Jamaica is absolutely beautiful.
As soon as you’re flying in, you’re struck by the beautiful blue mountains. Driving from the airport to Kingston, the ocean is calm and blue, the streets colorful and bustling and adorned by Mango and Ackee trees. Walking around everybody greets you with a friendly “bless.” At the end of the day the smell of ganja and the sounds of reggae and dancehall fill the streets as people unwind.
The room we booked on Airbnb is located at the foot of the mountains, in “uptown” Kingston. At the low cost of $300 a month, we might stay here for now.
People say uptown and downtown don’t mix. Uptown, or “New Kingston”, is where the universities, malls and restaurants are. Downtown is where the communities are, where the museums are, where the markets and the soul of Jamaica are.
Wednesday we went downtown. The downtown area is a bit run down. Many of the stores are closed down, but the market is busy. Despite the fast food: many Mother’s, a Burger King, and a KFC, there didn’t seem to be many eating places or other social spaces. On the other hand, signs and paintings of overproof rum and sexy girls adorned the many bars.
There a very few tourists or white people around, and when we walked around a lot of people stared at us, though people reacted in a friendly manner. There are people begging on the streets but not very many. People seem nice in general and helpful, showing us around and giving us directions when we’re lost.
On Thursday we met a couchsurfing friend at Devon House, the first house bought by a freed slave in Jamaica. We went to his house near Trenchtown, in what he called the ghetto. A large yard fenced by corrugated metal surrounded his small blue house he proudly mentioned to us was one of the few houses built out of brick not wood. The roof was rusty corrugated metal. He cooked outside on a wood fire. We slept there at his house; you could hear the loud music until early in the morning.
We talked about issues in the communities, he mentioned the need for expanded literacy, information centers where kids had access to computers, the lack of computers available to the public, the divide between uptown and downtown, various possibilities to use waste, and the lack of adequate sanitation.
The next day we met to go on a road trip to Ocho Rios. When we got to his house a few kids saw us. And it was a huge event. The kids may have never seen white people before, they hid behind the fence and sneaked a peek telling all passers by that our friend had “white folk” over. Their parents tried to calm them down but without much success. One boy covered his eyes, a smaller girl couldn’t wipe a grin from her face, and the other little boy just stared at us with an open mouth.
The weekend in Ocho Rios was nice. The beach was beautiful, stingrays could be seen floating along the coast, the mountains and rainforest were lush and green, even in the dry season. The areas of St. Ann and Ocho Rios seem more middle class compared to downtown Kingston. Markets, restaurants, bakeries, bars and small local stores where abundant.
We drove up into the mountain where all the houses seemed nicer, even more in the background of the mountainous landscapes. Nearby the trains transported bauxite to the coast.
Kingston seems to be a good place to be at. It feels like a good fit so far. We haven’t felt unsafe, yet, although we are constantly careful. The Jamaican patwa english is sometimes hard to understand but we will learn. Being white we know we will never completely blend in, but we can work comfortably.