Feeling the love in Jamaica

 

I left my house at 4 AM on May 10, 2016, to catch a 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 improved 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 how often I returned to the USA and envied the shorter lines reserved for Citizens. I picked up my bags and looked for 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, limiting my chance to get some of the photographs I wanted and because a wonderful woman from Ukraine exchanged information with me. I told her about Jamaica, and she said to me about Russia and Eastern Europe. The Resort was not in Jamaica. It was a piece of America on Jamaican soil. The Jamaican staff was friendly and warm, with a few who went even further to make my stay problem accessible. 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 American tourists 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 changed through the window of a bus to get a sense of how the country had changed. 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 country's pulse. 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 than 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 '50s and '60s, but they were a reminder of the violence that erupted in Jamaica during the '70s and '80s.

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 songs. It felt so good to be back among people who were the only family I ever had. After the party, I shared another Jamaican tradition: visiting with my high school alums. Jokes and reminiscing about the good old days are usually the menu for the evening. This brief meeting in the backyard 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 my favorite Jamaican dishes; oxtail and rice, and peas were just some of the specialties I enjoyed. I also drank all my favorite juices I had not tasted in years - Soursop and cherry juices certainly made me smile. We talked about old times and politics with Duncan and 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 that anyone would enjoy. I strolled the beach and took a dip in the salty Caribbean sea before getting another upgrade to first class for my trip back to Atlanta.