Jammin’ & Jerk in Jamrock
Jamaica is a Caribbean island in the West Indies with English being the official language and Jamaican patois being the primary spoken language. Locals refer to Jamaica as Jamrock in patois – which makes it sound like the whole island is jammin’ all day long (which, of course, it isn’t – well not everywhere)!
Apart from its beaches, Jamaica is probably mostly known worldwide for its laid back (at times, politically-charged) reggae music which Bob Marley, head adorned with dreadlocks, introduced to the world in the 1970’s. Although Jamaica is where Rastafari was born, contrary to common belief, only a small percentage of Jamaicans adhere to this way of life.
My friend and I spent a week at an all-inclusive resort in Montego Bay and I could safely say that reggae is, indeed, heard everywhere and I loved it! The beach + reggae = perfect match. You could, of course, go to Jamaica and shamelessly spend your whole time on the beach drinking Stripe (the local beer) but, if you care to know, there are some interesting things to do on this paradise island.
So to get you started on this virtual tour, press play and make like you’re already there!
BOB MARLEY MUSEUM & MAUSOLEUM
The museum is located in Kingston but more precisely in the small village of Nine Mile where Robert Nesta “Bob” Marley was born and raised. He lived there in a house he purchased in 1975. In the mid-eighties, it was converted into a museum where you’ll find some of the legendary musician’s personal items, a souvenir shop, a theater, his house and, of course, the mausoleums where Bob Marley, his mother and his brother all rest in peace. This might seem to give you an idea of what to expect but not quite….
Something that isn’t mentioned on the official website is the hole-in-the-wall (literally) shop where you can purchase various items of the…how should I say….natural herb kind. Whatever your preference, in its original form (let’s just say it…joints), a cup of tea or even cookies, all you need to do is go up to the window and place your order. Note that marijuana is illegal in Jamaica but it is tolerated to some extent (see update here) especially among the Rastafari community whose beliefs include smoking marijuana.
However, at the Bob Marley Complex employees and visitors alike can light up on ganja without any problem. The whole place was covered in hazy smoke and our carefree Rastafarian guide was obviously high on the herb. I don’t smoke weed but the whole experience and tour were interesting/amusing nonetheless.
DUNN’S RIVER FALLS
This is a famous waterfall in Ocho Rios visited by thousands of tourists each year. Once again, you can get there by joining a tour. The area is very nice surrounded by lush vegetation and the waterfall itself is also impressive except for the beeline of tourists holding hands trying to climb up (I realize I was one of those tourists).
I have to say that I was really surprised this was actually allowed considering the sharp-edged rocks were very slippery and could hardly be seen in the knee-deep, dark blue foamy water. A few people, including my friend, did fall and hurt themselves. There were guides who seemed to know where every rock was and helped to direct us but I didn’t always feel confident. Halfway up you can choose to stop climbing – a lot of people got scared and decided to exit at this point. In case you’re wondering, I did make it to the top without injury – yay for me!
MONTEGO BAY’S HIP STRIP
In the center of the resort area of Montego Bay is the Hip Strip – a stretch of road specifically geared towards tourists but still keeping in line with Jamrock’s style. You’ll find lots of cafés, restaurants and bars (including Margaritaville) and many shops selling souvenirs, clothing and, of course, Jamaican rum. The Hip Strip is where tourists and locals get to mingle at night dancing to reggae and international beats.
SHOPPING FOR SOUVENIRS AND HANDICRAFTS
If, like me, you like to bring back hand-crafted items from your travels, then head out to the Old Fort Craft & Heritage Market in Montego Bay. This market is set up for tourists but that doesn’t stop it from being really charming with its colorful bungalow-style shops. Not everything here is handmade but it’s definitely a good place to get all your souvenir shopping done.
As is usually the case when shopping abroad at local markets, bargaining is expected – be nice & have fun!
BEST JERK IN JAMAICA
Before you get offended, let me explain: jerk is Jamaica’s staple cooking style using jerk spices to marinate or dry-cook meats traditionally chicken or pork. Jerk can be found anywhere and everywhere – at street stalls, in restaurants and I’m sure every self-respecting resort has a jerk hut on their premises.
Just before going to Jamaica I had seen a travel show where the host had eaten at Scotchie’s – where they claim to make “the best jerk in Jamaica“. I didn’t know where it was but, as luck would have it, we passed it on the way from the airport to the hotel so I figured it wasn’t very far.
On my second to last day, I finally decided to go. Jamaica has a bad reputation in terms of violence – I wasn’t sure it was a good idea to go by myself but, while I’m cautious when I travel, I don’t like to be influenced by mass media. So to be more safe than sorry, I asked the guard at our hotel if it was okay for me to walk alone to Scotchie’s – which was about 10 minutes from the resort. He looked at me non-chalantly and said there really was no danger and to enjoy the jerk. So off I went!
Scotchie’s was on the same busy, four-lane road as the resort I was staying at. I didn’t get honked at or cat-called and nobody paid any attention to the white girl walking alone in Jamaica. I did, though, cross paths with an elderly Jamaican man who kindly wished me happy travels.
Once at Scotchie’s, I placed my order of jerk chicken and asked if I could visit the kitchen. Without hesitation, one of the friendly cooks took me round to the back to show me the rustic cooking installations – it was as authentic as it gets! Returning to my table, I ate my mouth-watering jerk chicken with satisfaction and licked my fingers clean for the upteenth time.
On my way back to the hotel, I made a pit stop across the street at a small strip mall dotted with souvenir shops. The young girl in one of the shops asked me if I was alone to which I answered “Yes”. She then asked me if I was afraid to be walking alone, I replied with a question “Should I be?”. She quickly and confidently answered “No, but most tourists are”.
When I arrived at the hotel, I was immediately confronted with the raw truth the young girl had voiced. I bumped into a couple I had previously spoken to and, for whatever reason, the man asked me where I was coming from. After telling him, he said with a chuckle that I was crazy to be walking alone in Jamaica – this coming from a very tall, older man with a fairly sturdy body frame. Sigh.
As for the jerk chicken at Scotchie’s, I can say it was really tasty but I can’t confirm it’s the best on the island. I guess you’ll just have to book your trip to Jamaica to find out for yourself!
SUNSPREE INN MONTEGO BAY
We chose this hotel for its great value price-wise but, unfortunately, the beach wasn’t the nicest. It mainly consisted of small bays with hardly any sand. The water was very, very shallow making it impossible to swim – dipping was the only option to escape the heat and sun. But how could I possibly usher the slightest complaint?! I was in Jamaica – everything was irie, mon!
If you want to see a completely different (but very real) side of Jamaica, check out Viceland’s Noisey episode on Jamaica
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Have you been to Jamaica? Did you go to any of the popular tourist attractions mentioned above? Let me know in the comments below!