What do you think of when you hear “Jamaica”? Do you picture yourself on a beach sipping a cute drink with an umbrella in it? Do you reminisce about the day that you got married or your weeklong honeymoon? Maybe you hear steel drums or one of Bob Marley’s classics like “One Love”. Whatever you may think about when you hear “Jamaica”, I want you to ask yourself, “Is that all there is?”
On my first trip to Jamaica, I was 21, a very naïve age. I remember landing on the tarmac and just being ready for a completely different world. Now because I would be staying with my sister’s in-laws, I tried to contain my excitement so as not to appear so foreign (you see how naïve I was). Anyway, the walk to customs felt extremely long and the wait was so long. But as I scanned the crowd, nobody seemed to care. During our wait, the room was all of a sudden filled with the beautiful voices of four women, dressed in bright yellow dresses and swaying to the beat of their a cappella song. My most vivid moment in customs is watching a visitor be so overwhelmed with the tropical song, warm weather in December and the customs agent handing back her passport and saying “Welcome to Jamaica” that she began to jump up and down and shrill with glee. I am sure that her anticipation was well reciprocated with an amazing vacation.
Well for me there were two things about Jamaica that stood out during my vacation (new sights, activities that I wasn’t accustomed to, and the food (oh my goodness, the food is soooo good!) After going through customs, the first thing that I noticed was that we were driving on the left side of the road. This minor switch can really affect your sense of awareness. I was sitting in the front left passenger seat of the car and kept looking up for the review mirror to see behind me, but it was of course turned the other way for the driver. Every time we stopped at a stop sign, I kept looking in the wrong direction for oncoming traffic. Plus I had to get used to passing on the right instead of the left.
The views along the ride away from Montego Bay towards the countryside were stunning! Bright blue skies, sun glistening off of the sea, waves crashing in to the shore-this was everything that I had imagined. I did not picture this tropical island having so many lush green hills and mountains. When we finally arrived at the in-laws’ house I was surprised to see so many fruit trees! Trees of all kinds surrounded me, banana, coconut, ackee, june plum. There was so much vegetation. Now the kicker of all things that I saw came on the first morning after a restful sleep. As I sat up and stretched, my eye was caught by a goat grazing grass outside of my window. If you were raised on a farm, a goat may not be that interesting. However, what I saw this goat do, I had honestly never seen before. It began to give birth to a kid…a baby goat! I saw the slimy baby come out and drop to the ground, attempt to stand up on its super wobbly legs and then muster up enough strength to begin nursing from its mama. At this moment, I knew that my experience in Jamaica would not be a typical tourist experience.
Nope, because most resorts, if not all of them are equipped with hot water. So when I was told that I would be taking a bucket bath, I didn’t think much of it. A bucket bath in and of itself is not too bad, most of us have had to “bathe” in the bathroom sink before. But I was not ready to be told that I would have to take a bucket bath with cold water because there was no hot water. This was a challenge, but they let me in on a strategy; if you bathe in the evening or at night, the water is a bit warmer because the sun has warmed it up a bit (a lot of the homes have water tanks on top of the house).
Speaking of water, I had no idea that you could drink coconut water directly from the coconut. It was also the first time I had the pleasure of trying a traditional Jamaican dish called Manish water. This is a soup made from goat. It is not like chicken noodle soup or turkey chilly, this soup is made of several different organs of the goat. If you’re feeling adventurous, give it a try. Now if you want a soup that is sure to please your taste buds, try peanut soup or fish tea, two of my favorites.
I definitely fell in love with the food. For breakfast my favorite was ackee and saltfish with “food” which is boiled green banana and plantain and callaloo. However I also liked simple meals such as peanut porridge paired with fresh toasted bread. Porridge is much smoother than oatmeal and it leaves you wanting more and more. For lunch I was a big fan of a good ol’ soy, curry chicken, or vegetable patty with ginger beer or Ting. In fact, I think I had one at least every other day. Then for dinner, I ate the best fish I had ever had. I was raised on rainbow trout, but I couldn’t resist a delicious fresh catch of red snapper with festival and pumpkin rice. After dinner I enjoyed a glass of Jamaica’s banana rum cream on ice. Those were my top picks. But of course, jerk anything is really good and the fruit is so plentiful. Once you eat a fresh mango, you will be completely spoiled and will never want to buy one in the produce section ever again, no matter how ripe the sign says it is. Yes, Jamaica definitely has a unique flavor and I love just about all of them.
There’s so many other things that I saw for the first time given that it was my first time in another country. For instance, I never knew that you could use a machete to “peel” a pineapple! It was truly an eye-opening experience and has made a huge contribution to who I am and how I see the world. I’m not sure if I would have had the same experience if I would have stayed on a private resort but you can have a similar one if you book a tour with Jamrock Journeys and get more immersed in the culture you’re visiting.