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Dec 28, 2013

A Casket, a Kidnapper, and a Jamaican Christmas Memory

I'm a bit of a Christmas scrooge, I'll admit it. Shut your pie hole Julie D, I can hear you laughing right about now and saying, UNDERSTATEMENT OF THE YEAR! (It's a birth defect, I'm missing a gene.)
     But it's true...I have never liked the commercialism, rat-race, retail hell that has become Christmas, and I shun it and the responsibilities that go along with it. It's the fact that Christmas has turned into a stressful, money-sucking holiday and that celebrating our Lord and Savior's birth has been one-upped by retailers promising to save us big bucks on flat screen TV's and free shipping.
     Plus, it doesn't help that I can never get my act together until the very last minute. If you need proof here it is:  I couldn't even manage to get this Christmas post written until after Christmas. Oh the irony. I suck.

I had the big meltdown back in 1996, when one night I was wrapping presents and mentally adding up how many gifts and how much money I had spent on each kid, thinking it had to all even out, which was next to impossible because The Know-It-All always wanted something on the high end ~ like a TV or a car or a saddle or all three. Hates Everything usually asked for something simple, such as bubble wrap.  And what really chapped my ass was that in a matter of minutes and a flurry of paper, it was all over with and then came the sudden realization that I forgot to buy the 437865 batteries needed to make whatever toy/game/machine, operate anyway. The kids would go back to watching Dumb and Dumber for the 89521458 time, leaving bubbles unpopped ~ right there next to the Walkman with no batteries.

So instead of continuing with the nonsense, the following year I announced to the family that we would be taking a trip somewhere exotic and that there would be NO presents. Just some good old Forced-Family-Fun, or FFF as we refer to it.
     The Know-It-All was cool with that but Hates Everything whined that she would rather have Christmas than take some stupid trip. Probably since she always got the good gifts, like cardboard and socks. Anyway, The Know-It-All convinced her that they would still get everything they wanted throughout the year, they just wouldn't get it all in one day. That kid always was waaaaay to smart for her own good. Made it hard to like her.

It was this first Christmas trip that set us on a path that we would follow for the next dozen years or so, and one that would seal our fate with our love of the islands. 
     Following is the story of one of my all-time favorite Christmas memories and the best part is: We lived to tell about it!

I closed my eyes and put my finger on a map of the Caribbean and landed us in Jamaica! A few months later we were at the rental car place, stuffing ourselves into a car that was just slightly smaller than my suitcase. (Author's note: In Jamaica not only do you drive on the left side of the road, but the steering wheel is on the right side of the car and you have to shift with your left hand (manual transmissions, being the norm), making it doubly confusing.) You can just see a wreck coming can't you?

Van are you wearing SOCKS with those cool Nike open toe sandals?
While The Big Guy was signing our lives away and wracking up $8000 on our credit card, in case we wrecked it, I was lecturing the girls, saying things like: No matter what, do NOT holler at your dad even if he's on the wrong side of the road. Just shut up and let him drive. He's a professional; we'll be fine. So keep your mouths shut!!!!! Got it? Good! This is gonna be fun. (The Know-It-All was a teenager. Fun? Teenager, same sentence? Ya with me so far?)

So Big gets behind the wheel and instead of putting the blinker on, he hits the lever and the wipers come on because the blinker thing is on the right side of the steering wheel.  We are church mice...not a peep out of us. He puts it in gear, hands at 10 and 2, and lets out the clutch and we shoot backwards instead of forward. (transmission is backwards too, apparently) Church mice.
     We leave the rental car parking lot and as we make our first ever turn in a foreign country, to get on the highway, the Big Guy turns the wrong way and gets in the wrong lane where we suddenly find ourselves going head on into kamikaze traffic.  
     He jerks the wheel, gets in the other lane, slams on the brakes and then pulls off the side of the road and looks at all of us and says something like, EVERYONE JUST SHUT THE #&@% UP SO I CAN CONCENTRATE ON DRIVING, I KNOW I WAS GOING THE WRONG WAY BUT I CAN'T #&@%*+! DRIVE WITH YOU ALL HOLLERING AT ME, SO SHUT UP!!!!!  We are church mice once again.

An hour or so later we pull up to our hotel and as we get out of the car the four or five bell men who are standing around, start laughing and pointing at us. (We know it was us that they were laughing at because like synchronized swimmers, we all looked over our shoulders to see who/what was behind us and what was so funny. We were it.) Why were they laughing? Well I couldn't be sure but I suspected it was because they could smell the poop in our pants. 
     Then one of them points at our car and says to Big, you know what we call that?
     No, what? Big asks.
     Casket, he says and then they all bust up laughing again. We don't. We look like scared church mice.

The rest of the week involved a whole bunch of other insane, funny, unbelievable shenanigans; like getting lost in the middle of nowhere, while trying to find the Dunns River Falls, and then pulling over and letting a Rasta man who came out of the bushes, get into our "casket" with us and then drive us all over the countryside before driving us straight to a bank so we could withdrawal a bunch of money and pay him for not killing us. 

We are in there somewhere...
On the up side the nice Rasta man did get some not-so-good family photos of us at some water falls, which turned out to NOT be the Dunns River Falls (click here to see where we weren't) that we thought we were at. First clue....we were the ONLY tourists at Jamaica's biggest tourist trap. We figured that one out later when some real tourist dad at the bar mentioned to our dad at the bar, just how crowded the falls had been. And we thought we had just caught it on an off day. At any rate, we decided we were not going back looking for the falls because we didn't want to be willingly kidnapped and robbed again. Do we look like stupid American tourists? Wait. Don't answer that.

Me, being the foodie that I am, had done my homework and had a list of restaurants that I wanted to fine-dine at. We pulled into the parking lot of one in Ocho Rios and had an armed guy ~ we'll call him a guard-valet, who kinda-sorta valet parked us and then escorted us into the restaurant because it wasn't safe to walk across the parking lot. Yes, I did pick the restaurant after much research and after reading The Lonely Planet review (which by the way, did not mention the armed guard, only the hookers and the drug dealers).

And then there was the Jungle Lobster House (click here) where we were the only ones (besides a sleeping dog) in the dirty, authentically Jamaican joint. We had a pretty great dinner; lobster and breadfruit grilled over an open fire on a barrel by a charming chef(?) who had a joint hanging out of his mouth and who couldn't have been any more attractive, even if he hadn't been wearing that sexy fishnet shirt.  Reggae blared, pot lingered, and fires flared out of 55 gallon barrels as the locals partied right next door, oblivious to us wide-eyed tourists.
At the Jungle Lobster House. We ain't scared...
...well, maybe Hates Everything is....

After dinner the *ahem* chef, crammed himself into our casket with us and made us drive back to our hotel so we could pay him in American dollars. We had money on us ~ to pay for dinner but he didn't want our J-dollars nor our travelers checks and who in their right minds would argue under a bridge with a stoned Rastafarian holding a knife? Not us world travelers. Do we look stupid?  

We made it from Ocho Rios to Negril, a scary distance that involved us being briefly under a truck tire in a Montego Bay traffic circle. Believe me when I tell you that nothing good can come out of negotiating a traffic circle on the wrong side of the road, in the wrong side of the car, going the wrong direction. If that truck hadn't chewed us up and spit us out of the circle we may still be there going around and around, trying to get in the right (or left?) lane, so we could get out of it.  
     Things looked up by the end of the week when The Big Guy had finally mastered the left handed gear shift and the right handed blinkers and had just enough road rage built up to make him look like an asshole who knew what he was doing. (You can read about his legendary island road rage here. It's funny stuff.)
     Us church mice just subliminally chanted, "the left side is the right side and the right side is suicide," while we prayed that we would get out of the country without needing the jaws of life. The fact that Jamaica has the second highest driving fatality rate in the world was not lost on me but it was a piece of guide book info that I withheld from my soon to be dead children.
     Instead, I decided there would be a much less chance of them suffering a near-fatal injury if they were allowed to do low-risk activities, such as jet skiing, parasailing, and getting high on second-hand smoke and then swinging on a rope and jumping off the cliffs at the Pickled Parrot. 

The Know-It-All, high over Negril
Or drinking mushroom tea and hanging out on the beach with the fun local boys, like this guy.

On Christmas day we were in Negril at Ricks Cafe, eating giant lobster and watching cliff divers as the sun set over the Caribbean. As a family, we made more memories in that one week than we had made in the entire year leading up to it.
     And now here it is...over fifteen years later and we still talk about the Jungle Lobster House and sometimes, when we are all on our meds, we even laugh about the nice Rasta man who drove us around and didn't murder us or steal our casket.  What a great trip!
     As soon as we got home and after The Big Guy got out of jail (but that's another story) we began making our plans for the following Christmas.
    Cancun here we come!!!! Federales? What are federales? Should we be worried? we look like stupid American tourists?

I hope your Christmas was filled with special memories of time spent with family and friends and that you will cherish those memories for a lifetime. And no matter what your family traditions are, I hope you take at least just a second to reflect on the REAL reason for the season.

Merry CHRISTmas!

 Wishing you all a happy, healthy and blessed New Year!


  1. I laughed, giggled and let my mind form pictorials of your Jamaican adventure. You truly have a way with words Tammi!!

    1. Thanks Vicki! What a trip down memory lane...thanks for reading the Sauce!