The game was deeper than I thought, but I consoled myself with the thought that I finally had jerk chicken from the streets of Jamaica. The bus was quieter, the air cooler. We were all worn out and tired. I personally had been up for nearly a day and was running on whatever you have when adrenaline runs out. What a wild place. The lights on the mountainside gave what was otherwise a black mass, contour, shape, and depth, flickering as we passed shadows. Their tungsten hues glowed gently like summer fireflies. Even at night, Montego Bay was beautiful. As I took a bite of my jerk, anticipating the flavorful sting of the spice, the heat, the juices, the full deal…I quickly realized as one does about any food at 3 am: It was meh. To be fair though, what did a drunk man know about anything? I did understand food though…and good food at that. I got a hustle too. Apparently what I didn’t understand, but in time would, was “respect”.
Chew On A Rock
During my time in Jamaica, I made active efforts to see how the people actually lived outside of the interactions with the kindly resort staff and broader tourist ecosystem. At times, I found myself successful and other times, not so much. “I’m going to throw up”, I told Alton—a 23-year-old Jamaican who I linked with at the recommendation of a driver and fixer named “Topman” to guide me and my folks around. Alton had a small athletic build, focused yet fatigued eyes, a low Caesar cut, and an affinity for cars and machines. We were 30 minutes into a trek deep into the mountains of Montego Bay when I became “truly nauseous”– the other times were false-alarms. It might have been the narrow roads twisting round like a coiled spring, the reckless yet necessary speed of our bus, or horror of slamming into the oncoming one-lane traffic. Who knows? Before taking off, I expressed to Alton that I had wanted to see “great views” from the mountains and get some shots in the city and “be with the people”. He told me that he had just the thing in mind. I knew and didn’t know seeing the “real Jamaica” would be so dizzying.
Jamaica is a hilly island with lots of small towns and villages.
Along route, I took note of the features of the city, how lush and green the vegetation was. It was as if the homes and even the cities themselves clawed their way out of a seemingly endless forest and brush. Goats ambled about the sides of the roads looking more wild and stray than “livestock”. Apparently, they were free for the taking, though no one seemed eager to. The city center was congested and buzzing with activity. The architecture was a mix-mash of functional, yet noticeably new public buildings and rustic shops colored in faded pastels, adorned with an intricate, yet unfamiliar style of ironwork. Driving through the narrow streets, pedestrians streamed around the bus, avoiding being hit like a sort of routine they had committed to muscle memory. One of the airport drivers who had escorted my family to the resort noticed us at a stop in the road. After a round of pleasantries, he offered us weed. We politely declined and continued on.
Downtown Montego Bay
Maybe I hadn’t been clear on what I meant by the “real Jamaica” or perhaps Alton knew what I meant and didn’t want to be responsible for the additional headache of carting around uninitiated foreigners. Perhaps that’s why we ended up at a souvenir shop that had all the trappings of your typical American ones. There were overpriced ashtrays, t-shirts, and, dildos colored like the Jamaican flag. After we got situated, Alton made his way over to the shade of a nearby tree and chatted with other locals while my folks let themselves be had for a bit by the overzealous clerks. Not feeling the store and shooing off their complementary Wray & Nephew Overproof rum shots, I strolled out to a rocky expanse that overlooked the bay for which Montego Bay is named. While not the panoramic mountain views I was expecting, the bay was objectively breathtaking. I set up my camera and took a few shots. In the distance, I could see a storm raging on another part of the island that would end up missing us entirely. A few of the locals stopped by check out my shots as well try to sell me various crafts and candy. Like the water before me, my nausea continued in waves. Fighting it, I set off in the area to do some street shooting. After about 30 minutes of wandering about and deflecting the advances of eager shop promoters, I realized that I was back on the same street, in nearly the same spot where I was at Margaritaville the night before. All I go do was laugh.
Standing on Gloucester Avenue in Montego Bay, you can get a beautiful, unobstructed view of the ocean and the island of Jamaica.
The following day, I found myself on another tour bus visiting the famed Dunn’s River Falls, a natural waterfall attraction in Ocho Rios (Eight Rivers) which lies to the about 2 hrs drive East of Montego Bay in St. Ann Parish of Jamaica. Our guide, like many of the Jamaicans I encountered, had a brut sense of humor with well-timed delivery and execution. Like the others I met in the circuit, there was a precision and mastery of her craft that was self-evident, even despite being her being sick. During our tour, she would go on to point out various landmarks, like Willian Knibb High School, formerly attended by generational wonder Usain Bolt, various flora like the beautiful and abundant Ixora Coccinae or “Flame of the Woods” trees, and even traditional medicinal advice on relieving acid reflux with the local limestone deposits. No smile in her voice, she said that if any of us got heartburn from all of the spicy Jamaican food we were eating, we should literally, “chew on a rock”. She told other stories too that stuck with me, like how strict yet loving she was with her 3 kids, which aphrodisiacs worked best, and her appreciation of what seemed to be tantric sex. The one that stuck the most perhaps, as we passed up a rather large, yet seemingly abandoned mansion far back on the hill off the interstate, was the story of the White Witch of Rose Hall, Annie Palmer.