Wednesday, January 26, 2011


montego bay, jamaica to the capitol of the island that shall remain nameless
it is hard to know where to start. the buildings, the people, the cars, the food, the politics, the crazy fates that allowed me to connect with my friends. i guess i should start at the beginning...

when i arrived, i was anxious. i didn’t know what to expect of the immigration and customs people, and honestly, i expected them to be hard on anyone from usa. getting through the first was a little freaky - not speaking spanish, i watched as the young woman inspected my documents and i volunteered information before i was asked in an effort to avoid any confusion, she frowned at me. i was told to take a step back. ok. ‘look into the camera.’ oh, ok, little strange. ‘do not to smile.’
oooh kaaay.
i jokingly, and nervously, said ‘now i look like a criminal’ to which she replied with no inflection of humor, ‘si’.
when i headed through customs i had a purse filled with little treats arlene (my adopted jamaican mama) wanted me to take to alba, the saint who was going to help me get my feet firmly on the ground in havana. the purse contained tea, incense, jello, soap and a large ziplock full of candy. the agent who scanned the purse said something to me in spanish. i apologized and said ‘no habla espaƱol’, so he directed me to take the bag to a secondary customs agent. uh oh. she went through it and i tried to tell her what everything was, unsure of where the problem lay. she asked me something about the candy. i didn’t understand and said ‘gift’. she asked if she could have one - i opened the ziplock and happily said ‘take two!’ she did.
i went in search of my backpack which i’d had to check. i heard on the plane that one should always pay to have one’s checked baggage wrapped or you may arrive with fewer belongings. i was dismayed to see that my bags bungie cords had been undone. my heart sank when i thought about all of the things i had put in it that had some value to my long term plans. i searched quickly through to make sure that my power cords and camera battery packs were still there - if they were missing i was going to make a loud fuss. they were right where they were supposed to be. i relaxed. whatever else might be missing, i didn’t care (found out later that the only item missing was my dove soap). then i found h, a south korean i had met at the airport in grand cayman, whom i had agreed to split a cab with.
i changed my $450 canadian dollars for cuban cash. i felt a little exposed, carrying so much cash - i missed being able to just rely on my plastic.
h struck out with all of the airport atms and learned the hard lesson that you should always have some cash stashed somewhere when you arrive in a new country - credit cards and atms can be persnickety about giving you money - suddenly i was glad i had brought so much moolah!
i decided to take him with me to alba’s and hoped she would be able to point him in the right direction for money and the bus he was planning on catching later that night.

first photo i took in havana

i mentioned in an earlier post that what sent me to jamaica instead of mexico was an email from my friend, c, telling me that there were no flights from mexico until late january. c had tried to go mid december and had sent a brief email from cancun saying she was sorry she wouldn’t get to see me until i got back from my odyssey. she was going to go to havana via panama at great extra expense and knew that i was too cheap to do the same (can’t go over my nine month budget for one country). i had no way of reaching her and knew she would not be checking email until she returned to the states. i didn’t have much hope that i’d find her, even though i was desperate to see her once more before my odyssey took me south.

alba welcomed myself and h and told him where he could go to get money. while he was out, she and i had a labored conversation but managed to learn much about one another. i gave her the phone numbers i had for people that c may have had contact with, hoping that one of them night know where she was, if she was even still in havana.
alba made call after call, conversations that i understood not at all, getting new numbers or having to call back because of party lines (have i mentioned yet that havana is stuck in the fifties? it is really something!). she struck out on the two numbers that seemed the most promising.
i had given c the name and number of a friend of a friend that i was fairly certain she would contact - ernesto is a musician, and c loves latin music and dancing. alba rang him at home, was given a different number and called that. ‘call back in five minutes.’ we did. moments later i was speaking with c! she was at a club, in havana, listening to ernesto perform. she couldn’t believe i was in the city, she had been so certain i wouldn’t be able to find my way to the island. i told her i would come to the club, immediately. h returned just as i was leaving and opted to come with me.
we hopped a cab - $5 and 5 minutes later, we were there, studio egrem. i was so anxious, i got out when the cab stopped, but the driver didn’t realize it and started again to move to the side of the street when i was only partially out of the cab. he literally ran over my shoe, fortunately, as the car trapped and rolled over the sneaker, i was able to squish my foot to the side and his car did no damage - it shook me up a little, but no harm, so off i went.
my buena vista social club

once inside i located c very quickly. she was in the crush at the bar. we were thrilled to see one another and both of us couldn’t believe that the universe had allowed us to spend a few days together at the beginning of my long adventure.
she and e, her beau, were planning on leaving the next morning for a beach town nearby, but they canceled the plan and opted to spend the weekend in the city, showing me around.
i couldn’t believe my luck - the place was magical.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

jamaica time

portland, maine to montego bay, jamaica
caribbean from the air
i had been planning to fly to cancun, but circumstances forced me in a different direction - jamaica. had i done a bit more research, i probably would have flown to the cayman islands, but i wouldn't have wanted to miss this lush place!
when the plane landed, i suddenly realized i hadn't checked to see what this island's requirements were for travelers - good gravy, talk about rookie mistakes! fortunately i got a very kind immigration agent. he understood my predicament (re: island that shall remain nameless), and he waived the entry requirement of a departure ticket in hand. phew!

when i stepped out into the wonderful sunshine, i saw a handsome young man holding a little sign with my name on it. the hostel had indeed sent someone to pick me up! never had i gotten such grand treatment from a hostel.
gregory and his mother, arlene, run the cedar ridge hostel, a lovely villa high up on bogue hill, with help from eddy, the philosophical rasta driver and miss madge, the housekeeper/cook.
a corner of the veranda

the place was mostly a dream come true - the rooms were nice and airy, the beds comfortable, the veranda was vintage luxury, there was free wi-fi, they offered fluffy towels and delicious home cooked meals for a modest fee, and of course the airport pickup. the flip side - no hot water, remote location, limited light at night and no toilet paper.
i brought my own toilet paper, so okay.
i can live with one small lamp at night, especially if i am spending half my time on my computer.
remote location can actually feel like a blessing when you've been stressed to the max for weeks.
but no hot water? zoikes!

i tried to take a shower the first morning anyway. but i am no katharine hepburn, cold showers just don't work for my pansy ass. i'd rather be dirty.
however, the folks who run the hostel were so swell i found i didn't care. i can't stress enough what fine people they are. welcoming, kind and helpful are just the tip of the iceberg.

i went into town with miss madge, to the market and watched her pick out the good veggies and haggle for the best price. i helped carry her bags. she 'saved' me from buying packets of tang, little did she know i'd go back and buy them later!

miss madge showed me where to go to get back up the hill and we parted ways.
taxis are shared, and you flag them down, tell them where you want to go and they say yes or no. i caught a cab from downtown to the local cemetery.
there were some sketchy fellows looking at me from inside and i decided to go get myself some jerk pork for lunch, hoping they would be gone by the time i got back.
'strictly staff only' furniture store
but alas, they were still there and more determined than ever to befriend me. rupert, the parks crew supervisor (sketchy guys were just a work crew, miss paranoid!), took it upon himself to walk me around. he brought me to shelley haydyn, a lovely 50's headstone relief that was a dead ringer for barbie. i was grateful. we walked through to the oldest corner, but it was treacherous, and i decided against wandering off the main path.
rupert told me he wanted to take me out that night, to where the tourists gather. aside from my rabid dislike of tourist haunts, i thought it best to just say no. he seemed friendly enough, but my first impression, sketchy, was still nibbling at my insides.
i headed off for the hill, flagging the taxis left and right.
crumbled bus stop maintained by the optimist club
none of the taxis that came along were willing to take me up the hill to cedar ridge, so i began walking, occasionally trying to flag the red license plate vehicles.
i eventually walked up the hill - i felt like super woman, and could not wait to take that cold, cold shower!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011


it is hard not to moan and whinge when i talk about my new least favorite airline, jetblue.
if you don't want to hear it, and why would you, please skip this post...but i must get it out publicly!
after numerous delays, hours on hold when they didn't just hang up on me and cancellations, as well as knowingly stranding me in new york, jetblue added insult to injury by losing my checked baggage. if they had once offered any kind of compensation for the inconvenience, or even a bottle of water at the airport, i may have been mollified. but instead they made excuses.
yes yes, the storm - that was four days ago. come on people.
no, not every airline was operating as poorly as you. i saw several that seemed to know exactly how to treat their customers - hotel rooms, food and even the odd travel voucher good for a trip at a later date.
i finally got to maine, but my box did not. no big deal, please put it on the next flight. i am scheduled to fly to jamaica in two days, and i need that box. assurances that the box would be on the next flight.
the next flight was canceled.
but it wasn't on the flight after that, or the one after that.
when i called the ny jetblue baggage office, when they weren't hanging up on me, or putting me on hold for two hours, they were informing me that they didn't know where my box was.
panic started to build. there were a lot of things in that box i needed for the long haul, but there were also things i was leaving with my step dad to hold in case i needed them, so having it sent to me in jamaica wasn't an option, especially since i was only planning on being there for a couple of days.
i threw myself on the mercy of us airways, asked if there was anyway they could rebook my montego bay flight to a later date.
the answer 'we would love to do that as a courtesy'
what? tears welled, and my gratitude knew no bounds! i had three extra days to figure out what to do if the box was well and truly lost.

but the box did finally arrive, eight hours after i was supposed to have left. and when it arrived, this is what it looked like:

they hadn't even bothered to tape up the sides of the box they had destroyed. my spanish phrase book was missing. one of my dvds was shattered. the casing of my back up computer was cracked (because TSA had repacked the thing with the protective foam stacked on top - stellar job, folks).
i won't ever fly jetblue again.
i don't want anyone else to fly them either.
i feel wrathful and wish them ill.

and now i am done whining, because the trip is finally begun...
view from the veranda at cedar ridge hostel, montego bay, jamaica

Tuesday, January 4, 2011


los angeles, ca to portland, me
the best laid plans are subject to destruction by bad time management, mother nature and inept airline staff.

i was due to fly to portland, maine on christmas day to visit with my family before the big adventure. the entire day i was a blur as i sped through one task after another, but time was slipping away faster than the items on my to-do list were being checked off. my friend g and her sister showed up to take me to the airport and instead jumped into action, helping me get items off the list. we worked frantically and i shoved everything i needed for my adventure into a box to check and my cold weather gear for maine into my backpack.

rain began to pour out of the sky with a vengeance, and our ride to the airport became a perilous one. the plane took off without me. i was stunned. i'd never missed a flight in my life. i was flying jetblue and they scored big points with me when they offered to rebook me for the following day for $40. they scored bigger points when the agent waived the fee, saying a hearty 'merry christmas'.
my little guy with a big name, ozymandias
my subletter graciously offered me the use of my home for one more night, which meant a little quality time with my little guy.

at midnight my phone rang, jetblue calling to tell me my flight had been canceled by the big storm that was due to hit new york in the morning. i began to suspect that this was why the agent had been so free and easy with the fee waiver. i was rebooked for the next flight that evening.
it was nice to have that extra day to pack a little more carefully and make a stop at the apple store to work out some last minute kinks in the precious new macbook air (seems they don't support CS2, and i had to upgrade. terrific. course the disc is packed away, along with the serial number. if anyone out there has a spare CS2 license they could lend me for an upgrade, i'll hand it back to you, plus the upgrade, in october!)
got another phone call that afternoon, evening flight was canceled. ugh.
now i was feeling well and truly stranded. everyone i could call to pick me up, put me up for the night and drive me to the airport was either otherwise occupied with holiday guests or out of town.
not having a car in los angeles is one of the 10 levels of hell, dante just forgot it.
a $50 cab ride got me to j's house - he graciously extended the use of it to me while they were in boston.
that night i got another call from jetblue, morning flight was canceled. four hours of trying to get through to their customer service netted me nothing. i decided to show up at the airport the next night and hope for the best. they gave me a boarding pass, checked my precious box and off i went to deal with TSA.
i don't give TSA points for intelligence, they had to run my package of dole peaches through the scanner four times, along with swabbing it testing for explosive agents, despite me saying i would be happy to eat them on the spot or throw them away, but they didn't make me go through any particularly humiliating poses, so yay.
i arrived at jfk exhausted from the red eye, having been cramped between two nice but abundant ladies with pointy elbows, only to find that my connecting flight to maine had been canceled. guh!
so close, yet so far!
i spent over an hour waiting to speak to an agent to get rebooked on a flight that night.
double trouble

deciding to make the best of things, i called my friend m, and asked her if she wanted to meet for lunch. i walked over to terminal four, checked my backpack and headed to the Q10 bus. two hours later i was in times square eating pizza and garlic knots (so yummy!) enjoying this spontaneous time with m. it was swell.
double empire
when m went back to work i wandered over to the international center for photography and got to see the 'cuba in revolution' exhibit. then, by beautiful happenstance, my half sister (whom i've only known about for a little over a year) was in nyc, so i headed over to brooklyn to hang out with her. right after i arrived i checked the status of my flight, trying to figure out how much time i would need, and lo and behold, another cancellation!
a leisurely dinner with my sister, then a short subway ride to astoria where i would find a nice bed.
ditmar station 5:20am
at 5am, i hoped my flight was canceled, i was too tired to move, but it was on! so off to the subway i went. i had to trudge from one station to another for time's sake, and dealt with one of the most unpleasant mta employees ever (clerk#12145 - she was satan, and i will be writing a letter, even though, as she assured me, it will have little effect), and eventually made my way back to the Q10 bus and finally the airport. made my way through the hordes of misplaced people, got my boarding pass from a diy kiosk and headed through security (completely eventless).
the plane was delayed, but it did eventually take off, so again, yay!

i got off the plane feeling tired and battered, but delighted to have arrived, only to have my spirits plummet when my checked box went missing.