The Feel Good Island of Jamaica

When you think of Jamaica, many things come to mind: white sandy beaches bounded by turquoise waters, sipping crisp Red Stripe beer or rum cocktail to the balmy sound of reggae, palm trees framing the view perfectly, smoking a few joints, enjoying a home cooked meal of fresh fish, jerk chicken or curry goat, rastafaris, and of course long-departed legend Bob Marley's heartfelt lyrics and catchy tunes. Most of the clichés are directly reminiscent of a tropical paradise, but merely scratch the surface of what Jamaica is all about.

I vouch for it: the classic "Jamaican Dream" is real. And I confess: I hadn't painted a different picture of "just another" tropical island. I had no great expectations from an island dotted with the all inclusive American-dominated resorts, but acquiring my PADI diver certification in the warm waters of the Caribbean Sea. If it wasn't for the US embargo against Cuba back in 2013, I'd have not got to know this lovely island, and the "No problem, mon" mentality of the most relaxed people I've ever met.
Noel, the Bush Doctor



From the get go, big smiles welcomed us in Jamaica. The officer at the airport seemed not interrogating us, but chatting with us (and that explained the slooooow moving queue). Our drivers had shiny smiles on their faces outside the arrivals hall. And then came the first breath of the warm, inviting, refreshing air.

Much to my surprise, the island is lush green and hilly. The air smells as green as the mountains all around, fresh and alive. There’s something in the air. Something hidden within the layers of salt and something that falls between the drops of rain. It’s something soft, something indescribably relaxing and peaceful. Some may call it the thick ganja smoke in the air, but I call it a heart fuelled spirit. Love fills the air and stress is non-existent.

Jamaicans are polite, funny, fun loving, proud. Be it the Bush Doctor, Noel or the Ganja Don, Billy, the spirit of the Jamaican people is like no other I have ever witnessed. The beauty of Jamaica and the Jamaican way of thinking captured my heart at first sight, and that peaceful spirit instantly rubbed off on me. I felt as if my nerves were surgically removed. I had never felt that relaxed, calm and without stress, never ever felt even close to this before  (no, I didn't smoke). Seriously, when you meet someone who introduces himself as Dr. Feel Good, would you have any other option left?



That's basically the only must-do thing in Jamaica: to feel alright. This is the place to hone your skills in doing nothing but chillaxing to perfection, which is exhausting enough. Nonetheless, if you still ask yourself whether Jamaica is the idyllic heaven that you picture or it is all about lies, read on.

JAMAICA: THE TOURIST BUBBLES

As I planned my trip around diving, Negril, which lies at the far western tip of the island, was my choice of the tourist bubble to stay. About a 4-hour journey from the capital, Kingston, you will find this small coastal town split neatly in two, in both geography and character: The West End and 7-Mile Beach. I split my stay between them neatly, too.

The West End, or cliff side of Negril is absolutely stunning. Perched on the former coral reef, a bunch of small, independent, quiet and secluded hotels and restaurants is clustered along the coastline all the way down the beach. West End is the ideal choice for leisurely contemplation of the sea and the horizon, far away from all the hubbub of the beach.

7-Mile Beach is a long, long stretch of perfectly white sand framed by turquoise water. Along its entire length, countless resorts, bars, and restaurants stand shoulder to shoulder on the waterfront. If partying into the wee hours is your cup of tea, this is your address in Negril.

On the beach, it’s virtually impossible to escape the tourist bubble and experience the real Jamaican culture. For getting up close and personal with the locals and diving head first into true Jamaican culture, Negril West End Cliffs is your pick. A first conversation here may go like this:

"Jamaica is all about lies" says Milo, the Italian owner of our resort in Negril West End, to Plug, the gardener. "You guys say the beach is 7-mile long but it's only 5 miles. You take people to the Blue Lagoon, and claim the scenes from the same named movie were filmed here, but in fact it was filmed in Fiji. It's all about lies." Plug simply smiles as though he affirms Milo's words, and passes the joint. 

Yep, marijuana is everywhere. Almost everyone is smoking it, and almost everyone is selling it. And yes, the local hustlers are everywhere –  all over the world. But the hustlers here in Jamaica were the most respectful, funny, and polite ones I've ever experienced. They accept "no, thanks" with a "no problem" and smile. And once they know you, they don't bother you again. If you think, these charming people could easily annoy you, then wait until you've been to India or Cuba.

Yet, you can still stay in your bubble and enjoy the stunning beach, cliffs, sunsets and more Negril has to offer.









JAMAICA: THE JUNGLE 

To leave the resort bubble to see some of the amazing rainforests, rivers, waterfalls this green and mountainous Jamaica has to offer, you need to either hire a car, get a taxi or go on a tour. We went with 'Prince' for an awesome day out in the jungle, visiting Black River and YS Falls.

BLACK RIVER

About an hour southeast from Negril is the beautiful Black River, a wetland jungle, in St. Elizabeth Parish. The Black River takes its name from the dark color of the river bed. Crocodile safaris are available from a range of boat operators at the mouth of the river.

On a pontoon boat, accompanied by many species of exotic birds, you glide through the lush swamp forest past giant (rasta-)mangroves with their roots cascading from heights of over 12 meters down into the water, in which the rare and endangered American Crocodiles hide – all set against the mountain silhouettes in the distance. On top, if you get Mr. Big Smile as your boat guide, an absolutely awesome day is guaranteed.













Friendship in crocodile nursery


YS FALLS

A short ride to the north from Black River will take you to one of the most beautiful, yet less visited falls in Jamaica: YS Falls, a 7-tiered natural waterfall tucked away deep in the sugar-cane fields of St. Elizabeth Parish. Once you arrive at the YS Falls estate, a tractor-pulled jitney will take you to the waterfalls, and you are literally smack bang in the middle of the jungle surrounded by vines, crystal clear fresh water flowing over the rocks, and glistening sunshine.

A short walk brings you to the bottom of this spectacular series of segmented cascades. You can view the falls without getting wet when you follow the stairs along the side of the falls. For a more interactive experience, you can swim in the natural pools at the bottom of each level. One pool features a rope-swing where you can swing "tarzan-style" and plunge into the water below.

After the rain, the color of the water is not so inviting, yet the falls is still beautiful.
The dropping point for the rope swing. Happy diving!



JAMAICA: IMPRESSIONS FROM THE ROAD

Every country has their problems and Jamaica is no exception, struggling with high rates of poverty, violent crime and unemployment. When it comes to wealth, Jamaica is a land of extremes, and it becomes more obvious when you get away from the tourist towns. In rural areas, poor housing composed of shacks of cardboard, wood, and rusted tin is not a rarity. I never stop being amazed by how creative people are, whether it’s kids making a game out of an abandoned tire and a stick, or adults making a roundabout from some other abandoned tire.

Jamaica will challenge your previous perception of what prosperity really is, whether it comes from stability and wealth or creativity and determination, and whether it should be measured in money or happiness.



Bamboo Avenue, a 2 mile stretch where bamboo forms an archway above the road

JAMAICA: FOOD & DRINKS

From roadside shacks to fancy restaurants, jerk chicken is, beyond doubt, a Jamaican institution, and it's damn good. Beautifully roasted chicken marinated in spicy pepper sauce is an easy choice from the menu. Curry goat, fried dumplings and a variety of fresh seafood are among others the next most popular dishes in Jamaica. Be it chicken, fish, lobster, pork or goat, accompanied by some rice and peas, shredded carrot and cabbage, and a Red Stripe beer if you fancy is simply delicious. Of course, one should not forget the rum, rum in every fashion imaginable.

Don't think twice to try out the not-so-fancy, sometimes shabby-looking local restaurants. It is quite common for local restaurants to consist of just one lady or rastaman in an old kitchen, a few tables, and the reggae music coming from the car tape, playing just for you. They have real low-key tropical charm, and the food is as delicious.

Ackee and Saltfish is the typical Jamaican breakfast and perfect way to start the day. Ackee is the national fruit of Jamaica. The fruit's yellow flesh surrounded by a red skin eaten unripe is poisonous. Ackee is used in voodoo in West Africa and Haiti. In fact, the only nation that eats ackee is Jamaica. A legend says most Haitians fear ackee because they don't understand when the fruit is poisonous and when it isn't, and they fear Jamaicans too, because they can eat it.



JAMAICA: ONE LOVE. ONE HEART.

Jamaica is a special place, and it has a special place in my heart and memories. Not only because this is the place where I did overcome my fears and acquired my open water diver certification, but this is actually the place where I really began to hone into that one love culture, the warm, respectful, easy-breezy, open-minded ethos of Jamaica. One that the whole world can learn from.

I left this amazing island with a big smile on my face and in my heart, which I have carried through with me into my every day life. And I am hoping it to linger on forever. For that I'll cherish the memories for as long as I can, and I want to leave with you a little something to bring that one love feel into your day. Milo's birthday song by Alborosie, a remix of his famous Kingston Town. The song that will always transport me back to those days of hammock, "Ackee and Saltfish" for breakfast, and pure joy.


As Bob Marley put it: Let’s get together and feel alright.

Likkle more.

One Love.

Share on Google Plus

About Maho

Nature lover, diving and travel enthusiast, Asian looking, Russian sounding, Turkish raised, Munich based stranger on Earth.

0 comments :

Post a Comment