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Going Nuts in Jamaica

Author: Angela Kalista
Date of Trip: April 2014

A neither tall nor handsome man welcomes me at the Norman Manley airport in Kingston: „Once you go black, you never go back“. Not every woman feels utter joy with these amazing new possiblilities and the straightforwardness of his approach. It won’t be the last encounter of this sort.

Across from the exit of the arrivals hall for international flights a small street shop advertises fresh coconut milk. The name of the shop annonces in broad letters: „Going nuts“. Should I take this as an omen of some sorts for my new adventures on this beautiful Caribbean island?

As I intend to go to Ocho Rios the same day and not spend any time in Kingston yet, I take a taxi from the airport to the bus station. It is not the modern one with regular sized buses at Halfway Tree but the one in downtown with medium sized VW buses. Utter chaos welcomes me. There are several small buses already at the parking lot surrounded by small food stalls and flying vendors. Every minute a new vendor arrives with his treasures: drinks, snacks, belts, shoes, … Loaded so heavily his back is bent. A tattered thin man with slow and unsteady steps praises the contents of his tiny plastic bags: sunflower seed. Apparently this is all a man needs to fight impotence.

Neither of the buses has a sign to annonce where they are going. Just before the bus is ready to leave, the driver calls out the name of the destination and travellers rush to the entrance to cram inside. Every row has 3 regular seats and one folding seat in the aisle which is set up last. But sitting in each row will be at least 5 or 6 people, as many as possible. I manage to get on the right bus and get half a folding seat. The journey to Ocho Rios takes 3,5 hours and I’m counting 28 people inside. After about 2,5 hours the bus breaks down in the middle of the road and all efforts to repair it are futile. People are angry with the driver and agressively ask for part of their money back. After some descussion everyone gets back the equal of one US dollar. The whole trip cost 4 US dollars. I’m amazed that we made it this far.

All the other minibuses that are going in the same direction are already full, so some fellow passengers and me end up sharing a taxi (called „route taxi“) to our final destination. We are seven adults and a few kids in the trunk of a regular car.

Ocho Rios is a town by the beach although it is hard to tell because either resorts or restaurants or shacks obstruct your view of the sea. The beaches closest to the center are fenced off, there is an entrance fee and they close shortly before sunset. I couldn’t believe it.

Well, there are other natural sites for which Ocho Rios is famous for, its rivers and especially waterfalls. The one well-known and heavily visited by cruise ship passengers is Dunn’s River falls. I intend to be the first visitor there to enjoy these falls in a more quiet and meditational way and most important for me, to take photos of it without hordes of tourists sliding down the rocks. I reach my goal and spend the rest of the day on the lovely beach with powdery white sand and azure blue warm sea. Jamaican families with large supplies of food and drink start arriving and merrily splash around the waters.

Few people know that the carnival in Jamaica starts in February but doesn’t end until mid April. Around Easter week a big street parade, the Bacchanal road march, takes place in Kingston. I feel lucky to join the party on the street as this one feels a lot like the famous carnival in Trinidad. The only difference are the lower prices for hotels and almost no Europeans, Americans or visitors from other islands. Most people seem to be native Jamaicans set to drink and party like there is no tomorrow. Men and women do a lot of wining (pronounced „wine-ing“), a form of winding dance with close proximity of both partners. It isn’t considered sexual but one might think differently when taking a look at the positions of the dancers.

Then there are the Rasta men of Jamaica. Most of them are strict vegetarians and they know how to prepare tasteful food. The restaurants are sometimes referred to as „Rastarant“ and serve delicious plates of cooked vegetables, tofu and rice, accompanied by a glass of fresh juice usually with a hint of ginger. Some are said to avoid „bottom food“, an interesting expression used for eggs which do come from the bottom of the chicken.

Speaking of Rastas: the term „rent a rasta“ refers to any Jamaican man who seeks to improve his economic position by acompanying or marrying a European or American woman. This said, a lot of ladies visiting the island will notice the man bullying for their company or even get a marriage proposal.

But let’s not forget the beauty of the island of Jamaica: pristine water falls around Ocho Rios, amazing sunsets, cliff divers and wandering along the seven mile beach in Negril, colorful street parades in Kingston and less crowds around Port Antonio with beaches where you can still walk through a lush jungle for a short time and then arrive at white sand beach without resort tourists or beach chairs. Sounds just a little bit like paradise and not going too nuts after all.

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