Monday, March 28, 2011

Jamaica mon say "No Problem" {New Braunfels Photographer}

If you've been reading my blog or following me on Facebook, you'll know that I'm freshly back from an amazing Jamaican cruise. I've always wanted to visit this little country and after spending an amazing day there, I couldn't wait to get back and tell you all about it. We also visited Grand Cayman and Mexico during our trip but there's no way I could possibly get it all into one blog so I'll have to break it down for you.

Our first stop was Montego Bay. When we left the cruise ship we were ushered into a terminal that was surrounded by armed guards and electric fences. Nobody was permitted out of the terminal without a guide. Tourists just aren't safe to roam the streets of this city alone. Our guide tells us they will surely be robbed if they are without a local guide. Let me introduce you to Michael, our guide and his wife. They were some of the nicest people you'll ever meet.

Jamaican tour guide

Our guide came highly recommended by a friend of my mother-in-law and we had him to ourselves for the whole day. When he learned we were from Texas he asked us about horses and cowboys. Then he won us over with his own little rendition of "Country Roads." What fun to be serenaded with old John Denver songs with a Jamaican accent. He was a bit surprised, however, when he heard our request for the day. We didn't want to go see the Hard Rock Cafe or Margaritaville. We had no interest in shopping at the jewelery stores or drinking the day away on the beaches of the Sandals resort. We wanted to see the real Jamaica. We told him to take us to the heart of the city and the countryside where the real people live and work. We opted against the A/C and rolled our windows down to hear the sounds and smell the smells.

The first up on our little tour was a ride through the small community of Tucker. The road was thin and torn up and rimmed with shack after shack. The people watched us go by with weary expressions. Children stopped their games to wave and run along, curious about the strangers in the white van. Chickens were plentiful as were abandoned cars, many of them on their sides or upside down -- likely the victims of car accidents that were left along the road.

Jamaican shack

Many of the homes we saw were smaller than the average American one-bedroom apartment. They were often unfinished. Michael told us that the people build what they can afford and as they get more money, they add more to their home. Many half finished homes were abandoned, or appeared to be so. Many more were lived in but in desperate need of repair.

unfinished Jamaican home

Eventually we came across a small home near a hill. Our driver pulled over and we got out to meet a quiet man with a machete. Michael introduced us to his friend who took us on a walk through his jungle property. He showed us fruit trees and treated us to coconut juice fresh from the tree. He fed us sour oranges and fresh bananas, starfruit, pineapples and many varieties of fruits we'd never seen or heard of. He showed us the care he takes to harvest the pineapples to ensure they grow for harvest after harvest.

Hillside Jamaican farm

We left this little patch of paradise too soon, but we had a lot to see still.

Jamaica roadside shop

Michael then took us back to Montego Bay and through the streets of downtown. He took us to the section of town where most of the citizens worked and lived -- many of them without homes. Squatters were common here. These people setting up a home wherever they could find a niche.

Montego Bay

Montego Bay

Montego Bay

We saw a schoolyard for high school girls -- surrounded by high chain link fences. The girls in their uniforms were outside and waved happily at us, especially my own 12-year-old daughter. The school was one of the nicer buildings in the area, yet it too was in disrepair and obviously very old.

Montego Bay girls' school

Next Michael took us to a beautiful old inn on a hill with a breathtaking view of the city. I want to blog about this place all by itself in a few days so I'll save that little stop for later.

It was getting near noon by this time so we asked Michael to take us to a place that serves really good Jerk Chicken. On to The Pork Pit we went. This little place was closer to the tourist area so there were a few other Americans there -- the first time we'd seen any since we left the ship that morning. But the Pork Pit had a reputation among locals as being really good, although a bit too expensive for them. I thought it about right at $30 for all of us to eat. No more than I'd pay to take us all to a fast food place here in the states.

While we waited for our food, a woman offered to braid the girls' hair. It's a tradition to have your hair braided when you visit Jamaica and it was not the first time we'd been approached to have our hair braided and it would not be the last as well. Most Jamaican women are raised with this skill and they see it as a way to earn some money from the American women who visit their city. I allowed her to braid their hair and they enjoyed the attention.

Woman braiding hair in Montego Bay

The food at this little dive was delicious. It reminded me of a little country barbecue pit you might find in small town Texas, right down to the smoke-filled tent where the meat was cooked to perfection.

The Pork Pit in Montego Bay

After lunch we took a drive to Rose Hall -- site of the famous white witch who allegedly murdered her husbands as well as a lot of slaves in her twisted voodoo magic way. The story is gruesome and fascinating and I, of course, was interested in the Ghost Hunters investigation of the place. We couldn't spend much time there, however, if we wanted to hit the beach. Michael took us to a small little public beach that many of the locals like to hit. There were just a handful of people there -- mostly locals, but one group of Americans from the same ship we were on.

Many of these Americans were teenagers on their senior trip and were loving the fact that they could drink alcohol legally in Jamaica. I suspect many were feeling ill the next day ;-)

Drunk American teenager in Montego Bay

Our time in Jamaica came to an end much too quickly. Our final hours were spent hanging out on the beach listening to Reggae and sipping Pepsi while the kids played in the surf.

Montego Bay

I would love to return and continue to explore this fascinating port and its people. The poverty was widespread and many of the people were without adequate sanitation and modern conveniences, but they had pride in their country. I heard the phrases "no problem," "no worries" and "be happy," consistently throughout the day.

Montego Bay newspaper seller

Too soon, Michael took us back to the ship terminal -- he wasn't allowed to go inside -- and we passed through the heavily guarded gates to go back to the ship. We returned wiser and more appreciative of the things we take for granted like flush toilets and running water. Our drive through the streets of Montego Bay and our time spent exploring the lush jungles had me wondering how many tourists ever really see those things. How many of them hit the heavily guarded Sandals resort and never venture past the locked gates of their secure little hotels? How many return with reports of paradise found and brag about how much rum they consumed without ever really meeting the people who make the rum? If I want to go to a cheesy chain restaurant I'll go to one right here near home. And if I want to go to a generic seaside resort I think I can find one much closer than Jamaica. The next time we go to Jamaica, we'll venture out into the streets again -- with a guide, of course -- there's so much more to see. Thanks for the tour, Michael, you gave us the best day we've had in a long time.

Lisa On Location Photography

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