Jammin’ in Jamaica
Jamaica is a different world, full of glorious white sand beaches, lush vegetation, mountains, red earth, the smell of saltwater, and the humidity of tropical climes. People are friendly and laid back, operating on Jamaican time, lackadaisical and easygoing, with no real sense of hurry.
I have always wanted to go there, to visit the land of jerk chicken and Bob Marley, and paid little attention to the stories of hold ups and the hostile treatment of tourists relayed to me by others. I kept those stories in mind and just decided to be cautious. I would experience the country firsthand, beholding Jamaica’s offerings with my own two eyes.
In a nutshell, visiting Jamaica requires little more than sunscreen, a swimsuit, and pockets of U.S. green. The American dollar is king and can be used as payment anywhere, from the hotel gift shop to roadside food stalls to tips.
Yes, tips. Tips are handed out frequently in Jamaica, whether or not they are deserved. If ever you decide to go, be prepared to tip everyone who has performed a service for you, from driving you around to opening a door. No joke. I found this out at Montego Bay International Airport, where the bus driver taking us to the resort wouldn’t let us board the bus until he received a tip – foreign currency preferred and bills only – from each and every one of his passengers.
Luckily, I had exchanged some money into Jamaican dollars at the airport and was ready to give the smallest paper bill I had in my pocket. Other tourists, however, weren’t so fortunate, shelling out whatever bills they could find, ranging from five dollars Canadian to twenty dollars American. Ouch. A steep price to pay to sit on a rusty, hot, Mitsubishi mini-bus for well over an hour.
One poor woman had no money, just traveler’s cheques, and was harassed mercilessly to dig deep into her pockets and come up with anything she could find. After several minutes of poking and prodding and producing nary a result, the person in line behind her stepped in to pay for her “fare” (at that point, I couldn’t tell if the donor intervened because he felt sympathetic or just plain annoyed), so the rest of us could just get onto the bus and head to the hotel.
When we got to the resort, we were met with a travel representative named Clare who gave us helpful advice, warning us to be wary of people who made their living by hustling money from tourists. She mentioned that although Jamaica’s worldwide reputation as a country full of rampant crime and theft is exaggerated, there would inevitably be people trying to take advantage of us unsuspecting tourists, viewing us as little more than walking dollar signs.
In any given scenario, Clare advised us to remain polite but firm, and just to keep walking. Slowing down or hesitating in any situation, including turning down offers of tour assistance in city centres, to purchasing local crafts at the market, to saying no to beach vendors willing to sell us anything from fake aloe to drugs, gives people a window of selling opportunity, which is precisely what we were all trying to avoid!
Ultimately, the best thing to do was exercise a bit of commonsense. After all, would anyone follow strangers unwittingly or pay someone to stop bothering them back at home? While we didn’t have many problems on the resort, which was incredibly secluded, we got a good taste of the sales persistence that Clare described during our first visit to Montego Bay, known affectionately by the locals as Mo’ Bay.
Mo’ Bay is Jamaica’s second city, second largest only to Kingston, the capital. Like every urban centre, Mo’ Bay is filled with the smell of commerce and the sight of people on the go. Traffic is everywhere. Crossing the streets reminded me faintly of being a character in a video game.
Mo’ Bay Monument
During our day of shopping in Mo’ Bay, many people came up to me and my friend, anxious for us to follow them around the city on a “tour.” Prior to our expedition, however, our cabbie Leroy warned us about people who would approach us, follow our every move, babble about local sites, and then demand a large payment for their services, so we were prepared to enforce Clare’s advice: kindly say no and quickly move on.
Our trip to the crafts market was especially annoying, as each vendor tried to get us to look at his or her goods. Often, they would try to put things in our hands. It was a big mistake on our part to politely comply. Once we took hold of the merchandise, it was as if we had already purchased it. The vendors took it as a sealed deal, asked us how much we wanted for the item, and nearly began putting it into a shopping bag!
Despite these annoyances, Jamaica was a godsend from the blustery temperatures and inches of accumulated snow that I had left far, far behind.
Negril’s renowned seven mile stretch of white sand beach was incredibly beautiful. The sand was soft and fine, and it pointed towards calm, azure waters, whose mass eventually faded into the distant, cloudless horizon.
Sunset at Rick’s Café
The sky was often bright, the weather always hot and humid – the perfect setting to watch the sunset at one of the best bars in the world, Rick’s Café.
Rick’s Café is known internationally for its breathtaking view and jovial, laidback atmosphere. Many tourists take in the sunset at Rick’s, taking tons of pictures while waiting for the sun to disappear into the open sea.
Another highlight of my Jamaican adventure includes climbing 200 meters of cascading currents. Ocho Rios is home to one of Jamaica’s most popular tourist destinations, Dunn’s River falls. Loads of tourists, from the cruise ship visitors to the package dealers- are taken to this natural wonder daily, where we each battled the cool waters and slippery rocks to make our way up the waterfall.
Dunn’s River Falls
The pleasant days that I had discovering Jamaica’s treasures more than compensated for the constant sales pitches we heard during the course of our stay. Aside from the vendors, most people I spoke with were friendly and talkative, rarely shy. I must admit, there were a few occasions in which we encountered apathetic service attendants who acted like we didn’t exist, but hostility and rudeness were rare.
Yes, being constantly hustled by people trying to earn a buck was annoying, and quite a surprise for someone who isn’t accustomed to it, but it’s not enough of a deterrence to make me avoid visiting this Caribbean gem again. Next time I go, I’ll know what to expect, know how to react, and just go on my merry vacationing way.