L is for Lighting Up


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I often like to walk around our neighbourhood. “Up the hill and down the hill”, I call it, as reference to a way of getting my walking time done. When I first arrived, I tried to find a route to do my usual loop configuration and it failed miserably,  as the traffic after work made walking unsafe on busy streets without sidewalks. Once I figured out that a simple “there and back” walk on quieter roads would be more successful, the evening walks took shape. I am constantly warned that walking anywhere in this city, at any time, is a danger, yet I continue to do so because I feel largely safe walking where I do.

I see other regular exercisers too: the friendly rasta guy, the group of chatty moms, and solo joggers who come and go. They say good evening, I smile back and–with some basic awareness and precautions– things feel pretty safe.

The streets near our home have some beautiful houses with gardeners, guards and housekeepers who take care of them.  In the evening when I am usually walking uphill, its the time when the household staff and construction workers are heading downhill to the bus.  Most of them are smoking a little ganja on their way down to relax and change focus, I’m sure. Its a very subtle thing. Often I don’t see anything in their hands, but the joint is there, cupped away from the breeze. Its only when they pass by that my nose follows the drift of smoke and I head up into their trails which can take minutes to disperse.  On one guy’s tail is another and the next ganja cloud. Some days its like Woodstock heading up that hill!  I don’t mind the smell and it does leave a chill vibe in the air.  At the end of the day we all need to do a little chilling out, right?!

 

 

K is for Kingston


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Yes, K has to be for Kingston.

I have no clear memory of what I expected of the city before I moved here.  Arriving in a new place, knowing its going to be home from now on, I look around with fresh eyes and wonder when I will ever start thinking of all the sights as normal? The people, the streets, the noise, the traffic….figuring out where you are.  Processing it all takes a while and there is no defining moment when the new becomes normal, it just sort of sneaks up on you.

As our time here comes to an end, and by way of reflection, I asked myself some questions.  Mainly I was looking for something new to say that I haven’t already covered earlier.

What were my first impressions?  This one’s easy.  I did a post on it earlier.  I remember thinking how calm and clean Kingston was after Kathmandu. I also didn’t expect it to be so green. Looking down on the city from high up, buildings are nestled between trees and it all looks quite charming.  The northern suburbs especially, where the birds and flowers make the city look pretty attractive. I enjoy looking out to the mountains also, which are mostly visible with dramatic clouds. Compared to the chaos of Manila and Kathmandu, the roads seem relatively orderly, there are traffic lights and drains that work.

What did I like most about living here?  From my first few months to my last few, my favourite things haven’t really changed.  I love the greenery and the mountains, walking around Mona, and sitting in my screen porch writing and listening to the wind blow through the palm leaves.  I can add that I have made friends with Jamaican colleagues, who have been some of the kindest people with a great sense of humour.  Jamaicans know how to laugh!  I’ve also read and learnt about the Caribbean and its history, and –wow– does it have some history, although there is little left to see these days.

What did I dislike most about living here? I have felt trapped and dependent on others my whole stay.  The dangers of crime, vulnerability of being a foreigner, health issues, lack of realistic transportation options and not being able to go out at night have made exploring the city close to impossible for me.  And there just isn’t that much to do for the unconnected in Kingston.  Colleagues with small children have loved it here, as its a great outdoor city and there are nice beaches less than an hour away.  But I’m so ready for a safer city with a public transportation system and urban events that will make it easier to meet people.  I’m looking at you Belgrade!

What do you think you’ll take away from your time here? In each new place we have lived, each comes with its own challenges and benefits.  And I’ve always believed its up to me to figure how to make the best of it.  We chose this life to experience the change and learn from each new place and, perhaps, leave it a little better (however small) than when we arrived.  This time,  its got me.  I don’t truly know what my takeaway from Kingston will be.  Right now it just feels like its an acceptance of “you can’t win them all.”   Hopefully time will teach me there’s something more.

So, I’ll just end with a few random photos of Kingston not covered elsewhere:

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Curlers!  Many Jamaican ladies have no problem going out while they are still fixin’ their hair.  Always makes me smile!

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Street scene near Papine.

 

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A post-apocalptic scene from the downtown.

 

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View from the Northern suburbs of Kingston way out to the Port.

 

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And finally…From the dock of a cruise ship out to the “giraffes” of the dock that I see from pretty much anywhere in Kingston.   Kingston port is still an important harbour in the Carribean and the heart and soul of this island’s economy.

WPC: Home Sweet (Secure) Home


Here in Kingston, home security is a big deal. For some it comes from bars on windows, alarms, and security guards, for others that’s not an option.  Corrugated tin sheets are the de facto security source for those that can’t afford them, but they’re sometimes a work of art in themselves:

This week’s entry for the WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge: https://dailypost.wordpress.com/photo-challenges/security/

How Much?!!!



It is crazy expensive here.  We were warned.  Its easy to think of things like French Chevre or other luxury food items as being understandably pricey.  However with less fancy items like apples, celery, leeks, potatoes – items that we think of as being inexpensive nutritious foods that we like to eat everyday–it becomes a lot harder to accept.  But the import gods make no such distinction.  You want it? Then thou shalt pay anyway… and through the nose…Paying for the privilege of maintaining expat standards is par for the course when you live outside your home country (whichever country that is – I lose track.)  If you want peanut butter in (fill in your current country name) you pay.  Which is not unreasonable as someone had to ship it here, pay import taxes, and find a niche market that buys it.  And we accept that these are treats and, like all treats, they are an occasional expense that we justify as a reward for homesickness or little crutches to help with the challenges of adaptation.  There’s not really much I can’t live without these days:  maybe good tea, good coffee, healthy cereal (a great comfort food), cheese…  but nothing I have to have.  But oh I start to miss the variety and choice elsewhere!

I have long cherished the idea that it is good to eat local foods — at local prices — and to learn how to benefit from delicious cuisine that the locals enjoy without the extravagance and expense of expat imports.  However, in practice, I’ve only had limited success.  As I am a vegetarian, the quality of produce is of the highest importance and Jamaica and our previous two posts haven’t done very well in this respect.  The Philippines had fabulous produce grown in the Northern part of Luzon, but after they trucked in down in unrefrigerated trucks for 10 hours in the searing heat and, after leaving it lying around for another 10 hours until a vendor bought it, by the time it reached our kitchen it was often putrefying from the inside out.  I feared what I might find oozing in my vegetable bin after only 12 hours in the fridge!  Local meats and poultry were tough and stringy. Fortunately, fish and fruit excelled.

In Kathmandu local, seasonal fruits and vegetables were sometimes very good, but many were imported from India and made the same sad journey to our table.  Worse, bad sanitation made the consumption of fresh local produce dangerous without bleaching. Salad in the winter was a no-no because of a microscopic parasite.  Yet, with some good kitchen management, it was my most successful attempt at eating local.  Our housekeeper would shop from the local market, sanitize the vegetables and cook local food, which I had nearly every day for lunch.

Here in Jamaica I find a lot of the local food is not for me.  Most vegetables are the starchy root variety, which have often been fried, so I head to the supermarket produce aisle for imported vegetables.  I buy local produce there whenever I can, with mixed results, as the quality and freshness of local produce is often not there either.  The imported vegetable prices are skyrocketedly crazy:  $17 for a tiny, withered cauliflower.  $20 for a punnet of yellowing mushrooms.  A small bag of apples can cost $15.  I just can’t do it most of the time.  And I can’t get to the local markets which I am suspicious carry a better selection at better prices, so I am now actually looking at canned and frozen vegetables as a supplement to the overpriced “fresh” produce available to me.  There are some imported quality brands available at reasonable prices. Its a quite exciting discovery and a new low at the same time.

Probably my biggest sell out on the subject of eating and buying locally is the move to Walmart online shopping.  They ship orders over $45 for free and this opens a huge world of savings for items like mayonnaise, toilet paper, washing powder.  If they can ship it, we can have it at one third to half the price that it costs in Kingston.  A significant saving.  The sellout comes when I think about principles of shopping local, how much jet fuel it took to fly my bread flour here.  But then again, the same jet fuel was burned to bring these items to the local shelves where I pay 2-3 times the price, and the difference in cost is not supporting organic practices or paying carbon footprint taxes.  So,  I reckon that if I can’t live without it at all, and honesty I can’t–at least not without some of it–then I will continue support the exploitative practices of the Walton empire to get at their cheap prices, and will continue to burn jet fuel doing it.  It doesn’t make me proud but it does make life happier.

On a more positive note, we are discovering the blue mountain farms that deliver fresh organic produce to Kingston.  Getting it has been challenging between delivery dates, communication problems and junk mail filters…but hopefully next week we’ll get our first delivery. How exciting would it be to be able to buy good, fresh produce that supports local farmers? And hopefully doesn’t cost an arm and a leg either…  More on this to follow (I hope!)

 

Misty Mornings, Spectacular Sunsets at Holywell


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We first discovered Holywell Recreational Park on an exploratory weekend drive in the mountains above Kingston. It takes somewhere between 1-1.5hrs to drive the narrow, windy and treacherous road up the mountain. Timing sort of depends on what you get stuck behind, or who’s behind you threatening to overtake uphill on a curve. Drivers here can be crazy that way! Along the road’s edge are plenty of vehicles that tell the story of what can go wrong on blind bends, frighteningly many actually. Or perhaps these were under-maintained vehicles that just gave up the ghost trying to make it up the steep ascents.  Most have been stripped of details like hub caps, tires, or wing mirrors and are now just sitting there rusting. It can be hard to see what fell off and what was taken…but I digress…

Holywell was a wonderful discovery. Its a park open to groups for nature tours or individuals that just want to get outside and find some fresh mountain air. It has well marked trails that aren’t too difficult, great views, as well as places to camp. When we spotted the cabins for rent we planned on coming back to stay for a couple of nights, which is exactly what we did after the Christmas holidays.

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Perched on a ridge overlooking Kingston below and the Blue Mountains behind, the cabins feel wonderfully secluded.

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Inside the cabin is a wood burning fireplace, a bathroom with solar-powered hot water, a kitchen with an electric oven, refrigerator and basic cooking utensils.  The furniture was a bit run down and spartan but the deck and the fabulous views made up for that.  It was plenty comfy for a couple of nights…certainly better than a tent.

Best of all, the cabin had a large, covered deck with sweeping views across the mountains and down to the port of Kingston and the sea. It was a great place to read or catch a movie,  and watch the ever changing sky roll by before us.   We will go back.

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Robert enjoying the view!

Abandoned Fort Rocky


Off the quiet road on the way down to Port Royal, we took a little detour to follow an unexpected sign.  “To Fort Rocky”, it said.  I had read a little about a few other old forts in the area and was expecting the ruins of old stone walls, but was surprised to see an abandoned compound that was quite modern. The fort’s dusty courtyard was surrounded with crumbling and roofless concrete structures.  Rusting rebar poked out around windows and door frames.  My eye lead straight to the graffiti-sprayed walls and signs of vagrant inhabitation.  Cacti sprouted in incongruous spaces.   What was it?  And why was it abandoned?  I had no idea and there were no other clues.  The sun was fierce and there was little shade, but  I had to take a few pictures:

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Peeking inside one of the ground floor rooms

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I presume this is the Fort’s look out tower, complete with dead palm tree stump.

Fort Rocky Beach

A few yards outside the Fort is Rocky Beach. Sadly its covered in trash, although the beach and sea looked like it had potential to be a pleasant spot to visit if it were clean. The passing container ship just made it all look lonelier.

A little research online when we returned home revealed that Fort Rocky was built just before the first world war.  Fort Rocky became a major coastal guns defense, replacing the Victoria Battery at Fort Charles that was damaged in the 1907 earthquake.  The fort regularly housed more than 80 officers before it was closed after the end of the second world war.   I wish I had known during our visit that the area also had a steam railway that ran down the Palisadoes pennisula, near to Fort Rocky, all the way down to Port Royal.  Prior to 1936 there was no driveable road and the railway provided a way to transport important supplies.   There are still remnants of the old railway bridge to be spotted today, but I didn’t know to look.  Interesting piece of abandoned history.

 

 

Good Things in Kingston: Part Two


Pretty much anywhere I go in Kingston – out my door, across the parking lot at work, or the supermarket – omnipresent in the background are the city’s moody green hills. On a sunny day they are often clear and bright, then the mists roll in suddenly and their tops are obscured for a few minutes before the mist drifts off elsewhere. On cloudy days you can see a storm coming and we wait to see if it will roll down into the Kingston lowlands or head out to sea.  When the rain comes, it can come down hard.

Kathmandu’s hills and mountains were far more dramatic, but we rarely saw them because of the intense smog. They were astounding when they appeared, just a few days per year, but I really love the rolling Kingston hills more, as are always there to greet me when I head outside and remind me that we are on a tropical island.

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Up on the skyline drive above our home, the view down to the Kingston suburbs includes a bird’s eye perspective of the Mona reservoir, our new favourite walking spot.

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Once you finally take off into the hills to explore, they roll on and on in tropical lushness and are wonderful to see …if you are the one not driving and the roads are less than ideal!

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I love the fluffy bamboo groves that grow on the hillsides just above the city!

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The lanes wind, no-one maintains the overhanging trees and verges, and pot holes abound…but worse… you never know what’s coming around the corner.  Some of the drivers are manic and the roads can be pretty scary.  This is actually a fairly mild example.  Its hard to take photos as you swing around scary curves!

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The hills are filled with small towns like this.  Cars blocking traffic on the narrow road.  This was a Sunday morning and we passed a packed church on the left as we came into the town.  On the right, as we left, the air was thick with bbq and ganja smoke. …an interesting contrast!

The air in the hills is cooler and there are several nice spots to enjoy lunch and a glass of wine.  We have every intention of taking advantage!

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Good Things in Kingston: Part One


For two years in Kathmandu, taking regular exercise was a struggle with the challenges of pollution and traffic. Getting mowed over by motorcycles was a real reality. Dodging cow poo and kamikaze drivers was not my idea of a pleasant walk. Here in Kingston, the Mona reservoir has been a huge lifesaver for us. For a small annual fee, the Water Commission allows joggers and walkers to exercise on the 2 mile loop around the reservoir. We can safely walk in peace and quiet, watch the birds and enjoy the sunset. No pollution. No hassle.

The reservoir is an important source of stored water in Kingston. When we arrived it was painfully low after a two year drought. In October (late rainy season) it actually started raining and the reservoir started filling up. It was pretty dramatic to watch the water gush down from the mountains from aqueducts on both sides of reservoir. We tracked the water level every day as we made our rounds, until the last week or two when it filled up so far that the overflow has kicked in and we are now watching the water gush out into the overflow channels. This is good news. The city needs the water.

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Looking out across the water at the start of our loop

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I love watching the birds that hang out around the water spotting fish….

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…or roost in the nearby trees. Its mainly cranes (or ibis?) . I haven’t learnt the names of local birds yet. There’s also a troop of pelicans who do dramatic and very loud splashing dives into the water. Unfortunately I don’t have the skills or the camera lens to capture them… maybe one of these days.

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We are lucky to live in the Caribbean with access to so many beautiful places, but after a while it is the every day experiences that count the most.  I’m very grateful for Mona and her birds.

…And now let’s take it all out the boxes again..


Its so hard to imagine your new home in a new country before you get there. Especially in Kingston, as they had no pictures to send us in advance. No amount of Googling and scanning the streets with Google Earth really gives you an impression of your new home. But arrive we did, and the streets of Northern Kingston turned out to be much more attractive than the internet let on.

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A typical street near us. Green hills beyond, lots of ups and downs, pot holes and palm trees.

Three weeks after we moved in, the handbuilt crates that we watched Nepalis build in our garden showed up with all of our possessions.

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Here we go again!  Oh the unpacking!

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I made some kind of effort to get the boxes in the right rooms but a lot of it was hit or miss

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Looking from the ‘would be’ living room through to what was going to be the dining room

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The kitchen was much more modern than Kathmandu but we almost all our appliances were either broken or missing. Part of my shaky start here.

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Note the wooden shutters to either side of the French doors are typically Jamaican from before the world of air conditioning came along. They are closed in the picture, but we now keep them open to let in light as the house is pretty dark.

 

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The typical car port that so many townhouses here have. Good for unloading and loading the car in the tropical rain, but they block a huge amount of light.

Anyway, this is a little glimpse of home life here. We are unpacked and trying to make it home. Another blog post of the finished product may follow!

First Impressions of Kingston


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I was definitely surprised how green the city appeared when we first arrived. We are limited to the Northern suburbs (away from the violence of the downtown areas) with green hills across the skyline. No smog. No concrete jungle.

First impressions can be hard to report so long after the fact. Devoid of context, they are just supposed to be gut reactions to what you first see around you. A couple of months have gone by, so now I have filters…but maybe a few of my first photos will help bring it all back. Continue reading