OCHO RIOS, Jamaica - Leaving Ocho Rios and “civilization” behind, we are seeing the “real Jamaica,” Gary says. Lush greenery. Rolling hills. Shacks. Scrawny goats. Clothes drying on the line. Half-built houses (It often takes several generations before a house is finished, Gary says). Friendly people. Immense poverty.
“Those children don’t have flush toilets but they are happy,” Gary says, pointing to some youngsters walking along the road. “You can starve in the city. You won’t starve out here because you can grow what you want … Our bauxite soil is so rich that if you stand still in it for very long, you will start growing, too.”
About an hour and a half into our tour, we pull off for a rest stop and a snack, a complimentary spicy meat patty and a chance to buy some Red Stripe beer at a circular outdoors bar. This is the same clean place we will stop on our way back down the hills for a traditional jerk meal included in our trip cost– jerked chicken, jerked beef, rice, peas, slightly sweet bread, some kind of fruit drink. Cooked and served by a very nice Jamaican lady, the lunch is delicious and a true taste of Jamaica.
After lunch we are enter Nine Mile in St. Ann Parish – the birthplace of Robert Nestor Marley on Feb. 6, 1945. “His father was 50. His mother was 18,” Gary says. “His father had two women here, one in Kingston. He didn’t stay with Bob Marley’s mother.”
As our bus pulls into a high-fenced compound run by the Marley family, Gary alerts us that vendors will try to sell us marijuana and other pot paraphernalia as soon as we step off the bus. And beggars will be asking for money. “Just say ‘no’ and follow me,” he says.
Or indulge on the site. But don’t bring it back on the bus.
Inside the compound, a security guard eats his lunch in a guard shack. A large sign notes that “Smoking of marijuana is illegal and persons can be persecuted.” (Don’t know why smokers would be “persecuted,” instead of “prosecuted.” Maybe that is the way Jamaicans really feel about marijuana being illegal.)
Not far from the guard, a window hole in the wall is quickly filled with a row of big marijuana stogies. Some cruisers walk over to look, some to buy. Joints are $20 and are potent, a couple of smokers tell me. “No pictures. No video,” shout several men with long dreadlocks lounging near the gate.
Next we go through the obligatory over-priced gift shops to a restroom where the toilets won’t flush and a bar where Reggae Shooter drinks are about $13. Meeting our guide Fozzie, we make a quick stop to hear a group of reggae singers on a stage with the omnipresent tip jar. “Tip them. Fill that jar up,” Fozzie says.
When we leave, Fozzie will stand by a closed gate and open it wide enough so tour participants need to pass through one at a time, the better to make sure he gets his tips. “It’s Jamaica,” Gary shrugs.
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