Roast Fish, Collie Weed & Cornbread
“Some plant coffee, some plant tea, So why can’t I and I plant collie? If you stray from the root, Then you’ll never know the truth right now, Ca’ the war can’t solve no problem, love is the emblem, Instead of hate and malice, we should be sipping chalice, And giving praises to His Most High Jah Jah Rastafari …….” ‘Free Up The Weed’ from the album Roast Fish, Collie Weed & Cornbread by Lee Perry 1978
Kingston, Jamaica 1988
Our end destination was the Dominican Republic, way before the “package holiday and get shit-faced on all-the-free-rum you want” days made it popular for the masses. We had friends there and were gonna stay for five months.
February 1988 saw us leaving Amsterdam, heading for Jamaica for a two week stop-over before continuing on over to the Dom Rep. I don’t remember when we landed in Kingston but it was dark already. We had specially booked a well known chain hotel, not knowing our arses from our elbows in Kingston, with the intention of seeking out somewhere else on the island to stay from there. We hopped into a taxi, the driver assuring us he knew where the hotel was.
It was about a half hour drive into Kingston and we sat back. As we thought we were getting close, the driver abruptly took a right hand turn down a road that narrowed quite quickly and street lights disappeared. He pulled up in front of a bungalow, everything dark, and informed us that we had reached our destination. It definitely did not look like the Four Seasons Hotel in downtown Kingston. When we questioned him, he said that this was his friend’s place and suggested we might want to stay there. Cheaper. Chris yelled at him and said absolutely not and take us to the hotel now. He turned around and proceeded to do exactly that. I still wonder if we were lucky to make it.
Irie Vibes and Weed in the Trees
We took a walk into downtown Kingston the next day. Reggae booming out everywhere. Dancehall, Ska, Johnny Clarke, Dub, The Congos, Mighty Diamonds, U-Roy, I-Roy and a hundred other tunes. I loved – and still love – the reggae from the seventies and eighties. At no point on our way there or back, did we pass any other white people. A lot of dreadlock Rastas. And yeah, we walked through Trenchtown too, which kind of surprised the receptionist back in the hotel later. Irie vibes and pounding loud music everywhere, bass to shake the foundations of the earth.
Heading back to the hotel we were stopped by a guy who asked if we might want some grass. Mirrored shades, very cool. We talked for a while before agreeing to take him up on his kind offer. At which point he snapped his fingers and yelled something, looking up into the tree we were standing under. We raised our eyes too and were surprised to see about eight dudes sitting in the branches and sixteen eyes looking down on us. One of them threw down a package. Deal.
Strawberry Fields, Robin’s Bay
We asked in the hotel where we could go to be in the real Jamaica, as far away as possible from the Montego Bay scene. They sent us up to Strawberry Fields. How could we resist the name? About a three hour drive, due north, through the Blue Mountains, in a taxi. Beautiful. The driver took us right up to a wooden hut, Bobby`s hut, where Bobby himself greeted us with a handful of weed and a Red Stripe beer.
We were to eat there every day for a week; breakfast and dinner. Roast fish, cornbread, breadfruit, mangos, avocados, beans, plantain, ackee and a shit ton of ganja. Bobby cooked. Bobby was the main man. He rented us a bamboo hut down near the beach. Strawberry Fields was named in the seventies and supposedly became a popular tourist destination. But when we were there, there was not another tourist, let alone white person to be seen. Again.
We met a number of the local guys that same evening, I have no memories of seeing another woman. None of that mattered though. We sat around having a smoke together. A chalice was filled and passed to me to light (basically what we call a bong.) I smoked the whole thing in one toke. My lungs as big as my mouth. I was not showing off, we smoked huge pipes in Amsterdam and I did not know I was supposed to pass it on.
You have to picture this. There were about six of us sat around, totally high, and it was time to introduce ourselves. There was one guy, fat dreads, who looked up and slowly said “I am the Bush Doctor”. We became friends with him. He was the only guy who had been out of Jamaica, and he had visited New York.
We paid one of the men a few bucks a day to keep an eye on us. He called himself a bodyguard. We were told that a couple of weeks earlier some German guys had had a run in with a guy with a machete. That may or may not have been true.
Two weeks up there saw us forming some friendships. Some of the dudes took us deep sea fishing. We were out on the boat for a few hours. Everyone was too off of their heads to actually catch anything. Smoking with these guys was wicked.
One day we had the privilege of being taken on a long hike, up through the woods and into their hidden fields of green. High point. Pun intended.
We had our own beach, not another soul to be seen for miles. We were in bed each night by eight and up again with the first pipe at four. I am surprised I remember anything.
After eleven days living this free life, experiences too numerous to mention, the guys walked us to get a bus back down to Kingston. We maybe left them with some LSD. It was a minibus for 12 and there were 22 people on it. Three hours, and winding mountain roads until we were back at the hotel for our last night. I was so desperate to get off the bus I forgot my sleeping bag.
Dead Bodies and Valium
Next day we flew to Port-au-Prince, Haiti, with a two day stopover, before we would be able to fly on to Santa Domingo. There was no straight connection between Amsterdam and the Dominican Republic.
As the plane came into land over Port-au-Prince, all you could see was slums. Corrugated iron shacks; thousands of them, right up to the perimeter of the airport. A country with no tourists, and not because they were in Montego Bay. There were none. Well us and a bizarre American woman with her two daughters. The five of us stayed in the Royal Haitian Hotel. 200 rooms, a full staff, and us. Voodoo weird.
As we left the airport, pushing our way through throngs of people, a couple of kids asked us if we wanted to see a dead body. For five bucks. Maybe that explained why you could buy Valium over the counter. Most counters.
About eighteen months later, we received a letter from Jamaica. Upon opening it, a small piece of paper fell out with the words “More LSD” written on it.
“Nothing is real, and nothing to get hung about, Strawberry Fields forever.” The Beatles 1967
CQ of APJ
All memories approximate, due to …..