Is this article offensive or honest or is the author trying to be a comic? In the mountains of Jamaica with the RastasBy Fred Contrada | email@example.com
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on April 22, 2014 at 10:17 AM
I step out of the airport into the tropical night to find myself alone in Jamaica. There are cab drivers galore and one guy with a sign that bears a name that's not mine. I walk a while through the heat and darkness until I spot a man in a turban.
He looks at me, holds his hand out tentatively. "Fred?"
The turban is the give-away. It holds Alex's dreadlocks. Alex is a Bobo Rasta.
My wife was jealous that I was going on an adventure with Bobo Rastas until she Googled them and read that they advocate the separation of the sexes. I've decided to withhold judgment on this point, although I've ascertained my wife will not wash my feet when I come back. When we were in Jamaica last year, we learned it's the norm for Jamaicans to have children with multiple partners. People are different. That's why you travel.
I've arranged to stay with Alex's family for a few days while they guide me up Blue Mountain, the highest peak in Jamaica. Heaving my backpack in the Jeep, we set off.
As we wind our way through Kingston, every bolt and screw in the Jeep rattles. I can't tell how fast we're going because there are no dashboard lights. In fact, there's no dashboard, only a hollow metal grill that holds mysterious objects. Rags. Tools, maybe. When he stops at a red light, I half-expect Alex to plunge his feet through the floorboards like the Flintstones.
Gangs of Jamaicans are gathered outside primitive bars here and there, all of them black. After a while we leave the flats and start climbing into the hills. The road is scooped out of the rock as if by hand. It seems barely wide enough for one vehicle, let alone two passing from opposite ways. There are hairpin turns and potholes without number. Houses grow scarce. As we climb, their lights seem to dim, as if electricity is extended into the mountains on a single wire.
Because Jamaicans drive on the left side of the road, I can't see around the corners. There are no guardrails and the pavement melts into gullies at the curves. I hold onto my seat, but only for stability. I have entrusted myself to Alex.
Alex says nothing. According to my Lonely Planet guide, he does the cooking, but when I ask about this Alex says the chef is his father, Jah B.
"So Jah B's the boss?"
Alex looks startled, as if he's never even considered an alternative.
Just when it seems the road can't get worse, it turns to dirt. We take blind turns up hills only first gear can love. Finally, after two hours of driving, the Jeep humps a small driveway and we're at Jah B's. Alex leads me into a silent wooden building where he investigates a couple of rooms before determining which is mine. He says I will meet Jah B in the morning.
Before collapsing on the bed, I check out the bathroom. The tilework around the shower is not quite finished, and there's no towel, only a ragged dishcloth. I spin the sink faucet twice before producing something like drool.
In the morning, as promised, I meet Jah B, a peaceful man with gray in his beard. I like him if for no other reason than he appears older than me. When he understands that I do not view him as a curiosity, Jah B relaxes and lets me in. We stand in the sunshine and talk for a while. Like other men our age, Jah B has faced life obstacles, enjoyed its triumphs and suffered its frustrations. When I ask about his religion, Jah B insists it's more a personal philosophy.
"We will sit and talk about it," he says.
That time comes later in the day, and somewhat informally, in the mid-day sun. Rastafarianism, as popularized by Bob Marley, is the island's unofficial religion. It holds that Haile Selassie, the late emperor of Ethopia, is the messiah. Rastas don't cut their hair but let it grow and tangle into dreadlocks. Many Jamaicans pick and chose different aspects of the religion, but Bobos are the Hassidic Jews of Rastafarianism. They dress in robes, eat strictly vegetarian and do their best to please Jah, God.
Jah B tells me this is his way of connecting with his African heritage. I can only imagine what this means to people on an island that was for centuries a slave colony. During our talk I learn that Jah B spent some time in New York. He liked it alright but returned to Jamaica for reasons he doesn't explain. He even tells me what the B stands for, but this was not a newspaper interview so I think I can let Jah B have that bit of privacy.
I won't start for the peak until 2 a.m. and so have no obligations in my only full day at Jah B's. Grabbing my binoculars, I go looking for birds. In a bit of serendipity, I see the two top birds on my wish list, the Jamaican tody and the magnificent streamertail. The trail to Blue Mountain starts about a mile up the road and I climb it a ways before returning. The rest of the day I spend in a hammock, reading the books I've brought: "Hornblower During the Crisis," "When the War Came Home" by Bill Newman, "Birds of the West Indies." I realize I haven't heard a motor all day, have heard no artificial sound except the Rasta radio station Jah B listens to. A man is explaining how herbs and spices can enhance your health. He goes on and on about ginger.
Jah B's house is at 4,000 feet, above the suffocating heat of the beach. I don't believe anyone in Jamaica lives higher. The peace here is palpable. Going deep within myself, I find nearly all my demons have fled without a fight....
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