The recent worldwide economic downturn has done some good for the local economy. No, no, stay with me, I’m not crazy. I’m referring to the phenomenon of the “staycation” which has become one of the most popular activities for families during the Christmas and summer holidays. Many people who would have gone overseas to soak up the culture of metropolitan Miami or New York in more prosperous years have chosen to remain at home and explore the mysteries that are Jamaica instead; leaving their homes for daily excursions to the various scenic and cultural spots that abound in this beautiful little island.
The truth be told, getting to know Jamaica could take quite a few years but if you want the whirlwind tour that will give you a glimpse of where you’ll need to concentrate your efforts later then a fortnight at Christmas and a month during the Summer might just about do the trick. Of course you’ll have to decide first if you prefer the mountains, the seaside or the culture because Jamaica has all of these things. I have always said that when God created Jamaica He was just showing off, and for me it was everything.
So on day one of our staycation, we did the Devon House and Bob Marley Museum Tours because it seems a shame to tell people that after all these years of living in Kingston we had never done them. I confess to having a prejudice against the restoration and subsequent commercialization of old buildings but Devon House is still a very tasteful representation of the Georgian architecture that we find scattered across the island. In fact, the visit to Devon House has caused us to decide to visit the Spanish Town Historic District tomorrow… with lunch in Port Royal? Yes, that’s what we will do tomorrow; but for today, it’s marveling at the beauty of George Stibel’s legacy to the people of Jamaica. It’s now all about wondering at the intricacy but the relative minuteness of the furniture and walkways. Have I become brainwashed by my consumption of the mega sizes in everything from food portions to television sets? Am I so committed to modern architecture that not having every single spacious room overlook a courtyard or water feature strikes me as odd. I find it fascinating to see that my parents have many pieces – some originals and others reproductions from this time in history. I wonder if I should donate them eventually to a museum like Devon House… A decision for several years from now I suppose but I cannot deny that having visited Devon House I feel a kinship with Jamaica’s past that I haven’t felt before. I realize that being born a black woman in Jamaica at this time is the best possible fate that life could have handed me… I am ideally placed in a society that does not subjugate women or black people and I have it all before me to make my mark.
Yet coming face to face with the legacy of Bob Marley makes me wonder if I have what it takes to do this. Like Devon House, the Bob Marley Museum hires knowledgable tour guides to show us everything, from the mixing board that the Reggae icon used to his bedroom, his jacket, gold and platinum records, the board shack in which he began selling his records in Trench Town and a 20-minute film about his life. I am overwhelmed by how handsome Mr. Marley really was and how proud I am to be a Jamaican because of him. I hope that this inspiration will last. We eat there before going to visit my elderly Aunt so that I can tell her about our trip today and our plans for tomorrow. I want her to come with us tomorrow. We have all day, we can go at her pace.
I don’t have to tell you that the trip to Spanish Town was great! We took photos of the breathtaking buildings and sighed over those that were being dismantled brick by brick because the people do not seem to know how lucky they are to live in such a historic place. We wander out to Port Royal after a bit and look around there as well… Again, something to do if you’re in Kingston. I remember visiting the Giddy House as a child and being afraid of the feel of the tilt. Much older and wiser now, I don’t even bother to try it but I record the moment of being there for posterity. Even after lunch it is not time to go home and we debate about driving out to the spiritual place that is St. Thomas or turn back toward downtown Kingston for an hour at the Rockfort Mineral Baths…
In St. Thomas I see hills that must be extinct volcanoes. I speculate about the chances of them coming back to life again. I get out of the car and hunt for unusual rocks and natural crystals as I had been taught at UWI and encouraged by the prices in the craft shops for these things. I gaze at the endless sea and believe that all is well with the world. We do turn back and spend the rest of the afternoon lounging on the pier outside a bar watching the seagulls, listening to music and discussing Jamaica’s politics with the other lazy souls enjoying their staycations this year as well.
On Friday, we head not to Jamaica’s famed North Coast but to the sleeping beauty of the South Coast in Treasure Beach, St. Elizabeth. We will stay at Jake’s, just until Sunday, but there are several other places from which one can choose to get to know Treasure Beach. At a glance, it is difficult to see the charm in a village where much of the place closes down at sunset but to an exhausted and stressed-filled Kingstonian this is just what the doctor ordered; a restful night’s sleep to the majestic accompaniment of the drumming of the Caribbean Sea and the fanning tropical breezes.
After breakfast 10 hours later – delicious ackee and saltfish for him and liver, bananas and Johnny cakes for me we set out to explore. The miracle of farming right against the roadway with only a barb wire fence to keep goats at bay, is fascinating and charming. This forms a counterpoint to the splendid mansions being built by the “returning residents” who have come home after years of toil abroad. We enjoy the interaction with the local people who show us a women’s craft project and who share our hospitality at a local bar. Eventually we discover the beach. Never far away because we can hear it everywhere we go, we nevertheless have to ask for directions, such was the layout of the buildings and paths. We wade and swim for the rest of the morning and on our way back, discuss with a housekeeper the possibility of buying a villa on which we see a for sale sign. One can dream of setting up roots in a place like Treasure Beach… the wealth of nature around us has lulled us into believing that ANYTHING is possible for us.
We swing by the Black River Safari Tour on our way back home two days later, and I know that I am in love… with Jamaica. I inquire about the programme to restore the manatee to Jamaican waters. I wonder what I can do to help in that effort. I try to imagine the spectacular sights that the Tainos would have seen on this island if I am so taken aback by the riot of abundance that I can still see even after 500 years of exploitation. Yet all is not good here, I enjoy the tranquility of the rest stop at the bridge but I disagree with my fellow travelers who allow their children to drink alcoholic beverages. Despite the good that I have seen this reminds me that Jamaica is the country with the highest rates of soil erosion in the world and that the beauty that I have marveled about today might not survive me if we’re not careful.
Why should we have a pile of garbage a little way off from the bathers on every beach? Why should we have men, women and even children selling coal made from the trees that they have cut down along the roadways of the nation? Why should there be poorly made and crass representations of the Jamaican psyche for sale in every craft market? Why can’t some Jamaicans understand that if I want something to buy I will ask them for it? Why do these trinkets cost so much? Why is that gully so dirty and why is that road so pitted?
I am pensive for the rest of the day because I realize that the job to get Jamaicans to appreciate and take care of Jamaica is bigger than I am. I can tell you how wonderful the tour through the Appleton distillery is and how scrumptious the shrimp dishes in Middle Quarters, I can compare the myriad gardens in St. Ann and pontificate about the excitement of Negril. Yes, when God created Jamaica He may have been showing off but I wonder for a moment if He’d still be proud of His creation.
Ok, so I’m not as chatty as I was on the drive out here… There are no ooohs and aaahs from me at every new vista for the time being because I am too busy thinking up what I can do to preserve Jamaica’s pride of place as one of the world’s jewels. Jamaica, the pearl of the Caribbean… the most stunning among an archipelago of extremely exquisite islands… primus inter pares… my beloved homeland. I take this resolve with me to our other stops during our staycation… This is why I engage the staff in a restaurant in Monetgo Bay in genuine off-script, non-American-twanged conversation… This is why I called the TPDCo to complain about two rude taxi drivers in Ocho Rios… This is why I picked up that scrap of paper at the Blue Mountain peak… This is why I asked for music other than Bob Marley under the open skies in Mandeville… This is why I don’t skimp on tipping good service… This is why I asked the waiter to turn the radio off in Negril even if the tourists asked to hear news about the violence in Kingston. This is why I insisted that we and the other black couple breakfasting in the dining room at our hotel there be treated with deference by the staff; because without people like us who CHOOSE to stay and spend our money in Jamaica the country would go the way of the dodo bird.