Look down ... waaaaaaaay down!
Thursday, 14 August 2014
Smile Jamaica: Bob Marley!
It was a hard trip to resist as a Reggae fan. It also appealed to the adventurer in me: A ride on an old battered red, green and yellow Jamaican “Zion bus” with music blasting. Riding high, high, high up Mount Diablo [aka Mystic Mountain]. Off to visit Reggae legend Bob Marley’s birthplace in the small St. Anne’s parish town of “Nine Miles”. Afterwards, it was promised, we would fly all the way home. Hmmm. Let’s go…
Early morning found us loosely ensconced in the Zion bus. Seemed very Jamaican! Our DJ got the party started by playing his favourite Marley tunes and telling us the story behind each song. The bass was waaay too loud as it pumped full blast out of the bus speakers. Our guide laughed loudly at his own jokes, mostly about getting stoned. Janet, my cousin and I watched wondering; was it an act, for real, or a little bit of both? Quite crazy but fun!
Look down ... waaaaaaaay down!
Our bus winded its way up the mountains along a very narrow hillside road. I use the term “narrow” lightly. I stared out my window way down to the steep valleys and tiny villages below. The hillside was covered with thick green jungle; towering palm trees, sprawling ferns, and God knows what else. Simple wood, stone and sheet metal shacks peeked out from here, there and everywhere they could be possibly built. Yes! We were getting pretty high!
I was fascinated more than horrified, as our driver continued to pump the gas and air brakes while leaning on his horn, warning everyone on the road to get out of the way. He looked like he knew what he was doing. Still, I gazed outside my window again, at the sheer drop to certain death. What a way to go! Yup, one wrong turn, bad bump or someone who doesn’t pull and we go flying off into oblivion. I sat awestruck glued to my seat. What else could you do as we climbed higher and higher up the mountain side for a good hour or so on the Zion bus?
The view of Nine Miles from Bob's place.
As we passed through the villages children raced outside the bus windows pointing their index finger in the air. It wasn’t for “One Love”, as the Bob Marley song goes. They wanted a dollar. We later bought a Bob Marley fund raising Cd instead, the money to be used at the local school. It seemed like a good idea to me.
Bob Marley is long gone. He died from cancer in 1981 at age 36. The family owned Marley Foundation now controls his estate. Bob often quietly helped those in financial need without asking for anything in return. The school CD was in the same humanitarian spirit. A sad footnote: only the handful of teachers on our bus made any contribution, for a cd or handout, let alone a tip throughout our trip. Very unkind considering the extreme gulf between the two worlds, ours and theirs as was quite obvious throughout the trip.
Our bus pulled up outside the gate at Bob’s house. The tiny mountainside town of Nine Miles is really just a few shacks surrounded by jungle. A crowd swarmed the Zion bus holding up handfuls of Ganga outside our windows, for sale by the bag or by the spliff. Our guide explained that smoking weed is common inside the Marley grounds, but you can’t buy any there.
He held the gate open, keeping the crowd at bay while we walked back outside into an alley way bazaar. A wide variety of herbs and herbal concoctions were spread out on display. Thick buds of golden green sensimilla cost $40 US for a quarter ounce, rolling papers included. Big grass cookies and huge thick hash brownies were $20 each if you preferred not to smoke. There were also small black turds of hashish for sale, but I didn’t catch the price. Apparently there were cups of grass tea too but I didn’t see it myself.
Jamaica is famous for it's herbal remedies to cure whatever ails you.
It’s pretty common for a lot of baby boomers to still smoke marijuana. I am no stranger to it. I also grew up in the sixties and seventies when marijuana seemed to be everywhere even though it was illegal; a federal offence. I didn’t liked how that attracted a criminal element. Still, I also recall that whenever there was a fight or any bad vibes, be it at a party or a concert, it invariably involved the drinkers, and not the pot heads. As the saying went, “Make love not war!” After a few tokes the tunes sounded great. The conversation quite hilarious. We’d get the munchies because everything tasted so great. Marijuana certainly had its moments!
I haven’t in bided in either vice for a very long time. As a teacher I made a life choice not to smoke or drink. I never missed booze or cigarettes, still don’t. Bleech! However, I felt nostalgic at the novelty of seeing some weed again.
To paraphrase an old Bob Dylan sixties song, "the times certainly are a changin’". Marijuana is now gradually being legalized in the US. Also, federal party leader Justin Trudeau is promising to legalize it if he is elected as our Canadian Prime Minister next year. My guess would be it’s only a fairly short matter of time now.
What’s the story in Jamaica? Our tour guide explained its being decriminalized. It’s hoped it will provide a good cash crop to help create jobs and stimulate the economy. What else have they got? Well, there’s bauxite and tourism. All is not well. It hasn’t been for a very long time. Bob Marley and the Wailers’ protest anthems and spiritual pleas make that perfectly clear. We’ll examine their music more closely in my next Jamaica blog. For now, suffice to say that back inside the Marley gate I munched on a brownie and shared a thick doobie with my cousin, which neither of us could finish. As far as safe, friendly service with a smile goes, the Jamaican sensimilla scene at Nine Miles definitely earns two big thumbs up! I wish them well!
The mausoleum + house.
Looking about the Bob Marley homestead one only sees a few small buildings. Basically, there are just two rather simple mausoleums and a small house. At first brush the grounds might seem like an unspectacular shrine for such a great man. However, everything has been painted over in bright Jamaican colours. Also decorated with flags, handmade Rastafari murals and signs. Gold records, concert posters, and photographs hang on the walls of a one room museum of sorts. Stalls offer crafts, and Bob Marley memorabilia including t-shirts, coffee cups, pipes, papers and cds for sale. Nice but very pricey. There’s also a small open air drink and snack bar.
Bob Marley left behind at least 11 children, from wife Rita Marley and his various girlfriends. Since a deal was struck with Island Records in 1992, they are all a part of the Bob Marley Foundational which owns, controls and profits from his estate. Rita has enjoyed a successful musical career. A few of his children have followed in their father musical footsteps. Ziggy and Damien Marley come immediately to mind. I’m glad the proceeds from our trip are being kept within the family, rather than being exploited by Babylon. You can spend your money here confident it isn’t going to a big impersonal corporation!
By high noon, Nine Miles was as hot as a blast furnace. There was hardly a breeze. The yard was tightly packed. We had to wait a bit just looking around, as each group of visitors took turns moving among the crowded buildings and rooms. I was pretty kazooed and felt like I was just floating along through Bob’s home with the crowd, feeling no pain. It was easy to become totally immersed in the experience. I haven’t any complaints, far from it, everything seemed fitting and in tune. In the courtyard, we were also entertained by a ragtag band of dread locked reggae musicians playing Bob Marley songs, spreading good vibrations and getting us into the spirit of things.
We were escorted around the grounds by our dread locked guide who explained the site in detail. We saw the stone mausoleum were Bob’s mother is buried. Then we visited Bob’s bedroom in the house. It pretty much looked like I’d expect; a Tough Gong poster and a small bed. Not much else. Finally we ended up in the mausoleum that is Bob’s burial place.
According to his mother’s wishes Bob Marley is buried in the mausoleum with his half brother. Apparently Bob’s guitar was also buried with him though nobody seems quite sure which one. I lit a candle and walked around the tomb past the personal mementos that others had left behind on their visit; plants, joints, rolling papers, lighters, photos, flags and the like. Then after coming full circle, as is the tradition, I respectfully placed my candle on the front pedestal where I left it to burn. I felt very calm and peaceful. Also quite honoured to be in the presence of such greatness here among the most simplest and humble of places.
No, there really isn’t much to see. But Nine Miles is a very spiritual experience. Mr. Bob Marley has returned from the heights of greatness in our often big, bad world. He has come back to his humble beginnings having delivered a timeless message of love, peace and hope in the struggle for political and social justice. It only seems right to me that his final resting place is here, in his very simple village birthplace, now reunited with his people, family and friends.
As promised we truly did fly back down the mountains on our breathtaking trip home aboard the Zion bus. I was still flying high a good 12 hours later, caught up in the magic of our visit. I can’t say that smoking weed again was any big deal in and of itself. It was fun but I suppose I could take it or leave it. Maybe it will be more enjoyable after it is legalized in Canada? Hmmm. Half the time I’d forget what I was going to say, leaving me quiet, listening and watching more. Maybe that’s not an altogether bad thing? Other times, I’d be jabbering away a mile a minute! Still it was quite part and parcel of the greater overall trip to pay homage to Bob. As such I thoroughly enjoyed myself!
Lots to think about!
I’m retired and feeling pretty de-stressed these days. I’m quite high on life as it is. I find myself listening to Bob Marley and the Wailers again almost nonstop since my trip. It will forever continue to be a part of the soundtrack to my life. Bob Marley, his music and message always make me feel high in the natural sense. You don’t need to smoke the herb to appreciate that, though one might also argue it doesn’t hurt much either!