Carolyn Cooper | Porto Seco Beach gone for good?
It's supposed to be 'Puerto'. Spanish for port. But the foreign word has been Jamaicanised, like Ocho Rios. Our pet name for the town is Ochi. It's only foreigners who say 'Ocho' for short. Their abbreviation is logical. But language is a notoriously illogical matter. Especially English. Jamaicans are famous for 'heartically' fixing up words to suit our understanding of their meaning. Certificate becomes cerfiticket. Quite logically! It's a ticket that entitles the bearer to certain rights. That's particularly true of a birth cerfiticket.
Linguists have a fancy term for this process. It's folk etymology. Creative people change the structure of a strange word so that it make sense. Poinciana becomes Fancy Anna. Native speakers of English do it all the time. Take, for example, the French word 'longue' as in 'chaise longue', meaning long chair. It's been changed to 'lounge'. After all, you do lounge about in a long chair.
And that's one of the problems with the new Porto Seco Beach. It costs $1,000 to rent a beach chair. But that's not the beginning of this story. It goes back more than half a century. When I was a child, we would go on an annual church outing - or, more accurately, 'outnin' - to Porto Seco. It was a magical day. It started on Saturday night with the preparation of food: home-grown chicken, rice and peas, salad, pudding and drinks. No strong liquor because this was not an outnin of the ungodly! The saints of God were out for holy pleasure.
We would leave the North Street Seventh-day Adventist Church at about 7 o'clock on that special Sunday morning. In the days before Coaster buses, we were transported from Kingston in trucks fitted with long wooden benches. Not exactly lounge chairs, but fit for purpose. My younger sister, Donnette, remembers buses with regular seats. After an essential prayer for travelling mercies, we were off on our grand expedition to the north coast. And there was much jollification: singing, telling stories and jokes. It was a celebration of community.
Then we arrived at the wide expanse of white sand and blue green water. It was glorious. As the adults unpacked the truck and claimed a spot on the beach, we children dashed into the water. Most of us couldn't swim. We were working-class children who didn't have access to swimming pools and instructors. We would occasionally go to Gunboat Beach in Kingston Harbour. But swimming was not part of our culture. All the same, we had a wonderful time walking in the water. Not on it, like Jesus. But it was miraculous that we could enjoy ourselves so much, splashing about in the water with absolutely no fear of drowning. And some adult was always close by to grab us if it looked as if we were going out of our depth.
And then it was time for lunch. Home-cooked food, prepared with love and enjoyed to the last crunch of chicken bone. Not the mass-produced restaurant food you are now forced to buy at the new Porto Seco Beach. All too soon, it was time to go home. And downhill, on treacherous Mount Rosser, terrified children with unsettled stomachs always started to bawl. But there was pleasure even in the terror. We knew we were safe with all the big people to protect us.
'BETTER BEACHES FOR JAMAICANS'
The Porto Seco Beach of my childhood is gone. For good, Kenny Benjamin would probably say. An accountant and pioneer in the private security business in Jamaica, Benjamin is the new leaseholder of the property. He has improved it beyond the reach of poor people. Just like the Hope Zoo! But some children are given free entry there. At Porto Seco, it's $1,000 for adults and $500 children. For two adults and three children, it's approximately $8,500. To get in, it's $3,500; plus at least $1,000 each for food and drink.
Last week, I had a chat with Kenny Benjamin about what he's up to at Porto Seco. He said he wants to get into the tourist market. He's invested US$5 million in the enterprise. When he leased the property, it needed a host of improvements to make it ready for tourists. There were 29 sewage lines going into the sea. Benjamin has spent J$30 million on a proper sewerage system. A pool has been built and play areas constructed. Benjamin has also leased an adjacent beach that is to be turned into a dolphin cove. When I asked him where poor Jamaicans were to go now that Porto Seco has been captured by the rich, he blithely said there were several other beaches along the coast. All poorly managed!
In 2016, the Jamaica Environment Trust (JET) launched a campaign, 'Better Beaches For Jamaicans'. The organisers were saddened to discover that many uptown Jamaicans did not support the campaign. They were quite satisfied with the way things are. Well-maintained beaches are for those who can afford the luxury. Poor people should know their place. We need a revolution in this country.