The more time you spend here in Jamaica the more you come to realise that this really is an island that has every last opportunity squeezed out of it. That seems vague and perhaps negative but let me clarify by rephrasing, it’s an an island that does not miss an opportunity to squeeze money from you. No longer vague but still negative I fear. Let’s take beaches for example, Jamiaca is fringed with beautiful stretches of beaches and hidden coves, yet eight out ten beaches you visit is privately owned. And if you want to spend some time on them, it’s going to cost you. Granted it is usually 50/50 on National Parks some charge fees and some don’t but you can be sure that the parks here in Jamaica do, and the prices for non-Jamaicans are not cheap either.
Don’t be fooled though, this financial exploitation is not born solely by tourists. The cost of living here is surprisingly high, even taking into consideration that Jamaica is an island and many items are imported. Doing a weekly shop here will be comparable if not more than your weekly shop back in the UK and almost every Jamaican I have spoken to has eluded to this unfair pricing of goods.
What I think actually is happening here is a symptom of the countries success. You can quite comfortably go to the local market and buy your fruit, vegetables and household items at reasonable prices, but that’s not what Jamaicans want to do anymore. They want to be able to go to their big shiny supermarket and shop in the manner that reflects the development of the country. But Jamaica is an island, and shopping at supermarkets filled with imported goods charging European prices is not compatible for most people on an average salary. Generally the country is reasonably well developed, the towns have a clean urban feel to them if not beautiful – not by any stretch. I really am missing some classical architecture to gaze at. There is the odd flourish here and there, Devon House in Kingston being a rare example but on the whole the urban areas are well kept but grey and uninspiring. Ironic for a country filled with such colourful music and culture. The public transport is excellent with regular mini buses serving most of the Island and the metropolitan bus service in Kingston as good as any I have seen anywhere (I couldn’t fail to notice the chinese flag on the back of the buses,seemingly the reach of Chinese investment has no limits)
While many people heading to Montego Bay, Negril and Ocho Rios may experience the tourist honey trap, constant hawkers and overpriced goods, the parish of Portland on the Northern Coast still exudes the languid relaxed approach you expect from Jamaica. In fact when you speak to Jamaicans about Portland they have to concede that the district seems to get things right. There’s no hassle on the streets of Port Antonio, more bicycles than the average Jamaican town, and even the car drivers seem happy to potter along at a speed that is neither threatening nor unproductive. I instantly felt at home there with it’s pockets of colonial housing, beautiful private (and public!) beaches, and bustling market centre.
I stayed long enough to become a familiar face in the market and long enough to befriend an ex commonwealth games cyclists for Jamaica who very kindly, recognising a fellow cyclist, lent me a pretty decent bike for my duration for nothing at all. He regaled me of his tales cycling through Glasgow in competition which I can imagine is not much fun on a road bike given that particular cities fervour for cobbled streets and appalling weather. (more than over compensated for by an amazing music scene and outstanding architecture)
Some of the architecture around Port Antonio is certainly questionable – see faux dutch gables below , but there is a charming historical residential area filled with period timber villas that you can’t help be impressed by. The town opens out onto a beautifully manicured waterfront complete with delicious Devon House ice cream which is seriously no joke. And once your done filling your face with cookie dough glory there are any number of footballs games going on to work off the excess weight.
Firmly not one of the tourist havens that seem to encompass most of the beach destinations here in Jamaica. Port Antonio and the wider parish is a refreshingly laid back place to be and somewhere you can really connect with Jamaicans on a personal level outside the context of tourism. Which is not something easily done in the islands bigger destinations.
From one fascinating island to another, see you in La Havana!
Tenor Saw – Ring the alarm