It’s our last week in Jamaica, and, naturally, I feel reflective. This is our first diplomatic tour, and, I must say, we got lucky. Jamaica is a tropical island nation close to the States, with English as the language (although patois can be hard to understand).
It certainly became a home after living here for about 1.5 years. We got to know the island by driving around during weekends, going to major tourist destinations, as well the more elusive “real Jamaica”.
What will live on from our time here? I will certainly remember the natural beauty, which I appreciated without fail by starting my work days on our balcony, waking up to a panoramic view of the Blue Mountains as I sipped coffee and read the paper. That’s one of the good parts.
The bad part is that Jamaica is undeniably a country with a lot of poor people. Getting around town involved enduring, or trying to get around, the aggressive beggars of all ages along the roads. Having to deal with this gauntlet can grate on the nerves. But the positive side is that it reinforced the realization of how lucky we are to have grown up in the U.S., a country where there is still plenty of opportunity for upward mobility compared to the rest of the world, despite recent headlines. Coming from the U.S., seeing the reality of poverty in the developing world makes you incredibly grateful and conscious of how relatively good we have it.
Now, back to the fun parts. We enjoyed the tropical, Caribbean lifestyle here, exploring the coastline during the weekends and going diving regularly. Diving here is not for the faint of heart. It’s DIY, so you need your own gear and access to a trustworthy boatman to take you to good sites. One of our routines was to head out at dawn and drive to Port Royal, where we would meet out boatman, Tony, gear up, get into his rickety-looking fishing boat, and ride off into Caribbean waters, coming home with a fresh catch of lionfish and lobster straight from the ocean. Sometimes, the visibility was amazing; you could look down and see the coral on the seafloor, like in a swimming pool. Sometimes, the wind kicked up a mean surface current that rocked the boat; it got the adrenaline pumping and reminded us that we were in the thick of adventure.
Our Jeep was well-suited for the notoriously pothole-laden roads of the country. Once we got used to Jamaicans’ crazy driving habits–passing recklessly, as well as going recklessly slow–we had a lot of fun going on road trips.
Early in our time in Jamaica, we drove into the Blue Mountains, looking for the Twyman estate to get a taste of world-renowned Blue Mountain coffee. We went higher and higher up the mountain, and anxiety started creeping in as we confronted dangerously narrow roads without guard rails and the lack of road signs. We got lost early on, got scammed out of a few bucks by a local whom we tried to ask for directions, and got a blank stare from a member of the military out on patrol when we asked him for help. It was nerve wracking.
But we eventually made our way to the Twyman estate. We pulled up out front and knocked on the door of what looked to be a hand-built cabin. Two dogs started barking, and a little old British-Jamaican lady answered. It was Mrs. Twyman. She invited us in, showed us her roasting/grinding room, and sat us down for freshly brewed coffee and snacks. She then took us on a hike of the grounds, pointing out the coffee bushes. The hike was strenuous at times, and Mrs. Twyman showed strength as she walked with us through the overgrown grass and shrubs, the twists and turns, the inclines and declines, and stream crossings of the path. The view of the mountains and the valleys at the lookouts was stunning.
In a way, that sums up our experience in Jamaica: A tough journey at times–but one that rewarded with the gifts of amazing beauty and time well spent.