Friday, June 4, 2010

Jamaican Cool Out

In addition to a ton of other world issues lately, I've been thinking about Jamaica and its ultra-violent Police v. Gangster wars in Kingston lately (look it up, or get the gist of it here).

A while back, I had the best solo journey ever, as I adore reggae music and had been wanting to visit its home forever, but had been slightly deterred by everyone saying how dangerous it was. No one was up for it, and couldn't BELIEVE it when I said I was going on my own. I'm not one to let fear stop me too much, so when I heard about Jake's in Treasure Beach, Jamaica through Aveda, my longtime hair stuff manufacturer, I booked the trip in no time flat. Then I find out that the Henzell Family that owns it, the dad, Perry, directed The Harder They Come - one of my favorite movies ever! Sold.

There are many, many fond memories and epic tales to tell you about this trip - MANY - but right now I was thinking of a particular one that soothes me to this day when I daydream about it. I don't want anyone to be scared of such a heavenly place, so take a moment out for yourself to go there with me, and then perhaps think about going yourself (... maybe avoiding Kingston for now).


I waited in the airy lobby, listening to reggae play lightly, and watched a jillion butterflies flit about. Soon enough, a small, wiry guy with a shaved head and a British accent approached me and introduced himself as (I can’t believe I forgot his name!) my ride to Shirley Genus. We shook hands and he led me outside to his van in front of Jake’s. He and I chatted easily as the van bounced across the muddy, hole-filled roads. He had visited Jamaica a bunch of times, and had come for a visit five or six years ago, met Shirley and had been there ever since. He didn’t miss England at all (another one!). He turned down a road and we were in what looked like farm country, in a town called Great Bay. I told him how excited I was for my herb bath and massage, and he said Shirley was the best. She has been consulting on a new spa on Turks and Caicos island, and said that they were in discussions with Jason Henzell (Jake’s owner) and Aveda to open a spa at Jake’s! YAY!

In mid-conversation, he stopped and said, “Look!” Before us was a giant rainbow! I asked if he would stop the van so I could hop out and take a picture. He smiled and obliged. We were now in territory that was locals-only and I got strange looks from everyone that we passed. I think I heard yet another “White Girl!” shout, but this didn’t faze me in the least anymore, not that it ever did. My nice ride guy took another turn and we bounced across a dirt road cutting across a farm field. We curved around and pulled down a driveway of what looked like a farm. Out the dirty windshield I saw a wooden hut with a campfire beside it, in front of two houses that belonged to I don’t know who.

I hopped out of the van and a regal black woman with great posture and a turban came down the steps of the hut. I held out my hand and said, “Are you Shirley? I’m C.J.”, and shook her hand. Again I was surprised at the weak handshake from such a strong (though very thin and sinewy) woman. I think at first she was amused by my enthusiasm and friendliness, and was kind of distant. There was a pot/cauldron over the fire simmering with who knows what inside. Shirley led me inside and showed me the wooden box that you go in for the herbal steam bath. The hut was beautiful, circular and entirely wooden with slats where some light peeked through. The roof was thatched and the walls were covered with paintings (by Shirley, I learned) and mobiles made out of shells and various flotsam. A trippy cool place, in a beautiful surrounding.

Shirley instructed me to “take off everything” and handed me a towel. She said to call her when I was ready. I stripped down, wrapped myself in the towel and shouted, “Ready!” Shirley came back inside, handed me a bottle of water and stood aside as the nice, bald guy struggled in with the boiling pot of herbs. He and Shirley each took a side handle of the pot and upturned it into a terra cotta pot thing in the wood box. The scent of herbs (mostly lemongrass, to my nose) filled the air. The guy excused himself with the empty pot and went back outside. Shirley held aside the heavy curtain at the entrance of the box, handed me a thick wooden stick and told me to go inside. I went in and sat on the little bench inside the box, where a white towel had been placed. Shirley let the drape fall and tucked it in at the bottom so there were no drafts. She talked to me outside of the curtain, explaining the herbs (which she grows) and telling me to stir the pot with the stick every couple of minutes to arouse the herbs and let more steam rise. It was already super-hot after maybe one minute, but still manageable.

Shirley spoke to me from outside the curtain, in her even, deep, calming tone. She said that many people have been helped by this bath, including her own father who had emphysema. He’d walked to her steam bath once, leaning heavily on a cane. After the treatment, he was able to walk back without any aid. She said that many toxins go into your body through the skin, so when you’re in the steam and your pores are open, the healing properties of the herbs can enter your skin also. The sweat was beginning to dot my brow, which I told her when she asked. She told me that she would leave me for a bit, and that in a few minutes the sweat should be pouring down me like I was in the shower. I sat in the moist dark, hearing faint sounds from outside, but mostly aware of my deep breathing, the better to inhale the herbs. I stirred the pot, releasing a whole new round of steam. It felt very prehistoric.

I tried not to think about that I kind of had to go to the bathroom, since there were certainly no facilities in this wood hut. I got over it as the sweat began to pour down my back. I’m not a huge sweater, so I was kind of shocked at how soaked I was becoming. Shirley told me that I would stay in the box for fifteen minutes, and I began to wonder how much time I had left, more in the vein of not wanting it to be over. You don’t often get to sit in the steamy dark, stirring a pot between your legs, with herb-y steam wafting up at you. I dug the cave woman aspect of it. Shirley came back and asked me how I was doing, and I could only answer, “Great”. Another few minutes and my time in the box was finally up.

When Shirley pulled the curtain back, it was like sticking your head in the freezer to cool off in the summer when there is no air conditioning, even though it was still a hot, Jamaican afternoon out there. Ahhhh. Shirley told me to lie down on the fresh, white-sheeted massage table. I got onto my stomach, enjoying the feeling of the cool white on my hot, sweaty skin. She gave me a sip from my water bottle, then I nestled my face in the little hole on the table. She began to massage me with deep, strong strokes (where was that in her handshake?). I felt fully relaxed, even more so when a gentle rain started up again, and a little goat bleat floated in from the field outside.

The wood and shell chimes moved a bit, and I smiled down at the floor, thinking that this was another of many epic Jamaican moments. I usually don’t like to talk at all during a massage since it hinders total relaxation, but this was an interesting woman, even a little voodoo feeling, and we talked the entire time. She told me how it annoys her when the vendors on the beach harass people to buy things. They don’t like her either because she’ll tell them that if someone really wants something, they’ll go get it. I thought about how that applies to all areas of life, really. A good rule to live by. For example, if someone really cared for someone else, they would try their best to make it work. If someone wants to make something out of their life, they will work and try hard. If I want a wooden dolphin real bad, I will go get it. You don’t need to wait all day to see if I’m going to buy it, I just will.

The conversation got pretty deep, delving into politics, the drug trade, violence in Kingston, all boiling down to the point that if you want to be good at anything, deal with people in an honorable manner. It’s all about RESPECT. She said, as an example, that if she wanted to deal drugs, she would be the best at it, because she would do it with honor. People go wrong when they get greedy and want too much power. YOU have the power inside yourself to give yourself the life you dream of, if you go about it with respect. In terms of power and war, she agreed with me that the pen is indeed mightier than the sword.

All of this was interrupted by a large wince and OW from me, as she dug into the massive bruise on my inner thigh from the boat trip the day before. She said, “It’s tight there”. No kidding. We talked more about her business and how some parties are trying to get her to teach her methods to others so they can use them at different spas, but she is mixed about it. Everything has to be just so, and might not be if she’s not there to monitor it. There may be a teaming of her, Aveda and Jake’s, as the bald guy had mentioned. I really hope it works out for her, because she is wonderfully different, and I was feeling fantastic. I remember having vague out of body thoughts/dreams and I don’t know now if they were thoughts or dreams. Perfect. THAT is relaxation.

Too soon, Shirley gave my feet a final squeeze and said, “OK, take your time getting up”. It was over. She excused herself and went outside to wait while I got dressed. I oozed over onto my back, staring at the ceiling for a moment, feeling like jelly. I dragged myself off of the table and slowly pulled my dress over my head. I took a deep swig of water and took a long look around the hut. I wanted to imprint it on my brain. If I close my eyes now, I can see the wood, the paintings, the shell mobiles … and instantly feel a calm come over me.

All dressed (reluctantly), I opened the door and went outside into the fresh afternoon, taking a deep breath. Bald Guy was outside hustling about, doing stuff. Shirley went back inside and piled up the sheets and towels, then brought them outside and threw the pile in the back of the van. I thanked her and told how MUCH I loved the treatment. She smiled and said she was coming with us. I hopped in the front seat as told, Bald Guy got in to drive and Shirley got in the back. Off we went, bouncing across the fields. I looked at all the trees and commented that I’d heard it was mango season, but the ones I bought from the guy on the beach were still hard as rocks. Shirley said they had trees in her backyard that were the best in the world. We drove along, and I mostly looked out the window, feeling mellow.

We pulled up in front of two little houses and stopped. Shirley asked the Bald Guy to go into the house and get a couple of mangoes for me. I got out to pet the bunch of dogs that ran out, while Shirley explained that they lived in the house on the left, because the one on the right was severely damaged in Hurricane Ivan and would cost a lot of money to repair. Baldie came back with two mangoes of two different kinds. I again thanked Shirley and told her that I had really enjoyed talking with her, and that I hoped everything worked out how she wanted it to. She smiled in her restrained, I’ll call it regal again, fashion, and we said goodbye.

Back in the van, bouncing along the roads again, avoiding people walking along the road. I told the Bald Guy (I hate to call him that, what WAS his name?!) how great my treatment was, and how happy I was to be off the beaten tourist path. He said you have to be the right kind of person to enjoy the country and less going on. He’d had lots of highbrow people in his van, he said, and couldn’t fathom the attitude of some. I was happy to hear that Helena Christiansen (my favorite super-model back in the day) was extremely sweet. That was the only name he named, so she must have been nice. Good to hear.

We pulled up at Jake’s, greeted by the old car with “Jake’s” painted on its door. The Bald Guy walked me inside, we shook hands and I said I hoped I’d be there again soon. He said, “I hope so”, in his nice British way, we shook hands and I was off to take a shower and freshen up for my Pelican Bar (an actual bar built on a sand bar out at sea!) trip.

Back at Tiki Tiki 1, my clothes were draped everywhere, in futile hopes that they would someday be dry. I didn’t really have time to just flop on the bed and do nothing like I was tempted to, so I got in the shower, which was a delight. I used a little Rosemary-Mint to spark me back up a bit, and it worked. I went very fancy and added a bobby pin to my wet hair. Oh, and the requisite fuschia hibiscus garnish. I got used to putting flowers in my hair when I lived in Hawai’i and I’ve done it ever since.

Some places just make it easier to find the flowers ...

*Photos ripped off from Jake's,, and random stock since I didn't have my camera with that day. Dumb.

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