Travel: Before Machu Picchu, Spending a day in Cusco, Peru (October 17, 2012)

The Finger Post Travel (August 19, 2018)

 

Well, it’s official.  My dad and I will be travelling to Peru after the WBO convention in October.  It’ll be an exciting trip, and although I had already visited Peru I was keen on going back.  Peru was really something special and I couldn’t argue with my father’s logic when he said “I’ve never been to South America before and I don’t know if I’ll go again, and if this is my only trip I really would like to see Machu Picchu.”

I couldn’t disagree, and to be honest, I wanted to go back myself.  Machu Picchu was the kind of place that you have to see once in your life…unless you get the chance to go twice.

But like a lot of people who visited Machu Picchu, I ignored the gem that was Cusco.  Everyone stops in Cusco en route to Machu Picchu and few truly take in it’s wonders.

I know I didn’t.

Although my hostel was just a ten minute walk to the Plaza de Armas I knew after I returned from Peru that I should have spent more time exploring the plaza.  Much of what I saw was in passing, and it was clear there was much more to offer.

But one thing I did take advantage of was spending a few hours wandering through the San Pedro Market, which was advertised as “by Peruvians for Peruvians” on Wikitravel.  I found it to be a very appropriate description.  This felt like true Peru (even though some tourist shops sprinkled the marketplace).  And like many local marketplaces it had no shortage of examples of local cuisine.

 

Of course, as I mentioned, there was also no shortage of local vendors targeting tourists…only with prices that were much more attractive than those in Lima or at the Plaza de Armas.  I ended up buying a poncho, which proved the perfect addition to my wardrobe for Machu Picchu the following day.

Unfortunately I passed on the matching hat, which was a shame since it reminded me of one of my favorite Seinfeld episodes.  But such is life…I’m sure I’ll get a second bite of the apple when I go back to Cusco in October.

In hindsight I should have got the matching hat.

 

Before we left I ended up stopping at a local vendor to purchase a snack that seemed appropriate: maize.  I had seen Peru’s colorful ears of corn back in Lima and I was determined to give it a try.  With fat kernels and darker colors it looked like something worth checking off on my bucket list, and although it was ultimately just corn, I still couldn’t complain (although the New Mexican in me wanted to try it as elode, but again, maybe next time).

 

In the end, Cusco deserves more than a day, and one would be wise to take advantage of their time there to explore one of Peru’s most historic cities en route to Machu Picchu.

 

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Travel: When you have a layover in Tokyo’s Narita International Airport

The Finger Post Travel (August 13, 2018)

 

Every traveler dreads the infamous overnight layover.  You can’t be a world traveler without having at least one restless night sleeping on a bench waiting for a connecting flight.  I use to try and get around those with my free United Club passes but United Clubs tend to be closed at night and to be honest, I have never been blown away by them during the day time.  If you want to hang out in a waiting area with cheese and crackers then yeah, they are OK.  But at $50 a pop I never really understood the appeal.  But if there is one airport that I don’t mind long layovers in it is Tokyo’s Narita International Airport.

Right off the bat, it has one really big thing going for it.  Showers in Terminal 1.

Seriously, why don’t more airports have these.  I mean, truck stops do.  If you are getting off a ten hour flight from Houston and you have a nine hour wait till your connecting flight, a shower would really hit the spot.  But it seems like showers are a rare commodity…except in Tokyo where a mere $10 can get you a hot shower in between flights.

Sure, it was no truck stop shower: it was small as most showers in Japan are.  But the water was hot and the pressure was great.

And if you wanted, you could even get a day room and get a few hours of sleep, which I passed on.  Admittadly this was not as impressive as the showers to me, there is a Marriott inside the Houston airport and I have seen a similar setup inside of the Dallas airport.

But still, the showers…that was just amazing.

Next to the showers in Terminal 1 was a display of traditional Japanese clothing, which in the big picture wasn’t anything that special…but still, after a hot shower everything looks better.

The other thing that blew me away about Tokyo’s airport was the food.  To be honest, Japanese food is amazing, but it actually felt like they had some of the best Japanese food in the country in Narita Airport.  One of my favorite Japanese dishes is deep fried pork cutlet: Katsu.  And in February of 2017 I had what I thought would be the best katsu I ever had inside of Tokyo’s main train station.  I wanted to go back there but elected to get a dish of katsu from the airport instead.  I was not disappointed with my decision.  A stop off at Tonkatsu Shinjuku Saboten in the Narita dining terrace was something every visitor to Japan should experience.  Although they have branches in various locations, I couldn’t help but wonder if Narita had the best of the bunch.  According to their webpage they’ve been doing it for over 50 years…and I could certainly understand why.  It was simply amazing.

It wasn’t my only authentic Japanese meal that day as my previous layover in Haneda Airport allowed me to try authentic Japanese dip noodles as well.  I was down to try something new, although I didn’t find it to be anything extraordinary.

But hey, one airport at a time.  Shopping in Japan isn’t cheap, and shopping at any airport anywhere isn’t cheap either, so it goes without saying that I didn’t spend a lot in Narita.  I did pick up some Kit Kat bars, for whatever reason Japan seems to love Kit Kats and have a lot of unique and local flavors.  Yeah, Kit Kat is Japan’s Lays Potato chips.

Although I wanted to get a XL Ninja t-shirt, a giant Godzilla flag and a Yomiuri Giants baseball jersey, that was out of my price range and I elected to pass.  Still, it was a fun way to spend a few hours window shopping in Narita.

 

Instead I elected to dump the last of my pocket change on the toy vending machines and get a tiny storm trooper figure, which seemed the best way to dump off a few bucks worth of yen.

 

At the end of the day, I actually really enjoyed my time spend wandering around the Narita Airport.  Sure it doesn’t make many people’s list of “Things you have to see in Japan” but it is still one of the better airports to kill a few hours.  And if there is one lesson for other airports the world over that can be gleaned from Narita it is this:

Never underestimate the power of a hot shower.

 

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Travel: Visiting Cape Coast Castle, Ghana’s most infamous slave fort (July 23, 2017)

The Finger Post Travel (August 12, 2018)

 

Sometimes if pays to be a card carrying member of the press.

I had been sent to Ghana to cover Issac Dogboe’s fight against Argentina’s Javier Chacon on July 22, 2017…a fight that the local Ghanaian won handily.  And after emailing in my report from the fight I was ready to explore the country.

Of course I only had  one day to see Ghana.  Having elected to fly out the following day to Ethiopia I was unsure of what I would do in Accra, and I grudgingly accepted that I wasn’t going to see much of West Africa.  But a chance discussion in the press box during the boxing event had given me the opportunity to see one of Ghana’s most powerful, and important, sites: Cape Coast Castle.

An American businessman named Joseph Trowers who had somehow attached himself to the promotional team in Ghana had invited legendary Boxing referee Tony Weeks to a tour of Cape Coast Castle.  I had not been invited, but much like Sam Rockwell’s character in Galaxy Quest, I found a way to beam aboard.

Trowers had arranged a private car and driver for Weeks and I and the following morning I met with the two men at the Kempinski Hotel in Accra, where Weeks and Trowers were staying.  Once I arrived I was pleased to discover that I wouldn’t be the only media tagging along.  A local radio host named Emmanuel Austin Baah would ride with us while a film crew would meet us there to film Weeks journey for the local press.

That was, until they ran out of gas.

After making it to the outskirts of Accra we were surprised to see the van carrying the film crew turning away.  Unfortunately, I would discover that being a journalist in Ghana was not the easiest way to make a living.  Baah, after calling the other reporters, discovered that they simply didn’t have enough gas to make it to Cape Coast, and it appeared they were too proud to ask us to cover the gas for the trip.  I would discover from Emanuel that such a development was not unheard of in Ghana.  He described the difficulty of making ends meet on his end, with much of his income going to transportation to and from work.   Even the police operated with tremendous difficulty due to prohibitive transportation costs.

“If you call the police and they come over you need to give them money for gas,” Baah told me.  “otherwise they can’t afford it.”

The thought of having to pay the police gas money for them to come over to a crime scene was absolutely shocking to me, and I suddenly understood how easy corruption could run rampant in such an environment.

As we made our way out of town we were stopped by our first military roadblock, where I assumed we would be asked to contribute a small “tip”.  But if the soldiers were inclined to ask for some baksheesh then they were quickly dissuaded by the personable Weeks.  Weeks pulled out his cellphone to show a photo of him refereeing a Floyd Mayweather fight.

Ghana is a country of die hard boxing fans, and those soldiers were no exception.

The soldiers instead requested selfies with us, which certainly was a surreal experience.

I think the guy on the left is the only one who figured out I’m not a notable boxing celebrity.

We made out way back on the road and after a few hours we arrived at Cape Coast Castle.  We were mobbed the second we stepped out of the car, but this didn’t have that Denzel on the red carpet vibe to it.  No, these were the vendors.

I’ve been around the world, and I’m use to aggressive sales tactics, but Cape Coast Castle was up there with Fez, Morocco for the most relentless.  I made the mistake of letting a guy named Kofi show me his art (I am a sucker for art) and I quickly determined that he was in the process of hitting me with that “I’ll give you a gift scam” where I’d subsequently be expected to pay for the gift.

I tried to tell him I didn’t want a gift from him but I knew it was not going to work.  Kofi knew my first name and I knew when I walked out of that castle he would have something with my name on it.

I was a bit hungry and fortunately there was a local vendor selling authentic Ghanaian fante kenkey.  Now admittedly I had no idea what fante kenkey was, but as of yet I had not been disappointed by Ghanaian food and this had sort of a tamale vibe to it so I was sold.

Unfortunately I would be told later that fante kenkey isn’t really all that good plain.  You are suppose to put some sauce on it or eat it with soup.  I basically bought some hatch green chiles and sat there on the side of the road eating them raw.

Yeah, this was no chile relleno

Before entering the castle we walked to the back, where we saw an amazing view of the ocean and where some local children were eager to visit with us.

As we made our way to the front I couldn’t help but notice that the John Atta Mills Presidnetial Library was next door.  I won’t lie, I really wanted to check it out.  I’m a sucker for Presidential Libraries and although I knew nothing about Mills, I was very curious to see what a Presidential Library in Africa was like.

 

But it was time to enter the Cape Coast Castle and begin the tour.  Regardless of one’s heritage or ethnic background, this was a powerful experience.  Arguably millions of African-Americans could trace their heritage to this very castle, and to discover what they endured during their final days in Africa was shocking and appalling.

We soon made our way down into the “main slave dungeon” where one of the most powerful displays was exhibited.  1,300 concrete heads created by famed Ghanaian artist Kwame Akoto-Bamfo depicting the lives of those who were transported across the Atlantic to a life of slavery in the New World.  It was shocking, powerful, and effective and continues to haunt this visitor even a year after visiting the castle.

 

We then made our way out to the grave of former Gold Coast Governor George MacLean.  MacLean was governor from 1830-1844, although I won’t lie, after the visit to the Slave Dungeon I was not really able to process much from the part of the tour talking about MacLean’s life.

Nonetheless the courtyard was a stark contrast to the dungeons below, and I couldn’t help but think about how peaceful it was up here compared to the terror that the slaves endured below.

From the courtyard we made our way down to the most infamous site at Cape Coast Castle: The Door of No Return.    This doorway was the final passageway out of Africa, where they would be loaded on ships to the New World.  I could only imagine the fear and terror of those passing through the doorway hundreds of years ago…and one could not help but wonder if these poor men and women would think back about that moment for years after they arrived in the New World as slaves.  Did they know this would be their last walk in Africa?  Would they think back on that moment in the New World and wonder if there was some way they could have avoided that doorway…that final walk?

Because on the other side of the doorway was Africa in all it’s splendor.  A small but vibrant Ghanaian fishing village and the ocean…a sharp contrast to the terror this castle once housed.

As we made our way back into the castle we made a quick stop at the walls where the cannons protected the British against potential attacks from the Atlantic, and then we made our way to the museum located in what was once the Governor’s Chambers.  The stark contrast between the Governor’s Bedroom and the Slave Dungeon just below was shocking, and to see more of the concrete heads, only this time in the light, was another powerful moment.  As we made out way to the museum where there was a display talking about the Slave Trade in the United States I realized how important this museum was, and how important it was to remain in the consciousness of all Americans.

As we made our way out a young man who worked up front called me back.  He wanted me to sign the special “VVIP” guest book.  I quickly surmised that he had not reached the same conclusion as the soldier at the roadblock and he thought I was someone important.  I readily agreed and suddenly realized he handed me the same signature book that former President Barack Obama had signed when he visited in 2009.  I had never been trusted with a president’s signature before and I felt honored that they would consider me worthy enough to sign the same book.  I quickly obliged and then had them snap a picture of me holding it up before I ran forward and called Tony Weeks to get his picture with it as well.

By the time we left we were again mobbed by the vendors and their homemade trinkets that they designed just for us.  Kofi had written a short message on a conch with my name on it and of course expected payment while Tony Weeks was given a larger conch with a message addressed to “Tony Whisky”, which we all admittedly had a good laugh over.  The journey was over, and we now had to make our way back to Accra…but deep down I knew this would not be an experience I would soon forget.  I really believe that nobody who walks on those hallowed grounds ever does.

 

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Boxing: WBC #9 minimumweight Tatsuya Fukuhara to return this weekend in Japan

The Finger Post Boxing: July 28, 2018

Kumamoto Japan’s favorite son, former WBO mini-flyweight champion and current WBC #9 ranked minimumweight Tatsuya Fukuhara (20-6-6, 7 KOs), returns to action this Sunday (July 29th) as he takes on countryman Naoya Haruguchi (15-8, 6 KOs) in an eight round fight in his hometown of Kumamoto, Japan.   Although ranked in the top ten by the WBC, the former WBO champion is not rated in any other sanctioning organization, something that a dominant win over Haruguchi could rectify.  However, few are counting out the cagy 29-year old from Kagoshima.  Haruguchi has won seven of his last eight fights, with his only loss coming by way of majority decision to former world title challenger Riku Kano back in November of 2017.  Fukuhara, who is keen on positioning himself back into the WBO rankings for a potential clash with newly crowned champion Vic Saludar, also recognizes that a loss could effectively end his run as a contender and would almost certainly close the book on a potential clash with the young Filipino champion.

 

In the co-main event Dr. Tomoya Ikeda (5-2-1, 4 KOs) will take on one of his toughest opponents to date as he steps in with the undefeated 21-year old Kazuki Nakazono (3-0-2, 3 KOs).  The 21-year old prospect is seen as the favorite over the medical doctor, who at 36-years old is admittedly running out of time for a serious run in boxing.  But Dr. Ikeda’s compelling personal story, which included volunteer work with an NGO in Afghanistan, has made him one of the most popular fighters in Southern Japan.  Even in Japan it is rare to find a prizefighter who co-authored a highly cited medical report such as Dr. Ikeda’s December 2016 report on “Age estimation by ossification of thyroid cartilage of Japanese males using Bayesian analysis of postmortem CT images.”

Rounding off the card is popular super bantamweight Yuki Hirashima (8-2-1, 2 KOs) squaring off against South Korean veteran Jong-Won Jung (5-6-1, 3 KOs).  Jung will be stepping in the ring for the first time since April of 2013.

 

The fight card will take place at the City Sogo Gym in Kumamoto, Japan.  Doors open at 11:30 with the fight fight kicking off at noon.  Tickets start at 5,000 yen.

 

Weights from Kumamoto:

Tatsuya Fukuhara 104.5

Naoya Haruguchi 104.7

 

Tomoya Ikeda 133.8

Kazuki Nakazono 133

 

Yuki Hirashima 121.9

Jong-Won Jung 121.3

 

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Travel: Finding the Pulse of a Ghost City…Inside Naypyidaw, Myanmar

The Finger Post Travel (July 13, 2018)

 

“We go to Naypyidaw Mr. Aung!”

My good friend Douglas Williams had invited me to Myanmar, where he had relocated for work several months earlier.  It was an offer I couldn’t refuse and after leaving Japan where I covered a WBO mini-flyweight world title fight I decided to take him up on the offer.  He told me of several locations that I “needed” to visit, but I had one destination that was a must visit: Naypyidaw.

Naypyidaw, or NPD as it is sometimes referred to, really is one of the most unusual cities on the planet, a virtual ghost town that has taken on a life of it’s own in a most unexpected way.  Although not on the list of “best places to visit in Myanmar” it still fascinated me.  Since construction began back in 2002, the city of NPD has remained a mystery to everyone…even the citizens of Myanmar.  Shrouded in mystery when the ruling military junta announced that it would be moving the nations capital to some empty land in the middle of the jungle, Naypyidaw has become a moderately popular  topic of conversation with folks who find giant post-apocalyptic cities in the middle of the jungle to be absolutely fascinating.

Yeah, with people like me.

So although Mandalay seemed like a cool stop (any place that has a casino in Las Vegas can’t be all bad, can it?) I nonetheless let Doug know that the top of my Myanmar list would be the NPD.

He readily agreed and made arrangements for his driver to pick us up.  Mr. Aung was an afiable and likeable driver who spoke very little English but made up for it with his agreeable nature.

But when Mr. Aung picked us up from Doug’s apartment in Yangon that Saturday morning I could see his smile break for just a second.

Mr. Aung, I quickly surmised, had no interest in seeing his nation’s ghost town capital in the middle of the jungle.

Nonetheless, he quickly recouped and politely advised us that we needed to stop at the mall where we could exchange some money.  I knew we were on a tight schedule but I do have a tendency to let myself get distracted when travelling and, well, this was no exception.

Cambio?

It was a quick stop (by Burmese standards) and a quick change of $100 USD led to me holding a comical, almost Venezuelan, wad of cash.  Myanmar, although not suffering from hyperinflation, seemed to be unwilling to print anything larger than a 5000 kyat note, which equals about $3.50.  (for the record, there are 10,000 kyat notes, I just never saw any in Myanmar, and the 5000 kyat notes were few and far between).

We made our way after changing some money and of course I proceeded to delay things again when I saw the British World War II Cemetery outside of Yangon.  I realized that our departure out of Yangon was now comically behind schedule…but with that being said, I wouldn’t have traded the visit to the World War II cemetery for anything.

We soon made our way to the Yangon-Mandalay Expressway, a toll road that stood in sharp contrast to every road in Yangon.  Perhaps discouraged from the toll of 4,500 kyat (or about $3.15) the highway was virtually deserted and we got our first taste of what things would be like in Naypyidaw…a city whose abandoned feel was probably it’s most recognizable attribute.

The drive up was…interesting in it’s own way.  It had all the feel of an American road trip with betel nut instead of corn nuts.  Several hours in we came to our first rest stop…which was as Burmese as you could get.  We decided to stop at a restaurant and grab a bite to eat.  Up to that point I had been somewhat underwhelmed by the food in Myanmar, and unfortunately the Burmese Alsup’s didn’t change my opinion.  We grabbed a table and stood in line at something that sort of resembled a cafeteria or a Furr’s Buffet.  The food looked decent, but I tended to find the food in Myanmar to be somewhat bland and what we had there didn’t change my opinion.

But what it did have was a fruit stand outside…one selling durian.

I have to admit, durian had me a little intimidated.  After watching Anthony Bourdain eating his first durian fruit I was intrigued…but the more I researched the more I started second guessing if I wanted to take it on.  Raw beef from a street butcher in Ethiopia was child’s play, raw horse meat in Japan was triple-A at best.  Durian was something else.  It overpowered you…and then it stuck around for a week or two to remind you of what it was like to try and step up to the plate in the big leagues.  It was banned in many hotels and on airplanes…and I was warned that the smell of durian would stay with you for days.  It was like that classic Seinfeld episode.

Still, I knew I wouldn’t forgive myself if I passed on this golden opportunity to try durian for the first time.

I headed to the fruit vendor, and briefly chatted with the local monk who was also in the market for durian.  This man was clearly a durian connoisseur and he seemed to give this vendor’s durian his official seal of approval, which sort of set my mind at ease.

So I quickly picked what looked to be the durianest looking durian fruit and asked the vendor if I could eat it right there.  She smiled (everyone in Myanmar smiles politely, even if they were not at all on board with the plan) and proceeded to cut open the durian I just purchased.

A small crowd soon assembled to see the gringo tackle his first durian fruit, and I couldn’t help but again feel like some sort of celebrity.  But I didn’t have time to ponder my new found status as the local attraction.  I now had my durian all cut up and I even had a plastic bag on my hand to minimize the all hovering funk that legend had it would follow me back to Yangon and stay with me for a few days after I returned stateside.

It was now time to give durian the ol’ college try.

To my surprise…it didn’t knock me off my feet.  There was a slightly unpleasant aspect to the smell, but it was not as overpowering as I had been lead to believe.  And the taste was hardly unpleasant at all.  It was perfectly fine, not the best fruit I ever had but it certainly didn’t taste like I was eating a wet ashtray off a pair of dirty socks.

We soon made our way back on the highway and within two hours were were on the outskirts of the Nay Pyi Daw.  I could tell that it’s reputation as a ghost city was hardly exaggerated.  I couldn’t blame the government for planning ahead.  Yangon was in a perpetual state of chaos due to the traffic and the simple fact that the roads were all too narrow.  If Naypyidaw were to emerge as the thriving metropolis that it’s planners hoped, these twenty lane roads would be a sign of incredible foresight.  But for right now, they just gave the city a barren and abandoned feel.

The city was widely spread out, with nothing but jungle and nature separating large stadiums and hotels from government buildings and museums.  Mr. Aung decided to ask a local off the side of the road, who oddly enough seemed to go by the name of Chuy (although I was not sure if the New Mexican in me just kept mishearing his Burmese name).  Chuy hopped in and promised to show us the major sites in the NPD, which seemed fine at first.  But as he led up further and further from what I imagined was Naypyidaw’s city center I started to get a little nervous.  We were literally going down a two lane road in Naypwidaw.  I had only been in the city for about an hour but from what I could tell, two lane roads were not to be trusted.  Any road that lead anywhere was going to be a minimum of eight lanes.  Fortunately Chuy spoke absolutely no English, which was good since I was very passionately suggesting to Doug that we pull over and drag Chuy out of the car and take off since it seemed very obvious to me that he was taking us to meet up with the Flaming Dragon gang.

Fortunately for both Chuy and I, cooler heads prevailed and we soon reached our first stop: Myanmar’s Buddha Gaya on the Udayayanthi Hillock in Pohbba Thiri Township .  The Buddha Gaya is a recreation of one of Buddhism’s most holy sites, and the Burmese spared no expense in creating a beautiful replica.  The Thatta Thattaha Maha Bawdi Pagoda, built in 2013, was an impressive site at 162 feet (just shy of the height of the original pagoda in India) and also sits at the edge of a small replica of  at the Buddha Gaya site say at the edge of a small lake, another replica of the Mucalinda Lake where the Buddha spent six weeks meditating.

Although it began to rain heavily it was still an enjoyable stop, but Doug and his daughter Madison were getting restless.  Chuy then took us to the second stop on the “random guy we picked up off the side of the road in an abandoned ghost city tour” and by this point Doug was very vocal about what he thought about another round of replica pagodas and stupas.

“These are all fake,” he said firmly.  I couldn’t disagree.  We were Southeast Asia’s own version of Las Vegas…there were no shortages of impressive replicas.  But it was time to stop looking at the Statue of Liberty at New York, New York and see the water light show at the Bellagio.  It was time to go down the twenty lane highway.

As it turns out, I have no idea where we actually were.  My search of every travel site on Nay Pyi Daw came up with nothing on the collection of stupas and smaller pagodas just ten minutes away from the Buddha Gaya.  So I guess if anyone can help me identify where I was I’d appreciate it.

 

As we made our way back into town I couldn’t help but appreciate the size of Naypyidaw,  The Myanmarese military junta that built Naypyidaw was convinced (convinced I tell you!) that the city would eventually fill up with citizens.  And maybe it will.  They really lived by the motto “go big or go home” with the planning of this city.  But for now…well,it was a beautiful drive.  And dare I saw the scenery was unlike anything you’d see in any other nations capital.

We soon made our way to Naypyidaw’s most famous site.  The infamous twenty lane highway.  And let me say, driving down a freeway shouldn’t be such a memorable experience.  But it way.  The post apocalyptic vibe was unmistakable as we drove down the empty highway, with only the occasional bus or motorbike passing us in the other direction.

Now for all our protests against “fake” sites, both Doug and I were intrigued by Nay Pyi Daw’s most famous site next to the road with nobody driving on it.  The 325 foot tall Uppatasanti Pagoda.  The Uppatasanti Pagoda was Naypyidaw’s attempt to rival the Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon, and although it stood 30 centimeters shorter than it’s more historic counterpart in Yangon, it was still a sight to behold.  Doug and Madison elected to sit this one out, leaving me and Mr. Aung to explore the impressive pagoda that housed a Buddha tooth relic from China.  As we made our way up I couldn’t help but appreciate the peacefulness of Uppatasanti Pagoda, a notable contrast to the sometimes crowded and hectic feel of the Shwedagon Pagoda.  We were able to wander around unmolested from anyone wearing a “Death Trooper” t-shirt (it’s a long story, I’ll fill you in on my Yangon update) and we couldn’t help but appreciate the incredible view.

 

As I headed over to the large bell in the plaza, and as had become commonplace in Myanmar, I was approached by some locals who wanted their photo taken with me.

By the time I made my way back to the bottom of the man made hill where the pagoda was I was surprised to see several elephants on display.  I always feel bad for captive elephants, ever since Dumbo had to visit his mom in circus jail.  Elephants are smart animals and they are cursed with that perpetual happy face that sort of masks their suffering, making it easy to dismiss their pain.

As I left the Uppatasanti Pagoda I noticed a fair number of vendors along the road.  I wondered if maybe, just maybe, the insane plan was actually working.  Maybe, just maybe, people were coming.  

As we made our way back to the van I realized that we were behind schedule.  I wanted to make one more stop, to see the Parliament, but Mr. Aung advised that we couldn’t get close to it and we elected to skip it.

In hindsight it was a mistake.  That, not the road, was the Bellagio water show.  That was the highlight.  And we missed it.

The thing is, I don’t really think I’ll ever go back to Naypyidaw…even though I very much would like to go back to Myanmar.

But who knows.  Maybe I will want to experience “The Road” one more time.

 

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From Port Royal to Trench Town: Three Days in Kingston, Jamaica (October 19-23, 2017) (Part Two)

The Finger Post Travel (June 25, 2018)

“I remember when we used to sit in the government yard in Trench Town.” –
Bob Marley.

I had to hand it to Bryan Pert…he was undoubtedly the best Airbnb host I ever had.  I had a big day planned: Trench Town and then a very early flight to Miami.  I already made arrangements for a driver to pick me up but even with that I knew I wanted to cram in as much as I could during my last day in Kingston.  I decided a tour would be the way to go when I arrived in Trench Town.  I read that the tours would run about $70-$100 USD, not cheap, but I also read that the community was in dire need of any sort of influx of capital it could get.

Bryan joined me as we made our way to Trench Town by way of route taxi.  I knew I would never be able to figure out the route taxis without Bryan’s assistance, and I was appreciative that he agreed to spend the day with me as I toured Trench Town.

As we made our way into Trench Town I was blown away.  It was undeniably a city mired in poverty, and the scars of the the political instability of the 1970s were considerably more evident than in the rest of Kingston.  But it also had an energy to the place and an unmistakable identity.  This wasn’t the Caribbean.  This wasn’t Jamaica.  This wasn’t even Kingston.  This was Trench Town.

To my surprise we stumbled upon a Trench Town funeral or memorial service, which was really an unexpected experience.  Young Jamaicans rode their motorbikes loudly up and down the main road revving their engines and attracting attention from far and wide.  Interestingly enough nobody complained.  On the contrary, people began to stream out of their homes to pay their respects to the departed.

I won’t lie, this was not what I was expecting.  Revving motorcycles during a memorial service seemed like something you might stumble upon in Sturgis, but not in the birthplace of Reggae.

We then made our way to the Trench Town Cultural Yard and I was happy to discover that the tickets would not be in the neighborhood of $100 but would instead be only $20 for a 90 minute tour.  I readily signed up and my tour guide took me down Lower First Street where I would get my first glimpse of life in Trench Town.

Right off the bat I realized that they were not exaggerating when they spoke of the crippling poverty in Trench Town.  Just a few hundred feet from the Trench Town Cultural Yard I saw how different life was for Jamaicans here in comparison to the other parts of Kingston I had been in.

I felt somewhat voyeuristic snapping pictures although my guide assured me that it was OK.  Still, this was the birthplace of one of the world’s greatest musicians.  I wanted to get as many pictures as I could.  After all, these were all buildings that a young Bob Marley and a young Peter Tosh walked by regularly.

Of course no trip to Trench Town would be complete without some murals of Emperor Haile Selassie.

We turned right on West Road and then turned on 2nd Street where I would finally see it: a lyric in stone.  There was a (not necessarily thee) government yard in Trench Town.  I won’t lie, my heart skipped a beat as I pictured a young Bob Marley and a young Georgie would light up the fire light.  It was here (maybe, probably not) where they would cook corn meal porridge…and here (maybe) where one of the greatest lyrics in music history was born.

My excitement soon was stifled somewhat.  This was not a museum.  It was a government yard in Trench Town.  People lived here and they lived in abject poverty.  I was a tourist snapping pictures of their lives, seemingly indifferent to their struggle.  I realized that I would never really get it.  I remember hearing a story about an old confederate veteran who was asked to give a “Rebel Yell” to a young woman who was curious to hear what it sounded like.  He declined, saying that he couldn’t do it justice, not with a full belly.

I would never be able to really connect with Georgie, as much as I wanted to feel that moment…I couldn’t.

All I could do was take a picture at Gettysburg and imagine what those men went through.  All I could do was was take a picture near the fire light.

We soon made out way to the corner of 2nd Street and our guide soon shared more of the history of Second Street before we made our way up to Third Street.

We continued to tour Trench Town itself and I was impressed by the unmistakable spirit of the place.  It was very clearly a rough place…but it wore its identity on its sleeve with unmistakable pride.  In the murals they celebrated their identity…and their history.  A recognition that Trench Town was, in many ways, the beating heart of all of Jamaica.  Negril and Montego Bay might pull the tourist, who would never see the grinding poverty of Trench Town first hand.  But they, like I, were in many ways drawn to Jamaica because of Trench Town.  Because Trench Town gave the entire nation an identity that was unmistakable.

We headed back to the Cultural Yard where I would get a chance to check out Bob Marley’s old Volkswagen van, but first was a stop to Trench Town’s community music studio which appeared to be inside of a school where a religious revival was taking place.  It was there Bryan and I had a chance to meet the Jamaican reggae artist Lanz, who was working on a new album.  I got to hang out with Lanz for a little while and bought a demo from him.  It wasn’t bad, but after burning it to my computer I gave the demo to Bryan, who I could tell was really digging the vibe of it.

With Lanz

Recently I noticed Lanz was on tour with stops in the United Kingdom.  Who knows, maybe he will take off and young folks with be envious of the fact that I actually met him and hung out with him.  After all, what’s cooler than elected officials meeting musicians that they never listened to?

Leaving the studio we headed back to the Cultural Yard, but not before another quick stop at what appeared to be an Icelandic grandstand.

We had a new tour guide for the Cultural Yard, where I was able to see what they claimed was one of Bob Marley’s first guitars as well as his former Volkswagen which  I was allowed to sit inside it, which was a cool experience to say the least.

 

It was now time to make our way back.  I was lucky in that Bryan knew a few other places that I could squeeze in before I had to go to the airport.  We started with Emancipation Park before making our way to Devon House, where I would have the chance to try what many claimed was the best ice cream in the world.

Devon House (the former residence of Jamaica’s first black millionaire) was a perfect way to close out my trip to Jamaica, and yes, the ice cream at Devon House I Scream was indeed some of the best ice cream you’ll ever have.  They even had some sort of old car show going on, which added to the charm.

But I couldn’t help but notice the sharp contrast between Trench Town and Devon House.  Devon House was prim and proper and would probably be played by Billy Zane in a movie.

I left Devon House to return to Bryan’s Airbnb where I quickly packed up before taking a nap.  He arranged an early pick up for me and I would need to get some sleep before I left.  But I knew that Trench Town, and Jamaica, had left a mark on me.  I didn’t know if I would ever be back to Jamaica.  Maybe someday I’d be on a cruise ship that stopped in Montego Bay or Negril…but Kingston?  Doubtful.

But I felt like I made the most of my time in Jamaica, and I couldn’t ask for a better host in Bryan Pert.  In the end, I was glad that Georgie’s firelight led me to Kingston.

 

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Travel: Granada, Nicaragua before the storm (August 7, 2014)

Travel: Granada, Nicaragua before the storm (June 24, 2018)

 

I’ll be honest, this blog was suppose to be a backdrop. I wasn’t planning to write a post on NIcaragua, not now anyways. My 2014 trip to Nicaragua was an amazing experience…but I was suppose to go back in October.  I figured I would be writing about Nicaragua af that time.

With the WBO set to hold its 2018 convention in Managua I knew I would have plenty to write about. I was excited about the prospect of revisiting many of the sites I fell in love with in 2014 like San Juan Del Sur, Lago De Nicaragua, Managua…and what was in my opinion one of the most tourist friendly cities I ever visited in Central America: Granada.

Of course I also wanted to see more of Nicaragua: Bluefields, Leon, and (time permitting) the Corn Islands.  But regardless of if I made it to Bluefields or the Corn Islands, I definitely was going to return to Granada. It was the kind of town that made an impression.

But all that changed on April 18, 2018.  On that day a series of protests against the government of Daniel Ortega kicked off after the Ortega administration implemented a series of deeply unpopular social security reforms.  The protests kicked off in six cities and probably would have teetered out in a few days…but the Ortega regime responded with unimaginable violence that soon triggered a revolution. By April 20 it was clear that these protests had spiraled into a revolt…and that this was the biggest crisis to hit the nation since the end of the Contra War in 1990.

On June 6th the WBO finally pulled the plug. They announced that they would be moving the WBO convention to Panama City, Panama. I couldn’t blame them: it was clear by June 6th that the situation in Nicaragua was dire…and this might even be classified as the early days of a Civil War.

Which brings me to this post.

Back in July of 2004 I was living in Sarajevo.  I was doing some volunteer work for an NGO, the International Commission on Missing Persons.  They ultimately didn’t have much for me to do so I spent a lot of time doing busy work like researching anything I could get my hands on regarding the war in the former Yugoslavia.  On July 23, 2004 I watched on TV the ceremony celebrating the reopening of the Stari Most (Old Bridge) that became a symbol of the War in Bosnia.  The grainy video of the bridge’s destruction by the Bosnian-Croat forces was one of the most heartbreaking images of the war.

But it shouldn’t have been.

It was after all only a bridge.  A historic bridge and a beautiful bridge, but ultimately just stone.  It’s destruction on November 9, 1993 was a tragedy…but I never could shake the fact that there were already so many images out of Yugoslavia that were so much worse, that the world was all to willing to ignore.  I never could come to grips with the fact that the world seemed to care more for that bridge then it did for the tens of thousands of innocent people killed in 1992 and 1993.

I didn’t want Granada to be that way.  As the war takes a dark turn I couldn’t help but be worried about the friends I made down in Nicaragua…and the people I met in the city of Granada.  I know it’s a bizarre connection but I gave a guy one of my campaign t-shirts in Granada.  It was old and ready to be retired, and he seemed cool with a free t-shirt.  But now I can’t help but worry about this guy I don’t even know.  I can’t help but wonder if there is someone dodging snipers right now in Granada wearing a “Vote David Finger” t-shirt…and I won’t lie: it really has me shook up.

Recently I saw this photo posted on Facebook a few days ago and it didn’t give me much hope for the future for Granada.

The situation in Granada was already dire prior to this, with some media outlets reporting that the city was in ruins on June 7.   Needless to say it’s a humanitarian crisis developing.

And despite my fear over what is happening to the people of Nicaragua, I can’t help but admit that to a certain degree I have become that guy watching BBC on November 10, 1993.

I can’t help but cry for the city itself.  For the buildings.  For the streets.  For the history.  For the energy.  For all of it.  When I visited Granada the streets were quiet, peaceful…and yet full of life.  Granada was the crown jewel of Nicaragua and they knew it.  When I snapped these pictures in 2014 I never expected it to ever really change.  Not in 2014.  The dark days were in the past for Granada.

 

 

Then I saw this photo from June 6, 2018.

Photo by END

I also remembered my mission for Granada back in 2014…to get a hammock.  Every time I went to Latin America I was always intrigued by the hammocks for sale.  Colorful and handmade, they seemed the perfect souvenir for a Yanqui like me.  And I had committed myself to getting one in Granada.  I saw them for sale on the streets but I also discovered that Granada had an awesome cigar shop that I was told was a place I needed to visit and I decided to make that my first stop.  It had a great selection and an ever better cigar lounge where I could enjoy my purchase.

While chatting with the bartender he advised me of a place called Tio Antonio Hamaca (Uncle Antonio’s Hammocks).  It was billed as a more social responsible way to purchase your souvenir from Nicaragua, with the hammocks made by a staff of blind or otherwise disabled people.   And their hammocks were amazing.  I purchased one for my back yard and it really was the most comfortable and colorful hammock I ever had.  Unfortunatly when my dogs saw me in it they were prompted to try and recreated Quint’s death scene from Jaws and I finally had to take it down.

Visiting Tio Antonio Hamaca was an unforgettable experience and I hope and pray someday I’ll be able to go back to Granada to find that Tio Antonio is still going strong.

With hammock in hand I made my way back to the hotel, but not before passing through the marketplace again.  It was a vibrant place in 2014…and again, I don’t know how it looks now but my assumption is that things are not good.

Nicaragua has overcome a lot in the past, and it isn’t fair that the past would have to repeat itself here in 2018.  If any country deserved a break after decades of conflict it was Nicaragua, and the possibility of another Civil War is terrifying.  But sadly there is no real end in sight, and the prospects for Granada and Nicaragua look dim right now.

 

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Travel: Visiting the British War Cemetery near Yangon, Myanmar (September 1, 2017)

Travel: Visiting the Taukkyan War Cemetery near Yangon, Myanmar (May 29, 2018)

 

“Wait!” I exclaimed as I peered out the window at what looked like an immaculate park off the side of the road.   “Can we stop here?”

I had arranged three days in Yangon, Myanmar to meet and old friend of mine: Douglas Williams and his daughter Madison.  Doug was an incredible host, and I almost felt bad because over the three days he went above and beyond to make sure my time in Myanmar was enjoyable.

“Anywhere you want to go, let me know!” Doug said when he met me at the airport in Yangon.  “I want you to see the country!”

Doug had relocated to Yangon from Houston for work and I realized he meant every word of it when he didn’t balk at my rather unusual request: the abandoned capital city of Naypyidaw.  The concept of a country moving it’s capital to the middle of a jungle fascinated me, and I couldn’t help but feel like I had a rare chance of seeing it before it grew into the crowded metropolis I assumed it would someday become. In the meantime it was a city designed for millions with a population of what appeared to be a few thousand…and I wanted to experience that firsthand.

Doug readily agreed and made arrangements for a private driver to take us up there.  But on the way I saw something that I didn’t expect to find: an Allied War memorial Cemetery.  The Taukkyan War Cemetery is the final resting place for 6,374 British soldiers killed in Burma during the First and Second World War.

Located 16 miles north of Yangon on Pyay Road I was insistent that we stop and visit it and Doug, the ever gracious host, readily agreed.  Right off the bat I couldn’t help but notice that the well maintained cemetery, which was maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, had emerged a popular park for local residence.  I could see why: it was quiet, peaceful, and absolutely stunning.  I also appreciated that the locals seemed to recognize the hallow ground that they were walking upon and treated the cemetery with the utmost respect, even as they took their morning strolls and picnics there.

 

I had discovered that I remained something of a celebrity everywhere I went for some reason.  Admittedly Westerners were somewhat rare in Myanmar, but they were still there.  So I never quite understood why a lot of Burmese would approach me and ask for a photo with me.  I figured it was because I either looked like a famous Burmese movie star or because I was twice the size as everyone else in the country.

“Hey look, it’s Brad Pitt!”

As I walked around the cemetery I felt a  appreciation for the sacrifice of the many brave men who died in this most foreign land, men from all corners of the British Empire.

In the end it was a subtle reminder of something that we should never forget…a simple message but one so appropriate on Memorial Day:

Some gave all.  

 

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Travel: Bonnie and Clyde Ambush Site near Gibsland, Louisiana (May 27, 2018)

The Finger Post Travel (March 27, 2018)

 

“We got three guns,” the curator said of the Bonnie and Clyde Ambush Museum in Gibsville after we asked him what was included with the $7 price of admission. “And Clyde’s glasses he was wearing when ambushed.”

I took a road trip over the weekend with an old friend of mine, former Hollywood actor David James, who was currently working as Deputy District Attorney in Lordsburg, New Mexico. On our way back from Vicksburg we discovered that we were going to pass by the site where the legendary bank robbers Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow were ambushed by law enforcement officers from Texas and Louisiana.

As I would discover, David James had a connection to Bonnie and Clyde: his grandmother ran the switchboard the night that the Barrow Gang engaged in a deadly shootout with police in Dexter, Iowa.  At the time David’s grandmother was a young woman in her early 20s and here she was, handling all communications during a police shootout with the most notorious criminal gang in America (this was 1933, before 911 dispatch was used in small towns like Dexter). More likely than not she handled the call that Bonnie and Clyde had escaped…as well as the call that Clyde’s brother Buck Barrow had been capture and had been shot in the head.

Our arrival in Gibsland left us underwhelmed  and to be honest, after having been left unimpressed with the two museums in town dedicated to the shootout, we debated just hitting the road back to New Mexico.  Fortunately we decided to make the approximately 8 mile drive to the ambush site.  It was well worth the trip.  It’s a quiet stop at the side of Hwy 154 that paints a vivid picture of how isolated the ambush site was…and how it was the perfect place to lay a trap.

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From Port Royal to Trench Town: Three Days in Kingston, Jamaica (October 19-23, 2017) (Part One)

The Finger Post Travel (May 13, 2018)

“I remember when we used to sit in the government yard in Trench Town.” – 

Bob Marley.

 

I’m sure a lot of people have a favorite Bob Marley quote.  A song lyric that just grabs you and never lets go.  And I won’t lie, as a teenager I went through my obligatory middle class college student Bob Marley phase.  But after awhile the songs just became, well, just songs.  I guess that’s a sign of getting older.  You stop finding meaning in things like Redemption Song.

But that one lyric from No Woman No Cry always stuck with me.  I obviously never sat in a government yard with Georgie making the fire light, but there was something about that lyric that made me nostalgic.  I could feel that sense of longing for a time passed, a simple time with good friends.  A time that would never happen again.  It’s a powerful song that can make you nostalgic for something you never experienced before.  Particularly when you are a teenager and you are living those carefree days that you would soon wax poetic over as a middle aged man.

Yeah, Georgie and the fire light..I couldn’t quite shake.  It’s been years since I first went through that Bob Marley college student phase, but even today I still stop and pause every time I hear that one lyric.  And the other day I realized that this is a feeling that isn’t exactly unique to me.  Apparently there is a German word for nostalgia for something you never experienced: sehnsucht.  Realizing that brought me back to my recent trip to Trench Town and Kingston Jamaica back in October…where I would sit in a government yard and where I found out what happens when sehnsucht meets the real world.

The WBO Boxing convention was slated to kick off from the Miami aboard the Norwegian Sky cruise  ship.  I would have a chance to go back to Cuba in a week but I wanted to take advantage of my time in Florida to grab a cheap ticket to Jamaica.  I wanted a few days to check out Trench Town and Kingston.  I arrived in Miami a few days early and caught a direct flight to Kingston, Jamaica that brought me into Norman Manley International Airport at 6:54 PM.  I had decided not to make my way to Kingston that night.  I had heard that Kingston was no stranger to crime and I didn’t want to wander around the city at night looking for a hotel.  Instead I booked a room at the Grand Port Royal Hotel Marina & Spa in Port Royal, a small costal village at the end of the Palisadoes tombolo, a sandspit that jutted out of the Kingston Harbor.

Right away I realized that although Kingston wasn’t exactly Montego Bay…it also wasn’t exactly cheap.  My two nights at the Grand Port Royal Hotel Marina & Spa were going to run me close to $90 a night for a decent (but not exceptional) hotel room.  I decided to try and cut down on some unnecessary expenses on this trip and one of those expenses would be the $20 cab ride to the airport.  Reading online I learned that there was a public bus to Port Royal that stopped at the airport and that seemed like an interesting way to experience true Jamaica.  The Jamaica Urban Transit Company (JUTC) had a bus that was suppose to arrive every 35 minutes.  And by the time I left the airport and arrived at the bus stop outside I would only have to wait 10 minutes for the #98 bus to arrive.

At least that was what the schedule said.  Of course the schedule was wrong.

An hour later I was on the #98 bus on my way to Port Royal.  I was tired and I was very much regretting my decision not to take a cab.  But once the bus dropped me off in front of the hotel my mood lightened.  Port Royal was a small town, a far cry from it’s heyday as the largest city in the Caribbean.   I could tell this would make for a good base of operation to explore the village.  But I could also tell that unless I was willing to spend a lot of money on taxis, or wait around at bus stops all night, this would not be an ideal base of operations for exploring Kingston itself.  After checking into my room, which was decent but hardly exceptional considering the price, I elected to make my way to the marina behind the hotel where I planned to grab a late dinner at the Blue Marlin Restaurant.  I wasn’t sure what to expect, it seemed a cozy place and I assumed it wouldn’t be that expensive.

Then I saw the menu.

$38 for the shrimp and lobster pasta was almost enough to convince me to skip dinner.  But I noticed a $12 fried fish sandwich and decided to go that route.

The following morning I elected to make my way into town.  I didn’t need a bus or even a cab to  explore Port Royal. It was just a five minute walk to St. Peter’s Anglican Church, situated in what I assume was downtown.

Like much of Port Royal, it’s identity was very much tied to the earthquake that destroyed the city on June 7, 1692. The current church was built in 1726 after the “original parish church sunk below the waves in 1692.”  Although the Church was closed it was only a five minute walk to Fort Charles, the only fort to survive the  earthquake of 1692. I was told that this was a major tourist attractions in Port Royal, and after walking through the town I could help but wonder if it was in fact the only tourist attraction in Port Royal.  As I approached the entrance I could tell can that I was going to be somewhat underwhelmed. To be honest, it didn’t really look like a “must see” site. Peeking through the embrasure (don’t worry, I had to google it also) I could tell this would be a somewhat Spartan exhibit and the $15 entrance fee seemed a bit steep to me. So I elected to do something I am loath to do when travelling: I skipped it. Usually when traveling I always make time to visit the local sites, and I’ve paid $15 or more for many forgettable museums (such as the Lincoln Train Museum in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania).  But something about this one just didn’t click for me and I elected to pass on it.

Besides, a wild hog had just passed me and I was curious to see where he was going.  I would discover Port Royal had it’s fair share of rather chill feral hogs that just sort of wandered the city, and following this one led me to what I assume was a residential section of Port Royal.

It was an interesting discovery but one that I didn’t need to spend much time at.  I decided to make my way back into town to visit the only other site that really caught my eye: the abandoned Royal Navy Hospital.

Built in 1818 the hospital looked like something out of a post apocalyptic movie.  The building were collapsing and decaying, but it was nonetheless a fascinating stop and to be honest…it was the highlight of my time in Port Royal.  I snapped a few pictures and couldn’t help but be a little blown away that an American tourist could just freely wander what was clearly a safety hazard like this place obviously was.

 

As I headed back I stopped at a local grocery store where I grabbed a soft drink and chatted with the locals, including a four year old boy who was fascinated by my iPhone and the selfies he could take with them.

They recommended a place called Gloria’s for dinner, something that was seconded by my hotel.  It was, they promised, the best seafood in all of Jamaica.

With a recommendation like that I knew I would have to try it.  I already made plans to leave Port Royal and spend my final two days in Jamaica in Kingston itself tomorrow morning and I figured dinner at Gloria’s Seafood would be the ideal way to say goodbye to the village of Port Royal.

Arriving at Gloria’s Seafood I quickly realized I had not been lead astray.  The place was packed, and it had it’s fair share of tourist…something I had not seen in town all day.

I ordered the Buccaneer’s Mix for about $18 USD, fried fish and lobster with a side of fries and “bammy”.  The bammy was…different, but the rest of the meal was incredible and I was sold.  This was the perfect at to cap off my day in Port Royal.

The following morning I decided to contact Bryan Pert, who rented out a room on Airbnb.  It would prove to be the best decision I made during my trip to Jamaica and Bryan was a gracious host and an incredible guide.  More than just renting out a room he took great pains to ensure I got to see the sites I wanted to see and get to the places I wanted to visit…something that I realized would have been extremely difficult if I was trying to organize it myself.  Bryan met me at the bus stop and we immediately hit it off as he took me for a short tour around the bus station where I got to visit the Saint William Grant Park, The Ward Theatre, and the Kingston Parish Church.

From the North Parade Bus Park in Kingston

 

Ward Theatre
In front of the Kingston Parish Church

Just down the street from the park was the Simon Bolivar Cultural Centre.  The Simon Bolivar Cultural Centre is a 350-multi cultural center with an exhibit hall that was financed in part by the Venezuelan government at a cost of $4.1 million USD (because Venezuela certainly had extra money that they didn’t need to spend domestically).

It was a fun way to be introduced to Kingston, and although I didn’t have enough time to really take in a lot, I did get a chance to admire the statue of Jamaica’s first prime minister, The Right Excellent Sir William Alexander Bustamante, which was located in the Saint William Grant Park.  To be honest, I couldn’t help but wonder if they took some liberties with the Right Excellent Sir Bustamante’s abs.  But I decided to drop it.  Nah, I didn’t want to be hatin’ on Bustamante’s gains.

Trainers (and colonialist) hate him

From there we caught a route taxi and made our way back to his house.  I dropped off my bags and got ready for my next stop: the Bob Marley Museum.  The museum cost $2500 Jamaican dollars to get in (just under $20 USD) but unlike Fort Charles I knew there was no way I was going to miss this.  No, Georgie would never let me live it down if I skipped the Bob Marley Museum.

I caught a cab and familiarized myself with the route and shortly after arriving I was part of a group tour.  I liked our guide, who was friendly and enthusiastic and who seemed genuinely impressed that I named “Kaya” as my favorite Bob Marley song.  The photos and artwork outside were impressive, and they included the obligatory portrait of Emperor Halie Selassie.

Having left Ethiopia just five months prior I found the central role of Selassie in Rastafarianism to be fascinating…if not a little difficult to understand.  Having visited Selassie’s former palace in Addis Ababa I couldn’t help but see Selassie as all too human.  Probably overall a good man, but a man with some very notable flaws (for one, his bathroom was really tacky).  And I couldn’t help but wonder what impact the overthrow and eventual murder of Selassie by the Derg had on Bob Marley and the Jamaican Rastafarian community as a whole.  According to Wikipedia it was a moment that “dampened” it’s growth and popularity.  I couldn’t help but wonder how the Rastafarians would have grappled with the realization that incarnation of Jah on earth had just been overthrown by a communist military junta that would launch a genocide that would ultimately rival the Holocaust in its brutality.

We made out way inside and although photos were prohibited I did notice the museum was a perfect balance of memorabilia of historical recreation.  This was, after all, Bob Marley’s former home.  We were able to see numerous records and photos from his concerts in places like New Zealand (taken by a fan) alongside his bedroom and the small kitchen he would prepare his blended fruit shakes with.  But I would be taken aback by a large poster of Bob Marley’s concert in Zimbabwe in 1980 located in a room on the second floor.  I won’t lie, it threw me for a loop.  Marley would die the following year, before he saw what Zimbabwe would become.  Now I am sure many of you are assuming I am about to bring up the disastrous “land reforms” of former Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe that may have cost Zimbabwe over $17 billion and would lead to food shortages and hyper inflation in the country.  No, what I couldn’t help but wonder is if Marley would have felt personally betrayed by Robert Mugabe.  I wondered what he would have thought about Mugabe and Zimbabwe giving refuge to the former dictator of Ethiopia: Mengistu Halie Mariam.  In 1994, three year after he fled the country, Ethiopia tried him in absentia for the murder of thousands of Ethiopians under his genocidal rule…including the murder of the former emperor who was allegedly suffocated with his pillow by Mengistu’s men (some reports even allege Mengistu did the deed himself).  What would Bob Marley have thought about the man he so warmly embraced back in 1980 giving refuge to a mass murderer and the man responsible for the death of the holiest man in his faith.  I like Justin Trudeau. He seems like a likable guy.  But I if he turned out to be an Immortal from the movie Highlander and 2000 years ago he was Pontius Pilate, well, yeah, I wouldn’t be cool with him anymore.

The poster of Mugabe sort of depressed me and we followed it up by visiting the room where Bob Marley was nearly assassinated in 1976.  Days before what Marley was hoping would be a non-political concert dubbed “Smile Jamaica” unknown gunmen drove up to Marley’s house and open fired in a back room, hitting Marley in the arm and chest.  Marley recovered and even performed two nights later.  However the gunmen were never apprehended and the shooting highlighted the political tension that plagued Jamaica in the 1970s.  The tour was taking a bit of a dark turn for me but then I saw it: Georgie’s portrait on a back wall and my mood lightened ever so slightly.  I suddenly had a face to the lyric.

I was ready to head back but before I left I grabbed a set behind Bob’s house, just a few feet from where gunmen nearly killed him.  Legend has it that this was the spot that he penned the classic tune “Three Little Birds.”  I decided to take a short break before I headed back and sit down in the same spot where Bob Marley would be so inspired as to write one of his most beloved songs.

It was now time to make my way my way back to the Airbnb, but before I left I decided to take a few more pictures of the museum before I left.

On my way home I decided to stop at the grocery store that near the Airbnb.  I wanted to do some grocery shopping, and in particular to get some Jerk chicken marinade to take home with me.  Shopping in a Jamaican grocery store was a surprisingly  fun way to close the day, and after grabbing some Blue Mountain Coffee and Jerk seasoning I was ready to make my way back to my room.

A short walk followed and by the end of the day I decided to tap into the tremendous resource I had in Bryan and see if he could direct me to a good restaurant for some authentic jerk chicken.  He recommended Island Grill, a popular national chain restaurant.  We caught a cab and by the time I arrived the place was packed.  This should have been a really good sign of what was to come…it should have been. But I can’t really recommend Island Grill for any of you planning a trip to Jamaica.  The food was ok, but hardly the best jerk chicken you’ll ever have.

By now the sun was down and I was beat.  I had a big day tomorrow…it was time to chill with Georgie.  It was time to hit Trench Town.

 

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