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Jamaica at full speed

You must be vigilant at Montego Bay airport.

It is not pickpockets you have to worry about, but the luggage handlers. They can be a severe impediment to you when all you want to do is get on your coach and travel to your destination.

It happens like this: You walk out of the airport terminal, when suddenly you are immediately approached by someone who, quite friendly on the surface, asks a seemingly innocuous question.

“May I help carry your luggage sir?” they ask, beaming.

No thank you, I can manage, is what you’re about to say, but before you can utter a single syllable your bag is snatched from your hands and the man begins to walk briskly away from you, to the car park. He is not a thief, but simply a man looking for his cut.

You follow him to the car park, and that’s when he theatrically throws your bag to the ground and holds out his hand.

“That will be ten dollars sir.”

Do not let them take your bags for you. If you refuse to pay them, they will not give you your bag back.

Welcome to Jamaica.

The coach journey from Montego Bay to Ocho Rios takes an hour and a half. If you are sitting on the left side of the coach you are treated to views of the island’s north coast. Tiny waves of clear blue water crash gently on to the soft sand, and in the distance windsurfers and small boards can be seen.

On the right hand side you experience the mountainous part of Jamaica. You will see forests extending up into the hills, vast grassy plains and small homes made out of corrugated iron along the way. You must remember this is a third world country, but a beautiful one at that.

If you are staying in the famous resort of Ocho Rios, the journey to Kingston by taxi takes two and a half hours. If you are staying at Negril it takes six hours, and Montego Bay, four.

The town of Ocho Rios is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Jamaica, mainly because of the vast amount of shopping centres there. The ‘Taj Mahal’ shopping centre is a must for shoppers, however, be prepared to be hounded around each shop you enter by the owner, who will hassle you constantly into buying something. The good thing is that you can haggle over prices. This applies to anywhere on the island, not just Ocho Rios. Never accept the first price; usually you can knock off fifty per cent off the price tag.

The capital city, Kingston Town, is located on the south east of the island. You can hire a taxi for the day for a reasonable price, but don’t expect a comfortable journey. A lot of the roads on the island are undergoing maintenance and as if that wasn’t enough, the taxi drivers aren’t known for keeping to the speed limits.

The one I had broke every speed limit known to man, and there was at least three occasions where he sped as if the devil was after us and, as a result, nearly wrapped the vehicle around the nearest tree.

The first place to go is Bob Marley’s old home. His house is located at 56 Hope Road, Kingston town. It is now the Bob Marley museum.

The guided tour around the museum is a must if you are visiting the city. It is forbidden to bring cameras inside, but you are allowed to take pictures of the building from the outside. The Bob Marley statue in particular is an iconic monument. As the tour begins you are shown the singer’s bedroom, his old recording studio (though you are not allowed in there since his son Ziggy Marley and his band the Melody Makers still use it). Even the room where he was sitting during the attempt on his life is included in the tour. The bullet holes are still in the walls, and you are encouraged to touch them.

The tour guide we had was an enthusiastic young Jamaican woman who seems to know every single detail about the artist’s life. She breaks out into song regularly throughout the tour, singing along to one of Bob’s songs, and tries -in vain I might add- get the rest of the tour party to sing along with her. 

Most impressive however, is when you are led into the room where all his records are hung up. His triple and quadruple platinum albums are covering every inch of the walls, and you cannot help but feel a huge amount of respect for the man who refused to have his toe amputated which could have saved his life.

The resorts of Negril and Ocho Rios have some of the most beautiful beaches on the island. There will be many an occasion where you will be sitting on the beach enjoying the sunshine and the cool breeze when the smell of marijuana will drift through the air. Now, although marijuana is plentiful and widely-smoked on the island, it is still illegal there.

James Bond beach, also known as ‘Laughing Water’ is the strip of sand where the first Bond film starring Sean Connery was filmed in 1963. You pass it when on your way to one of Jamaica’s most famous attractions, the Dunn’s River Falls.

At the Dunn’s River falls visitors can make the 600 feet climb from the base of the falls by making a hand-in-hand human chain guided by the staff. It may be a tourist trap but it is a fun experience. The best time of the week to go is on a Sunday, when it is less crowded.

As you climb up the falls the members of staff capture the whole sweaty experience on camera. You can buy DVDs of your ascent once you get to the top. However, be aware if you have arrived in Jamaica by cruise ship. You will be asked to pay the money for the DVD first, and they say they will bring the DVD on to the ship for you. There have been numerous occasions when customers didn’t receive their DVD, and realised too late (as the ship was sailing away) that they’d been tricked.

The people in Jamaica are very friendly. They will even go out of their way to help you, claiming ‘there are no problems in Jamaica, just situations’. Indeed, everywhere you go you are greeted with warm enthusiasm by shop owners, passers-by, and even the mellowed out marijuana smokers sitting in a daze in the shade of the palm trees.

More than anything, the best thing to do whilst on holiday in Jamaica, is to lie down on a sun bed on the beach, close your eyes and soak up the atmosphere. You won’t experience anything else like it. 

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