My first visit to Jamaica was in December 1993, but my love affair with the country started long before that. I don’t recall not knowing about Jamaica as a part of the Caribbean because basic Caribbean history was a part of my primary school curriculum, but the love started because of Bob Marley, and Jean D’Costa’s Escape to Last Man Peak.
In the same way that I don’t remember not knowing about Jamaica, I also don’t remember not knowing Bob. Bob’s music was and still is, central to the playlist of my life, with a song, a lyric, a beat for every mood. I still remember walking with my uncle, sister and cousins (going to get ‘meat’ for sheep and goats) when someone passing by on a bicycle told us that Bob had died. It was May 11, 1981 and I was a month or so shy of turning 8 years old. Imagine the impact his passing had on me that my memory of it is so vivid. If I’d had a child they would’ve been called Nesta 😁.
I can’t put a date to when my relationship with Bob started, but I can for Escape to Last Man Peak. I’ve always been an avid reader and used to take pleasure in reading whatever interesting books my sister (older by 2 ½ years) was reading. When she was in second form at secondary school, Escape to Last Man Peak was on her reading list and I think I read it before the school year even started. That’s how I first heard about Falmouth in Jamaica, because a group of orphans who had lost their caretaker to sickness, decided to leave Spanish Town and go to Last Man Peak (near Falmouth) to avoid being forced into child labour. Their escape took them on an adventurous trek across the island and I felt like I was with them.
Imagine how exciting it was for me to finally visit Falmouth in 2017! By then, I’d learned more of the history of Falmouth, a hub for the transatlantic slave trade, where enslaved Africans were bought and sold and the meaning of that visit was even more profound, but the initial excitement of walking through the town was because of that journey Jean D’Costa’s pen took me on as a 9 year old. During that trip to Jamaica I finally bought my own copy of Escape to Last Man Peak.
So Much Things to Say
I’ve just completed the most recent of many trips to Jamaica since 1993 and again it didn’t disappoint. I have very good friends who are Jamaican and my mentor in sustainable tourism was Jamaican. So I’ve visited for both bleisure and pleasure over the years. The first trip was because I had two Jamaican housemates while I was doing my Bachelor’s at UWI in the Bahamas, and decided to go home with them en route to going to Barbados at the end of my first semester. That trip allowed me to visit Bob’s museum and introduced me to Devon House ice-cream. Interestingly enough, I don’t think I’ve visited the museum since that first time, but I’ve had Devon House at least once every trip since 😁.
This last trip had a bit of everything, but as usual was just too short. The main driver of a visit at this specific time was to attend the launch of Travel & Tourism in the Caribbean: Challenges and Opportunities for Small Island Developing States, a book written by one of my friends (attend became participate in, but I guess friends earn the right to draft you into service 😊). I was again en route to Barbados and knew that in addition to supporting my friend, I would get to hike, catch up with other friends and eat delicious food. So I did all of that and more.
Ride Natty Ride
I’ve yet to go to a country or territory in the Caribbean and not feel some type of connection. To borrow a word from a friend, I am a ‘Caribbeanist’. However, there are some places where the connection is much stronger and Jamaica is for sure one of those places. Maybe it is from listening to Bob and other reggae artists more than I listened to any other artists or genre as I was growing up. Maybe it’s from going to UWI and making lifelong friends from Jamaica. Maybe it’s the admiration for an island with a history of rebellion and a belief in self that seems unparalleled. It’s probably all of those things and more. Whatever the reasons, I’m always excited about visiting.
My friend Rohan met me at the airport and basically told me that we were going to visit the National Gallery of Jamaica to view an exhibition on reggae – this is how well he knows me. No need to go home, no need to eat, just straight from the airport to the National Gallery to immerse myself in the history of reggae: Jamaica Jamaica! How our Music Conquered the World. It was fabulous! It is also an exemplar of why Kingston received recognition as a UNESCO Creative City and proudly proclaims such at the entrance to the arrival hall at Norman Manley International Airport.
The photos I’ve shown cover ten percent of the exhibition at most. Jamaica Jamaica! is worthy of a special visit to Jamaica, just to understand and celebrate the awesomeness of Jamaica’s musical and cultural contribution to the world. It runs until June 28, 2020, so who knows, maybe I’ll be celebrating my birthday there again this year 😉.
Hiking in Blue
I have big plans for hiking this year that include hiking in each country I visit. I’ve hiked in Jamaica before, but not with Rohan because he’s usually working while I’m doing research or vacationing (someone has to do it) research. This time he and two others joined me to hike in Holywell Park in Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park. Why the BJCMNP? Who hasn’t heard of Jamaica’s Blue Mountain? It’s famous for a lot more than coffee.
Long before Blue Mountain coffee was known worldwide, the Blue and John Crow Mountains provided refuge to the Maroons – indigenous Tainos, formerly enslaved Africans freed by the Spanish, and escaped enslaved Africans fleeing the British, who resisted capture and established communities of their own. Descendants of the Windward Maroons still reside in communities in these mountains – Moore Town, Charles Town, Cornwall Barracks/Comfort Castle, and Scotts Hall. In 2003, UNESCO recognized the music of the Moore Town Maroons as a ‘Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of the World’ (UNESCO, 2020).
BJCMNP comprises an area of 41,198 hectares, protected in some form since 1937. In 1993 several forest reserves were combined to create BJCMNP, Jamaica’s first. The park’s 26,000 hectare Preservation Zone was inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage list in 2015 as a mixed cultural and natural heritage site. To put this designation into context, there are currently 1,121 world heritage sites of which 213 are natural and 869 are cultural. There are only 39 mixed heritage sites and BJCMNP is the sole one in the Caribbean. In addition to its Maroon heritage, the park is important for its biota which includes 500+ species of fauna, 1,300+ species of fauna, and 30% of Jamaica’s forest cover. The park also protects critical watershed and offers many other ecosystem services.
There were various trails close enough to Kingston to do a good day hike. Of the alternatives presented, I selected Holywell Park because it is in BJCMNP and met the criteria I had in mind for this hike: short and low impact because I planned to take it easy in the week leading up to the Great Train Hike I would be doing in Barbados a week later. That was the plan. The hike was relatively short at 5-6 miles, but there were some inclines that really got my heart pumping and legs burning. We did four of the five trails: Blue Mahoe, Oatley Mountain, Waterfall and Wag (pronounced “wog”) Water (accidentally). It was my first hike (but not visit) in BJCMNP and I hope to hike the Blue Mountain Peak Trail soon. I’d also love to return to Holywell Park and stay in one of their cabins (preferred) or camp. See more info about BJCMNP at www.blueandjohncrowmountains.org/.
Food … of Course
Food is intrinsic to culture and I enjoy dining at different restaurants each time I’m in Kingston, though there are a few with repeat visits. Fortunately for me, there’s a good range of restaurants and new ones often pop up. Plus, Rohan is on the ground and usually (there have been questionable ones) recommends very good ones. I tend not to name restaurants when I talk about food, but I’m happy to promote my Caribbean. Since I’m not a food blogger and more prone to taking photos of trees (dead or alive) than food I’m about to eat, I seldom have photos to accompany my food comments 😕. This was a quick trip so there’re only a few restaurants to mention.
Broken Plate is relatively new (I think around 2 years) and offers an interesting menu. I had crab cake for my appetizer and pan seared snapper with sautéed veggies and roasted sweet potato as my main, along with a glass of pinot grigio. I also tasted the almond & cranberry rice pilaf. The meal was excellent as was the service. I would dine at Broken Plate again.
Devon House is Devon House. I have not noticed any decline in ice-cream quality in the twenty something years I’ve been enjoying it; locals may disagree. While I like to try different flavours this time around I only had coconut, one of my favourites, because I only ate ice-cream on one occasion. My sole complaint is that I got ice-cream at an off-site ice-cream parlour and not on the grounds of Devon House, so whilst the company and conversation were good, the ambiance was decidedly different.
Island Grill is a staple. On several occasions, it’s been my first meal after landing. I can count on them for good fried (ripe not green) plantain, jerk chicken, festival and coconut water. JoJo’s Jerk Pit is several notches higher and now rivals Scotchies in MoBay (another favourite). We went to JoJo’s around 10:30 pm one night and I was extremely happy that the kitchen was still open with the full menu available, because by that time my belly was touching my back. I had jerk chicken (cause it’s a jerk pit), with, you guessed it, fried plantain, roasted sweet potato (good but not as good as Broken Plate’s), and steamed veggies. JoJo’s offers an extensive menu though you wouldn’t have guessed it from my selection. My beverage was their branded pineapple juice with a hint of ginger – deliciousness. Notwithstanding her jokes at my expense – ripe vs green plantain – our waitress was awesome. This dining experience wasn’t my first with them, and is unlikely to be my last.
Likkle more, Jamaica 😘. Bim uh on muh way!