“Welcome to Jamaica, mon! Don’t get shot!”
Oh shit I’m in Kingston.
Jamaica’s capital city is the leading contributor to the country’s infamous murder rate, which is the fourth-highest in the world. So if you’re keeping track at home, I’ve now been to three of the top four hot countries for getting your ass shot. Venezuela won’t let me in, I keep asking nicely, and then waving a gun around and yelling unpredictably, nothing works.
Tourists don’t really stay in Kingston. Half the tourists (I’m totally making these percentages up) head straight to an all-inclusive resort and never leave the grounds until it’s time to fly home. The other half are cruise ship passengers who descend upon one of the touristy port towns like locusts and only slouch back to the boat once all the rastacaps and necklaces with their names on them have been bought up, leaving the entire town barren and empty.
It’s pretty much universal in the Caribbean that tons of tourists come to these islands and yet only about five of them actually experience the non-resort side of the place. I’m not saying I’m better than them, I just can’t afford the resorts, that shit is expensive. So I was in the trenches.
There’s actually a part of Kingston called Trench Town, but you definitely don’t want to hang out there, unless you’re working hard on your street cred. I at least knew that.
What I was a little fuzzier on was the fact that yeah, seriously, tourists don’t stay in Kingston at all. But I’d thrown this entire trip together on two days’ notice after realizing I had MLK day off from work and I didn’t know what any of the other towns were called so I was staying in Kingston.
“You probably meant to stay in Montego Bay or Negril, mon. They’re that way, hope you make it there alive. One love!”
A few days after I left, a state of emergency was declared in Kingston, with the military taking over the city because shit had gone too bananas even for them.
I’d always been amused by the fact that most credit cards will cover the insurance on your rental car anywhere in the world, except Ireland and Jamaica. Wow. Out of all the countries in the world, what did those two have to do to get singled out? Then I rented a car in Ireland and totally understood what Ireland did. I was about to find out why Jamaica was on the list.
The laid-back Island Rentals guy walked me over to my coach, a turd-brown 4-door Toyota Yaris. I’ve rented Yarii several times before, but they’re always hatchbacks, I didn’t even know Toyota made a sedan, no doubt for downwardly mobile families on the go. Jesus. This car looks like a rolling fart.
The step in the rental process where you walk around the car and mark any apparent damage on a little diagram of the car took almost an hour. This thing looks like it’s been through a machete war. Dents, scrapes, dings and holes (how does a car get a hole in it??) decorated the entirety of the Yaris’s pock-marked skin. One of the hubcaps was held on by about 20 zip ties. Its rim was chewed up like a saw blade, clearly something very bad had happened to that hubcap.
This is actually pretty good. I’m going to have to run this thing off a cliff for them to even be able to tell I did something to it. Solid.
I pulled away from the airport, mentally adjusting to driving on the left. And the traffic circles. I’ll just WINDSHIELD WIPERS dammit no matter how many times I do this I forget the turn signal is on the opposite side in these cars. For some reason that’s even harder than remembering to drive on the left.
All right, out on the open road this is grRRRRRRRRRRRRMMM!!!! What the hell is my car doing? It just kept getting louder and louder, like I was driving straight into a jet engine. That’s probably not good.
I looked down. Yeah, this is an automatic. What’s your problem, Family Yaris?
HRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRMMMM the Yaris responded.
I jostled the gear shifter and the car sighed a wheeze of relief. Ohhhh... shit. This is one of those nudge-shifter cars like the one I had in Honduras. Must be a Caribbean thing.
I proceeded to drive by sound, nudging the shifter into a higher gear every time the engine’s whine got annoying. Three days into the trip I discovered this was an optional setting just for Yaris purists, if you punched the knob all the way to the left the car shifted its own gears for you like you were the King of France. Solid. Now I don’t have to nudge the car like it’s a snoring dog every time the engine whine gets too loud.
I thought back to the car rental process. Crammed into a closet-sized room with ten other people, I resisted the rental agent’s high pressure sales tactics and turned down the optional insurance, which was something like $30 per day, more than doubling the cost of the car. I was pretty sure my credit card had me covered and this impromptu trip to Jamaica was supposed to be on the cheap.
“Fine,” said the rental girl. “We’ll just need a credit card to take a deposit.” No worries, I’ve played this game before. They’re going to put $600 on my card just in case all I return with is the steering wheel and a great story. This isn’t my first rodeo-
“Since you’ve declined our coverage we’ll need to charge the full value of the car to your card. That’ll be $10,000.”
I looked around me at the shorts-stain of a car I was driving. It had 90,000 miles on it. This thing wouldn’t be worth $10,000 unless you stuffed it full of weed. Good weed, and like, really full.
My first credit card rejected.
“Does your card have a limit?” the girl asked.
“Yeah, it’s…” I replied. “It’s a credit card.”
My second card somehow went through. I’m certain it didn’t have $10K free on that card but that was for me to know and Island Rentals to find out.
As I drove across the causeway connecting the airport to the rest of the island and plunged into the thick of Kingston traffic, I suddenly realized the situation I was in.
Jamaican driving is, to put it nicely, real loose. Cars weaved around me from all directions, horns blaring. I eventually realized this had nothing to do with my driving, Jamaicans just honk for a complicated suite of reasons, most of them friendly. Cars were coming from directions that weren’t driving lanes, or streets. I quickly realized that your natural instincts about which way to look when turning or changing lanes would quickly get you killed in Jamaica. You had to expect the unexpected and check all directions. Including up. It would not have shocked me at all to see a car drop out of the sky in Kingston.
I began to contemplate the unlikelihood of returning this rental car without (further) damage.
Jesus. Wait, does my credit card even cover me here? What a terrible time to ask this question. I don’t think I can even pull over to check without making the situation worse.
Cars passed each other using quick, harrowing jaunts into the intersection of side streets or the parking lots of shops. I’d soon learn that people on the highway often pass each other by racing through the breakdown lane, which is often also populated by people walking. And goats. Whenever I was sitting at a red light, inevitably a car would cruise by in the left-turn lane, pass all the waiting cars, and then swerve into our lane at the front of the line, halfway blocking the intersection. Checkmate, mon!
The strip-malls I was driving by all had visible security guards manning long bars that swiveled down to block the entrance, which they raised, I guess, once they saw that you weren’t gang-affiliated or a werewolf.
I was starving and headed for a vegan restaurant on the other side of the city. Google Maps kept making me perform uber-stressful right turns against heavy unending traffic, purely to shave four seconds off my arrival time. Dammit Google! You have an “Avoid Highways” setting, can’t you add a “Don’t get my ass killed in Jamaica” button? I’ll sponsor your Patreon I promise.
When I finally found the restaurant, actually going inside required whipping a U-turn and then performing a complicated three-point turn in the middle of a busy street, backed by a symphony of angry horns as I pulled into one of the tiny perpendicular parking spaces in the four-foot gap between the front of the restaurant and the passing traffic. I pulled off possibly the ugliest park of my life, which was the very first thing I did that helped me blend in as a local.
My greatest stroke of luck on the trip is that Rastafarians eat a diet called Ital, which is basically vegan. So I had a lot of choices when it came to places to eat. The complicating factor is that an authentic Jamaican accent is utterly and completely impenetrable.
I asked the girl in the restaurant what my options were, and did not understand a single thing she said in response. Huh. Okay. Plan B.
“What do you think is really good here? I’ll have that.”
“Half an hour? To make the food? I can wait that long, sure.”
“Having. Or. Going.”
“Ohhhhh! Right, yeah I'm going to eat here.”
I laughed as I suddenly realized that I can now understand Spanish better than I do English spoken with a thick Jamaican accent. Crazy travel realities.
As I waited for my food I checked and was shocked to see my credit card actually did cover renting cars in Jamaica. Sweet feet, that was a lucky break.
The food came and it was the starchiest meal I’ve ever eaten, some kind of incredibly dense roots and bitter plantains. I’m not going to say it was delicious, but this definitely had to be authentic, they certainly weren’t catering this shit to tourist tastes.
A different girl came out to take my empty plate and we chatted for a brief minute.
“You have a great smile though,” she said sweetly in closing, also I think implying that this was in spite of the fact that I was clearly very dense.
In addition to the challenge of the accents, you also had to learn Jamaican slang to have any chance of understanding anything anyone was saying to you. Later that night I would go online to figure out that “wah gwaan” meant “What’s going on?”, “Irie” meant “Everything is alright,” and “Likkle more” meant “See you later.” Up until that point I’d been responding to all of those phrases with the same blank stare.
Jamaicans also respond to "thank you" with things like "One love!" or "I shot the sheriff!" actually I may have made up that second one but it was very clear reggae was deeply infused into everyday life (or at least Bob Marley's lyrics were full of things Jamaican people already said, which is a smart way to seem influential to white people many years later).
Thankfully in contrast to my many mistakes about where to base my trip (Kingston!) and how much insurance to get for my car (none!) I’d made an excellent choice of a hostel to stay in, up in the mountains just outside of the city. As I steered my rental car through the steep curves of the mountain road, the lush, green landscapes and tucked-away little houses reminded me heavily of my great grandparents’ ranch north of Santa Barbara, where all of our family events had been held when I was growing up. The scenery and vibe were evocatively very similar and I melted into a feeling of being right at home.
Google was completely wrong about where the place actually was, and I think they only advertised it as a hostel to make sure cheapskates felt comfortable there, but the location was incredible. It was right down the block from where Bob Marley had lived and raised his children, and the view overlooking all of Kingston and the ocean beyond was breathtaking.
Behind us, the Blue Mountains loomed.
I sat out on the lawn and watched the sun set and the white glow of the city swell far below us.
Wow. This place is amazing. I could spend the whole trip right here and not feel like I missed a thing.
I spent a day working remotely from the picnic table on the porch, as hummingbirds dipped in and out of the beams of sunlight crossing the lawn. When I had left Minneapolis the morning before, it was -10 degrees outside and the airport was sending out notifications about cancelling flights over the weekend as the snow began to relentlessly pour down. When I’d landed in Kingston, it was 90 degrees out. One hundred degree temperature swings can’t help but boost your mood a bit.
On Saturday I had an appointment to go snorkeling up in Falmouth on the north coast of the island. When I booked that I didn’t realize it was a three hour drive from Kingston, but that was fine. It wasn’t like I was driving in one of the craziest places on Earth or anything.
My problem was that the highway going to Falmouth was a toll road, and I didn’t have any Jamaican money. The airport hadn’t had any ATMs. I’d tried the ATMs at the grocery store and the gas station that night but had been shut down at both (Dammit Argentina, you cursed me!), then got a call from my bank that they’d locked my card because the gas station ATM I’d tried use had been tampered with. I didn’t argue with them about this at all, that gas station was definitely sketchy AF. The bank agent on the phone suggested I go to a real bank, then was sympathetic when I responded “Lady, I’m in Jamaica.”
I headed down the mountain and into the center of Kingston, to where the realest banks were. Motorcycles weaved around me, going the wrong way on the road like a Hollywood car chase. I laughed out loud when I passed a troupe of goats that were just walking down the street together, no humans in sight.
When I parked on the street and got out, I was slightly concerned by the dudes milling around the bank. Shit, I left my throw-down wallet in my suitcase. It didn’t matter, these dudes were just trying to withdraw cash too. The ATM in the Scotiabank branch was out of order. The NCB ATM rejected me with a cryptic message, like I was trying online dating. I walked two doors down and tried their other ATM. Fftt ftt ftt ftt. Score! Jamaica money!
Back on the road, Google seemed as confused by Jamaican roads as anyone else, constantly telling me to do completely illogical and physically impossible things. I weaved around the people who were just standing in the middle of the highway for no reason, dodging kids playing in bushes six inches from traffic, and then took matters into my own hands, whipping a U-turn in the middle of the street so I could get onto the bridge out of Kingston.
Things went well for a while, then Jamaica pulled a fast one and I found myself no longer on the highway any more. Ahh shit, where am I? I’m somewhere in the slums north of Kingston. Google Maps was very concerned with getting me back on the highway, and proceeded to steer me into a series of increasingly ridiculous narrow, garbage-strewn alleys attempting to get me back on the main road.
This… these aren’t roads. I don’t care what your map says Google, these aren’t roads. This could be a driveway if it was wider. Jesus, where am I?
Google’s instructions followed the kind of cold computer logic that can get you killed, as these narrow chutes of corrugated tin squeezed between dilapidated shacks lined with icy-staring rasta dudes are not something any human being would ever advise you to turn down and only track as “roads” at all in the deep recesses of Google’s brain. Nowhere else in creation. I, of course, found it fascinating and hilarious and stopped a couple of times to take photos of the bizarrely improbable vehicles that lived in this maze.
Dear Google: Please expedite my request for that “Avoid getting me killed” tick box in Google Maps. This should apply both to not routing tourists through the favela as well as not having someone make fifteen right turns against heavy traffic in Kingston on their first day in Jamaica, all to save two minutes off the straight route. Thanx.
Eventually I found my way out of the maze, after receiving approximately four thousand “White man, what the hell are you doing??” stares as I squeezed my luxury shitbox through the squalor.
Whew. The open road! Back on the highway. This is more like it.
I was zooming along the wide highway through Jamaica’s central mountains when suddenly a dude in a hat just walked out into the middle of the highway and pointed at my car and then the side of the road. Ohhhhh shit, it’s a cop. He already had two people pulled over and I guess was in an overachieving mood.
I had been blasting a trap song so loud I was pretty sure my car was visibly shaking with the bass, and for a second I thought I might be in trouble for rocking too darn hard. After the cop was done with the other drivers, he approached my car and showed me a radar gun that said 104 and told me I’d be getting a ticket since the speed limit was 80.
I’m pretty sure this was bullshit, I mean I may well have been going at least 104, that sounds like something I’d do, but I think the radar gun just says 104 all the time and is really just a white people detector. It was like a tourist trap and a speed trap all rolled into one convenient location. Jamaica will get its money one way or another, it’s cool.
After I pulled away, the cop walked out into the street and flagged more cars down. I never saw him actually point the radar gun at anything. When I passed back through the same stretch of road going the opposite way hours later, he was still there, collecting his taxes. Not a bad job if you can get it.
Arriving in Falmouth, I navigated through the crowds of people walking in the street and stopped when my phone said I was at the meeting point for the snorkeling, which was an abandoned church in the middle of the town. Yeaaaah, that doesn’t seem right. I picked up my phone to investigate and noticed I’d received an email during the drive. It was my snorkeling guy letting me know that snorkeling had been cancelled for the day due to it being too windy. Balls.
Two dangerous-looking dudes rolled slowly by my car and sized me up. Yeah okay maybe I shouldn’t hang out here. I guess I’ll check out Falmouth while I’m in town. I hear there’s some cool historic architecture and shit here.
This would have been a lot easier to confirm if Google didn’t suddenly decide to direct me the wrong way down every single one-way street in the town, protesting loudly every time I didn’t turn into oncoming traffic.
Fighting my way out of Falmouth for an hour sapped my enthusiasm for historic architecture, and what I did see just seemed like a really touristy port town on a day when there was no cruise ship in town. I decided to try the beach instead. Can’t go to Jamaica without hanging out on the beach!
I pulled up to Burwood public beach, which everyone online said was the nicest on the north coast. Immediately, I had guys all around my car, directing me to turn into a dirt lot at the end of the road. What the- I opened the door to address the crowd, not having had an opportunity to clean up the snacks strewn all over my car from the drive.
The first guy said a lot of stuff that I didn’t understand at all. Yeezus. After several “Huh”s and “No really, Huh?”s I finally figured out he was telling me I had to pay to park here. I was negotiating with this guy over parking while simultaneously fending off the other guy who was trying to sell me weed (“Nah man I don’t smoke”), then the first guy switched gears and also tried to sell me weed (“Seriously I’m good”), shit now I have to pay a third guy to get into the beach while a fourth guy comes back with the $20 I gave the first guy for parking and asks if I have Jamaican money. Ya, mon. Also, do you want to buy some weed? (“I already got some from the first guy”).
While I’m walking with a fifth guy to the office to get change for my 500 Jamaican bill, a sixth guy just walks up to me and says “Bob Marley?” I explain that no, this is a natural mistake to make and it comes up a lot, but in fact I am not Bob Marley. He asks again and I’m confused but based on context and my experience thus far on the island, I figure “Bob Marley” is a strain of weed and I politely declined his generous offer. A seventh guy tries to sell me his guiding services for an excursion I’m already doing with some other dude the next day.
Change finally in hand, I flop down on a seat on the beach. Ahh, okay. You know, for such a “laid back” place, Jamaica’s really not that relaxing. I think- Wait, an eighth guy has come over and I can’t understand what he’s saying at all. Eventually I figure out that I have to pay him to “rent” one of these chairs on the beach.
Damn dude, this is the weirdest public beach I’ve ever been to. You usually have to go to a resort to get shaken down like this. I politely decline and walk over to sit in the sand.
It’s funny since I tend to be very critical of tourists who come to a place like this and stay in an all-inclusive resort, never experiencing the actual culture of the place. But today, I can kind of understand the appeal. Jamaica’s entire setup is antithetical to exactly what I’m doing here, trying to get the flavor of the place without acting like a tourist here to dump their vacation dollars in a big pile. Every desirable spot has some ragtag assortment of guides, “security guards” and randos that you need to pay off. And I can’t blame them, they’re just locals who need to make a living and this isn’t my home, I haven’t invested anything in Jamaica. But it can be challenging when every time someone talks to you, you have to immediately try to guess if they’re just being friendly, or want something from you in a relatively legitimate capacity, or are just trying to scam you. Not being able to understand what anyone is saying makes this all even more awkward.
Jamaica is very much set up for tourists to arrive at port off a cruise ship, and get passed around to an assortment of taxi drivers, guides and fixers until they’re dropped off back at the boat, lighter of pocket. Doing everything on my own was definitely flying in the face of all of this and wasn’t exactly encouraged.
The beach itself was fine. I reclined in the shadow of the lifeguard stand while a local couple took turns burying each other in the said and boys kicked a soccer ball into the sea. It was nice to see the locals enjoying themselves, in spite of the fact that I stood out like a bit of a sore thumb there.
After a couple of hours of relaxing and wading into the eerily warm Caribbean water, I decided I should get back to Kingston before it got dark and the Godzilla-sized monsters that stomp around the city at night came out. On my way out, one of the seven guys who facilitated my entrance to the beach asked me how I’d enjoyed it and let me know I was welcome to come back. Tell a friend. Uh, sure dude. Bob Marley guy helped me navigate my car out of the tight turn coming out of the dirt lot. I realized that the aggressive sales pitches were just these guys trying to make a living in a very competitive field. They seemed genuinely sweet beneath this.
I drove back across the island, dipping through the valleys between the mountains. On the way there’s a huge rest stop area called the Ultimate Jerk Centre. This is obviously a place to get some local chicken but it still made me laugh to think I’d pull in there, roll down my window and a dude would say “Ya mon, ya hair look stupid.” Oh man, that guy really was the ultimate jerk. He doesn’t even know me.
The toll system on this main road across Jamaica was amusing, as at the first toll booth a Jack in the Box drive-thru quality speaker greets you in muffled, distorted tones and directs you to an automated machine with one glowing button that spits out a ragged laminated toll card, which looks like a membership card to the Ikea Frequent Bookcase Buyers’ Club. At the second booth at the other end of the island, a teller takes the well-handed and probably disease-bearing card back and asks you for 1,400 Jamaican (about $11). I liked the way that they wish you a safe voyage every time at the end of the transaction.
After three days of being kind of stressed out by the driving in Jamaica, something clicked and it started to feel normal and comfortable to me. Part of this came from a conscious decision I made. As I was slaloming through some insane assortment of obstacles on the road, I suddenly realized that if this was a ride at Disneyland, I’d love it. Nobody gets off a chaotic ride at Disneyland and says “That was stressful and terrible! What a hassle!” They talk about how fun it was. I just needed to shift my perspective. Once I did this, it became a lot of fun.
Driving on Jack’s Hill Road up the mountain to my hostel that evening was pretty much exactly like the Indiana Jones ride at Disneyland. The car bobbing and bucking wildly under me, seemingly on hydraulics, as I frantically spun a steering wheel that may or may not have been in any way attached to which direction my vehicle was going, I snaked around the perilous cliffside road that only a theme park designer would lay out this way. Starting and stopping with jerky suddenness to contend with stray dogs in the middle of the road, stray Jamaicans in the middle of the road, and oncoming cars on the too-narrow-for-two cars pavement, I galloped up the mountain.
Google Maps’ “You’re going the wrong way!” BONK BONK failure sound sounds off left and right as I laugh because the only wrong turn you could make on this road is to go off the side of the cliff. But the road is so windy, clearly Google Maps thinks I’m making a continual series of U-turns, changing direction entirely every 20 feet.
I’m endlessly fascinated by how quickly we as human beings adapt to new things, and this mountain road was no exception. By my third day, this half-hour long series of a thousand and one turns had started to become familiar to me and I started to recognize the various landmarks along the way.
Here’s where that tree branch bonks the top of my car THUNK and here’s where the car bottoms out SKKKKKT and here’s where the road does a tight 180 don’t hit that same dog that was here yesterday, screeeee. BONK BONK thanks Google. Here’s where AHHHHH that taxi comes roaring down the middle of the road and doesn’t budge until you steer straight at him in a game of jerk chicken. Spin the wheel, spin the wheel, spin the wheel, as the Yaris’ tiny engine whines and races. Windows rolled down so I can hear whether my tires are all still on the pavement, versus the crunch of loose gravel on the cliff edge only inches away.
Looked at this way, it’s a fun ride. Now, I understand that people don’t stress on Disneyland rides because there’s no actual danger and they have no real agency in the process, as opposed to driving on Jamaican Splash Mountain, but why let that difference ruin all your fun?
Driving in Kingston is the most challenging aspect of visiting Jamaica, but even this started to seem normal to me by day three. I was laughing more when crazy shit happened, like when the city street I was driving on suddenly dipped down and crossed a goddamned river. If you’ve ever seen any movie that features a car chase set in Los Angeles, usually at some point they’ll veer off the road and race through the LA river, a concrete basin that usually has just a trickle of a stream down the middle. The road I was driving on in Kingston barreled straight across something very similar, only it wasn’t a transgressive detour, this is just what the road did. I looked over and there was a bridge up above us as we were splashing through the water and then THUNK THUNK we went up the other concrete bank and the city street continued.
Okay Jamaica. I’m going to just assume you know what you’re doing.
A few weeks earlier, I had been at a four-day Stargate meditation retreat in Mount Shasta in Northern California. It was my mom and my third year in a row of attending this same New Year’s retreat. The first year had been absolutely transformative for me. The second year I tired of some of the elements but the experience still opened up magnificent new things for me spiritually. The Stargate is a large geometric structure set up in the living room of the house where the retreat is held, and through collective intention, the assembled group uses this device to bring in powerful higher dimensional energies.
I imagine that in the telling, this experience probably sounds like something imaginary that woo-woo people are convincing themselves they’re feeling, interpreting vague subtle impressions in a way that validates their own worldview. But in reality the experience is so overwhelming I find it difficult to even describe adequately. I don’t think most people have experienced anything remotely like it to be able to relate or contextualize the experience for themselves. It’s like trying to describe the experience of huffing gasoline while skydiving into a volcano to someone who doesn’t think any of those things exist. The experience is like entering another dimension entirely and having your mind blown while you’re there.
This year, the energy coming through the Stargate was almost too intense, for me. I felt like I was being crushed by a glacier, all I could feel was this overwhelming wall of energy, and for the first two days during every meditation I was just zonking out completely into some far-away place. People were describing their incredible meditation experiences afterwards, while all I knew was that I wasn’t there. I wasn’t sure where I’d gone.
When people were sharing their experiences with the group, I found myself wishing I had my own to share. Since I couldn’t feel anything else, I started just observing these reactions within myself, as they cropped up. Huh, interesting. It feels like I want to be recognized. Seen by others as special. Kind of embarrassing, honestly, but interesting.
Every night it was a relief to leave the Stargate house and retire to our AirBnB down the mountain. Walking outside the house I felt like “Wheeeeew. Ahhh! I can feel other things again! The trees. Other people. My own energy and space. Something other than the gigantic monolith of energy in that room.”
After two days of this I was pretty sure this would be my last Stargate retreat. These events and this group had gifted me with a massive, transformative impact on my life. But all good things must come to an end, and if I was just coming here to get my ass kicked by a tsunami of energy that I can’t do anything with, this might be the end of the Stargate’s usefulness for me. Kind of sad, really. But better to be honest with myself and find the next thing that was in tune with where I am at now.
The theme of the second day at the Stargate had been Gratitude. Part of the focus of the Stargate work is claiming and using your power as a creative being who exists in innumerable dimensions, and recognizing our ability to change the events of our lives through focused intent. I’d worked with this extensively and very successfully over the past year in manifesting a new job that better supported my travels, mostly using daily visualizations. Now, the next phase involved adding fuel to this manifestation ability by focusing on and feeling gratitude for the things we appreciated in our lives, and then applying that gratitude to the things we wanted to bring into our lives, as if we already had them.
Waking up before the retreat on the third morning, I decided to give this a shot. I knelt down on the floor and focused on feeling intense gratitude for how well the third day of the retreat had gone, as if it had already happened. I felt thankful for how the day had gone so well that it had shifted my perception of the entire retreat and filled me with wonder. After about twenty minutes of this focus, we left to join the retreat for the day.
During the first meditation of the day, the overwhelming energy that had been crushing me for the entire retreat so far suddenly shifted and poured into me in a way that my body could integrate. I found myself traveling down a psychedelic tunnel of glowing grids and patterns, as diagrams and symbols illustrated abstract concepts to me that I understood perfectly in the moment but couldn’t hope to describe in words now. I was in some much higher dimension where it all clicked for me perfectly. I hovered out of the tunnel and saw the stars all around me shift and form in a road that I was walking along, and realized this was a pathway to higher dimensions that I could travel along any time I wished. I came back to my body totally stunned and amazed.
During the afternoon meditation, one of my friends who I’d got to know as a shy single mom the year before took the microphone and started channeling light language. This was a relatively new concept to me, basically the idea is that it’s a language from higher dimensions that people are starting to spontaneously channel in order to shift the energies on the Earth and spontaneously open up people’s awareness. I’d heard my friend speak it the day before and I felt for her as I realized that she had been utterly mortified once she realized it was going to come through, being as shy as she is. But her guides had something to share and it was happening one way or another.
The light language sounds kind of like Japanese spoken backwards and very fast. A cynical person would suggest it was made-up gibberish, but honestly I don’t know anyone who could make up something that complex on the fly like that, and as you listen to and meditate on the language you can feel the energy come through. There’s a very strong intuitional confirmation that comes through which obviates the need to talk your conscious mind into believing that this could be something real that somehow exists in the world. As your ability to tune into energies increases, you realize your mind doesn’t know what it’s talking about half the time and stop using it as the gatekeeper limiting what experiences you allow yourself to have. You feel the reality of things overwhelmingly and realize the foolishness of trying to cram some huge experience into the tiny box of what your mind has the information necessary to logically understand. And there’s no need to frame it that way, that doesn’t really add anything to the experience. The experience is the experience and you roll with it.
During the third day’s meditation, the light language she was channelling suddenly accelerated and went into a hyper-speed torrent of syllables, which instead of sounding like jibberish elevated into an almost telepathic communication. Utterly to my surprise, something clicked inside me and my eyes began to flutter extremely rapidly. Oh shit- The experience I’d had in the King’s Chamber inside the Great Pyramid in Egypt back in April was being triggered again. The recurrence of this experience had trailed off in the months after leaving Egypt, only triggered again when I would explicitly meditate with my crystal skull with a focus on going back into that space. I hadn’t done this for months, and did not for a second expect this to come up while I was at the Stargate.
My eyes fluttered rapidly as my face began to twitch involuntarily. Fast, fast. On, off, on, off. Images flashed before my eyes as I felt the spot on my brow between my eyes throb into dull awareness and then open up like a flower. I briefly wondered how strange it must look to anyone else there as my entire face scrunched up and released several times every second, like a very localized seizure. Likely everyone else had their eyes closed for the meditation and weren’t seeing any of this. I hope, ha. A woman behind me sobbed as something overwhelming opened up for her and I went deeper into the throbbing energy at my forehead.
This continued on for a solid half hour after the light language and the meditation was over. I stayed seated through the entire afternoon break, gripping my chair as my face fluttered and light images flashed before me. After about an hour it died back down and I could open my eyes and see the room around me. Wow. I went home that night filled with wonder, just as I had envisioned that morning. Wow. This gratitude stuff really works. Guess I’ll be back next year.
I didn’t sleep much that night. It was New Year’s Eve and my mind was racing with insights about the observations I’d made about my desire for recognition during the first two days of the retreat. I realized I was being prompted to share this with the group on the last day of the gathering and I was a bit mortified to share something so personal with fifty other people. I turned it over and over in my mind and analyzed the best way to say what I needed to share. At midnight, the fireworks and gunshots went off outside, ringing in 2020. I drifted off to sleep to the sound of a distant train.
About an hour later, I woke up and noticed a dark shadow in the shape of a man in my room. Huh, that’s weird. Must be someone standing at the threshold of my bedroom door, casting a shadow into the room. Hmm. A few moments passed and I realized there wasn’t anyone standing at the door. The room was very dark but the shadow was even darker somehow, darker really than anything could be, like a void or a black hole. The shadow swelled and grew in size. Ah shit, there’s something in my room. Some kind of dark entity. Cripes, what do I do?
Nope! Fuck you whatever you are, I don’t have time for this shit. I mentally called in protection and cast whatever the hell it was out of my room. It skittered off immediately. Whew. That wasn’t too tough-
A moment later, I heard our AirBnB host’s dog start freaking out downstairs, barking frantically. Jesus! The dog’s barks rose in pitch in a bizarre way and the dog started making strange strangled noises I’d never heard a dog make before. This dog was completely losing its shit! This is crazy- Oh shit, wait, that thing’s downstairs!
I got out of bed and opened the door, and headed down the stairs in the dark. As I came down the stairs, the dog suddenly stopped yelping and grew quiet. Whatever that thing was, it wasn’t into the vibe I was bringing and had fled the house entirely. Huh. That was bizarre. I headed back upstairs and went back to sleep.
In the morning we got up early and headed up the mountain to watch the New Year’s sunrise from the side of Mount Shasta, which is becoming a yearly tradition for us. It’s a completely magical experience, there’s no better way I know of to ring in the new year.
A few days before, I had performed the ceremony to remarry my mom and my ex-stepdad Rick in the woods not far from here. We had snowshoed in and created a sacred space in the woods, placing a ring of roses in the snow and chanting, smudging and ringing a bell to set the space, and calling in the elementals to hold the energy.
It was completely beautiful and totally worth me getting ordained through a bullshit internet church.
Now we were standing on the side of the road as the dark sky began to lighten. Some of our Stargate friends had joined us for the sunrise and we shivered together in the cold. The entire scene began to glow an unearthly blue as the rising sun hit the overcast sky.
Then a small crack opened up in the clouds on the horizon, and the sun blazed through. Utterly magical.
Standing there, I felt the presence of the Telosians, higher dimensional beings who live in the mountain. They’d spoken to me on the two previous New Year’s mornings, giving me a preview of what the coming year would hold for me. This took me completely by surprise the first year, as I was pretty new to communicating with non-physical beings at that point. By now it had started to feel pretty normal. Life is crazy.
I thanked the Telosians for allowing us to be here in their home. They immediately responded that I had a home in Telos too, and that this year I would remember this fact. They showed me briefly that this would be a year of inward journeys in parallel with my journeys out into the world. Sweet.
At the Stargate that morning my friend Kathryne-Alexis channelled the voice of the Earth itself and referenced the work I’d been doing in my travels to shift energy around the globe, as well as Kathryne-Alexis’s own efforts. Together we had opened the way for a higher-dimensional Earth to come through in the new year. Well okay! That’s cool. I don’t pretend to totally understand every aspect of this stuff yet, at least on a conscious level, but it all comes into focus year over year as I simply follow my intuition from step to step.
I'd been having lunch with another friend the day before when she started channeling her guide, a Native American medicine man. He told me that in my travels I was helping the Earth move its tectonic plates in such a way that they purged the necessary negative energies without killing a lot of people. So there might be an earthquake, but it would be softer or in an unpopulated area. This was news to me but very much fit in with the energy work I'd recently done in The Bahamas, so it felt right and seemed plausible to me. The really interesting thing is that a few days after I left Jamaica, a large earthquake occurred in the ocean off the north coast of the island, where I had gone swimming. But the plates slipped in an unusual way that prevented what could have been a devastating tsunami. So interesting.
When the time came for me to take the mic and share, I was very nervous. The male facilitator of the group went on a whole spiel about not wasting everyone’s time with sharing frivolous things. Thanks dude, no pressure now! I looked over at him and the female facilitator and she gave me a comforting nod to start. I realized suddenly in that moment that I was manifesting a dynamic from my own personal energy field about the disapproving father and the nurturing mother in my life, outpictured in that moment by these two random people. Interesting.
I opened by breaking the ice with a breakdancing joke that the male facilitator immediately tried to shush me for, but it’s alright dude, I know what I’m doing. Absolutely no one laughing was all part of my master plan.
Vulnerability established and the seriousness of the facilitator’s admonition hopefully dissipated, I began to explain what I’d seen in myself. How the first year I came to the Stargate, I’d received recognition for the spiritual work I’d done for the first time in my life. I’d never been part of a formal spiritual community before, unlike the experiences of my mom and brother. I’d always gone my own way. And I lived out in the world, where no one could really relate to the experiences I was having, or recognize what I could do. Now I suddenly had fifty people reflecting all of this back to be and independently validating for me the effects of all the spiritual work I’d done. This experience was completely transformative and removed so many limiting beliefs I had about myself and what I was capable of.
The second year, I noticed that desire for recognition was still there. But that year, I didn’t get it so much. I was kind of glad for that though, because I recognized that always getting that from other people was kind of a dead end. I was on to the next lesson.
Now this third year, I was experiencing that desire crop up again and again. The desire to be recognized as special. I talked about how it cropped up in such embarrassing ways, like hoping the group facilitator would say hi to me that day.
Jeez, what am I, ten years old? The moment I had that thought, I realized that this desire wasn’t coming from my adult self, it was coming from my inner child. When I was very young and these spiritual abilities were fully open, the adults around me didn’t understand them at all. They weren’t recognized, and certainly weren’t celebrated.
“Sean can see ghosts? That’s a problem!”
As happens to everyone to a certain degree, gradually these abilities and awarenesses were shamed into dormancy. Enough adults tell you that what you’re seeing isn’t real and that you’d better not tell other people about it, and you start tuning that world out and focusing on the physical around you, the world you get rewarded for interacting with. Most people lose those abilities for life. Some of us are able to claw some of them back in adulthood, through great effort.
In a moment all of this awareness opened up to me, and I saw that it was the little three year old within me who needed to be recognized for what he could do. To be told he was special and valued for what he could see and do. This realization was immensely powerful, as I realized each twinge of hoping for recognition, which I’d been quickly sweeping under the rug with an embarrassed judgmental mind, was actually an opportunity to turn within and give my inner child that loving recognition myself. Each trigger was an opportunity to move toward healing and a full integration of these abilities into my adult self.
The beauty of this realization was that it was a closed loop, it didn’t require anyone else. I could heal myself. Which was a relief, because asking your friends to praise you all the time is generally frowned upon in our culture.
I talked about how I realized that I’d been holding myself back, through this complex web of shame and embarrassment. But that I was ready to heal this and move into my full abilities in this life.
This was something intensely personal for me to share with one person, let alone fifty. It was painful to even say it. But I felt very strongly with complete clarity that this was something that existed within every person in that room, something that was motivating their behavior and limiting them whether they knew it or not, and if I could make myself extremely vulnerable to share this it would be my gift to the group, an opportunity to trigger their awareness of what was inside them, too.
I find speaking to large groups very difficult, as communication is intensely important to me and when talking to one person I can tune into their energy and read them, adjusting what I’m saying and how I say it as I see the connection energetically forming between us, opening a clear channel to total and honest understanding between us. This is a very intimate process, but something I tend to take for granted as it just happens naturally for me. Part of this trip for me was realizing how weird it must be for people who can’t do this, to have to just hope the other person gets what they’re saying. I get a taste of this weirdness in speaking to a large group because I can’t tune into that many people at one time, and it feels like casting my energy out into a void and being completely blind as to how it’s being received, which is terrifying.
As I finished my story, I was happy with how I’d been able to express what I wanted to share, but completely mortified that I had no idea how it had all been received. The room was silent. The female facilitator began to channel the higher dimensional teacher for the group, who told me I was special (ha ha, thanks dude) and that what I’d shared was important for every person in the group to focus on and work with, which was a nice validation of my intuition and going out on a limb to share it, in spite of the other facilitator implying that I was wasting everyone’s time with breakdancing jokes. I realized then that his resistance had come from his own inner shame and embarrassment at his own feelings of inadequacy. The group was then led into a meditation connected to what I’d shared, which was of course a nice further validation.
At the next break, a few of my friends came up to me to let me know that I was special, which was terribly nice of them but also kind of made me depressed, since that’s not why I shared what I did. The entire point of what I’d said was that you need to give that validation to yourself, and I began to feel deflated that nobody had got my larger point that this wasn’t really about me, this need existed within all of them too.
As the day went on I felt more and more like I didn’t want to be around people. I’d touched something very vulnerable within myself and just wanted to sleep in a cave somewhere for a week, away from everyone. Having to interact with people for the rest of the day was pure torture.
But in the last break of the day, I was talking to my friend Mike from Ireland when he said:
“I was impressed with the bravery of what you shared earlier, that had to be so hard. But it’s important because we all have that within us.”
Oh thank God. Thank you man. If just one person clicked with that it was all worth it.
Mike quickly became my favorite person ever.
At the end of the retreat we all resolved to work with gratitude every day in 2020 and to observe the changes it made in our lives. Already seeing how it had shifted the retreat for me, I was excited to get started.
The owner of my Bed and Breakfast / faux hostel was a Jamaican named Courtney, who barely looked half of his 60+ years and looked more than a little like a multiracial Barack Obama. He’d lived in Los Angeles during the 17 years he spent in the US, so we quickly bonded over LA things. He’d also served in the US Marines, which I don’t know shit about, but we were fascinated that we’d both been to the Korean DMZ for entirely different reasons. Most of Courtney’s stories involved mishaps related to paying for female companionship, which reminded me a lot of my ex-stepdad Allan’s stories of being a Marine in Africa. And all that time he’d spent in the US had softened his accent enough that I could understand what in the hell he was saying, which was a bonus.
“On Sunday nights the Dub Club up the street has great music,” Courtney enthused. “The classic stuff, not this new dub. Not the wild young stuff, that draws the wrong crowd. The deep music, the real music, that pushes the bad folks away. You know how it is?”
One of my goals for the trip was to climb Jamaica’s highest peak, the Blue Mountain. Courtney just happened to be one of the most experienced guides who leads people up the mountain, and he told me a lot of funny stories about taking people up there. I was pretty sure I didn’t need a guide’s help with climbing my thousandth mountain, but the roads to get to the trailhead sounded pretty rough and I wasn’t sure my shitbox was up to the task, so I hired Courtney to take me up to the trail and back.
The next day a semi-retired American couple from Oregon who were staying at the house heard about our trip and joined at the very last second, which was cool because I liked them and it made the whole trip a lot cheaper for me, split three ways and all.
Courtney’s beat to shit Land Cruiser wouldn’t start, but a push down the hill fixed that. We piled in and as we waited for Courtney to run back and shut the gate, a tiny lizard trekked across the hood and disappeared down into the engine.
Pulling out into the street, the taxi driver who waits all day to take people down the mountain fist-bumped me as we drove by. A drunk French cyclist greeted Courtney drunkenly. We whipped around the corner and GOATS.
Goats, goats, so many goats! Oh you guys are awesome.
We got halfway down the mountain before Courtney realized he’d forgotten some necessary paperwork, so we turned around and drove through the flock of goats twice more before we left for real.
During a stop for gas, I checked out how magnificently fucked up Courtney’s Land Cruiser was. Wow.
The two-hour drive to the trailhead took us along countless narrow cliff roads, passing innumerable shanties built improbably on the cliff face, inches from the road. Oncoming cars swerved around us on the far too narrow road, daring the cliff to suck them down into the abyss.
When the gaps in the trees opened up, the view across the valley was gorgeous.
This vertiginous weaving swirled on endlessly as Courtney told us stories about the old woman out here who’d bought a new mattress and so set her old one on fire, which ended up burning down her house and then the entire mountain. Oh man I should look out for that the next time I torch a mattress.
Coffee plantations filled the valley beneath us. Some people come up here just to see the operation where Jamaica’s famous Blue Mountain Coffee comes from. We were getting that for free, thanks to not really giving a shit about coffee.
Eventually we made it to Hagley Gap, which sure, you could charitably call it a town if you didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. It was more of a crossroads with a bar. Stretching our legs, I wandered by a shrub that was clucking. What the- Oh hey, there’s a rooster in there. Hey dude.
From there we began the preposterously steep climb up the mountain road to the trailhead. Blue Mountain is one of the steepest mountains in the world, where you can experience a 50 degree drop in temperature during a relatively short drive pretty much straight up into the sky.
The road was both comically steep and comically rough. The Land Cruiser bashed and skittered upward in 4-wheel drive. Yeah, my Yaris never would have made it up this. I mean, it’s a fine car and everything- Wait what am I saying, no it’s not.
We passed strange shacks and garishly colored houses perched on the steep hillsides.
Locals milled about, doing local things.
After BASH a BANG long SLAM journey GRIND upward SKIDDD, we finally reached the trailhead. A park ranger sitting on a motorcycle made small talk with us while we paid him the entrance fees. A dude in a rastacap with a stand was selling fresh fruit and water.
Rich, Debbie and I started up the trail while Courtney hunkered down to sleep in the truck and await our return. The trail was preposterously steep, and before long I had left Rich and Debbie behind, as my calves screamed at me to go lay on a beach somewhere. Up, up, up!
My heart pounded. Damn, this is steep. Nice to get the heart going. Numerous signs warned me not to trespass into the coffee operation down the other side of the mountain. Up and up. As I climbed, the view grew more and more magnificent.
I gazed at the tiny flowers that lined the trail. So pretty. This is more like it. It’s not like I hadn’t enjoyed my time in Jamaica so far, but there had been challenges. This is more my speed. I stripped down to shorts and short sleeves as I climbed the endless ramp upward.
This is nice. But.. am I getting everything I can from this experience? I always find it a little frustrating that my awareness fluctuates so much. Some days I’m partying with the elementals in the twelfth dimension, while other days I can’t get that “Da Da Da” song out of my head. I hate to feel like I could be appreciating this hike more than I am.
Hmm. I can probably do something about that. I tuned into my inner child and asked for his help.
“What you can see and do is so amazing. Could you teach me and help me see it too?”
As the hike continued, I started to get glimpses of the various elementals in the mountain landscape, and the life force behind the plants. Eventually I began to see dark human figures off in the woods. Ghosts of the Arawak peoples who lived on Jamaica before Columbus came and the Spanish utterly wiped them out? Or perhaps from the Maroon communities of escaped slaves who lived free and independent in these mountains? Hmm.
The more I saw, the more gratitude I felt. I started with feeling gratitude for the beautiful little flowers along the trail. Then the plants, and the moss-covered trees. Then for the entire mountain. And then the whole of Jamaica, the whole island. And then for all the people living there. Thank you for being here. Thank you for being here for me to experience and take joy in seeing.
Intense yellow butterflies fluttered by and beautiful, elaborate hummingbirds hovered all around. I took several opportunities to sit and meditate, watching the rocks morph and shift before my eyes as I perceived their inner energies.
The second largest butterfly in the world lives on this mountain. I don’t think I saw one of those, but the butterflies I did see were pretty baller.
As I hiked, I poured gratitude into everything I saw. And I felt my trip transform, from the frustrations and stress of the first few days, into just joy and love. I could feel the gratitude stoking the fires of my creative energies as it all roiled together in a swirling spring of energies. Wow.
If you’re not sold on the manifestation aspects, it’s okay, it’s still worth trying this yourself, since this gratitude makes everything better. When you successfully move into gratitude, the day becomes great because feeling grateful for everything feels really good. Everything becomes a blessing instead of a problem.
Walking along the spine of the mountain toward the peak, cold air swooped up the cliffs that dropped off immediately on either side of me. The energy here felt incredible. I stood there for a long time, feeling the fresh energy sweep through me.
Up at the peak at 7,402 feet, the view opened up and it seemed like you could see all of Jamaica from up there.
The forest on top of the mountain was something called and Elfin woodland, full of enchantedly shrunken and twisting small trees and ornate shrubs.
I wandered off through the woods to the opposite side of the peak, where a cliff offered the opportunity to leap off and fly to the ends of the Earth, or just snap a few photos if you still had unfinished business in this world.
I followed another trail into the Elfin forest that petered out into me finding myself trapped in a miniature arboreal landscape, which I crawled back out of as carefully as I could.
Clouds blew in and shrouded the peak in dense fog. I climbed up to a small platform and waited for Rich and Debbie to make it to the peak, so we could hike back down together. After an hour of meditating up there in the cold, I realized I needed to start back down now to make it down to the trailhead by sunset. Probably not a great mountain to get lost on in the dark.
The hike back down took two solid hours of hiking at a fast clip. The beautiful sunset kept me company.
It began to dawn on me that the vulnerability I had opened up at the Stargate, which I had carried with me in the weeks since then, was being healed by the connection I was forming here, pouring gratitude into the mountain. I had been a little worried that I was traveling again too soon, not giving myself enough time to recover at home. But hiking through the trees, I could feel that this was exactly what I needed, to get into this healing green space and open my heart to it all.
Halfway down, I realized I wasn’t going to run into Rich and Debbie hiking up, which meant they must have given up before the peak and everyone was probably waiting for me down at the truck. Ah yes, I know this feeling. I couldn’t really hike any faster down the steep mountain without turning it into an extreme sport. They can’t be that worried, it’s not like they sent anyone up looking for me. Shit, I could have fallen off the mountain for all anyone knew. Damn guys.
I somehow managed to sneak up on everyone once I reached the trailhead.
“Sean! We thought you were lost! We reported you missing to the park ranger! He was getting ready to go look for you.”
“Did his getting ready look a lot like taking a nap? I didn’t see the dude up there anywhere.”
“Yeah I’m not sure he actually started looking.”
Definitely an “It’s the thought that counts” scenario.
It turned out Debbie had quit before the peak, but Rich had made it to the top and then left, probably all while I was meditating in the fog. We’d never seen each other up there. I got endless shit the entire rest of the trip for “getting lost” on the mountain and requiring the assistance of the Jamaican National Guard but it’s all right, a trip where people aren’t waiting for me to run down a mountain is like a trip that never happened.
On the dark, winding drive back through the mountains I told stories of my similar mountain adventures in North Korea and elsewhere. We stopped in Hagley Gap again because the bar was open and Courtney really wanted a drink. He announced proudly that he was only going to have one rum because he had to drive us home through the treacherous mountains at night. You are a goddamned national hero Courtney.
The scene at the bar was fascinating, rural Jamaicans hunched over strange janky video gambling machines in the open-air bar as Jamaican twins manned the bar. Outside, there were 15-foot-tall speakers just standing in the middle of the street, blaring deafening reggae music. The entire town just seemed to be standing around at these crossroads. I guess this is what you do on a Sunday night in remote Jamaican mountain “towns.”
I badly wanted to get photos of all of this, but Jamaica has a serious, serious gang problem and taking unauthorized photos of gang people seemed like a good way to get shot. I used the old “Just looking at my phone at a weird angle!” trick to take a fairly worthless selfie that failed to capture any of the stuff over my shoulder that I was trying to discretely photograph.
You can sort of see the tall speakers in the background. You’re welcome, and don’t worry, I’ll accept the job offers from National Geographic at the end of this blog.
For my last full day in Jamaica, I wanted to do the one really touristy thing that appealed to me in the entire country. I wanted to ride a bobsled down a goddamned mountain. I headed north across the island to Ocho Rios and Mystic Mountain.
The entrance to the park wrapped around a pretty pool full of koi and a little waterfall.
I boarded the chair lift that takes you up the mountain to the bobsled run. The lift takes twenty minutes and provides fantastic views of the sea and the gargantuan cruise ships docked nearby.
My favorite aspect was looking down and feeling like I was hovering over the treetops on my own steam, like some kind of God. I imagined tribesmen shooting arrows up at me. Being a God must be a pain in the ass.
The chairlift stopped intermittently on the way up for a few minutes at a time, ostensibly to give you time to enjoy the views, but probably in actuality because it was broken in some way. It was okay, the views were nice. Except for the time it started pouring rain and the chairlift stopped for five minutes high above the treetops just to make sure I got as wet as possible.
Up top, I sat in a small hummingbird garden as beautiful ornate birds swooped in, as if on cue.
All right, time to get down to business!
OK, I’m in a tiny little bobsled and I’m ready to fly down a mountain! Looks like this thing has brakes but I didn’t come to Jamaica to use the brakes. I’ll just hold this handle all the way down so the brakes don’t ever engage. Let’s go!
Woosh! Ha ha, this is fun!
Whoaaaa starting to go a little fast…
WHAT THE FUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUU-
Whew, all right, it slowed down for a second, I think it might-
And then I entered another dimension and I'm here to tell you it was always the Berenstein Bears.
This was so much fun I did it two more times in a row. I’m pretty sure you were supposed to use the brakes on the turns, because the bobsled’s kinda janky and it screamed like it was trying to tear free of the railings on the tight turns, but that’s all part of the fun. My sincere apologies to any beautiful rare hummingbirds I may have splatted while tearing through the dimensional barriers on my way down the mountain.
After leaving the park I made my way into Ocho Rios to a busy Ital restaurant hidden away down a back alley for the best meal I ate in Jamaica.
The most interesting aspect of the meal was the ackee, a local fruit that when cooked turns out like scrambled eggs.
Reggae music thumped and the whole town smelled like weed.
♫One love… One heart… Let’s get together and smoke all the weed in the whole fucking world…♫
Asking if weed is legal in Jamaica is like asking if meat is legal in Argentina. In Jamaica, if you want to abstain, you have to get a note from your doctor explaining why you can’t smoke weed. If you have a note then they only make you smoke a little weed.
I had an appointment to head back to Falmouth that night to take another shot at swimming in the Luminous Lagoon, after being shut down on my previous drive across the island. I headed out for the 90 minute drive across the north coast of Jamaica.
A car cruised by with a massive set of speakers strapped to its roof, blasting the driver’s favorite tunes for the entire world to enjoy. Jamaica has got to be the most speakered-up place in the world. I was staying way up in the mountains, which you would think would make for quiet nights, but Jamaica doesn’t do quiet nights. Those are precious reggae-blasting hours. You only get so many of those in a day.
The things that made me laugh the hardest in Jamaica were the few places that weren’t playing reggae. Clearly there were a few reggae agnostics on the island, out of three million people there have to be at least five, the law of averages dictates it. What I loved with a passion is that every time I heard something that wasn’t reggae, it was uniformly and without exception the same shmaltzy 1980s smooth R&B that is my own secret guilty pleasure.
Holy shit, is that Anita Baker’s Sweet Love? No way!
Wait, is that George Benson’s Turn Your Love Around? Well turn it up, man!
You guys are incredible.
I laughed out loud driving past by a billboard featuring a Dancehall artist whose signature looked like it said “Busy Signal.” Ha ha. That would be a funny rapper name-
Oh holy shit it does say Busy Signal! And he’s advertising his hit single “My Nuts.” Touché, Jamaica.
I was an hour into my drive when I reached over to grab my water bottle out of my backpack.
Nothing but air.
My back… pack…
It suddenly dawned on me that my backpack with my camera, shoes, and everything else in it was still hanging on the back of the chair I’d been sitting in at that busy Ital restaurant back in Ocho Rios. Fuuuuuuuu-
Okay, I can work on this. For the hour-long drive back to Ocho Rios, I worked on feeling intense gratitude for how well the entire day went, how everything went my way and I was grateful I’d had such a great day. I felt grateful for getting back to the restaurant and finding my bag hanging untouched from the back of that chair. I imagined wearing my water shoes that night on the boat and using my camera on subsequent trips. So cool to still have these things.
I swerved through the traffic in Ocho Rios and down the alleyway to the restaurant. Jogged up the stairs and in the front door. A local couple was sitting at the table where I’d been eating. And there was my backpack, still hanging on the back of the chair. I introduced myself to the couple and apologized for interrupting them to get my bag.
“Oh my gosh! I never even saw that thing! Sorry man!”
We had a nice little chat before I headed out the door with bag in hand, everything still inside, feeling grateful.
Hey look at that billboard! It’s my buddy Busy Signal!
I made it to Falmouth 15 minutes early for my boat trip out to the Luminous Lagoon. This is a unique spot in Jamaica where millions of tiny bioluminescent dinoflagellates glow blue-green in the water when agitated. We weren’t there in conditions for ideal brightness since it had been raining all day but I wasn’t going to leave Jamaica without seeing this.
I chatted with a Danish tourist who was taking the boat out with me and compared notes on what we’d seen in Jamaica. He leaned into me conspiratorially and whispered so our boat captain couldn’t hear us.
“Sean, can you… understand anything they’re saying?”
“Not a word.”
“Oh! That is a relief. I thought it was because English is not my first language.”
Our captain motored us out into the lagoon, which was really more of a bay. He shut off the lights of the boat and we glided through the dark water, scanning its inky depths for any kind of glow. Several other boats looped around, on the same search. After about ten minutes, the captain suddenly declared success. I think.
We didn’t see shit. Okay? We’re… here? Where’s the glowyflagellates?
The captain dipped an oar in the water and stirred it around. A very, VERY faint glow trailed after the oar.
“That’s it? I gotta admit man, that kinda blows.”
“It’s better once you get in the water, trust me.”
The Danish guy wasn’t in the mood to trust him, since it was fairly cold out and the icy black water didn’t look all that inviting.
I couldn’t blame him, but I also didn’t come all the way to Jamaica to use brakes or not jump into a freezing cold glow soup. I plunged off the side of the boat.
AAAAAAAAAAAAH FUUUUUUUUUUn… this water is COLD, son! DAMN!
“Tread water! You’ve gotta get down into the warm water!”
Down into the what now?
“This is the spot where the river and the ocean meet. The surface water is cold fresh water but everything below that is the warm Caribbean salt water!”
What the- I rotated my body into an upright posture. Oh holy shit, he’s right! The first foot of water was ice cold but everything below that was like a jacuzzi.
Oh man, this is SO strange. There was a perfect line of demarcation between the hot and the cold, like oil and water refusing to mix. It was like some kind of bizarre hot/cold therapy to move your arms and legs through the various layers. My whole body was confused.
Man, this is craz- AHH! What’s going on with my hands??
I looked down and streamers of blue light were coming off my hands, like a wizard casting a spell. The glowing light swirled around my hands as I moved them. Oh my god, that is insane!
I kicked my legs up and the ghostly light swirled around them and trailed off my toes. I felt like one of the X-Men, or Scarlet Witch from the Avengers movies. This is so, so cool.
After a minute the glow faded away. Awww.
“Swim to a new spot! There’s patches of them in different places!”
Oh, okay. I swam away from the boat. Doot do doo. Man it’s dark out here. I hope I don’t get run over by one of those other boats that’s motoring around with no lights on. That would suc-
I looked down and my whole body was glowing blue and casting spectral trails every time I moved. Ahhhhhh! Ha ha, so cool.
This did not get old for one second during the half-hour I spent swimming around, looking for fresh concentrations of magic glowing water germs. A few times I had to turn around and swim back toward the boat as fast as I could to avoid getting run over by another boat in the black night, but that was a small price to pay for pure ocean magic. But seriously guys, you might want to think about some kind of safety system for that. Or at least count how many people you come back with.
I know what you’re thinking, but no, the photos of any of this didn’t turn out at all. The magic shit wasn’t quite that bright. So you’ll have to suffice with my magic shit descriptions in the glorious theater of your own imagining. I’m so sorry to make you do that.
Back on land, I made the two plus hour drive back to Kingston through the dark, quiet night, driving exactly the speed limit all the way across Jamaica. At one point a BMW SUV blazed past me like I was driving in reverse, and then hilariously, ten seconds later I drove past him pulled over by the same cop who had given me a ticket in the same spot days earlier. The best part was that the same SUV blitzed past me five minutes later doing double the speed limit, probably rushing home to pay that ticket.
The next morning, I called into some meetings for work while Courtney hammered on the wall of my room nonstop for some reason and Rich and Debbie desperately needed me to move my car mid-meeting so they could get their rental car out of the driveway. Thanks guys. Making an excellent case for seamless location independent work for Sean, I really appreciate it.
It was with real sadness that Courtney and I said our goodbyes. Over the course of six days Jamaica had come to feel surprisingly like home to me, and hanging out with Courtney up in the mountains was a big part of this. I could have stayed much longer, and he seemed legitimately sad to see me go. Signs of a good trip all around.
I drove down the mountain and through the clusterfudge of Kingston to the airport. Pulling up to the rental car return, I sent my mom a text message:
“Lifetime Accomplishments: 1) Completing the Mt Kailash Kora in Tibet, 2) Running a marathon, 3) Returning a rental car undamaged in Jamaica.”
The rental car guy counted all the dents and holes in the car, making sure there were still 872 and that I hadn’t buffed any of them out while I had the car. Mission accomplished.
I took the paperwork into the cramped airport office and they charged back the $10,000 deposit on my card. Man, what a crazy system. I basically bought the car from them and then sold it back to them a week later. Thank God they never looked at the undercarriage.
Monstrous, huge hummingbirds soared over us in the Kingston airport, warning us to never come back.
Stay weird, Jamaica. It was Irie.