While I was bartending at the Oyster Bar J and I made a lot of friends that traveled. We learned it was possible to travel for almost nothing if you had the time and made a lot of friends that would put you up. One of these travelers turned us on to an old woman in Jamaica named Miss Viv.
J wrote a letter to Miss Viv asking if we could stay with her for a week or so. She lived in the cliffs of Negril on the other side of the road from the water’s edge. We didn’t have to wait long for a reply. She’d love to have us.
Negril hadn’t really been built up yet. Rick’s Café was already famous. The Gray Line bus tour would bring tourists there to have a cocktail at sunset, gawk at the poor people, jump back on the bus, and get the hell out of there. Their patio hung over the edge of the cliffs and so did everyone else’s. From what I understand these beautiful places were all built from the profits of drug sales.
By contrast Miss Viv’s place was a small house with rats running under the porch and no air conditioning. The shower was a large black plastic bag that absorbed the heat of the sun. It was filled with rain.
When we met her she was a short, animated woman with long, white, Don King hair. Miss Viv told us she killed one of her chickens, cut it up and gave her little boy, Assburn, the larger half to feed his family. The rest was for us. We told her we were grateful but were vegetarians. She said, “no problem, more for us.” She went out to her yard, picked a large round piece of fruit from a tree and stuck it directly on the open flame of her stove. After it’s husk had become totally charred, she peeled the husk, sliced it into strips and placed it in a bowl. The strips tasted like French fries with a pumpkin aftertaste. It was breadfruit.
The next morning we walked into the kitchen to find a small, balding woman doing chores. We wondered where Miss Viv found the money to hire help. Then we realized it was Miss Viv. She had been wearing a wig. Her little boy Assburn was working in the yard. He was in his late 60s. Miss Viv was 92. We finally figured out Assburn was Osborne.
Everyone loved Miss Viv and we had free run of the properties on the cliffs. Rock formations surrounded natural swimming pools. They were great for diving and privacy.
Cocaine, marijuana, and mushroom tea were everywhere.
At he bottom of the cliffs where they met the beach was an open-air market. J decided she wanted to shop. I was left to my own devices. As I wandered from shack to shack 2 Rasta looking guys stopped me. They wanted to show me something in the back of one of the shacks. One of them produced a large glass jar full of what looked like hash oil. “We want you to take this back to the states,” one of them said. “No one would search you,” the other added. I politely thanked them for the opportunity but declined.
This is when I decided my long hair probably put me at a social disadvantage. J had a friend named Carla who decided to come with us. Carla had enough money to stay in a hotel at the beach. Carla was also a hairdresser. I had her chop off my hair. This presented a whole new set of problems. Now I was seen as a rich tourist and everyone wanted to sell me something.
One morning, while I was hanging from a hammock on the beach, the hotel’s concierge presented us with a giant spleef. I took one hit and spent the rest of the day in Carla’s hotel bed.
I’m not sure what happened but one night Carla went crazy and ran screaming into darkness. Somehow she got a plane back to the states where her boyfriend rounded up a few friends. They were supposed to be waiting for me at the airport to kick my ass. (J if you ever read this tell me what happened).
Osborne had 3 wives. One of them was an Indian woman who lived on a sugar plantation in the middle of the island with their 10 kids. We spent a day with them and I learned a lot about island living.
The final scenes of Papillion were shot where we stayed in the cliffs.
When it was time to settle our bill with Miss Viv it came to $22.00. This was for 7 nights and 2 meals a day! Years later there was a severe hurricane. J wrote and asked if there was anything she could send. Miss Viv said she could use sheets and curtains but don’t send money. It would never get to her.