“One Love” - Honeymooning in Jamaica
Montego Bay, Jamaica
Rastafarians wander the streets with their long dreadlocks and relax on a small beach. Some are drinking Red Stripe beer, others smoking ganja.
Rastafarianism is a minor religion of Jamaica, although it has a steady following in the smaller island countries. An American Black Nationalist, Marcus Garvey, born in 1887 is credited with starting the “Back to Africa” Rasta movement. He hoped it would create an independent African country filled by Americans with African heritage.
Those who believed Garvey’s prophecy withdrew from mainstream Jamaican society and rejected Western culture because they considered it to be the modern “Babylon.”
Some Rastafarians also adopted ganja as their sacred “herb.” They consider smoking the “Holy Herb” to be being filled with the Holy Spirit.
These days, a walk down any Jamaican street will show that although many do not smoke it, almost everyone is willing to sell marijuana.
I witnessed a young Jamaican man cut some Aloe Vera stems from a near-by tree and then try and sell them to the tourists on the beach.
After politely refusing the Aloe Vera, he would then say, “Ya smoke, man?”
At this point in time, a tall man with dreads approached us and put a Jamaican band on each of our wrists.
Before introducing himself he went on to tell us how Jamaicans need to treat their visitors with “riiiispect” and what the colours on the bands meant.
“Green is for de ‘erb Mon, Red is for de love, Yellow is for de sun dat shines, Black is for de people and de ‘ardships Mon.”
We attempted to give them back to him, knowing full well, at some point he would ask for payment.
“No mon, it is a gift from Jamaica to you”.
I told him that we did not intend to pay any money for these “gifts”. He gestured down the road and said “Come, we talk as we walk.”
He introduced himself as “Farmer”.
“Ya smoke, Mon?” he asked.
“You know why dey call me de Farmer?”
“Coz me ‘as dem big ganja plantation, up in ‘de ‘ills, Mon.”
After refusing his offers, Farmer finally got the message and left us.
Cab drivers zoom past us shouting “Taxi” and beeping their horns.
One particular car slowed right down and as the window rolled down a man with thick dreads and sun classes poked his head out to chat with us.
“Ya Mon, where ya from?”
“Australia! Riiiispect Mon!, Rastas Respect Australians Mon!”
“Welcome to Jamaica,” he said with a smile. Before driving off, he added “Ya smoke, Mon?”
The US crackdown on drugs during President Reagan’s term in the early 1980s forced Jamaica, who were one of the main exporters of ganja to the US to tighten their laws on marijuana.
The Jamaican drug policy now states that ‘reasonable’ amounts of ganja can be possessed for personal use however it is still illegal to sell and to buy. If you are caught doing either you could be facing years in jail.
The next day was our first real view of Mo-bay Bay, as the locals call it. Despite being Jamaica’s “second” city with Kingston being the capital, Mo-bay is the tourism capital of Jamaica.
The landscape consists of mostly hills covered with palm trees and combined with the wet humidity, created a distinctly tropical effect.
The city itself however is a diverse combination of resort-town, commercial centre and slum.
We headed out for a shopping trip down Mo-bay’s famous “Hip Strip”, which is the main tourist street along the coastline.
Here you will find no shortage of souvenir shops or people wanting to sell you bracelets, woodcarvings or Bob Marley hats, t-shirts & CD’s. If you’re not interested in any of that, they also sell ganja.
On leaving the hotel we were immediately swooped on by three large Mo-bay ladies, who wanted to take us to their shop. Actually they each had a shop and after we had agreed to visit the first lady’s shop, the other ladies protested that if we visited hers then we must visit theirs. And so on.
The fact that they all had identical stores and stock was irrelevant although we were true to our word and took the time to visit each of their shops.
After they realised we weren’t going to buy from their store, each one of the ladies whispered to me as we left, “Ya smoke, Mon?”
It became obvious to us that Jamaican people, although among the friendliest in the world, are a little obsessed with selling marijuana.
We carried on walking down “Hip Strip” and began to wander in and out of the various souvenir shops attempting to cash in on the thriving “Bob Marley T-shirt with a side of Ganja” business.
After leaving one store, we were approached by a short bald man, who looked to only have three bottom teeth. He introduced himself as “George” and informed us that he was a “Social Jamaican”.
“Where ya from, Mon?”
“Riiiispect, Mon! I have family who lives if de Australia”
I’m sure if I said I was from Bolivia, he would have family there too, but we humoured him for a little while as we walked along the shop fronts.
He directed us into one shop and said, “I will wait ‘ere for ya, Mon!”
George, as promised was waiting outside for us when we were done and said, “Come my people, I show you dis beautiful land.”
I thanked him for his time and suggested that we should be all right on our own, knowing full well that eventually he would ask for some form of payment for his troubles.
We walked up to a place called Doctor’s Cave. In 1906, Dr. Alexander James McCatty donated his beach property, which at the time was only accessible through a cave, to the City of Montego Bay to form a Bathing Club.
The cave itself was destroyed by a hurricane in 1932 but the area went on to become the centre of Montego Bay’s resort district with many tourists flocking to the crystal clear waters with its average temperature of 22 degrees Celsius in the summer months.
For the first time, we heard Jamaicans speaking their native language of “Patios” which is a combination of French, German, Spanish and various African languages.
Jamaica put on a glorious show for us the next day and as we sat on the talcum-white sand. With Bob Marley music playing in the background and the turquoise Caribbean Sea lapping at my feet, I dared anyone to suggest that life could get better thank this.
Bob Marley is an important icon of Jamaica. He has become a patriotic icon for the country and its people. All are proud of his achievements and are more than happy to speak about him for hours on end.
While reggae music has always been popular in the Caribbean, it wasn’t until four young men from Kingston formed a band called The Wailing Rude Boys (later shortened to ‘The Wailers’) that the genre really took off.
Robert Nesta Marley was one of those young men and as reggae took the Wailers to new heights, Marley was lifted even higher, becoming the original “Third World Superstar”.
Marley worked most of his life to spread the message of rastafari, world-wide. And while he died over 20 years ago, his legacy and more importantly, his messages continue to touch all those who listen.
Our time in Jamaica had come to an end. We said our good byes to all of the friendly staff at Sandals as the mini-bus shuttled us to the airport.
As if to complete our Jamaican experience in authentic fashion, an airport official approached me I was wandering around the terminal. He strolled up beside me and whispered…”Psst…ya smoke, Mon?”