abroad, African-American, Black, Bob Marley, Buffalo Soldier, Caribbean, cocktail, I Shot the Sheriff, irie, Jamaica, jamming, marijuana, Montego Bay, murther, Negril, One Love, palm trees, reggae, reggae rap, respect, Rick's Cafe, riddim, Stir It Up, Three Little Birds, Wailers, yeah mon, YS Falls
I had never wanted to visit Jamaica. Crazy talk, I know. I had been to the Bahamas about sixteen years before. Once you’ve seen one Caribbean Island, you’ve seen them all, right?
My focus was on getting overseas to Europe. I had always wanted to visit London and Scotland, not Jamaica. When my travel agent suggested a group trip to Jamaica, I wasn’t really interested. However, I live in a cold weather state and Jamaica in November sounded logical. I booked the trip. That was one of the best vacation decisions of my life.
I remember walking into the open air lobby at the resort in Montego Bay. My first thought was, “I am in the tropics.” I immediately peeped why Jamaica was such a gem to colonizers — beautiful beaches, glorious weather, the mesmerizing brown bodies of the people, and the unrivaled blue of the sea. There is something hypnotic and sensuous about Jamaica that I’ve not felt in any other place.
Warm breezes caressed me and the palm trees swayed gently in greeting as I stood in line to check in and get my room key. One of the bell hops gave me a glass of rum punch and it was officially a party.
There is something hypnotic and sensuous about Jamaica that I’ve not felt in any other place.
I learned two things very quickly. Rum punch on a mostly empty stomach in eighty degree heat will go to your head like lightning, and the true meaning of an all-inclusive resort means unlimited cocktails and beverages.
As I walked a mostly straight line to my room after checking in, I opened the balcony doors and instantly fell in love with Jamaica. Palm fronds framed my vista of the Caribbean Sea. Reggae music floated up from the pool as Bob Marley asked me “is this love, is this love, is this love, is this love that I’m feeling?” Yes, Brother Marley. Immense and irrevocable love for Jamaica. Respect.
I hadn’t ever been a huge fan of authentic reggae. I was more of a reggae-rap girl, breaking it all the way down in my youth to favorites like Don Dada, Ghetto Red Hot, Mr. Lover Man, and Telephone Love. Experiencing true reggae for the first time in Jamaica was indescribable! That melodic riddim infused everything on the island — from the television commercials to the gospel music videos that aired on a Sunday morning to the patois that dripped from the lips of the people like honey. It was the island’s heartbeat and the pulse by which I centered myself.
My ears were finally opened to the indelible magic of Bob Marley and the musical genius of his Wailers. Life became irie as I naturally learned all the words to well known anthems: Jamming, Stir It Up, One Love, Three Little Birds, Buffalo Soldier, and I Shot the Sheriff. To his music I danced in the sea, in my room, in the nightclub, and all over the tiny island nation.
That melodic riddim . . . was the island’s heartbeat and the pulse by which I centered myself.
Our travel group of about ten abandoned ourselves to the languid allure of paradise. We visited Negril, had cocktails at Rick’s Cafe as we watched my brother cliff dive, then bore witness to the setting of the sun as the Jamaican flag fluttered against the darkening sky. We went on “safari” at the Black River on Jamaica’s south coast in St. Elizabeth Parish. We purified ourselves in the waters of Lake Minnetonka (ok, it was really YS Falls) as we enjoyed the easy hospitality of the Jamaican people.
And we shopped, doing our best to ignore the country’s painful 16% sales tax. The best deals for souvenirs were in Negril at Time Square shopping center in stores number five and ten. We also did plenty of damage shopping the vendors selling trinkets by land and sea. I was offered marijuana or jewelry, or both, by a vendor in a canoe. He literally paddled his way to me as I enjoyed a cocktail and Cohiba in the sea. I wisely chose the jewelry and left the murther to someone else.
The only complaint I had with Jamaica was clearly a #FirstWorldProblem. Poverty is so staggering that asking for tips is a way of life. I enjoy tipping, especially for good service, but being overtly asked for a tip for doing something that wouldn’t require a tip here in the U.S. became frustrating. I was hit up by everyone — the sales person who insisted on following me around as I shopped, hotel staff who fixed things in my room that should have worked but didn’t, and water sport staff who did nothing except point us to available watercraft. By the time I left Jamaica, I felt decidedly used and grumbled at anyone asking me for anything. A small price to pay for the privilege of enjoying paradise for a week.
He literally paddled his way to me as I enjoyed a cocktail and Cohiba in the sea.
On the seventh day, my burgeoning love affair with JA came to an end. I enviously viewed the people just arriving at the resort as I waited for the van that would take me to Sangster Airport. Like a lover who pretends not to feel the effects of a break-up, I walked proudly and quickly to the waiting van with my head held high. I didn’t look back as we left the resort and drove the five minutes to the airport.
As I sat in the VIP lounge waiting for my flight out, I sipped on Chocolate Jim cocktails and reflected over my week in Jamaica. I vowed to love from afar and return one day. For although I had arrived as a skeptic, I was leaving as a convert. Yeah mon.