Ridiculous to assume and yet we all seem to! We go on pre-conceived notions that are simply just not true or at the very most – have only a particle of truth. Take Africa for example. How many times have you heard someone say “Africa” and “jungle” in the same breath? Well, yes, there is certainly some jungle in Africa and even rain-forest but what about the miles of desert sand, savanna or even teeming cities? In the same way, the word “Jamaica” seems to immediately bring certain images and life-styles to forefront. Reggae, Rum and Rastafarian to name a few!
So it was with more than the normal curiosity that we embarked upon our latest adventure and traveled to the island of Jamaica in the Caribbean ocean. Most of our trip was to be spent in the luxurious environs of a five-star Luxury Sandals Resort, but we had also decided to take an extra couple days and explore on our own. It is not something that many of the thousands of tourists that visit Jamaica each year do. Many arrive and are met by their Resort Representatives and escorted to one of several all-inclusive resorts catering to almost every type of person or vacation imaginable. Most hardly ever feel the need to leave their beach-side retreat. And for many this is probably the best way to do things. However, if you are at all adventurous or class yourself a seasoned traveler, Jamaica is a treat waiting to be savored!
As I began to research this destination before our arrival I found more and more of fascination and interest in this island. It was one of many “discovered” during Christopher Columbus’ epic sailings. It was later fought over between the British and the Spanish and when the British took control in the 1600’s they turned it into a pirate haven. They allowed pirates to wreak havoc upon Spanish galleons for some pirate return and to British gain. Later still it became a place of plantations and wealthy gentry while there was still a fortune to be made in sugar. Runaway and freed slaves formed their own communities in hide-a-way and hard to find places on the island. Sailors, soldiers and others generally seduced by island life have continued over the centuries to add to the exotic mix of peoples. During Manley’s government rule it became synonymous with the free-wheeling lifestyle of the 60’s and 70’s and Jamaicans were known for liberal attitudes towards anything amoral.
While there will always be some around to hold to this image, they seemed no easier to find on the north coast of Jamaica than they would be on the east coast of America! Instead we were delighted to be met with a friendly, enthusiastic welcome from a people genuinely pleased to have us visit their “eyeland” who, upon discovering that we intended to explore a little on our own, bent over backwards to ensure our stay was better than expected. Take the Avis car Hire people. Big smiles and thorough service with advice and time to converse with us while upgrading our modest rental to a more rugged 4×4 so that we would not feel any discomfort on their inland roads. Which were, as they warned, in a patchy state of repair! With almost every afternoon in summer seeing short but torrential downpours and the island covered in steep mountains, it was not surprising. However, in contrast, the coastal road, was mainly a four lane, well-maintained highway with clear sign-posts and very easy to navigate.
In fact, all the Jamaicans employed in the service industries seemed to us to be highly motivated, friendly, hard-working people and to enjoy their employment. Remarkable to us too was the healthy condition of the population. The fit and strong Jamaican athlete appears not to be the exception but instead it seems that most of the people we saw must spend a considerable amount of time working out! We hardly saw a fat Jamaican or a very skinny one and this despite the great disparity between rich and poor as one so often finds in a third world country.
The island is a lush and fertile land with soft white sand beaches in coves with natural harbors, hills that climb quickly to misty mountains, an abundance of fresh water springs and streams and a climate that encourages any number of tropical fruits and crops, all surrounded by changing hues of aqua blue Caribbean. The sea provides another bountiful harvest, and all this is gleefully offered to the visitor providing Jamaica with one of their most profitable sources of income, that of tourism.