Star Date: March
Hello Dear Family & Friends!
(Rasta/Patois Greeting- Bless you)
"Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery.
None but ourselves can free our minds."
(Bob Marley (1945 - 1981)
For centuries people from all walks of life have sought refuge on the tiny island of Jamaica. The peaceful Taino tribe greeted Christopher Columbus when he set foot on the island in 1494. Thinking he was next to India he named the islands the West Indies. Without asking, the Spanish came for a visit and decided to stay for good. The Taino called the island 'Xaymaca' in their local Arawak language, meaning 'land of wood and water'. Because of its perfect climate for settlement and central location, the British took the island from Spain in 1655.
Unable to retake the island the Spanish released their slaves on the island in a hope to set them against the British rulers. These freed slaves, known as Maroons, did the opposite, and retreated into the rugged mountainous terrain, only occasionally raiding plantations. Resisting all attempts at colonization the Maroons' adaptability to Jamaica's impenetrable interior offered them refuge from slavery and their renegade communities prospered.
A proclamation gave any British citizen who settled here free land. (The private beach we swam at everyday was a settlement from the crown by the Great Grandfather and all descendents are land rich to this day). Jamaica flourished. This attracted privateers and famous pirates such as Henry Morgan and John Davis, whose favorite pastime was attacking Spanish ships sailing to their colonies. The town of Port Royal near Kingston became rich and had one of the bawdiest reputations in the Caribbean; full of pirates, prostitutes and criminals. As with Sodom, this pit of wickedness met with a terrible fate. A massive earthquake swallowed most of the city and built on sandy soil the ruins were dragged out to sea by the ensuing tsunami. Those who didn't perish in the disaster succumbed to disease. A few buildings remained, half eaten by the earth. A good portion of the town still sits in tact under the water.
Many looked at this event as Divine intervention. Reading this reminded me of one of the main slavery ports I visited near Nantes, France where all the main buildings of the slave traders sank in the sand and had to be abandoned. What goes round comes round.
The destruction of Port Royal brought an end to Jamaica's lenient policy towards piracy. When the capitol relocated to Spanish Town then current day Kingston, the succeeding governors brought an end of several infamous pirates in the 18th century. Calico Jack Rackham, Charles Vane, Anne Bonny and Mary Read were all captured and executed.
With the death of piracy Jamaica turned to sugarcane production. Plantations prospered with the lush tropical soil. Ironically the need for labor saw a dramatic increase in slave trade from West Africa. A cruel slave system produced many uprisings and runaway slaves sought help from the Maroons who instigated rebellions and two Maroon wars. During one successful slave uprising they were tricked into laying down their arms and 400 slaves were hanged and the remaining cruelly whipped. A wave of revulsion raced all the way back to England.
"Stolen from Africa,
brought to America,
Fighting on arrival,
fighting for survival."
(Bob Marley Song lyric "Buffalo Soldier")
With slavery ending world wide, an unsuccessful 'starvation wage' apprenticeship system was launched and full emancipation was enacted in 1838. This saw the decline of sugar production but as more diversity was sought, laborers were imported from China and India. Many of these were treated one step above slaves but had the chance, as they have worldwide, to work themselves out of their indentured jobs. Although slavery had been abolished the majority were still subjugated to wealthy land owners and received little or no education. Many chose to fend for themselves. Social reforms, improved education, and the rising of new social classes led to independence from the British crown in 1962. Since then Jamaica has grown politically and commercially into one of the leading island nations in the Caribbean. Tourism is a main source of revenue as millions enjoy relaxing on a white sand beach gazing out over turquoise waters, modern day refugees from their indentured jobs back home.
Winding our way through the Blue Mountains we immediately noticed a difference between the small coastal fishing village of Port Marie and the bustling capitol city of Kingston on the opposite coast. Back in the mountains there are still a few Maroon village strongholds where life is slow and reminiscent of eras from the past. People still live off the land and the colorful fruit, vegetable and coconut stands along the narrow winding road are a cornucopia of plenty.
As we travel we see many problems. Try as we may it would take a pretty big pack of band aides to cover all the wounds affecting humanity. We figured out long ago that helping with education is the key to change. Without resources this is a daunting task. Sitting in each classroom are the future leaders of the country but they need to have the opportunity and the resources to learn, become critical thinkers and problem solve societies woes. E-text is a key to these changes.
Joseph is like living with a walking encyclopedia. Learning has been a joy in his life and he hopes to share what he has learned with those he meets while traveling. Joseph made a presentation to the University of Technology, the University of the West Indies and other colleges and National Libraries about the importance of e-text in our fast changing world. The joy of learning is a great gift in one's life, seeking out knowledge instead of waiting to be entertained by television, videos or the internet.
We stayed near Emancipation Park in Kingston and were taken for a look around the city by David, the professional and efficient head of the University library, who helped make our 3 days in Kingston very interesting. Two statues were nearby, one the haunting figures of 2 slaves and one the life size statue of Bob Marley, who sang of freedom for the Rastas worldwide. We visited Kingston's main square and of course Bob Marley's old wooden 2 storey house, where they 'shared the shelter of his single bed'. Bob Marley (1945-1981), Jamaican born guitarist, singer and songwriter is known worldwide, a true legend in the world of music. As we travel we hear his mellow music played in every country. Bob converted from Christianity (80% in Jamaica) to Rastafarianism (20%) and his music has elements of spiritualism and mysticism. At times his songs are encouraging Rastas to rise up for personal freedom through revolution but mostly he embraces the Rasta carefree attitude towards life and love for all brothers and sistas.
During the mid 70's Bob cultivated a rebel image as turmoil reigned. The Jamaican government was siding with Castro and documented activity of the CIA turned Jamaica upside down. He survived an assassination attempt at his home in 1976. Bob's music called for seeking peace between brothers. At a famous concert towards this cause, Bob Marley and the leaders of the 2 opposing political parties joined hands, calling for reconciliation. A giant poster outside his home in Kingston reminds people of how the violence subsided afterwards. Jamaica decided against a Castro alliance and moved on politically.
On tour worldwide, Bob's popularity soared and to this day his tunes are still played; hope for the downtrodden in urban slums. Bob was a pioneer of the reggae movement. Reggae, born in the 1960's, is a combination of Jamaican Afro folk music of the 'ragged man', ska, rock steady (mellower ska), calypso, jazz and rhythm & blues.
"Well, reggae music is a music created by Rasta people, and it carry earth force, people rhythm...it is a rhythm of working people, movement, a music of the masses, see?"
Bob Marley never forgot his roots. He loved soccer as much as his music. Whenever he had a moment he would kick the ball around. He hurt his toe during a pick-up game and it never healed. Sore for months he refused to have it checked until it became gangrenous, and cancer was discovered. Sadly this music legend, at only 36 years of age, died within the year, leaving behind 7 sons, several daughters, and his wife Rita. You can still visit his birthplace at remote 'Nine Mile' above Ocho Rios, where his gold records are displayed and Bob's body lies buried with his favorite Les Paul guitar, his football (soccer ball), the bible and some marijuana, in a small Ethiopian style church atop 'Mt Zion'. Rumors claim that his body has already been returned to the promised land in Africa.
A highlight of our Kingston visit was arriving by chance (there are no coincidences) one hour before the loud, erotic, pulsating annual Carnival Parade winding through the streets, only 2 blocks from our hotel. Spurred on by shots of rum, pulsating calypso and soca music, these rowdy revelers, dressed in skimpy bikinis, sequins and feather head-dresses were unstoppable.
Jamaica has attracted the rich and
famous to its shores for years. Errol Flynn the
charismatic actor and playboy was blown into Port
Antonio on his yacht, disabled by a hurricane in 1946. He exclaimed, "Port Antonio is more
beautiful than any woman I have ever seen."
At stunning Blue Lagoon nearby, Brooke Shields made her cinema
land of rugged rainforests, gushing waterfalls and
secluded white sand coves is the epitome of paradise.
Further down the northern coast we visited playwright Noel Coward's
hilltop retreat: Firefly, where he entertained
Hollywood's greats like Marlena Dietrich. Here he learned to paint in oil color from Winston
Churchill. This spectacular getaway was built by the infamous pirate Sir
Henry Morgan, a prime lookout on the glistening bay below.
coast to infamous, now upscale, Montego Bay has been named
'the garden center of Jamaica' and is a lush green
paradise punctuated by vibrant waterfalls flowing over
limestone rocks or rushing rivers. Ocho
Rios, meaning 8 rivers is a small town that springs into
life as cruise ships now make this a favorite port of
call. We spent many hours hanging with the locals
at the colorful people's market chatting with Amanda
over our daily coconut or buying succulent oranges from 'Linkin,
Blinkin and Nod' the three jovial Rastas, or Faye whose smile overpowered her feeble
vegetables. While sitting under Amanda's tarp we
were 'limin', drinking fresh jelly coco and watching the
hustle and bustle of the market; action central to any
town worldwide. Music bubbled in the people's
veins. One of the favorite tunes would blare from
a small CD shop and EVERYONE would start moving, singing
and or dancing. The whole market came alive in
unison, reflecting the uninhibited joy of these often
poor folk. They loved that we shared in the
revelry, bought large quantities of fruits and
vegetables and by the end of 3 months we were all on a
first name basis, with small stand owners watching out
for specialty items for us such as the melt in your
mouth grapefruit or rare off season 'pears' or avocados.
We went back up into the hills several times, enjoying the tiny villages and crossroads. Trees are alive with bright birds such as streamer tail hummingbirds or loud woodpeckers squawking like parrots. Though most animals have long ago been devoured there is still an array of lizards like the chameleons who change colors rapidly and puff up their throats like a bright orange balloon at any threat. Life is completely different away from the tourist strips and it is a shame that unsubstantiated fear perpetuated by the 'all inclusive' resort owners, stops visitors from experiencing the true Jamaica at it's best. Ganja wafts through the air as Rastas and local alike chill in the shade of little shacks, smoke 'spiffs', eating spice rubbed then smoked jerk chicken or seafood, drink cheap white rum and play dominoes while they can still see the markings. It is possible to visit these friendly bergs where smiles, cultural pride, bright arts, unique crafts and pumping music tell the story of a proud, resilient people.
And so it goes.........................................Next month more 'limin' in Jamaica. Until then it's time to join in Bob's emancipation movement now from mental slavery. "None but ourselves can free our minds." Your whole life will change. We are glad you stopped by. Thanks for keeping in touch and sharing our website with those around you! Take care! Keep smiling!
Love, Light & Laughter,
$1.00US = 85 Jamaican dollars
Remember U.S. citizens need to have a valid U.S. passport to re-enter the U.S. from the Caribbean.
Immigration and customs can take a long time as lines of foreigners arrive late afternoon. Try to avoid busy times on inter island flights and have all your cards filled out before stepping up to the desk. Flights fill up fast and even pre-booking doesn't guarantee a seat. Check-in early to avoid a delay of often 1-2 days until the next flight flies inter-island.
It is possible to
travel by route taxis (usually white Toyota station
wagons marked on the side) from town to town for a
reasonable rate. Large vans or buses go longer
distances. Patience and time are the key.
Near larger towns they run constantly. Just make
sure there are other people on board for the best price.
If you 'charter' a route taxi always settle the price
ATM's in most larger tourist centers.
Passage to India - 3rd floor Soni
Plaza - left side between clock tower and the Burger
King. (heading towards M-bay.)
Silver Seas Hotel: 16 James Ave. Phone # (876) 974-2755, free WiFi in the lobby. Where we landed the first 4 nights, with special on the internet (Expedia) (regularly $49/night - 7th night free). One of the old original hotels from the 40's. The friendly staff and large waterfront balconies make up for the old but clean structures. firstname.lastname@example.org
Ocean Sands Hotel:
A View with a Room! Just down from the clock tower
on James Ave - at the first corner this oceanfront hotel
is one of the best kept secrets in Ocho Rios.
Friendly accommodating owner Dennis and son are hoping
to convert some of the basic units into condominiums.
What sells this property are the oceanfront balconies
just waiting for you to chill out and gaze over the
turquoise water. Add the pool, small sand beach,
good snorkeling, waterfront sitting/cooking area, and
helpful Kissie, Joy and Ian and it is a combination for
a quite unbelievable budget place in Ochos. Just call Dennis phone# (876) 974-2605, or cell 873-2215
during low season and negotiate for a long term place to
hang out ($600-$800 month). Walk to the market,
eat Rasta food, and spend your time 'limin' on the
beach. Prove the Lonely Planet wrong - you can
enjoy Jamaica on a budget!
Reggae Pot Rastaurant: 86 Main St, Across from the Hibiscus Hotel. Phone # 422-4696, 296 3591 Right side towards Pt Marie just up from the Ocho Rios Market in a little plaza. Bom Don and Deamo - brothers cook up some excellent authentic Rasta food daily M-Sat. Friendly Paulette and family serve you with a smile as you hang out with local good soldier Rastas. Only 300-350$J for a overflowing plate of stew, chunks, ackee, vegetables, beans and yams. Yum. The atmosphere and genuine kindness shines through. After an early dinner walk through the Hibiscus Hotel, down the steps to watch a stunning sunset from the wooden dock below.
The Lion House: email: email@example.com, website: www.thelionhousejamaica.com, phone # (876) 917 0356 or (876) 485 0330, A magical surprise awaits you up in the hills behind Ocho Rios. Lizzie, Mahlon, and staff will welcome you warmly into their newly built restaurant, with gorgeous views overlooking the lush Jamaican hills below. Tasty, reasonable, healthy Rasta food that will give you an experience not to be missed. A full bar, art gallery, WiFi, and local organic produce are a bonus. Lunch 9-5 or dinner by reservation (mains 400-500$J). Spirited Lizzie can also arrange walks, cultural encounters or eco-experiences on near by organic farms. Take the route taxi up the hill from near the clock tower (KC Super) up to Breadnut Hill/Colgate. 120$j p.p.
Calabash Ital Rastaurants: Hang out with the local Rastas while enjoying good authentic food in an ire shack in the back of Ocho Rios Market. We were the only 'white' travelers we ever ran into. (400$J large plate) Another cafe is upstairs at 7 James Avenue (down James Ave from the clock tower on your right). Phone # (876) 570-5565. The friendly talented cook, Junior, (570-5565) at the James St location makes the walk up the stairs worth the effort. Modern surroundings for a little more (440$J) Try a refreshing tub of "Soy Scream"when available.
A simple Rasta Rastaurant is along the shops at Fisherman's Beach. An interesting free beach with fishing boats (pirogues).
Juicy Patties: Jamaica's version of fast foods. For around $1 get a pastry stuffed with tofu mince, vegetables or spinach (calaloo). A quick option if on the run.
Dunn's River Falls: The most visited tourist crazy falls in Jamaica. Near Ocho Rios. $20pp. Better to make a deal with a taxi driver for 1/2 day to see a few sights and have him get you into another part of the falls for free.