Thursday, June 10, 2004

Honeymoon!

The night of our wedding, after the reception, we stayed at The Embassy Suites. It wasn't really a very late night when the festivities ended, only about 1:00 AM, but I was really looking forward to letting John *ahem* remove my garter? We weren't back in our room for more than 2 minutes when there was a knock upon the door. My little brother and a few of our friends were in the hall with a bottle of champagne. "We can't let the party end YET!" little bro exclaimed. Uh, who said anything about ending the party? I just wanted a more intimate affair. (Heh heh heh!) We finally managed to kick out the party crashers at 3:00 AM and plopped exhausted into bed. No wedding night, um, bliss. Too tired.

We had to get up at 5:00 AM to get a ride to the airport to catch our flight. I was looking forward to the honeymoon like a woman stranded in the desert looks for water. We had been under so much stress up until wedding day. I craved peace, quiet, relaxation and alone time with my new husband. I was a tad apprehensive about the trip. We had used a local travel agent for the first time, but because we waited too long to book the trip, the only flights available were on Air Jamaica. I really wanted to fly an American carrier. Why? It all had to do with my comfort zone. I had never flown an international carrier and wasn't familiar with them. I should always trust my instincts. On top of that, the travel agent told us she was unable to get an ocean view room...we were booked into mountain view. Unacceptable! John called the resort personally and found out that we could get a deluxe ocean view SUITE for only $40 more a day. So we went for it. We probably should have called the airline too.

We were dropped off right outside the doors for Air Jamaica promptly 2 hours before flight time. I love being dropped off at the departures level (have I mentioned that I avoid exercise at all costs...even back then?) There were very few Air Jamaica check in windows open and a lengthy line waiting. I looked over the other passengers waiting to check in for our flight and had a slight sinking sensation in the pit of my stomach. There were several Rastafarian looking types with no luggage, several large women with young children and very unhappy babies, and assorted collections of other scruffy looking folks with heavy Jamaican accents. We were the only "white" people in line. I am not racist, but this was a tad intimidating. Most of the folks ahead of us in line didn't have their belongings in suitcases. They had ratty cardboard boxes, garbage bags, and items just tied up with twine. This caused a considerable delay since each one had to be told you could not check items that were not securely stowed in an airline approved container. They had some boxes at the check in but they swiftly ran out of them (and tape). A porter was dispatched to find more shipping boxes and tape while several arguments with the check-in agent ensued. "What you mean my box no good...it secure jus fine mon!" Yikes! We finally checked our bags, showed our IDs (I had suggested we get Passports, but John had read that all we needed for Jamaica was birth certificates and drivers licenses, so that is what we had), and got our boarding passes.

We wandered slowly down to the gate since we still had a some time to kill before boarding. If only we had known. We got to the gate and people were already getting on the plane. There was no boarding announcement. They just opened the doors and people started to pile on. No rhyme or reason! We both had carry-ons and scrambled to get to our seats. There was NO room left in the overhead bins and a man in our isle had filled up the area under ALL the seats in our row with his stuff. He was pretending to be asleep. After several failed attempts, I finally managed to flag down a very harried looking flight attendant. She said in a very clipped and heavily accents voice, "What you want?!" I explained our problem and she shouted at the man and just took the stuff out of the space in front of our seats and carried it away. We shrugged, stowed our bags, and sat down. We had the window and center seats (this was before I learned my lesson and began asking for isle seats) and climbed over the now glaring man on the end. I made myself as comfortable as I could as we waited for take-off.

Once in flight, I swiftly noticed another problem of flying an international air carrier. The cabin of the plane was filling with smoke! I could feel all my mucus membranes drying out, my eyes getting bloodshot and I couldn't stop coughing. I even caught a whiff of a heavier, sweeter smelling kind of smoke (reminded me of college.) As I started worrying about our pilot getting a contact high and landing the plane in the middle of the Atlantic ocean, his voice came over the loud speaker. I could just make out what he was saying over his heavy Jamaican accent..."An if you look out de right of de plane, you see Cuba. Air Jamaica is one of de few airlines permitted in Cuban airspace." Whoa. I began scanning the cabin for any passengers who had a suspicious "terrorist" look about them. As visions of hijacking danced through my head, breakfast was served. The surly flight attendant was back. She threw a small foil wrapped parcel in front of each of us, gave me a dirty look, and moved on. I removed the foil and looked at the runny yellow concoction and little bits of pimento with suspicion. "Looks like eggs," my husband blandly stated the obvious. I should have known better, but I was hungry and willing to overlook my occasional sensitivity to eggs (a mild allergy). I reasoned that it was a very small portion and the semi-raw chunks of potato would cut back the likelihood of a reaction. I topped off the meal with the small can of simulated orange juice-like beverage.

Breakfast complete, I settled back slightly queasy, to play cards with John until we landed. As the plane began to descend, I eagerly looked out the window to catch a first glimpse of the tropical paradise that awaited us. My excitement grew as we broke through the cloud cover and I spotted land. The sun was a little too bright and hot, so I sat back and waited until we were lower to look out the window again. As the plane slowed and leveled off, I looked out the window and my heart sank. The area around the runway looked like a large brown wound in the greenery. I could see rusted tin hangers and other assorted ramshackle outer structures with holes in the roofs and unidentifiable hulks of abandoned equipment strewn around. It was very bleak. I turned slowly to my husband and said, "Honey, this doesn't look like the brochure. I think we are landing in Nicaragua." His eyebrows went up and he leaned over me for a peek. He sank back into his seat and tried to reassure me. "It must get better away from the airport."

We swiftly deplaned (my first time exiting an aircraft down mobile steps right onto the tarmac). The air was so thickly humid, it was almost visible. I instantly broke out into a heavy sweat. I have never been very heat tolerant. It wasn't long before my hair was soaked and plastered to my head. We retrieved our bags and headed through customs. The customs agent gave us some flack for not having passports but eventually let us through. I shot my new husband a dirty look and he shrugged apologetically. The SECOND we were through customs we were assaulted by men trying to rip our bags out of our hands and carry them for us. Other men tried to sell us "Red Stripe" beer in open bottles hidden in plain brown paper bags. I was feeling very overwhelmed! We managed to find the green and white buses described in our itinerary that would bring us to our resort. The driver grabbed our bags and put them in the bin under the bus and we boarded with relief. It took a few moments to locate a seat with a functioning window. The bus was already filled with smoke from the other passengers and we just knew the air conditioning would not be working. We were right. As we waited for our driver to get underway, I glanced out the window and noticed all the bags from our bus were being quickly removed and loaded onto another green and white bus. I grabbed John's arm and pointed just as the other driver closed the luggage compartment, climbed aboard, and left. I was certain that was the last we would ever see of our baggage.

Our bus finally got underway and as we left the airport I noticed two things. The driver was on the wrong side of the rode and the speed limit signs said 25 kilometers per hour. John told me that was like 20 mph. Our bus was probably doing 60. We began to climb in altitude as our bus went up a road that looked as if it were carved into the side of a cliff. I saw no guardrails, but the bus didn't slow down. The road was so narrow I couldn't see pavement out our side of the bus. It was just the dizzying drop and then the water below. Suddenly the curves arrived. Again our bus didn't slow down. The road didn't look wide enough to accommodate two vehicles in each direction and we tested that fact many times. The honking of oncoming cars and taxis as they swerved around our bus made me jump in terror every time. The constant sway as the bus teetered on the brink around curves so tight that John couldn't keep from sliding and crashing into me on the seat was beginning to make me ill. The more the bus jerked and swayed, the sicker I felt. Finally, John traded seats with me so I wouldn't look out the window and increase my motion sickness. I put my head down between my knees and took a deep breath...it took 15 minutes before I could stop coughing from the big cloud of smoke I inhaled.

We traveled away from the water, through several towns. I noticed uniformed militia or police on nearly every street corner, all were toting machine guns. The heavily armed men left me feeling anxious and freaked out. Between the towns were stretches of pure jungle peppered with run down, hand cobbled shacks and huts. It suddenly hit me that Jamaica was probably a 3rd world country. My naivety and ignorance was showing. Nearly two hours into the bus ride from hell, I could feel my stomach beginning to cramp. Uh oh. The eggs were coming back to haunt me. The bus driver yelled that we would be stopping for a 15 minute rest stop. He pulled off to the side of road onto the shoulder and a wide patch of dirt. There was a woman sitting on the ground in front of a makeshift table selling fruit. There was also a low run down looking building. The driver told us it was a rest room. I screwed up my courage and left the bus. I walk about 2 steps into the "woman's" side of the structure and froze. The stench and bugs were overwhelming! There were two stalls with no doors and in them were holes in the ground. Just an opening in the creaky wood floor. I had the feeling there was simply a pit dug underneath the building and no plumbing. I debated with myself for 10 seconds and turned around and ran back to the bus. I told my husband what I had found and decided I would rather soil myself than try and "go" in there. I set my resolve to hold it until we reached the resort...still a little more than an hour away.

When we finally made it to Couples, our all-inclusive couples-only resort, I was so sick I couldn't enjoy the beautiful front gates (complete with machine gun toting guards) or the lushly landscaped grounds. I ran into the lobby, blurted out "Bathroom?!" to a bewildered looking woman sitting at a small desk to the side of the check-in area, and she pointed down a side hall. I barely had time to notice the beautiful marble tile work on the floors, walls, sinks...I flung open a stall door and collapsed onto the toilet. I thought I wouldn't finish in time before I also had to throw up. I staggered out of the stall and splashed cool water on my face at the sink then made my way back into the lobby. I saw my husband standing in line to check in, so I flopped down into one of the overstuffed chairs by the gorgeous white painted french doors overlooking an expansive terrace and...the ocean. It sparkled blue and tranquil just a short distance away. A nice man in white jacket handed me a towel and a cold bottle of Evian. I smiled wanly at him and thanked him. I poured some of the water on the towel and put it over my eyes as I tried to stop the swaying in my head.

My husband came over after a while and glumly announced that our room wasn't ready. I was too washed out to protest. We sat in the lobby for an hour until the room was ready. In the meantime I noticed a man bringing in luggage. I sighed with relief when our suitcase came through the door. How in the world did the bags arrive AFTER us when they left before...??? Ah well. At least we were on our way to our room. The bellman opened the door for us and we got our first look around. The room was beyond belief. It was SO beautiful! It had to be the nicest hotel room I had ever seen. We entered an elegant sitting room with more of those pretty french doors. A wide archway led to the bedroom with a king size bed with a romantic chiffon canopy over it. Very island fantasy! (I recently redecorated my master bedroom to look very much like our honeymoon suite.) We tipped the bellman, nodded vacantly as he told us when the cocktail reception and dinner took place, where the bars were located and took note of the fact that they served a midnight snack each evening also, in the lobby. As soon as we shut the door, we both made a beeline for the bed. Did the hot newlywed action ensue? No. We both collapsed, fully clothed, onto the bed and fell asleep. We slept right through the reception AND dinner. We woke up close to midnight, starving and groggy. We remembered "midnight snack" and John raced down to the lobby to check it out. He came back with two bowls of soup, some bread, and fresh sliced turkey. It all tasted wonderful!

The rest of our week long vacation went by in a flash. We romped and snorkeled in the surf, spent tons of time in our pretty suite, relaxed in hammocks, dared each other to take the boat ride over to the private island/nude beach, and ate only dinner and midnight snack each day (we slept the morning away). We never left the resort. I had no desire to see Dunns River Falls or go shopping at the public markets. I'd had enough of being approached by hordes of begging locals trying to sell us something. On the second to last day, both John and I were hit with some sort of intestinal ailment. We spent the rest of the trip taking turns in the bathroom. It was awful! One of us would pace while the other used the facilities, then we would trade. John screwed up his resolve and ran to the resort gift shop and bought out their supply of Imodium AD. We prayed it would start working before we got on that nightmarish bus ride back to the airport. It kicked in just in the nick of time! I got smart and dozed on John's shoulder all the way back. I didn't even move when the bus stopped at another "rest stop", but John screwed up his courage to go pee. He came rushing back onto the bus mumbling, "gross...gross...gross" under his breath. I grinned weakly and went back to sleep. We liked our resort, but as things stand, we have NO desire to return to Jamaica for another visit. Whew! Oh! And one last thing...I went with the flow and did a "10" thing with my hair. I got cornrows! Even funnier than a really white girl with cornrows? Going for my NJ drivers license name change and getting the new photo taken...in cornrows. I had that photo on there for four years. HAHAHAHAHA!

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