The first time I planned to travel to Jamaica in 2006 it amazed me how many people (from all different races and heritages) had a negative opinion about the country and were concerned for my welfare, but few had actually ever been there to give me first hand experiences. The misconceptions about Jamaica were rife, accusing and sometimes just amusing where the ‘non believers’ would give tales of Yardies, Rent-a-Dreads and Marijuana and not much else.
On the other hand my Jamaican born friends who now lived in the UK gave me a very different insight. It generally consisted of them initially telling me that they ‘grudged me’ as they weren’t going and went on to the fact that everything tasted sweeter, it was more beautiful and clean, the nightlife was better and often ‘out a door’, the roads and drivers were bad (and I mean the dictionary definition!) and if you had money to spend you could ‘fulljoy’ yourself in Jamaica. The story telling and reliving of memories would go on long into the night to relive and detail all that great, good and better about Jamaica.
I have long thought that the media has a big part to play in helping to create the negative opinions of the general public in the U.K. and the wider world, as newsworthy stories about Jamaica often feature coverage of explosive events with a criminal content. The fragrant use of the word ‘Yardie’ to depict gangsters and drug cartels portrays the country in a negative light making potential visitors question the safety of travelling and living there.
The travel industry also has its part to play, as it is widely considered that the large hotel groups in Jamaica recommend that guests should stay on the complex and promote and organise excursions to keep the money rolling into their pockets. Thus giving tourists and visitors to the island the impression that warfare is going on in Jamaica if you are not in the confines of high hotel walls and transportation system.
And the most amusing assumptions that I heard was that rasta’s were walking around everywhere either selling and smoking copious amounts of Marijuana on a daily basis, or offering themselves in the rent-a-dread fashion on the beach. Woyeee!
Putting all the negative opinions of others aside I thought to myself before leaving, what is there not to love about this island that has so much to offer? From the people, weather and the food, to the music, scenery and the beaches, my immediate thought was that Jamaica has it all and I couldn’t wait to get there. As I planned to eventually live there, these differing opinions not only intrigued me, but also became a source for feeding my love of knowledge and new experiences. If I was going to travel there as a pre-cursor to living there, I was going to immerse myself in everything to make sure I could manage it. I wanted to see, hear, smell, taste, feel and experience what the real Jamaica was all about for myself.
Well, I found out…. and I want more!
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[text_justify]A terminology born from the media where Jamaican criminals are referred to as Yardies. To avoid bad situations and unsavoury characters in Jamaica, my best advice is to use your common sense, keep your wits about you and do as you would in a unfamiliar area back home – take precaution. Leave the jewels at the hotel, or better still at home and do not get a false sense of security because you are off of your home turf enjoying a tropical holiday. Yes, there is crime in Jamaica, but it is mainly gang based violence in areas you won’t be going to and crime against tourists is few and far between. Don’t let it ruin your stay worrying about it, remember you can find criminals in your own garden back home, as unfortunately they are everywhere.
A man who usually hangs around the tourist nightspots and especially the beach, looking for foreign women to ‘liaise’ with. They will usually have dreadlocks, are full of charm, will hold your hand and will tell you anything they think you want to hear for the duration of your stay. The exchange is simple – A good time for the woman with (invariably) a young good-looking and shall we say ‘fit’ Jamaican stud. In return for ‘looking after’ the man by being expected to pay for drinks, meals, days out and sometimes expensive clothes, gifts and accommodation. These meetings sometimes last for many years with the tourists coming back to Jamaica for another vacation and meeting up with the man for another round of mutual indulgence. In case you are wondering men visiting the island are also catered for, although I haven’t seen any women with dreads offering their ‘wares’!
Marijuana is illegal in Jamaica and you can be imprisoned, deported and banned, or at the very least fined for being found in the possession of drugs of any kind. It is frowned upon by many people, you cannot drive and walk around the island freely smoking it and the island is NOT overrun with weed smoking Rastas who turn a blind eye. However, if you do choose to buy it you will find it is widely available and if the seller doesn’t totally rip you off with tourist prices, it is incredibly cheap compared to the UK with a small bag being between $50 – $100 (Jamaican). Be mindful of undercover police and the fact that it may be stronger than what you are used to. Please remember Marijuana is illegal in Jamaica and I do not advocate it. Do not attempt to carry any off of the island with you, the ports and airports have stringent security and if caught, they are less likely to be sympathetic to your naïvety than some of the police.