In early March we took a trip to Montego Bay, Jamaica. It was the annual “Best in Class” trip for the top performers of the company and I was number one in 2016 for my division so was invited to go. I’d won two times in the past but the event was previously held in Cancún, Mexico. At first, I was a little disappointed that the event was switched to Jamaica because I’ve spent time in Mexico, speak Spanish and know where to go/what to do.
The last time I was was in 2013, I missed it 2014, 2015 because they took much less people, not because I did worse! In 2013 we went a week early and stayed on Isla Mujeres. My favorite part about that island is you can rent a golf car and drive around the island. There is also Garrafon which is really like play time for adults.
So yes, I was disappointed we weren’t going back to Mexico but then I changed my mind. I had never been to Jamaica so this would give me the opportunity to explore a part of the world in which I’d never been. I did my research, read up on the history and planned out what to do and see. Unlike most tourists to sun drenched, beach locales, I take the time to study the history and want to also visit the historical sights in addition to drinking on a beach. I learned about the history of Jamaica and was satisfied a few days in advance with what I’d learned and that I’d get the most out of this trip.
Upon arrival we looked for a representative from the MoBay lounge which is a special service one can purchase. It gives the traveler expedited passage through immigration and customs and to an exclusive, VIP lounge with all the amenities including drinks. It is pricey with arrival service being $50 per person and departure service $30. The arrival service is only worth it if customs / immigration is crowded. Reading the forums I learned that on Saturday the wait can take up to two hours so MoBay is absolutely worth it in that case. For us however, we arrived on Thursday morning and it wasn’t crowded at all. The main lounge also wasn’t open but a very tiny one instead. So as to try and get a little of my money’s worth we sat down in the lounge and drank one cup of the free rum and punch. We had to gulp it down because the shuttle was leaving soon and we only had five minutes. The departure lounge was totally worth it in my opinion and I’ll get to that at the end of this post.
My Google Maps review of Mobay: Click Here
From there it was on to the Hyatt Ziva Hotel. We got a very good room with a bedroom as well as living room, two bathrooms and a nice view. Before I visit a hotel I always ensure I’m enrolled in their loyalty program so they give me a better room. In my profile I state that I prefer higher rooms because I like the view. At the Hyatt Ziva however, the lowest rooms are the best in my opinion because it looks like the majority of them have a plunge pool. I would have definitely used the plunge pool but it wasn’t such a big deal because they have three gorgeous pools right outside. Two are at Hyatt Ziva (for families) and one just next door at Hyatt Zilara (adults only.)
We arrived around noon and spent the rest of the day as well as all of Friday in the all-inclusive resort.
All-inclusive resorts are absolutely fabulous, gorgeous and wonderful but they have one major downfall: they are all very similar wherever you go in the world and are a barrier to the culture and country you’re in; everyone speaks English, there is plenty of Western food, and every whim and wish is catered to. Experiencing a new culture and country by staying at an all-inclusive is akin to swimming by just dipping your toe in the water then going home. For me, I like to experience the exhilaration and shock of diving right in to the cold water from the highest board. It makes me feel so alive as my body adjusts to the sudden change of temperature that a wide smile comes on my face and I’m so happy to be in the pool.
Yes, I prefer to stay away from the resorts and experience a culture/country directly, taking the good with the bad. But I also know how to enjoy my circumstances and this was not difficult to do at the Hyatt Ziva. I had a plan to experience Jamaica and put that into effect on Saturday.
All of my colleagues either went on one of the guided excursions or stayed in the resort. For my wife and I, we went our own way but needed transportation. I asked the concierge and true to form as all-inclusives do, they wanted to charge me an arm and a leg for half a day of fancy taxi-service. The boss-lady gave me a quote of $155 and then generously knocked it down to $150 as she could see I was a bargaining man. I told her that I had experience overseas and had no qualms about walking out to the road and hailing a taxi. It fell on deaf ears and I hate getting ripped off so I let it drop.
I then just looked up Jamaica taxi services on my phone and quickly learned that half a day would still be expensive at $100. So, I went to the bell hop I’d gotten along with and asked if he had any friends that wanted to make some money. He said his buddy Mike would do it for $100 and I accepted as this seemed to be the going rate. On Saturday Mike’s Taxi showed up and to my surprise it was a really nice 12 passenger van – made in Japan! Mike’s real name was Kimani and he was awesome: he gave us so much information, took us to additional interesting places we didn’t know about and was a lot of fun to be around.
The first place I requested the Rose Hall Great House where I had a reservation for a tour. I had expected there to be more tourists but we were the only ones on that tour, seeing only one other group the entire time we were there. Rose Hall is of historical importance and a popular place due to the legend of a ghost which haunts it. I won’t rehash it here as I’ve already given it its own post – Rose Hall Great House.
After the tour it was around 11:00 AM and I thought we should get lunch before we started driving around seeing different parts of Montego Bay. We did do a quick stop at the “Shops at Rose Hall” but everything was severely overpriced so we didn’t linger. I remembered our taxi driver from the airport saying there was an excellent restaurant just down the street and Kimani confirmed. The place is called Scotchies and is absolutely delicious. Scotchies is not an enclosed restaurant but rather a collection of huts, a few with grills under them and a standard third world, small, two story building. We all had lunch and I invited Kimani to join us. In Jamaica the most represented food is jerked chicken or beef. We ordered both and Kimani told me to be careful with the green sauce as it is very spicy. I like spicy so was not afraid. This sauce I tell you was the only one in the world that has actually given me hiccups. I only had two bites and the hiccups started which took a lot of concentration to stop. My eyes watered and my face turned red but the sauce was delicious and I did not stop eating it.
After Scotchies Kimani gave us a tour through both a rich and poor neighborhood. What surprised me is that the houses there look like small palaces! In the rich neighborhoods they are very nice and clean palaces while in the poor neighborhoods they are less nice and many of them incomplete. Kimani told me that the people will work, save money and continue to build as the money becomes available. Yes, in the ‘poor’ neighborhood there is trash on the side of the road and even a herd of goats ran in front of us going to eat at the trash pile but I have to say, the neighborhood wasn’t ‘poor’ like one would find in a village in the Mekong Delta; it was pretty good even by American standards as I’ve seen worse in the dead coal mining downs along the Ohio river.
Next, he took us to a place I didn’t know about called the Richmond Hill Inn. This was a wonderful, old style hacienda like house built on top of the largest hill in in Montego Bay. The view was very nice.
The Richmond Hill Inn is where we’ll stay if we ever return to Montego Bay. This place is historical, beautiful and will give an authentic experience. The first thing I did was sit at the beautiful, quaint bar and order a rum drink to help me soak in the ambiance around me. Just like Rose Hall we seemed to be the only tourists in the place and again, only saw one other group later on. If I ever do stay here I’d like to spend time at the pool, drink plenty of rum and survey the city while reading up on more history.
And speaking of history, our next stop was Sam Sharpe square. I learned that in 1833 the British Crown abolished slavery throughout its empire. However, the white plantation owners didn’t tell the slaves as their estates and lives would crumble without the free labor. Sam Sharpe – the national hero of Jamaica – was one of the very few educated slaves and he learned of this secret that was being kept from the Jamaican slaves. He led the rebellion which eventually lead to freedom and was duly executed by those wonderful British who have always had such a great reputation in taking care of the natives in lands they colonized.
“I would rather die among yonder gallows, than live in slavery.” – Sam Sharpe
And so, I wanted to pay tribute to this very brave man whose heroics led to better lives for the majority of inhabitants in Jamaica. He has a statue in downtown Montego Bay.
After the square it was to St. James Parish church which is the oldest church in Montego Bay. There is a graveyard out front and reading the inscriptions one sees that everyone is white and many died young. That they are all white is evident in only rich plantation owners could afford such nice graves and the fact that many died early is due to yellow fever which often swept through the island. Many of them didn’t make it past thirty and one or two of the graves were for children. Reading the inscription on an old grave is one thing but trying to imagine the pain of the day in which they were interred is quite another. Then imagining the pain and suffering many buried here inflicted on their slaves is another thing entirely.
All memories, all people and all deeds are washed away by the march of time. The pain, suffering and tears which took place at that very spot are dissipated with no one left to remember them until they become a small mote in the imagination of a tourist reading a barely legible inscription on a broken, weather-worn grave.
There is a connection with this graveyard and the Rose Hall Great House we visited first. Rosa Palmer, one of the proprietors of Rose Hall is buried in this graveyard. Coming out of the church, hers is the third on the right, closest to the walkway. As I explain in my post about the Rose Hall Great House, Benjamin Radford, a well known skeptic says the ‘ghost’ of Annie Palmer is fictitious; Annie did not exist and the legend that she killed her three husbands comes from the fact that the very real Rosa Palmer did have three husbands but she was very well regarded as shown by her epitaph made by John Bacon (the elder), a famous English sculptor.
One interesting thing that stands out in this memorial is that the letter ‘f’ is substituted for the letter ‘s.’ The guide at the church told us that the aristocratic planters thought the letter ‘s’ too difficult to pronounce. Imagine how difficult they might find a day in the life of a slave if they found making the sound of the letter ‘s’ too difficult!
After St. James we went to a souvenir shop and I learned that many of these places are run by Indians (India) who make up a small percentage of the population in Jamaica. They let us taste different rums and then sold us severely overpriced rum. I should have known better: rum and other similar consumables are best bought at the duty free shop. They charged us twice the regular price and I’m upset with myself since I have a lot of experience and again, should have known better. After this shop we also went to a few of the locals huts where they all insist you step into their little hut to buy some trinkets. The tourist dollars are their lively hood and so I couldn’t help but part with some money especially when I saw a little girl around two years old peacefully sleeping on a bamboo mat in one of the huts. She was a precious little angel and so I bought something I didn’t need from her mother. It makes me feel much better to overpay something to locals who need it rather than those shifty Indians who have a reputation for being greedy. I’m still mad the ripped me off and so if you go to Jamaica, do not shop at a place called “Bananna” something or other; I’m sure they change their name from time to time so it probably doesn’t even matter what they are called now. I have them geotagged here and plan to pay them a friendly visit next time I’m in town: Google Maps Geotag.
In any case, it was a very successful day and I’m really happy about how everything went. Here is a map of the day.
Finally, it was time to return home. Immigration was still were not very crowded but we had a couple of hours before our flight so the MoBay lounge was worth it this time. I had a couple of coke and rum drinks then decided to be a little adventurous. I asked for the first drink on the menu which turned out to be a “girls” drink and the bartender told me so. Then the attractive older lady next to me must have been from Texas as she told me to “put my big boy pants on,” with a slight chuckle. I told her I had had my big boy pants on for the past four days and was tired of pants!
This made her and the bartender laugh and the bartender took care of me with a special concoction twice more after that. The older ladies husband came back and he looked like a sun damaged, wealthy yacht owner. I wonder what their lives were like and guessed they lived in some rich Texas community from which they escape from time to time visiting their other home in the Caribbean.
Then we were home and the adventure was over. Jamaica is a beautiful country full of wonderful people. It is amazing to think of the change that little rock in the ocean has been through with its entire population changing dramatically over the past few centuries. A place where the descendants of Africa roam in a sun filled existence, raising families, building small palaces and living an existence not unlike many places I’ve found in the third world. The people and country are fantastic and we enjoyed our trip.