Jamaica “Unknown”



I watched Anthony Bourdain’s “Parts Unknown” Sunday night because CNN promised he would be showcasing Jamaica. But the hour-long show left me feeling the Jamaica they visited was, indeed, unknown. To me, anyway.

Bourdain, swinging in a hammock at some still undeveloped beach on the North Shore, described the place as “Paradise.” To me, it looked rather boring – sand and sea… and more sand and more sea…

The Jamaica I was born in, the Jamaica I lived in until I was 19 and returned to live in three times later on, was nothing like that.

To me Jamaica is not just beaches but also mountains, not just seaside caves but also secluded waterfalls and murmuring streams and wooded hillsides, not just fishing hamlets but also vibrant cities, not just reggae, ganja and dreadlocks but also  theatre and dance and symphony orchestras, an internationally accredited university, centuries-old artifacts at the Jamaica Institute, gourmet dining and dancing under a star-studded sky.

A perfect day in the Jamaica of my memories would start with breakfast at Morgan’s Harbour, lunch at Devon House, a round of golf at Caymanas, afternoon tea at Strawberry Ridge and dinner at the Blue Mountain Inn. And, late into the night, there would be dancing at a nightclub in Kingston or at one of the North Coast hotels.

(Do any of those places still exist? I wonder.)

Would there be ackee and saltfish? Probably. Well prepared, that Jamaican standard ranks right up there with the tastiest dishes in the world, especially when it’s complemented by roast breadfruit and avocado pear. And for dessert, there would be the most wonderful fruits in the world – according to the season, a Bombay or St. Julien mango, a custard apple or sweetsop, or a star apple, ripe bananas of course… or a tropical fruit salad that must be tasted to be believed…

But what I saw Bourdain eating at the beach looked rather unappetizing… his ackee and saltfish came with a burnt chunk of breadfruit and a piece of boiled green banana, and his curry goat was accompanied by “pigeon peas” (is that gungo peas?). Not my choice for a great dining experience.

Of course, he had to sample the world famous Jamaican jerk chicken.

But, come to think of it, I don’t recall eating jerk chicken as a child. I remember jerk pork – chunks of meat from wild hogs hunted in the Blue Mountains and slow-roasted over a barbecue pit. As I recall, we would be driving home to Portland from Kingston and my father would stop to buy jerk pork from a vendor at the side of the road.

At the other extreme in Bourdain’s Jamaica was The Trident, in Portland, the parish where I spent most of my early childhood. My parents  belonged to Boston Beach Club at San San, almost next door to The Trident. And I can tell you we did not have acrobatic dancing waiters or fire eaters to entertain us, as Michael Lee-Chin, the billionaire owner of The Trident, did on the CNN show.

As depicted on the show, the lifestyle of Chris Blackwell, the reggae baron, also seemed somewhat distasteful, his occupancy of Golden Eye seemed a little sacrilegious.

The Jamaica CNN left with me was a rustic backwater, about to be despoiled by resort developers, peopled by the obscenely rich and the destitute but happy natives, whose birthright was in danger.

I don’t remember that Jamaica. It’s sad indeed if my magical homeland has come to this.

Click for Michael-Lee Chin’s resort plans.

Click for more on Chris Blackwell.

Click for things to do in Jamaica (besides lying in a hammock).