What We Learned by Driving through Jamaica’s Communities

As our van left Montego Bay, we quickly left the bright, shiny facades of the luxurious resorts and emerged into what we discovered to be the real Jamaica. Our ultimate mission: adventure into the mountains and find Nine Mile, the birthplace and final resting place of reggae legend Bob Marley.

Coastal Communities

The 1.5-hour drive took us along the coast at first, where we passed three distinct community styles: tin shacks, massive homes, and homes left unfinished.

The tin shacks stood on small plots of land along the beach. According tour our local guide, recent law in Jamaica allows squatters that occupy a plot of land for more than 20 years to take legal possession of that land if they can repay 75 percent of their backed taxes. For now, it seemed that the people we encountered enjoyed simple living and utilizing the ocean for sustenance.

The massive homes that we passed belonged to those with prestigious occupations: doctors, lawyers, and people who had gone to work in the United States and returned to Jamaica for retirement.

The unfinished homes perplexed us until we received an explanation. Jamaican builders only complete portions of homes that they’re paid for; Jamaican banks give astronomical interest rates (about 20 percent, according to our local guide), so people build sections of their homes at a time. Some homes remain unfinished for 10 years while the family still lives in the finished portions.

Mountain Communities

Though it’s an island, Jamaica reaches elevations nearly 5,000 feet above sea level in parts. The unfinished, single-lane roads that dissect the mountains take travelers past dozens of villages that provide a stark contrast to the mansions along the coast.

We passed multiple communities which featured a bar as the center of the town, surrounded by twenty or so stone shacks. In many places, we passed outdoor tents for Saturday church services; the tents were packed to the edges.

Homes were built using stone, cements, wood, and tin roof materials. Staircases allowed homeowners to walk to their elevated houses (built into the sides of mountains), while stilts allowed some houses to overhang on cliffs. Most homes weren’t built flush, but they stood strong on the mountainsides.

People hung clothes from lines. They sat on their neighbor's’ steps and conversed. They strolled to and from the bar(s) in the center of the town.

We only drove a few miles from one community to the next, but I couldn’t help but feel that each community was isolated. The jagged mountain passes seemed to prevent easy walking between communities. As we drove deeper into the mountains, the feeling of isolation grew.

Still, the smiles on people’s faces and the simplistic lifestyle that we saw (in comparison to American extravagance) appealed to us. Many houses and shacks had personal farms in which they grew enough food to feed their families.

When we reached Nine Mile (currently a Rastafarian community), we saw the same sustainable lifestyle that all other mountain communities demonstrated. We encountered friendly, easy-going people who loved their land and took pride in being Jamaican.

Apply This To Every International Adventure

So, next time you visit a place and stay at a luxurious resort, make sure to take some time to explore the actual area in which you’re staying. Explore the unique cultures that make up this amazing world and take a piece of that culture and apply it to your own.


Tom Malone is the Editor-In-Chief of The Adventure Tribune and author of adventure novels, like Across Americana. He is based in Denver, Colorado, where he adventures through the Rocky Mountains while not traveling abroad.
Post A Comment
  • Blogger Comment using Blogger
  • Facebook Comment using Facebook
  • Disqus Comment using Disqus

No comments :