It all started with a desire to get out of the rainy cold of New Orleans’ winter and give our friends from England and D.C. a much more deserved reprieve from the cold. The Caribbean had come up a couple of times in conversation, and of course once the mind wanders to rum punch on the beach in a tropical setting, those wheels rarely stop turning.
It’s hard to talk about responsible tourism and not sound like an egoist. Especially in a town with a love/hate of its own tourism powers. However, when my group of friends travel we want to get as close as possible to the local culture. True homogenous exposure will not happen unless you live in a place or go through the methods of “slow travel”, so we tried our best for the week vacation.
Instead of heading for all inclusive, Groupon fed resorts that take the everything-planned approach, we aimed for the self-researched, poorly planned direction. Finding a house on Sun Villas, we knew what we wanted when we saw it. Room for seven, beach access, and a staff, because when you go on a vacation, why not? Also, we figured odds were that they would let us know where to go and what to do.
The villa we secured in Runaway Bay, Jamaica rivaled any James Bond villian’s home base. We showed up to a house situated directly on the water, gated off of the main road. Our cook, butler, and two maids greeted us immediately and began to show us around. Two bedrooms upstairs were followed by the outdoor dining table and outdoor “living room”. Downstairs were two more bedrooms that opened right onto the lawn and beach.
Rum punches were served while we spoke with the staff about our schedules and plans for the trip and meals. Herbert, our cook for the week, would prepare coffee, tea, and breakfast in the morning. I will remember those Johnny cakes for the rest of my life. Lunch would typically be family style servings of fish, rice and fruit while dinner was always 4 courses. We had chosen to eat as much Jamaican cuisine as possible. The ketchup they set on our table the first day believing all guests would automatically request it went away untouched on the second day. Ketchup really does not pair well with Jamaican foods.
The activities in Jamaica are endless, and can be much more active than lounging around with ganja for a week. Every morning I would go for a kayak ride. The staff had someone paddle a kayak up to the beach the first afternoon and simply walk back home. The afternoons were filled with pool time and snorkeling right outside of our villa. Looking back at the island contributes an incredible feeling as the green mountains roll a backdrop out against a coral and sea urchin shore always bracing itself against waves. Although I could’ve stayed in that slice of paradise all week what our group really wanted was daily explorations.
The biggest piece of advice I can give to any traveler is to meet the local people everyday. It’s easier, I think, for New Orleanians to be okay with this notion. We sit at bars, talk to tourists from far off locations before they become too inebriated, and invite new found friends to crawfish boils. For less travel oriented areas of America, though, the idea of going to an all-inclusive resort seems like the ultimate win. Until you break it down.
When our driver, Michael O’Malley, believe the name or not, would take us to locations (probably for a little kickback) we knew where we were going was as close to a local’s adventure as we were going to get. The only location he was nervous about was losing us in the market at Brownstown. I was more nervous about not throwing up in the van on the windy hills up the mountain on the way there.
We snorkeled outside of the hotel where Winston Churchill stayed, danced with directionless Kareoke amatuers in a bar, went past the government owned Dunn’s Falls to Blue Hole and jumped off waterfalls, ate jerk chicken at Scotchies and snuck their famous scotch bonnet jerk sauce back home, and bought coconuts and breadfruit from Brownstown. We swam in what felt like greasy water, but was instead mineral phytoplankton that lit up all around you when you moved in the water at night.
Now, before everyone thinks that great, this all sounds amazing, but I don’t have an unlimited treasure chest of money, I will tell you that the whole trip outside of airfare (still just $400) was $1000. Most people like to travel to get away and experience something not yet discovered in their daily lives. I can say that I do not wake up to freshly cut fruit and coffee in the morning. No one is packing me sandwiches and beer for the van ride. And I don’t get a bed turn down service and water on my nightstand while I’m having a digestif on the patio after dinner.
The trip was amazing. The staff catered to every whim. Kayaking and snorkeling before going upstairs for a lunch already prepared for you, and a couch set back just enough on the balcony to get a wonderful breeze for a nap. It sounds like paradise because it was, but that isn’t the only reason I wished I never had to leave.
Never lose sight of the things that make you happy. Go out and adventure.
Originally written for Where Y'at. http://www.whereyat.com/responsible-travel-in-jamaica