Utopia has been discovered! This was my impression upon leaving Jamaica the first time. Even after my second visit it remained a veritable Eden with all of the temptations one might imagine...
The parts of Negril and Ocho Rios I saw were nestled into rolling resort lawns of verdant tropical foliage where oversized hibiscus perfumed the air, leading the way down to the sand's edge. Where the green stopped, glass grain sands began, a fitting frame for a sea of glistening, liquid emerald.
Jamaica is so different from the glossy, commercial appeal of so many other destinations... It is raw, green, warm, and real. I could swear that the very greenness of this country has a pulse. It is alive.
The Jamaican people are proud, but warm and welcoming. The food, in a word, incredible. Notable local favorites are neon-green curried goat, spicy jerked chicken, and braised ox tail. My most memorable meal, however, was cooked over a fire pit dug into the sand...lobsters we caught ourselves not far from shore.
Sitting on a stump, tide licking my toes, juice dribbling down my chin, and a spice-soaked paper plate wetting my lap, I dare say I had the most magnificent culinary experience of my life. This combined with countless other magical moments: the adrenaline-induced euphoria of cliff-diving, dancing with dolphins, surviving scuba-diving for the first time, and the more subtle glow of pleasure derived from getting to know the heart of a people make Jamaica one of the most unique destinations in my experience.
I believe this realization crystalized when I was browsing through one of the colorful local markets. A beautiful carving of a man morphing into a lion caught my eye in one of the artisan stalls. The carver explained to me that the metamorphosis represented Rastafarian principles and the Lion of Zion, a phrase I’ve oft heard repeated in reggae songs but never really knew the meaning of.
His fervent beliefs manifested in his hand-hewn art captivated and moved me. It was a uniquely spiritual moment being drawn into the folds of this man’s life as he recited the Rastafarian way in his round, rolling accent, paint-spattered hands tracing the grain of the wood. I am honored to feel as though I were able to tap into the life-blood of Jamaica, the pulse of the nation, its people, through this man’s art and the culmination of a thousand other awakenings.