Wednesday, December 30, 2009

A Delightful Christmas Holiday

Having Haley and Tasha here was really wonderful and we enjoyed a fine balance of days doing very little and days travelling around. As accommodation was either at home or provided through the generosity of friends I indulged in renting a car and this afforded us the opportunity to see places we could not have seen otherwise (and an opportunity to return to my roots and drive on the left!)

The beauty and scope of Jamaica continues to amaze. With access to a car we travelled all over. It is not a large island but the mountains make it slow to travel and short distances can take many hours. We missed Dunn's Falls as it took longer to get there than I had planned but an alternative, Mahoe Falls, proved stunningly beautiful, and was completely without other tourists. Much smaller, but the intimacy of the falls and the beauty of the surrounding gardens provided a lovely experience with a gentle guide, David, showing us round.
Out of Ochos we climbed into the mountains through Fern Gully. A twisting, overhung, verdant gully cut through rock with layers and layers of growth and a canopy that denies the sunshine.

Time in Kingston meant a trip to the Bob Marley Museum and insight into a very interesting period in Jamaica. Seeing the place in which there was an attempt to assinate Bob Marley is a graphic reminder of how violent the political environment was in the 70s. The house is a classic old Jamaican house, and Bob Marley's achievements as a musician and poet are very well presented. Even the cafe under large fruit trees is good and lunch of red bean soup was delicious. The evening had us scouring our ipods for Bob Marley tunes.
Then a quick trip downtown to the street vendors, noise and mass of people on the streets. Empty, crumbling and decaying buildings that are the ghosts of a thriving colonial port. It seems all the commerce has moved onto the streets and it is a challenge to the imagination to consider the possibility of "re-vitalising" this area, as is the government's current ambition. It does makes one consider what constitutes "vital" as there is certainly no lack of vitality in the market place commerce. There is however extreme poverty, refuse and crime, none of which are easy to accommodate.

Back to Montego Bay through Junction. Jamaica offers endless breathtaking drives and this one did not disappoint, rainbows and mountains, sunshine and sunshowers.
In Mo-Bay we relaxed, swam, enjoyed each other's company at Doctor's Cave. Christmas Day was delightful together on the beach, snorkelling and enjoying the hospitality of Sandals. Boxing Day (not celebrated here!) was spent adventuring to Treasure Beach, a wonderful area on the south coast with long volcanic sand beaches and rocks full of fossils. Fresh shrimp, pizza and lobster at Jack Sprat's, a cafe on the beach, seemed to be there precisely for us! This drive led us across large pastoral plains at the edge of the mountains, grazing cattle and productive farmlands in St Elizabeth Parish.

In ten days we saw lots of Jamaica and I gained a great appreciation of how much the island has to offer. I learned how to manage the initial interactions as a result of the assumption of being a tourist. There is frustration about the all-inclusives as it has reduced the potential income for many who service the tourist industry, fewer cars rented, fewer tourists adventuring beyond the tours included by the hotels, fewer people walking around independently. So back to dichotomies: all inclusives mean tourists have continued to come here through times of violence and crime, all-inclusives (particularly Sandals) partner with local NGOs to create job training opportunities and create jobs but they have reduced the potential for independent entrepreneurship, the frustration caused by this increases the assertive approach to tourists however, if one holds one's ground with good humour, the exchanges can be fun.
I would strongly recommend a trip to Jamaica and one that would include adventuring beyond the hotel on the beach....

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