Playa Corona… and the many things I did wrong. 

After Valle de Anton, we went back to the city for two days, not much really happened while there – however we did have a warm shower which was heaven. 


On the first full day there was a huge bang just outside our room and all electricity and everything went off in most of the city it seemed, and it was hot. No amount of ice cream could cool us down. We ended up lying on the floor, and hope that the stone would cool us. We did have a look round the old town, all we did there was melt and get some very expensive drinks. 

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We managed to get to Playa Corona the next day very easily. We were working at an American expats home, doing gardening and landscaping, four hours a day four days a week, perfect; or so we thought. 

We met Irene, our host, and we were put in what is one of the houses she has on her property, usually spare for rent or air B&B. It was big and clean, with a king-size bed, kitchenette, porch, hammock, beautiful bathroom and a whole shower room, I felt like a princess after the filth of El valley. It seemed perfect, even if we did find a scorpion hiding in our curtains. 


Oh first day working, 23rd of May was our anniversary! Six years! We still went to work though. Can’t always be a holiday. 

Jake was given a machete and was to cut down this huge bamboo bush – which he spent most of the days we were there working on. I was cleaning concrete steps that were stained from the cashews and mangoes, we then went into town to get some food shopping, we tried to go out for dinner but we couldn’t catch the bus so end up having super noodles, drinking rum and watching crap on Netflix, personally I thought it was an awesome anniversary. 

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The next day is when the trouble started. I was mowing the garden; now this garden was the size of Central Park, and I was using this huge heavy petrol mower that look like it was the made in the 1920s, and I did it wrong. Absolutely and unequivocally everything I could possibly do wrong, I did wrong. I don’t know how, I have full capabilities of mowing a lawn, but nothing I did was right, and she seemed to take pleasure in telling me how useless I was, not in such certain terms, but were unmistakably implied.

I move it around wrong, I mowed the wrong place, I move the mower over grass more than once, I missed bits on my way, I got rid of the grass wrong and apparently I can go over trees and concrete, it was continuous, and hot, and stressful. In the end I actually started crying, I didn’t let her see though, apparently she was also having a go at Jake to about not being able to start the strimmer that she left unused for the past few months and about me. Complaining to him about how bad I was.

 The whole garden took the whole four hours. Apparently we do it every Wednesday, can’t wait for that. 


Over the next few days, I did more and more things terribly wrong and she seemed to relish telling me so. I didn’t move fast enough, I didn’t rake the leaves correctly, put them in the wrong compost heap (there were six by the way) I spray-painted her barbecue wrong. 

We were told to tresspass on to the next door neighbours land and cut down their plants, I did that wrong, made burms – of said cut down plants – wrong, weeded wrong, got rid of scorpions and snakes wrong e.g. I didn’t hack them to death with a blunt machete. Picked up fruit, cut grass with scissors, cleaned drains, moved logs and anything asked of us, we did wrong, me especially. 

The constant criticism, and attacks towards me personally really cut me down. Most days I ended up crying in the bathroom or so stressed about working with her I ended pulling out most of my eyebrows. 

Having Autism meant I didn’t fit in all that much, I was weird and an outsider, so I never really developed all that much self-confidence or worth and working with Irene shattered it all over again. It was terrible. My mental health suffered and jake suffered with me as there was not much he could do. 

He did talk back to her, one time when she was complaining to jake that she didn’t care how it’s done in Europe, this is how it’s done in America and that works better he said that’s what they thought about McCarthyism and segregation. This stunned her so much she stoped bullying him as much after that, and focused her anger and attention on me. I still don’t have the confidence to walk into a new place first, so talking back was not an option, I felt more stupid and downhearted every day. I drowned in her cruel words and disgusted looks.  

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I counted down the days till we left for Costa Rica. The hours I had to spend being near her. 

In the end I was told it was not even allowed to fuss the dog as I was showing her too much kindness and attention. And that being ill was no excuse not to work in the 38 degree heat. 

Being here show me how different people can really be, while emailing her to organise this work, she could not have been kinder and when we arrived she was so welcoming, and a soon as we started working for her, everything changed, I find it difficult to read people and understand personalities, being here and try to understand her just made everything more difficult, I was unhappy. 

Panama overall had not been kind to us. 

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We did have some good days, as we only had to work four hours in the morning 7 to 11, only four days a week we did get some time off to spend looking around. The problem was that there was nothing to do.


Went for a bike ride, and down to the beach a few days, the beach and sea were quite clean but very rough and not very clear being the Pacific side. The sand was volcanic and black so burning to the touch. 

One night we went down to watch the sunset and saw the whole beach come alive with tiny little crabs which was really cool to see. 

We went back in to Panama City few days, I was allowed to go down to the river with Maggie (the dog) and give her a bath. We also went up to El Valle to see Art. Later on he came down to stay near us for a few days. 

We were looking for a place for him to camp and while walking along the beach he and Jake got soaked from head to toe by huge wave that nearly suck them out to sea. They were so wet it broke jakes phone, I was glad I didn’t run and stayed dry. 

We managed to organise our diaries so we got six days off in a row and went up to Boquete, which I’ll tell you about next week. It was a godsend us to have a few days away from her. 

Our last day with her was day 100 of our trip. We spent most of the day cleaning the apartment which was spotless. Cleaner then when we came – especially under the bed. She still I managed to criticise how we moped, but it was our last day so who cares. 

We went out for tea, and came back and finished off half a bottle of wine and a lot of rum… 

… well It would’ve been rude to have left them. 

Valle de Anton

Here is when things started to go wrong.

I have already mentioned that we had a nightmare time trying to get to our next workaway. We got there about seven at night and they had waited to eat tea with us, which was very nice of them as we were starving. There were quite a few new people to meet, which was a little stressful, especially after the day we had had.

I had got more accustomed to talking to new people in Jamaica, and before that at university, so coped well enough. The difference here is that I couldn’t speak the language. England is notoriously bad at teaching second languages. In primary I had one year of German, and in secondary, five years of very broken French, so Spanish was going to be impossible for me.

The people were nice, as far as we could tell as neither of us spoke Spanish. Jake got talking to an American guy that lived there, he was in his 60s or there about. The first thing he spoke about was his love of weed and Coke and rum, Jake could relate to the rum part.

There are two of the girls, one didn’t really speak, and one from Chile, she spoke really good English and she spent a few hours trying to teach me a few basic words in Spanish.

That night we were put in a dorm, even though they said we could be in a private room. It was okay as no one else was in it, and they said that it was just a volunteer room. Bad thing was that there was nowhere to keep your stuff safe.

We were told we would work from 8 to 5, confused we asked about this, because in workaway you only do 4/5 hours a day.  Our host then said I would be working 8 till 12, and Jake 12 till 5. This meant that we wouldn’t be seeing each other, or be able to do any activities while we were there, which kind of defeated our point of traveling.

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Our first day we got off as it was a Sunday. I need it as I didn’t manage to sleep until three because it was so noisy, they had music blaring till 2AM, people running about and dogs barking. It was a cacophony of noise that was almost painful, like a puffer fish going off inside my brain.

We met another guy that day, his name is Art. He was Russian/American and him and Jake on really well, they chatted most of the night, we were going to do one of the hikes up the mountains, but it started pouring. Everything here has a metal roof, so the sound of the thunderstorm and torrential rain on the corrugated ceiling was even louder than the night before, even if it was a bit more pleasant.

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Started work on the Monday at eight, and our host was nowhere to be found, he hadn’t actually said what I was meant to be doing either. He didn’t show till about 10, where he told me – as I was a female, my job was to clean, do the laundry, make beds, mop and sweep and clean toilets then cook for when the men-folk got home! I have no issue doing those jobs, but the fact it was solely to do with my gender really pi**ed me off.

The ‘menfolk’ – including Jacob went to work on a building site, so didn’t see him for most the day. I was also meant to tend reception with the other girls, but seeing as my Spanish was lacking I could not do it very well. As for the cleaning, this place looked like it hadn’t  been cleaned in 10 years.

There is a level of dirt that I can deal with, then the level of that Jake can deal with, and then this place, it was grim.

Mould grew everywhere, flies surrounded uncovered food, the dirt was an inch thick and things growing in the fridge. I was told that it was only cleaning, so easy work. It was easy, yes, (our host made a point that it was easy work, because women can only do easy work) but it was disgusting. There wasn’t anything for us to clean with either, no soap or chemicals, so I had to use a ripped up piece of clothing that somebody in that stayed there had left.

When Jacob back he said he’s been hammering nails out of bits of wood for five hours and was bored out of his mind. We went out with Art and climbed up Mount Carigauna and watch the sunset which was lovely, although it was very hot and sticky, so afterwards I had to brave the shower and the cockroaches in it, also looks like there were leeches living in the sink, ugh.

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The next day wasn’t too much better. I asked if I could go to the construction site, they were very reluctant and tried to get Jake to control his woman – and not allow me to go. Jake basically told him to F-himself and I was allowed to go.

When I was there I was told I was scraping paint off the wall, (I can see where they saw the danger). They did not give me a chisel because that was far too dangerous, instead they gave me a cheese grater because it wasn’t sharp and I could not hurt myself. Afterwards I was allowed to do sweeping.

At one point I did manage to get away and help Jake pull out nails, this was scandalous in the eyes of the men working, so much so that they stopped, open-mouthed to watch me to see if I could do it, and seemed rather shocked when I realise I could use a hammer. I did enjoy watching it put all the men’s teeth on edge.

Jake was also allowed to use the spray paint gun, again, not me because it is too… complicated, I believe is the term they is used, at the end we moved planks of wood, they were amazing I was able to do so because the surprise, surprise wood can be heavy, and women can’t pick up stuff.

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Day three of work, I was cleaning again, I was exhausted because they were tattooing and playing music till 2 AM in the room next door. The upside was I was able to catch a frog that had decided to make a home in our dorm thanks to the damp and the rain leaking through the roof onto Jake’s bed. I also got to play with the dogs and the two kittens, which almost made me to forget about the rest of the stuff going on.

Day four, we didn’t want to wait around for our host to get up and tell us what we going to do, as he usually didn’t rise till about 11:30, so me and Jake went to the Butterfly Valle, not too expensive, and the guide spoke excellent English and very informative, I really liked all the butterflies, Jake put up with it. I think he found the practical information about them more interesting than seeing them, apparently only 3 to 4% of them survive in the wild.

 

Once back, we found our host had gone into the city, so both me and Jake did the cleaning, if that is what you call it, you would need to blitz the place to show any difference at this point. We then went to the Victoria Lorenzo Museum, which was free because it was their 40th anniversary I think.

The last few nights we had other people in our dorm. These were guests, not volunteers, so we had to put up with them wandering in and out, and tried to look after our belongings. It seemed our host was not telling the truth when he said this was a volunteer only dorm.

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The next day we climbed up with one of the other mountains without with Art. There was a good view from the top, but blisteringly hot, we tried to follow a path down and got lost in the woods, and nearly got caught on barbwire fence and attacked by a guard dog.

That night I was asked to cook, the cleaning of the kitchen took longer than cooking, I cooked for the whole family but some refused to eat it because I had cooked it.

Ugh.

After this week of ups and downs, the dorms, the noise, the work, the stress and lack of communication and basically complete disdain towards me over my vagina, we decided to leave. They didn’t seem very happy about it, as we were supposed to be staying over a month, but neither were we, and at that time we did not care. We had our last night there and I got bitten by fleas, what a lovely way to end the week.

We missed Art, but kept in touch. He was very different from people we usually talk to or meet, especially when it came to talking about his religion and beliefs – I disagreed with quite a bit, but actually really like him. He and Jake had a good hours chatting over rum about politics and history.

Couldn’t wait to return to the city, and thankfully had found another work away on the last-minute page…

But it was out of the frying pan and into the fire.

Time of my life.

The last few weeks in Jamaica were some of the best I’ve ever had. The people, the friends, the sun, sea and lifestyle overall, (especially working only four hours a day) and activities we did, made it so much fun. I can’t say Jamaica was my favourite place I have ever been, but right there and then, it was what I needed.

(I apologise for missing last weeks post, but I did not have the means to so.)

After work I went swimming, a lot, I often went with Canadian Michael to a mahogany beach. It wasn’t anything special, but you could swim out to sea for miles as it was so shallow – you could still put your feet down nearly all the way. The fact that the floor was covered in urchins was the reason I didn’t.

One day, we were in the water and a huge thunderstorm came over which was amazing experience, to swim through ocean with lightning and thunder going off overhead. We had to shelter in a juicy patties – which are delicious – in order to get dry and get a taxi. Jake was not so lucky and no taxi would take him, so he had to climb this huge hill in the pouring rain; which at some points is so steep you can put your hands out on the road in front of you. Poor Jacob, at least he got a free beer out of it as the Jamaicans were very amused at seeing anybody in the rain.

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The fresh air, healthy eating, active work and active days were really good for my health, body and mind as they say. I lost quite a bit of weight actually, but I also lost the skin off the top of my toes when I decided to go running with Michael down the hill. Running has never been my sport, and I am fully aware it never will be. It took a long time from my toes to heal and it hurt just to walk anywhere.

My feet were not as bad as my legs though, from my knee downwards, it seemed my legs had become an all-you-can-eat buffet for every mosquito in a 50 mile radius. I have never really been eaten by mosquitoes before, and i was happy to kept it that way. Bug spray and aloe vera did little to deter them, while Jake got off scot-free from the little blighter’s. You could have done a dot-to-dot puzzle on my legs at the end.

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I mentioned before about the animals that we had at the farm. While we were there both the rabbits and chickens had babies. The rabbits had three, but sadly, out of fear of the mongoose, which would not have been able to get to her, she killed them all.

The chickens however, had six chicks which were the most adorable little things ever. One day, they all escaped! Me, Jake and the two new Canadians – Christine and Murray had to run around in the dwindling light to try to catch them all and put them back, so they couldn’t get eaten by something. Thankfully, we managed to get them all back bar one who had died probably from shock or the fall. The others, after two hours or more, was safely inside the cage for the remainder of our time.

We also had some trouble with mice. Lise’s brother had this nice goats milk soap, which every mouse and the surrounding area it seemed to very much enjoy. Getting annoyed at this constant invasion, he manage to catch one, and the next day paraded it’s around, saying he was going to torture it to teach the rest of the mice a lesson, which was totally ridiculous in my mind. I told him so, and then, in no uncertain terms I was told I was a silly little girl who should keep to her own business as I know nothing. (never knew how alike to Jon Snow I was).

Luckily Michael managed to get the mouse and free it. He also noticed how upset I had got, and from then on whenever a mouse was caught I was allowed to let it go far away. This placated me, Jake however never got on with him after that.

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We did a few tours and activities while we were there. We went to the blue hole again for the third time as we enjoyed it so much. That time Michael decided to see if we can walk it. If you went the right way, this option would be quite possible – however we did not – we walked for hours, and hours, and hours and it was not fun. However we did get there in the end, even if we did have to go under a colony of banana spiders.

We also went to Dunns River Falls. It is one of the most famous attractions in Jamaica. Personally I preferred Konoko falls. It wasn’t too expensive to get in, but there are signs everywhere about buying or wearing water shoes. We didn’t have any and you we were not going to spend $12 each to get some, so we had to sign a waiver that we were not going to sue if I cut my toe. Every single worker thereafter asked if we had sign this waiver.

The first time we went up, you were asked to go with a group, no issue, the problem was they made everyone hold hands with the person in front of them and behind them, which was just ludicrous. For one, you are climbing up some quite heavy waterfalls and you have a person in front of you dragging you up, and one person behind you dragging you down, they said it was to help each other just made everything more difficult, especially to balance. Quite a lot of people with autism that I know are quite uncomfortable with some amount of physical contact, I can cope, but holding wet clammy hands with two complete strangers while in my bikini was not fun for me.

The second time up me and Jake went ourselves and it was a whole lot better. We managed to get to the secret stairs on the other side of the waterfall. It was hard to breathe and the water came down so strong in made your legs heavy to lift, but it was really fun to do.

One day we went to Kingston to see the farmers market with Michael to sell his products. The ride there was really fun, we went over the mountains and it was beautiful. In Kingston we were going to go to the Bob Marley museum but that was closed as it was so early. One of the other volunteers had been a few times and she said some of the authentic pieces had changed each time. So we gave it a miss. We then went to the Devonshire house which was also closed because it was a weekend, so basically just wandered around most of the time. Kingston was so so much hotter than anywhere else we have been, we weren’t there long enough to pass a fully informed judgement, but I’m glad we spent most of the time in Ocho Rios.

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We did quite a few fun things at the farm too. Colin the chef made cassava pizza bread, they had a proper wood fire pieces oven too so we had a pizza night for a few nights. One of them quite unexpectedly as a lot of people decided to come over and have a party, it was loud which is something I struggled with but I did enjoy it.

Something else I struggled with was the banana bread. In Jamaica people  put weed into everything. I have heard of weed brownies, but not weed banana bread. So when I had the banana bread I got extremely high. I was fine, went into town to get Pizza Hut and then suddenly I wasn’t fine. It felt like my head was filling up with helium and by the end of the night I was catatonic. I could not speak or eat or walk. I thought I couldn’t breathe and was eventually I was sick. Jake had to basically carry me home. It is something I had never tried before and would never try again.

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One of the days the organisation JOAM – Jamaican organic agriculture movement, have their meeting at the farm on world Earth Day, I quickly drew a picture to celebrate, Colin liked it so much I did a portrait of him for a gift too. The meeting was okay to listen to, but what I really enjoyed was witnessing the Jamaican National Anthem. I feel very thankful to have witnessed it, as it is quite special, not something many vacationers would get to experience.

Our time in Jamaica was a very special experience, it was the beginning of our journey and we couldn’t have a better start; I think that’s mostly down to Michael and Lise and I’m very grateful, when the time came to leave again we didn’t want too, and Michael made a joke about stealing our passports, but he kindly drove us down to the airport and gave us a send off, the night before he bought Champagne/wine especially for us, and we played dominoes, all of us losing miserably against him.

Our fifty-something days had come to an end and we set off to Panama.

Let the next step begin.

Feels like home. 

Very wearily we made our way back to the farm. To get there you have to go up a huge, (well it feels huge)  steep hill. It feels like you have to crawl on your hands and knees almost to get up it; upon our arrival back at the farm, huge heavy backpacks on, after being squeezed into a 12 seater bus with 26 people in it, that hill had never been easier or look so beautiful.

Everyone was happy to see us back, which was such a nice feeling, especially Brando and Tyler. For my reminding time at the farm they stayed by me all the time. Slept on my porch at night and stayed close during the day,  they were also extremely protective if I went anywhere in the dark, so much so I often tripped over them. The little puppy, Tash, was just happy to have someone else to chew on. It was so good to hear “good morning beautiful” again .

We were there for 27 days, and they were excellent. The thing about Jamaica, which I mentioned before and is something I still find hard to deal with is that harassment. It’s continuous, in your face and pressing for your money or to buy something or a taxi, even when you say no it doesn’t stop, they continue to see if you change your mind and sometimes angry when you don’t. Thankfully as time went on I got more used to it, and as the locals got to recognise me more, It slowed down. I found when I wasn’t with Jacob it happened hardly at all, I think because I wasn’t with an obvious ‘white tourist’. I did get a few men come up to me, but honestly I found it a little bit of a compliment. They soon went away when they I saw Jacob, (well most did). I don’t blame them, He has got this grumpy, no-one come near me kind if look. But I love it.

The work was was relatively the same; weeding, sorting the veg, harvesting, we continued with that with the earth bag building, while seating around the fire pit was left forgotten.

One day we sorted out the chicken coop. I quite enjoy doing this, we cleaned it all out and then laid a new floor. Another day we set up an irrigation system, and another was removing large swathes of lemon grass which started to overthrow the whole farm if left abandoned. It took four of us, three whole days or more to remove at all.
They were building a new house with a yoga platform while we were there. Before we left we had done the painting of the wood for the roof and doing some concreting. Now we were inside plastering the walls and painting. They had used drywall, and to be honest they had not done it well. I spent a lot of time working with Canadian Michael, who was at the end of his tether, trying to fix the mess they had left. If it was in England they would have the show Cowboy builders in.

When I was plastering, the men watched me the whole time, and as soon as I walked away, they went over to check the work. I’d already got the impression that a building site was ‘not for women’ but they seem pretty satisfied by what I did. As I spent more time at the site, the more open they were to the fact I was there, and was fine that I was able to do exactly the same as them, and maybe a little impressed that I was able to as well.

We tried to do our best at everything. Michael and Lise was so great you wanted to try to do well, but it wasn’t always the case. One day Jacob and I were cutting the parsley for the market and completely destroyed it by cutting it all wrong. It had been eaten by some bug anyway, so most of it was a unusable, but still we made it a lot harder for him to grow his parsley again. Jacob also managed to pull a lot of lettuces he wasnt ment to. Thankfully, Michael’s helper – Lator – who was awesome to work with, went round and sort it all out again.

We helped with the thatched roof which was on the new house temporarily while they’re building it, the guys had pulled it down and we had to sort it out basically. It was a very dirty job, and I coped really well despite the rotten, wet thatch and cockroaches. I did manage to save three frogs though, so it was worth it. I

Then that was it. Work was over. The next post I will talk about the activities we did while there.

Despite how hard everything was for me to adapt, especially the first few months. To be honest I am still adapting, still finding it stressful and working alongside the constant change, I enjoyed it. I found Jamaica to be great, but I think that was mainly down staying with Michael and Lise. Michael said I spoiled Tash, but to be perfectly honest, he definitely spoilt us.

Not the best side of Jamaica… Or America either.

Once I wrote a poem where one of the lines was:

“We were always told that we should love and help out neighbour, but society has taught us, screw them if it’s in your favour.”

Our time in Portland made me think this is very much true.

 

After a sad goodbye to Michael and Lise, we left Ocho Rios and headed for Port Antonio. There are not really any busses on a Sunday, so had to get a route taxi from Ocho to Port Maria, then to Antono Bay, then to Port Antonio, and finally Boston. The changing of taxis and not really knowing where we were going, along with our huge rucksack’s and being squished seven in a car made my anxiety shoot right up, and to be honest, luckily anxiety has never been something I have had a huge problem with. Our driver took the liberty of driving us to the door of great huts in Boston (which is where we were staying), as it was obvious we didn’t know where we were going and charged us near quadruple the price for doing so… Thanks.

Great huts, if you look it up, is stunning. Lots of huts and animals and a seafront board walk along the cliff top and a private beach. Great huts was giving us subsidised accommodation in single sex, three bed dorms as a donation to the Portland homeless and Rehabilitation Shelter. This was where we were doing our next workaway. We were planning on staying here one month.

 

When we got there, they said there was a mix up in the dorms so we got our own private room together, which was a huge plus as I don’t think I would have done well, being alone after being so stressed. It was lovely. We had our own sink and cold water shower, a four-poster bed and mosquito net. Complete luxury really. (Had a look at the price per night and it needs to be luxury!) The only thing was, there was no lock on the door and the door was only half the size of the frame, like a saloon door you see in old cowboy movies, not a problem it’s just something Jake found weird.

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Great huts is in the epicentre of where jerk favouring began. You have to walk down a street full of vendors to get to it, all of them shouting to you and trying to get you to come in to their place and ignore their neighbour. This put me very on edge. I think I have mentioned before, that having Autism – for me – makes lots of noise very difficult and having a lot of people in your face doesn’t help either. One man, who after saying no to some of his moonshine drink berated us with forceful anger, cursing us as bad people as we didn’t ‘buy local’. Scared me actually.

We hadn’t eaten that day, so we stopping in one of these kettle metal rooms for some food and made the mistake of not confirming the price beforehand, they too ripped us off, for a single plate of jerk chicken and rice they wanted $25! We managed to haggle them down thankfully but not by much.

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We were to pay $5 each for accommodation and the same for food. In workaway your meant to get that for free in return for work, so it was a bit annoying to pay for the privilege of volunteering. They said the food was optional add-on, but there was nowhere to cook or keep food and no food allowed in rooms, so we didn’t really have any choice – to pay or to be left to the mercy of the street vendors outside.

We met the only other workaway there – Malte. He was from Germany too. He said we don’t get lunch, and we get exactly the same every day for breakfast and dinner. I am gong to reply miss vegetables a lot – something I never thought if say. I feel like this annoyance is very much #first.world.problems

It is a twenty-minute drive to the shelter from the Huts. Good job taxis are not too expensive, but I could see it really adding up over the next month. We got there at half nine and met the lady who ran the shelter. I’ll call her *Miss Amy. She said that the place runs of donations, church help and other contributors, we are here to try to raise money from sponsors and entertain the residents.

We had to read a few files, then we introduced ourselves to everyone. There were eleven clients and two other official staff. Met a man *Josh who liked drawing. Later that day we went down to a little craft shop they ran and saw his pictures, they were really good, I told him how I like drawing too, that made him smile.

Jake sat talking to a woman, *Chole, who was reading Angles and Daemons, just very slowly. He had a good chat with her. The rest just sat around, not talking, eyes blank. It felt kind of depressed.

I had done a year’s work experience in a low secure mental health hospital in england, here in Jamaica, nearly all the patients had some sort of mental health issue, such as bipolar or schizophrenia, and the two places seemed so different. Here it was just… Unhappy.

We worked from 10 till 3. Very different from the previous 7 till 11. The late start was nicer, but as you didn’t get back till half three, there was very little you could do after work, especially as the sun goes down at six. it also poured with rain. You could tell We were in a rainforest. We did go down to the beach for a bit. The waves were huge and rough, but there were seats cut into the rock, so we sat there and watched the sun go down.

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Next day the same. We went to the shelter and had a look at some of their files. They seemed to be on the correct medication, but then it topped up with tranquilizers. No wonder everyone sat around in a zombiefied state!

There was a church group that morning, so we say outside for the first hour. Miss Any said we should join in, regardless of our own religious views, Jake was not very happy. He nearly said he didn’t want to as he is pagan, but that may have given her a heart attack.

Afterwards I tried to set up a CrowdFund page. When I asked for the charity ID and Tax number, I was told I couldn’t have them, and not to start a page as, and I quote, “we don’t want too much money coming in.” That sounded extremely strange to me, as yesterday I was told they are desperate for money. That they could only pay their 4 staff members 50 US dollars a month! Which I can tell you, in Jamaica doesn’t go far, and that they couldn’t afford to buy four screws to set up a table tennis net. It set a lot of questions in our heads going.

That night Jake did some research, and the person who owned Great Huts also owned the shelter, so it wasn’t really a charitable donation to let us stay, we were paying this American man for the privilege of working for him! He not only owned this huge resort. He is on two university medical boards, and is a high-end, private doctor, who specialises in call outs in Washington D.C.

A man like that could surely fork out enough to pay his staff a decent wage and look after the shelter properly; even just some decent games so the residents had something to do, and not have to beg local churches for food. It didn’t make sense. What is more, he knew about the tranquillising. Everything we learnt made us more and more put off; Jake wanted to leave as soon as we could.

He contacted Michael who was happy to have us back thankfully, Jake was happy to be going but I felt so bad for the residents, although there was nothing we could really do. Most of them had forgotten us from the day before because they were so doped up.

We talked about it, and Jake was so unhappy there we decided to leave the next day, that night we got drunk (well I did) on the swinging seat over the cliff top walkway and looked at the moon dancing on the sea. It was a truly beautiful place.

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The next morning, Jake had been looking into it more, and realised that the other ‘charitable donations’ the place had got, were from the owner’s business associates, and friends. Most of which we extremely rich business people, many owned their own lawfirms and were high up in a fortune 500 company (one of the top 500 successful business in america.)

This may be blind speculation, but it seems that the shelter was used as a tax haven for wealthy Americans. Give money to charity, don’t pay as much tax in their country, and the ‘donation’ went into a bank to get interest and the shelter saw the very bare minimum of it to keep the place ticking over. The people who suffered were the ones at the shelter, the ones most in need. It is sickening really.

We went on to say goodbye and tell miss Amy we were going. I felt so bad for the residents, although I was glad to say bye to miss Amy; she wasn’t the nicest person that could be there to help some of the most vulnerable people  in need of support, not by a long shot. I felt like a really shit person for leaving them.

One months work turned into three days, we didn’t have the power to change anything. Hopefully one day we, or some who cares can.

Hell to Heaven – Ocho Rios pt 2

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Workaway, so far, has been excellent for us. It has given us a way to travel (without breaking the bank…hopefully), and live in the real life of these countries and cultures. The only downside is, you do have to spend some of your time working which isn’t for everyone, but you do get a lot of time off to have fun, and the working side seems to make everything more authentic and a real experience. If your lucky you will meet hosts such as Michael and Lise who make your time with them so great it doesn’t matter. (Also it will hopefully took good on my CV)

As I said last, we arrived on Sunday. After work the following day we went into Ocho Rios town. Not for anything in particular. Just to look around and get a feel for the place. It instantly made me feel a lot safer than in Montego Bay. We didn’t stay long, we were tired, but I do remember the ice cream. My love of ice cream could match Joe Biden’s and I had one nearly everyday. If you are in Jamaica I do recommend the Devonshire House. It is the way to go, especially Black Cherry. Tuesday was the same. Hanging out with Marco and Chris, playing cards and teaching them Mills; but on Wednesday they got a puppy!

There were a few animals already at the farm. Dogs, Tyler and Brando, a few chickens and that evil rouster. A goat I named granny, and a cat – Tipi. Tipi was small, bossy and liked sitting on your shoulder and digging in his claws. He also liked bread. In the Sunday we arrived we had brought a loaf of bread and some other things. Ten minutes of it being left alone in the room and Tipi had found it, ripped through the plastic bags and ate about five slices. Not whole ones, just select corners. You could get him to do almost anything if bread was involved.

On Wednesday, Lise went out for work in the morning. Michael popped out and came back with the most tiny puppy. She could easily fit in the palm of his hand. Where she was she wouldn’t have survived. Not well looked after and the smallest in a cage of bigger animals. I fell in love. Late that evening, Lise came home and saw her fast asleep in my lap. The look of shock was fit for a comedy film.

“What is this?”

“Ask Michael” I said.

Oops. someone is in the dog house.

Lise did not know about the puppy, and she wasn’t allowed a Donkey which she proclaimed very unfair, don’t think she wanted it really, was quiet funny to hear her protest though. The puppy was so cute you couldn’t help falling in love with her. They named her Tash. The other dogs were very jealous of the attention she was getting, but got used to her slowly. She liked to play bite, which was cute at first, but her little sharp puppy teeth hurt. Went straight through my dress and she had a liking for Michael’s shoes.

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Our first week we went to the Blue Hole. It’s a set of waterfalls and rivers that you get to jump off, absail down, swim through and rope swing across. It was awesome. Me, Jake, Marco and Chris went. It was great. They highest jump was just over 20ft, which the boys don’t desperately want to do – so I went first. Nearly lost my bikini but was very fun anyway.

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We met a lot of people while we were there. Lises brother and an Air B&B; but other workaways too. Isabel was the first person we met. Only with us for a few days but lovely to talk to. She was from Germany too, (we met lots of Germans in Jamaica) and she was working with J.O.A.M for her university course.  (Jamaican Organic Agricultural Management.)

Manu – German, Fedricka – Italian and Michael – Canadian, all came on the next Sunday. Jake’s birthday. We had already been to the beach with Isabel and that night we all went out to a proper Jamaica jam session, with one of the local men we had met while working, we knew him as Spinal. Jake was so drunk by the end of it they got him to dance and sing (well, more like butcher) Bob Marley on karaoke.

They also said that me and Jake should be married by now and have Jacob Jr on the way. They added some rather graphic sex tips to help with the matter too.

Jake was so hung over the next day he spent most of the time lying in the grass moaning.

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In Ocho we went to a few different beaches, Mahogany beach was our favourite (it was also free as an added bonus). We went there one day with Marco and Chris and met a Rasta Man. He told us all about his beliefs and that the earth is the woman that brings life, the sky is the man and rain being the sperm. Women like the earth, need to be honnered, respected and looked after.  He offered all this up very freely without our asking, not sure how we even go to the conversation to be honest, but was interesting non-the-less. After we had to get a drunk Marco and Chris back home and stop them from walking off with a kids shirt and selling there shoes for weed.

We went to Turtle river park, where as you can guess we saw turtles; and Konoko Falls. Another set of waterfalls where you have to navigate them to climb up. I dealt very well with the sudden cold of the water and wet leaves around my feet. While there you could also see the gardens and a little museum. Konoko was the last day. So on that night we went out for a meal and had this lime and coriander chicken. It was very good but neon green in colour which was a bit strange

Overall we had the most amazing time there and didn’t desperately want to leave after only two weeks. After a tough start in Jamaica they had made it a perfect. I was in much better spirts on the way to a next workaway in Boston – Jamaica. At least it’s the origin of jerk chicken, which is something to look forward to.

Hell to heaven – Ocho Rios pt 1

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There are a lot of things I have learnt to cope with during my life, and I do cope pretty well. Reading faces, change, understand social cues and, to be honest,  being social full stop. I had to face these challenges head-on at uni, it threw me in at the deep end. Now it seems my main difficulties are more sensory; temperature changes, foods smells, textures, mud, bugs and noise especially set me on edge, although I still find being with or around people for long periods of time very exhausting. Luckily I can spend hours with Jake in comfortable silence and neither of us are bothered. Despite this, I have tried to face everything so far head-on and have lived though it (with only the occasional breakdown.)

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After Montego Bay, we started out first workaway in Ocho Rios. It was a farm in Fern Gully. Our hosts were French-Canadian Lise and Jamaican Michael; and two nicer people you could never meet. Soon it felt like home. Michael gave me the nickname of “Miss UK” and Jake was “The English Man.”

It was a little shaky start. We arrived Sunday night and our bedroom door had swollen because of the rain and wouldn’t shut. We had to tie it closed from the inside. We also had to cook in this little hut in the dark with giant moths flapping in our faces and trying not the scream at finding a cockroach on top of the fridge door; and let’s not forget the non-flushing compost toilet.

Jake said wait until the morning and everything will get better, and as usual (I hate to say that) he was right. I loved it. We were there for two weeks – at first – and in the end we didn’t want to leave.

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They plan was to work four hours a day, five days a week, 7-11. Now my job back home didn’t usually start till 10, so I usually got up at 8 so I had time to watch an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and be ready at work for quarter to. The idea now of getting up at six was horrifying! Especially while we are technically in holiday. It was so difficult to begin with. The early start and physical work did help me sleep, which was needed as the cockerels had decided it was time to call out every day around 2:30 am.

 

I would not say I am unfit, at home I did swimming, Krav Maga and Pole Fitness classes, but that exercise is very different to farm Labour in the 30° heat at some awful time in the morning. We were working with these two guys from Germany, Marco and Chris who we got along with really well. We chatted a lot, went out together and they taught is card games – which I usually managed to beat them at.

Our first day we were working with a man named Lator, weeding , transplanting Cilantro and Arugula (I think that’s Coriander and Rocket in UK English) and picking the carrots and tomatoes, which were then cooked by the most excellent chef – Colin, for us for lunch.  It was quite fun actually, except I got bit by something that did not agree with me one bit. It made me go dizzy, my ears go fuzzy, and for a bit it got so bright I couldn’t see. It went as fast as it came and I was back after about twenty minutes rest.

Over the two weeks we did lots of different types of work. We built the fire pit; which we had Pizza around one night using the proper clay pizza oven. We did watering, weeding, seeding, planting in the fields, concrete mixing, built an earth bag/ cob house, painting wooden beams for the roof and some wormacompost (well Jake did) – as soon as I realised it was sifting though mud and picking up worms I quickly scampered away.

I have come far, but not that much.

 

Pt 2 I will talk about the people we met, the things we did, and the puppy!