Monday, March 28, 2011

Stone Love

East Japanese Restaurant 6th Anniversary Customer Appreciation Party @ Stone Love

On a Sunday night, a friend mentioned that there were tickets to a customer appreciation party the next night, being Monday night.  The host was East Japanese Restaurant.  Having eaten there once, I appreciated the food they have there for sure.  If I ever wanted to eat some good sushi, I know where to go.  However, with their price point, I find I don't have cravings for raw fish all that often here.

In any case, regardless of how much or how little I personally frequent the restaurant, someone frequented the restaurant enough to get some extra tickets to the event.  I figure, even if it's a Monday night, I'll hang out, and if there's a chance I get to have some more of their food, why not?!  We drove to the parking lot of one of the plazas I pass by frequently, and I thought, I don't remember seeing any type of venue here...  And it was true, there wasn't.  Instead, we hopped in a shuttle bus going to a spot a block down the street.  Literally, a block.  Only in Jamaica.  After the night was over, we walked back to the parking lot and it took us no longer than two minutes.  But still, we were shuttled over.

Turned out to be a nice spot, that had a good vibe.  The free food and open bar might have had something to do with that.  What I think was the neatest thing though was the mutual respect and appreciation the two cultures have for each other.  Jamaicans and Japanese.  The Japanese are probably some of the most frequent tourists to Kingston, which may be like a mecca of music and culture for them, but it really isn't the tourist hot spot.  Jamaicans I think are just very warm, welcoming, and supportive to those who arrive with an open mind and embrace what the country has to offer.  A simply yet effective gesture of this support was a donation box that was passed around in support of the quake.  This night occurred shortly after the earthquake so it was nice to see how in-tune and supportive everyone was being by helping out in any way they can.

That night was really cool.  But these days, even the nights are starting to get hot.  I thought that I was starting to adjust to the heat midway through my placement here - thought I was starting to live like a Jamaican.  Now I realize that I just happened to have some good timing.  Even though the weather doesn't fluctuate too much, i.e. no snow, the difference in temperature is definitely noticeable from the winter to the summer.  I look forward to cooler weather again when I get back to Toronto, which is in less than three weeks time.  But I always say that if I complain about the cold, I can't complain about the heat.  So who am I to complain!

The evening before our Blue Mountain hike (see previous post)

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Blue Mountain

Saturday afternoon
1:30PM Car Rental
Following the advice of a friend who did the hike before, we rented a 4x4 vehicle.  This took a little longer than expected because the customer service representative pretty much forced us to take their insurance, even though we had full coverage on a credit card.  It was annoying, and it didn't make any sense, but we wanted to get on our way, so we caved and went with the full coverage insurance from the car rental place.  It was an example of an unyielding adherence to the "rules" that customer service reps display here.  Not a good start to the day, but not the end of the adventure, we pressed on!

2:30PM Lunch and supply run
We stopped at the supermarket to prepare for the adventure, stocking up on snacks and drinks to keep us alive and alert for the adventure.  Then we went to the food court for lunch.  Funny thing is that I went to a Chinese fast food place, and the other two Canadians went to get sandwiches and coffee.  When in Rome...  we still eat what we want (at least when we have the option).

5:00PM The drive.. and arrival at home base
After lunch, we went on the road.  It was a bit of a drive and by the end of it, I fully understood why we were told to get a 4x4.  A Yaris (the typical rental car), for all its might and glory, would never have survived the drive.  We passed over rough unpaved roads, crossed a river and went up some real steep hills.  But we made it eventually to Wildflower Lodge, our base camp.  Here, we would park the car, rest up and begin the trek.  But first, we explored the area a bit and walked up a nearby hill to see the sunset. On the hill, we could see some of the crops being raised - scallions, onions, some herbs, Blue Mountain coffee, and there were also plenty of grazing goats.  It's refreshing to see people living on the land and very much at one with nature as it should be.  No need for high-tech agriculture, fertilizer or pesticides here.  Afterwards, we returned to the lodge for an amazing dinner cooked by our hosts (this one was a Jamaican meal!).  We capped the "night" with a drink of rum to help us get some rest before the hike.

Sunday morning
2:45AM Start
Rolled out of bed at 2:20AM, packed the bags and did one last equipment check before departing.  Being from the city, I wore jeans, t-shirt, hoodie, a pair of Nike sneakers, and a borrowed poncho and flashlight.  But I had determination and the trust that the much more prepared west coast Canadians, would light the way.

2:46AM - 6:00AM Journey
That trust and determination soon faded as we faced "Jacob's Ladder".  This was a portion of the hike which our guide said of the people who did quit, did so here.  After hearing that, I really did not want to be one of "those" who couldn't survive.  I think what gets people at Jacob's Ladder is not necessarily the steep incline.  It is fairly steep, and goes on for a little while, which poses a challenge for the unprepared.  But more than that, it's very early on in the hike, which is dangerous for two reasons: 1) excited and ambitious hikers set a pace to ascend the peak in record time, wearing themselves out, and 2) there's little chance to adjust to the altitude.  Not everyone gets to train in the mountains so the latter likely takes its toll on hikers and its effect is made all the more potent, the more #1 applies.  Either that, or I was out of shape....  but I think I'll go with my other reasons.

Eventually we made it past the "ladder" and plodded our way through darkness to the top, stopping every now and again to drink water and catch our breaths.  The sky was clear so we could see what looked like all the stars in the galaxy, as well the city lights in the distance.  Near the top it started to rain a bit and the closer we were to the peak, the more the rain poured.  Finally when we reached the peak of Blue Mountain, 7402 ft. above sea level, we were faced with an overcast sky and steady rain.  We made it in time for the sunrise, but chances were that we wouldn't see anything!  Disappointed, we rested for a bit, ate some of the food we brought to regain some energy and began our descent 20 minutes later.  On a clear sky you can see even Cuba from the peak - unfortunately, clear skies only happen 30% of the time.

6:15AM The way home
As we descended, the rain seemed to only fall harder until we dropped below the cloud cover.  After we dropped below the clouds, we were presented with a fantastic view of the mountain range.  We made it back to the Wildflower in about 2 hours and changed into fresh clothes.  Our hosts provided a cup of delicious Blue Mountain coffee, locally picked and roasted, to warm up and enjoy as a reward.  It was definitely enjoyed, and finally we thanked our gracious hosts and guide as we departed for the drive home.

Would I do it again?  Probably not.  But now I can say that I've climbed to the highest point of Jamaica.

Hike Blue Mountain - check.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Saturday Night Movie

There should be no big difference in going to the movies wherever in the world you are.  Yet, I still enjoy the feeling of going to the cinema every now and then, no matter where I am.  On Saturday night, I visited Carib Cinemas, one of the theatres in Kingston (not sure how many there are, but I know there's at least two).  The plan was to catch an 8:30 showing of Unknown, starring Liam Neeson.  Seeing as how I enjoyed the last Liam Neeson movie I saw, Taken, and since the movie poster looked pretty much identical for the two movies, I figured Unkown would be a fun flick to watch.  I know, it's not a Jamaican movie.  But at least I'd understand it.

I don't usually take the bus or go to the Crossroads area at night (though I go everyday to and from work), so the trip alone could have been called an adventure.  The city still takes on a different vibe and feel at night compared to how it is during the day.  Whenever I pass by Carib, which is right at Crossroads, I hardly see anyone there, so I always thought going to the movies was pretty unpopular here.  But bwoy was that ever further from the truth.  Now it seems to me like Saturday night is movie night, and that everyone goes to the movies.  Maybe, I thought, it's one of the few things to do between dinner and the club.  For whatever the reason, we had to sit in the second row.  Very unexpected, but it wasn't so bad - mainly because I could see the people in the first row.

So we sat down and started watching the movie.  It started slow, but was getting good, and then at about 60% of the way through the movie, the scene cuts and the screen goes black. My first reaction was that we lost the movie and our money - frustration.  Then I wondered if they would give us a refund or a free pass to watch another movie.  In a little while, the answer came, the letters surfaced on the screen - "INTERMISSION".  As it turns out, you get a washroom / snack break and after about 5 minutes, you come back to watch the movie where it left off.  And just before the movie restarts, a couple of commercials run for good measure to make sure you don't miss any of the action.  Surely enough, probably half the theatre stepped out and made use of the little timeout.  In my opinion, it broke the tension and atmosphere of the movie, so I could have done without the break.  But then again, I have taken a 14 hour flight without going to the washroom.  Nevertheless, after the 5 minute intermission, everyone filtered back into their seats and the movie finished running without a hitch.  I wondered though, where the idea of a movie intermission came from.  Are there other places that do this too?

For the movie: 7/10.  The experience: 8/10.