A Helicopter Ride in Jamaica
I think I have spent enough time in Jamaica to qualify as a tour guide. I love the place and try to get there every other year or so. Because I know the island so well and because the island is so small I like to rent a car when I visit. A car affords me the freedom to go where I want,when I want and with who I want. Not long ago I traveled to Jamaica with two guy friends and it was fun to show them the sights. All the time we were sightseeing they both kept asking me to set up a helicopter ride to see the island. No way I answered. I’m not riding around in a Jamaican helicopter. My two friends argued with me about this for days until we eventually ended up on Negril’s seven mile strand of beach where we chartered a boat to ferry us out to the reefs for a little snorkeling. One of my friends was a big man and to keep the boat on plane the operator of the reef boat ordered my big friend up front. Big mistake. The boat was an unsinkable Boston Whaler design with an open cockpit and room for fishermen to move around the perimeter of the 24 foot boat. There were about eight of us on board the boat which was probably a little overloaded considering the three foot ocean swell we hammered through to get out to the reefs. The reefs were two miles offshore in about twenty feet of water and on a clear day the water would be pristine for snorkeling. On this day however a storm was approaching and the closer we came to our destination the rougher the water became. As my two hundred and forty pound buddy moved forward in the boat it began to plane like a speedboat up and down the waves. A few moments later a wave came over the bow and swamped the boat sinking it from under us. The entire compliment of eight snorkelers and the crew of three Jamaicans ended up swimming for our lives as our unsinkable boat drifted out to sea with only its nose above the water line. It quickly disappeared from sight on a receding tide. There were a few moments of panic as we all swam for our lives towards a shoreline that was too far away for most of us to reach. Because of the bad weather all of the other reef destination boats had returned to shore and but for the grace of God and one remaining glass bottom reef boat returning to shore with a load of passengers some of our snorkeling party would certainly have drowned. We were rescued by the glass bottom boat whose Jamaican captain heard our cries for help and motored over to save us. I still get a chuckle out of my big friend from Canada who asked the skipper of the glass bottom boat what was to become of his sunglasses that he left on the sinking Boston Whaler design boat.
“Forget your glasses mon,” the skipper replied, “you have your life.”
I got another chuckle as we reached the safety of shore and I watched one of the other passengers from our sunken boat demanding compensation from the owners of the reef boat for his camera that was lost on board.
Fat chance of that I thought as I took note that the tourist’s missing camera was worth twice the cost of the rental shack that chartered out our boat ride. When the dust finally settled and we returned to our room to smoke a joint and calm down I had my final chuckle of the day as I looked over at my two friends and challenged them with this question.
“Still want to take a Jamaican helicopter ride?”
A Tokers Guide to Smoking Ganga in Jamaica
I have lived and worked in Jamaica for much of my life and in all the years that I smoked pot down there (and I smoked it 24-7) I was never busted. That is because I am cautious by nature and I listen to warnings from locals which has kept me out of trouble. There was this one time I can remember however where I did not follow the rules of common sense. It was a warm summer Friday and my Jamaican friend Righteous and I were driving along the main road from Montego Bay to Kingston. As usual I had a burning spliff in my hand as I enjoyed the laid back feeling of Jamaica, the scenery and the eighty-five degree sunshine. What was not usual that Friday was that my friend was driving. Usually when I am at the wheel and smoking pot I scan the road ahead for police type problems. Accidents, road checks, vehicle inspections. That kind of thing. As an aside in over 30 years of driving, much of it with a joint in hand, I have never had an “at fault” accident. That includes driving in Canada, America, Mexico, England (left hand drive), the Middle East and the Caribbean (left hand drive). A couple of clowns have run into me from behind while I was stopped at a light but other than that my driving record is accident free. On the Friday I am writing about I was in the passenger seat when we rounded the corner of a remote town near the Parish of Saint Ann’s where a lone Jamaican policeman on foot patrol suddenly popped out of some bushes at the side of the highway. He held up his hand to stop us for a road-side check and Righteous stomped on the binders while I looked at my Jamaican friend with eyes that questioned his sanity. He stopped the car right beside the lone constable and there was no time to drop my joint. He could have driven past some distance to let me drop my spliff and then reversed back to the cop. Instead he locked up the brakes and stopped right beside the officer and there was nothing I could do but hide the still burning spliff in my hand.
The constable was dressed in a starched white shirt and dark trousers with a stripe down the leg. He had a big gun strapped to his twenty-six inch waist but had no radio and no handcuffs. He asked me first where I was going and then with a pronounced sniff and a wrinkling of his nose he asked me what was in my hand.
“Nothing,” I answered without opening my hand.
“Show me your hand the policeman demanded.”
“Nothing to show,” I responded without turning over my hand.
“I smell herb,” he said.
“No mon,” I lied as the burning spliff smouldered beneath my clenched fingers.
“Let me see your hand.”
At this point I looked over at my friend Righteous.
“Fix it up mon,” I told him.
Righteous sweet talked the cop in the way that only a Jamaican can. He smiled broadly like a child caught over some petty offence and told the policeman that I was a visiting tourist who did not understand the rules. Then he handed over a two hundred dollar bribe and we drove off with the joint still in my hand while the cop waved us a bon voyage and happy toking. Other than that one episode I had no other problems smoking weed in Jamaica in over 20 years. I learned a valuable lesson that day. Never smoke weed while driving on a Friday. Friday is the day when the Jamaican police collect bribes to spend on the weekend. The cop at the side of the road had no real interest in our weed. He would happily have taken a bribe for driving without a licence, speeding, a broken headlight or any other infraction real or imagined. Later I asked my Jamaican friend why he stopped the car like that when we could have just driven past the cop without stopping. Especially since the cop was in the middle of nowhere with no car, no radio and no cell phone. So why bother to stop? Well that was the second thing I learned that day about Jamaica. Jamaica is a small island sixty miles wide by a hundred and some miles long. Everyone knows each other and my friend Righteous would not dare drive past a policeman without stopping when ordered to. So here is my first lesson for tokers holidaying in Jamaica.
Always be extremely careful just before the weekend.
If I had been careful that Friday I would have (A) not smoked in the car and (B) stashed any pot I was carrying inside the car doors before the trip began. Be advised that the first place the Jamaican constabulary will look during a road roust is in your cigarette package. The second place is your pockets. And don’t think you can just shove your bag of pot into your crotch and get away with it. The police have long fingers and are not shy to poke down your shorts for a quick feel. The best place I have found to transport small amounts of weed when travelling in Jamaica is in the door panels of my rented cars. Just give a little pull on the bottom of the interior door panels and they snap open revealing several small cavities in the metal doors. The cavities are often covered with a layer of plastic which I tear open and then insert my ounce or two of weed into the openings. The Jamaican cops probably know about this hiding place but either can’t be bothered to tear apart the doors of a rented car to look for pot or have been advised that a bust for pot found in the doors of a rented car would not stand up in court. Speaking of court don’t ever go there. If you are ever busted for pot or anything else in Jamaica (or in any third world country for that matter) reach deep into your pockets and remove all of your money ( at least a couple of hundred US) and give it to the arresting officer with a friendly smile. Say “hold this mon,” as though you are giving him a Christmas present and show no animosity. Do it quickly and offer your bribe to the first cop you see before any other cops come sniffing around which will end up costing you much more. If you don’t have enough money for a bribe don’t be shy to offer to go with the cop to a bank or a bank machine or to your hotel room or safe or to a friends place to get more money. All of these options are preferable to ending up before a Jamaican judge who is impossible to bribe. Once your case reaches court it is too late to bribe anyone and you will be detained for at least a week or so and have to pay a fine before being released. I have had friends who landed in jail in Jamaica and it was not a pretty scene. Curiously when they were released after paying their fines they were not deported. My second lesson to tokers in Jamaica (and elsewhere) is valid even if you do not intend to break any laws there. Always carry bribe money. Tourists are extremely vulnerable in foreign environments and their only recourse to danger or problems in a strange land is cash. Keep your bribe money separate from your other money and conceal it on your person.
Always carry bribe money at all times in Jamaica (and in all foreign countries.)
In spite of my warnings and suggestions I am not advising anyone to smoke pot while driving anywhere-especially in Jamaica. The deal with pot smoking in Jamaica is this. You are safe to smoke inside your hotel room or dwelling. You are safe to smoke on private property such as at hotel and villas. You are not safe to smoke it in public areas such as streets or in public buildings. You are safe to smoke at rock concerts. You are not safe to smoke it in theatres. You are safe to smoke on a remote beach. You are not safe to smoke while driving to that beach. You are safe to buy weed from roadside stands that sell fruits and vegetables. Most of the stands will sell you pot or will refer you to another stand that has pot for sale. You are safe to buy weed from the boys at the airport gas stations although it is usually crap. You are safe to buy weed from the yardmen or waiters and bellmen at hotels. You are probably even safe to buy weed from cops in Jamaica although I never have and I don’t recommend trying it. You are safe to stash your weed in your hotel room-a good place is in the bottom of the drapes. Most hotels have thick heavy drapes whose lining along the bottom can be pulled or cut open along the seam. Your small bag of pot is safe there. Some rooms have ceiling tiles that can be lifted up or removed and your weed stash can be hidden up there. I check the ceiling tiles routinely when I check into a room and often I have found the remnants of the last visitor’s stash of weed, cocaine and even money. Basically Jamaica is a weed friendly country that produces some of the finest ganga in the world. No one in Jamaica really wants to spoil your holiday by busting you for small amounts (under an ounce) of ganga but everyone down there is broke and everyone needs money. So be generous when buying your pot and don’t bargain too hard. Let the dealers make a little bit of profit to feed their families. If someone turns you on to a weed dealer pay him a little something for the favour. If a cop questions you about weed, maybe he smells it on your breath or hands, be friendly and pay him something. Don’t get defensive. Do not admit guilt ever but thank him for being a nice cop and protecting you from thieves and bandits and offer him some money. It doesn’t have to be much if it’s not a direct bribe for being caught at something. Twenty dollars US is an appropriate amount to deflect any problems before they begin. A few twenty dollar bills spread here and there can be the difference between the trip of a lifetime and the nightmare of a lifetime. So go to Jamaica mon and enjoy the sun and surf. And if you are a weed toker follow my guide to a fun holiday with no surprises.
You won’t get wet I promise
The Last Hunt was a dangerous experience but the one below came much closer to drowning me before I even finished high school. I was an industrious young lad at the age of fourteen. I went to school but I also had a paper route that allowed me to obtain some of the things in life that my parents were unable or unwilling to provide me. An electric guitar. Pocket Money for dating. My very own Minimax hydroplane. For those of you unsure of what a hydroplane is imagine an eight foot long pocket-sized boat designed for nothing but speed and racing. A hydroplane watercraft is shaped like a wedge with a narrow flat snout that looks like a duck’s beak and an eight inch deep transom that is squared off at the back of the boat. Once the plywood seams were fibre glassed she became air tight and according to the brochures she was virtually unsinkable. I built her in my basement and painted her with a white marine paint and added a couple of lightning bolt decals to the front deck at which point my Minimax racer was ready for show and go. With a six horsepower outboard the delicate little craft could reach twenty miles per hour which felt much faster due to the small size of the hydroplane and the close proximately of the driving platform to the water. With a ten horsepower outboard, the maximum size rated for this craft, the Minimax would rocket along at over thirty miles per hour. With a fifteen horsepower motor (which is fifty per cent more horsepower than the Minimax was rated for) the hydroplane would hit over forty miles per hour. Forty miles per hour was mind boggling speed in those days and was made all the more exciting with my butt sitting on a piece of three quarters inch plywood that was drumming across the water like a skipping stone. I have driven a lot of boats but in all of my years of boating I have never driven anything that was as much fun as that little hydroplane. Crank the wheel hard into a turn and the little craft would slide and skip sideways until the hull grabbed water and the boat would shoot off in the direction pointed. S curves and circles were yards of fun as the hydroplane slid sideways like a slalom ski instead of heeling over and grabbing water like a normal boat. Fast forward to my eighteenth birthday and my girlfriend, Barbara, who was one day to become my wife. I had only known Barbara for a year or so when I decided to invite her for a day of boating up at my parent’s lake front summer cottage. I brought along my fathers West Bend sixteen horsepower – the same outboard motor that he told me under no circumstances to ever put on my hydroplane. It was a beautiful spring day as we set out on a drive through the Laurentians which was picturesque and beautiful. Our destination was Lac Dusfresne about two hours north of Montreal in the Province of Quebec. The sun hung large and bright over the lake that day almost reminding me of summer until I put a hand in the water. It was cold. Very cold. I was told sometime later that the ice had just broken up on the lake a week before. But on this day the water was like magic. Barbara and I spent out first few hours inside my parent’s lake side cottage enjoying our seclusion as the call of a Northern Loon resonated eerily across the water. We stared through the large picture window at snow-topped mountains surrounding a clear blue lake that sparkled with twinkling flickers of sunlight. There was no evidence of any other humans on the lake that day except for a solitary trickle of smoke that rose from a cottage across the bay where the German family lived. The solitude of the lake was blissful as Barbara and I spent some time reading and snuggling and enjoying the quiet and the scenery. After spending the good part of my day indoors with my girlfriend I thought it might be time to try my dad’s sixteen horse power outboard on my hydroplane. My dad felt the sixteen horsepower was too powerful for my hydroplane. But dad had not been around the summer before when a neighbour on the lake put his fifteen horsepower outboard on my little racing boat. The hydroplane sank low in the water from the extra weight of the large engine but once it was up and running it flew like the wind across the water. Because of that experience I could see no reason for my father’s concerns. I was looking out at a lake that was as flat as glass and crystalline in its brilliance from sun rays reflecting off the surface. I could see my hydroplane down by the shoreline. The Minimax had been stored upside down on the banks of the lake so that the cockpit would remain empty and dry in spite of a winter’s worth of rain and snow. My little racing boat had aged. The paint was fading after several seasons of neglect and the flaming red lightning bolt decals were more orange than red. I walked down to the water’s edge to examine my boat. When I lifted the hydroplane off its blocks I could hear water sloshing about inside the water tight compartments. I had little concern that the boat let some water seep in because in my experience all boats leak to some degree. To counter the problem I had drilled a couple of one inch holes on the rear deck of the hydroplane to drain the water out. The hydroplane should no doubt have been re-fibre glassed but once I discovered girls the racing boat was no longer an important item – except as an instrument to show off to my girlfriend. I drained the hydroplane and then dragged the one hundred and twenty pound racer to the shoreline, flung it into the water and saw that it floated like a top. I retrieved my father’s West Bend from the trunk of my car and then set the heavy outboard on the transom of the Minimax. The hydroplane sunk several inches into the water when the motor was cinched onto the transom mounting plate but the racing boat continued to bob like a top on the water. I manoeuvred myself into the cockpit of the boat and sat behind the steering wheel. A flotation cushion provided a warm dry seat and satisfied the rules of the day for safety equipment. The cushion was pretty heavy from soaking in the rain all winter which indicated a possible compromise in its ability to float properly but I had little concern of that because the boat itself was virtually unsinkable. The float cushion was nothing more than an instrument of comfort. I started the engine and heard it ignite with a roar. I motored slowly at first heading towards the center of the lake and when I was some distance from the shore I opened her up. The West Bend roared into life as I opened the throttle and pushed the little hydroplane up to speed. It took less than a few minutes to circle the entire lake. I saw no other boaters and no sign of life at any of the cottages in the other bays of the lake and I skirted a pond in the shallows that still had a thin layer of ice at the edges. When I returned to the bay where my parent’s cottage was I hailed Barbara who was still sitting by the picture window inside.
“Come on out and give it a try!”
Barbara opened the front door and stuck her head out.
“No thanks I don’t want to get wet.”
“You won’t get wet.”
“I have a cushion you can sit on.”
“Not right now.”
“Come on. You’ll like it.”
“I don’t want to get wet.”
“You won’t get wet I promise.”
The sun was beginning to recede and sat lower in the blue sky as I called to my girlfriend.
“I’m bringing the boat in now are you sure you don’t want to come for one last ride.”
“I don’t want to get wet.”
“The cockpit is as dry as a bone. I’ll even give you my life cushion to sit on as well as your own.”
“I don’t know.”
“Come on one quick tour of the lake and then we’ll come back in. You’ve got to try this out. It’s a blast.”
“I won’t get wet?”
“Absolutely not. Just step over to the rock landing over there and I’ll bring the boat in. When I touch the rock you just step in and I will take you for a ride.”
“Are you sure it can hold the two of us.”
With that final assurance Barbara walked out on to the rock ledge to meet me. She stepped into the hydroplane as I drove it alongside the smooth rock face and she quickly sunk to her knees on the flotation cushion.
“This cushion is wet.”
“It’s a little damp from being outside all winter.”
“I told you I didn’t want to get wet.”
“You won’t get wet. The cushion is damp. It just feels wet. Don’t worry. I’ll drive carefully. No cowboy stuff.”
And with that I opened the throttle and listened to Barbara’s excited squeal of laughter as we raced across the butter smooth water. I made a few wide sweeping turns so she could feel the centrifugal forces of the hull sliding sideways like an aircraft banking on the water. I stayed within the bay that was in front of my cottage and after fifteen minutes Barbara wanted to go back to shore. To give her one final rush I opened up the outboard and felt the hydroplane glide effortlessly across the water at nearly full speed heading towards my rock-faced berth by the cottage. I was just about to congratulate myself on a job well done in keeping Barbara relatively dry when the motor quit abruptly. There was no warning. It just stopped cold turkey right there in the middle of the lake. There was no reason for it to stop. There was still plenty of gas in the tank because I checked it before we left shore. I tried to diagnose the problem as I heard Barbara cry out.
“Water is coming in.”
Water would do that sometimes when the boat stopped quickly. The transom was only eight inches deep and a wave of water could swamp over the back of the boat if it stopped too fast. If I could just get the motor started the incoming water would drain from the cockpit after a few seconds of motoring forward. But the motor refused to start. It had been running flawlessly all day but on the way home it died like a race horse with a heart attack in the final stretch.
Barbara’s comment was more of a wail than a cry. The water was ice cold and it was rising fast. The weight of the heavy outboard and two people were over the limit of the hydroplane and water seeped into the boat’s cockpit and began to overcome the vessel’s buoyancy. The stern of the hydroplane sank lower until it dropped below the water line. At that point Lac Dusfresne began entering the cockpit like a river.
“Oh my God the water is freezing.”
I made no effort to respond. I knew the hydroplane took on some water but I was shocked that it was taking it on so fast. The transom was sinking under the weight of two passengers and an oversize motor and the more the cockpit filled with water the more the boat lost buoyancy and was dragged down deeper into the lake. The only thing that prevented the boat from completely sinking was an air compartment in the nose of the hydroplane that still had buoyancy. I looked to the shore which was about four hundred yards away and thought about swimming to safety. The water was so cold that I am sure I would not have made it to shore. Certainly not if I was towing Barbara with me. The cold water affected me in a way that I had never experienced before. My chest muscles became constricted and paralyzed in hypothermic water that had been solid ice only a week before. My arms and legs seized up like a chain saw without oil and refused to budge. I knew then that even though I was on my high school swim team if I tried to swim to shore I would sink like a stone. I pushed Barbara up on the deck of the boat as it sank deeper into the icy lake. The boat listed and began to roll and I felt my feet become caught up in the steering cables. As the boat rolled I was pulled under water and the only way to escape drowning was to plunge my head under the freezing cold lake water and free myself from the cables. As I did so I felt my chest constrict like it was being crushed by a Boa snake. It was like I was paralyzed. When I came up for air I realized there was only one thing left to do.
My first cries were hesitant and filled with embarrassment.
Barbara added to my calls for help in a voice that put mine to shame.
I yelled louder.
Each time we called out for help it seemed that the hydroplane sunk a little lower in the water. As the water rose higher and higher on our bodies we called out in earnest.
“Help, our boat is sinking!”
There was no longer any modesty in our calls and no more refuge on the deck for Barbara who was up to her waist in water while I was treading in water up to my neck.
Our voices echoed off the surrounding mountains and were amplified by the basin of surrounding water. The German family across the lake was the first to respond. I heard their outboard motor start up from across the lake and begin heading towards us. I did not know my uncle Walt was also at his cottage until I spied his rowboat rowing out toward us. I was filled with elation that rescue was in sight while fearful that the hydroplane would sink completely from beneath us and leave us nothing to hold onto. Don’t even ask about the flotation cushions. They either sunk or floated away. We never saw them again. When the first boat pulled alongside Brenda was still sitting on the overturned hull of the hydroplane with my promise of not getting her wet still ringing in her ears. My uncle Walt who is not a real uncle but enjoys the same status as a family relative was first to reach us that day having out paced the German family’s nine horsepower outboard motor with only a set of oars and a fourteen foot plywood row boat. The German man towed my boat back to shore while Barbara and I scrambled to safety in Uncle Walt’s rowboat whereupon we were treated to a lecture on boating safety that lasted for several hours. Barbara and I were shaken and scared following our rescue. It often happens that way. You are too busy coping with the problem to be afraid at first. Then the fear comes later when you have time to reflect on what might have been. When my teeth finally stopped chattering and I collected myself together I put on dry clothes borrowed from Uncle Walt while Barbara’s clothes dried by the fire. I pulled my hydroplane up onto shore and removed the outboard motor from the transom. My Uncle Walt had to help me pull the boat out of the water because I was weak and shaky from the whole near drowning experience. The lessons I learned that day were many. I should not have taken my dad’s motor without his permission. I should not have put his motor on the hydroplane. I should not have overloaded the hydroplane with two people and an oversized motor. I should not have gone boating without proper safety gear such as VHF radio and approved positive flotation lifejackets. I should not have neglected to maintain my boat so that it did not leak. And there is one lesson that Barbra reminds me of to this very day. I should not have promised her that I would not get her wet and then sunk her in the frigid waters of Lac Dusfresne.