Friday, May 25, 2007

Caribbean Clash – Jamaica vs. Turks & Caicos

I’d say that I was trying to write a compare and contrast piece, but as my lebanese English 102 professor succinctly stated, “You have no idea what a compare and contrast piece is.” No, I don’t, and thanks for the pep-talk!

Comparing Jamaica with Turks & Caicos is a little unfair to both islands. Jamaica is the third largest single island (behind Cuba and Dominican Republic/Haiti) in the Caribbean with roughly 4,250 square miles and a population of just under 3,000,000. Jamaica’s mountains rise from its watery marshes like Bob Marley in my Uprising poster.

Turks & Caicos consists of 8 main islands and at least 20 smaller ones and has a total population of less than 30,000. Providenciales (Provo), the main tourist island, is roughly 38 square miles and accounts for approximately two-thirds of the T&C population. If there aren’t any trees in the way, you can see the ocean on both sides of the island from the third floor of any resort.

We’ve been to Jamaica once, Turks & Caicos twice. They’re really two unique places that you have to see, touch, hear, smell and taste to fully appreciate.

I will say right off the bat that the Jamaica trip had a lot of things going against it before we even left our house that the island just could not control. As I’ve said before, it was the first time that Leah and I left Jack at the same time for an extended period, so we carried some emotional and mental baggage with us that didn’t show up on the airline’s scales. Honestly, three days before the trip, I still wasn’t convinced that we were going. This lowered my “psyched-up” factor, which is HUGE before you take any trip.

This is not meant to encourage you to visit one place over the other, or to discourage you from visiting either place, I just thought it would be fun to try and prove my EH102 professor wrong. I know that it’s supposed to be in paragraph format, but I’m using the mano a mano style for this one. Let’s start from the start.

Air Travel: Delta serves both islands direct from Atlanta. It’s a shade over 2 hours to Provo and about 2 hours and 45 minutes to Jamaica. Depending on the plane, you could have entertainment on your way to either destination. We watched TV shows and a really interesting piece on the Apple iPod on the way down to Jamaica, but no such entertainment on the way back. About 20 minutes in to the return flight I wished that I had gotten the video iPod and downloaded the entire first season of The Office. Due to the shorter duration of the flight to Provo, you probably have less of a chance to watch a movie during the flight. Even if a movie is playing on the Provo flight, the cabin staff is scurrying around like workers at a Mexican restaurant trying to fill drink orders, pass out snacks, and collect trash. If you go to Provo, this is the last time that you’ll see anyone rush to do anything until you get back on the plane for the return flight. It’s also the last time that you’ll understand every word of a sentence. Advantage: Push.

Airports: In Jamaica, you exit the plane to a covered jet way that leads to an air-conditioned hall that winds its way to immigration where at least 23 people await to process your arrival. The only roadblock for us was that we didn’t complete our immigration forms correctly and were ordered against a wall and made to complete the bottom portion before actually going to immigration. Had this been The Amazing Race, Karly would have LLLLLOOOOSSSSTTT it. She still LOST it a little, but it could have been much worse had 4 international flights landed at the same time and there were 1,000 people that got ahead of us. Alas, ours was apparently the only international flight to arrive at that time, so only a few people got ahead of us. A few if them smirked as they passed. Form completing nerds.

It still didn’t take 15 minutes to get through immigration and then down to the baggage area. There was no air-conditioning in the baggage area and, for the first time, the heat and humidity let us know that we were in a tropical area. The baggage handlers were a little slow, but our minds were too occupied by the talk of rainy forecasts, so we really didn’t notice much else around us…except the large woman’s really, really short gray cotton workout shorts and half of her saggy cottage cheese ass hanging out of them. I still haven’t forgiven Brandon for pointing that out to me. Nor will I any time soon.

After baggage claim, we walked to the Couples lounge where we had our first Red Stripe. We were only there for a few minutes before we were told that there was a bus ready to take us to the resort. I could have waited on the next one and enjoyed the Red Stripe, but off we went.

In Provo, you exit the plane on one of those ladders that Home Depot puts right in front of whatever it is that I went to their store to get. You race, on a hot tarmac, the other 1,500 people from the other airplanes that all landed within 5 minutes of each other to a very small immigration room. Four islanders, who have place to go, staff the Immigration Office in Provo. Remember, the island is 38 square miles. For them to host a marathon it would have to be an out and back course plus a little. Anyway, the immigration workers are not in a hurry to get you processed. Baggage claim is actually only one carousel. There is no lounge at the airport, nor do I remember being overly cool as the herd moved through the airport from one pen to the next. Even if there were a lounge, you would not want to stay there any longer than necessary. Advantage: Jamaica.

Travel to the Resort: This is the most perilous part of any trip outside of the U.S., because everyone else drives on the wrong side of the road. Someone reading this knows someone that knows someone that knows someone that’s been taken out because they looked left-right-left instead of right-left-right when crossing a street in a foreign land. Islanders are, universally, tailgaters, speeders and – well, they’re not lawbreakers, because there are no traffic laws. You get the idea. The roads in Jamaica are more developed than those in Provo. You’re prone to hit a pothole or two in Provo. The roads in Jamaica, while far from being jammed with traffic, do get more usage than those in Provo. Prom King even let Katie drive a rental car in Provo (having taken out all possible forms of insurance, of course). He would not have done that in Jamaica. There’s an eerie confidence among Jamaicans sharing the street – pedestrians, cyclists, animals and other drivers – that the other person knows what he’s doing and isn’t going to hit them.

The ride to Negril was about 90 minutes, give or take a Red Stripe. You could drive three laps of Provo in that time. The scenery in Jamaica is very nice; from the Caribbean waters on one side to the majestic mountains on the other. Along the way, you get an idea of how many Jamaicans live day to day. In short, they just do. Shantytowns and lean-tos dot the mountainside, while goats, cows and mules graze at roadside. Uniformed school children crowded the sidewalk in front of the local snack shop, like Tarrant kids used to do at Kessler’s Pharmacy. It’s really a remarkable ride.

Provo’s highest point is about 42 feet above sea level, so the drive doesn’t offer much variety. This is resort specific, I’m sure, but Couples provided a medium-large, air-conditioned bus for our 90-minute ride. Ocean Club sent a beat-up 15-passenger van with the windows permanently rolled down. I’m sure that transport to the Grace Bay Club might be nicer – and we could have paid for the car service to take us to OC - but the ride to Ocean Club is 15 minutes TOPS. The ride's lack of scenery is atoned by its brevity. And brevity is appreciated, especially on leaving day. The quietest time of the Jamaica trip was the 90 minute bus ride back to the airport. I’m not sure that any one said a word, even the bus driver. He could neither confirm nor deny that the Lucea clock was really meant for St. Lucia. Advantage: Push

The Sounds:
Music: I don’t care who you are or where you’re from or where you went to school, you know Bob Marley. You may not know that he was born in Nine Mile, Jamaica, but you know One Love. You may not know that he was one of the most influential socio-political leaders of his time, but you know Redemption Song. You may not know that he squired at least 11 kids with 9 different women, that his son Rohan played defensive back for the Miami Hurricanes (but you may know that Rohan is loosely married to Lauryn Hill), that his son Ziggy continues to make reggae melody, you may not even know his name, but you know his music.

I don’t know how you measure the influence that one man’s life had on the development, culture, political climate, and overall existence of an island, but there’s little doubt that Jamaica would not be the same place today were it not for Bob Marley.

With the exception of Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville, Marley’s music is everywhere on the island. For those in Alabama, the presence of Marley equals that of Bear Bryant in Tuscaloosa. I don’t know who Jamaica’s main rival is, but I wonder if they walk around screaming, “BOB’S DEAD” every time they see a t-shirt with his face on it.

Provo doesn’t boast such a rich musical history. In fact, I don’t really remember hearing a lot of music in Provo. Why clutter the beauty of the island by drowning your senses with sound? Aside from the occasional Shaggy (It wasn’t me) and the island anthem (Welcome to the islands, to the Turks and the Caicos Islands), you really don’t hear much music unless you bring your own. Sorry Boo, A Boy Named Sue – as good as it is – doesn’t really compare. Musical Advantage: Jamaica.

Dialect: Having a shared ancestry, Jamaicans and Turks and Caicosans have a similar dialect. While English is their native language, it’s not the same English that we speak.

Jamaicans have also blended English, French, and Spanish with ancient African and added a little “don’t let the master know what we’re saying” to develop Patois. Like most languages, it’s easier for us Americans to interpret in written form. It’s also the reason some reggae lyrics don’t make sense to us. That and we’ve never smoked mary jane for 6 months straight and then wrote a song about an oppression fighting water bong…at least I haven’t.

As stated elsewhere, Coke is something you snort in Jamaica, while pop is a carbonated beverage. Incidentally, Diet Coca-Cola in Jamaica is Coca-Cola Light. I like picking up those little morsels of local knowledge when I visit different places.

The folks of Provo may have a special language, too, but they have a hard enough time communicating with us in English. Their accents are very, very thick, and they tend to mumble…exactly the way that you would expect a time irrelevant islander to speak. In fact, in Provo, if the islanders look at you at all, it’s almost like you’re on exhibit….kind of the way the old gorilla at the zoo looks at people that pass his habitat. It’s like they’re studying you, but not in a scary way. Tourists are still new to them. It’s been within our lifetimes that T&C discovered that it could make some serious money just being the quiet, small Caribbean isle that it is. Dialect Advantage: Push.

Nature Sounds: Had I been able to get my hands on that crow-like bird that was screaming just off our Couples balcony at 4:15 in the morning, I would have kilt it dead. You don’t hear much else in the way of natural sounds in Jamaica. The waves are non-existent, so the seas are quiet. There wasn’t a real breeze bringing the leaves of the Royal Palms to life. Save the music and the crow, it was really quiet.

Provo doesn’t have mountains to block the winds, so the breezes carry sounds across the island. The waves, while not even large when compared to the Gulf of Mexico waves we’re used to, still “crash” to shore and provide perfect rhythm, almost pendulous, that is music to any true beach lover’s ears. Nature Sounds Advantage: Provo.

Overall Sound Advantage: Jamaica

The Sights: Refer back to the “travel to the Resort” section for other items, but the nature sites on the islands are the same, but different, especially once you get to the resort. This is where Jamaica will take a hit in my analysis due to the lack of sunshine. I’m sure that Jamaica’s water, sea creatures, and corral burst with color when hit by the sun’s rays, but under a dreary, overcast sky, it didn’t look much different than the Gulf of Mexico. The sunsets were blocked by clouds, robbing us (at least me) on one of my favorite island past times…sitting in a chair next to Brian or Brandon, drinking and cold one, debating Alabama’s record for the upcoming football season, and awaiting the final “flash” on direct sunlight for the day. I knew that Brian and I would be friends when, on our first trip to Provo, as the final flash moment approached on our first evening there, Brian knew to be quiet and just watch. The girls always want to pose for pictures at sunset. I’d rather just watch.

The waters in Provo are the bluest and clearest that I’ve ever seen. On a skiff ride, we stopped in water that we thought was about 8 feet deep. Once we jumped in – being careful not to land on the corral below - and started snorkeling, we realized that we were in 20 feet of water easily. There was no way we would have landed on the corral below when we jumped in to the water. It was at least 15 feet from the surface, and the water’s high salt content doesn’t allow you to go that deep. I saw glimpses of that when we parasailed in Jamaica, but the lack of sun really hurt. I’m not even going to bring up that, if you’re lucky, you get to swim with a dolphin named JoJo in Turks. Advantage: Provo.

Local Drinks: I don’t care who you are or where you’re from or where you went to school, you know Red Stripe. You may not know that it’s brewed and bottled in Jamaica, but you know that it comes in a squatty brown bottle and is about $8.99 a six-pack. You should also know that it’s very, very tasty.

In our first trip to Provo, we drank Kalik (the Beer of the Bahamas) and Corona (the beer of Missouri…not really, but if I have to tell you where it’s from…). On our second trip, we were greeted with a “sorry” when I ordered a Kalik. “Turks Head, now” was the response from Lee Forbes, bartender extraordinaire at Ocean Club. Turks Head was good, but it was a little heavy for my taste. Don’t think that I didn’t drink it, because I did and I would again, but it’s no Red Stripe.

I mentioned the Bob Marley shot in an earlier post, but the bartenders at Couples Negril also make a drink called Purple Rain…or Purple Haze…or Purple something. Anyway, it’s purple and taste, some say, like baby aspirin. They were yummy-yummy in my tummy.

Jamaica also boasts of some of the regions best coffee “farms” (plantations? fields?) Whatever they’re called, they produce a dark coffee that is very, very good. I brought some home with me and made a small pot Monday morning. The first few sips were just as good as I remembered, and then Jack found my thermos and poured the rest of it on the carpet in our bedroom. It was at that moment that I wished that I had sprung for the $5 half pound bag instead of being such a cheap a$$ and taking a single serve pack from our room. Advantage: Jamaica

Wow. This is getting really long (4 pages) and close to 2,800 words. (Off and on for four days, for those wondering how long this has taken me to write). I’m going to wrap it up now:

Overall Winner of the Caribbean Clash: Push.

The islands are just too different and wonderful in their own rights to choose one over the other. Some people may prefer the reggae sounds and style of Jamaica while others might prefer the small, laid back, close down at sunset style of Turks and Caicos. Visit them both and decide for yourself.

I would encourage you to do what we did, and that is travel with friends who make the good times great and the not so good times enjoyable. A bad day at the beach with friends is better than a good day anywhere else....even if they do cheat at spades.


Karly said...

A+....guess your work didn't pile up while you were on VaCay?

Jammy said...

No, yeah it got piled up, right? That's why it took me four days to write, right? No?

Katie said...

Are you accusing me of cheating at Spades?

Great comparison. Very informative.