Reggae, rum – and so much more

I thought long and hard as to where my very first Caribbean destination should be, writes Terry Willey.

Looking at its history and connection with the late Errol Flynn who regularly frequented Jamaica in his Hollywood days it seemed to hold a fascination of a tourist attraction, and I was not disappointed.

Our first visit took us the district of Trelawney a few miles up the coast from the famous Montego Bay but far enough to be out of the hustle and bustle of everyday Jamaican life. Often the island’s reputation surrounds the three R’s –  being reggae, reefers and rum.

To this day the late Bob Marley remains an icon and his music is heard all over the island. It is vibrant and addictive and the very rhythm contributes to the laid back way of life of the Jamaicans. The famous ‘jerk’ meat being smothered in a marinade and barbecued slowly in an outdoor pit over a fire of pimento wood gives this particular local dish its distinctive taste and flavour which is widely sold throughout the Island. It remains a food trade mark for the Island and well worth sampling.

A visit to the Blue Mountains must not be missed where the scenery is stunning and the famous Blue Mountain coffee exceptional. Over the years thousands of ships have called to the well known Port of Ocho Rios which from our first visit to the present time has been extensively modernised with designer shops. In a way this almost detracts from the reality of the island itself and it is important to explore the interior while taking a climb up the Dunns River Falls and water rafting along the Martha Brae River, and the famous Blue Lagoon and river Rio Grande being the back drop for many Hollywood movies. Sadly these latter resorts have now fallen by the wayside as the Port has been moved down the coast to Falmouth where millions have been spent to accommodate the larger cruise liners.

Against the advices of many in the tourist industry I was determined to seek out a true Rastafarian Village and decided to take along with me my two sizeable teenage sons. We entered what appeared to be known locally as the Craft Village, set a short distance from the beach bordered by corrugated tin walls. First impressions were that this was expressly located for tourist visitors but it soon became clear that it was more of a supply centre where the local Rastafarian inhabitants supplied the tourist outlets. We had been warned it would be inadvisable to enter such places with valuables. I decided on a ‘game plan’ which I thought just might work. I purchased a box of Jamaican cigars and rum and had a few American dollars in my pocket, which I knew would have much more buying power opposed to the local Jamaican dollar. I requested to see the Head of the village as I assumed that there would be one. A man arrived before us brandishing a Rasta beard, and I told him it was our first visit to Jamaica and I was very interested in learning about their way of life and on this basis asked him if we could come to the village ‘safely’ during our holiday.

To demonstrate my appreciation I presented him with the cigars, rum and a few American dollars.

He smiled widely and said ‘no problem mon and evert-ing cool mon’ the latter meaning ‘how are you’.

The days that followed were very interesting and we were befriended by the whole village community of some 30 people, who were keen to demonstrate to us their excellent skills with their wood which clearly were sold to the tourist outlet shops for next to nothing with vast profits made on re-sale.

My wife and daughter joined us, at their request, after the third visit and we enjoyed taking various items for them to enjoy of an English nature. They were clearly people with little means and we were determined not to patronise them and felt we had met real friends of the Caribbean! Their houses were constructed of corrugated tin walls and roofs but quite homely inside with rugs and stoves but with a strong smell of reefers. There appeared to be whole generations from men and women in their 80s and 90s, down to grandchildren where the skills were clearly being passed down the family line. I shall never forget meeting ‘putty man’ with his family, who agreed to model, from a piece of mahogany wood, my pet dog, which we undertook from a photograph I provided him from my wallet. He presented it to me before our departure and he invited my whole family into his home, where his wife had carefully wrapped up the finished article. It was an emotional moment as he announced: ‘‘this is for you Mon and with all our luv’’. He did not want payment and any suggestion would have been offensive.

It was a most special moving moment for us all as we all finally walked away. This first visit to the Caribbean and particularly Jamaica prompted us to return and we did on another five occasions over the following years prompted by the warmth and friendliness of the people, which is epitomised in their country’s motto: ‘out of many, one people’.