The Real Jamaica
If you have never visited, you probably know Jamaica as a Caribbean paradise. The waters are stunningly blue, the rum is always flowing, and the views are idyllic. This may by very true, but there is more than meets the eye to this beautiful country.
As Anthony Bourdain, during his travels for Parts Unknown, so aptly put it, “There are two Jamaicas.” One is the real Jamaica—where locals eat, work, and live. The other Jamaica is the tourist Jamaican paradise. While Bourdain inserts obvious, but entertaining, short parody scenes of the stereotypical visitor to the island—the truth is that many people overlook the . Here are a handful of facts to introduce you to the raw Jamaica:
“The name is Bond, James Bond.”
Tucked away in a tiny cottage with a huge window overlooking the Caribbean Sea, Ian Flemming penned the novel Casino Royale in 1953. Jamaica is deeply ingrained in soul of this series. Flemming’s history is fascinating: he was born in London mid-1908. Attended an elite school then he was trained in a renowned military academy. During World War II, he did covert espionage for British Naval Intelligence. His work took him to Jamaica for a conference and sparked his creativity for the famous twelve book novel series. Flemming fell in love with the island and moved into his cottage hideaway, which he called Goldeneye following a military mission. (1)
This wasn’t the end of the marriage between Bond and the Caribbean. As many people know, when the novels were picked up as a film series, many were partly shot in Jamaica. Flemming chose Jamaica as a crucial setting for many plotlines in various books. For example, two iconic scenes in “Dr. No” were shot in two Ocho Rios locations: Laughing Waters Beach and the (then) undeveloped Dunn River Falls. (2)
Beyond the beaches.
Jamaica is made up of 4,243 square miles. 635 of those miles are coastal, dispelling the odd conception that the island is entirely beachfront paradise. (3) Because Jamaica and the other islands of the Antilles were evolved from ancient volcanoes, the surface of the landscape is widely varied. In some places, there are deposits of limestone thousands of feet thick. (4)
For folks that enjoy hiking challenges, Blue Mountain Peak towers at 7,401 feet. North of this mountain, there is a gorgeous tilted limestone plateau that makes up the John Crow Mountain range. Beautiful valleys of jungle alongside striking plateaus make up the central region of the island. This island is home to several different climate zones including almost desert conditions and lush tropical jungles. (5) For the tourist that is interested in geography, Jamaica is a fascinating study of diverse landforms and unique climates.
Beginning the Banana Empire.
Jamaica was at the forefront of the banana industry which began in the late 1800’s. They were truly the movers and shakers of the entire market. The small-scale cultivators took advantage of the new opportunity for oversea sales in North America, United Kingdom, and Europe. They created a monotony. From there, the banana trade took off for Jamaica. Shippers even developed a specific system with farmers when to harvest their unripe bananas so they would reach their sellable peak upon arrival to their destination.
In many parishes on the island, bananas were known as the “gold” of the area. Meaning, at the time, Jamaica’s prosperity depended completely on the key export of the starchy fruit. Jamaica Banana Producers’ Association (JBPA) was formed in 1925 to protect the island’s exportation claim and combat international competition. (6) They wanted to retake control of the banana markets to which Jamaica no longer laid claim as champion exporter.
Interestingly, in the past twenty years banana export has begun to slow. Instead, the tourism industry has taken hold of Jamaica and become the new “gold” of the area. Now, tourism revenues account for 20% of Jamaica’s gross domestic product. (7) Almost every part of the local economy is benefited by tourism. For example: restaurants get increased revenue and foot traffic, farmers sell to restaurants, and craftsmen create furniture for boutique hotels.
Since Bob Marley and the reggae culture implies heavy marijuana use, many visitors are surprised to discover that weed has been illegal for over 100 years. However, to the delight of many marijuana local and overseas smokers, it has recently been discussed that by the end of 2014 religious and medical use will be decriminalized. (8)
Contrary to popular belief, on the subject of the Rastafarian movement, less than 2% of the population of Jamaica adhere to the Rasta movement. (9) Practitioners typically don’t refer to Rasta culture as a religion—rather they consider it to be a philosophy of life. They hold a great focus on moving toward positive changes and unifying everyone. (10) And no, despite stereotypes, Rastafari do not all partake in ganja use.
Choosing to get to know the real Jamaica beyond the typical resort experience requires booking lodging amongst the locals. It’s difficult to actually experience the colorful culture in a resort or hotel room that resembles every generic fancy hotel room. The typical tourist paradise awaits every inclusive resort goer. However, for a richer immersion experience, look to book a local villa. With caretakers looking to make your experience friendly, educational, and as restful as the island itself—you don’t need to sacrifice luxury for convenience. Jamaica’s Ocean View villa is right on the ocean, minutes from vivid local life, and perfect for your group or family vacation.