5 Things I Learned in Jamaica

5 Things I Learned in Jamaica - picture of woman relaxing in hammock on Jamaican beach

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Let me start this post with a moment of honesty: I wasn’t really all that excited to go to Jamaica.  I thought it would be fun and all, but I wasn’t really expecting to fall in love with it the way that I did.  I mean, we went to the Dominican Republic and Mexico last year and those two countries are hard to beat in beauty, culture, and value.  So, when we planned our recent trip to Runaway Bay, we mostly did so because our friends planned the trip and asked us to come along.club canadaOnce we landed in Montego Bay, I got an immediate taste for the people and the culture as our driver and tour guide took us through winding roads and hillsides and explained how Jamaican culture works.  And even though we spent most of our time in and around the resort, I still learned a lot from the people who call Jamaica home:

No Mortgage, Mon

half-built houseOne thing I quickly noticed while traveling through the Jamaican countryside was that the majority of houses weren’t completely built.  You’d see a three-story house with only the basement finished on one side of the road, or a two-story house completely unfinished on the other.  On top of that, we saw hundreds, if not thousands, of small shack-like houses that didn’t seem entirely permanent.  When asked, our driver explained that they can’t get mortgages in Jamaica so they simply “build as they go.”  What a concept, huh?  So, they might live in an enclosed basement for years without having the money to finish the upper levels.  “Is that okay with them?” I asked our driver Andrew.  “Ya, mon,” he said.

Some Parts of Jamaica are Relatively Poor

One thing I loved about Jamaica was that the majority of people spoke English (not because I’m a bigot, but because I actually want tojamaican shack talk to people!!!)  So, since there wasn’t a language barrier, I learned all kinds of things from the various people we encountered.  For starters, the people on the resort made the equivalent of about $50-$60 per week in U.S. dollars.  A lot of the workers, including a few people who cleaned our room, drove as far as two hours each day for those jobs because they were in such high demand.  And since tourism is Jamaican’s #1 industry, there aren’t a whole lot of other jobs available in the tourist areas and not a lot of ways to earn extra money.  Our taxi driver also told us that they pay really high taxes relative to their income and get almost nothing in return, which totally sucks.

Jamaicans Do What They Want, Mon

greg campbellSpending the week on a big, beautiful resort and knowing that the people get paid almost nothing made me feel like a giant asshole.  What made it even worse was the fact that they wouldn’t let Jamaicans onto the resort to sell their homemade stuff.  So, a lot of native people walk toward the resort in the water, or take small boats to the resort to sell their wares out in the waves where the resort has no control.  I personally found it really annoying that the security people hassled them when they were obviously just trying to make a living.  One of these guys, Greg, took the time to tell us all kinds of cool stories about the surrounding area.  He even offered to take me to the other side of the beach in his boat one day when I was drunk, and I probably owe him $100 for all of the ridiculous conversations he generously had with me and my friends over the week. Thanks Greg!!!

Marijuana is Not Legal in Jamaica

Despite what you may have heard, marijuana is not legal in Jamaica.  However, it would be hard to know it since people were lighting up everywhere- on their hotel balconies, the beach, by the pool, you name it.  It personally did not bother me at all and I thought it was cool that they were so laid back.  I mean, you literally felt like you could get away with almost anything there…and some people did!

Jamaica is Awesome

Like I said at the beginning of this post, I wasn’t sure that I would like it there.  However, I was so wrong.  It is such a beautiful country and I cannot wait to go back and explore now that we know about all the different experiences Jamaica has to offer.    They’ve got everything from tree-lined hilltops to breathtaking turquoise waters, to waterfalls, caves, shopping and more.

Here are a few more pictures.  Enjoy!

holly greg drunk


jamaica is poorhalf built house 2


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  1. The “build-as-you-go” model is very interesting indeed. Nice photos – it looks like you had a great time!

  2. Doesn’t sound all that different than Mexico, sans the lighting up ganja everywhere. My wife and I went to Cancun two years ago and had a similar experience as far as feeling like assholes in relation to the servers there. The resorts own these places, and are responsible for the terrible pay (well, that and complicit governments).

    1. Yep, exactly. And the resorts aren’t even owned by Jamaicans! They basically told me that foreign investors buy up the beautiful beach fronts then pay next to nothing for the local people to work there.

  3. The half built houses used to be much more common in parts of the US, and some areas of the country give tax discounts based on it, too. Mr PoP’s parents technically live in a house that is classified as a “basement dwelling” since two walls are built into the side of a hill and they get a big tax write off because the government assumes that they are mid-construction and will add additional stories above the basement. But I doubt they will since it’s been like that for 30ish years.

    1. Ha! Well, I suppose there is no point in completing it if they are happy with the house the way it is.

  4. I love the unfinished the mansion on the beach. You’d think that if you had enough money to build an ocean front mansion, you’d have enough money to finish it. Funny thing about the mortgages.

    1. There were a ton of those! Some appeared to be mid-construction but others weren’t at all.

  5. Great pics. I’ve heard that the security guards harass the locals about peddling their wares all over because if they didn’t you’d have peddlers swamping the places. True? Someone also once told me they went into town and were constantly mobbed by beggars……

    1. Maybe, but I have been to other resorts where they let the locals on the resort once a week to set up tables to sell their stuff. I would’ve appreciated that!

      1. LeRainDrop says:

        My boyfriend and I stayed at the RIU in Ocho Rios a few years back, and they let the local vendors put out tables and floor mats on site once (or maybe it was twice?) per week. It actually worked pretty well.

        1. Yes, exactly. I would’ve appreciated something like that. The resort we went to in the Dominican Republic did the same thing.

  6. We went to Jamaica for our honeymoon and loved it! We can relate to many of the things you said. I would definitely go back!

  7. My bank account would love not having a mortgage….my type A personality wouldn’t do well with a partially finished home. LOL. Sounds like you had an awesome vacation!

    1. That’s pretty much how I feel. The paying-as-you-go sounds awesome. Living in an unfinished house? Not so awesome.

  8. The pay as you go model is interesting. Never work here since HOAs in most areas would never allow it. I’m having enough trouble finding a lot where I can build my dream compound on where HOAs won’t poo-poo my design. Also would you really want to live next to the guy with the 10% finished house for 20 years because he could never afford to pay to finish his house?

    1. Ha! No, probably not. But a lot of houses in Jamaica are half-built so people are probably just used to it.

  9. Love your pictures! Sounds like a fun trip. I’ve never been to Jamaica, but I have heard so many awesome stories about trips there.

  10. Those pics look awesome, especially with the snow on the ground here. 😉 I love the pay as you go model, but wonder how far that would go here in the States…probably not far t all. We’ve not been to Jamaica yet, but it’s definitely on the list.

  11. Looks beautiful there. Definitely could go for some tropical weather this time of the year.

    Something I learned after traveling around the world was don’t set expectations (good or bad) because it usually ends up being the opposite (good or bad) than predicted. Sounds like Jamaica was great.

    The Warrior

  12. The house thing is the same here, people receive money monthly from illegal migrants in the US so they build as they go. In Belize you don’t pay property taxes until your house is complete so most houses are left with an open upper floor!

  13. My parents have been to Jamaica and they really loved it. They didn’t spend much time on the resort, and they came back with a ton of new knowledge about the country. Beautiful photos!

  14. Hey,
    Glad you enjoyed your holiday in Jamaica, I spent three years living there and I could truly say there are some beautiful spots all round the island and the people have a rich culture. I did however find your conclusions in this post to be incredibly uniformed. By your own admission, you spent most of your time in and around your hotel, that would also imply you visited only a small part of Jamaica and most notably the areas focused on tourism. Knowing a bit about Jamaica, I can tell you that the north coast where you stayed, should not be taken as proxy for the whole of the country. Kingston and other areas simply do not posses the same socioeconomic dynamics you saw or may have been led to believe exists in and around Runaway Bay. I suspect had you traveled more widely around the country, this posts have haven taken a different perspective. By the way, that highway you travelled on from Montego Bay to Runaway Bay, was paid for by the taxes that the Jamaican people pay.

    1. As I mentioned in my post, I’m only sharing the very few things that I learned from people during my brief time there. I’m sure I could find people that disagree entirely with everything I was told by the people I spent time with. This isn’t an educational post….I’m not writing a history book here. It’s just a fun post with my pictures and experiences so there’s no need to be offended. Next time I travel there I will probably stay in a different area, or several areas, and I might have an entirely different experience.

  15. What a nice way to spend a week in February. We went to Jamaica on our honeymoon forever ago and really loved the weather and scenery. It was hard to see the poverty outside the resorts, but I guess if us “rich” Americans weren’t showing up, that would be even less income for locals.

    1. I’m sure they appreciate when people visit since tourism is their #1 industry. I just think that the people working at the resorts should get paid more. I mean, it wasn’t a cheap resort. It was fairly expensive! How can you not pay people more?

  16. Looks like you had fun! Good for you, and the pictures are very nice, especially the second one..which l assume was after a few Mojitos? Half built houses are the norm in West Africa too, no mortgages..build as you go, even though now, some banks are slowly bringing in 5 year loans.

    1. Hey, a 5 year loan doesn’t sound so bad. Better than 30!

  17. I am not sure I disagree with the resort’s policy of blocking people from selling their wares. You would probably be bothered constantly if the resort allowed people other than guests and staff on the property. Businesses here in Canada would also ask people who are not part of their business, who are in fact competing with their businesses, to leave the property as well.

    Snowing here in Canada again. Will it ever end?

    1. I’m not saying it should be a free-for-all. I just think that they shouldn’t treat people lime criminals.

  18. I love the bit about people building houses as they get the cash. What a clever, risk-averse way to get a paid-for house.

    I hadn’t thought of Jamaica as a destination, either…but maybe we’ll make a trip now.

  19. I have heard good things and I wish we could have a build as you go type of system. Mortgages suck! Glad you had an awesome time. I will have to put this one on the list.

  20. Interesting, and gorgeous photos. I’m glad you guys enjoyed your trip! My parents went to Jamaica for their honeymoon and loved it. Now my coworker is going for hers in July. Anywhere tropical is on my list at this point!

    1. Me too. I fall in love with everywhere we go, sometimes just for different reasons. I like beaches. (The beaches in Jamaica ARE some of the most beautiful I have ever seen)

  21. Beautiful pics! I love staying at those beautiful all-inclusive resorts too, but there is that part of you feel that feels guilty being so pampered and knowing that the workers make so little. Looks like a beautiful place to visit – glad you and Greg had such a good vacation!

  22. Jamaica seems so nice, and not just because of the marijuana thing. The resort you stayed at looks absolutely amazing too so there’s no wonder that you fell in love with the country.

    1. It really is beautiful. I was actually sad that we didn’t get to see more, but we went to the resort to meet up with friends. Next time we go back, I plan to go a few places we’ve heard about.

  23. I had a similar experience when I went to Antigua. I felt like a complete a-hole when I found out how “poor” the resort hotel staff was, and I loved how the resort tried to convince me that the staff was just happy to work there because it was such a great job. And I literally spit my coffee when I read your pot comment. My first thought was that you got caught lighting up yourself. 🙂

  24. Wow, you got so wasted Greg had to give you a piggyback ride back to the room….now that’s a good vaca. Well done, glad you had a great trip.

    1. I was not drunk! I cut my foot on sharp rocks and was trying to get a lift to my chair =)

  25. It’s the same way in Ghana. You piecemeal build your house. You see almost finished houses everywhere in Tema.

    1. I don’t think it’s such a bad idea, do you? Beats a 30 year mortgage any day of the week!

  26. Great shots, and it sounds like you learned a lot from the people and culture! Glad to hear you had a fun time. 🙂

  27. Loved the photos, and definitely did not know Marijuana wasn’t legal there! But after seeing pictures of that water, in the words of Liz Lemon, “I want to go to there.”

  28. Nice pictures. My wife is Jamaican and I can’t wait to go. I really liked how you immersed yourself into the place and was open to learning about the people and their culture.Most of the things you said here are similar to my country Kenya. We also used to build and still build the same way. However, in Kenya, there is a huge housing boom and this also brought about mortgages but the rates a re so high most people stay away from it. I am talking about 15-20% rates.

  29. My in-laws had that Jamaican mentality when it came to building their home. They built as they had the money. Now, 25 years later there are still doorways without trim and a deck that’s not done, but they haven’t gone in debt for it and they learned a lot doing it. That being said, we still have no plans to follow in their footsteps 🙂

    1. Hi maybe I can shed some light on the “Jamaican mentality” of building our homes. It is not in all cases where we are not able to take out a mortages but for some individuals that is their method of choice. For those who cannot get mortgagees they chose this strategy of building because in some cases it will work out cheaper to build a home from scratch. Some individuals live in their homes while undergoing construction but that doesn’t mean their standard of living is less than anyone else’s. You would be surprised to go in this homes and see how well the interior is set up, sometimes ypu don’t even remember that the home itself is not finished judging from the inside. Jamaicans use this strategy of building in stages by starting initially with at least one bedroom, bathroom, and kitchen completed and in good livable conditions, then they plan a time frame and budget in which they expect the house to be completely done. When this process is complete not only is it in most cases debt free but there is a great feeling of accomplishment when one sees how far their plans have come to seeing the complete result. It takes determination and a sense of vision to take on this tatic. And also Bare in mind some of these unfinished homes aren’t even occupied but are under construction by Jamaicans who currently reside abroad and are building houses to retire in. Not saying all individuals whose houses are under this type of building have the best living facility but it’s a process whether it be a year, two, five or ten years from now. It’s better to have a vision than to be homeless.??

  30. Those photos look amazing! What a beautiful place!

    The pay-as-you-go is pretty cool… and shows that even when there is an obstacle (no mortgages), people are always creative enough to find a way to get by. Thanks for sharing your experiences!

  31. Those half built properties remind me of Santorini. So many unfinished concrete structures… wonder how long they take to finish as we didn’t ever see anyone working on them, or if maybe they’re halted indefinitely because of the economy…?

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