(Editor's note: This is the second part of a series on a Bob Marley Tour)
OCHO RIOS, Jamaica - The tour is almost two in one. First, it gives you a glimpse of Jamaica that many visitors never see. Second, it shares an in-depth look at the life of Jamaica’s famous son, Bob Marley.
Limited to about 26 people, our group followed our tour guide from the pier to a very colorful bus. The inside of the bus is plastered everywhere with pictures of Bob Marley, his quotes, his album covers, his concert tickets. No air conditioning but the windows open and a few fans stir the air. Before we even leave the pier parking lot, the bus driver Alan hands us rum drinks through the bus windows. Strong on the rum.
Bottles of chilled water also are kept in a cooler for us. The rum and the water are both complimentary and will be passed out again on our tour. That is important to note because Jamaica has a bad reputation – deservedly so in many case – of overcharging for almost anything. Once on a Jamaica rafting trip down the Martha Brae, a man on shore tossed a small popsicle stick raft into the water by our boat. I reached out to keep the trinket from sinking. Then the man met us ashore to collect $20 for the knick-knack. Jamaican vendors and beggars can be quite aggressive.
For our reggae bus adventure, we were quickly on our way with Bob Marley music rolling out from a good PA system and our guide overriding the music to point out landmarks or share interesting info. Our guide is knowledgeable, articulate, funny and very professional.
“When Bob Marley was singing all these love songs, people said he was getting soft. So he wrote this song,” Gary says, blasting “I Shot the Sheriff” as our bus bumped along.
I don’t know why but the singer is seldom referred to as Bob or as Marley in Jamaica. In fact, almost everyone I encountered on this tour called him Bob Marley or superstar legend Bob Marley.
Read the whole series here:
The first part of our trip is the thrilling drive into the mountains. “We are all going to get high,” Gary says, noting that we will soon be looking down on some spectacular sights. He was right.
The “roads” are more like zigzag cow paths. The higher we go, the rougher and narrower they get. “If you are afraid of dying, don’t look down,” Gary warns at one point, adding a few miles later that we should keep our arms and hands inside the bus.
“And you might want to learn toward the aisle a little bit,” he notes as tree branches reach inside our bus windows. I ended up with a lap full of leaves.
In Jamaica, they drive on the opposite side of how Americans drive. “The right side is suicide in Jamaica,” Gary says.
I don’t know what they pay our bus driver Alan but I hope it is good wages. He certainly earns it. A couple of times he would have to back down a steep hill so another vehicle could pass us. Pulling a little string to blare a horn, Alan mostly barrels safely ahead leaving a cloud of dust and noisy horn blasts.
“We blow our horns in Jamaica to say ‘Good morning,’ ‘Hello,’ or ‘Get the hell out of the way.’ When you can’t see around the curves in the road, it’s a good idea to let other drivers know you’re coming,” Gary explains.