• “The smartest historical sci-fi adventure-romance story ever written by a science Ph.D. with a background in scripting 'Scrooge McDuck' comics.”—Salon.com
  • A time-hopping, continent-spanning salmagundi of genres.”
  • “These books have to be word-of-mouth books because they're too weird to describe to anybody.”
    —Jackie Cantor, Diana's first editor


Let me be clear about this: I didn’t even see the naked man when I took a picture of him.

“Did you just take a picture of that naked man?!?” my husband said, startled.

“What naked man?” said I, more startled still.

“That one,” he said, pointing over my shoulder at the shore. Sure enough.

I _had_ been taking a picture of the picturesquely-thatched boat-rental place from which we’d just departed, embarked upon a cruise up Jamaica’s Black River (so called, according to the guide, because of a thick layer of decomposing peat moss at the bottom; the water is clear, he said—the bottom is black. It also releases methane gas as it decomposes, which is temporarily trapped under the water. When this gas bubbles suddenly up, it’s often ignited by lightning, which (the guide said) “burns down the whole swamp several times a year.” I don’t suppose the crocodiles care, one way or the other, but it must be a nuisance to the people who live next to it).

However, right next to the boat-rental place was a short break in the shoreline, before the bulrushes and mangroves began. In this break was a small shed of some kind, a boat pulled up on shore, and…a naked man. I don’t know whether he had just been pushing his boat up on land, swimming, or possibly doing his laundry, but there he was. A very nice-looking man, too, very tall and muscular, fairly young, and quite well–, um. Let us just say that Lord John would have admired him exceedingly.

I didn’t see him at all when I took the picture, and wasn’t sure he was actually in the photograph, until I had a chance to look at it later. He certainly contributed a lot to the conversation over dinner that night, though.

The Black River (with all its interesting flora and {cough} fauna) was the first stop on a day of adventure. The Black River Safari, as they call it, is pretty much like Disneyland’s Jungle Boat ride, only with real crocodiles. (Well, no head-hunters or giant pythons, either, but you can’t have everything.) And the guides don’t fire toy pistols at the reptiles; they sidle up, cut the motor, and lure the crocodiles closer with handfuls of raw chicken (all the while assuring you that they don’t give the crocodiles so much that they’ll give up hunting. Not so sure about that; the crocodiles have names (that’s Josephine up above and—I think—George below) and plainly know that when a boat pulls up alongside their basking spot, lunch is served.)

It may have had to do with the time of year, but there was surprisingly little bird-life on the river. We saw a Little Blue Heron and a few egrets (though we were informed that come nightfall, there would be something like 40,000 egrets roosting in the mangroves along the river), but that’s about it. Did see one heck of a lot of mangroves, though—a few shots of which I include, not merely out of scenic interest, but as reference to the part of VOYAGER in which Claire comes ashore in a mangrove swamp.

This is the sort of thing she would have been faced with—though fortunately she encountered only four-eyed fish (and the odd Jewish natural philosopher), and not crocodiles.

Yes, there are a lot of crocodiles in the Black River. Also (they said) tarpon that get up to 250 pounds, because they don’t taste good, so people don’t fish for them. However (they said), tarpon don’t bother people (I don’t care; I don’t want to meet anything in dark water that weighs 250 pounds, up to and including Hulk Hogan), and crocodiles require warmth to digest their food, so are not dangerous during the day (like anybody’s going swimming in something called the Black River at night? Riiiiiiight….).

Owing to the fact that Jamaica has very few road signs, you really need a driver if you’re going to go sight-seeing and not end up in the Great Morass (this being pretty much what it sounds like: a very deep, narrow valley full of jungle and sugar-cane fields, edged by a narrow, twisty road). We had the great good fortune to have a driver named Tony, who’s been working for the Tensing Pen resort (the lovely place where we were staying) for thirty years, and not only knew where we were going, but where one could conveniently stop to go to the bathroom along the way (a tiny convenience store in Whitehouse, where I encountered one of the 75% of non-working Jamaican toilets), and where to find a quick lunch (“Juici Patties,” this being a fast-food establishment specializing in patties—these being a staple of Jamaican cuisine, resembling empanadas or turnovers, filled with cheese, beef, chicken or lobster, often curried. These were excellent—the ambiance of the place also enhanced by a decrepit car in the parking lot with giant speakers (ancient, but in good operating condition) wired to the roof, which blasted out, “I WANNA BE A BILLIONAIRE SO FUCKIN’ BAAAD” at a thousand decibels or so just as I emerged from our car next to them), and notes on the passing roadside scene (every town had a roadside market, consisting of a few dozen tiny stalls stocking the local specialties. Whitehouse, Tony said, is where most of the fish came in—cooks from the resorts would get up at 3 AM and drive to Whitehouse to get lobsters and fish from the boats coming in at dawn. “That’s a good kingfish,” he noted approvingly, as we passed a woman sitting on a box, filleting knife in hand, the kingfish in question lying invitingly on her lap).

It’s a good long drive from Negril, where the resort is, to the Black River, so we saw a good bit of roadside Jamaica, including innumerable tiny eating-places. There are (of course) a few regular restaurants, both stand-alone and associated with resorts, but there are thousands—really, thousands–of tiny shacks with a picnic table or two, selling the ubiquitous jerk chicken, brown stew, conch salad and Red Stripe Beer. Especially along the sea-coast, anyone with a foothold of even a few feet on the shore has a table and a grill.

As we got higher into the mountains, the food changed somewhat, and we began to see clusters of what Tony called “shrimp-ladies” along the road; women who fish the river for crawfish, boil them with spices (they’re called “hot pepper-shrimp”), then sit by the road holding buckets and cardboard cones of these crustaceans to sell to passersby. While normally up for sampling the local delicacies (I have, on occasion, eaten both sea-urchin and jellyfish—the latter being a lot like eating fried rubber-bands, the former being mushy but tasty), we passed on the crawfish, being a) not hungry, and b) eager to get on, as the Black River was only the first adventure of the day.

Next up was the YS Falls:

They’re called the YS Falls because they occur in the YS River—but nobody knows why the river is called that, though one supposition is that it’s from the Gaelic “wyes” meaning “twisty or winding”. (There were a good many Gaelic-speaking Scots on Jamaica back in the 18th-century, some having been transported as convict labor, others working as overseers on plantations.)
You pay admission at an office, and are loaded into a jitney—this being an aged tractor, hitched to a flatbed trailer equipped with bench seats and a roof for shade—and are trundled up a road that winds along beside the river, through a number of beautiful fields full of Red Polled cattle (we asked what kind of cattle they were, having not seen that variety before. My late father-in-law, Max, was a cattle-man, and wherever we went with him, cows were a magnet. He could find cows anywhere, and in consequence, we always notice them when we travel).

In addition to the Falls, there’s a zipline concession. Don’t know if you’ve ever seen a zipline close up—I hadn’t. The theory is that the punters assume protective clothing (padded jacket and helmet) in case of collision with trees, are attached via a sort of pulley to a heavy-duty clothesline running from some high point through the jungle to a lower point, and are then pushed off a platform, to go hurtling through space.

No, we didn’t. {g} My sense of adventure has its limits. Did enjoy watching the fauna at the Falls, though (it has three limpid pools, suitable for swimming), including the Very Large Gentleman in the Very Small Speedo, the Ladies Who Forgot to Put Sunscreen on Their Backs, and the occasional shrieking zipliner hurtling past overhead.

We didn’t stay long at the Falls. Shared an extremely good Haagen-Daaz) ice-cream bar (it was a warm day), then on to the final stop of the day—the Appleton Estate Rum Tour.

Now, I don’t expect that Lord John will be ziplining during his tour of duty as Governor of Jamaica, but I was pleased to find that the Appleton Estate has been making rum on Jamaica since 1749, and thus would certainly have been in a position to present His Excellency with a cask or two. (As in, you bet it’s research!)

The Rum Tour begins (reasonably enough) at the public bar, where you’re presented with a complimentary cup of Rum Punch (and very good it is, too. The recipe is proprietary, but a tasting strongly suggests that it’s a mix of cider and orange juice, rum added to taste), before being taken through the grounds by a guide.

Said grounds are strewn with antique rum-distilling equipment—including a few working pieces, like the early 19th-century sugar-cane mill, driven by a donkey named Paz (“peace”). We got to taste raw sugar-cane juice, and also the “muscado”—the result of boiling sugar-cane juice in huge iron vats: a mixture of thick, aromatic molasses and grainy brown sugar. Delicious!

Actually, both the process and the machinery for making rum are much like those for making whisky, once you reach the fermentation stage. I.e., the goo (whether muscado or mash) is fermented for a period of time, then put through the distillation process that removes the alcohol, which is then casked and aged.

After touring the fermentation and distilling facilities (and seeing raw rum being siphoned into a tank truck for transport to another, larger aging facility), we viewed the oldest aging building, containing some eight thousand casks—and then the guide turned to us, beaming, and said, “Now…we get drunk!”

Next stop was a tiny private bar, on which all the Appleton rum products were lined up (a dozen or so, from ten-year-old rum to CocoMania (a coconut-flavored rum liqueur, and very good, too) to Rum Cream Liqueur and something called “overproof rum,” which is essentially rotgut (i.e., unaged, raw rum, very alcoholic). Dozens of tiny plastic tasting cups were provided, and we were invited to taste as much as we liked of anything. So we did—then went across to the shop and bought a bottle of the ten-year-old rum (research) and one of CocoMania (this being a present for our host and hostess at the resort). Then we went back to the public bar for another Rum Punch, before rolling out to find Tony and make our way back to Negril through the late afternoon.

All the school-kids were coming out, all dressed in tidy uniforms, and the shrimp-ladies had sold their stock and disappeared, as had most of the market stall-holders. The small towns, like Maggoty, are for the most part collections of small stucco buildings, with a few of the tin-roofed wooden houses like those you see on the coast—most of them painted in gum-drop colors, fading into one another in the late afternoon light and looking like half-ripe fruit amid the surrounding jungle.

The jungle was doing a bit more than surrounding, for that matter—it was quietly reclaiming anything left alone for more than a week or two. All along the way, you could see houses, cars—once a school bus, its front wheels already sunk into the earth—silently melting back into the jungle. The small farmers wage a constant battle to keep their fields and houses from simply being swallowed up.

(Not that I want to Start Anything here, but the people who keep carrying on about how people are Destroying the Planet do not, I think, have a real good idea of just how powerful said planet is. People can certainly destroy themselves, yes, and a few other species along the way, but the planet? Ha.)

One final note on the journey home: One of the small hamlets up there in the mountains is called Accompong. This was the name of the maroon leader of one of Jamaica’s slave rebellions (there were five, during the 17th and 18th centuries). This was pretty interesting to me, as I’d used that gentleman in “Lord John and the Plague of Zombies” (which, I’ve just been told, will be published this October (!) in an anthology titled DOWN THESE STRANGE STREETS), and was pleased to see this memorial to him. I also used those mountains in the story, and was more than impressed at the effort it must have taken to get up there on foot, through the jungle.

(Speaking of “foot”….our hostess at Tensing Pen told us that their American guests occasionally go jogging up the road, to the amazement of the Jamaicans along the way, who call out, “What the fuck you runnin’ for, mon? Who’s chasin’ you?” Which rather neatly sums up the cultural differences there.)

[No, I’m not posting a picture of the naked man (he did turn out to be in the background of the picture I’d taken, and while not really obvious, was definitely still naked. When I enlarged the picture somewhat, it was also obvious that he’d seen me pointing a camera in his direction; he had his face turned away, arm outflung, and clearly had no intent of auditioning for a NatGeo special on Jamaica. So even though I didn’t photograph him on purpose, it really wouldn’t do to compromise the poor man’s privacy further.]

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89 Responses »

  1. Hey Diana,
    Just thought I’d let you know that I was at Chapters this weekend looking for some books and there was a lady that was looking at a Nora Roberts book. She asked me if I have read that one and I said I hadn’t read any of Nora’s book in over a year since I’ve been too busy with reading the Outlander series. Well she asked me what that was about and I said well…. so I gave her a gist and showed her your books and guess what you now have another on your wagon of awesomeness!!!
    I told her I didn’t think she would be dissapointed as your books are the best I’ve ever read! Felt good to be able to get someone else onto your series.

  2. Regarding the planet reclaiming what we’ve taken from it: we recently visited our son-in-law’s family’s ranch in East Texas and found a scrub cedar tree growing up in and through an old yellow Chevrolet pick-up truck. I took several photos and I’d attach one, if I could!

  3. You know Diana, I can put a thong on him if you like! *g*

    What a fun read!


  4. Diana,

    I am so thankful for your blog!!! Being able to see these tidbits of your talent help to tide me over until the next excerpt (or book/ short story/ etc…) is shared. You have such a gift. Thank you again for sharing!

    Rychane (rich-ann)

  5. To make the perfect rum punch, my Jamaican Aunts use this “equation”, it is good if you are using tablespoon fulls or gallons.

    1 Sour (lemon or lime juice)
    2 sweet (fruit juice or sugar syrup)
    3 strong (rum! Appleton’s uses a mixture of 3 or 4 different rums in their rum punch)
    4 weak (water)

    This way you can experiment with the flavours using small measures and then when you have “your perfect” combination, you can make a pitcher full. And….you can call it research!

    BTW, we can get Cocomania rum here in Canada…want that instead of whiskey in Surrey?


  6. Dear Diana,

    Loved reading about your trip to Jamaica. It has now moved up my list of places I must go (Costa Rica getting crossed off in two weeks, Jamaica could be closer than I thought). Seeing the picture of you and Doug at the end reminded me of something that happened about 18 months ago: I was sitting in the bar across from my apartment eating Sunday brunch and re-reading ‘Fiery Cross’ when a small group of young women walked in. One of them approached me and asked if I was enjoying the book. I told her I was re-reading it in preparation for the release of ‘An Echo In The Bone’ and yes, very much. She related that she had previously worked for your publisher and was at a lunch with you (lucky girl), I believe here in New York, when Doug came into the restaurant to join your party. She said in that moment she thought “I am meeting Jamie Fraser!” She told me “I know what Jamie really looks like…and you would NOT be disappointed!”

    When I saw your photo this memory flashed into my mind…as well as others of what I call ‘Gabaldon Moments’. They don’t all include a first hand recounting of a meeting with you and Doug, but they do all include a meeting of the minds…two or more strangers united for a moment in time by a mutual love of all things Gabaldon, e.g., seeing the person across from me on a crowded subway reading one of the Outlander series, while I am doing the same thing; our eyes meet for that briefest of moments as we both look up, smile a knowing smile at each other and quietly continue to lose ourselves in your prose. Thank you for all these wonderful times.

    All best,


  7. I really enjoyed reading about your trip, especially picturing Claire making her way through the mangroves, and imagining what your husband must have been thinking while watching you take a picture of a naked man!

    I had seen that you had a new blog post, but I have a lot of work to catch up on, as my family is moving this week and I am therefore way behind on the normal day to day things. My compromise was to do a bit of work and then read what you wrote. So, I worked diligently for a couple of hours, and then came by for a good read, and it was well worth it. The accidental taking of nude pictures definitely made me laugh. And I loved your great descriptions of Jamaica. Although I have never been there, I feel like I can see it now. Thanks for sharing!

    P.S.- VERY excited to hear about “Lord John and the Plague of Zombies.” Can’t wait!!

  8. What the fuck you runnin for mon? hahahahaaa…….I laughed out loud when I read that and startled my husband (what’s so funny?) Ahhh, you have such a gift for writing! :) I am so excited to hear about the upcoming books, thank you for all of the updates! And it sounds like you had a wonderful time in jamaica, thanks for sharing :-D

  9. I believe you could write about your adventures in grocery shopping and I would be hanging on every word and recommending it to my friends.

    Thanks for sharing your amazing gift–loving every minute.

  10. Vickie B – thanks for the rum punch recipe! I’ll try to make it this weekend. I must say that my alcohol consumption has risen a bit since I’ve read Outlander lol! I’m still not a huge whisky fan, but now I take a sip upon occasion to feel simpatico with Jamie! heehee!

  11. Thanks for sharing your photos and experience! I hope you don’t mind me sharing a few snippets of your blog in my sociology class. We are going over cultural differences and it would be nice to include a couple humorous examples rather than the “Chinese eat monkey brains!” examples currently being presented.

    Oh and as for your naked man, you can always blur the…ahem…face. ;)

  12. Just found the new blog!

    Sounds like a great trip. We came this close to booking a trip to Jamaica but finally decided on Nassau. They’re all new to us as we’ve never visited any Caribbean resort before (we usually pick a city and wander about) but this winter is just grinding us down and we need some sun. (Actually Doug is in Scottsdale at the moment for another course while I hack away at the ice on the driveway.) Maybe next time we’ll try Jamaica. I love the look of your resort.


    P.S. You could always bring The Photo to the SiWC for show and tell.

  13. Dear Diana,

    What a wonderful post! I’ve been to Jamaica once, and the way you describe it, takes me right back the moment I close my eyes. On this very hectic day, it was nice to take a moment and remember a great trip, with loving friends, and how relaxed I felt while there. Thank you, as always, for your writing. It’s such a treat to read your words.


  14. Hi Diana,

    Wow!! What a grand adventure! One of the places on the earth that I want to go see for sure.
    Thanks for sharing, and letting us walk with you a bit.

    I am actively lobbying for you to come to Halifax on the occasion of your next book release! It has been too long!

    Pam Samson

  15. We’re off to Jamaica in May for our son’s wedding. Also staying in Negril, but won’t have as much time as you for the sightseeing. Thanks for the “virtual” tour though!!

  16. And I keep hearing–on a loop, mind, the dadgum earworm–”But why is the rum gone?”

    Where’s Captain Jack Sparrow when you really need him!

  17. Diana

    I laughed when I read the comment ‘what are you runnin’ for mon, someone after you?’ That is so funny, we call it Island time in the South Pacific!

    I am waiting with baited breath for the new book and lurk for tid-bits from it (don’t mind the odd spoiler) as I couldn’t wait to find out what happened to Jem. Was a bit miffed at the end of echo in the bone and kept looking for the next page to magically appear…it didn’t! {grin}

    Hope you are now recovering well from your adventures and your husband doesn’t mind the new wallpaper (enlarged photo of aforementioned local)!

    Bev – NZ

    • Dear Bev–

      Well, if you go look under “Books/Writing”, at the tab for “Book Eight,” you’ll find several excerpts there–one of which will provide the “next page” for Jem’s adventure. {g}


  18. Thank you for sharing the details of your fun adventure! Always love reading your entries as your writing is so lush and descriptive I feel as if I’m actually there. Glad you had a great time!

  19. As always, thanks for an entertaining blog post! Now I can use your croc pics as inspiration along with others I’ve collected for illustrating my version of Rudyard Kipling’s “How the Elephant Got Its Trunk” – his stories are in the public domain, and I’m attempting this for my grandbabies – matched set with another girl on the way in June – boy is three in March and current girl was one in November. BTW, did you know there is no such thing as a Kolokolo Bird? Everything else from this story I found on the Web…even the city names (all in South Africa, as is the Limpopo River – bummer I didn’t go to the World Cup last go-round)!

  20. Diana

    re>>nakeed man and Lord John>>

    You may not post a picture of him, but I will be reading Carefully to see if he shows up in print!

    Feel better fast



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