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Once you go, you know (or get an eye infection trying!)

sunny 30 °C

The island of Jamaica was first inhabited by Arawak natives until Christopher Columbus arrived on the island in 1494, claiming it for Spain and eradicating the native population only decades later. Jamaica eventually became a base of operations for buccaneers and pirates alike, adding a bit of romanticism and tales of pillaging and plundering to its history books and in return these bandits of the sea kept other colonial powers from attacking the island until an earthquake in 1962 destroyed much of there existence.

Slaves arrived on the island during the late 17th century and were forced to work on plantations. The cultivation of sugar cane and coffee by African slave labour made Jamaica one of the most valuable possessions in the world for more than 150 years. During this time there were many racial tensions, and Jamaica had one of the highest instances of slave uprisings of any Caribbean island. Some slaves inevitably ran away from the estates to live in small bands in the mountains as Maroons.

With the freedom of a people and an independence of a nation, Jamaica grew from a monocrop export country to having diversified economy based around the export of sugar, bananas and other agricultural commodities, the export of bauxite and alumina, and of course the tourist industry. However, with thousands of visitors each year, the ecological footprint is noticeable. Some of the country’s biggest assets – its glorious beaches and waterfalls – are facing serious challenges of survival. Sewage pours into the coastal waters of all the major resort towns while the concerns of local communities are often ignored. Profits hightail it out of the country to feed the bottom line of foreign consortia. Many hotel workers live in degrading conditions, but are still expected to smile for guests; quite a few will tell you that they are lucky to have a low-paying job at all. As more and more tourists come, the resort towns sink deeper into urban blight. This is more than irony: it’s a potent recipe for social unrest and the accelerated decline of Jamaica’s most important industry. The government continues to offer reactionary ‘solutions’ to tourism’s woes, while at the same time approving ever more large-scale resorts. Fortunately, sustainable tourism is beginning to make inroads, and while the impact is still very small, there are grounds for guarded optimism.


In Montego Bay's airport I was finally reunited with Alain. After 2 months of separation and many expensive calling cards I was elated to see him! It was only after holding his hand again that I realized just how much I missed him and how great my tan was!! hahaha! We headed for our hotel for some much needed catching up!


For the record, Mo' Bay is NOT Jamaica. It is a hang-out for party-animals, resort tourists, spring breakers and is infested with hustlers, over-charging taxi drivers and low-paid locals who drool at the sight of your wallet. If this is the only part of the island you experience I pity you and the impression of Jamaicans you will carry home.


In Negril we stayed with Elvis & Laura in a tiny sub-community know as Diver's Village. The "divers" are a group crazy-brave locals who climb precariously thin trees that hang 100 feet over the water from the side of a cliff. For $10-20US they somersault into the clear abyss below them every night before sunset at the infamous Rick's Café. Our cabin was set behind a maze of dirt roads, makeshift bars and tiny houses. People smiled and waved and called us their friends before we had barely settled in. Although the main attraction in Negril is the spectacular 7 mile long beach lined with restaurants, hotels, resorts and the infamous ganja dealers, we were treated to a more human, realistic Jamaican experience every time we left our humble home or returned from watching the phenomenal sunsets.



We next headed to Treasure Beach, an area named so for it's plentiful coves and small stretches of secluded beachfront, found in the southern part of the island. On the way we stopped for a tour of the Appleton Rum factory where the sweet smell of molasses and sugarcane hung heavy in the air and strutting peacocks beautified the front entrance. We saw how things used to be done, thanks to the in-house donkey, the inner workings of the modern rum factory, hundreds of neatly stacked oak barrels and sampled each type of the finished product. Arriving at our guest house, with an extra kick in our step, we headed out to explore the nearby beaches and small community know as Frenchman's Cove. Almost devoid of tourists, we finally had the peace and quiet of a true vacation.


However, all that peace and tranquillity was quickly replaced with the stress and frustration of being gravely ill in a foreign county. It seems I had contracted a serious bacterial infection which resulted in a swollen, red and painful left eye. After seeing a general practitioner, I was captive in our room, lights off and unable to see whatever was outside those 4 walls. An ophthalmologist later diagnosed me with a corneal ulcer and prescribed me a series of drops and medication requesting that a return to see him the following day. Alain spent most of that afternoon making anxious phone calls to travel insurance companies and airlines and e-mailing everyone for advice. The next day we were told that the situation had not improved and that I would have to be hospitalized. We made a quick decision to return to Canada and grabbed a cab for the airport in Montego Bay.


At the airport we felt like competitors on a sadistic version of The Amazing Race. We raced from counter to counter, Alain guiding me through hoards of tourists and blurry obstacles, in search for tickets home. With no direct flights and very little options at all, one ticket agent tried desperately to get us onboard resort charters heading to Canada. No luck! And although eventually we booked a ticket to New York for that night with a connection to Montreal in the morning, our string of bad luck continued with delay after delay until an eventual cancellation at midnight forced us to stay another night in Jamaica. 4 hours of sleep later we headed back to the airport, waited 2 hours in line, got onboard the plane to NY and eventually landed in Montreal at 9:30PM. We rushed to the emergency room with the bad luck hot on our heels resulting in a 13 hour waiting room extravaganza that lacked all the fun such an event using entails!

That morning we saw a doctor, who assured us that the treatment I had received in Jamaica had been the right one and that although the infection was quite serious, it would not affect my vision and would probably take 2-3 weeks for a full recovery. I have been seeing an ophthalmologist nearly everyday since and have at last been given the okay to leave Montreal. One more week of drops and I should be as right as rain!

Alain was so amazing throughout this whole ordeal. I am so grateful for his patience and good humour!! Je t'aime!!!

We both have a one-way ticket from Jamaica to Canada, so end of story pending....

Posted by nldea 10:57 Archived in Jamaica Tagged backpacking

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