As I mentioned in another blog, 2017 – Croatia to Australia and everything in between, Jamaica has been one of my top to places to visit as long as I can remember. I have always had a fascination with Jamaica and I am not sure what inspired it. Maybe it was Bob Marley, the movie Cool Runnings, the one love culture or the coolest accent ever? Maybe it was all of it. What ever it was I got to tick this one off my bucket list this year.
I was determined to really get among the people so I planned to spend the whole week in Kingston. Some people think this place is not safe, especially for a female travelling solo but I did my own research and felt confident that I would be fine and I was.
I flew into Kingston airport and had already had Google Maps loaded with the public bus options as I knew I might not have any wifi at the airport and I was right. As it turned out I didn’t really need the directions as people were more than happy to point me in the right direction especially when I got into downtown Kingston which was a little chaotic. School was out and there were kids catching the public buses everywhere. Everyone was super friendly and helpful and before long I was on my second bus crammed in with my luggage and a bunch of kids who were happy to admit to me they had never spoken to a white person before. It was at that point I realised how much of a novelty I was and this was my first experience of being the extreme minority. I didn’t see one other white person on the whole hour and a half it took me to get to my hostel. A taxi may have been easier and less hassle but starting off my trip this way was a good introduction to what I could expect the rest of my time here.
I arrived at Reggae Hostel where I had booked in for the whole week. I was welcomed by more smiling faces and a range of travellers from all over the world. It was a Friday and every Friday this hostel puts on a hostel party with some local talent performing. This was a great way to start off my week, make some new friends and settle in to this crazy cool city for the week.
The following evening was the annual Trench Town Concert. It was a total coincidence that I was here for this and couldn’t believe my luck! Now Trench Town is not a part of the city I would head to at night on my own but pretty much everyone at the hostel was keen to go so the hostel organised several taxis for us all to get there. What a fantastic night! We arrived about 8pm to find a big stage set up in the middle of a dirt paddock with a crowd of kids to oldies. The music was awesome and I couldn’t believe how many artists there were! The most novel thing I saw was people going around selling marijuana buds which were on stalks they had in a carry tray hung around their neck. I wish I had got a photo of this. I was still suffering from a bit of jet lag having flown from London via Miami in three days. So I was done at about 1am but I was told the concert went on until after 4am and ended with the Marley Brothers performing. My favourite artist that I discovered that night was Kelissa who is such a beautiful soul with beautiful music.
With a full on weekend I was keen to explore more of Kingston so I went back into down town to check out the markets. By this time I was getting use to the attention I attracted but it was still hard work. At no time did I ever feel unsafe but I learnt fast to say that I was married and that I didn’t have a phone number. That seemed to be enough to send any unwanted attention on its way. It also became apparent that my figure was something of a novelty on a white women. Lets just say I have a big booty which is quite common on the women here and much appreciated! A number of guys confirmed this for me but I even had a lady approach me and ask me if I had any black ancestors because she had never seen a white woman with a booty like mine. I just had to laugh. However, the highlight of all this was the women’s clothing here was made for women like me! They even display womens clothing with wire frames shaped just like me, it was awesome! Downtown is a real experience for sure, you will see some of the real Kingston and its people here.
I was super lucky to make friends with one of the artists that had performed at the hostel on the night I first arrived. He was a real character not only a great voice but also a talent for magic. I witnessed him entertain adults and kids alike with his charm and tricks. He was also working on recording a single with a guy from Sweden who was staying at the hostel and on the search for local talent. An exciting opportunity for an artist from Jamaica where opportunities are very rare. My new friend invited me to spend an evening at his family home up in the hills where I got to meet his mum and siblings. His mum had made a chicken foot stew which was something new for me but I gave it a go and it wasn’t too bad. Along with his sister we went down to the local for a few beers and met some interesting older characters. This was an evening I will always appreciate and the Jamaica I had hoped to experience.
Having spent a few days in Kingston I realised I really needed to get out and at least see some beaches. I didn’t want to be in the popular tourist spots so after talking to a few other travellers it was recommended I visit Port Antonio for a less touristy spot. So I decided to take a night away from Kingston and head over the hills to this seaside town. The bus transport here is an experience in itself, you find the bus you want and wait on it until it is full and then it leaves. And by full I mean every seat including up the front with the driver and all the fold out isle seats too. No timetables here but it is still pretty reliable and being from the pacific I understand ‘island time’ so it was no fuss. The bus from Kingston took about two and a half hours and I had the best seat up front between the driver and another female passenger. Apparently the front seats are for females only. I think the trip cost me about US$4, super cheap.
So Port Antonio was a great spot to get to some nice beaches without the crazy tourist crowds, it was more of a locals town with a few foreigners scattered around. I checked into my accommodation for the night, Porty Hostel, which was a nice little hostel in the back streets among homes. From there I managed to get to the Blue Lagoon that afternoon and to Winnifred Beach the following morning, both times by local taxi which you tend to share with others but for US$1 each way its a great price. One taxi I got into filled up with one in the front and three in the back but we still managed to squeeze one more in. Seat belts were obviously not necessary. I felt safe walking from my hostel to the shops after dark and again found people to be friendly and helpful. It was here I tried some street food, spicy chicken and it was spicy!
Heading back to Kingston around the Blue Mountains was again a great glimpse of the beautiful nature here and I was sad that I didn’t have time to see more of this beautiful country. Back in Kingston I had to do Bob Marley’s Museum which is actually the house he lived in with his wife and the house an assasination attempt was made on him. Unfortunately, you couldn’t take photos inside, there were some pretty cool things to see including his music awards and loads of memorabilia. The tour guide did a great job and this was an absolute highlight of my time in Kingston.
My week here went super fast, in hindsight I would spend at least a month here and I would hire a car and drive everywhere. They drive on the left side of the road like we do in New Zealand so that makes driving a good option for me. I was envious of other travellers who had seen more of the island and wished I had planned for more time here. Using the local currency is better than US$ as you get better prices but the US$ is accepted pretty much anywhere anyway. I didn’t eat out that much as I like to prepare my own food and found the local supermarket well supplied other than fruit and veges which were limited to what was local. The markets downtown had plenty of fruit and vege as well though and I imagine many get theirs from here. One thing that was different here to pretty much any other place I have visited and that is that I didn’t take so many photos. With Kingston not being a tourist city and me already standing out like a sore thumb I just wasn’t comfortable pulling my camera out every time I saw a great shot. It felt really intrusive. This is a place I was more comfortable just being part of and enjoying.
I loved my time in Jamaica, it did not disappoint! It totally put me out of my comfort zone and reinforced my confidence to trust my own research and instinct on whether a place is safe or not. If you have any stories about Jamaica I would love to hear them! I do hope I get to go back one day.