Thursday, June 30, 2011

Fillet of Place

I’d never been on a bamboo raft.  Never knew they existed. So I sat and gazed at the couple reclining on the bamboo raft as it skimmed the water.  It was coming on twilight and the sun tinged pinky orange the bleach white villas behind them.  The air was cool underneath the overhanging branches.  I could hear their leaves rustling and the ripples as they formed on the water’s surface.  Grasshoppers and crickets began rehearsing the first tentative chords of their nightly orchestra.  I could see the eddy currents forming off the raftsman’s oar as he piloted the raft forward.  I could even hear the mumblings of the conversation being had by the couple. They didn’t mind my voyeurism.  Didn’t even know I was there.   Only the raftsman knew.  He was looking directly at me.

How romantic! I thought. 

I knew this image was taken in Jamaica, but where in Jamaica?  In the pre internet age of my early teenage years Google wasn’t at my disposal.  No.  Where was this place and how do I get there?  This powerful - provocative image became increasingly so each time I saw it repeated in subsequent issues of the magazine it was featured in.   So much so, that I wondered at the advertiser’s aim.  To me, the ad advertised the place and not the cheap cologne foregrounded.

This ad was my initial visual introduction to the Blue Lagoon, or Blue Hole.

Its genius loci had such a profound impact on my young teenage mind, even in 2D, and I decided definitively at that moment that this is where I’d spend my honeymoon.  Wherever ‘this’ was.  Even had the groom already picked out.  No surprise there.  Teenage girls envision this soppy stuff waaay ahead of time. We think of Love, Gossip, Fashion, Boys, Parties, Music, … .  Not necessarily in that order.  Maybe in that order.  It’s how we’re conditioned. That’s what the sociologists say.

A rarely seen vantage point: The courtyard entrances to two Villas

Fast forward three-ish years and I actually had my first real encounter with Blue Lagoon.  I was on a sixth form field trip.  Some wicked trip that.  Rocking and dancing in the aisle to Pinchers, Lt Stitchie and Tiger (Damn Ting! I put Jamaica white rum in di damn ting!) belting out of the superb sound system of the quarter million bus we hired for the day; half of us flirting (not me of course) and quasi-flirting (??  Maybe not quasi-…call me naïve; you wouldn’t be the first). Seventeen year olds: a hot mess of hormones and faux nihilism.

I think – I’m sure, that was my absolute first trip to Portland.  Our destination was Fairy Hill beach, but we stopped at Long Bay and Blue Hole on the way.  I was secretly excited to finally go to a place I’d only vicariously been.

It did not disappoint.

A bunch of us ran out excitedly to tromp all over the grounds…or just to get out of the bus.  The lagoon was aqua-emerald-turquoise-teal and the saturation more intense than I could ever have imagined. As was the foliage.  After catching my breath, I and couple of girls walked alongside the lagoon's edge and into a dense part of the foliage on the almost opposite bank.  Climbing up through there reminded me of climbing through the steep backyards of some of my neighbours’ houses in Stony Hill, sans limestone boulders. 

Eventually I found what had called to me across the water:  Two villas. One in total, exquisite ruins; the other only just.  We conveniently did not hear our teacher call after us to be careful.  We climbed up and lobbed ourselves over the temporal threshold of the latter villa.  It was constructed of wood and painted white.  Inside was silent.  We subconsciously responded to this silence by reverting to our hushed voices.  The chatting and laughter from our party outside reduced to incoherent white noise.  The rooms were a shadow of their former selves, but discernible nonetheless. The villa wasn’t big, but it was bright and well planned.  Much of it remained true and we were able to walk its corridors that led to the remains of room after room and climb a partial stairway leading to what was once upstairs.  It was easy to imagine residing in this space now coloured the faded white of deteriorating clapboard, cloaked in bright green moss and grey-green lichen. 

Easy to imagine sitting on the balcony observing a pinky-orange sunset to the tune of a thousand crickets, easy to imagine falling asleep in the rooms facing hillside to the lull of rustling leaves and the muffled, melodic klaxon of the occasional country bus rounding the bend of the not too distant A4 road above, easy to imagine being awakened by the seven-tiered coo of the white-wing doves and arising to see the morning sun reflecting off the still, glassy surface of the aqua-emerald-turquoise-teal lagoon, easy to imagine planning the day’s occupation whilst lounging in the living room with its French windows flung wide to let in nature.   

Wandering through the villa I noticed that philodendron and other foliage had crept up and vined and snaked their way through the rotted away portions (even the plants wanted to see inside this folly), weaving in and out as they found their way to the sunlight above, tiny bits of which floated down through the holes of the soft, rotted cedar shake roof to rest on the floors and walls, highlighting that peculiar shade of chartreuse that new moss has in the sunlight.  One could hear the intermittent sound of leaves rustling in a cascading crescendo and feel the coolness of the now semi-enclosed space.  The sublime takeover of nature transformed the villa in ruins into a cathedral in the treetops.  A monument to what once was.

It was hard to reverse track and exit this ruin.  A stark contrast to the solid, sure, concrete villas on the other side of the lagoon, yet just as majestic in its faded glory.  I found myself lamenting,

‘Who didn’t love it enough to preserve it?’

Few things last forever.  I suppose.

Pastel drawing of Restaurant
'Orchid Cay' with foliage
I was in a very pensive mood on our departure from Blue Hole and on to the next stop, Fairy Hill beach, which held its fair share of delights.  My pensive mood returned once evening fell and we headed back to Kingston.  I knew I would return but I never knew that I was destined to see my first moray eel and spotted eagle ray at the Blue Hole.  That I’d go on several trips to Portland with friends when on vacation from college and revisit the lagoon each time; that I’d get my diver’s certification there and nearby Trident Wall; that it would take eight different shades of blue and nine different shades of green pastels to recreate an image of the lagoon for an art class; that Master Bates, the unofficial mascot of the lagoon would remain long enough to gain a bit part in a YouTube feature decades hence; that I and my schoolmate/blindly-unbeknownst-to-me future husband (who was also on the trip) would, on our honeymoon,  swim out to the tiny little cay and climb it, stand at the top, and in youthful, destructive ignorance, pick two purple orchids as I selfishly and carelessly exerted my power over nature.

I regret doing that to this day.   That cay is now bald, that marriage long dissolved, Master Bates half rusted and shabby, the wooden shed in my pastel itself a ruin, the once lush bank to the left of the lovers on the raft now transformed into an abhorrent man-made, polluted, dumped-up beach.
I’ve been accused of being naïve, and a hopeless romantic to boot. Guilty as charged.  And I wouldn’t have me any other way.  It’s probably why it never occurred to me that Blue Hole’s timeless, startling, ethereal beauty would not go unnoticed by anyone who encountered her; in either 2D or real D.

The systematic destruction of the lagoon draws my soul and pierces my heart deeply.  I am at a loss as to why such a move was undertaken and why nearby inhabitants of the lagoon, some of whom wield significant power and influence over public policy and decisionmaking, have turned a blind eye to its demise. I find myself asking myself,

Do they not love it enough to preserve it?

Master Bates

 - Torsdag

Save Blue Lagoon


  1. No, I couldn't check the "funny" box. Your descriptions of Blue Hole are lovely, but oh how sad it is now to see those photos. It gave me a terrible sinking feeling. I have been visiting this area for 20-odd years and have so many happy memories, sharing its beauty with my family when they came to visit Jamaica. Problem is, the local council and "powers that be" (including a certain Member of Parliament) are, I suspect, not just turning a blind eye but are possibly tacitly encouraging this horrible "development." Two questions: Do you think this can ever be reversed? (If the area where the beach is is private property, how can one stop them?) Secondly, isn't the lagoon protected under an Act of Parliament? I wonder if someone could file a lawsuit. It is tragic; it is starting to look like every other tacky, slummy "tourist attraction" in Jamaica. The photos of the party were particularly depressing. And who would have thought the marine police would ever have needed to be in our precious Blue Hole. By the way is there a Facebook page, or a petition on this? There should be.

  2. Not sure what we the people who care can do, not sure the power structure care and not sure how to get them to care, not sure the average Jamaican care or value our natural resources and as such not sure we can build the required pressure to make a change. Maybe we need to get international support from outside environment groups to help us organize and highlight the problem worldwide. We have a Minister of Water, Environment and Housing Dr Horace Chang, he was welcomed to the post my JET, I have yet to hear a statement on the issue from the Honorable Minister, if he did say something I must have missed it but I remain deeply concern and is willing to help in any way I can, even if it means some good old fashion road blocking and tire burning.

  3. What a disaster. Hurricanes can come and go but man will kill its own habitat. What is wrong with us.