Exhausted, I went straight to sleep, spending my final night in America uncomfortably napping in the airport. Although, I could rest assured that everything I was taking with me fitted in the personal items category for Spirit Airlines, having easily fit it in the size checking rack upon arrival.
I suppose I should mention my destination: Kingston, Jamaica. I had agreed to spend the next few weeks as crew of the Tsamaya! A sailing vessel making its way to Guatamala via: Jamaica, Grand Cayman, and Hondoras. Just in time to avoid the hurricane season. This had been merely an idea that popped in my head all the way back to my time in New Zealand and it seems sureal that I'm actually doing it. Just days away from my thesis deadline this was a perfect opportunity to disconnect and figure out what I want to do with my new found freedom and, ideally, formulate a game plan on how to make it happen.
Related: Self-Critique of Four Years of Student Finance
Going through security, even in America, is easy when you travel light (and don't even have a laptop). Apart from an intimate frisk, I made my way to the terminal with ease. The first leg of the journey was to Florida, the second to Jamaica. Funnily enough I sat next to the same person on both flights! After some rough turbulence just before a smooth landing, the pilot announced in a Jamaican accent "That was eeeeasy!", which was somewhat different from the formalities (local weather and time etc.) I was used to, I felt properly welcomed into the country!
I was starting to think southern Illinois was getting hot in the summer but wow, as soon as we landed I had to remove my shirt and coat. I couldn't imagine how uncomfortable it would be coming straight from a cold climate, but this is the kind of heat I had been dreaming of since the extended winter I had just had in England. I was greeted by the Tsayama crew at the airport (luckily for me, since I hadn't had the time to do any research or preperation)!
Any doubts and fears of being on a new adventure washed away as we snacked on fresh coconut.
The port royal jamaican yacht club (with its own bar, pool, fresh water showers, and Wi-Fi) was a welcome transition to my life at sea; as I was soon to learn, we were in luxury.
With a final proof-read of my thesis, and an explore of port royal, the once bigest city of pirates in the caribbean (quite a fitting place to start my journey), we set sail for our first destination, Pidgeon Island.
My introduction to sailing was not a smooth one I must admit; against strong winds and navigating a channel we had to change tack multiple times whilst balancing at 35 degrees. Kingston was barely out of view and I had already turned green, a sea-sickness pill and a lump of ginger wasn't enough to prepare me for this! I was focusing intently on the land around me, trying to ignore the rocking of the boat, when some dolphiins decided to join me on my inegural sail! To some this may sound like a delight, perhaps even a good omen, but to me it was a distraction from trying not to spew. Sadly, the dolphins warm greeting was not returned in kind...
After that, much of the sail was spent trying to hide in the shade, avoiding the intense tropical sun. Despite the sailing condtions I managed to fall asleep, which was a mistake. The next morning I learnt what a poor job I did; the sea turned me green and the sun turned me red!
Arriving at Pidgeon Island in the late afternoon we just decided to check it out in the morning instead. I had learnt how to prepare the main sail at the start and end of the sail today, and despite not doing any work during the actual trip I was exhausted, leaving the exploring for tomorrow was fine by me!
A short row on our dingy and we were on shore. The island had a few coconuts but nothing ripe. Though we found some foundations and some fishermen enjoying the shade under an almond tree. For the size of the island I was surprised to see anything on it at all! Not even a single pidgeon. It was also a shame to see the amount of waste that had washed up on shore.
Which reminds me, part of my motivation for the trip is to learn what island life is like. Based off my thoughts in Self-Critique of Four Years of Student Finance I'm torn between having a life in civilisation where I can try to influence it or just having a life critiqueing it from afar - preferably from an island full of fruit.
Better prepared for todays sail, through the magic of pre-emtively taking a sea-sickness pill, I was able to help out a bit more during the sail, right now it's basically pulling on ropes when I'm told to but I think I'm slowly picking things up!
Another relatively short sail away (in order to help me adapt), we found ourselves in Crocodile Reef.
Despite the name, there was no way we would find Crocodiles out here! The reef looked nice from afar but not worth the trip from where we were anchored.
Thus, this is a good opportunity to talk about the Tsamaya. Currently, with only three people on the crew, the boat feels reasonably spacious due to the effective use of what little room there actually is. Having said that, I couldn't imagine the boat filled with six people, as it has been in the past (I'm assured the floor is very comfortable, safer even than the beds, which with a strong enough wave could send you to other side of the boat). Alternative living spaces, like this and tiny homes, have always interested me due to their frugal, inventive, and of course minimalist nature; I guess I hadn't realised until writing this but I can tick that off the list of things I want to experiment with on my travels!
Cooking on the boat is familiar. With a small amount of counter space, dishes that favour packing all of its flavours into one pressure cooker are popular, and due to the necessity for dry, long-term storage of food, meals are naturally vegan friendly!
After what must have been a stressfull night for whoever was on anchor watch (we were surrounded by shallow reef), the conditions were perfect for a newbie like me to give the helm a try. For that very reason the sail out of Crocodile Reef and into Black River had been the best sail yet; by focusing on the horizon and the navigation, combined with feeling in control of the boat, I easily overcame seasickness. For the first time, I was able to relax and enjoy the sail.
By far the worst anchorage of the entire trip, usually a place of stability, anchoring in Black River proved to be more uncomfortable than sailing in the ocean.
Shortly after stopping, we hopped off the rocky boat and into the dinghy for a ride into town. We were quickly, and overwhelmingly, 'welcomed' by local guides and street traders, but I was more distracted by the reverse sea sickness I was experiencing. It occured to me I had hardly stepped foot on land for the past 4 days, and my legs could notice the difference. This was also the first time I had stepped into a Caribbean supermarket, the price of everything was insane, no doubt due to the cost of importing it, however if I thought it was expensive I can't imagine how the local 'not-quite-developed' economy was affording it. The shopping trip continued to be surprisingly educational as we entered many Chinese owned shops, as it turns out, many of the Caribbean islands have an abundance of these government assisted buisnesses as part of a wider scheme to influence the region around North America. Despite the shaky sea-legs, we spent the evening at a bar playing pool.
Even after a rolly night on the sea, it was easy to get up the next morning; we were going on a trip, on our little inflateable dinghy, up the crocodile infested Black River! After getting soaked on the way to the mouth of the river and heading straight past the myriad of tour guides (we got to see a lot of white people in their natural habitat - getting scammed by locals), it was soon clear why the river had it's name; before one could realise, the water became pitch black, however, if you cupped your hand in the water, no sediment could be seen.
It wasn't until the mangroves got thicker and the river narrower that, after meandering around a bend, we spotted one. A crocodile just laying there with its jaw wide open. Then, as quickly as we spotted it, the jaws snapped shut and it was gone.
We headed up black river on our little inflatable dingy. The same river famous for its crocodiles! We got to the mouth of the river and went straight past the tour guides 💸 after a while it was clear why the river had it's name, the water was pitch black! The mangroves got thicker and the river narrower, until, around a bend, we spotted a one 🐊 with its jaw wide open, just laying there. As quickly as we saw it, the jaws snapped shut and it was gone. 😱 #jamaica #blackriver #backpacking #diytourism #mangroves #river
Further up river we passed some gentlemen (the kind that knew how to keep their essentials protected from the water: a phone, money, and weed, all wrapped up in a plastic bag) paddling their way down river. After some translation errors we realised they wanted a tow. We gladly obliged. and learnt about some of the wildlife and local lifestyle. Two aside, we made our way back to the mouth of the river where we parted ways.
Back into town, we found a market for fresh supplies, where a nice lady showed us a salted and spiced mango recipe which is a perfect save for any unripe fruits. The crew then helped her daughters practice their Spanish! They returned to the boat while I was on the hunt for some sun screen, it had only been a few days and I had run the boats supply dry! The time alone gave me a chance to gather my thoughts and reflect on the last few days.
The excitement for the day hadn't ended there! Just as we began to relax for the evening, back on the boat, we realised that something quite important had gone missing. Perhaps the dinghy got confident after its drive up Black River, or perhaps the, again, startlingly bad anchorage had one two many strong waves. Either way, the dinghy had torn from it's rope and made a b-line for the shore!
Stranded, the captain was forced to call the coast guard who quickly came to our rescue. The good news was we found and retrieved the dinghy, the bad news was, in the mere hours it was on shore, the engine had been stolen. And just like that a thousand dollars worth of equipment was gone. Not only does this mean we will exclusively be rowing our way on and off the boat from now on, but after a bad pick-pocketing experience in Kingston (before I arrived) the crew were having enough of Jamaica. Luckily, we had already prepared our papers for checking-out.
After the painfull loss of our dinghy we were ready to leave Black River behind us and head towards the final stop of our journey, the all-inclusive resort paradise, Negril.
Since we arrived at night, I didn't get to appreciate our destination until the morning, when I poked my head out of the boat. What I saw was something from a tourism advert, a clear blue bay, with white sandy beach lined with bars and resorts, jet skiers and banana boats. Bloody Bay had it all.
As we rowed onto the beach, the SUP boarders parted ways and we dragged our patched up dinghy ashore, quickly ruining the pristine but soul-less aesthetic. As had become a common theme for our time in Jamaica, we were quickly swarmed by the territorial street peddlers (including a myriad of offers for weed).
We quickly made our way into town.
Negril, being a larger town, was a great place to get supplies. As we were wandering around I stopped at a place called NO BONE ZONE, a hilariously named vegan restaurant. Which reminds me, with the Rastafarian influence, vegan foods are very accessible in Jamaica, with lots of unique meat/dairy alternatives. Continuing with the walk, we found ourselves in a quiet residential area with grand colonial architecture, sadly, however, it had been run down. With the occasional goat and marijuana plant dotted around the properties. As we looped back into town, a knew type of Jamaican street hustler approached me, "Ay boy! Where's your girl?", in a thick jamaican accent as she stroked my arm and I tried to avoid eye contact. Not the kind of services I'm looking for, but a good question nevertheless! The hustles continued as representitves of a newly opened resort offered us free breakfast and the chance at winning accomodation, all whilst some locals invited us to drink rum and smoke ganja! The only hustle we were interested in was from the fruit and veg markets where we relaxed and enjoyed some fresh mango and star fruit.
It had been a tiring day but it wasn't ending there. On the walk home we were approached by a local, the first in a while that seemed genuine, he had a farm nearby, including a weed plantation that we could see. He also showed us a traditional recipe of roasted breadfruit which was incredible, we gave him our fresh one as thanks and went on our way as it was getting late.
The sky was pink and blue as the sun set on the bay; the perfect backdrop for my (embarrassingly) first swim in the ocean so far! As we rowed back to the boat the full moon rose... along with volume of the resort entertainment.
The next morning, I received news that we would be leaving sooner than expected, a storm was coming and it was time to move on.
The two day trip to Grand Cayman was my longest yet. As we left Jamaica we played the song Mick Jenkins ft. BADBADNOTGOOD - Drowning. It didn't take long before Jamaica was out of sight. All I could see was Tsamaya and the ocean; it was stunning, but isolating. As the voyage went on this would become a common sight, but it never lost its touch. The scene only got better as the night went on; taking the first night shift, I had the pleasure of enjoying not only the sunset but the full-moon, like I was passing into some other dimension.
We were in luck because the winds were with us the entire trip, meaning we could let Sven (the secret fourth crew member, our wind vane/autopilot) do most of the work.
George Town - Day 1
After another day of sailing, I was woken at the sound of cruise and tanker ships of the George Town harbour. We had arrived! Despite the overcast clouds and modern achitecture reminding me of England, it was easy to tell why the island was famous for its diving, even next to the port you could see to the bottom of the ocean and the schools of fish inbetween.
As some people may be aware, there is a fairly reasonable stereotype regarding Jamaicans and the use of weed. The Cayman customs and immigration were certainly aware of it too and took no chances when they pulled apart the boat to search for some. Most of the job was spent as an intimidation show, including a sniffer dog that let's just say isn't very good at its job, and seperating the crew for pat-downs and interviews. After inverting the hull and finding nothing, 5 hours later, we were admitted into the country. It wouldn't have mattered where we anchored, the water was clear, 10+ meters deep, everywhere.
Due to the overlong check-in procecss, and generally feeling exhausted, I chose not to explore any land that day. Despite this, I still enjoyed a fresh water shower, my first in a long-while. The overcast weather that reminded me of England quickly showed me the error of my ways as the clouds opened up in a way they only would in the tropics. Not one to miss an opportunity, I stood on deck and took the chance to lather up in the downpour, the upwards spray from the blue ocean creating a fine mist for privacy.
I was also inducted into the use of the useful blow up kayak that I was completly unaware of. This means the crew could be fairly independent when it comes to doing things on the island; with the extra vehicle we could generally be sure there would be a way to get on and off the boat at any time.
George Town - Day 2
I was finally well rested and prepared for a trip to land. I can't say Grand Cayman is well known for its culture but the contrast from the drowning-in-culture Jamaica kept things interesting. Sometimes you just want to wander around boutique fashion shops and air-conditioned malls. The people here certainly come across as affluent, with grocery stores resembling health food stores, with the same kind of high price.
I'll admit, most of the day was spent bouncing around free wi-fi spots (of which there is an abundance). Despite wanting to use this trip as a way to take a break from the internet I have to accept the fact that if I want to use the internet to influence people or boost my career I should probably learn to control my use of it, rather than avoid it altogether.
As an example of some of the culture of the island: it's the kind of place that, when mooching Wi-Fi from Burger King you see a guy get off his jet-ski, walk into Burger King, get a meal, and head back home on his jet ski!
Though it may sound harsh to say the town had no original culture (that I could see), it doesn't mean the people there didn't seem happy, and how couldn't you be living here; the place was beautiful. As the day turned to night I found a quiet spot along seven-mile beach to enjoy the sunset and returned to the boat.
Goodbye Grand Cayman! From your crystal clear water and beautiful beaches 🏝, to the abundance of free WiFi 🙌 and shopping malls, you have impressed me. People seem happy here and its obvious why! I confess for a while I tried to figure out how I could migrate here 😅 but the winds say it's time to sail on to Honduras! 🌬⛵see you soon (hopefully) 😂 #caymans #grandcayman #caribbean #sailing #travel #sun #sunset #beach #diving #holiday
That night, we had the pleasure of enjoying a wedding reception going on at the venue opposite where we were anchored.
George Town - Day 3
The captain informed me that there was a storm incoming so it was unfortunatley already my last day, we had to leave as early as possible tommorrow morning!
Determined to do more than just use the internet while I was here, I spent most of the morning enjoying the crystal clear water and practicing my free diving skills (of which there are none). It turns out equalising your ears is harder a few meters under water than it is a few meters above! It also took me a few times to get used to trusting the snorkel (breathing and seeing underwater felt strange). Although it was nice watching the fish do their thing, floating into the tiny stinging jellyfish was less fun!
Interestingly, the town was dead when I kayaked in at around lunch, it seems the island culture is here! The empty streets may not have had pedestrians using them but certainly the quirky, wild chickens were making abundant use of them. An odd feature of the town considering its well kept look.
With the weather warning, I spent the afternoon looking for workaway (volunteering) opportunities in Central America. Workaway boasts its large user base, its a paid service but theoretically it pays for itself, hopefully we'll see if that's true!
Goodbye Grand Cayman
The next morning was not the smoothest of departures but everything seemed to work out. Wanting to beat the weather, the plan was to set out early. Again, Customs & Imigration had different plans; insisting there wasn't space for the boat we had to row in on the dinghy. This would have been fine (if only a workout) but we had planned on filling up on fresh water. The row back would not be pleasant.
It turned out that carrying the water wouldn't be a problem anyway, the port didn't have access to fresh water! Instead we had to co-ordinate with customs to safely return our Harpoon gun, pepper spray etc. at a nearby cafe (that had water).
Whiling dealing with checking out, another boat was checking in, we made conversation and they offered us a tow back to the boat. As it turns out, the french couple were on a similar course as the Tsamaya. we thanked them for their help, and focused on finding fresh water.
It wasn't until customs arrived just in time for the final rowing trip, that they realised we didn't have an engine and announced they would have picked us up from the boat. Great, nice to know that now.
The going was slow as we left Grand Cayman, we couldn't rely on Sven to keep our course so took turns at the helm.
After a few days on land I was refreshed and feeling determined not to let this sail kick my ass. Between manning the helm, I found myself practicing a common sailing knot, the bowline. It's come in handy ever since.
Despite the better attitude, it wasn't long until my body declared itself exausted.
I awoke the next morning to the call that their were hundreds of dolphins. Thinking this was some sarcastic scheme to get me out bed I was surprised and humbled when I poked my head up and saw many dolphins joining us for a ride.
During the sail we passed a navy base at Swan Island. All of a sudden we were in unexpectedly shallow water! This isn't great when moving at full speed! In a panic we checked the sonar and the map to make sure we hadn't moved too close to the island... the map read the ocean floor was 20 meters below us. That can't be right, there's no way we could be seeing the ocean floor that deep, but the sonar confirmed it. It was't shallow water we found, it was incredibly clear water instead! We didn't have time to stop since we were being chased by a storm but that was definetly the most beautiful water I had seen in the Caribbean.