Invited by the Jamaica Tourist Board to travel to Jamaica, Kingston, and highlight some of its best attractions.
(Published in The Cayman Reporter, Friday, June 2, 2017)
Home of reggae music, coffee, jerk, and Usain Bolt, near neighbour Jamaica offers a fabulous feast for the senses.
For reggae lovers, a visit to Bob Marley’s homeland is a must. Marley died on May 11, 1981, but more than 30 years later and his iconic status sees no sign of waning.
There are a number of Bob Marley options in Kingston, including the Bob Marley Museum, Studio One, and the lesser known Trench Town Culture Yard.
Visiting one of the most deprived areas of Kingston may not be top of everyone’s holiday agendas, but it’s here that you get a true sense of Jamaica’s reggae icon.
Trench Town is where Marley spent his teenage years with his Mother, Cedella Marley Booker, and at the Trench Town Culture Yard – a small redeveloped estate deep in the heart of Trench Town – you can view the tiny room where Marley once lived before he found fame. The yard also includes Marley’s first ever vehicle, a now rusted and dilapidated VW van, along with the guitar on which Marley reportedly first learnt to play.
The yard is managed by Donette “Sophia” Dowe who has been involved with the project for the past decade. She said the attraction now employs four locals and aims to bring more tourists to the area to help foster opportunities for the people of Trench Town.
Originally built in the 1940s the buildings were designed around a “U-Block,” and were once a showpiece housing project. An entire family would share a small room, just about big enough to house a bed, while facilities such as toilets were communal. Indeed, it was in the communal yard where residents would hang out and socialise that Marley developed his musical genius.
Trench Town hasn’t just given rise to Marley though. A host of cultural greats grew up in the area, including Dean Fraser, Joe Higgs, Delroy Wilson, Peter Tosh, and Bunny Wailer. Their photos are displayed in the various rooms, along with the original architect plans.
In addition to the Culture Yard, visitors can also tour the surrounding area. Steeped in poverty, it seems hard to imagine that such a deprived area could give birth to such musical greatness.
Our guide, Oswald “Stoneman” Comrie, took our group to the house where Marley and his mum first lived when they moved to Trench Town, a dilapidated building just a short walk away.
In the opposite building we were introduced to “Mommy Dolly,” a lady in her late 80s. Stoneman said she has lived in Trench Town all her life. I asked him how she managed day-to-day.
“Trench Town has a responsibility to care for these people,” Stoneman said, adding that “Trench Town love will never die.”
It’s clear that the area’s musical past reverberates deeply within the community. Bob Marley’s face is plastered on buildings at almost every street corner, while messages of love, hope, and faith help keep a sense of community spirit alive.
The Hope Road legend
For a more upbeat Marley experience there’s the Bob Marley Museum on Hope Road, replete with the Bob Marley Café serving up a concoction of juices that the reggae star reportedly drank, and a gift shop selling more Bob Marley T-Shirts than you can shake a stick at.
Here, tour guides take every opportunity to belt out popular phrases from Marley’s infectious songs. It seems a world away from the Trench Town Culture Yard with its smoking Rastas.
The museum is located in what was Marley’s house. Most of the rooms are now empty, plastered with his gold albums and newspaper cuttings charting his success.
The museum opened to the public in 1986, and in 2001 was declared a protected National Heritage Site. Areas of interest include the original bullet holes from the failed assassination attempt, his small upstairs kitchen, some of Marley’s favourite items of clothing, as well as his sparsely decorated bedroom featuring a small selection of gifts from fans.
Unlike the Trench Town Culture Yard, during our visit the museum was teeming with tourists keen to soak up a little bit of the Marley legend. I asked a few of them if they had visited the Trench Town Culture Yard. None of them had heard of it. I felt it was a shame. The true Marley experience, I felt, was in the heart of Trench Town, where the poverty and political violence of the area helped shape Marley’s legendary music.
Head to the hills
If you feel the need for a reggae detox, head up to the Blue Mountains for a delicious brew.
It’s no secret that some of the world’s best coffee hails from Jamaica’s spectacular Blue Mountains.
We visited the Old Tavern Estate, just an hour’s drive up winding roads from the heart of central Kingston.
The Old Tavern is a single coffee estate that has been growing, harvesting, and packaging gourmet coffee for some 50 years.
A true family-business, the estate is perched some 4,000 feet above sea level and offers breathtaking views of Kingston.
Pamsy Miller has worked on the estate for more than 20 years, harvesting the coffee beans by hand, processing, roasting, and then packaging the final product. As our group arrives she sets to work brewing the estate’s gourmet coffee, as well as a traditional Jamaican staple – bun and cheese. The aroma of the brewing coffee quickly fills the air.
The 100-acre estate was established by Alex and Dorothy Twyman in 1968, primarily as a hobby. The estate was later turned over to their son, David Twyman, who now runs it as a thriving business – shipping his luxury coffee to select buyers across the globe.
“The Blue Mountains make a remarkable coffee,” David said. “We still don’t know precisely why. It’s likely a combination of the climate, the soil, the elevation, as well as how it is grown and processed.
“While there is science in growing coffee, it is also somewhat of an art,” he added.
The estate takes a seed-to-coffee-cup approach, and it’s something that David is keen to develop with other like-minded people in the Blue Mountains, with the aim of eventually developing a fully rounded culinary adventure. Indeed, he has plans in the pipeline to turn the by-product of coffee making into a host of all-natural products.
“There is something about the Blue Mountains,” David said. “I want to share this piece of paradise and let people enjoy an authentic showcase of the local area.”
I asked him to describe his coffee.
“Beautifully aromatic, chocolatey, fruity, and very distinct,” he said, adding that the secret to a long and healthy life is the “clean air of the Blue Mountains and a daily brew.”
Sage advice indeed.
Other places to visit
While in Kingston, be sure to visit Devon House, a stunning residence built by Jamaica’s first black millionaire in 1881. Tour the grand interiors, head to the Grog Shoppe for some traditional Jamaican fare, and don’t forget to get some Devon House Ice Cream, named by National Geographic’s book “Food Journeys of a Lifetime” as one of the best ice creams in the world.
Gloria’s, Port Royal
For truly authentic Jamaican fare head to Gloria’s, Port Royal, just a 30-minute drive from the centre of Kingston. This lively waterfront restaurant is a popular spot with locals and tourists alike, offering a delicious selection of cooked-to-order seafood dishes. Simply delish!
Jerk it up!
You can’t visit Jamaica without sampling some jerk. Scotchie’s Jerk Centre is a must and is one of the most popular jerk spots in Jamaica. Here, jerk chicken is grilled over pimento wood logs and is so good you’ll find yourself going back for seconds.
Take in a Track Meet
If you’re lucky enough to coincide your visit with a track meet, then a visit to the National Stadium is recommended. The Jamaica Invitational was on during the press trip and the atmosphere in the stadium can only be described as electric!
It’s just an hour’s drive to Ocho Rios from Kingston, a popular spot with tourists. The area offers a host of activities, including Mystic Mountain (the Bobsled experience, inspired by the Jamaica national bobsleigh team who debuted at the 1988 Winter Olympics, is a must), and Dunn’s River Falls – one of Jamaica’s most popular attractions.
Kingston offers a fabulous selection of hotels. During our trip we stayed at the Jamaica Pegasus Hotel. Others fabulous spots include the Spanish Court Hotel, the Courtyard Marriott, and the Terra Nova. If you fancy staying in the Blue Mountains a great budget option is EITS Café (their farm-to-table food is worth a visit alone), and, of course, there’s the famed Strawberry Hill.
For more details on everything Jamaica has to offer visit http://www.visitjamaica.com.