expecting our treat to be exposed; but, no go . After about 10 such efforts we noticed a man from a nearby house coming towards us with a machete in hand. He had a smile so there was no concern; but , Rick came up with a good one, “I hope he isn’t related to Mau Maus. He showed us how to split off the outer layer to expose the inner hard shell or seed. He then showed us the eyes on the shell, these were poked and we enjoyed some coconut milk, then he cut it in half and we ate the sweet and soft inner “meat”. I think he got a real kick out of the lads from Canada; but, once again I had become the recipient of the kindness of strangers. In my many travels I still find this local contact so fulfilling. Many years later in Mombassa Kenya I had a local street vendor cut a coconut open for me. Aw what a connoisseur I had become
A couple of rides later Rick and I made it to Negril Beach…It was a long clear beach with only a couple of small hotels. We kind of set up “camp” in a corner near a tree. We had brought some cans of Ragu, an Italian stew that was popular in French Canada. We had bought some rum and coke in Montego Bay so we really were going tropical ..’mon’ .I had brought a transistor radio so as the sun set; we spread out our sleeping bags, had a few cold ones and listened to the radio. A news report about the US NASA Moon craft, Apollo 8 had our attention. We could almost imagine the orbiter as it circled the moon. It was a clear night and the moon was full in the sky. It had a tinge of mystery modulated by the strength of science. We were quite far from anything resembling a scientific breakthrough. In our home for the night, in fact , we had regressed several millennia to when people lived outside for the most part. Or so we envisaged our beach stay We also tuned in a local station where they were playing reggae music. This is a genre of music made popular by the late Bob Marley
Reggae is amusic genre first developed in Jamaica in the late 1960s. While sometimes used in a broader sense to refer to most types of Jamaican music, the term reggae more properly denotes a particular music style that originated following on the development of ska and rocksteady.
One song I remember was a variation on the “Spirit of New Orleans” which they called “The Spirit of Kingston”. This was 1968 December; but, references to this song all mention the 1970’s. I do however remember this song, so which came first? I fell in love with Reggae for it’s free spirited back beat and fluid rhythms. We heard a lot of reggae in a week.
We wandered about the Negril Beach area during our first full day. Today the area is apparently “developed”; but, at that time there were only a few hotels in the area. Most were also quite small . We wandered into one bar and lo and behold we encountered some neighbors from my Montreal suburb. Small world, and something I ran into in various ways over my travels. We also spent a bit of time wandering along the beach, secretly hoping to find a lost treasure washed ashore or perhaps a cute couple of gals in bikinis… Actually in my Island travel I must say I had a rather staid social life. Maybe the less than cool travel garb I wore turned potential mates off
With the refrains of reggae wailing out from my radio setting the tone for another restful sleep we enjoyed yet another tropical night on the beach in Negril. That morning some locals were coming to the beach to fish ,with nets. They approached us with concern, they told us they feared we had washed off a boat and were dead. The next day we set off for Montego Bay. We got a quick ride with a very friendly fellow who was also proud of Jamaica. He pointed out a lot of little details such as the homes on the hills where “locals” lived, the variances in seasons and his love of gardening. At one point I got quite intrigued by some trees. He asked what I was obviously enthralled with. I asked, “Are those banana trees, they seem to be growing upside down.” He got a real kick out of my remark, as to my neophyte eye the bananas did seem to be in a reverse mode from what one would expect. They were pointing up along the stem not downwards. They were green and I asked how long it takes for them to be ready to eat, in a yellow state. He explained that once picked it took about a week to ripen enough to be eaten. He insisted we come with him to his home and he would give us some to try. When I mentioned hitchhiking, these days people frown on the idea; but this Jamaican was a typical example of mutual trust. He was inviting complete strangers to his home and we were going without a thought of anything untoward occurring. A more innocent time and one I miss in many ways. I hope this tome reminds people of those times.
He lived in what I would call a typical small Island home on a small property. He overlooked the sea which was about a 5 minute walk away down the road. He introduced us to his wife and to his two sons. He also showed us a photo of his third son who was in the U.S. Army. As had happened often, the kids were quite taken aback by “Big Rick”. His pale skin, red hair and athletic physique was popular with the kids. And as mentioned, more than once they would come up to check his muscles. “Hey Hercules mon, can I feel your arms” . All innocent .
The bananas he shared with us were marvelous. I was acquiring a taste for local fresh produce, something I would relish on many occasions from Dutch Milk in Holland to Jaffa Oranges in Israel later in my adventures. In Canada the bananas we eat are shipped by boat in freezers, they are good to eat but…..compared to these treats in the hills east of Negril. It is like comparing apples and bananas…sorry bad pun .
Another learning experience and one I still recall with a smile. The fellow had opened his home to us and shared a part of his life. It was really warm memory for me. To this day I try to welcome tourists to Ottawa by helping out when I can. They now call it paying forward, but in many cases I call it paying back . We got another two rides and we were in Montego Bay in short order. Walking through the town was interesting. We bought some rum in a store and some oranges then set off for Ocho Rios towards the east. We would do a more thorough tour of Montego Bay near the end of our tour of Jamaica’s North Shore.
We were told Ocho Rios and Dunn’s River falls were something to see so off we went. Along the way we passed through or near some towns with what we felt, were historic Caribbean names, St Ann’s Bay, Discovery bay, Runaway Bay. This part of Jamaica's North Coast has several distinctions: It was the first part of the island seen by Columbus, the site of the first Spanish settlement on the island, and the point of departure of the last Spaniards leaving Jamaica following their defeat by the British. Adios mon !
We got to Dunn’s River Falls on a ride with a fellow who was the accounts person at the Playboy Club resort. Ah ! a contact in case we wanted to go in for a visit. We were of course perspective members and all , of the Playboy Club. Yah right We spoke to a couple of people about Dunn’s River Falls and we made a mental note to perhaps come back and sleep at the Falls. We wandered over to the Playboy Club resort, which was nearby. We spoke to some staff members at the front entrance and explained we were both students on holidays and we would like to look around, “You know, to see if we want to join some day” We were unceremoniously shown the curb so fantasies of “Bunnies by the pool” died . We did get a passerby to take a photo of us at the entrance near the Playboy sign, I had a water canteen and held it on high as we toasted out Playmates. Some 20 years later my wife and I and our two children stayed there, it was now a Boscobel Beach resort…
We then made our way into Ocho Rios where we again checked out local stores. Always a passion of mine in my travels, is to soak up the local atmosphere, as it were. We had been told by several of our hitch hiking lifts , that Curried Goat is a real Jamaican treat. We found a nice little café that was not a tourist attraction; but, more a local place to eat. We ordered curried goat and asked for it to be hot. The waitress gave us a quizzical look and told us , “Are you sure boys, in Jamaica hot curry is HOT “. Of course we went for the hot, when in Rome eat what the Romans eat. . As I mentioned, in Nassau I had eaten my first really spicy meal so this was still a new discovery awaiting maturation . And hot it was; but, delicious. It helped that we also ordered 3 or 4 Red Stripe beer, a couple of cokes and some water. ... to sort of get us over the hot hump as it were. We also had some flat bread, I think she said it was called bammy and it was also a treat. As we progressed through the lunch I noticed one of the cooks peering around a door to see how we were doing. We were obviously taking a few extra liquid sips; but, they could see we were enjoying the food. Later, the next day we went back for some Akkee and Salt fish, this is considered the national dish of Jamaica. Akkee is made from a plant and formed into what appears to be an almost bread like consistency to my untrained palate. When we walked into our old haunt, from the day before, we were given a nice warm greeting. I don’t know if it is my imagination but this is something I felt in many places I had the pleasure of visiting. Small eating spots treated you like a regular, with all the perks, if you returned. I think it was an understandable combination of economics; but, even more, I feel it was a sense of pride in what they had to offer.
After our curried goat we made a little tour of the town and bought the obligatory bottle of rum, 'gotta' calm the nerves don’t 'ya' know . We were of course looking for our usual cheap accommodations. The beach seemed a bit less deserted than the one in Negril so we meandered back to Dunn’s River Falls. When we got there the sun had set. Today the area near the top of the falls is full of tourist shops but in 1968 there were no establishments near the Falls. We asked the security people if we could go in, they informed us the Falls were in fact closed for the day. We explained we had hoped to sleep there, camping style. They got a good kick out of that as, apparently, no one had done this before, to their knowledge. We climbed the small path beside the falls and about half way up we came upon a nice flat area and set up our new home away from home. Again the reggae music set the mood. We had a small toast of rum to our non-existent Playmates and proceeded to enjoy the surroundings. We both figured a nice shower was in order, so we stripped down and had a tropical shower in the falls. I think that the fact that we were doing double or triple duty , made it all the more amusing. That is, we were camping, showering, enjoying one of Jamaica’s best natural attractions. And all for free
We had a nice quiet and enjoyable sleep until 6 AM when it started to rain, the only rain we had in our week..so although we got up earlier than anticipated, we could not really complain. Besides the tropical rain was in itself an exotic treat to our Northern minds .
Someone had told us about raft rides down the Rio Grande. It was nearby and we set out hitching to the spot where the rides originated. We got a ride in the back of a truck that had about 15 local workers in the back . One kept telling us to pay him for the ride. We feigned ignorance ; but, Rick did give him some cigarettes which seemed to annoy him more. But, all problems came to an end when we disembarked at the area where the raft rides began. The driver said to ignore the fellow.
The raft “captain” was a bit worried because we were both big ; but, we convinced him there was no problem. It was interesting, we poled down the river and at times used the big bamboo poles as oars to propel the bamboo rafts. The fact that the bamboo was from the area added to the atmosphere of the moment. The “captain “ seemed to get a kick out of us and he remarked to other “captains” that his work was easy thanks to us . It was pretty river that descended from the Blue Mountains to the sea. It was called the Rio Grande. Some pretty tropical trees and plants lined the sides of the river. The Captain told us Errol Flynn was a regular in canoes on this river. The whole trip took about 60 fun filled minutes. Near a village some women and children were washing their clothes in the river. I felt that this was an interesting local profile.
We had heard of a town to the east of Dunns River Falls called Port Antonio. So off we headed and got a quick lift. In the town we encountered a British Volunteer teacher with whom we had some good times later. He told us about a colourful area called Blue Lagoon. It was an outlet to the sea for an underground spring. The area around the Lagoon was owned by American author Robin Moore , who wrote the Green Berets and The French Connection. Rick and I wound our way to the Lagoon that afternoon and our British friend said he would join us later.
We got to the Lagoon in quick order and soon discovered a nice bar at what appeared to be a resort. We were downing a beer when Mr. Moore came over to tell let us that this was in fact a private club. We both apologized and I decided to play the old “By the way “ game. I mentioned I was a student at McGill being subsidized by the Canadian Army. It was an ‘en passant’ remark; but, it had a positive effect. He said he just wanted to make sure who we were and he told us we were welcome to enjoy the club. He was most gracious in fact. This visit turned out to be the name dropping event of my travels. As I wandered about I heard a woman speaking French so I engaged her in conversation, she said she would like us to meet her husband. He was Johnny Weissmuller, the original Tarzan no less. We shook hands ,exchanged a few pleasantries and Rick and I both basked in the temporary brush with fame, mind you we had just met Robin Moore..but TARZAN .
Later I was walking by the lagoon looking at boats when a lady asked me to help with her motor boat. She too was gracious . I was told by one of the staff that she was the widow of Errol Flynn. I also met his daughter. Hey not bad for two beach bums..all my new friends and here it was New Years Eve .
We wandered back to where our British friend said to meet him . He,his girlfriend , Rick and I went to a small supper . We then to the Blue lagoon. No one was there yet, as apparently they all were to arrive later. We were having a nice little conversation at the table, no doubt solving the problems of the world. Our British friend told me about Eric Clapton, who was quite new on the music scene. A nice discovery that I would remember for ever as I became a big fan .
About 4 people came in and one fellow in a beard started what sounded like a eulogy. “As the ambers of the fire die and the flame is extinguished we welcome a New Year’ . Then he said, “If that sounds like a funeral eulogy it is because this place is like a bloody funeral." Rick and I went over to him as he was going on about how lazy we looked. He did allow that Rick had a strong jaw line. I asked if he was a dentist and he just laughed . Rick asked where he was from. He replied, with a challenging almost defiant look, as if to say we had no idea where this was from, “Borgeo”. Rick retorted , “Ah Newfoundland, I bet you are Farley Mowat.” He is a distinguished Canadian author. He also has an ego as large as the great outdoors so he was doubly happy , not only did Rick know where he was from: but, he knew who he was.
It turns out Mowat is a 'tad' anti-American, he was denied entry to the US in 1985 for unspecified reasons. Ronald Reagan rescinded this but Mowat refused entry on principle. In what I thought was comical he started to urge the Jamaican bar tenders to rebel against their American "oppressors", who owned the club. All fun, especially with a rum or two under the belt. So Mowat urged us all to take a motor boat and go to Cuba, “The only Free place in the Caribbean “ I’m not making this up believe me. Okay, maybe more than 2 rums under the belt to be honest; but ,the story is true . So Mowat, Rick and I and the British teacher and his girl friend untied Errol Flynn’s widow’s boat and off we set out. I was a bit worried, being in the Army and all but hey . As good fortune would have it we ran out of fuel in about 5 minutes. By then we had left the lagoon area and were on the ocean front of the club. We had a paddle and made our way back to the beach. Mowat said he would drive to town to get some gas . He told Rick to guard the boat while we were gone. But inside, we kind of got into party mode as Robin Moore and his friends had arrived. After 10 minutes I realized Rick was on guard at the boat. So I went to fetch him. But, not without a personal twist. I found a large stick and approached the boat quietly; I saw Rick duck down and try to hide. I slowly approached and in a “Jamaican” accent and raising the stick I shouted. “Hey mon, who dat in missy Flynn’s boat ?” Rick kind of made a whimpering noise as I pretended to hit him with the large stick. All in good fun. We wandered back to the party to hear Mowat talk down to the Americans and Mr. Moore.
One woman got into an argument with him about something he said, He retorted that she should not use generalizations when critiquing people, I was all ears. He reminded us all that he was published in 50 or so languages . It was quite surreal to Rick and me as we were ,in fact, in a bit of an exclusive setting with authors and all. Yet we somehow fit in, by not talking too much and perhaps by listening attentively ,we were made to feel welcome. We all brought in the New Year with the traditional toasts. A short while later Rick and I and the British teacher set off for the cottage he was sharing with other volunteer teachers, including a few from Canada.
On New Years day we went down to the harbour at night and snuck onto a cruise ship through a cargo entrance. After wandering about we came across a bar. We went in and managed to get a few free drinks and our British friend entered and won a limbo contest, at this point our ruse was discovered and we were asked civilly to leave. But again not bad for two guys living on the cheap.
The next day we set out from Port Antonio for Montego where we would catch our flight the following day. I got a bit of a nervous feeling when some people told me that it was 120 miles ( 170 km) and it might not be possible to do in one day. But once again my guardian angel, St Pesmo, worked his celestial magic or would that be eternal will ? We got a ride in the back of a pickup truck. The fellow and his girl friend were in fact going all the way to Mo’Bay. Near Ocho Rios we stopped at her parents’ coconut plantation. Or would that be properly called a palm plantation. ? Her father and mother greeted us like long lost friends and her dad said, “Sit down boys and have a drink”. Some 4 or 5 drinks and 2 hours later later we set off. It was another travel moment as the gentleman was more than eager to share his political views. Rick was a reporter in "real life " and he loved to quiz people on these things. That year some West Indian students at Sir George Williams University in Montreal had gone on a bit of a rampage over alleged “racial” slurs by a professor. Allegations that many West Indians said never occurred. But it was the tumultuous 60’s so a lot of “political action’ events occurred. The students threw out computer cards and destroyed the research of many professors and students. In those days, before mass storage, which we take for granted, a lot of computer files were processed using punch cards. The girl’s mother was very embarrassed and apologetic. “ Here Canada takes in these students and gives them a chance at education and this is how they thank you”. In this day of sometimes overboard PC it was a memorable moment. The gentleman’s plantation was some 1200 acres, a considerable area. A few years later, with my children and my wife we drove by it. Jamaica had suffered a particularly bad hurricane, Gilbert in 1988. The plantation, when we saw it several years later with my family, seemed still devastated. The gentleman was particularly proud of his plantation and I can imagine the pain he may still be feeling. He told us that palm trees could keep a man alive if he were on a desert island. All parts are useable. The leaves make a root, the trunk wood for a frame the coconut can be eaten, the bark can make covering for the walls and the roots can be woven into rope. A genuine Robinson Crusoe moment for us .
We set off to Mo’Bay around 3 or 4 PM and the two hour drive was very “tropical” to our Northern sensibilities. Sitting facing backwards in the open pickup truck load area we saw the world unfold in a beautiful panoramic fashion. IMAX would have been proud . The impression was strangely more picturesque looking back at the fading scenery. I still have a love affair with the beauty of palm trees and again I got to see thousands of them en route.
When we got to Mo’Bay we went to the driver’s home. His mother ran a nice Bed and Breakfast, we met her and had a nice chat . As we were about to set off she told us she had a room free and she would be glad to host us ..”on the house”. It really was another of those moments I have conveyed about my travels, kindness and caring people. We were invited to a lovely supper and we had a nice round table talk about this and that. They seemed particularly proud when we told them of the wonderful people we had met. They also seemed amused, in a nice way, when we spoke of some of the things we saw and enjoyed, my story of the upside down bananas was a hit .:)
Against all counsel from Jamaicans , Rick and I decided a tour of Mo’Bay at night would fill out the missing parts of the holiday. There is a lot of poverty in some areas of Jamaica and tourists or even local people with money can be targets. During one ride we told the driver that we were possibly planning on a trip to Kingston. He advised against it. We asked if it was because we are white, he told us that even he could be a target. A good piece of advice. But none the less here we were on the back streets of Montego Bay. A fellow came up to us and seemed friendly; He told us his name was “Al Capone’ . This of course should have been considered a bit of a precautionary warning..but, hey we were out to see the dark side. Al told us he would take care of us. We knew this meant a small monetary tip; but, we told him we were merchant marine sailors who had been fired from one ship and were waiting for another to go on when it came to port. It was coming to Mo Bay in a day or two. So we were not too rich. He seemed to go with that line which he would later use.
It was actually an interesting time in that he told us about himself and his family. As we were walking about the streets a couple of menacing looking lads came up, I could hear the switch blades open with a click , in their pockets. Al spoke to them in the local dialect but I caught,”Dey are flat mon” meaning we were broke..Wow I am a good story teller when I have to be. Later when we got back to Montreal a fellow in the year behind me in dental school was from Montego Bay. I told him of our adventures and he said , “Oh so Al Capone is out of jail again “
Then one of those heartbeat moments; A young Jamaican came in and gave us a challenging look and said to Rick . “Say I’m black and I’m proud”. Some of the others laughed but the fellow was quite stern and serious. I was starting to count down and figured my life was coming to an end with a few seconds remaining. Rick, in all honesty, has a record of putting his foot in it at times but he won an award here. He looked straight at the fellow and in a positive tone said, “You should be proud”. Everyone smiled…I think my smile was my most heart felt ever.
Some of the lads were smoking the local "weed " Ganja; but, Rick and I passed on this. I felt it might prove a problem. But we did not offer any negative opinion and took in the "scene". We went back to our B&B and reflected back on the side trip to the back streets. In a naive way I felt we were not in any danger but I have been told by Jamaicans that it might not have been a smart idea :) Again St. Pesmo looked out for us :)
We had a nice breakfast and chatted again about our time in Jamaica. As we left for the airport we did reflected about the great time we had experienced. People geography, some crazy events such as, our would-be trip, to Cuba with Farley Mowat. The night at Dunn’s river Falls, the bananas. Over the years this week has brought me great memories. Looking back I guess our back street trip with Al Capone had an element of danger; but, then it added to our adventure in a way. I should add that I was not too keen on making the trip to the “other side” but Rick was quite eager. When we got out of the area Rick started to shake when he thought of it. I had to punch him in the arm as I had not wanted to go there in the first place. All good fun.
The trip back home started with a flight to Miami. Rick had some friends who were on holidays in Florida and he had arranged a ride back for us, on a share gas and tolls basis. We took three days with a day camping a bit south of Washington. They had a tent and we all had sleeping bags. Rick set off for bed first and was asleep when we all joined him. At one point in the night a car came by and shone its’ headlights on us and honked the horn. Rick sat bolt upright and shouted quite loudly. One of the fellows was so startled that he ran out of the tent into our parked car. At the time it seemed quite funny, except to the “road runner “.
We decided to go into New York to check it out. We wandered about the theater area and came to the theater playing the musical HAIR. In the late 60’s it was the quintessential hippie tome. We wandered into the lobby and we could hear the music through the closed doors. At one juncture some of the cast came down the aisles and into the lobby. One of our fellow travelers joined them and went back into the theater. But he was quickly spotted and his brush with fame came to an abrupt end. The security people were not too upset and they asked us to politely leave, again all good fun. Across the street there was a crowd gathered, apparently it was a play with Dustin Hoffman and they were waiting to get a glimpse of him. So we went across the street. A fellow asked me what was going on, so I told him my friend Rick’s name and he went to look for Rick, although he told me he had never heard of him. I know, not that funny; but, at the time I envisaged the man asking when Rick Cannings was coming out .
The ride to Montreal was uneventful and I started my last semester of dental school. It was in many ways a hard time. Hell I was almost 26 and had been a student all my life…gad having to grow up suddenly struck fear into my heart ,well sort of . Our supportive class made the last bit great. I still look back on those years with fondness and a sense of gratitude . Class of ’69 I love you .
WELCOME HOME DADDY 1946
WINSTON ( PHOTO BY MY DAD)
THE MALL NEAR BUCKINGHAM
HAMBURG 1946 HUNGRY MEN SEARCHING FOR FOOD
10 DOWNING STREET
O'MEARA'S PUB DUBLIN
HAMBURG FROM THE AIR 1945