Although geographically very close to Cuba, Jamaica is culturally a world apart. A relatively small island, packed in with beautiful beaches and thick jungle in famous mountains. The island is loaded with interesting history, from the large pirate based at Port Royal, to the ferocious and rebellious Maroons who hid and fought colonial powers from the mountains. The two things I really came for were to see some Cricket and experience some raw Reggae music up close and personal.
Cricket – Seeing the first two days of the West Indies vs India Test Match at the Historic Sabina Park. After traveling on the road for 8 months it was great to indulge in a familiar sport and get to know some incredibly passionate and knowledgeable locals as several bottles of local OP rum disappeared. I was also lucky enough to get up close to many legends of the game, including the legend Sir Vivian Richards who I bumped into in the car park after day 2.
Sumfest – I was over the moon to hear that two of my all time favorite roots reggae artists (Luciano and Tarrus Riley) were headlining the world’s biggest reggae festival (Sumfest). Many of the top dancehall artists from the world were there as well. The vibes at the festival were great however they were long nights before the top artists came out – if I were to do this again I would arrive around 4am rather than 11pm.
Reggae in Kingston – I was lucky enough to experience every night of the week out in Kingston. There are completely different styles of Reggae and no two nights were the same. I’ve been into roots reggae for a long time and dub and was lucky enough to see along concert from up and coming Jah 9. The real eye opener for me however, was seeing first hand the raw intensity of dancehall music on the streets of Kingston – WOW – it is spectacular. A deserted car park, or a seemingly random street would be quickly converted into a raging dancehall party, going into well into morning. There is a whole culture of synchronized dancing, and the top songs have their own set routines. The big dances right now seem to be ‘snapchat’, ‘ski’, ‘tom cruise’ and ‘breadfruit’. The wildest parties weren’t advertised and could only be found by driving around with a local.
Danger – I had heard many warnings about how dangerous Jamaica is, especially parts of Kingston. I had a very minor taste of this my first night in Kingston where a group of us were robbed just outside our hostel (I didn’t loose anything though the two people in our group that had a phone and wallet strapped over their shoulder did). Some locals try to use the reputation to their advantage, for example a cab driver from the airport was telling me if I took the local buses I would almost definitely be shot and robbed – but that didn’t happen and it was a pleasant ride. Most locals I spoke to really resent this reputation and go out of their way to explain how safe Jamaica is becoming. As with all places you travel – common sense is needed to avoid real trouble.
Beautiful beaches – needless to say Jamaica does have gorgeous beaches. This is well known and there are some big resort towns built up to accommodate fly in fly out tourists. A surreal highlight was swimming in the ‘luminous lagoon’ near Montego Bay, apparently the strongest luminescence here in the world.
Next steps I’m changing scenery and heading back into the Andean Mountains to tackle some large volcanoes!