Jamaica: 'We'll Have to Relax on the Next Trip to the Islands'

Two couples hope to scout wedding locations, pay tribute to a dear family member, and squeeze in time for Jet Skiing

Tarsha White, her fiance John Jones Jr., and his parents, Marney and John (Photo: John-Francis Bourke)
Tarsha White, her fiance John Jones Jr., and his parents, Marney and John (Photo: John-Francis Bourke)

Marney and John Jones are recent retirees living in Snellville, Ga., just outside Atlanta. Anything but novice travelers, they've visited Copenhagen, Paris, and Santa Barbara, Calif., in the past year.

But a trip to Jamaica has Marney befuddled. "We're senior citizens, and I may be having a senior moment," she says. "But I just can't seem to figure out the best way to plan this trip."

The problem is that John and Marney aren't heading off for a simple week at the beach. Their 26-year-old son, John Jr., the youngest of six, is engaged to Jamaica native Tarsha White. The wedding is to be held in February at the resort area of Ocho Rios, and all four of them want to see ahead of time where the ceremony and reception will take place. That's only one reason for the trip, however. Their visit coincides with a traditional two-day ceremony dedicated to Tarsha's grandmother, who passed away last year. Since the festivities are being held in a fishing village that's an hour east of capital city Kingston--and about three hours over winding mountain roads from Ocho Rios--the family is going to see a lot more of Jamaica than the average tourist does.

Adding to the complexity, Marney and John plan to attend a family reunion in Daytona Beach, Fla., after their week in Jamaica. Flights from Jamaica to Daytona involve at least one stop, so we present the Joneses with a handful of options, including returning to a larger Florida hub or booking a standard round trip from Atlanta, followed by a cheap AirTran one-way to Daytona. Eventually, Marney and John go with a Delta ticket from Atlanta to Kingston, returning from Kingston to Fort Lauderdale, nonstop in both directions. "We want to make it as hassle-free as possible," says Marney. From Fort Lauderdale, they'll rent a car and drop it off in Daytona, where they'll meet family and later catch a ride back to Georgia.

Tarsha will be able to serve as cultural guide, but she won't be with Marney and John all the time. We offer a few bits of knowledge that'll come in handy for any visitor to Jamaica. Skip over gypsy taxis in favor of government-sanctioned JUTA cabs, which have red license plates. Most taxis aren't metered, so it's smart to agree on a price in advance. Feel free to ask for a quote in American dollars. (U.S. currency is widely accepted, and US$1 equals about J$65.) Most Jamaicans are polite and friendly, and like to be acknowledged. Give a friendly hello or a nod of the head to anyone and everyone. "Good night!" is a typical Jamaican evening greeting; it doesn't necessarily mean good-bye.

John and Marney will meet up with John Jr. and Tarsha (who are flying in from Washington, D.C.) in Kingston at midday on a Friday. The ceremony for Tarsha's grandmother begins the next day, and some of Tarsha's family is staying that night at Whispering Bamboo Cove Resort in Morant Bay. "What do you think about that for our hotel choice?" asks Marney. The resort is an affordable gem, with views of the ocean and the Blue Mountains, and access to a private beach. The nearby, candy-cane-striped Morant Point Lighthouse is the oldest in Jamaica, built in 1841 on the island's easternmost tip, and makes for a fine photo op.

Marney has arthritis, so for Saturday morning we recommend a relaxing soak at the Bath Fountain Hotel & Spa, eight miles north of Morant Bay. The 127-degree waters have been sought out for their healing powers for more than 300 years. A 20-minute dip costs $10, and attendants generally expect a $1 to $2 tip.

Tarsha's family is gathering in the village of Old Pera, where her late grandmother was a shopkeeper. John Jr. is looking forward to watching his fiancée go back to her roots. "I really love to hear Tarsha speak patois," says John Jr., referring to the Jamaican Creole islanders use. On Saturday evening, everyone takes part in the traditional rites of Cumina, a religion based on reverence for ancestors; it was brought to the island centuries ago by Africans. The term Cumina is derived from two words in the Twi language of Ghana: akom (possession) and Ana (ancestor). The event honoring the deceased, which includes singing, dancing, and playing the drums, is anything but a sad occasion. "Tarsha's Grandmom's funeral last year was unexpected and sad," says John Jr. "Now we're going to celebrate Grandmom's life, and enjoy the island as a family."

On Sunday morning, the headstone will be placed on the grave, officially ending the ceremony. The Joneses then can spend the afternoon sightseeing in Kingston. John Jr. is interested in National Heroes Park, a former racetrack just north of downtown where Jamaican luminaries such as black nationalist leader Marcus Garvey and former premier Norman Manley are buried. "Marcus Garvey is one of my heroes, so I really look forward to seeing his monument," says John Jr. A colorful changing of the guard takes place on the hour. For tasty snacks, vendors sell boiled crabs and roast corn.

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