Saturday, November 27, 2010

The Market

This morning I visited Coronation Market in Downtown Kingston where they sell everything from groceries, household supplies, shoes and more.  The area of the main Coronation Market burnt down in May, around the time where they were in conflict with Dudus, the gang / drug lord in nearby Tivoli Gardens. Because of how close it is to Tivoli Gardens, one of the recently more volatile areas, I brought my keys, phone, and limited cash only.  I went with one of the other CUSO-VSO volunteers, Varun, which was good because a) he's a good guy and b) he knew where the market was and so we didn't have to look lost.

At the time I visited, it appeared the market has recovered since then, though I can't really say since I didn't see it before the incursion.  From what I could tell, the place was lively, filled with both vendors and shoppers.  Downtown Kingston is definitely one of the most lively and vibrant parts of the city.  It's where all the cheap goods are (in part due to Chinese wholesalers), so it's no surprise that the weekend after payday everyone's out and about stocking up on cheap stuff.  In the market itself, you could see all manners of local fruits and vegetables, and the food looked fresh - moreso than Fresh Approach (my local supermarket).  Most importantly, food was cheap enough to make up for the time and bus fare to go downtown.  I think I have a new found appreciation for markets.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

It's been a little while now, but from work, cooking and cleaning, for some reason I haven't found the time to blog.  (Yes, I lead an exciting life here - I am saving to afford the excursions).  Unfortunately, I don't have any pictures so I will place the blame for my blog post shortage on a lack of photographic accompaniments. 

I figure in any case, I should post *something*, before people start thinking I fell off the side of the island.  This past week was a birthday week - there were three birthdays of the ten or so volunteers here.  So for each one, we went for either drinks or dinner or both.  For the latest adventure (yesterday), we went to a restaurant called the Truck Stop.  It's a nice hang out spot with outdoor seating, which kind of reminds me of Scotchies (from previous blog post).  Here, I had jerk pork, which was delicious. A fellow volunteer friend advised that I should eat the pork with the bread that comes with it.  All in one bite. That was the single best advice I've had so far, it increased the pork's tastiness exponentially!  I think I have a favourite dish in Jamaica.

Over the past weekend, some of us went to the beach at night, and just relaxed by the bonfire.  Again, as a city boy, I don't usually get a chance to go out and do something like this.  More and more, I feel like I don't belong in the city - but I'll still come back, eventually!  The next day, we rented a car and explored the south / southeast coast of the island, going to Morant Bay.  We hung out there and lied on the beach for a bit again, then headed home - we do a lot of eating and lazing around on the beach here.  On the way back, we were on a mission to find a jerk chicken stand.  Not one of the chain restaurants, but one of the street vendors for some real Jamaican street meat.  We passed by some on the way up to Morant Bay, but it was a while back on our path, and we were hungry.  Between the one we first passed on the way up, and the beach, we found none!  Zip, zilch, nil.  No jerk chicken in Jamaica for miles.  Apparently on Sundays, no one cooks chicken.  We ended up eating some fried fish - that's my third whole fish now since I've arrived and I'm still lovin' it.

Anyways, because I realize most of this blog post was about food, I'll finish off with a little bit about Spanish Town.  I'm supposed to be posted in the Spanish Town office in an effort to spread out some of the volunteers at the DRF.  I made my first trek there a couple of days ago.  It's a place that my security guard and taxi driver warned me about so I was unsure about what to expect when I arrived.  Although gang flare-ups happen, they're hard to predict and for the time being, it seems peaceful.  The bus station and our office is maybe a 10 minute walk, and we're right in the middle of what would be considered the downtown area.  It's a vibrant place, with a lot of people out and about.  The area is replete with street vendors, stores, stray goats and dogs.  It has something of a marketplace atmosphere, even though I wouldn't necessarily call it a market.  I wouldn't want to stick around after dark, but on first impression, it's a decent enough place to be.  I guess we will wait and see what happens!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Why not

Over the past few days, I have attended Human Rights Training at one of the organizations here in Jamaica - Jamaicans for Justice.  Really though, it was a forum for various human rights organizations from different countries in the Caribbean to facilitate the creation of a larger Caribbean network of human rights organizations. One network with the resources, knowledge, and support of many organizations. 

I'm glad I took the time to participate in this conference / training.  Although human rights isn't my area of expertise, it was informative to learn about human rights and specifically, what are some of the organizations and what are they doing.  It was also inspiring to see a group of people in a room with the vision to create a better future, not just for their organizations or their country, but on a scale much larger than themselves.  Being there reminded me that to accomplish big things, you must think bigger.  To drive substantial positive change, sometimes it's not good enough just trying to rejig what is already out there, but to think of what's not out there; to look at what holes and gaps exist that we have to fill in to make our society a better place.  This also goes beyond positive social change, impacting economic change - how companies survive and thrive; personal change - how you define your personal and career goals; and technological change - to infinity and beyond.

You see things; and you say, ‘Why?’ But I dream things that never were; and I say, ‘Why not?’

Sunday, November 7, 2010

I'm alive still.  Just haven't updated because there's not much going on.  Over the weekend, some volunteers went out of town to Strawberry Fields.  But since I am sick, I was staying in to recover.  Did a bit of grocery shopping and cooking.  Even though I lived away from home for university, I'd have to say that this is probably one of my first cracks at what I would call cooking, and it tasted decent!  Except I failed at making a big batch of rice, which resulted in me throwing most of it out.


I've started a small list of things to write about when I run out of stuff to blog - so seeing as how this was a pretty low-key weekend, I figure I might as well use it.  Today, I'll talk about... public transportation. 

If you know where you're going in this town, it's actually not too hard to get around.  But if you have no clue, it's like a zoo.  It's hard enough to find out what buses go where, but schedules, if there are any at all, are loosely adhered to.  As a traveller, you have several options - you could take the JUTC buses, which are like the official comfortable buses, or you could take coasters (aka minibuses), and finally you have the option of taxis, either route or "regular" taxis.

Most modes of transportation can be taken for about $1 CDN / US per ride.  This includes the JUTC buses, coasters, and route taxis.  These are the alternatives to getting somewhere along any given "route", again only applies if you know what routes you are taking.  But they're all very different. 

JUTC buses - $80 JMD
The JUTC buses usually just make stops at bus stops, have plenty of seating and are relatively well climate controlled.  The drivers of these vehicles are usually quite safe and tame. Not the fastest way of getting around, but usually quite safe and reliable.

Coasters - $80 JMD
I think the most interesting mode of travel.  To be honest, I don't know if they have designated stops, I'll usually wait close to a normal bus stop, and they'll pick up passengers whenever they can.  Each one has a conductor and a driver.  The conductor will try to corral as many people into the bus as humanly possible, and collect fares.  Literally, they pack these minibuses - think Tokyo subway during rush hour.  Except you're not on a subway, you're on the road, and the drivers can be crazy - their sole focus is on the road, which is why each coaster has a conductor.  These guys weave in and out of traffic, honking at any and all cars in their way so while you may or may not have a good hold on a railing, everybody's swaying at the whims of the driver.  To get on, you have to listen to the conductor saying what route they're taking, then if the coaster is on the road, you run and hop on.  The neat part is that they've usually got upgraded sound systems and will be blaring music while you're on their crazy ride.  Not the safest way of getting around, but probably the most available mode of transport on major routes.  Ironically enough, because they're so easy to catch, they're generally what I end up taking, haha. 

Route taxis - $80 JMD
Route taxis are taxis that'll run up and down a specific route.  They'll honk at you to ask if you need a ride and if you wave them down, they'll stop to pick you up.  I've found these guys to be generally safe, although it's not a private ride as you'll be sharing the taxi with other passengers.  Then again, at least you get a seat.  Pretty good way to travel if you ask me.  Only problem is when you're at the gathering point of all the taxis, you'll have probably a hundred different drivers shouting at you to take their taxi.  I haven't really adjusted to this part yet because I have a hard time deciphering what they're saying, so I'm not such a huge fan of these major taxi stops.

Regular taxis - about $300 JMD and up
The final way to get around is regular taxis.  These are most of the guys you can find on the street, or you can call in advance, that'll pick you up and take you to a set destination.  They aren't the most expensive in comparison to taxi fares around the world, but they're still pricier than any of the above three options.  Some of these taxi drivers are also mixed in with the route taxis in the gathering spots (usually in high traffic destination areas), only adding my jumbled confusion.  Not the cheapest, but convenient and comfortable. 

You have to be careful about which taxis you take though.  For public transport, only the vehicles with red license plates are certified.  Otherwise, you're just getting into a vehicle of some random person taking money for driving you around.  Although I've heard some of these drivers are alright too, they're not regulated nor insured.  Some taxi drivers are also pretty crazy like the coaster drivers too.

Random people
Actually, I lied, there was one more way of travel.  Sometimes, like when we came back from the beach, randoms will offer to give a ride.  Probably not something I would do on my own or if I'm within the city due to already cheap bus fares, but it's nice to get a free ride every once in a while.

*Prices may vary, these are based solely on what I've seen in and around Kingston.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

I think if there's a way to get sick while in 30 degree weather, I'll find a way.  After recovering from my longstanding cough back in Toronto, I think I've managed to enter the same sick mode.  It's currently at the sore throat, runny nose stage.  I took the day off to try and curtail this thing. 

On the plus side, the tropical storm is tame so far as Jamaica has been spared a direct hit.  I still have electricity and running water and hence didn't have to resort to canned tuna and candles - no romantic dinner tonight! Instead, and this is something I feel especially accomplished about, I managed to steam white rice without a rice cooker.  I used a pot and a small tin plate and bowl; it wasn't pretty, but it worked!  My white rice was then accompanied by chicken and spinach..  I still don't have a full stock of food supplies here, haha.

Back to an unfortunate note, although the tropical storm has turned away from Jamaica, as of now, it is on a direct course to Haiti.  For a place that has already been devestated by an earthquake, poor sanitation, and a cholera outbreak, one must wonder if this is some kind of cruel joke.  For those religious, send your prayers for safety and protection.  Otherwise, let us hope for the best.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Storm warning?

Recent news has downgraded Tomas from a tropical storm to a tropical depression, which I suppose makes it less threatening.  But they also say, it may strengthen again with the possibility of hurricane winds.  We should be feeling the effects of Tomas by Thursday (tomorrow!).  This'll be my first tropical storm / hurricane type weather action so.. wish me luck! 

What sucks is that we made plans to travel the island this weekend, but that might not be such a good idea anymore.  I am adventerous, but I don't seek to drive into harm's way (not this time at least).  Time to get myself some canned tuna and candles!