I’m no expert in tourism. I’ve travelled a lot. I live in a country dependent on tourists. I did not know that our minister of tourism was going to give an interview during prime time TV last, otherwise, I would have watched. But, let me go without reference to him.
I visited Ocho Rios on Wednesday. I’ve passed through the town a few times in recent months. My impression is that time is passing it by. I’m sure it has lovely beaches but the appeal of the place is lost on me. I went to do some golf practice at the Sandals course in Upton, just outside the town. It was mid-morning when I arrived with my playing partner. It had taken us just 90 minutes to get there from Kingston. We hoped the bypass would open soon to speed the trip. I noticed a few groups of white people on the course, which otherwise looked quiet. We got a caddy whom we know and like and set off.
As we played, I asked the caddy how things were. “Slow. Tourist season over.” The official season runs from October 15-April 15. He said they would be lucky to see more than 10-15 visitors a day, now. Just as we teed off, a couple of tourists came onto our fairway: they had hit balls way off line and were negotiating a tree and a pond. They got out and moved out of our way. The caddy went on to say that the staff know the deal so they did not grumble about the lack of paying visitors. I know that caddies get a fee from players but I forgot to ask how money flowed when no one played. We got on with our round, comparing the lack of mangoes to eat, the absence of sticks to pick cakes or coconuts, watching the grounds being repaired ahead of Sunday’s final rounds of LIME Cup. Bunkers were being reshaped.
We finished and talked briefly to the manager about a few things and promised to bring some mangoes from Kingston at the weekend. We then went to see friends of my playing partner, who had a house further up the hill and had rooms we hoped to use over the weekend. We were treated to some fresh jelly coconuts, with juice so sweet and jelly so tasty. I said we were in Paradise, as we admired the view over the valley.
We then headed back towards Kingston.
We stopped for roast yam and salt fish at Faith’s Pen, not at the park but at a roadside spot. The yam looked scrumptious. We agreed the price. The vendor then went off into a performance denouncing the devil, as she cleaned chickens’ feet and walked back and forth past her pot on the blazing wood fire. “The devil won’t win. Not today…” and so on.
We eventually got our yam and sat to eat it, just as rain started to fall. My friend also had some cow skin soup. We took in our dervish-like vendor and her wailing. Then, we headed on toward Mount Rosser.
It’s a beautiful place but I dislike it. Why? Trucks always have problems with the hill and often break down there, causing much delay. Lo! We hit a line of traffic. We waited and did not see any vehicles pass for a while. Then a string of cars and a Knutsford Express bus came up. We edged forward. A boy walked past us and we asked him what was happening. “Truck bruk dung.” Clear enough. Some commercial vehicle drivers got impatient and started down the hill on the wrong side, urged on by another man walking up the hill: “Yu cyan pass, man, jus’ tek time an’ blow yu harn.” The line stayed still. Then we say a long line of vehicles come up the hill, but notably no trucks or buses. Not good. We started to move down the hill and came to the blockage.
A truck pulling a cement trailer had jack-knifed and was across the road. Cars could get through, just, as we drove close to the edge of the hill. We saw trucks stacked up down the hill; they would soon be stacked up the hill, too. It would not be a good day for some businesses. We rolled, with some more stalling as cars had to negotiate the stopped trucks. We’d lost nearly an hour. My fears had bee well founded.
Our tourism needs several kinds of boost. Improved roads from south to north is part of that. It’s happening, but slowly. We also need better offerings.
I had a zany idea while talking to a sports coach yesterday. Jamaica is the land of cool. Could we just go off the deep end? I asked him to think about martial arts experts on a cricket field. Instead of bat and ball, they played with their hands and feet. Flying kicks. Diving and whirling catches? It would be a spectacle, not the real sport. I’m sure the purists would quail up. As luck had it, I later bumped into a taekwando expert. I threw my idea at him. He noted that the arts had their codes and discipline, so exponents may not warm to such displays. But, he mentioned how he’s looking at ways his sport can help other athletes. I agreed, having taken up karate a couple of years ago, and understood how it built core strength and improved flexibility. I mentioned some top sportsmen who were martial arts experts, most notably, Zlatan Imbrahimovic, a Swedish footballer now playing for Paris Saint Germain. He’s famous for elaborate overhead kicks. The expert noted the name. I said that maybe the footballs ninja idea would work better.
None of these suggestions may have much traction now, but visitors are fed a dreary diet of limbo dancing on beach stages, mento bands, ‘story tellers’, other faux things. Jazz it up a little. Even look to make it participative. Think beyond the now.
Like the caddy, many people in Jamaica will happily trudge along, knowing how things are, and accepting that times haven’t changed things much. But, our future can’t be rosier with such an approach. We have to shed that skin. Then again, maybe we don’t. Faster and more dynamic change may not be what most Jamaicans really want. I’ve suspected that for a long time. It would explain a lot of things. But, let me hold the notion that a little change is desired. Maybe, I need to find some people ready to be venturesome, who have sport and tourism mixed already. This is Calabash weekend. My mind drifts to Jakes and the sports park in Treasure Beach….