Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Cold Cinema, Rocking Restaurant, and a Van with A View

A few interesting things happened over the past weekend when we traveled to Ocho Rios (aka Ochi) to visit our friend Darius.

If you had read our blog posts from the fall of 2005, you probably don't remember what they said. So I will refresh your memory, we used to go to the movie theatre in Portmore and see whatever was playing there on 2 for 1 Tuesdays. Sadly, that theatre was closed down at the end of 2005 because it was crappy. There are other cinemas in Jamaica, but they are harder to travel to than the one that used to be in Portmore. Because of the difficulty in getting to the cinema, Pirates of the Caribbean 2 was the last film we saw, on July 16, 2006. So when we noticed that Meet the Robinsons was playing as the matinee in Ochi, we had to go. The movie was very entertaining, if a tad manic and confusing. But the whole package -- popcorn, a/c, darkened theatre, loud speakers, and weird animated characters -- made it a diverting experience.

Later that night, we went to the newly opened Hard Rock Cafe. Did you know there are about 200 of these things around the world? It was fun there, though, because they have one of the only happy hours that I have seen in Jamaica. This means buy one drink get one free, and unlimited gratis chips and salsa. The deal used to cover all blended and premium drinks and all types of beer, until the Hard Rock Jamaica was informed by corporate that the special only pertains to rum drinks and Red Stripe. Still a good deal. They also show music videos and concert clips from a range of performers such as The Bangles, ABBA, and Panic! At the Disco. A weird mix of 80's, 90's, and current rock/pop bands.

The other interesting thing was on the trip home on the minibus. Since Mt. Rosser was blocked due to repairs, we had to take a detour onto a small road that parallels the Mt. Rosser route. But it had an awesome view of the hilly country in southern St. Ann that is similar to Cockpit Country. The road was about at the top of the hill, with a valley to the right that went straight down. From the road, the hills in the distance look like an infinite line of egg cartons, but each one is hundreds of feet high.

Thanks Darius for a really fun time.


Monday, April 23, 2007

Jamaican Idol?

Rising Stars Stage

Rising Stars is a Jamaican show that discovers new talent through a televised singing contest in which people can vote for their favorite singer by phone, similar to American Idol in the United States. It is very popular in Jamaica, and the island has a huge number of aspiring singers and musical artists. This past weekend, we happened to be in Ochi visiting a friend and the Rising Stars auditions were taking place there as well.

The auditions were held at Island Village, a shopping, dining, and entertainment complex located near the cruise ship dock in Ocho Rios. There were about 400 contestants lined up, but according to the Gleaner this was a lot less than last year. There was very little excitement in the air at Island Village. What we noticed most was the police, wooden barriers, and checkpoints that made it hard to move around the area.

The main problem with the auditions, though, is that they didn't broadcast the singers through a PA system. So there was people watching, people singing, a stage ... but no sound to be heard. Why hold the auditions in a very public outdoor venue if you are not going to let the public hear the auditions? If you don't want people to hear them, hold the tryouts indoors.

Let's hope this season of Rising Stars finds some talented singers. My personal favorite from last year was Brushy One String, who played all of his songs using a one string guitar and wore a cowboy hat for every episode. He made it to the top 10.


Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Ants in the Shower

For some strange reason a large number of ants have taken up residence in our shower. We believe that they are consolidating in the handles. They aren't usually seen until you turn on the water and are actually in the shower, then they come rushing out of the handles onto the wall and run around in circles for a while. I'm pretty sure they are trying not to get wet, but if that was the goal why would they take up residence in the shower in the first place? The really stupid ones are those that try to escape along the tub sides and seek protection among the soap and shampoo bottles, I find them to be too close for comfort so they all get drowned. I know that seems harsh but I'm afraid of them jumping off the shampoo bottle into my hair when I wash it and the thought of ants in my hair is just too much. But other than those we have pretty much decided to co-exist with the ants in the shower, mostly because we don't know how to get rid of them. So for now we just have to deal with the unpleasantness of hundreds of ants coming out to join you while bathing.


Monday, April 16, 2007

Putting Java to the Test


In an earlier post, I had written about trying to brew the best cup of coffee I could, using my French press, grinder, and Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee beans. But it dawned on me over the weekend that I had never directly compared this coffee to other varieties grown on the island to determine if it was truly the best. So, on Sunday, I put the assumption of Blue Mountain superiority to the test.

Shane Sipping

I bought three types of coffee: Blue Mountain beans, High Mountain beans, and Mountain Choice grounds (these are listed in order of price, from highest to lowest). Since I only have one press, I brewed the coffee in mugs, using one scoop of ground coffee for each mug and filling them up with boiling water to the same level. The grounds were stirred and steeped for about 5 minutes, then filtered with the press. I cleaned the press out between each filtration. Then all of the cups were sampled with no additives (i.e. milk or sugar). I also varied the order of the sips to compare the different varieties against each other.

Kaelyn with a Cup

The results (ranked in order of taste preference):
  1. Blue Mountain
  2. High Mountain
  3. Mountain Choice

This is what you would expect based on their respective prices, but comparing the coffees against each other revealed that the Blue Mountain is far superior to the other two. What distinguished the winner was that it had an earthy, rich taste that was pleasing to the palate. So pleasing that it could be enjoyed with nothing added to it. The other important factor was that there was no bitter or acidic aftertaste. The finish was clean.

Blue Mountain Brewing

The Winner

The High Mountain had some problems, including a woody smell and acidic taste, but seemed to get better after sitting for a while. The Mountain Choice was worse than Folgers, with a bad aftertaste and a flavor that evoked the mildew smell arising from a tent that has been left in a damp basement for many months. Both of them would need reinforcements of milk and sugar to be drunk on a regular basis.

The final verdict: the Blue Mountain is definitely worth the price of admission if you can afford it.


Saturday, April 14, 2007

Goats Beware

Goats Beware

I saw this sign last week and thought it was pretty funny. I'm pretty sure it was a joke considering it was outside a store in the New Kingston area, but you never know.

- Kaelyn

Trelawny Yam Fest

I had been hearing about the Yam Fest, it seems, for as long as I had been in Jamaica. It is an event that Volunteers helped start, and current Volunteers help to set it up this year. This year it was held at a fairgrounds near Falmouth, the capital of the parish of Trelawny last Monday. The Monday after Easter is a national holiday in Jamaica, so there was no work.

I didn't have a very great time at the event. The biggest problem was that it rained for about 75% of the time I was there. This meant all of the attendees were squished together beneath the various tents located on the grounds. The rain also delayed some of the scheduled activities, such as the donkey dressing competition. Then all of the events had to be squeezed into a shorter time frame. The other problem was that there were very few craft vendors, while there seemed to be about 50 food vendors selling chicken and roast yam. I thought there would be some tasty free samples, but most of the experimental yam food cost money. The free sample I did try (yam fritters) wasn't very good.

The things I did like:
  • Rasta Marching band from "Selassie Gardens" with red, green, and yellow uniforms
  • Popcorn man selling freshly popped corn with melted butter
  • Roast Yam with butter and hot sauce was pretty good
Sorry to be such a downer, but the truth is that I don't really like yams that much, and that may have led me to not enjoy this event. And remember, there were many other parts to the Yam Festival spread out over weeks, so hopefully they all went off without a hitch.