Column: Getting High in Jamaica By Susan Parker

Tuesday February 07, 2006

Michele booked some friends and me into an all-inclusive Jamaican resort—one of those places where you can kill yourself doing activities, drink yourself to death, or eat until you can’t move. I chose the former, though I did some of the latter as well. 

Upon arrival I ate a big meal, downed a couple of Red Stripes, and swam half a mile. I gorged and imbibed some more before going to bed. 

The next day I swam another half-mile, did yoga and aerobics, rode a horse, and kayaked. In-between sporting events I sat on the beach, lounged in a Jacuzzi, and lingered at the all-you-can-eat buffet tables. 

The following day I waterskied, sailed, and took step and ab classes. Then I joined a cliff-jumping party cruise. 

I wasn’t interested in leaping off a 35-foot cliff but Michele was jumping so I felt I should too. Michele was jumping because her daughter, Jessica, had leaped off a Jamaican cliff last year during Spring Break. Michele had something to prove. She was going feet first off that cliff if it killed her. I had nothing to prove but what the hell, if Michelle could do it then I could do it, and if Jessica did it then I had to do it because, after all, Jessica is 21 and I’m 53, almost 54. You know the logic. It has to do with age, wrinkles and menopause, but I don’t really want to go there. 

From the deck of the boat the rocky precipice appeared a quarter-mile high. An announcement boomed at us through a loudspeaker: “You have 15 minutes to swim to the cliff, climb up the ladder, jump, and swim back before the boat departs. Leap at your own risk. The country of Jamaica is not responsible for your safety, or possible demise.” 

Michele and I dove in. From the water’s surface the cliff looked even higher. We swam toward the rickety ladder which was inside a cave. Waves tossed us back and forth, and I realized I could die before I reached the entrance. Once there, the incoming tide lifted me high enough to whack my head against the grotto roof. I thought about turning back, but Michele was ahead of me, and a huge wave flung and spun her toward the ladder. She grabbed a rung. Another wave crashed and pitched me forward. I swirled past Michele, then fought my way back. “Hurry up,” she yelled. “Before you drown!” 

We clawed up the ladder, crawled through a small hole, and emerged into bright sunlight. Two young Jamaican men greeted us. We each handed over our two soggy, crumbled dollar bills, the price for this opportunity. One of them gave us each a shot of rum, to fortify us for the plunge. 

Michele walked to the edge. She looked down once, turned to me and said, “If I don’t go now I never will.” Then she stepped over the lip, into the abyss. I heard her scream. 

I saw a splash and her head pop out of the water. She looked tiny. “Get out of the way,” I called, my hands forming a megaphone around my mouth. I jumped. Hitting the water hurt, but not as much as learning that no one on the boat saw me hurtle through the air. They were busy having another cocktail and watching the impending sunset. 

Back at the hotel, Michele called Jessica. 

“I jumped off the cliff,” I heard her say. 

There was a pause while Jessica responded. 

“The cliff down by Rick’s Cafe,” Michele explained. “Where the party boat stops.” 

Another pause. 

“Thirty-five feet, but who’s counting?” 


“What? You mean I didn’t have to do it?” Michelle looked at me, her eyes wide. She put down the receiver. 

“Jessica didn’t jump off that cliff,” she said. 

“Why not?” I asked. 

“Too high,” said Michele. Then she laughed. We gave each other a high five. 

“What shall we do tomorrow?” I asked. 

“Absolutely nothing,” suggested Michele.