Sexy Yogis, Time Travel, and Cannabis Farms
Jul 10, 2019 01:23PM
● By Dan McCarthy
It’s an unusually cold Boston morning. Deadline looms, and the usual writerly process of mine has begun. It involves a lot of manic, calves-on-fire pacing, distant gazes for awkward periods of time, made even more awkward by my doing so in the morning uniform of the home office worker (sweatpants hanging off backside, no shirt, stomach out) while standing in full view of the triangular city park across from my house. My apologies to the parents on playdates. It was early.
Sporadic thoughts give way to immersive recall, a must for the task at hand. Because in spite of a mishmash of G-Doc notes and wildly unorganized voice recordings on my phone, many of which apparently were conducted in the hour of the wolf, making chronological or even structural sense of what happened is a bit of a blur. Call it island time. Or call it the Fog of Gnar.
Or just call it a week in Jamaica for a cannonball right smack into the heart of the Tmrw.Tday Festival (TMRWTDAY.COM). As a multi-focus, multicultural wellness, music, art, and dance hootenanny, one can imagine the difficulty in distilling the experience, especially when it happens to be the first sojourn down to Irie country in 20 years for your humble servant here. But with enough mental jujitsu, I’m able to untangle the tapestry of the week, presented here in a journalistic mosaic; a sort of impressionistic take on a traditional dispatch from paradise. It’s starting to come into focus...
Where I Gwan Here, Exactly?
Geographical backdrops are the first images dissolving into frame. Montego Bay, Orange Hill, and greater Westmoreland. And there was at least one minor panic attack after being handed the keys to a new comrade’s rental car at sundown; a cheery experiment in left side road driving to find the area’s lone ATM still dispensing money in order to avoid a humid 40 minute walk along Norman Manley Boulevard the main drag flanking the heavenly (if tourist-plagued) Seven Mile Beach just north of downtown Negril. That one’s hard to forget.
Putting it all together requires more digging in the mental dust pile: Where was I heaving myself off of a perilous spring water cave naturally carved into the earth, with the turquoise water and the specter of death at every leap? Where was that house in the cliffs I joined a small, crew of colorful strangers led by a husband-and-wife team of plant-medicine scientists for guided psychedelic social hours? And where was the private rental they had for the week, where I tagged along to after the magic mushroom ceremony, snacking on conch fritters and Red Stripe Lite (I try to watch calories during any controlled research-based psychedelic journey) eventually having a good 3–4 grams of Amazonian mushroom-dosed chocolates through the night courtesy of my hospitable hosts? Was I in front of my hotel when I was alone on a beach chair under a single overhead safety light at 3 a.m. at the end of the night? Yes, that I remember. And, being awash in bliss while listening to bootleg Miles Davis recordings and, thanks to the handling by the couple with deep knowledge of psychedelic and cannabis science inre: dosing and effect, was in no threat of the stuff turning on me until my 8th grade Algebra teacher can visibly be observed riding trumpet-wielding sand serpents from under my lounger and right up my shorts. That can be a risk sometimes. But no, it was just a nice ride.
Speaking of Rides
Meeting Peter Oppermann for the first time, a catalogue model handsome life coach and meditation teacher leading a multiday series of guided audio inner-space meditations and lectures, you first catch the loose-jawed Berlin accent you’d expect, if not want, from someone promising to take your consciousness from a state of 3D to 5D.
His lecture and involvement in the week’s agenda, as most aspects of the range of yoga classes, mindfulness workouts, lectures, and personal manifestos (there were more than a few...but that was the energy there) came from Tmrw.Tday retreat founder Andrew Christoforou and his wife Stacy Irie Soul. The couple attended LA-based Oppermann’s five day workshop in Oaxaca, Mexico on NYE2018. Following that, they took his online incubator, which, Christoforou said, transformed the couple in a deep way. So much so that this very festival itself is the end result of Christoforou and company applying Oppermann’s cosmic tutelage.
“It was life changing,” Christoforou told the packed second floor of the glimmering expansion and reconstruction of the Woodstock Beach bar and resort, where the festival kept its home base for the week. A few more words, and Oppermann took the wheel.
“It’s a true honor for me, since I teach about living the life of one’s future self. I feel spending time here in this moment with all you beautiful beings is the manifestation of this idea of living the life of your future self,” Oppermann crooned into the microphone. And it was about there I turned off the recorder, stretched out on my mat, and realized any traditional reportorial work for this one was going to be futile. Just go with the flow.
That fl ow involved Bluetooth headphones serenaded by Oppermann’s dulcet Germanic tones, instructing the room to follow him along on a journey to the other side of reality (in your mind): “You are traveling through dimensions now. … Deep in the universe. … Past space and time.
… There is a yellow liquid waterfall of light to let in your mind. … Expand your DNA…”
I sat up when it was over, blinked a few times, and had a strange grin mashed across my mug. Then I saw a stray puppy on the beach, a floofy German shepherd mutt always in eye shot of its momma. I played with it while noticing a catamaran of fully naked middle-aged people careen by as tourists laughed and hid the eyes of the young. Hard to knock any of this so far, even if my cold, dead Northeasterner heart of sarcastic and cynical darkness errs that way by default. Puppies, nudist hedonism, and time travel, people. Get up with it.
Oh, and weed. Of course. I had already procured a healthy stockpile of Tangie flower, some other strain via three stalks of cured outdoor cannabis from a local farm wrapped in tinfoil, and a small stack of ganja cookies one batch sourced from a local with a movie-villain scar running down his right eye, which was dead and glared at me when I refused a larger order. He couldn’t understand why I was good with five 100 milligram cookies for the day.
Did the cookies melt into one globulous mass in my backpack as I humped around the beach all day in the sun? Yes. Did I often chomp chunks out of it like a sugary softball smeared in dark chocolate visible through the cheap cellophane encasement? You bet your chakras I did. But that was just the start of a week spent dancing the day away through fields of guerilla ganja grows, at one point being instructed to bite the head-lettuce of a five foot stalk of flower at the behest of my local Rasta guide: “Git’cha nootreents ’ere, mon. Awl natch’rail. Health. Life. Jah, Raaaastafari.” (Ed note: It tasted like citrus, earth, and sharp peppercorn salad)
Kevin Campbell, owner of Steam Team JA (STEAMTEAMJA.COM), embodies the archetype of a youthful and driven Rasta carving a life and sustainable career for himself on his native soil in the days of legal green.
Tall and broad, his dense beard and dark eyes frame a face outlined in a lion’s mane of long dreadlocks. And he’s always at the ready to provide hearty blasts of steam via the coconut-and-bamboo clay bowl steam chalices he makes and sells and has by his side at all times. (Call it the original vaporizer.) Torched coconut shell charcoals sit atop a handmade clay bowl, with whole raw flower placed below the small, quarter-sized clay separator. Water from the base is heated as the coals are torched, and the activated flower in the bowl steams off all the cannabinoids drawn through the bamboo mouthpiece for a super mellow, terpene rich blast of the local crop. The charcoal burns clean and natural and is hot enough to throw a fresh dab on to really spice up your session.
My first steam with Campbell was the night Christoforou and his team led a platoon of festival partiers to local hotspot Pushart. A hot-people ensemble to be sure, the evening was heavy with Canadians while peppered with people from all over the US, South America, the Middle East, Africa, Europe, and Australia. What started as a raucous getting-to-know you evening over Rasta Pasta and quality hash joints eventually gave way to a live acoustic duo charming the room, closed by an early morning DJ led dance fest with enough sweaty sexy yogis and other acrobatic searchers to make any rotund writer reconsider his choice of a Rocket Pop-print cabana shirt (roughly a size too small, thanks winter) as the night’s swagfest.
No matter. I spent the evening in the company of steam, and later with Marcus “Bubbleman” Richardson (BUBBLEMANBRAND.COM), an OG name in the global hemp game from Canada. For those who know him, he needs no introduction. For those who don’t, consider: Bubble Hash. Have you had it? Good. His is better. And that makes sense, considering he pioneered the art of it, invented his own bags for production (which is how the stuff first came to the island over 20 years ago, according to Richardson). As an industry expert and social media sensation, his general name-recognition ranks in the cannabis cultural cannon alongside names like Frenchy Cannoli and Steve DeAngelo, depending on who you’re talking cannabis cultural cannon with. In other words: Best. Bubble Hash. Ever. A few blasts and I could bite a tiger.
The collective steam-meet with Bubbleman gave way to a week long orbit around each other. At times, it was just meeting up at Woodstock for lectures or scouring the clothing and art bazaar on the ground floor below the open-air classroom area upstairs. Other times, I was hopping in Bubbleman’s rental to follow Campbell down back country roads and Orange Hill’s government maintained roadways. Not for the faint of heart. (Thankfully, I’m from Boston, and maniacal driving and horrid roadways are par for life’s course in these parts.) At times, we were just putting along rural dirt roads and sharp turns; others, we were careening at high speeds, narrowly missing car-destroying potholes large enough to swallow a Smart Car whole hog, squinting in disbelief as the locals sit and stand at the road’s edge being peppered with old asphalt and yelling at livestock scurrying into the road, apparently unworried about their own mortality as we flash by in a cloud of dust and likely damage to the car’s structural integrity. This is the island. This is Jamaica.
That one afternoon of rally-car driving brought us to Waba Clayton’s Farm, where natural-wonder swimming attraction The Blue Hole sits at the base of Waba’s hilltop Xanadu, built in the 1940s, with a finished rooftop lined with pots of cannabis plants overlooking the crystalline ocean glistening in the distance.
Its energy is one of a refuge and haven of authentic Rasta life, communal living, and general survival at the hands of random tourists there for an Instagram-perfect attraction. Or, a walkthrough and sampling of the outdoor cannabis of shocking quality, enough to cause any weed snob to reconsider their side of the indoor-vs-outdoor argument.
Speaking to VICE News (which filmed a segment at Waba’s farm recently), Waba laid out the perilous nature of being a celebrated local farmer with the kind of growing skills built over a lifetime of labor in the dawn of national (and international) cannabis legalization. Considering weed was still illegal in Jamaica until 2015 (yes, really), legalization has opened the floodgates for the green gold rush on the island.
With the threat of outside entities moving in and taking over the emerging legal cannabis market from native farmers, the time to be politically cognizant of the changing laws and regulations of Jamaica’s cannabis industry has never been more prescient. For Waba, he’s applied to legally sell his crops, but the local governing board has yet to approve it, so it’s a hurry up and wait game. Even if they do get the nod, the cost of getting licensed to grow and transport product is more than the average annual salary of a Jamaican. High cost of entry, the maw of bureaucratic red tape, and big money muscling in on seasoned farmers in the weed world: sound familiar? Should the governing board simply reject Waba’s application flat-out, all that fire flower and the smiling crew at the farm will be either back on the black market, or simply pushed out.
“I would have to stop, because I’m a business person, you know?” Waba told VICE. “I’d have to go do something else. But what about the other person who can’t [do something else]? Ganja is not just a drug. It’s a spiritual thing that’s sent here to help poorer-class people. Without ganja, I don’t know what this community would be.”
A couple days later, the Steam Team led us to a second farm in Jamaica’s Westmoreland Parish larger, more expansive, and harder to get to. That day required a hearty hike deep into the island fauna, past secluded pig farms manned by a father and his sons trying to stay under governmental radar while continuing to let ganja provide for their family.
“If you like this, there’s five other fields in the distance, all bigger than this one,” Campbell told me. His optics regularly involve wearing a Bluetooth earpiece and keeping a bass-thumping outdoor speaker blasting local music hanging from his backpack, all while never being without his traditional coconut steam chalice. He serves as a ripe representation of local Jamaicans adapting and maintaining ancient traditions passed down from the elders while also keeping a foot in the present day by turning the blossoming tourist green scene into a viable business. “Fresh koosh in da boosh,” he says passing me the pipe. “Smell dis hookah it keep ya hydrated mon, steam it mon, life steam.”
About those chalices: I wound up buying three of them and had them shipped to me in Boston. The parcel arrived from the Jamaican post office, much to the confusion of my girlfriend who peered in as I unboxed a bunch of small empty coconuts, some bamboo rods, and a bag of charcoal tightly wrapped in brown packing paper. Let me know if you’d like to try it. Bring a torch. Mine’s dead.
Rooms and Board
If you ever find your way to Negril, Jamaica, here’s a free tip: Hang out at Seven Mile Beach, but stay in the cliffs. Both areas have their pros; neither, that I could tell, really have their cons save for the fact the 15-minute shore walk between Tmrw.Tday HQ at Woodstock and my resort at the Coco Le Palm was half spent turning down everything from candy to petrified wooden penis carvings to local psychedelics (“Don’t eat the black mushrooms,” everyone told me), to jewelry, joints, flower, and other inroads to mysterious sources of fun. Everyone had a line, and everyone was a salesperson. That’s the game. Just gotta play it.
But then came Tensing Pen (TENSINGPEN.COM), an otherworldly privately owned resort of grass-roofed bungalows and rock-cliff-connecting foot bridges stretched between points on the cliffs impossible not to leap off of into the Caribbean Sea below. Once settled in the area, you start to understand why a woman I met on an afternoon of meandering along the West End said those who know know to hit the cliffs versus the beach. I ran into her after the rains started and I popped into a spot called Xtabi for refreshment and new set of views. Earlier in the week, I had bummed a pack of Cheyenne Silver cigarettes off her at the festival where she was working the check-in desk. With a touch of a history lesson, mostly about a class of Americans and Canadians who have been frequenting Negril as a cultural hippie-haven after the San Francisco 1960s dream of peace, love, and Flower Power died at the hands of American Exceptionalism, she regaled me with stories of the “old days” on the cliffs, and the sheer bacchanal of daily life that it was. And it still is, if you know where to find it.
I wasn’t there to find it (that day). No, I was too busy enjoying the cove views from my chalet at Tensing Pen, which overlooked a portion of limestone cliffs where a set of stairs had been carved into the ancient stone, likely by someone during the island’s colonization by the British and the Spanish in the 17th or 18th century.
“Nobody knows who put that there or when,” said Anne-Marie Petros, part of the husband and wife team who own the resort. Their two Rhodesian Ridgeback doggos patrol the grounds for pets and food and company as two dogs living better than 99 percent of the world’s population do. One afternoon while enjoying the sun, I met a Dubai-based real estate and government contract high roller in his 30s staying at Tensing. When first arrived and saw the property, he tried to purchase the entire resort on the spot. “They told me no, they didn’t want to sell,” he said to me after I filmed him jumping off the cliff into the stunning water, demonstrating my Boomerang skills for Instagram. “So instead I’m buying the one next door.”
For the sake of just how insane that is, in a Tony Stark sort of display of sheer liquid wealth extravagance, I hope that was true.
Wellness, Fashion, Friends, Smoothies
It wasn’t all a big party. Well, okay, it felt like that, but between the local jewlery makers, Steam Team’s corner booth (everyone was steaming all day), and the eco-conscious fashion, garments for sale as a platform for immigrants and senior communities to put their lifelong family skills and generational production know-how by indigenous people and their traditions, Tmrw.Tday was a true melting pot of island solace, commerce, and storytelling.
There were also a multitude of speeches by wellness entrepreneurs. I was fond of the talk by Shane Griffin, a hospitality and bar industry veteran with enough stories of wanton debauchery and madness at the hands of drug and drink, which lead him to eventually reform his life, get well, and launch the Vitamin Patch Club (@VITAMINPATCHCLUB) essentially high-absorbing transdermal vitamin patches. I can say that after a few days of sun and rum, those things felt like a lifesaver.
Downstairs from the lectures, there was always available water, farm-to-table vegan food options, and invigorating health shakes made slowly (very slowly) using local island fruits. All of which were easily enhanced with CBD found all over the festival at Woodstock, including a stand-alone CBD café right in the middle of the beach, courtesy of Cafe (IAMCAFE.COM).
Memories Fade But Wisdom Lingers
That week in May at the festival was one of sensory overload. Honestly I don’t even have the energy to get it all right, but for that matter I don’t want to, at least for this one. No, this story is really about the takeaway whatever one got from the festival, the orbiting pathways to higher living and more engaged existing (not hard to do living in paradise for a week on someone else’s dime, by the way) and anything that in the end leaves you feeling better than when you arrived. For Andrew and Stacy and their realized dream of a festival (which returns next year, so get it on your calendars now if this appeals to you), that result is all that matters.
And no matter if your entry point is cannabis, psychedelics, Burning Man-style spiritualism and mysticism, agnostic based energy chakra touting this and that, or just some good old steamin’ and dreamin’, however you get to the place most were at by the time we were at the closing night party, then who cares? Good vibes, good energy, good living, good people.
That final night party went down at a jaw droppingly beautiful private (and for rent!) compound called Llantrissant Beachcliff Villa (BEACHCLIFF.COM), owned by a delightful, silver-maned septuagenarian and pharmaceutical company CEO, currently at work on getting his synthetic cannabinoid based medicine to create HIV quiescence (read: silencing the thing that makes HIV deadly) to clinical trials. We talked for a long time after sunset: about his time on the island, about meeting new people at multicultural festivals, about simply not being a shit person. We talked about his work, about cannabis as medicine. And we talked about how in spite of the world changing at a rapid clip, faster than ever before if we focus on the right things (cannabis legalization, for one), we have a chance to create a better, healthier, more just world than the one we’re living in.
Now that, I remember.