Top 7 Things to Do in Montego Bay – for Free!

Montego Bay is more than just Jamaica’s ‘second city’ – it’s the tourist capital! But for those of us who live where you vacation, sometimes it’s hard to find fun-filled activities outside the ivory towers of all-inclusive hotels. Don’t worry – I’ve compiled a list of budget-friendly (aka FREE) things to do in and around Mobay, for locals and tourists alike.

7. Take a Stroll on the Hip Strip

Recently re-named Jimmy Cliff Boulevard (previously Gloucestershire Avenue) the Hip Strip is home to Montego Bay’s lively tourism crowd. From nightlife to food spots with amazing views of the sunset and friendly crowds on yachts – the Hip Strip has you covered. Approximately 2km in length, it’s perfect for an afternoon stroll that includes park views, historic buildings, and of course gorgeous views of the Caribbean Sea #nofilter. Bonus! – the Hip Strip is also home to three other activities on this list.

6. Have a Picnic at Old Hospital Park

Refurbished about five years ago for a whopping $10M JMD, the Old Hospital Park on the Hip Strip has become the number one family-friendly chill spot. With no entrance fee, wide open green spaces dotted with covered gazebos and elegant palm trees it’s the perfect picnic spot. The sheltered location set below the bustling roadway is idyllic, complete with pink AND yellow poui trees. Romantic couples and families with small children can often be found whiling away the hours here and enjoying the beautiful view.

5. Make a Splash at Margaritaville

It’s always 5 o’clock at Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville, and it’s always free. Like its counterparts in Negril and Ocho Rios, Margaritaville Montego Bay has no fee for entry. Make a splash with their 120ft water slide that dunks you right into the blissful blue waters, and then have a blast on their aqua park with trampolines, swings and more. Refreshments come at a cost, but after a day like that it’s totally worth it.

4. Enjoy a Movie in the Park

You didn’t think we were done with the Hip Strip? Last Fridays of the month are movie nights with Movies in the Park, a family-oriented event sponsored by non-profit enterprise I Love Mobay. Serving up gems like The Lion King and Alice in Wonderland (with free popcorn for the first 200 children!) it’s a modern day version of drive-in style movie theatres. Just make sure to BYOB (bring your own blanket)!

3. Hang Out at Whitter Village

Whitter Village in Ironshore is technically on the outskirts of Montego Bay, but it’s easily accessible by taking an Ironshore taxi (or driving along the A1 highway). Designed to exude a classical cottage aesthetic, Whitter Village caters to residents of the surrounding communities as well as tourists from the neighbouring hotels. Boasting a variety of restaurants (Rolly Polly!), entertainment options (bowling!) and chic fashion outlets (David and Subs!) and complete with its own gazebo and water feature Whitter Village is a great spot for a chill day hanging out.

2. Retreat to Reading at the St. James Parish Library

If you’re more of an indoors-y person, don’t worry we’ve got you covered. The St. James Parish Library is conveniently located in downtown Montego Bay, stocked with thousands of volumes for you to get lost in. There’s a children’s section for young ones, and a Restricted Section that’s a little more quiet. Like many of our historical buildings, the library’s entrance features a bust of one of our National Heroes the Rt. Excellent Marcus Mosiah Garvey. The library grounds are also a popular hangout spot for teenagers, especially on Saturdays.

1. Dip Your Toes in a Free Beach (or three!)

There’s no way to write a list of free activities in Montego Bay without including the beach! Even though most of our beaches are privatized, a few choice spots still remain for the intrepid traveller (who wears their swimsuit under their clothes). Dead End Beach located at the very end of the Hip Strip (just behind Sangster’s International Airport) is a sandy, shallow swimming area, popular with small children. Should your daytime activities pique your thirst a cold Red Strip is readily available from the Dead End Beach grill and bar just across the road.

A little bit further up the road across from Sandals Hotel is a small cove of coastline (not pictured) that’s also free of charge. Despite it’s humble size, this beach gets very deep very quickly making it a popular area with the early morning swimming crowd. It can get crowded on holidays and weekends, but there’s always enough space for one more beach towel.

credit: amandawhitephotography.com

Finally, our last free beach in Montego Bay is the One Man Beach, located just beside Old Hospital Park (across the road from the Soe Htwe Pharmacy and Medical Centre – yes there’s a medical centre on the Hip Strip). The sand here is a little more coarse, and the water a little more full of seaweed, but this beach is nestled between protective jetties that frame the horizon picture perfectly!

From beaches to books, movies to Margaritaville, I’ve shown that Montego Bay can be enjoyed without breaking the bank. There’s a wealth of beauty to be discovered here, even without swiping a card. Make sure to like and share my post if you learnt something new about Montego Bay!

Pax~

a word on checkpoints and the assailing of women’s bodies

The State of Emergency is now in its tenth month. Violent crime levels appear unabated. Every issue of the Western Mirror carries a front page headline on some gruesome murder or gunfight.

Twice daily checkpoints are my new normal, since I live and work in two separate parishes. I drive through, waving to the unlucky soldiers assigned to stand in the middle of the road in the grueling summer heat, and smile.

At first I would approach each checkpoint with a sense of trepidation. Would they stop me to search my car? And then annoyance. Would they stop me to try and get my number? My experience was getting harassed by soldiers and police officers alike who appeared to have no other reason to stop me than to chat me up like a man in a bar. It was unprofessional and frustrating.

I used to slow and stop so that the officer or soldier could peer into the car, but these days I slow down just enough to give a brisk wave unless I’m told otherwise. This is just another way one learns to navigate social conventions as a person of the feminine gender.

After a while, when my frustration had faded to good-natured acceptance, I started to notice female soldiers now deployed to man the line. One day while cruising through at my snail pace, I overheard a bus driver call out a raunchy greeting to the lady soldier standing in the road. I cringed, and questioned.

Beyond the sexism that exists among one’s professional colleagues, a sexism that can potentially be challenged and eroded by professional success, is there a deeper and more pervasive sexism in society at large that undermines the execution of professional ‘gender roles’?

Is there a certain level of respect accorded to soldiers and police officers? Do we accord that same respect when the soldier or police officer is a woman? And does the change in tone when addressing a female member of the armed forces imply a lack of respect, or is it simply a neutral cultural phenomenon?

I’m pretty sure that woman was used to getting catcalls in her line of duty, and many women are. Some find it annoying, some find it flattering, and for some it’s just a part of life, neither good nor bad. In my culture there are many things that my liberal ideology struggles to accept, and this is one of them.

Is it inappropriate and unacceptable for a man to calls out ‘Psst, babes‘ when a woman walks by? Is it only inappropriate when he does it to certain Women, or in certain Spaces? Does the acceptability depend on the man’s intention: to objectify and assault, or to compliment and affirm? If the action is allowed, is there an expected response? Is it rude to ignore them? It certainly seems that way.

And is it really such a big deal?

In some spaces it can be. As a general rule I ignore the leaking air and the catcalls, but on certain streets I make damn sure to respond with a polite greeting. At issue here is the concept of danger. On main roads I feel safe enough to ignore the calls; on side streets I am too aware of my vulnerability to invite an uncertain threat. I fear, so I conform. But does this make me complicit in a social norm I desperately wish would change?

I don’t have the answers, but I think it’s important that we start talking somewhere. A catcall on a lonely avenue isn’t the same as being sexually assaulted, but the threads of gender-based violence run deep. Until we can pick up the ends, wherever they are scattered, we will never begin to untangle that knot.

Advice from Someone Deeply Rooted

treefeetI think everyone gets bad moods. The blues (or the reds) or whatever you want to call them. Sometimes I slide down an emotional slope, and sometimes it’s really hard to get back out. Honestly, I’ve a long history of unhealthy behaviour when it comes to dealing with my funks. But sometimes I surprise myself.

Exercise helps, right? Ask anyone. ‘Endorphins’ is the buzzword. I like to walk, especially along scenic routes. The Hip Strip in Mobay has its faults but it’s still got an amazing, totally quintessential, tropical view of the sea. Staring off into the horizon usually does a lot for my peace of mind, more so when it’s lit up with sunset reds. keanequote

There is a park on Bottom Road at the site of the Old Hospital.  I almost always walk through this park, most times without even thinking about it. Walk through, I heard myself say, in response to Kat’s question. So we did. Find a bench.

Now if you know anything about the Old Hospital Park, it is that it’s littered with lovers on a bad day. On a good day, a non-rainy day, there are no corners free from necking, cuddling and schmoozing. I saw a bench occupied by a lovey-dovey couple.

Not that one. That one.

An empty bench. I sat and Kat (probably by this time out of his depth with my moods) followed suit. Deep breaths. Lie down. Look up.

And there it was, this tree: tree1

And because my brain just can’t leave good enough alone, I overthought. And what I came up with was this.

That tree has all these concentric rings, going up. Growth rings, like the ones on the insides of other trees. And the ones at the top were the brightest, but also the narrowest. Brand new. The ones at the bottom, closest to the roots were faded and stretched with age. I though the tree was trying to tell me something and what I thought it was saying was this.

Your actions don’t fade. What you do lives on stronger than you ever will. The marks you make at the beginning, at the start will fade, but the foundation they create won’t. Your circles disappear into the trunk of the tree of time, grounding all those branches and leaves. The tree was telling me, your scars will forge a path for new growth. Your scars will be the birthplace of beauty.

I’m overthinking it, right? Not yet.

Because I saw this other tree: tree2

And I was just so moved by the way it flaunted its orange. I mean, it’s a tree, it probably doesn’t have a choice. But trees lose branches all the time. They just drop off when they’re no use. So maybe this orange branch, this sore thumb, was doing something good up there. And the rest of the tree kept it around. Embraced it. Embrace your orange, that tree was telling me.

Is it significant that I hate the colour orange? Telling me to embrace it is like telling me to love all the ugly parts of me. All the parts I hate. Love them anyway.

Am I overthinking things?

Probably.

Trees aren’t really known for being this chatty.

The greatest show on earth

The internationally acclaimed Sumfest happened last weekend, right here in lil ol’ Mobay. We had Trey ladies-keep-your-panties-on Songz and Damian sexiest-rasta-alive Marley headlining the two international nights, though I hear Shabba Ranks stole the show on Friday night. Not that I’m entirely certain who Shabba Ranks is. . .

Reggae Sumfest has origins way back before I was a twinkle in my mother’s eye when it started out as Reggae Sunsplash, an annual festival of Jamaican music that everyone in my parents’ generation likes to bring up as their version of “back when music was actually good”. But my point is that Sumfest has been around for a while, and judging by the consistently insane crowds it draws, it will probably be around for a while longer. Which is a good thing, because I have never been to Sumfest.

It’s kind of sad, really. It happens almost literally in my backyard every year, and every year it comes, I wave, and it passes on its merry, memorable way. It’s a quintessential Jamaican, nay, Montegonian experience that I have yet to acquire. That is a travesty. At first I was too young to go to Sumfest and then as I grew older, I grew less interested in the artistes that were actually showing up. I mean, you wouldn’t catch me dead at Dancehall Night (no offense, but there’s no way I’m paying almost $8000 just to bend over and back it up). And there was this whole phase where I swore off concerts unless a rock band was involved. I’m serious; I joined the Facebook group to prove it.

So Sumfest continues to be marketed as the greatest show on earth, with that iconic symbol of a dancing Rasta (that may or may not be Robert Nesta) pushing its brand beyond local borders. It’s one in a long list of things that keep Jamaica being the leading Caribbean destination (sorry, other touristy islands) and keep Montego Bay being one seriously awesome second city. So what if I haven’t been to Sumfest once in the twenty years I’ve been alive? Maybe I’ll go the year they finally get Fall Out Boy as headliners.

Pax.

Because it’s not enough that I have school in the summer…

…it has to be hard, too.

This sign is entirely too cheerful.

Medical school at the UWI, in all its omnipotent glory, has stuck us with six 3-credit courses for the duration of the 8-week summer period. So while my friends are prepping for beach trips instead of bi-weekly quizzes, I’m up to my ears in haematological reference ranges and obstretic complications, trying to explain for the umpteenth time that it’s not summer school, I simply have school in the summer. (There’s a big difference).

On one hand, we are steadily inching closer to our graduation in 2015 – as of June 18, 2012, we were officially 3rd years! – but on the other hand we are spending our summer studying vaginal discharge and biostatistics. There is no possible way I can interpret any part of this summer as pleasant. When people come back to school in September and ask me how my summer was I’m going to answer, “Fishy”. (Little BV humour there).

In the mean time, we’re dealing with lectures on every possible thing that can go wrong with having a parasite baby inside of you, and putting up with lecturers who say things like, “The best age to have children is 16.” Because it’s his duty to inform us that a 16 year old only takes two weeks to get her body back, but a forty year old takes two years, if she ever gets back in shape at all.

What being 16 and pregnant means in today’s world.

We are convinced with each subsequent class that the continuing survival of the human race is nothing short of miraculous, given the brutal torture physical stress women repeatedly subject themselves to and also the sheer magnitude of the odds stacked against Junior developing into a viable pregnancy.

(Secret: One of the things I love about medicine is how human physiology just never ceases to surprise and amaze me).

In addition to the wonders of human reproduction (she adds drily), we’re also subject to the twin horrors of epidemiology and biostatistics. Epidemiology is the nice twin. Biostatistics is like the twin who screams all the time after you fed him and changed him and stayed up all night trying to understand just what the hell he was trying to say to you earlier today in class. There is a reason all the lecturers start the classes by trying to convince us that the subject really isn’t that scary. Because it is.

Our course assignment is to prepare a biostatistics presentation based on a published research paper, which doesn’t sound so bad if you consider the fact that it’s assigned to groups of about sixteen. But if you factor in that no one out of the sixteen persons even understands what’s being asked of them so that the burden of fleshing confused, half-assed answers falls to one person then you pretty much have my day on Tuesday.

Exactly.

But as much as I bitch about the crazy workload and incomprehensible concepts, I’m actually kind of excited about it all. This is as good a way to spend the summer as any: I’m with friends and out of the house. And I at least get to drive by the beach every morning.

Pax.

open letter to people with umbrellas (you know who you are)

Dear people with umbrellas,

Why is it that when it is raining, is always the people with umbrellas that feel they must walk under every awning on the street? The whole point of the umbrella is that you don’t need to cotch under the chiney man shop door like everybody else who don’t have umbrella. All you doing is getting everybody under there wet with the water dripping off your shelter on a stick, and endangering the eyes of everybody you pass.

All I ask is that you walk as close to the street as possible without making the drivers honk at you for scratching up their cars with your umbrellas. And leave the shelter to the cold and wet among us who couldn’t fork out the $250 to buy an umbrella from the umbrella man who selling them down the road.

Sincerely,
Cold and wet pedestrian

See, he knows what I’m talking about.

Square One. Looks familiar.

This picture felt appropriate

We are back to the point where blog entries start getting irregular, then scarce then finally disappearing into an abyss of pointless posts and writer’s block. This is Not Good.

On the other hand, I’ve definitely been living it up for my Easter holiday. So much that my body still hasn’t realized that school is back in session and no, it can’t sleep in until 10 o’clock.

Things I have been up to
What a retired teen Jamaican gets up to in her spare time.

Reading excessive amounts of Neil Gaiman
Seriously, I finished his short story collection Smoke and Mirrors over the span of two days. And it only took me so long because my pesky textbooks kept getting in the way. No one inspires me to write like Gaiman does, and he always makes it looks so easy.

Not very much studying (but still more than normal)
I managed to catch up on quite a bit of Neuroscience (the 9 credit course on the human central nervous system that is half of the reason medical students are borderline suicidal this semester). All in preparation for a group study session that left me feeling that I hadn’t studied nearly enough yet. Why am I doing this again?

Going to Margaritaville
Don’t be fooled by all the laughing tourist pictures of people splashing around in the water and swapping bad jokes over great beer (Red Stripe represent). It’s way better than all of that. Moonlighting as Club Ville, Margaritaville is an upscale bar/restaurant with ridiculously overpriced food and a fantastically free water park that is more fun than you can possibly imagine. The slide is amazing. They even have life jackets for the swimming impaired, and the water isn’t very deep.

Long walks along the touristy Hip Strip for no reason whatsoever
Aside from the vicarious people watching opportunities the Hip Strip affords, it really is quite pretty to look at. Gorgeous vistas, inspiring sunsets and the $45M park make sure the Hip Strip is at least 97% of the reason Mobay is the tourist capital of Jamaica. And then the hordes of rural buses descend on the strip for the holidays and you appreciate the beauty even more (because they’re ruining it).

Wishing I was young again
The work was easier, the teachers were nicer and the holidays were longer. High school students and lower grades have this entire week off – it’s the end of a term. It’s horribly unfair for them to be mocking me from the comfort of their homes as I trudge to the bus at 7:30 every morning. Meanies.

Otherwise I’ve been eating far too little bun and cheese, visiting relatives (which is the heart and soul of Jamaican holidays), learning to drive (finally), and poking at dismembered brains (see study session above).

School meanwhile has escalated into full 9 hour days from 8-5, which means I’ll have far less time for blog writing. Unfortunately (and I can hear the collective groans of my devoted readership), I’ll be cutting posts down to once a week, on Tuesdays. It’ll be a distillation, like rum. Even better, like vodka. Yes. My blog will be vodka. Enjoy responsibly.

Pax.