17 January 2009

Guinness in the Caribbean

“I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on my list.”
– Susan Sontag, American author, filmmaker, philosopher (1933-2004)

I was in a bar. Nursing a cocktail. Not unusual in and of itself. However, the old real estate adage rang true: location, location, location.

The bar was a too plastic and steel 'fun zone' near the beach in Freeport, the Bahamas. Certainly not my usual watering hole. It was about 1:30 in the afternoon. Certainly not my usual hour of imbibing. I was drinking a rum and coke. Certainly (certainly) not my usual cocktail.

As a general rule, I like just about everything that is brewed, vinted, or distilled. Sambuca? Love it. Pernod? Absinth? I have a bottle of each at home. Fernet? Definitely. And it goes without saying that your gins, vodkas, tequilas, whiskeys (particularly Irish whiskeys), beers in all their various forms, and wine, port, sherry, and cognac are close friends of mine. And then there's rum. Crazy ol' rum. For some reason rum falls to the very bottom rung on the ladder of libation for me. I think it's because it's such a sweet liquor. I'm generally a fan of savory over sweet. Don't put sugar in my espresso (or milk for that matter), and I'll pass up the dessert for the appetizer just about every time. (Unless the dessert is a cheese plate.)

So back to our story. I'm drinking rum. Strange. It's because although it's my last choice of alcohol, that still doesn't mean that I don't like it. I just happen to like, well, just about everything else a little (or a lot) more. But one thing I do love to do, is drink the local drink (and eat the local food) of the particular place that I'm traveling through. So in the islands - it was all about the rum. Good enough for me. And as an aside - I love Mojitos! Give me mint with anything and I'm happy.

Again, I digress...

I was in a bar. Drinking rum. In the Bahamas. Stacie and I had taken a cruise - a first for both of us. Probably something we won't ever do again. It was nice enough, but it was about the exact opposite in every way of how I prefer to travel. I enjoy having a very loose itinerary, and playing most everything by ear. Find a place to stay when you get to where you feel like staying. Stay as long or as short a time as feels right. Move on, or not, at your whim. A cruise is all about structure, schedules, and deadlines. It was relaxing at times, and I enjoyed staring out to sea in the night with the moon out above the dark water - hypnotized. But the schedules, man, they're soul-crushing on a cruise. And if you miss your deadline, it's not like you can catch the next train or bus - your boat is gone jack.

Stacie was getting her hair braided. We both knew it was a rip-off, but it was something she wanted to try. At that time she had long, luxurious red hair that reached almost to her ass. That was a lot of braids. This took an inordinate amount of time. So there I was in a bar in Freeport in the Bahamas drinking rum in the middle of the afternoon by myself. A minor annoyance was that there was not a bar nearby where Stacie was getting her hair braided. I had to walk through a couple different neighborhoods, across a long, empty, souless, weedy parking lot, and then through another neighborhood to get to the nearest bar. But I like to persevere...

So I would have a drink, and then make the long walk to check on the progress. Progress was slow. (Progress was glacial). So I made many trips back and forth, the long walk this way and the long walk that way.

The first time I had crossed the parking lot I had noticed three guys sitting under one of the few random trees in the acres of baking pavement. It so happened that I had to walk directly past them to get to and from the bar. The first time I passed we all gave each other the ubiquitous 'head nod' of acknowledgment. They appeared to be locals, and if I had to guess were roughly my age or a bit younger.

My second pass, one of the three asked the now familiar question that I'm faced with most places I travel. "Smoke?" he inquired. Meaning pot. I must look sketchy. Where ever I travel, I'm always asked in a quiet, under-the-breath way if I'm in need of anything to smoke, snort, or shoot. I realize I'm far from the only person these guys are trying to sell to... but man, it's a constant thing.


I just shook my head and kept walking. I used to partake in various and sundry forms of, how shall we say it, mind and spirit altering substances from time to time. But that was back in high school and college. My main bad habits these days were good old alcohol, and perhaps a preponderance of caffeine. So I kept walking.

"Smoke? Blow?"

This was the next time past. Again I just shook my head. I entertained the thought that if these guys were sellers of much quantity of these drugs, then they quite possibly carried some kind of protection. The parking lot was vast. It could have been used for a Super Walmart. You could hardly see the other side and it took me all of fifteen minutes to cross it. And it was truly deserted. If they decided they wanted to see how much money I was carrying, there wouldn't be much I would be able to do about it. Gave one pause.

"Smoke? Blow? Pills?"

This was the third time past and when they saw me approaching they smiled a bit. Maybe more like a smirk. It was like a formality. They knew I would probably refuse, but they were wired to ask everyone that walked past, no matter what. So now it was a bit humorous, to all of us. I smiled and shook my head again,
"No thanks..."

"Smoke? Blow? Pills? Cid?"

They had broken out into big grins upon my approach. As did I, knowing what was going to be asked. I laughed.
"No thanks, man, I don't do that stuff anymore." They shrugged and smiled.

"Smoke? Blow? Acid?"

Stacie was just over half way through her braiding session, and I had made the walk to and from the bar now half a dozen times. At one end was a drink, at the other was a check on the hair progression. And in between was a goofy, funny ritual between myself and three Bahamian drug dealers. This time I stopped and laughed. Again, I said,
"I don't really do that shit anymore, but I'll tell you what... how about I buy some beer and come back and we knock a few back?" Their eyes lit up and they laughed. They said that would be great. It was hot out, and they had been out there for an hour and a half at least, with just the scrubby shade of one lone palm tree. I asked them what kind of beer they liked and the one who always spoke to me immediately blurted, "Guinness!" I laughed and agreed that this too was my favorite beer. Might not normally be my first choice in the hot tropical climes - but I'll drink that dark, rich goodness anywhere, anytime.

I walked back into the town and found a convenience store and bought a six-pack of Guinness in bottles. I returned to the parking lot and sat down on the ground with my new-found comrades. We cracked open the beers, clicked the necks together, and toasted each others health. I asked the main guy what his name was, and he said,
"Kevan" pronouncing it with a cool island flair. I almost choked on my beer and laughed. He asked why I laughed, and I told him that my name was Kevin too. He raised his bottle again toasting, and said, "Brothers!"

We drank the beers and talked for about half an hour. I went and checked on Stacie and she said she still had about another hour. I went back to the parking lot and we shared the last beer. Kevan asked me if I wanted to smoke as he pulled a joint out.
"Free" he smiled. So we sat under a palm tree in the Bahamas and smoked up, talking of politics, of travel, of books, and of beer. It turned out Kevan was quite intelligent, but I never felt the right place to ask him about his occupation. After a bit he asked if I was getting hungry? Duh? So he told me of a great little place that was close, cheap, and some of the best food on the island. Sounded great to me.

He led us across the parking lot and down a couple alleys and into another deserted parking lot. Pot paranoia made me think just for a moment,
"Is this where they take my money at knifepoint?" He stopped at a small, wooden shack. It had a pass-through window in the front and one door in the back. It was only about four feet square and maybe eight feel tall. He explained that the guy who ran the shack dived every day and caught the fish and brought them here alive. His wife made fresh bread every morning. He pointed to a large bucket of water on the floor of the shack. Swimming around in it where brightly colored fish, a little bigger than the size of my palm. Kevan held up two fingers and the guy grabbed two fish out of the bucket. He made a couple slices on each side with a sharp knife, and rubbed a dry spice mix into the cuts - then dropped the fish into the hot oil. While they were cooking he cut huge slices of the fresh bread and scooped a big piece of butter onto each. The fish were done shortly and put on the plates next to the bread. I offered and paid and we sat down under some trees. The skin of the fish peeled back revealing tender, white, succulent meat underneath. The moist hotness and flavor of the spice rub was unreal. I wolfed it down, along with the ambrosia-like bread. I thanked Kevan profusely for this wonderful, unexpected bounty. I knew I had to have Stacie try this fantastic meal.

I walked back to where she was just finishing up her braiding and told her of my adventures. She rolled her eyes and laughed, but was intrigued with the fish. We went back to the shack and we each had another plate of fish and bread. On her first bite her eyes opened wide and she smiled.
"This is the best fish I've had since I left Texas over 10 years ago," she gushed. We all laughed. After the meal, and a couple more beers with Kevan we had to head back to the ship (deadlines).

We had some great meals on the cruise, but the fish at that little shack in the corner of a deserted parking lot on the wrong side of Freeport with a couple of drug dealers was by far the best food of the whole trip.

KJT - Freeport, The Bahamas (1999)
(Top picture is myself and Kevan, taken by Stacie;
bottom pic I'm drinking rum from a 'rum pipe' and smoking a Cuban cigar -
and Stacie is showing off her braids)

1 comment:

The Bandit said...

Another great story but seriously, Stacie and braids....so wrong.