Finding my soul treasure
There’s no rise without a fall
During some times throughout the year, I feel intense social pressure to ‘do something’. New Year’s Eve and my birthday are a couple of those times, so I try my best to disappear away from everyone, to a new place without any set plans.
I’ve found it very liberating, spontaneous, and exciting to be free from these expectations and not have any grand plans to ring the New Year in, especially during years that haven’t gone so well.
The timing was perfect, the flights were cheap and the ticket didn’t include a check-in or any carry on bags — just one personal item of 5 kgs; they weren’t playing but neither was I, my stuff fit in a large cross-body fanny pack and I was ready.
I decided to take a five-day trip close to New Years and cover 300kms of the island. It was the peak of winter in Baltimore, Maryland, where I was flying from, and the peak of summer in Jamaica.
Montego Bay. I arrived in Montego Bay on a flight full of Americans. As soon as I walked out of the airport, I was in the back of a Jamaican taxi. Next to the driver, sat a man named Eyewisa. He was a local Rastafari (member of Rastafarian religion with origins in Jamaica and Ethiopia) who turned around to introduce himself as, “I am no fake Rasta, I keep it real. Welcome to Jamaica”.
I took Eyewisa’s number and he offered to show me around town for New Year’s. I was staying at a guest house run by a lady called Marie and it was a newly built wooden cottage surrounded by mango and banana plantations.
The year that had past was quite rough, so I was happy that it began ending on a more peaceful note.
When life brings you to your knees
Later that evening, Eyewisa arrived and showed me a side of Montego Bay that was completely free of tourists and I felt really connected to the locals. There was a lot of action in the neighborhood and one had to continuously dodge people to be able to walk. The atmosphere was filled with tension and excitement; I suppose every New Year celebration comes with hope and apprehension in equal measures.
Eyewisa took me to a nearby well where a lot of people had gathered to dance and hang out for the festive night. It wasn’t an ordinary well, as Eyewisa explained, it was historically used to bring millions of slaves through an underwater tunnel connected to ships that were docked nearby; a conveyor belt for slavery. While everyone was in good spirits, I felt the bad juju (energy in West African culture) at this place.
In my excitement and logistics of arriving in Jamaica, I had forgotten to eat a full meal or drink enough fluids. The humidity was intense and it was a very sudden change from the frosty airport in Baltimore.
I’m not quite sure what happened next but I suddenly blanked out and fell to my knees, then flat on my face in the park square. I lost consciousness for about 10 minutes — was it the lack of nutrition, the transition from extreme cold to heat or, juju near the well, I will never know.
I was fast asleep when the clock hit twelve, and I woke up the next year with bruises on my knees and face.
A rough year had come to an end, and it went out with a bang.
In every fall, there’s an opportunity to rise
Negril. While waiting for my bus from Montego Bay to Negril, I felt positive knowing that the worst was behind me. It was a brand new year and my head felt as clear as the Jamaican sky.
It was a year to truly break free from my past experiences and start the year with renewed energy. This wasn’t the empty promise I had made to myself every year, but a complete change in lifestyle in sync with my true self
Negril, a town full of rock cliffs in Western Jamaica, is a popular haunt for tourists. There was a strip of resorts by the ocean and cliff jumping from Rick’s Cafe was on my bucket list. However, the straining crowds at these places put me off and I headed to a more local, lesser-known venue, Whoopie’s bar. This was my spot in Negril — the energy, vibe and tranquility here was just what I hoped for from the new year.
One thing I loved about Jamaicans was their spirit to live and be connected with nature. They are set in their ways of doing things, and one has no choice but to adapt
Wake up, and live
Having lived in the US working in tech sales, my mind was overactive and constantly looking for external stimuli. But, Jamaicans have a way of making you embrace their reality and I felt myself slowing down — enjoying street reggae performances and eating natural, organic food.
Each day in Negril, I ate at Just Natural’s food bar. It was like a mini jungle with tables for food that served some of the best tasting local cuisines. They were known for Jamaican Callaloo, a spinach-like vegetable served with plantains and biscuits; easy on the stomach and pleasing to the senses.
Find your treasure
Treasure Beach: For the last couple of days, I went towards the southern tip of the island to a place called Treasure beach. It is a small, tightly knit community known for fishing, surfing, and community-based tourism.
They believed in a sustainable model for tourism and not many people knew about this beach town; it’s been a secret treasure for years. I could have instead ventured to live in a jungle hut on the Black River, known for its crocodile inhabitation, but treasure island had a stronger calling.
The thrill seeker in me wanted to live amongst the crocodiles in the jungle, but the soul inside me wanted rest and rejuvenation. Action and drama eventually finds you, please don’t go looking for it, I reminded myself.
I met a French girl at Treasure Island who traveled around the world working for hotels and restaurants in exchange for free food and accommodation and, a modest salary. We watched a couple of reggae shows and talked long into the night about her life as a nomad.
Her life intrigued me — free from a regular job, she earned enough to live life the way she pleased. Most people I knew spent hours working strapped to an office desk, earning big monthly checks but always racing against time.
My time in Jamaica was coming to an end, the year that had ended in an explosive way was off to a peaceful start. The rest is still panning out.