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The Two Worlds
I’m the kind of traveller who usually steers clear of the “all-inclusive resort” holiday package deal. When I travel, I prefer to experience the country I’m visiting first-hand, meet the local people, try the local cuisine, visit the historic and cultural sites, and as much as possible immerse myself in different and sometimes even unexpected surroundings. I also prefer the freedom of striking off by myself to being constantly in the company of the same group of people, usually individuals from my own country.
It’s not that I’m anti-social, but when I do travel with a companion, that person really has to be someone who shares most if not all of my preferences. Most of the trips I’ve taken have been of this kind, and they have always been both pleasurable and enriching for me in a variety of ways.
However, over last Christmas and New Years, I departed from my usual travel routine and booked an all-inclusive package at a popular Jamaican resort near Ocho Rios. My autumn work schedule had been particularly demanding, and I felt the need for a fast, relaxing, and rather unimaginative beach-oriented get-away. I suppose part of my reason for this change in routine was a sense of curiosity on my part. How would I react to the fact that once I’d check in to an “all-inclusive” resort practically all the choices I had to make had already been made for me. True, this particular resort did offer a number of daily activities, dining selections, etc. But once I settled into the place it quickly became apparent to me that a week there was going to be a very, very long time.
I did my best to become acquainted and friendly with many of my fellow vacationers, mostly Americans with a scattering of Europeans and Canadians. A few of them, like me, were interested in visiting the attractions outside the resort (on pre-booked guided tours, of course). But the vast majority appeared quite content to pass their days lying on the beach, hanging out by the pool, playing games, eating, drinking, and dancing at the lively disco at night. I participated in some of these activities too, and found them enjoyable up to a point. But by the third day of my vacation, once I had begun to unwind and recuperate from my exhausting fall schedule a sense of utter boredom and near-terminal restlessness set in.
It was then that I decided to do some exploring on my own. I’d already booked a couple of day tours, one to reggae great Bob Marley’s birthplace and mausoleum at Nine Miles, and the other to Dunn’s River Falls, one of Jamaica’s prime tourist destinations. Both of these excursions were very rewarding, especially the trip to Bob Marley’s hometown. But these off-site excursions proved to be not enough for me. So one morning, after breakfast and a brief visit to the beach, I strolled to the front gates of the resort and informed the security person on duty that I was “going for a walk.”
He looked at me with an incredulous stare, as if I had told him I was thinking of flying over the nearby mountains. At that point, I asked him whether it was safe for me to do so. Like many North Americans who visit Jamaica, I had heard about the country’s serious crime problem and the possibility of violence. But this was not one of the poor slums of Kingston, but a built-up stretch of road in the middle of a tourist area between Montego Bay and Ocho Rios — the small community of Salem, to be exact. He told me that by day the only thing I really had to worry about was the speed at which oncoming cars might approach me, and the fact that the road was under construction. He added, though, that he would definitely advise against me taking a stroll through the neighbourhood after nightfall.
Armed with this information, I walked out of the gates, down a very well-maintained side street that passed a couple of other resorts and guest houses, and finally came to the main thoroughfare linking Montego Bay to Ocho Rios. Once I arrived, it quickly became apparent to me that I had entered a totally different world from the artificial environment of the resort. Both sides of the road were lined with an almost endless collection of rather run-down small businesses, shops, bars, and car repair garages. A number of local people were just standing around, watching the traffic pass by. There were practically no pedestrians, and I was very definitely the only person with a white face that I noticed during my entire stroll.
Within minutes I had been offered some ganja (marijuana), the company of a young woman who was sitting with an older man outside a bar, and the chance to help a rather wizened old man to “a cup of tea” or whatever some money could buy him. None of these approaches were the slightest bit threatening or sinister, but I was glad I had made a mental note not to bring my wallet or any cash with me before leaving the hotel.
Along the way I passed a local fishermen’s beach and residential area. Asking first if it was all right for me to walk along the beach, I was fascinated to notice the houses, really just huts or shacks, where these people lived and also conducted their business. This involved selling part of their daily catch to the local inhabitants or I suppose anyone else who was passing by. I walked up to one of the boats, where a couple of small children were playing energetically in the water. A local fisherman proudly showed off the fruits of his morning labours so far — a small shark and a kingfish, one of Jamaica’s favourite marine delicacies.
I walked as far as a small hill, and decided that the time had come to turn back, passing the same places I’d seen on the way out. No one appeared at all suspicious or hostile, but it was clear that I was definitely not a usual sight along the road from Salem to Ocho Rios. And it was with mixed feelings that I turned off down the private road to the resort. I might have liked to enter one of the small restaurants offering jerk chicken and other Jamaican delights that I enjoy so much in Toronto, the city I live in, where there is a large and flourishing Caribbean community. If I’d felt even braver, I might have taken a beer at one of the bars and sampled the entertainment their advertisements offered.
But something held me back. I suppose it was the very fact that I was there on an “all inclusive” that made me feel as if I “didn’t belong.” This is what probably kept me from trying out things I would have no hesitation engaging in if I’d been what I normally am, and probably will remain for any trips to come — an independent traveller, not a tourist. Having sampled the “two worlds” of travel, I think I know which of them I want to experience the most.
See also our previous editorials