Feeling the love in Jamaica
I left my house at 4 AM on May 10, 2016, to catch at 6 AM flight from Albany to Montego Bay. As I checked in at the Delta Counter, I was offered an upgrade to first class. Over the last thirty-five years, I have flown over a million miles on Delta, and this is one of the perks for accomplishing the Million Miler status. Flying First Class left me in a good mood, and my attitude got even better when I saw the abbreviated line reserved for Jamaicans at Passport Control. I said to myself, "It's good to be home." I can't remember the number of times when I returned to the USA and envied the shorter lines reserved for Citizens. I picked up my bags and looked to find transportation to the Secrets Resorts and Spa for my one night visit to Montego Bay before heading to Kingston by bus.
My one night visit turned into two nights because it rained the first day which limited my chance to get some of the photographs I wanted and because I met a wonderful woman from the Ukraine who exchanged information with me. I told her about Jamaica, and she filled me in about Russia and Eastern Europe. The Resort was not Jamaica. It was a piece of America on the Jamaican soil. The Jamaican staff was friendly and warm with a few who went even further to make my stay problem free. My room was exquisite; the food was not excellent because when I eat Jamaican food, I want the full Jamaican flavor instead of the Americanized version I received at the resort. I understand the dilemma because they want to please the American tourist and not Americanized Jamaicans like me. Overall, it was a good two days.
I could have flown directly to Kingston, but I wanted to see how Jamaica through the window of a bus to get a sense of how the country had changed. There is nothing like this four-hour ramble on the Knutsford Express with WiFi and television through Ocho Rios, and Spanish Town to Kingston to feel the pulse of the country. In fact, one of the significant changes in Jamaica is the existence of a quality bus company to transport people across the country. The Knutsford Express was a far cry from the old Junta buses I was used to. As the Express drove over the new Jamaican highways, I could hardly stop myself from screaming out loud my approval. These were two signs of progress.
However, a very noticeable downturn was the value of the Jamaican dollar. I remember the days when a Jamaican dollar was one-half of the British pound which made the value a little more than the American dollar. Today, the Jamaican dollar is worth less that an American penny. The cost of my trip to Kingston on the Knutsford Express was over two thousand Jamaican dollars which made me quickly recognize that I was no longer that poor Jamaican boy because if I were, I could not have afforded this trip.
I was pleased with what I saw of Kingston. I stayed primarily in New Kingston, Vineyard Town, and Jack's Hill. The streets were clean, and I had a general feeling of well-being, even though, I could not relate to the bars over most windows and doors. These bars were not there during the 50's and 60's, but they were certainly a reminder of the violence that erupted in Jamaica during the 70's and 80's.
I spent my first night in Kingston in Vineyard Town among the people who were my family when I was growing up. The McLeans raised me, and this trip to Jamaica is to celebrate Joyce Mclean's 90th birthday. The party was full of great Chinese food, Joyce's favorite, picture taking and a strong chorus of happy birthday wishes and song. It felt so good to be back among people who were the only family I every had. After the party, I shared in another Jamaican tradition which is to visit with my high school alumni. Jokes and reminiscing about the good old days are usually the menus for the evening. This brief meeting in the back yard of one of our classmates was no exception. The memories and the conversations about American politics filled the memorable night.
I spent the next six days with my mentor, Althea and her son, Duncan on Jack's Hill overlooking Kingston. Althea taught me mathematics in high school and has been my inspiration and coach ever since. She has always opened her house to me whenever I visited Jamaica, and this visit was no exception. She cooked all me favorite Jamaican dishes, Oxtail and rice and peas were just some of the specialties I enjoyed. I also drank all my favorite juices that I had not tasted in years - Soursop, and cherry juices certainly made me smile. We talked about old times, politics with Duncan just enjoyed the view of Kingston down the hill. I must admit that I did not want to leave.
My trip ended with an early morning drive to Negril where I spent a night at Sunset at the Palms Resort. My room was on stills with all the peace and quiet that anyone would enjoy. I strolled the beach and took a dip in the very salty Carribean sea before getting another upgrade to first class for my trip back to Atlanta.