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Jamaica.We Likkle but we tallawah.

At my late grandpa’s house in St. Andrews

This is for the people who are used to going to waterfront sites like Ocho Rios and Negril, but never really hear anything about St. Andrew or Portland, the more rural areas in Jamaica. I hope that this post from this likkle second-generation Jamaican American sheds some light on how much more dynamic Jamaica is beyond its tourist attractions.

Before this trip, I hadn’t been to Jamaica in years. However, prior to this, I went almost every year as a young girl, to visit my family and family friends. I would often stop at churches, excited to see people in their Sunday’s Best. I would also take the time to enjoy all the local food Jamaica has to offer. When I hear people talk about how awesome the resorts are, I often felt like they were robbing themselves of an amazing experience and that I was the only one seeing the beauty of the local parts of Jamaica. It’s as if they were saying the resorts and beaches are the only aspects of Jamaica that were beautiful. On this trip, however, I had the opportunity to finally see some of those touristy parts of Jamaica, since I have never been. I was there for my brother’s wedding, which was set at the Ocho Rios Beach Resort.

Stepping off my morning Jetblue flight, I was greeted with the familiar but odd smell of roasted breadfruit outside the Norman Manley International Airport. As I approached the car, I quickly had to catch myself. I was going to the right side of the car for the passenger seat! I had to remind myself that the driver’s seat is on the right and that they drive on the left side of the road.

Kingston Airport In Daytime

Finally, the day of the wedding rolls around and I was greeted by the warm hospitality of the resort’s staff, spacious lobbies, and scenic beachfront views. Walking through the resort was like walking through another city. Every turn had an activity set up. There were places to sit, eat, and swim. I was able to look at some of the bedrooms in the resort and got a glimpse of how it must be to have butler service while relaxing on your bed watching t.v.

Overlooking Sandals Resort from the bedroom

For a city girl who’s used to the hustle and bustle, this was easily a nice change of pace. The wedding was no different, with gourmet meals, live entertainment, and scenic views, the experience was nothing short of amazing.

Looking back on my trip, I was glad to finally see the tourist side of Jamaica. But part of me wishes that I can also convince my friends who’ve been to these resorts, to actually venture out and learn more about what makes Jamaica, well, Jamaica.

Yes, you can go to the beaches to swim, but what truly makes the beach culture in Jamaica special is the beachside food. Not ordering a snapper with okra and festival or a fish soup would be unheard of. If you ended up at a more popular beach such as Hellshire Beach, you’d find souvenirs, entertainment, and the most phenomenal beachside food and drinks from local cooks.

Me enjoying the sand on a calm sunny day

At the wedding the guests were served, island theme dishes (such as surf and turf and black cake) which were really good. But to get what makes Jamaican food boast-worthy, you have to have a local prepare ackee and fried breadfruit picked straight from their tree for you! Hit up the street vendors for some well-loved East Indian mangoes, Guinep, Otaheite apples, and fresh Coconut water.

Eating the national dish- Ackee & Saltfish with Breadfruit

Picking up some mangoes by a local street seller

Even though foods like beef patties, jerk chicken, curry goat, and oxtail are familiar dishes in the US, Jamaicans take pride in how they cultivate their meats. The food is quality, which makes eating there an experience. You can even taste a difference at international food chains such as KFC.

Oxtail with Rice and Peas, another well-known dish

Steamed Red Snapper with Okra

Of course, the lesser known snacks like cheesy bread, iced cakes, spice bun and cheese, and coconut drops are always a delight to have and should be on your must-taste list. These can be purchased at local markets, or small shops set up streetside.

On a more serious note, while visiting the rural areas,  I observed the varying socio-economic and political dynamics in Jamaica as a whole. While the resort and tourist areas have a more Western/ Island flair, St Andrew has a lot of tin roof houses. St Mary has mainly brightly colored suburban-looking houses, while Kingston is dominated by sidewalks, businesses, and factories.

Driving through each parish, I watched buses and commuter vans pick-up professionals, construction workers, farmers, summer school students in uniforms, and everyone in-between. I occasionally witnessed the new construction of highways, churches, and commercial buildings.

Moving throughout the parishes and visiting family, I gained better insight of the political forces of PNP ( People National Party) and JLP (Jamaica Labor Party). I also observed the rehabilitation of beachside restaurants hit by previous storms, and the process of building a tall house alongside the mountains of  St. Andrew parish.

Whether young or old, country folk or mansion owner, professional or a hustler on the street, the pride, energy, and rigor of Jamaica is so evident. No matter where you go a pride that passes down to the second generation, like me, will persist.

So I warmly invite those who have never been to Jamaica, those who have been but only to resorts, or those who only touched on it by a cruise ship and never ventured out, to come and see the Jamaica that I see.

Jamaica, Jamaica, Jamaica land I love.

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