A friend said something this week that took me back to our fantastic trip to Jamaica this past spring. More specifically, it got me thinking about how we non-Jamaicans view our Caribbean cousins.
As a people, Jamaicans are renowned for being so laid back they’re practically horizontal. In the hectic modern world this isn’t always a bad thing. The flipside is that Jamaicans also have a reputation for bad roads and worse driving.
We first experienced the relaxed, and sometimes vague, Jamaican outlook on life within minutes of our arrival. Before we even left the airport, in fact.
Most tourists fly into Montego Bay but we, doing our own thing as usual, flew into Kingston, which is more geared towards Jamaican travellers. We were hungry after the flight down, so Rich went in search of something to eat. The small cafe he found seemed to mainly cater for airport workers. As a result it offered authentic Jamaican food, which suited us just fine, especially as it gave us an opportunity to try our first real Jamaican patty, which was high on the must do list while on the island.
Unfamiliar with how things work in Jamaica, Rich approached the counter. The subsequent conversation with the girl taking orders went something like this:
Rich: Two patties, please.
G: What kind?
R: What kind do you have?
R: Chicken is great.
G: (After shouted conversation with the kitchen in Patois) We don’t have no chicken. Beef?
R: Beef is good, too. (And they were.)
From the airport we went to our first hotel, in the former pirate capital of the world, Port Royal. Here we were treated to another example of the carefree Jamaican attitude to timekeeping. On our last night there we enquired what time breakfast began the next morning, as we wanted to get an early start. We were informed by the desk clerk that breakfast began at 6.30, which was much earlier than we were planning to leave. At a comparatively leisurely 7.45 the next morning we went down for breakfast, expecting things to be in full swing – only to be told the kitchen wasn’t ready yet!
Jamaicans at home and on the street may be all chilled-out and easy-going, but put them behind the wheel of a car and the other side of their national identity comes to the surface. Most tourists come to the impression that Jamaican drivers are crazy after travelling the main north coast from Montego Bay airport to their resort. Let me tell you, compared with the rest of the island, the north coast road (which has been improved hugely over the last few years) is a super-highway and the drivers using it are Sunday sightseers out for an unhurried meander through the countryside.
Elsewhere in Jamaica, drivers seem oblivious of their own mortality. One beep on the horn, and they’re overtaking a truck on a blind corner of a road barely wide enough for two motorbikes to pass. I eventually decided that Jamaican car horns must provide some sort of Star Trek-like forcefield, which protects cars from fender benders and, probably, intercontinental ballistic missiles! Nothing else could explain the risks so many Jamaican drivers habitually take.
But here’s the interesting question: Why are people who are generally so laid-back and unconcerned about timekeeping in such a rush once they get behind the wheel of a car? What causes this Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde-like transformation? In a land where ‘tomorrow’ is generally soon enough, why do the majority of drivers seemingly want to arrive yesterday?
I can only conclude that, despite first impressions, taking it easy is a serious business, and Jamaicans have to get from A to B as fast as possible, so as not to miss out on some quality chillin’ time.
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