Irie mon from di island of Jaaa-mey-ca!!
So what can I tell you about Jamaica that you don’t already know? I guess the first question would be “have you been there?”. If you have, well you will already know about the lush green land; the inviting turquoise sea; the soft white sand lined with coconut palms; stunning sunsets; locally brewed rum used in just about everything; delicious jerk chicken served in abundance; reggae music played everywhere and last but by no means least ….. the people and what enigmatic characters they are!
If you haven’t been and you already know some of the above, I will tell you about our time here and the few adventures we had.
They say there is no such thing as a problem .... only a ‘situation’ , which is a great disposition to have. If you want to really engage with them ask “wah gwan” (what’s going on) then answer with an “irie mon” (everything’s good) and a fist bump – watch as the smile lights up their face. This simple interaction goes a loooooong way!!
As I lay on the beach feeling the warm sun on my face, listening to the rhythmic sound of the ocean, I started thinking, what do I want to experience here on the third largest island in the Caribbean?
So I started by going to a Gospel Church!
As Jamaica has the most churches per square mile of any country in the world (over 1,600 churches) it wasn’t very difficult for me to find one! If you are also interested, ask someone at your accommodation and they will be able to point you in the right direction to their nearest church.
I have seen church-goers on TV clapping, singing hymns and I wanted to find out if it really is like that …. Well I can tell you it is … and more! Services start around 9.30am and right from the moment I stepped through the door I was made to feel most welcome despite me clearly being a stranger and a foreigner. Surprisingly, it wasn’t the heart-felt singing that moved me, but the prayers; the congregation were so full of emotion it really touched my heart.
I would urge anyone to go here, just once, and feel what it’s like for yourself. This was an experience I am glad I had and certainly one to tick off my bucket- list!
We were in Negril so next up was a must-do trip to the famous Rick’s Café for sunset. When we first arrived, we looked at the crowds of people watching crazy-cats jump 35 metres from a cliff into the crystal blue water whilst sipping over-priced drinks and we asked ourselves “is this something we would recommend?”
The sunset didn’t disappoint. It created a beautiful orange glow across the sea. The live reggae band sung Bob Marley’s “One Love” whilst the sun slipped into the ocean; with the potent rum punch starting to take effect, we realised the warmth we felt wasn’t just from the alcohol!
As soon as the sun had disappeared, most people followed suit, but it was now – without the crowds, that we could see the true beauty of this place.
With candles set on every table you could now see the rustic naturally formed cliffs; and so to answer my own question – “would we recommend Rick’s Café?” yes, we would …… but do please stay just half an hour longer to really see its charm, because THAT is when the magic can be seen!
To say he took us to a “bar” is used in the loosest sense, sometimes it was literally a wooden hut where a single-toothed man would pop the lid off a Red Stripe and hand it to you in return for $5. If this is where the local people come to drink, then I’m in!!
The 4th was in a ghetto which had children and dogs running around much to the joy of most people on the bus. We had a wonderful conversation with a dread-locked gentleman who permanently had a spliff stuck to his lip – he was fantastic! He was a random Jamaican who wasn’t part of the tourist industry and this is what we wanted to experience, real Jamaican people!
There wasn’t enough room for all of us in the bar – but that’s OK, we were happy to sit on the rocks!
A budding musician insisted on giving us his business card ….. and a joint, so what better place to enjoy it than on the One Love Bar Crawl, watching a glorious orange sunset, sitting on a rock feeling totally chilled out ….. this was real Jamaica!
Sitting in a bobsleigh wearing your wedding dress the wrong way around!
The purpose of our visit was to renew our wedding vows. We first came here on a day trip from a Caribbean cruise back in 2012 where we had stopped at Ocho Rios. Ian Fleming actually wrote his James Bond spy thrillers in Oracabessa Bay in the St Mary’s province which is a 20 minute drive from Ocho and where he built his dream home. You can actually stay at Fleming Villa in the Goldeneye resort if you are looking for total privacy and relaxation (and if you have a lot of money to part with!). Ian Fleming loved it here .... and so did we – we always felt it was the people that really made this place so special so it was natural to return to Jamaica for our special event.
I don’t need to tell you about the day as I’m sure it is the same as any other wedding/vow renewal, I mean what makes one ceremony different from another? On this particular occasion, I wouldn’t even say it was sitting in the bobsleigh to pose for our photo (if you didn’t know what relation a Bobsleigh has to Jamaica, I can tell you it was because in 1988, Jamaica became the first tropical country to enter a Winter Olympic event – the bobsleigh - it was the team’s efforts that inspired the excellent movie “Cool Runnings”).
Simon hasn’t let me live that one down but I guess it makes up for the last 10 years when I have teased him about his wedding speech when he proclaimed he was proud to be “my wife”! Ha! Now both our doh! moments are immortalised on the web (another little fact about Jamaica; it was the first Caribbean country to launch a web site, jamaicatravel.com back in 1994).
As we are scuba divers, obviously we needed to find out what it was like in the ocean and it was surprisingly lovely! Jamaica isn’t world-renowned as a diving destination but the water is equally as slow and calm as the people who live here (and just as warm!) – we both agreed it was the most chilled out dives we have done. The coral formations were the best we have seen; totally unspoilt, pristine, incredible large shelves and, just like the clothes the islanders wear – bright and vibrant!
Negril is famous for it’s 7 mile beach and I loved whiling away the hours listening to the local sellers walking up and down asking in their thick local accent asking if you want “paarraa saaailin, waaaatah tewbin rides”. On one occasion a local seller asked “Reggae lobster for lunch? Para-sailing rides? Marijuana?” – well that escalated quickly didn’t it!!
On this beach there was a strong community spirit and strangers appear to feel very comfortable with whoever was around them, happily chatting away without a care in the world …… well they are on a gorgeous white sand beach in a beautiful Country so right now, what cares should they have??
I would say we learnt a couple of things from our nudist adventure. First - we do actually prefer having a conversation with other people when they are wearing clothes and second, I don’t like the feeling of a burnt bottom!
So what can I tell you about Jamaica that you don’t already know? I would say that you need to go there for yourself and find out what makes it so special for you – because there is certainly plenty to choose from!
- The official currency is Jamaican Dollar, however the US dollar is widely accepted. If you want to take just one currency, we found US dollars are preferred.
- Departure tax is payable when you leave, as of 2016 it was $17 or £10 or JMD 1,800.
- There are 3 international airports – Montego Bay, Boscobel/Ocho Rios & Kingston which is the capital.
- English is the official language but also Jamaican Patois – “wah gwan” “ire mon” are widely used.
- Rum is the national drink.
- The national dish is Ackee (a local fruit) and Saltfish which most people eat at breakfast.
- Reggae music is huge here and spawned the world’s best known artist - Bob Marley who was born in Nine Mile, St Ann Parish.
- Usain Bolt, the world’s fastest man and holder of a total of 17 gold Olympic and World Championship medals, was born in Trelawny, Cornwall Parish.
- Jamaica was the first Caribbean nation to gain independence in 1962
- On 3 March 2016, Andrew Holness became the youngest person to become Prime Minister in Jamaica's history and is the first prime minister to be born post-Jamaican independence.
- The Jamaican flag is one of only two countries in the world which doesn’t contain the colours red, white, nor blue: theirs is Green, Yellow & Black
Main attractions & what attracted us:
What attracted us:
Our first trip to Jamaica was for its culture – reggae, Bob Marley and Rastafarians! The reason we chose to return for a 2nd visit was to experience more of the amazing warmth and character of the Jamaican people .... and to sit on Negril’s famous 7 mile white beach!
Some of the many tourist attractions:
- Rick’s Cafe @ The Cliffs – Negril.
- Dunn’s River Falls & Park – Ocho Rios.
- Rainforest Bobsled at Mystic Mountain – Ocho Rios.
- Appleton Estate Rum Tour – Santa Cruz.
- YS Falls - Santa Cruz.
- Bob Marley’s birth place – Nine Mile nr Ocho Rios.
- Bob Marley Museum – Kingston.
- Bamboo rafting on the Martha Brae River – Falmouth nr Montego Bay.
- Rastafari Indigenous Village – Montego Bay.
- Glistening Waters Luminous Lagoon (one of only 4 in the world) – Falmouth.
- Doctor’s Cave Beach – Montego Bay.
- The Blue Hole – Ocho Rios.
- Mayfield Falls – Negril.
- Horseback riding along the beach – Montego Bay & Ocho Rios.
- Reach Falls – Port Antonio.
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