Carnival, dancehall, reggae, beaches, mountains waterfalls in the tough, lone lion of the Caribbean.
15.05.2017 - 30.05.2017
Welcome to Jamrock
Jamaica is a small island that sits in between close hermanos Colombia and Cuba.
Whilst Ja's neighbours share one of the most adoring and close cultural kinships in the world, Jamaica stands tall, sternly tough... and largely alone in the Caribbean.
I spent a month here and had a great time! Learning about Jamaican culture was really interesting and the scenery; from beaches to mountains are really incredible.
If you assume Jamaica is a peace loving dreadlocked utopia, think again.
The Rastafari are in the minority and generally work in the farms and keep to themselves, though some now do work in tourism.
The dread locked guys you see hounding tourists to buy weed are not indicative of rasta culture at all.
The majority of the population are devout/strict Christian, and their values/behaviours are reflected accordingly.
Modern dancehall has totally eclipsed traditional reggae, and that's all young people pretty much listen to.
Artists like Vybz Kartel and Shensea are now international stars and there are huge dancehall scenes around the world now, especially Canada, Japan, and an emerging one in Australia.
Usually, at clubs and parties, the DJ's will play old reggae and classic dancehall to warm up the crowd, and then the party will jump off with beat heavy modern dancehall.
One thing that Jamaica did take from her Caribbean neighbours... Salsa and Bachata music - especially Kingston.
Venues such as the Alibi have great Salsa and Bachata events.
Though English is the national language, Patois is most widely spoken in casual terms.
People often mistake Patois as broken English. It isn't.... Patois hardly resembles standard English and is a language of it's own.
It evolved from the ancestral African languages and includes some French and English vocabulary. Some friends tried to teach me Patois phrases but... no nuh muss
Is Jamaica safe?
As a foreigner everyone in Jamaica will tell you to be careful.
Jamaica is reportedly the murder capital of the world, with more homicides occurring per capita than any other country.
It is very common for folks to carry pistols. A friend who works for an accounting firm, carries a licenced gun at the behest of her father for self protection....
I had a couple of tricky situations.....
One, on the beach in Negril when a vendor tried overcharging me for a smoothie. His prices said $4, I verbally confirmed the price before ordering. Upon leaving he asked for $10, I told him $4. We argued for a bit until his friends came to support him (one of them had a bullet wound scar in his shoulder and meant business)..... it was clear that the customer (me) was either going to cough up, or end up in hospital, or worse.
Homophobia is part of Jamaican culture - it is violently embedded in Ja' music lyrics and the psyche of mainstream society. Going by how I heard people talk... Jamaica is not a safe place for LGBT people to visit at all...actually, that goes for any of the English speaking Islands. The Spanish and Dutch islands are much better suited for you guys and gyals.
Two types of popular drugs are widely available, of extremely high quality and at very agreeable prices in Jamaica; the stuff Bob Marley liked, and the stuff Tony Montana liked. Be aware that both are illegal.
Though it's common to see folks smoking spliffs at the parties, on the beach or at the resort, just beware that it's not legal, nor is consumption tolerated in most places and the cops could do you in of they were so inclined..
There is a fairly strong police presence, but for me they seemed really unhelpful. I asked some cops for directions at the main bus terminal in Kingston. At first they made out like they didn't understand what I was saying, and after repeating my question... they answered in unintelligable Patois and turned away.
The military also drive the streets of Kingston in jeeps. Friends told me they have a licence to kill gangsters without question.
Nontheless, I loved Jamaica for the most part... and here's what I experienced there....
A few days out from Carnival I registered with the Island Routes parade for the Kingston street party.
This was one of the best Caribbean experiences I had!
Upon arrival, we were ushered "backstage" for lunch and it was an opportunity for the participating ladies to get their costumes ready.
When it came to our turn, the masses of our group bumbled into the road with our bus, blasting bouncing Soca music... and as we slowly marched, danced and "wined" through the streets of Kingston, we were able to access the unlimited moving bar in the bus. Just pass your cup into the bus and scream your order and a very strong version of the drink is passed back.
It was utter chaos, and so much fun!!!
The Redbones Café is a great outdoor music venue that also has awesome food!!
I saw a great reggae band here whist dining on the best jerk chicken feast ever!!
Usain Bolt's Records
Sports restaurant owned by Jamaica's great sprinter is an awesome and entertaining visit. The food is awesome and there is a ton of Usain's memorabilia in house!!
Kingston's nightlife is easily the best in the country. It's loud, boisterous, raucous and extremely risqué.
Though Jamaica is so staunchly Christian, strip clubs are big business and also act as great nightclubs. Both men and women across the board go to clubs and drop dollars for the super athletic six pack donning ladies.
Aside from the strip clubs, there are big dancehall/reggae parties at different venues at each night of the week.
Sunday party, Wet Sundaze, is hosted at a huge mechanics shop was an awesome time!!
One thing I loved about many clubs in Jamaica, is that they have cricket is playing on the big screens! Yeam mon!
Hugely significant in Jamaica's history and culture. It's a gorgeous, safe and serene place to be. Many a wedding photo is taken here. I also saw a cool Brazilian capoeira group practicing here too!!
Negril has arguably the best beach (7 miles long!!) in Jamaica and is where most of the resorts are. It's definitely the most tourist friendly spot and you are guaranteed a great time here. The super long beach is lined with resorts, restaurants and hotels. During the day you can chill, eat jerk chicken and sip Red Stripes, and at night choose from a myriad of great parties.
The highlight of my time was a catamaran trip along the region's coastline, stopping at Rick's Café by the cliffs. There is a jump platform from 40 feet to the deep sea. Of course, I did it, and the west facing sunset views from anywhere in Negril are spectacular.
Another highlight was a visit to a farm up in Moreland Hill.
It has been owned by the same family for many generations, since almost directly after emancipation. The family have a statue gallery dedicated to the Rastafari religion.
This is a great stop to learn about Jamaican history and the Rasta man, see great views and awesome art... probably a cultural highlight of my time here.
"Mo Bay" is a nice seaside city, and the second biggest in the country. I stayed just a couple of days at one of the all inclusive resorts (Decameron) by the sea and had an absolute blast. The Decameron employs bilingual Colombians (Decameron is also all over San Andres) to look after the many Latino tourists who come here.
'Pier 1' is huge party that shouldn't be missed, and the Hard Rock Café in town is super swish.
The views from chain bar, Margaritaville are incredible!!
Ocho Rios is a nice town, and is where the cruise ships stop on the island. I stayed at Reggae Hostel there and had a great time. Really nice staff and vibe. It's also right on the beach.
Mystic Mountain is a great adventure park in the mountains next to "Ochi".
I ran a manually controlled bobsled (remember the Jamaican bobsled victory?!!) through the lush mountains. Kind of like a rollercoaster where the passenger controls the speed. It winds and loops through the jungle and you can really fly. Absolutely incredible. I also zip lined across the mountains and did their incredibly windy and fast waterslide. There are many informative displays about Jamaica's incredible sporting and cultural history here too... and the chair lift that takes you up to the park has amaaaazing views. Jamaica is one heck of a spot. Especially for adventure and culture. yeah mon!!
Dunn's River Falls
Dunns River Falls is a huge cascading waterfall that flows through a mountain in Ocho Rios, with many amazing pools along the way. The activity starts at the base of the falls on the beach. The group held hands in single file and we collectively walked UP the waterfall together, helping each other in a synergetic climb. The journey is touch in parts, but the group effort makes sure everyone makes it.
It was totally AWESOME!!
Grippy water shoes are a must for this... I picked up a pair at the market for 5 bucks!
Bob Marley's House
The place where he was born and now rests. . This is certainly a special place for Jamaicans and fans of reggae music. I joined a wonderful tour to 8 Mile, the town of Bob's family home where he was conceived and now rests alongside other members of the family who have passed.
We learned so much about Bob's upbringing, family and life here.
Just outside of Ochi there is lagoon where the phosphorus glows at night when activated. Sadly I don't have photos, but it was truly amazing to swim there under the stars and have the water radiating with movements.
This was favourite part of Jamaica. The jungle/mountain scenery here is nothing short of spectacular. There are no resorts here and just a few hotels scattered around the tranquil lush region.
I went to the banks of the lagoon and found a boatman who takes tourist on raft tours. He was a top bloke and had plenty of stories to tell, as we cruised the gorgeous area.
On the banks, are some impressive houses - one of which was owned by Princess Diana, and others had been rented by Tom Cruise, Beyonce and JayZ, etc.
We stopped on Monkey Island and the surrounding falls. I really can't explain how amazing it is!!
A friend showed me around to Somerset Falls. Just amazing. We took a boat along the flowing around the back of the waterfall, and through the sheet of fast flowing water to some rocks. We jumped on to the rocks, and then dove through the waterfall back into the river... it was quite an experience!!!
This is a private beach ($10 entry) and as amazing as any tropical romance film will show you. It's a small beach and impeccably kept. No vendors or hassles, and when I visited, only a few other people scattered around the place.
St Anne's Parish is a small, lush and very tranquil area of the country. I joined a friend's work trip to visit some of the key places.
We visited a gorgeous preserved pak on the beach that had a great museum. Therein were artefacts from the indigenous groups, Tainos dating back many thousands of years. The guides gave us some very detailed desciptions of Taino culture and the many tools and artefacts that they had before the Spanish arrived.
We also visited some of the magnificent waterfalls in the area for a swim.
I jumped from some of the cliffs into the deep pools there - totally awesome.
We stopped for delicious jerk chicken on the way home... though bittersweet as it was my last day in Jamrock.
Jamaica is a beautiful country, rich in culture and has the best food in the world!!
I had an incredible time and really, really, glad I went!!