By Toni Carey (@toni_carey)
It’s not a big island, but it has plenty to offer. I’m talking about Jamaica. Just 146 miles long and 22 miles wide, Jamaica is home to rich history, culture, scenic views and delicious food. Just a few weeks ago, I headed there for the MoBay City Run and instantly fell in love. But, in case you need more reasons to visit, here's what had me at hello.
STAY: At Secrets at St. James all-inclusive resort in Montego Bay. The property is absolutely beautiful. Surrounded by the stunning Caribbean, you won’t have a problem relaxing oceanside….or by the pool…whichever tickles your fancy.
Word of advice: spring for the extra hundred bucks for Preferred Club which gives you a few very important extras like 24 hour room service, complimentary snacks and a mini bar constantly restocked with water, Red Stripe, rum and my personal favorite, banana chips. The rooms are also swankier and include an outdoor soaking tub. Did I mention it’s a AAA Four Diamond resort? As the young people say, “Yaaaaassssss!”
RUN: The MoBay City Run 5K & 10K, which was the actual reason for my trip. One of the newest races for Montego Bay, proceeds from the event go to helping students continue their education.
First things, first: keep in mind that this is a fun run, so don’t get caught up with your race time or the lack of amenities (like portable toilets) or the organized chaos pre-race. Just go with the flow.
The vibe the morning of the race was like any other race you might run, but the post race party was absolutely epic. Reggae music was blaring as you entered the post race area. I scooped up some ugly fruit for my post race snack and later chowed down on jerk chicken, yams and collards while we waited for the awards ceremony to begin. Huge shout out to David Alm, fellow journalist, for placing third in the 10K and also winning the “first Non-Jamaican” award. Seriously.
Photo credit: David Alm
An out and back course, as I continued past the 5K turnaround, it thinned out quite a bit and it felt a little lonely with very few runners and no crowd support. The scenery is a bit dull, but you finish (and by finish, I mean as you go into the post-race area), by the ocean.
One very important thing to note about the running conditions. It gets very hot, very early. The race starts at 6am (we started a little late) and by 7am the sun was beaming down on me as I finished the race. But, race organizers did a fantastic job with ensuring there were more than enough water stops along the course. Don’t be freaked out by the colorful pouches of liquid they toss at you. It’s actually a sports drink and you’ll want to drink a little bit of at each water stop. It’s very easy to overheat and become dehydrated, particularly since you will have probably consumed a fair amount of alcohol leading up to the race.
Oh! I forgot to mention the pre- race pasta party the night before, dubbed the “Rasta Pasta Party”. It was “eh”. It can be summed up by American 90s hits and very tiny plates of pasta. The upside was that the pasta was VERY delicious, but the let down was the portion size. We ended up ditching the party early to head back to the resort for a legit dinner.
DINE: At Scotchies, where, you can get authentic Jamaican food! From jerk chicken and pork to sea bass and bammy, this might be the best meal I’ve ever had in my life. They DO take credit cards, but be sure to tip in cash.
Photo credit: David Alm
SHOP: On HipStrip, where there are tons of local shops. But skip, Margaritaville. If you've seen one, you've seen them all.
PARTY: At Pier 1. It’s the place to party if that’s what you’re looking for. I didn’t go, but I heard nothing but good things!
EAT: As much local food as possible and by local, I mean not at the resort.
DRINK: Rum Punch. Home of Appleton Rum, it’s only proper you have at least one rum punch while you’re there. If not, definitely toast up a Red Stripe.
WATCH FOR: Sunburns and mosquitos. Sunburns are no fun. Do your due diligence and always slather on sunscreen before stepping outside and invest in a lip balm with SPF. Also, you’ll want to spray yourself with mosquito spray pretty regularly.
SPEAK: The local language Patwah, which can best be described as broken English. While Patwah isn’t taught in schools (“proper” English is), it is what is commonly spoken. I received a brief lesson in Patwah and I’m so intrigued by it. Listen to it and ask questions if you don’t understand or need a translation. I finally had to ask someone exactly what President Obama meant in the video below.
SPLURGE ON: A catamaran and snorkeling excursion via Dreamer Catamaran Cruises.
SUPPORT: The locals. Tip in US dollars.
EXPLORE: Via private driver. While, staying at a resort is absolutely amazing, there’s two problems I have with them. They often give you a watered down version of the country, and two, very few of the dollars made by resorts go back into the community.
The great thing about having a private driver is that it is WAY cheaper and more reliable than getting a taxi and you are directly supporting the local economy. Also, they’ll be able to give you a more authentic perspective on the city.
Your best bet is to put together a list of attractions or things you want to do, find a private driver and they’ll help you schedule and plan your excursions during your trip, including pick-up and drop-off at the airport, which could cost you about $40-$50 USD one way. A driver for two days could cost you somewhere around $80 USD a day.
If you’re not that adventurous, you can also book excursions at your resort. But, the bottom line is just don’t stay on the resort. There are so many other things to see or do!
NO NEED TO: Exchange US currency for Jamaican dollars. Most businesses take American money or credit cards. Just be sure to always double check the math when converting from Jamaican dollars to US dollars (or vice versa). At the time of my travel $100 Jamaican dollars were equal to $1 American dollar. IF you are going to exchange your money, don’t do it at the airport. You’ll get a better rate elsewhere.
DON’T: Be shy. Get to know as many of the people as you can. I learned so much about the country and culture just from chatting up natives. By the time I left, I had exchanged information with a few peeps so when I come back, I can connect with them to show me around.
DON’T: Be shocked that many slave plantations are now tourist attractions. Another journalist and I had an extensive conversation about this, which I will save for another day, but ultimately it boils down to this:
Instead of allowing slavery to be the dark little secret in Jamaica’s closet, they freely talk about it and own it. They understand its part of their history and helps to define who they are as a country. While it may be uncomfortable to talk about, I think this ownership of their past has allowed them to move beyond it and is a constant reminder to younger generations of their heritage and the sacrifices their ancestors made. Comparatively speaking, in the US it’s the complete opposite and I believe why race relations are in dire straights in America.
So, if you're looking for a low key runcation, check out the MoBay City Run. Registration for 2016 isn't open quite yet, but you may want to start saving your coins now!