Jamaica: My Expectations and My Experience

Jamaican Reach falls

Jamaica: My Expectations and My Experience

I told you about our Jamaican trip a little while ago and today, I would like to share more about how we felt there and what we remember of it. Here is what we expected from our holidays in Jamaica and what we experienced instead.

This post is also available in: frFrançais (French)

 

Jamaica, expectations and experience

When we decided to go to Jamaica, we wanted holidays to relax, be together and enjoy some sun (it was in January). We chose Port Antonio, on the north coast of the island because it didn’t seem to be very touristic and we wanted to see the country’s authenticity. It was also the first time I was going to a developing country and there were a few things we were not quite ready for.

Language

  • My expectation: fluid communication in English
  • My experience: “Sorry?” “What did you say?” “I didn’t understand…”

I know it sounds minor and maybe even silly, but the language issue didn’t help me feel any better during this trip. I have studied English for many years and I speak it every day, so I figured it wouldn’t be a problem to talk with locals and didn’t even think about it all together before we left. The thing is I have never been so good at understanding new accents though, whether it is new people or foreign accents. And Jamaican accent was no exception. As soon as we got there, I was hardly able to understand people and it broke my self-confidence a bit. Luckily for me, Simon took care of all the talking for the both of us the whole time.

Jamaica road

Relationship with locals

  • My expectation: genuine communication and sharing
  • My experience: not friendly for free

This was probably our biggest surprise in Jamaica. It was my first time in a country where the culture is so different so I was very excited to learn about life and customs there. I was looking forward to have real conversations and sharing experience with locals. But we quickly realised that we were not much more to them than walking wallets. We were basically the only tourists in the neighbourhood so people would recognise us even more easily in the street. We were not able to take a walk by ourselves without some locals insistently trying to get us to go to their shop.

We ended up not feeling so safe and we would even make sure we were back at the guesthouse when it gets dark, by 6pm. Our relationship with locals was limited to chatting with our lovely host.

Jamaican seaside

Trip to local shops

  • My expectation: enjoy a walk and shopping trip at the local market
  • My experience: money, money, money!

I just love wandering in the streets of a new city. That’s usually how you find nice shops and markets to spend some time at. That’s where the very too friendly John enters the story. John would come to us every day until we finally went to his stand on the market. We bought coffee and jewellery as gifts for people back home and actually spent all the cash we had on us. When he understood we had no cash left, he stopped smiling and being nice, we were not interesting to him anymore.

Jamaican beach

Relax on the beach

  • My expectation: relaxing time at the local beach
  • My experience: relaxing time assured… at the nearby private beach

Since we were on holidays, our main goal was to relax. We were looking forward to discovering the quaint and beautiful beaches and we thought we would gladly go to the public ones. It turns out we were completely discouraged when we saw that we were the attraction in every public places. We were eventually happy to pay to access a nonetheless wonderful private beach and be with other tourists to know we would be able to relax for sure.

Jamaican beach

Do things all the time

  • My expectation: discovering so many new places
  • My experience: things don’t always go as planned

Before the trip, I had come up with a list of things to do and see. We didn’t check off half of it, mainly because we didn’t feel safe in the city. I really wanted to see Port Antonio’s marina that we could only glimpse from the guesthouse. But we were discouraged by a very insistent local who wanted to take us there. He even followed us to our guesthouse, calling us from behind the gate to take us to there. We didn’t go and probably missed out on other things out of fear.

The other thing that prevented us from doing a lot was the weather. It rained every day which was very unexpected in January. On one day, it poured rain all day long so we stayed at the guesthouse (no museums or things to do inside). I was so frustrated and felt like I was wasting my time.

Jamaican Reach falls

Take tons of pictures

  • My expectation: leave with lots of pictures of landscapes, streets, people….
  • My experience: hide or pay tips

On that trip, we were planning on taking plenty of pictures of everything and having fun with the new Nikon camera we bought for the trip. Simon was particularly excited to play with it and had practiced before we left. I could already imagine our best shot of a Jamaican beach printed in big on our living room wall. Jamaican landscapes are truly fantastic but people were already looking at us and the camera would only draw more attention to us. It was an obvious sign of wealth and would give people one more reason to come and ask for money. They would sometimes ask for tips if you photograph them (everything is a good reason to ask for a tip). In the end, we took more pictures with the iPod touch we had than with the camera – it’s very sad to say but we mostly used the camera from the car. We sold it since and it makes us wonder if we really want to bring a similar camera on our next travels.

Jamaican landscape

Vegetarian food

  • My expectation: delicious new food
  • My experience: don’t be too picky

I heard that Jamaica was one of the best countries for vegetarians. Awesome! If you know a little about Jamaica, you will have heard about jerk chicken, well I never saw a dish of “jerk veggies”! Apart from the nicest restaurants we went to, I never found vegetarian street food. Luckily enough, I am actually a pescetarian (I do eat fish) so I sometimes had an edible option but I had to compromise on freshness… and sometimes accept an extra unwanted ingredient!

Worm in food

We were clearly not prepared enough, but can you ever really be prepared? That said, I wouldn’t have forced myself to go places where I didn’t feel safe at all. Get out of your comfort zone, yes, but not to any cost!

Jamaica also has a reputation for crime and there was actually a murder (two European tourists) in Port Antonio a few days before we arrived there. Simon found out during our stay and didn’t tell me (wouldn’t have gone out of the house anymore!) before we got back to America. I let you imagine the “funny” conversation with Simon’s mum when she picked us up at the airport: “So what about that murder where you were?”, “what do you mean murder? what murder??”.

We did make some good decisions like the choice of our guesthouse with nice and helpful hosts, and, definitely the best call of all, we hired a car by which we avoided some bad experiences unlike other people we met on our last day in Kingston who were going around with taxis.

 

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Laure

Laure

French travel lover and expat in Texas | Translator and main writer for A Journey Away travel blog

  • Jodi S.

    Hello! I just read your post and must first apologise for your experience- that is the constant requests for tips and your feeling of harassment. This is not always the case on my small island but similarly to my travels to large cities like New York there are persons that can take advantage of your innocence and ‘newness’ and thus target you. I just wanted to humbly offer some clarity on a few of the points that you raised and I admit in advance that I am heavily biased to country.

    First, Port Antonio is apart of a tropical rain forest and as such rainfall while a nuisance is important in creating that lush and picturesque environment you enjoyed. This is not unique to Jamaica and as such in future plans, if you plan to visit other countries with similar ecology please be prepared to experience this again. From first hand experience this rain is not usually very heavy and clears up in about an hour or two leaving a beautiful sunny day.

    Second- crime, yes it can be an issue however Portland (the parish you visited) is relatively low in this regard. With the murder happening so close to your arrival I can understand your concerns. However there are tourist areas that are very safe and are constantly patrolled. The thing is when you step off the beaten path you will encounter the un-glamorous. Similarly if I was to visit your home city I am certain I would encounter areas that aren’t too safe, especially as an easy tourist mark.

    Third- harassment, I understand your frustration. As mentioned earlier in a small non-tourist area you can often be a target. There is not much I can do to atone this, but I can assure you I am quite friendly (and will not charge you for this feedback 🙂 ) and we are not all bad.

    As for the food, well unfortunately you did get dealt a raw deal. I myself have issues with the food offering in Portland. This is not a true reflection of your culinary skills and I do hope you will run into a Jamaican one day that can treat you to some good ackee and saltfish or even jerk fish.

    I do hope you will get the chance to revisit Jamaica but hopefully in a different area- perhaps Negril or Ocho Rios. We are a land of diverse people, rich culture, we can be quite friendly and are also great chefs. But again, I acknowledge that I am biased, I just hope you will hope to one day experience the real country I love.

    Happy Travels!

    • Hi Jodi!

      Thank you so much for your insightful comment, we really appreciate it. Travellers seem to have very different experiences in Jamaica – I met people who were not feeling comfortable there just like us, while others were having the time of their lives.

      I think we were in a “holidays state of mind” before we arrived and we didn’t expect to be solicited to that extent, so we quickly got overwhelmed. It completely discouraged us and it is true that it probably prevented us from going towards other locals with whom we might have been able to connect genuinely.

      That said, it doesn’t take anything from how beautiful we both thought the country was and we certainly don’t regret this experience!

  • I want to add a comment too, like “Jodi S” I am from Jamaica. But live abroad. A few things. Having been raised partly there in a “developing” country I know- the people are poor for the most part. Therefor e like any human being they may need not just want but need $ depending on situation. My background is in art and it was considered important (when I was in college) to in fact compensate ppl esp if you would use their image in a public way ie. not just a personal snapshot. And at least to get their permission.
    As you are in fact using them-I know this is a new concept but think about how they may feel being “picturesque” for you and perhaps others over the years yet they may be hungry and live in poverty. It sounds like you went with HUGE expectations- and that can lead to disappointment rather than like a true traveler (which I’m learning still,) be open to the different lifestyles, mores, behaviors of the people who you are visiting. And finally yes don’t go off the beaten path unless you are truly adventurous-in any country. If you were in a more touristy area, the locals who provide service probably are paid better and so will provide more helpful service.
    I was in Italy off the beaten path and ended up being cursed at by a woman, whom didn’t speak English (why should she, it’s Italy) and didn’t understand each other- finally she got frustrated and I could tell was uttering profanity and screaming at me.
    Also in Italy I, an African-American felt the tug of merchants wanting to sell me stuff endlessly- because they assumed I had a lot of money. In Jamaica iti’s most certainly the case that you have more than the majority of people.
    I’m sorry you had what sounds like an entirely negative experience, I know many Westerners, U.S. mostly who adore Jamaica and go back repeatedly.

    • Hi Kala, thanks for your response.

      I’m sorry to hear about your mishaps in Italy, maybe you can relate to what I expressed in this post on some level.

      I completely understand what you say about using people’s image. What do you have to lose by just asking permission, right? I guess what I meant was more about taking pictures of the streets for example, and Port Antonio streets are usually crowded (except on Sundays from what we saw!).

      And I agree with you that we were probably more tourists than we were travellers but I don’t believe any travel can really be entirely negative. We enjoyed the activities we were able to do (I wrote more about it here) and we actually learnt a lot. We will be going to Asia soon, so we will probably face similar situations again and (hopefully) we will be more prepared 🙂

  • Keyma Morgan

    Hi Laure,

    Great blog you have here. I stumbled upon it looking for ways to show my cousins and partner around London when we visit next week. I have been visiting London since I was 10 and my mother lives there along with uncles and cousins but I have never had to show anyone around and I wanted to get them excited about the trip. Anyway, loved your itinerary and will pick a lot of the places to show them in a day.

    I wanted to comment on this post and share my thoughts with you and also your readers.I was born and raised in Jamaica, I grew up there and migrated to USA 11 years ago. I was also a tour guide in the Tourism industry so I know ALOT, not just generally but literally on all levels. I go home once or twice per year.

    Firstly, I want to apologize for the bad experience you encountered while you were on your visit. We all have expectations and experiences good and bad when we visit somewhere else (loved the other post too). I could tell from your tone that you were a bit turned off by some of what happened, especially the issue of always paying for services, even services that should be deemed an act of kindness. As Kala mentioned, a developing country and their citizens almost always suffer an economical shortage which leads them to react in certain ways. I can promise you though, thorough research rather than expectations, would have really assured you much better experience. Jamaicans are loyal and very passionate but they have to get to know you first. Our culture is a very proud one and so you are at their beck to learn about them and adjust. For example, if you had researched and practiced how to speak the dialect (Youtube videos etc) and shown them that upon arrival, they would have respected that and connect to you as if you were one of their own, ESPECIALLY, in the country areas such as where you visited. They would have showered you with so much love, kindness and protection. They would have literally crowned you and treat you and your family to the best experience. It’s all about connecting with us, a true sense and feel that you want to be apart of who they are and understand them deeply.
    I am happy you were adventurous enough to see somewhere else other than the usual ‘touristy” areas. Next time, come with me. I’ll show you the REAL Jamaica. I blog over at www,styleweekender.com 🙂

    • Hi Keyma,

      Thank you so much for your comment. I’m glad you found what you were looking for in my articles about London and I hope you have a great time with your family there.

      I couldn’t agree more with what you said about researching a destination. It was the very first developing country we visited and I didn’t think about researching more than things to do there. We took that trip two and a half years ago and we are currently on a long-term trip through Asia. Now that we have seen other developing countries and met awesome, loving people, our perspective has changed and we actually often wonder how we would feel in Jamaica if we were to go back now. If we ever plan another trip there, we would love to have some insider’s tips!