The Dichotomy of Jamaica…

I like to end on a positive note so I’ll start with what I did not like. It didn’t take long after arriving to realize that tourists are looked on as money. And most people I ran into did not understand the basic economic rule of supply and demand, i.e. Higher prices lower demand. Lower prices increase demand. They seem to think in terms of getting a certain amount of money and if the tourist trade drops off, that means getting more from those who do come. This is great if it works but when demand drops off, it makes more sense to lower prices to help stimulate demand. For me personally, I do not like saving my money all year and visiting a country and being charged higher prices then the locals or anyone else for that matter. There are people who stand outside the shops to coax you in, especially if the shops are in the rear. I don’t mind this. You’re also expected to haggle over prices in the local markets and I don’t have a problem with this either, but I don’t like being approached by prostitutes (which I find very insulting), or drug dealers or beggars. Montego Bay was sort of the pits, but to be fair, I didn’t know anyone to really show me around. i.e. Montego Bay without the usual tourist traps. For example I walked from the Hotel (the Seashell Inn on Mable Ewen Drive), which was bad, to the Pelican restaurant (on the hip strip), which was very good. It was about a 5 or 6-minute walk in which I was approached by 3 prostitutes, 6 drug dealers (let’s call them what they are) and 3 just plain beggars looking for a free handout.

Hey mon, got a couple of dollars? Hey mon, can you buy me a beer. One clown sang me a song. Good grief what a joke. And no. I’m not talking about a sidewalk performer. I’m talking about a dirty, smelly, drunken individual who chased after me & blocked my path to try and sing a song he did not know the words too. I stayed at the SeaShell (alias Jamaican Sightseeing), which was terrible. The place was in need of repair. The room had no phone, no TV, no electrical outlet in the bathroom and worst of all, no hot or even running water. When I first turned the shower on, there was no hot water at all and the cold was very slow. About 2 minutes later the cold shut off and there was only a drip. My complaints were ignored. I decided not to stay there on my return trip and asked that I be credited for the night I was not going to stay and the owner, to my surprise, said he did not know how to credit my credit card. I had to wait for an hour for another person to come in who assured me he would credit the card. However, after I came home I received my credit card statement, which had NOT been credited. “I would not recommend the Sea Shell”. To the owner’s credit, he did send a check overnight when I talked to him about this. He also said he was turning it into condos and had let it slip a bit. I might mention that I changed to the Caribou Beach Hotel, which was right on the ocean, and considerably better, and for the same price. I called to see about horse back riding from a brochure, which advertised $20. It was $50, which I was not about to pay so the owner reduced it to $30, which I accepted. The owner was very knowledgeable about world affairs. I met one of the Jamaican workers, a great guy. He was the one who showed me the Caribou Beach Hotel. It didn’t matter where I ate, as all the food was delicious. I especially liked the Pelican. The curried goat was great and the Rum pudding was fantastic. The prices were reasonable and I would highly recommend you stopping there at least once, if you’re in Montego Bay and near the Hip Strip. :o) Another joke is the local cab drivers. Yaa, I know…. Their notorious all over the world, but there are many places where they are fair and treat everyone the same. Jamaica is NOT one of those places. Your first hint is no meter. No matter where you go, they want $10 US. And they NEVER HAVE CHANGE. At least the ones I used. Go for a $6 breakfast 1 mile down the road and they gouge you for $20 round trip. 3 meals a day and a 10-day stay makes that $600 US just for cab fare to eat. Get the picture? Of course, if you just start walking they stop and you can offer them $100 or $200 Jamaican ($2.50 or $5.00 US) and they’ll usually say yes, especially if it’s only a couple of miles. They’ll get about $30 Jamaica (less than $1 for a local). And dare I mention the cab drivers that seem to be vying for 1st place at the racetrack? You might want to consider telling them you won’t pay them if they don’t drive with a reasonable amount of caution. A nice hustle that you might experience is when you need to go to the airport on leaving. I got a knock on the door at 6:00 am and was told my charter could NOT pick me up and I would have to take a cab to the airport (a couple of miles away) for $20. Twice the usual. I called my tour when I got back and they said they were there for me, so I called the hotel and let them know about their night watchman and his cabbie friend’s local tourist scam. Anyway, I left Montego Bay and took a plane to Negril from Timair airlines. It’s a great flight for $60. You probably don’t want to miss this. They fly relatively low and the view can’t be beat. In Negril I stayed at the Sea Splash, which was a very nice experience. Staff was very polite and helpful. It was clean and well kept. And the price was very reasonable at about $68/night. Apparently someone knows to lower their price when volume drops.. :o) It was right on the ocean.

The only blemish at the Sea Splash was caused by a US company called “Call to International”. 2 months after returning, I received a charge of $65.79 on my credit card for making a 17-minute call to Montego Bay. That’s $3.82/min for a call I could have made from North Carolina for $6.80 (.40/min). Almost 10 times the charge. I called the billing company “Call To International” and complained. “Watch Out For This Company” Do not use 8370. First they told me they only handled the customer’s phones and that the hotel set the rates, but said they could give me a discount of 35%. After a few minutes of side stepping around my questions, they admitted the billing was by both them and the customer. When I asked who charged what, they refused to say telling me they had no obligation to reveal that. I accepted the 35% discount, which left the bill at $42.76 or $2.57/min. Still about 6 1/2 times the price for calling from the USA. I called the hotel and they have nothing to do with this charge. Note: This company is located in Long View, Texas and Not Jamaica, but I feel they are taking advantage of Jamaica and adding yet one more unneeded hustle. Apparently I was misinformed to dial 8370 to place the call on my credit card. At the time of the call, the operator claimed not to be able to give me the call rate, as I did ask. The company gave me the following address to write a complaint too, but would not identify any mangers or any other person to specifically address. If you’ve found yourself victim to this company’s exorbitant charges, please take the time to call and also write a letter of complaint to the following.
Call to International
P.O. Box 3529
Long View, Texas 75606
I looked at the all inclusive, which charged $300 to $500/night. Very expensive when you consider you can stay at an all inclusive on the Island of Margarita, off the coast of Venezuela for 3 days for $220 US and that includes airfare from Caracas. Another nice experience was having dinner at Kuyaba’s which is an open-air restaurant right on the beach. It was breathtakingly beautiful dinning with an Ocean view. That was until 3 Jamaicans stopped to ask if I wanted dope and one asked me to buy him a beer. I believe they’re supposed to stay below the high water line. Every time a tourist buys one of these beggars a drink, it makes it harder on every other tourist. That doesn’t mean you can’t buy a drink for a friend you met, but I’d recommend saying no if your asked, especially by someone you do not know. Another nice place on the beach was Alfred’s. It’s not as nice as Kuyaba’s, but the price is very reasonable and the food is good and they have a band on Saturday nights. Yes there are ladies who go out of their way to attract your attention. And yes they’re prostitutes, but at least they don’t solicit you so they do not take away from your enjoyment.

In general, I would not recommend Jamaica, as there are other places just as nice, yet considerably less expensive and without the constant hassle from the local undesirables. Especially if you’re traveling alone. I had just as good of a time in Margarita in an all inclusive, and it was just as beautiful for about 1/3 of the cost of the Jamaican all-inclusive. The Philippines have beautiful beaches and the people love tourist. For about $1600, you can stay for 2 weeks and that includes airfare. And you can take a cab to just about anywhere for a buck or two. At $300/night in Jamaica, you’d only get 3 nights after your plane fair. I’ve been to 7 countries this year and find if you watch your budget, you can travel far more than if you let the cost get out of hand. On the positive side, it is scenically beautiful and has everything imaginable to do with water. Picnics on an Island, Boating, Scuba, Para sailing, etc. If you can afford the all inclusive, it will probably be a great vacation and if you know someone who can guide you to good places at reasonable prices, and who can help you stay clear of the hustlers, it can also be a great place. I will probably go back, but I will skip Montego Bay and go straight to Negril at an all-inclusive, if by myself or connect up with a Jamaican friend and perhaps travel the country together.