For a while now I’ve promised Larina I’d show her around Jamaica. It’s likely that had I never spent time as a volunteer high school teacher there, she and I would not have met. So it’s only fair that we visited the emerald isle of the Caribbean.
We began our trip two and a half weeks ago and rolled the Thanksgiving Day holiday into it. I would eventually stay on for meetings and a workshop related to my current work. That aside, Ray Ray and I popped around the island for 10 days enjoying the sights and exploring parts of it that have previously eluded me.
We rooted the first part of our adventure in Treasure Beach, a destination geared more for adventure tourists than resort goers. Nestled on the south coast, it is the perfect environment for getting away from things. Beaches are almost endless, sunsets are a nightly masterpiece of nature, and stress levels register in negative numbers.
Day trips included visiting Appleton Estate, (home of the island’s – and for my money, the Caribbean’s – best rum), the parish and school where I lived back in 2006-07, and Frenchman’s cove. No visit to this corner of the island would be complete without hiring a boat and heading a kilometer out to sea for drinks and sunset at the Pelican Bar.
Half-way through the trip we ventured to Port Antonio in the Northeast corner of the island. The priests for whom I worked five years ago have re-located and this was a chance to reconnect with them and see their new home. Unsurprisingly, they welcomed us heartily and Father Michael and Father Sam conjured up an amazing dinner reminiscent of their tradition on major Catholic feast days.
Continuing with our adventure travel theme, Ray Ray and I rented a room through Air BNB at a house managed by a young Italian couple. Our hosts’ English was much better than our five-year-out-of-practice Italian, but we managed to get a phrase or two out that made us feel proud for having made the attempt.
While in Port Antonio, or Porti, as it is known there, we were invited to a Thanksgiving Day party hosted by an American ex-pat who is married to a local. The priests included us in their “entourage” and the host was happy to have us. It’s always special seeing Americans – and their extended communities – living in other countries making such a concerted effort to celebrate this holiday. The United States of course is not the only country with a national day of Thanksgiving, but the manner in which we celebrate it is unique and integral to our national identity. It’s nice to see that it is not easily discarded abroad.
The northwest corner of the island has a handful of nice beaches, many of which are privately owned by a restaurant or some other such entity. However, Winifred beach is a hidden treasure public beach where we spent a few days. Getting there was slightly treacherous, something to which the undercarriage of our rental car, could it talk, would attest. Once there, however, we were the only ones present beyond the three or four people working at food or trinket stalls ready to cater to whoever happen to come along.
Of course, the food was tremendous, just as I remember it. Freshly caught seafood, Johnny Cakes (a.k.a. fried dough), bumpies (bananas, only smaller and tangier), goat curry, and rice and peas brought me back. No doubt it all tastes better and goes down more smoothly when served with a side of extremely low stress levels in an extremely relaxed environment.
However, some challenges remain. Poverty, unemployment, and violence are as much a part of the landscape as a mango tree. Resolving these – and other – internal challenges remain the task of reformers and civil society champions. Much of the solution lies with education, but there must be opportunity awaiting the newly learned. Entrenched interests who benefit from the status quo hold sway, and the effects of colonialism can be like decades of poor health decisions: you need two years to recover from the effects of one year of damage.
But as I’ve written elsewhere, this is a resilient people. At their core, they are a happy and hopeful people. I imagine it’s hard not to be when you live in a place that beautiful. Like many places, the problems affecting the many are caused – or exacerbated – by the few. Moving beyond that and getting down to some essentials about life is what you can expect by coming here and truly immersing yourself in these communities. You’ll find that, at the end of the day, ya’aright.