Travels: Jamaica in words and pictures

View from Emerald View HotelLooking down on the Caribbean SeaStilt Man!Mum in the sunPure blue seaSea and Hills
Caribbean BlueDoctors Cove BeachPure blue and pure whiteWaiting for a smoking partnerStilt manJamaican Guinness
Reggae WorldEmpty rooms above Reggae WorldHip Strip shopsElectrical WiringLush VegetationFlowers in Winter
Here's a bin...Jamaican signsJamaican palm treePink flowerRehab BarLate afternoon swim
Jamaica January 2013, a set on Flickr.

I’ve been back a week now and due to multiple reasons have been pushing off writing about my amazing trip to Jamaica. I took a lot of pictures and wrote a lot of random notes through-out my stay, but I suppose I am still a bit worried that I won’t be able to do both the country and the trip justice…

I had always wanted to go to Jamaica, and on the spur of the moment sometime in late November asked my mum if she would like to go there with me. A few weeks later we had tickets booked and a hotel room in a place a few miles outside of Montego Bay waiting for us for six days in January. Neither of us had really any idea what to expect, except that the weather was going to be warm and that we were going to have a week away from our normal lives in the middle of winter. A much needed week away from work and life in general.  In the sunshine. We didn’t even really plan anything specific before we left, but decided to see what we wanted to do when we got there, guidebooks in hand for help if needed.

We landed in Montego Bay on a Monday afternoon and were picked up by a lovely gentleman called Duran who works as a driver for the hotel we were staying at. Duran became a friend during the week we stayed there, picking us up and taking us to all the places we wanted to visit, taking time out of his own day to show us places we might be interested in seeing, and taking us to local spots so that we could actually see and live the real Jamaica, rather than hang out with a bunch of other tourists and sit on a beach drinking and getting a sun burn. Don’t get me wrong, I love sitting on beaches, especially the beautiful Jamaican beaches, but I also wanted to be able to meet Jamaicans, and learn more about the country and life there.

The Montego Bay area is very much catered to the large amount of tourists who flock there for a beach vacation at any time of the year or on a day stop while travelling on a cruise ship around the Caribbean Sea. I have nothing against people who like to go on cruises, or who like to stay in all-inclusive resorts where all of your needs are catered for. But that’s not me, and it’s not my mum either. I like to go on adventures, like the time I travelled round Egypt with two other female friends, $150 in hand and no real idea of where we were going or where we would be staying. This often leads to some amazing experiences and some that are just memorable and not to be revisited. For our Jamaica trip we decided to compromise: stay in a hotel that may or may not be nice, out of the way of all of the tourist areas, but spend time on the beach as well as exploring other places. I had no idea what to expect when we arrived at the hotel, Emerald View Resort Villa, located near Greenwood up the hill from the main road, halfway between MoBay and Falmouth, but it was perfect for us. We had a large, airy and clean room, with a large balcony that looked out over the hill to the sea, over the lush vegetation that covers the island and the colourful flowers that seem to adorn the hills. Miss Jennifer, and the rest of her staff, made us feel so at home, practically part of the family, and showed us what the real Jamaican hospitality is like. Can you imagine waking up every morning to the sound of many, many birds singing and knowing that all you needed to worry about that day was making sure you put enough sunblock on to ensure you wouldn’t burn under the intense tropical sun (I should have listened to that advice myself)? That’s what I felt like in Jamaica. I don’t even know why I packed a full suitcase of clothes – all I needed were shorts, tank tops and bathing suits. In any case, when I go back to Jamaica (and I will), I will definitely try to stay there again. Quiet, peaceful and beautiful.

We spent the first real day in Jamaica on Doctor’s Cave Beach off the Hip Strip (Gloucester Ave) in Montego Bay. The water was aquamarine blue and warm, the sand white and soft and the sun hot and dry. Absolutely perfect. Apart from the fact that even though we thought we had chosen a secluded spot we were soon surrounded by a lot of loud, brash Americans who were on a day trip from a cruise ship that had docked in the port at Montego Bay or in Falmouth. They all didn’t stay too long though, seeing as they were intent on getting drunk at Margaritaville down the road, and left us in peace to enjoy the beauty of the beach. I was offered ganja, beads, hair braids, more weed, marriage, dates, more marriage and yet more ganja about 80 times during the day, all in the most hilarious fashion. You can’t just ignore people in Jamaica, even when they are peddling all types of wares or trying to get you to get in their taxis or buses. Everyone is just so funny and kind, and you find yourself saying “No thank you” a million times, but with a huge smile on your face. I never felt like I was being harassed, apart from a moment when we were walking around Falmouth just as two cruise ships spilt their passengers out onto the streets. At that moment we were assimilated with the cruise ship tourists and made a quick run elsewhere for a few hours.

“I want to get to know you better – can I have your phone number?”

Not far from Falmouth lies a place called “Glistening Waters”, a lagoon which is a mix of both salt and fresh water and contains a unique type of algae that glows when disturbed. It gives off a phosphorous green colour that can only be seen at night, hence the “glistening”. We were taken out on a boat to the middle of the lagoon in the pitch dark, with only the stars guiding us. You couldn’t actually really see the sparkling green algae from the boat, so I jumped in the water with a few other people and swam a bit further away and started to notice that I could see a bright green colour through my fingers when I swam. Then it dawned on me that I shouldn’t actually be able to see my hands in the dark and I was actually seeing the magical algae shine before my eyes. The water was a mix of warm and cold and the bottom felt like thick, sticky mud, so I just continued to swim round under the stars in sparkling water until it was time to go back. I love night swimming, it’s so peaceful and relaxing. Of course we were warned that we would not be attacked by great white sharks or flesh-eating fish when we jumped in to the lagoon – I may have been a little more hesitant than I was.

We visited Falmouth on Wednesday, market day. We wanted to take photos of the old town, walk around the market, eat in local places and enjoy ourselves. Two cruise ships docked that day so at first it was a little overwhelming, tourists everywhere, but we decided to just walk around away from the port and ended up on little streets full of colourful buildings and trees, alleyways leading to other little streets and finally made it to a little fishing community on the edge of the water. Fishing boats and piles of conch shells, children playing football in their school uniforms, spear fishermen buying fresh fruit from the market stands, sleeping dogs cuddling in the shade, smiling people blowing kisses and saying “One Love”, Red Stripe beer and delicious Blue Mountain coffee in a bar, beads and braids and colourful clothing, people selling everything you can think of, fresh coconut water directly from the fruit. I earned many different nicknames during our walks, Star Girl, Shooting Star Girl, Sunshine Girl, Irie Girl… I tend to prefer black and white photography, but Jamaica is colour and there is no way that black and white prints would do any kind of justice to the array of colours that are everywhere. So colour it was through-out the entire trip. 

We decided to walk down the hill from the hotel to grab some food at the Chill Out Hut that evening, a 30 minute walk down to the beach restaurant, where we sat by the water and relaxed. Instead of calling Duran for a ride back up in the dark I convinced my mum that it would be an adventure to walk back up. I never felt unsafe in Jamaica, despite all the warnings you hear before you go there. You just have to be sensible and street smart. We bumped into the wild donkey that we had got used to see every night on the road up to the hotel and were helped to dash across the main road by a kind man when we realised that the traffic lights weren’t working properly. Everyone we passed said hello and I was yet again offered to share a joint with an array of young men who were walking by or hanging out in front of houses and shops. Houses in Jamaica are built to withstand hurricanes, Concrete blocks with steel rods from bottom to top, often sticking out through the roof and left there, making it seem that many houses are unfinished. Houses are painted many colours, and often the top floors don’t contain windows and sometimes no roofs. I don’t know whether this is because they really are unfinished, or because they are used in the summer, when the air is too hot to sleep inside. 

“Hurricanes are when Jamaicans make babies” – Duran

I had read about a place called Time N’ Place in my guidebook, and read some reviews online. A bar, restaurant and inn, built on the beach near Falmouth, supposedly off the beaten track and a wonderful place to relax. We got there early in the morning and grabbed some beach beds and settled ourselves in for what we thought would be a quiet day on the beach. Until more cruisers turned up (we started calling them “boat people”). They weren’t too bad, but I couldn’t wait for them to leave…  I had a shot of coconut rum with Tony, the owner, who asked me all about bartending in NYC and I was ready to ask him if he wanted to swap lives for a few months, when I realised that all of the boat people had left. And so did Tony who started to worry that we were also going to miss our boat… Both my mum and I started to laugh as it dawned on him that we were actually not boat people and that’s when he showed us some real Jamaican hospitality. He asked Dale, who works for him, to cut us fresh coconuts from the tree, showed us all around the property, including the huts he had built himself and rents out to visitors, and then told us to relax there for as long as we wanted. He even gave us the beach entrance money he had charged us when we had arrived, as apparently the charge was only for tourists, not for visitors. When I go back there I am going to stay in one of the huts on the beach. Waking up two steps from the ocean is one of my dreams, and I probably won’t ever leave after that. I’d be like Tom Cruise in Cocktail, serve drinks to people on the beach and listen to reggae all day in shorts and my bathing suit. Paradise.

We spent a day walking around downtown MoBay, and for three hours did not see one other tourist. I assume this is because most people stick to the Hip Strip, rather than enjoy all of the sights of the bustling town. On arrival we were immediately accosted by a couple of people intent on guiding us around the area, but we let ourselves be lead by a lovely man who called himself Rastaman (real name Freddie). He showed us the old church, the school, the busy streets and took us down to the market , saying hello to every other person along the way. No one bothered us, except to say hello, and I found that I was really getting a feel for what it was like to live in a town in Jamaica. Freddie explained that everyone has to do something to make money in order to survive, hence the amount of people who haggle with tourists and try to sell some type of product or service. In some ways I can understand the people who decide to spend their time closed up in a resort as it is “easy” but I wouldn’t ever want to miss any of the experiences that I had in Jamaica, or the conversations I had with people. Freddie was a Rastafarian and I had some great conversations about his lifestyle and beliefs. Being a vegetarian I found it a little difficult to eat in Jamaica as most local places are meat and fish heavy (we all know where jerk chicken comes from!). Freddie took us to an Ital restaurant in downtown MoBay where everything is vegetarian and fresh. I had the most delicious carrot, ginger and beetroot juice that I have ever had, and some wonderful tofu and vegetables. All for a super decent price, the Jamaican price, and not the price that you tend to find in the more touristy areas. For $16 we had two juices and two huge meals. And I got to try breadfruit, which tastes a little like swede, with the same type of consistency. More like a root vegetable than a fruit! 

Jamaica is music as music is everywhere. From shop fronts, to people pulling carts blasting music and selling CDs, to cars, to beach bars to houses. I just wanted to dance all the time, apart from the times that it got really hot walking around the dusty streets and I just wanted to sit in the shade and drink juice and listen to the sounds of people talking and laughing. Even the Jamaican accent is music, people sound like they are singing rather than talking, and everyone always sounds so happy and joyful. People start up conversations with you whenever they can, your waiter at the restaurant, children running home from school, the people sitting at the table next to you in a bar, your taxi driver, the woman at the little supermarket, the random people walking past you on the street. 

“Jamaica – No Problem!”

We spent our last day back at Doctors Cave Beach, relaxing by the water one last time before we had to fly back to the States. This time the beach felt a lot more laid back than the previous Tuesday, with less tourists and many more locals enjoying the warm water. Probably because it was Saturday and also because there were no cruise ships due in that day. We spent the entire day there until sundown, swimming in the water, finishing yet another book, taking photos and drinking virgin daiquiris and fresh coconut water and more Blue Mountain coffee. It tastes even more delicious with local cane sugar, sweet, oily sugar, that has yet to go through all of the refining procedures it does at home. When the sun set over the hills and the water I realised that I really wasn’t ready to go home and that the entire week had felt surreal and real all at once, A moment in time in Paradise that isn’t really Paradise but that feels like it should be. I’m so glad I got to share all of the experiences of the week with my mum, and I know she enjoyed herself as much as I did. I will definitely be back again in the near future and will probably brave Kingston this time, as well as other areas more inland that I didn’t have time to visit this time round.

“Peace, Love, Unity, One Blood” – Rasta handshake taught to me by Freddie, downtown MoBay.