Woohoo, I’m back in Jamaica and I love it just as much as ever– perhaps even more in light of the miserable experiences we had in the Dominican Republic. Don’t get me wrong, the DR is beautiful and the people are extremely nice, it’s just that it’s nothing but charmless all-inclusive resorts that do their best to stamp out any vestige of local flavor so that they feel completely generic and inauthentic. That applies particularly to the food, which is frequently compared to prison food, and rarely features any sort of local cuisine.
But I digress. Jamaica is the complete opposite. Obviously the people are AMAZING (plus they speak English)– they are so warm and friendly but also have a great sense of humor so you can’t help but feel relaxed and happy. And of course there’s incredibly sweet music everywhere. And the food is nothing short of delectable. Jerk chicken & pork, festival (fried corn bread), bammee, ackee & salt fish, fresh lobster, callaloo, pumpkin soup…everything is fresh and delicious and tastes all the better because you’re eating it as you look out over impossibly turquoise waves.
Briana and I each stayed at one hotel in Runaway Bay, which is on the island’s northern coast. It’s kind of a meh area filled with mega-resort all-inclusives, but we had some extra time and took a day trip into the mountains to visit Bob Marley’s birthplace, Nine Mile, in St. Ann’s Parish. It’s pretty deep in the mountains and requires driving along some pretty steep and winding roads, but along the way you not only get incredible scenery, but pass through some towns and villages that are definitely more normal and less-trafficked by tourists than places along the coast. Along the road we saw a dude just sitting in a cavernous hole in a large rock wall; our driver told us he’s called the Cave Man and has been living there for about 40 years “because he just wanted to be alone.” We also stopped at a school down the road from Nine Mile; if you drive anywhere in Jamaica you are bound to see school children of all ages walking along in packs in their colorful uniforms. The one we stopped at was actually like a pre-school through kindergarten, meaning the children were beyond cute:
The second we walked up they all came running over and gave us hugs and tugged at our hands. I’ve never felt like such a novelty before, and it got a little uncomfortable when they started hitting each other and shoving just to get up to touch my camera or tug at my dress. You can see in the background that the kids are crowding around Briana and hugging her, too:
It’s very cute to hear little kids say “Me want dat!” in their Jamaican accents, but when they’re shoving and slapping at your camera it can actually get pretty intense. I worry that we were being exploitative or equally gawkerish just by wanting to see the kids and photograph them. Like, were we just using each other to marvel at the exotic? On the one hand I really do feel like little school children in school uniforms are a part of the Jamaican landscape, and it’s particularly interesting to see what a tiny school in the country looks like compared to what we’re used to. On the other hand if I was driving in, say, Germany or England and I passed a kindergarten would I pull over to take pictures? Probably not. Sorry, this is a bit too heavy and philosophical for the blog so I’ll stop.
Here’s a picture from Nine Mile, where Bob Marley was born and spent some of his childhood, and where his body now rests in a mausoleum. It’s a pretty cool spot, in that its remote location and small scale sort of clear out the riff-raff so that only people who are really into seeing the site will bother to make the trip. The second we pulled into the parking lot some dudes shoved spliffs into our car window, insisting that we needed to show Bob the proper respect by smoking at his grave site (we declined, however sacrilege that may have been). Then we walked up a hill through two gift shops and were asked to purchase candles to light in the mausoleum. We met our rasta guide, Benji, who pointed out the one-room building where Marley was born, then led us to the two-room house where he spent some of his childhood, then took us to Marley’s favorite meditation spot. At each point he’d stop and mention its significance in song (for instance, his little twin bed inspired “We’ll share the shelter/ of my single bed” referenced in “Is this Love?”). It got a little painful though because the guides are apparently required to sing like multiple verses of each song. So we stood there awkwardly each time he paused to sing, not really sure if we were supposed to join in, but standing there for far too long to just look around and shift awkwardly.
Anyway, it was a cool site to see if only to appreciate Marley’s extremely humble roots (no kitchen and no indoor-plumbing) and get some insight into what inspired his music and lyrics. As we were leaving a woman on another tour started bawling as her guide sang “No Woman, No Cry,” and we heard her talking about how that song had gotten her through the hardest year of her life. Lots of people leave notes and trinkets at the mausoleum site (randomly there was also a gold record from Australia), and it is marvelous to think about Marley’s influence on people the world over. The gift shop stuff is a little disappointing, but after a while you just sort of get used to that here because it’s so pervasive. There’s also a restaurant and a bar on site, and every single one of the people greeted us warmly and made conversation, even though we weren’t stopping to eat anything.
On the way back we stopped in Brown’s Town, a major town within the agricultural region that has a good market and lots of shops and restaurants. We had not one but two lunches at these two side-by-side restaurants (the first place, which our driver recommended, was basically serving buffet Chinese food, so then we went to the jerk stand next door, which was great). I highly enjoyed the restaurants’ restrooms:
I think I typically dress more like the guy than the girl. Anyway, yesterday we made our way down from Runaway Bay to Negril, which is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. I called up a driver that I had during my last trip, Roger, and he picked us up to make the long drive. He’s super-nice and in a way it was like seeing an old friend or something. We made a number of stops, including to grab some more jerk in Montego Bay at a place called the Pork Pit (pretty good) and to have a drink at my favorite hotel in Jamaica (so far anyway), Half Moon. How gorgeous is this?
Clearly I’ve gone on too long, but suffice it to say since arriving in Negril we’ve already seen a King Yellowman concert and been offered marijuana about 1,287 times. We also met a dude at Margaritaville who pulled the, “I go to school in Boston.” – “Oh what school?” – “Harvard, have you heard of it?” routine, which is always amusing. I’ll post more pictures from Negril in a day or two. Yeehaw for finally having Internet. Big up to Negril Treehouse!