An April 2001 trip
to Jamaica by CMH4135
Quote: Come with me to Jamaica, on my honeymoon, and see for yourself what and amazing place this is
Jamaica is everyone's island in the sun. Unlike its neighbours who cater mainly for the rich and famous Jamaica really is somewhere for everyone. From the private villa with its guarded private beach to the non-stop party resorts where the beach is a party and the water rum, Jamaica really caters for all-comers. Go to be pampered at a spa or be adventurous in the mountains, find a B&B by the road or an all-inclusive, the choice is there for the taking.
The contrasts are not only to be found in the types of traveller to visit or the type of accommodation selected but in the country itself. Rainforest-like mountains give way to desert like plains which melt into lush mangrove swamps and finally crystal sea. Viewed from the air whilst making an internal flight in a small aircraft the contrast was all too evident, a kaleidoscope of colour stretching as far as the eye could see, greens, blues, yellows and reds as you have never seen before.
The social contrast is even more apparent. Arriving in Montego Bay (the arrival airport for most foreign holidaymakers) your first impression is of a developing country. The airport is basic although there is a clear US influence with American style-security and advertising. It is a rather strange experience to be told to "wait behind the yellow line" at passport control whilst a local group in traditional dress welcome you to Jamaica with traditional upbeat songs. Leaving the airport takes you through a commercial centre, rather more US/European in style before giving way to the real-Jamaica. As you drive (or should I say careen) along the potholed roads at an alarming speed you pass grand, colonial style houses neighboured by wooden shacks. As you pass through the villages you realise that the brochured image of Jamaica is about as far from reality as is possible. The towns are densely populated and poverty is everywhere. I found it really hard to believe that this was the same country as that which I had selected to spend my honeymoon in, robed in the lap of luxury in an all-inclusive resort. As we neared our resort in Ochos Rios the shanty towns made way to open roads lined with huts, some clearly lived in, others the base for a meagre trade in refreshments or wood carvings. As we entered the resort Jamaica became an island not of contrast but of contradiction. All that separated our home for the next week from the real country was a six-foot wall. No barbed wire or armed security (although I'm sure that they were present), just a man in a booth on the gate. To the seaward side of this wall lay an estate of luxury, mown grass and well-stocked tropical gardens, to the other side lay unusable rough land fringed with shacks housing far more people than seemed humanly possible plying a trade that no-one was buying. Think too hard and it hurts.
Jamaica is positively bathing in history and it is from these complex roots that much of the culture has evolved. It is the land of the Rastafarian, the colonial plantation, the slave and the pirate. Jamaica's motto - "out of many, one people" encapsulates the country. Talking to locals there are so many stories to be told and so many lives to experience that I could not hope to do the people justice in this review - there is simply not enough space. Most Jamaicans are of African or African/European descent and almost without exception they are a friendly, outgoing nation who are seemingly unaware of the many social and economic problems evident to the traveller. Life is laid back ("soon come") and care free ("no problem mon") - life is simply alright ("Irie").
I went to Jamaica expecting a few problems and had none. You hear talk of drugs and muggings and general advice is not to travel alone or at night unless escorted in a group. Only use official taxis. Whilst there, ganja or marijuana seemed to abound but a polite refusal of an offer to sell was all that was required. Likewise it soon became evident that it was in a Jamaican's nature to "hassle" you to buy. Again, a polite refusal and you were left alone, even in the markets that edged the tourist attractions. We did heed the advice to travel safely and so I cannot comment on the risk of attack, however, as with all countries including our own it is surely sensible advice that is being given.
The tourist board is currently surveying passengers as they wait to go home from the major airports to assess the level of hassle that is experienced. They are trying really hard to reverse the image of Jamaica cultivated in the 1980s at a time when the country was very unstable and many of the population desperate. They are succeeding.
The only annoyance that we found was the requirement (I did intend to use that word) to tip everyone. We stayed in a resort where tipping was prohibited but everywhere outside of the resort tips were not only expected, they were demanded. Upon arrival at the airport our bags were taken from us to the bus, a distance of only about 20 yards. We had no choice in this, the hotel rep told the porter to take the bags and they were gone before we realised. The porter would not put the bags on the bus however, nor allow us to, until he had been tipped. At this point we did not have any Jamaican currency, neither did we have any small US notes and after travelling for almost 20 hours by this point we didn't feel like arguing and so a very happy porter left with a very sizeable tip. If there was one thing I learned on this trip it was that wads of dollar bills are a necessity. Bus drivers and guides all expect a tip as do crew of any boats you go on. At a local airstrip whist waiting for an internal flight a tip was demanded from us from a security guard. What he did we are not sure but when faced with a man with a gun positively demanding you to pay up I'm afraid we just gave in...
London, United Kingdom