Exciting day for me over here!
In September, 2012, I traveled to Jamaica for Dabble magazine. With designer and writer Nicholas Rosaci, Jamaica Tourist Board representative Symerna and driver and guide extraordinaire Jermaine Smith of Paradise Travels, I got to experience a slice of Jamaica I had not seen before.
Nick will be sharing many more details in the issue of Dabble, out today, but I wanted to share some of my thoughts. Not just the quiet camera on the side;), I was really awed by this country.
In 2006 I visited Jamaica with extended family and enjoyed the resort life – pools, buffet, reggae music by the pool, fancy drinks…you know, the picture perfect Jamaican experience. Except really, it wasn’t. It was the picture perfect resort experience with a little irie thrown in for flavour.
This time Jamaica became a whole other adventure. A huge part of the difference was being able to share time and experiences with our ridiculously well traveled companion, Symerna. She had been brought up traveling the world with her family and continued her global adventures into her young adulthood. She shared stories of being a black woman experiencing and living in places where she was seen as being different. Her stories were fascinating and thought provoking. Returning to Jamaica, with a global perspective, she had much to say about her beloved home country and the truths it faces every day, and how it is moving forward in development and resources. This was not your regular, run of the mill tourism spiel on a location, these were observations from someone who loves and believes in the strength and character of her country.
Along with the fascinating conversations, we visited some pretty sweet retreats, and then learned how the tourism industry is not all walled resorts and duty free stops at cruise ports. Smaller hotels are making a difference in their offerings and their communities by using locally produced food ( as in kilometres away from the restaurant, picked daily ) that is fresh and uniquely Jamaican. Between the organic farm offerings and the seafood? Oh, we ate well. Jamaica’s lushness is well translate onto the plate.
Art is also playing a role in rejuvenating interest in Jamaica’s past and offering present day works, with artists opening their studios and creativity being encouraged to celebrate the Jamaican way of life.
And the hotels. What can I say? While we were ridiculously spoiled in our settings, there was nary a wall to be found. My resort experiences were a thing of the past – in the resorts we visited, the surrounding community has been included in the development, and guests are encouraged to explore the local village and enjoy. Golden Eye Hotel and Resort is an example of this approach, creating a real link between the resort and the village of Oracabessa. From restocking the bay with fish to benefit the local fisherman, rejuvenating the coral reef and providing for a sports program for local schools, Chris Blackwell, of Island Records and Blackwell Rum fame, has not just taken the beauty of Jamaica to share with tourists, but rather has created an environment where the beauty benefits both visitor and islander. This stuck with me, this approach to responsible tourism. The beachfront cottage, with barefoot attitude and decadent outdoor shower did not hurt either. And always a little rum around for a quick sip.
Jamaica is a place filled with stories, always a story. From the bays to the hills, from Ian Fleming’s original desk where he wrote his tales of James Bond to Noel Coward’s hilltop home, Firefly, still filled with his personal artwork, Jamaica surprises. The history of the island is not always easy to hear, but it was shared often and uniquely from many Jamaicans we met, sometimes with stark fact, sometimes with superstition, but never without enthusiasm.
Or a smile. Seriously. I had to ask what was with all the happy? There was a car accident that happened. And me, with my North American sensibilities was expecting a huge screaming match between the drivers. I tensed up and waited. They got out of their cars and I waited. And I waited. And finally a reaction. But wait…? Laughter. WHAT? There was clearly fault, someone had to be blamed. Where was the rudeness and the aggravation that accompanies these kind of incidents at home? Jermaine just looked at me, said “Jamaicans are always a minute away from a smile”, turned up the tunes ( Michael Jackson, by the way, not Bob ) and drove gingerly around the accident scene, where everyone was now leaning on the bruised and beaten vehicles, sharing a story. This moment, this live and let live, I decided I needed to take home with me.
Jamaica, you are beautiful and spectacular and wild. I know the island not perfect, no place ever is, but with the Jamaicans I met, their love for their country and hope in it’s future, not banking on the methods of the past but looking at new paths for the future, I can not wait to get back to you and see what you are up to, in your sunshine and smiles.
I know I have a few friends heading to Jamaica soon, so I want to share the moments I loved best.
A cold Red Stripe at Scotchies with jerk chicken. And jerk fish. And jerk pork.
Not losing Nick in Dunns Falls.
The view from Firefly.
Fresh fish from the bay at Golden Eye.
The divers at Rick’s Cafe in Negril.
And the kids. There were some pretty cool kids about:).