I recently returned from a five day trip to Jamaica for my little sisters wedding. We had incredible weather with only one day of rain, which we ignored and swam anyways. The locals said this was their normal weather most of the year-warm, sunny, and somewhat humid when the wind is not blowing. The resort we stayed at was secluded from the world, nestled into a beach two hours from Montego Bay. It is probably good I am still training for my marathon in June because the all inclusive buffet and unlimited sugary drinks would probably have added a few more pounds.
To start off with some history, Christopher Columbus discovered the island in 1494, landing first in Runaway Bay, but because of skirmishes with locals moved down the shore to Discovery Bay (hence the name Runaway Bay). A small memorial exists at the site believed to be his landing point in Discovery Bay. Following the discovery, Spain took over rule of the colony in 1509, losing power to the English during the Anglo-Spanish War on May 11, 1655. The battle site is memorialized at Rio Nueva. After World War II, decolonization began throughout the world. The British government started the long process to decolonize the island with the colony of Jamaica gaining their independence from the United Kingdom on August 6, 1962.
Jamaica is broken into 14 different parishes which are like American states. We stayed in St. Mary's Parish but traveled to St. Ann's on a shopping trip. Bob Marley was from St. Ann's which has a population of roughly 173,232. Jamaica's total population is 2.726 million people and has been steadily rising since the 1960s. St. Catherine and St. Andrew parishes each hold just over 500,000 people. Kingston, the capital city of Jamaica, is located on the southeastern end of the island with a population of about 662,000 people (the city is split between two parishes). The island is 145 miles long and only 50 miles wide, just under the size of Connecticut.
Our van driver taught us a little of the local dialect, Patois, which for me was difficult to pick up. Patois is basically shortening words and phrases by stringing them together. For example, if someone were to say wagwuan, they are asking what is going on? It is a much quicker and more efficient way to ask. There were also phrases that my young nephews picked up on quickly including "ya man". My husbands favorite was "respect" which some of the bartenders said after we thanked them for drinks.
On the way to the resort our driver pointed out the high school Usain Bolt went to and cultivated his running career. Usain is famous for setting world records in the 100 and 200 meter race and has 8 Olympic gold medals. It is no surprise he is nicknamed Lightening Bolt. He even has a restaurant (Tracks and Records) with pictures of him on the wall. It is clear Jamaican's are proud of his achievements.
One of the strangest things I saw driving from town to town were what looked like abandoned or half finished homes. The first floors had been completed, but rebar (steel bars used to reinforce cement) was sticking out of the roofs of many of them. It looked like an image from the American housing bust, with whole areas of half finished homes. The driver of my moms bus said that's how houses were built in Jamaica. They would construct the essentials-bedrooms and bathroom-then when the money was available finish the rest. After I heard this and looked closer at the homes, portions of them did look occupied with the ability to easily expand in the future. The method of leaving the rebar exposed is necessary because all the homes are built out of concrete. When questioned, the driver of our bus said concrete was used because it was cheap and easy to get from a local plant. Making concrete at local factories would be much cheaper than shipping in wood or steel to the island.
I love having the opportunity to visit other countries and learn about their culture. It is very different reading about foreign places than it is actually visiting them. You learn more talking with locals, getting their perspective, and asking questions. I have yet to visit a country where there weren't a few people interested in talking about their lives and sharing their history. In Jamaica we found a interesting locals willing to pass the time with us making our trip more enjoyable.