Thursday, December 17, 2009

No Visa Required - from 'Souldance'


I am floating in the sea with my eyes closed. I am six years old again, on a school outing. I picture the tiny huts, no hotels, as we pick our way through the bushes to arrive at the pristine beach. Ah, Negril. Nor winding road, nor exhaust snorting truck will keep me from her beaches. Negril is another country without the interminable airport security checks.

I lose myself in nostalgia on my way through Savanna-la-mar. As we drive past Hendon Circle, I am always startled to see the petrol station where our church used to be. Glancing down Great George's Street, I remember the beloved library, the fountain where we posed for many childhood photos, and the little grocery shop where our newly widowed mother had eked out a living. We head to Negril via Lewis Street, looking wistfully at the few tall palms, remnants of the beautiful tree-lined driveway that led to our schoolhouse.

Then it's past Llandilo, Big Bridge and Little London. Big Bridge is where the memories really come flooding back. Still bravely standing, is my grandmother's red-roofed house where we "spent time" during the summer holidays. The land stretched back to the swampy fields near the Cabarita River where my grandparents had farmed rice for nearly 40 years. Their fish pots yielded the best seafood; nothing has ever compared to my grandmother's curried crayfish.

The road grows wider and smoother as we approach the Negril Golf Club, then to the busy town square and onto my favourite road - the Norman Manley Boulevard. Here rustic guest houses sit cheek by jowl with sophisticated hotels and Ossie's Jerk Centre is just a stone's throw from the Gate of Heaven Catholic Church.

We find our favourite spot on the beach, shaded by an almond tree, and gaze at what must be the most magnificent sunset in the world. We talk to a tourist who is ecstatic to be finally in Negril. "This place is so beautiful!" he exults. We have to agree. As I float in the warm sea, the years collapse and I am content to be "a tick of time on God's eternal clock".

As seasoned south coast travelers, we know the best stops on the trip back to Kingston. We buy fresh fish at Belmont, bammies at Whitehouse and pepper shrimps at Middle Quarters. Depending on our appetite, it's either Paradise Patties in Santa Cruz, or curry goat on Spur Tree Hill. No return from the country would be complete without stopping in Porus for fruit to last the week: oranges, bananas, jackfruit, and we pray for starapples and naseberries to be in season.

Holland bamboos bow us through to the open arms of Mandeville's panorama, and Caymanas' sugar cane waves us into Kingston. No wonder Jamaicans seem so self-assured. Like royalty, we are ushered, guarded, fed and protected by those magnificent sentinels of nature; our mountains are our palace walls. No matter where we go, we take our regal landscape with us. It is reflected in Garvey's eloquent leadership, Belafonte's charming defiance, and Marley's liberating lyrics.

Now that I must hand over my footwear in airports and wait for my luggage to be picked through, Negril beckons even more boldly. I am happy to shed my shoes for soft warm sand, rather than the indifferent stares of security officers. We need no visa for the trip to the world of our young lives, no passport for a rite of passage from which we emerge refreshed and re-energised.

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