It’s been three days since our return from a ten-day journey around Jamaica, and it’s hard to recapture the many experiences that will have such enduring effects on our family of three. Our trip was primarily inspired by my fourteen year-old son who has become increasingly obsessed with reggae music, and enamored by everything having to do with Jamaica or Rasta’s. Originally, I did some preliminary searching on the Internet for reggae items to purchase for my son. One thing led to another, and my subtopic “Reggae” under my Favorites List on my AOL site was growing, and now had at least 50+ saved sites. One night I happened to read some letters from other travelers to Jamaica. I was searching for a roots experience, where I would see an authentic view of Jamaican life, and to get closer to the source of reggae music. I wanted to avoid the commercial tourist scene, which would not be authentically Jamaican, and could not deliver what we were seeking to experience. I was delighted and inspired having read a letter by Bill Evans, which truly spoke to me. He seemed to have done what I was looking for, and had a true understanding of the Jamaican people, its land and its culture. I wrote him an email in the hopes of gaining more insight, and for a contact of someone who could help us with planning a trip in the future. Honestly, I didn’t expect to have this trip materialize within months, but rather take place sometime next year. However, one inspiring thing occurred after another, and lo and behold an itinerary was put together for our journey. Bill became an invaluable source of information and understanding about Jamaica. He worked willingly and graciously to help me reach my goal. I was truly taken by his spirit of generosity and will forever be grateful for his boundless energy.
We began with a non-stop flight from JFK with mostly Jamaicans to the city of Kingston, a place not so favorable to visit by most people from the states. I had heard it was the crime capital of the Caribbean and how dangerous it was, and admittedly had some trepidation. However, I figured if I knew how to get around NYC, and had any street sense I could survive one night in Kingston. We landed with ease, were quickly ushered through immigration, and were transported by a licensed Juta cab for $24 to our hotel in New Kingston, the New Courtleigh. The hotel was very pleasant, and had all the amenities we could want: a very nice room, restaurant, pool, and bar. I soon learned that Sundays were not the best day to land in this city. Everything including restaurants was closed, as most of the locals are fairly religious. Therefore, we were pretty much limited to our hotel. Fortunately, within 2 hours after arrival, as my son and I walked across the parking I noticed the familiar face of man I had come to know over the Internet as Chef. Bill had put us in contact with Chef, thinking he would be the perfect guide for much of our trip. Over a period of months Chef, his wife Libby and I developed a warm relationship, and I could hardly believe I was finally meeting him.
We exchanged a warm hello and a hug, and got acquainted for a few moments in our hotel room. We were a little anxious and antsy and were thrilled that when we suggested going out for a little while, he was game. We all climbed into his van for a quick driving tour of Trench Town, a slum that was basically the home, heart and soul for many well known reggae stars, and an inspiration for their music We were a bit afraid and tentative, but we all said, “Yes let’s do it.” I felt so guilty and ashamed as I stared out my window at the shanty town streets of tin homes, and women corn rowing their hair in the street, half clothed and living in the poorest of conditions. Many of the walls were painted with the infamous colors of red, green and yellow (Rasta Colors), and there were many tributes in painting and words to Bob Marley and reggae music.
I was intensely moved, but felt so overwhelmed and such despair for how these people lived. How did Bob Marley, this legend and his family forget to help the many people still stuck in the ghettos of Trench Town? Or had they? I felt bad to be a spectator, but this was truly a slice of cultural history and reggae roots, and this was a one-time opportunity, not to be missed. I would have to see it now, as I would probably never have the guts to return. It is a site not to be forgotten. We quietly drove back to our hotel, had a nice dinner, bid Chef a goodnight and went upstairs for a well-deserved sleep.
The main reason for the visit to Kingston was to visit the Tuff Gong Studio, a production studio of reggae music, and to go to the Bob Marley Museum.
As my son is a guitar player and music is his main interest, our first stop the following morning to Tuff Gong was an inspiration, a dream come true. He spent time with some locals of this area, a musician, and people who were around when Bob Marley was producing his music.
My son was in awe, and thoroughly enjoyed the tour and listening to the music. We were able to watch a little bit of how they manufactured singles, visited the recording area, and private rooms. It was not a surprise that our tour guide and others around us were smoking ganja, but this did not offend us a bit. My husband bought some old recorded tapes of several reggae stars that we believed to be one of a kind. While we later figured out they were remakes from mixes of other albums we still hold them dear. Unfortunately, I am getting sick of them, as they have been playing non-stop since our return.
We must have spent two hours there, as Danny kept disappearing and really didn’t want to leave. I think he would have been happy to stay for the afternoon. He rapidly befriended our tour guide and we took several pictures of them together, one of which we had enlarged and is hanging in his room. I forgot to mention that on the way to the studio we had made a sentimental visit to the Bob Marley statue outside of the National Arena. This is a statue where the Wailers once posed to have their photo taken. A reprint of this poster has been hanging in my son’s room for several years. We have been staring at this poster and statue for a long time, and often gazed at it wishing one day we would see it. Well, to arrive at it brought tears to our eyes. We must have taken a dozen pictures from every angle.