Monday, February 25, 2013

Assuago. That's the way it is.

He found us clumped together like maple bugs in the fall, fresh off the ship and ready for an adventure. 

We took a cruise from Miami to Cozumel, Mexico, Ocho, Rios, Jamaica and the Grand Caymen Islands.  At each port,  tourists can explore, shop or experience things on their bucket list, like swimming with dolphin and stingrays.  Cruise ships offer excursions that can range from $40/person and up.  Excursions are fun and they are designed to show us what we already expected to see in the brochures and the media.  In other words, excursions are designed to show us a world view that we want to see, versus what might be.  

We were the unplanned tourists fresh off on a cruise ship at the port of Ocho Rios, Jamaica.  We adventurers and deal shoppers set out that day to experience some of Jamaica and return by 4:00 PM.  We were told that the best drivers would be those with a red license plate.   Johnson found us and sold us on a day tour for $20.00 / person. 

Johnson relies on tourists but not just any tourist.  He is what I like to call a mouse among elephants.  

Johnson's  target market is  the tourist looking for a deal and maybe a truer to life experience. 

As an entrepreneur competing with the big cruise lines, he tells me his strategy is to  price his services "not too low, not too high".  "It's better to get some of the business than none of the business".  He also likes to offer a different experience - one that attempts to show more than one side to the  reality of life in Jamaica.

He offered to take us on a tour to do whatever we wanted. Shopping , water falls and jerk chicken and a tour of the city  were the top 4.  We agreed to a price of $20 US/per person or $160 for 4 hours less gas and vehicle wear and tear. 
We asked to go the Dunn River Falls, but he said he would take us to another fall that is not owned by the government because that way the people benefit from the tourist not the government.  

We went to the Shaw plantation  paying a modest fee of $10US.  The estate so named after a Scotsman who settled in Jamaica in the 1835 and donated it back to the Jamaican people in 1933. 

The garden includes  a bamboo enclosed natural water treatment plant, water falls and a botanical garden full of the herbs, flowers and trees that cure what ails you. 

On this property stands a recording studio that was commonly used by Bob Marley and Mick Jagger.  On the hill just beyond our sight stands a house owned by Mick Jagger who is barred from entering Jamaica due to his "bad habits".
There is also a museum created by the Shaw family that documents bringing over 683,000 slaves, over 31,000 of whom died before they could be "unloaded".   The museum includes a man trap which resembles a bear trap that was used to catch slaves who were trying to escape.  Slaves were used work the plantation and maintain the house and gardens until Jamaica's abolition of slavery in 19$$, 27 years before the end of the American Civil War.
Our guide Nikki, 30 years old, tells us she has applied to leave Jamaica twice to the United States.  They told her both times it's not her turn yet.  
Why do you want to leave this paradise we asked.  "All that glitters is not gold" she said.

At the end of the tour she told us she works for free and asked if we would consider a tip.

Johnson took us on a tour through the city of Ocho Rios to show us a glimpse of life in Jamaica.

We saw kids at play during a break at school is their uniforms.  We saw homes of the well-to-do and then we saw where the rest of the people lived and worked. 
An old lady selling her wares on side of the road hoping we would stop.  We didn't.  A man breaks into back flips down the hill as we rounded another corner.  We gave him some money through the bus window and he carried on performing for the next bus. 

We saw homes where the poor lives by our standards.  I felt sad and grateful.  
From there it was downtown to shop where the locals aggressively ask for the sale.  Johnson warns us to stay within his sight at all times and not to buy anything we don't want.  As we entered the stores the clerks turned on the Bob Marley tunes.  We begin to feel relaxed as we sing along, lulled back into our westernized first world dogma induced coma.  

We stopped at his favorite restaurant for Jerk Chicken  and boarded our bus back to the ship. 

He is married 21 years. His children, 10 and 14 years of age attend school. 
I asked him if he is a tour guide and driver year round.  Yes, he says, this is all there is to do.  Is it enough I asked.  No because the cruise ships often go to the other side of the island near Montego Bay.  

Tourism creates opportunity and jobs on the upside.  On the downside we are rarely shown the desperate reality unless we take a chance and risk a big plate on poverty, jerk chicken and a wish for freedom. 

As a tourist they want us to see the reality we believe exists from the media.  Johnson showed us there is more to see than what we are shown.   Assuago. "That's the way it is".  Then he asked for a tip.  

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