February 22, 2006

Jamaica: An Olympic moment

We’d had a laid-back time in Jamaica. A mellow week of food, drink, sun and fun at Montego Bay’s Sunset Beach Resort, a moderately priced, snob-free, family-friendly all-inclusive that I highly recommend. (See 11/30/04 post: “Ya mon! In Jamaica, even the soup is smiling” and read other travelers’ reviews on TripAdvisor.com.)

Other than a daily run, my heaviest lifting was getting a Red Stripe from the table to my mouth. Between beers I engaged in solo pursuits like kayaking but resisted the staff's best efforts to recruit me into group activities like the water aerobics fests staged in the main pool. Holding hands with strangers in bathing suits while swaying to Enya held no appeal.

I did pry the clan away from the free food, drinks and watersports long enough to take a road trip into the mountains above
Mo’ Bay. In Anchovy, the narrow main street was alive. Women in rainbow-colored dresses shopped, men lingered outside Jerk Joint and Jerk Place, and laughing kids in uniforms walked past the Baptist and Seventh Day Adventist churches on their way to school. Cars and trucks sputtered, and the sun turned everything to gold.

Our tire went flat near an orange grove in Shettlewood, so we pulled off to change it at a small bar that was attached to a house. Out came the owner, Sharon, smiling big and sporting pink plastic curlers. While Mike changed the tire, the kids hung out in the bar with Sharon and downed tall glass bottles of Pepsi. Between sodas, Dana would step outside to chat with Sharon’s chickens.

Flat fixed, we said goodbye to Sharon and meandered past orchards of citrus trees and through villages of yellow and turquoise houses and rolled at day’s end into the parking lot at Sunset Beach, where we resumed doing absolutely nothing meaningful. We were in a Jamaica frame of mind, and life was sultry, steamy, slow, its tropic tempo a sweet, leisurely largo.

Which is why we were unprepared for the sight that greeted us when we entered the airport terminal to check in for our flight home.

There, standing next to his gleaming machine on skis was a fit, muscled member of the
Jamaican bobsled team. Cool Runnings in person. The team had plans to be part of the next winter Olympics and was out to create awareness. They trained in cold, high, wintry places, but they came home to Jamaica to stir up support and funds.

So, before they boarded their planes to places like Boston, Chicago and Toronto, sunburned tourists in shorts and straw hats had their final Jamaica experience. They were lined up ten deep to have their pictures taken with the Caribbean athlete who rockets breakneck down slick chutes of ice chiseled into alpine peaks.