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.

 

Read more Finger Post stories here!

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.

 

Read more Finger Post Travel stories here!