Peter, the burly guy who walks up and down the quarter-mile stretch of beach for 12 hours a day, every day, is the guy to talk to for all of your wants. Parasailing, water skiing, wakeboarding, life advice, those silly Jamaican dread hats and other with-a-wink materials that you might want to access during a Caribbean getaway. Don’t even think about talking to that sinister fellow who also walks up and down the beach should you need anything, Peter says. No, Peter is the man, you remember that.
When you’re a tourist in Jamaica, everyone is running a hustle at you. Be it hand-woven straw hats, taking a glass-bottom boat tour or selling you a sack of glued-together oregano. If it’s to be hawked, you’ll be pitched.
I don’t begrudge this constant, somewhat annoying barrage while I finish out my time here in Negril. After all, I got here on a radio junket with 103.7 Play and Sandals Resorts. Basically, they pay for the trip and we say nice things. And it isn’t difficult to find nice things to say, trust me.
Why yes, I’d love a cool moist towel and another dirty banana. Thanks, darling.
Oh, excuse me. It’s a touch humid on this shaded veranda overlooking the beach.
But contrary to the parts I’ve experienced at this lovely resort, Jamaica isn’t all white sand, ocean vistas and overly attentive concierge services.
In 2013, a World Development report ranked Jamaica as the second poorest country in the Caribbean in terms of gross national income per capita. It’s hand-to-mouth here. But that’s no secret, not even to the dullest travelers enjoying their mai tais and Bob Marley cover bands.
My favorite bartender of the trip, Lorenzo, says it best: “What you see here, this resort, is not Jamaica. It’s nothing like this. It’s rough, man.” He says it with a smile, clearly proud of his heritage, proud to be a tough son of a tough island.
Musician Michael Franti — whose style is heavily influenced by reggae and is known for his social activism — has said it even better: “Jamaica’s a country of great dichotomy. On the one hand you have a tourist industry with great beaches and resorts, but on the other you have such great poverty and the violence that goes along with that.”
Yet it’s easily one of the most beautiful locations on Earth. That’s something U.S. dollars can’t buy — I mean, unless you’re on a free radio trip. Then I guess it can be bought.
Other thoughts drift into my sun-soaked brain:
• Jamaican bartenders like to bang on stuff, make a lot of noise and randomly break into song. Older white people, 95 percent of the people here, love this. I’ll admit, after about eight dirty bananas, I’m not immune to its charms either.
• There are eight different restaurants in the resort, each from a different food culture, all staffed with younger locals. There’s something odd about a Jamaican greeting you (while trying not to laugh) with, “konichiwa, mon,” at the Japanese hibachi joint. Some advice: The places that actually do authentic Jamaican food, like the jerk chicken or stewed fish, are far superior. Although I do enjoy seeing our Jamaican server wearing a sombrero at the Tex-Mex joint.
• This place is all-inclusive and tipping is prohibited, period. But if you aren’t secretly slipping your bartender a few bills after he makes you 45 time-consuming frozen drinks during the course of a four-day period, in addition to listening to you blather on about whatever town in Virginia that he’s never heard of, you’re a prick.
• I’ve asked almost every local I’ve spoken to if they’ve been to the States. The answer invariably is no. It’s generally too expensive and they have no actual reason to go — but they all want to go, badly in many cases. Akielah, one of our servers, wants to be on Broadway. Mikhail, one of our bartenders, dreams of making it big in the rap game. America is the Holy Grail. It always has been. Meanwhile, I’d like to leave the States and retire to Jamaica.
• Bob Marley personified the easy-living splendor that us freeloading radio folks are experiencing this week. Bob’s youngest son Damien Marley, especially in his hit “Welcome to Jamrock,” explores the real Jamaica — Lorenzo’s Jamaica. The one of crime and unceasing violence.
So, I need another dirty banana, which is a drink that can’t be explained. Mostly because I don’t know or care what’s in it.
Wish you were here!
Connect with Richmond bartender Jack Lauterback at firstname.lastname@example.org. Lauterback also is co-host of “Mornings with Melissa and Jack” on 103.7 Play weekdays from 6-9. On Twitter @jackgoesforth.