09 May 2014

Crime Cruise-Ocho Rios

by R.T. Lawton


Everybody dreams about going to Jamaica on holiday. It's tropical breezes, sandy beaches, clear ocean water, dark rum, exotic flowers and coconuts. Tourists of one type or another have been coming to this island since Christopher Columbus discovered it on one of his voyages. Even the pirates of centuries ago enjoyed this paradise on earth until an earthquake destroyed their town and harbor of Port Royal. A later fire finished the destruction. Survivors moved over a few miles to establish the town of Kingston, destined to become the capital of Jamaica after the Governor moved the government offices out of Spanish Town due to the scandal of brothels in said community.

Ian Fleming's house, now a resort hotel
No doubt, many of you original James Bond fans will remember scenes of Jamaica from the movie Doctor No.If you don't remember the scenery and you are a guy, you were probably distracted by the sight of Honey Rider coming out of the ocean in her white bikini, a daring piece of swimwear in those days. In any case, the scenery was beautiful. Ian Fleming, author of the Bond series, liked the place so much he kept a house, Goldeneye, in Jamaica.


The Tour
Dunn's River Falls


After four previous ports of call, we were pretty well toured out for scheduled land excursions, so we went ashore on our own. Plus, Kiti and I had been to Ocho Rios some thirty-two years before, at which time we toured Fern Gully. (Them crazy bus drivers insist on driving on the wrong side of the road, which is slightly unnerving when you're sitting in the forward part of the bus and see oncoming fast vehicles also driving on the wrong side. What were the British thinking when they came up with that system?). During that earlier trip, we went on to climb Dunn's River Falls in swimsuits and tennis shoes, wet but refreshing in the heat of day. Of course, when our cruise ship ported thirty-two years ago, Ocho Rios didn't have the nice new dock it now has. Instead, we docked at the wharf for the local bauxite mine shipping point. Way back then when I got off the tour bus at the mandatory shopping site, a local Rastafarian sidled up beside me and in a whispered voice offered to sell me some "bud." I told him I couldn't because I was on vacation. He had a very confused look on his face as I walked away.

New cruise ship dock in Ocho Rios
For our 2014 port of call, our group of four went down the gang plank, up the new winding dock, through Jamaican Customs and into the new construction of the town of Ocho Rios. Incidentally, there are no eight rivers here. It is speculated that the British corrupted the Spanish words "Las Chorreras," which means the waterfalls, a name given to the village because of the nearby Dunn's River Falls. (As writers, we all know what a problem language can be.)

Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville on the beach
After running the gauntlet of vendors and taxi drivers (it's only a three block walk to town and the price decreases considerably the further you walk), we went through the usual tourist shops, Blue Mountain coffee stores and jewelry establishments (the latter maintained armed guards out front). Then it was time to head for Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville on a nearby beach. Here we whiled away the hours with Jamaican nachos, the local Red Stripe beer, rum drinks and one free margarita for every customer. Thank you Jimmy Buffet.

The Crime

According to United Nations estimates, Jamaica has had one of the highest murder rates in the world. Kingston, Montego Bay and Spanish Town were cursed with high incidents of crime and violence over the years. In 2005, Jamaica had a murder rate of 58 for every 100,000 people, the highest in the world for that year. Three years later, the Jamaican Parliament voted to retain the death penalty by hanging. Due to subsequent increases in police patrols, curfews and more effective anti-gang activities, that high murder rate fell and continued to fall. Many of the murders were reported to have been committed by organized crime involved in the illegal drug trade.

In 1976, Bob Marley, the famous reggae singer, and two others were wounded in an assault by unknown gunmen in his Kingston home. This murder attempt was thought to have been politically motivated by one of two warring political groups, since Marley's then upcoming free concert was seen by some as backing one particular politician.

A view of the old bauxite mine and wharf from the other side of ship
During the mid-1980's, I flew into Kingston to follow the paper trail of one of our fugitives. Parts of Kingston that we drove through were burned out buildings with political slogans painted on the walls still standing. That night, the other agent and I stayed at a hotel which was surrounded by cyclone fence with concertina wire on top. We were advised not to go outside the compound at night. It was explained to us that there were two political parties in the country and that a different criminal gang had attached itself to each of the parties. Kingston being on the opposite end of the island from the tourist resorts, we were assured the resort areas were kept safe because no one wanted to scare away the tourist money. The two Jamaican feds we worked with, and who escorted us everywhere, informed us to stay out of the mountain country at night and not to run any army checkpoints in the middle of the country. Those guys will machine gun you, we were told. But that was back then.

For our 2014 walk into the resort area of Ocho Rios, I was entirely comfortable with our environment. Our worst problem was saying "No" to vendors and taxi drivers. My only regret was not having the gear and time to go snorkeling on my own. Seems I should have signed up for the snorkeling excursion. Still had a great time at a beachside bar in a warm sun with balmy breezes...and out of the Colorado snow and cold. Sure, we'd go again sometime.

That was our last port of call before heading back to Ft. Lauderdale, disembarkation, U.S. Customs and the airport for home. It was a fun trip, seeing the tourist side, yet knowing what was or had been lurking in the past of each city and/or country we had visited.

4 comments:

janice law said...

Sounds like a great trip- especially this year after the winter we've had!

Dale Andrews said...

Back in 1996 Jimmy Buffett was famously shot at by local Jamaican authorities as he was landing his seaplane at the island. They thought he was running ganja. Bad timing for Jamaica -- Buffett was putting the final touches on his Banana Wind album at the time and hurriedly added an extra track -- Jamaica Mistaica, which recounted the whole sordid story. A great song -- And here it is in its entirety proving, once again, be careful when you mock the bard!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HjaUji8O3js

R.T. Lawton said...

Dale, thanks for the Youtube link. An interesting song about an awkward situation.

Eve Fisher said...

The whole - "they're on the other end of the island, we don't want to lose the tourist money" - kind of reminds of Chairman Mao, during the Cultural Revolution, who allowed the Red Guard to run wild all over the country, arresting/beating/killing intellectuals of any kind... except the nuclear scientists, who were kept quite safe in a protected enclave.