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Jamaican life is stimulating, loud and thrilling, the people upbeat and warm, and with the following dumplings of knowledge afloat in your soup, you’ll soon be swaggering around town like a breda possessed.


It’s no lie, there are folks who holiday in Jamaica year after year but never set foot outside the resort during their stay. So much for the allure of travel.

A Wilson tip to cut-out-and-keep to ease your way into the downtown Ochi social situation and generally improve the day: pick a bar, any bar, grab a stool and some rum and Ting, and after a short while just try not to engage with the regulars, soaking up some of that true Jamaican sunshine. Now, where were we…

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The hub of Ochi activity

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Impossible to miss on its concrete island with a few trees for company at the point where DaCosta Drive and Main Street meet, the iconic Ocho Rios Clock Tower was built in 1973, kindly gifted to the town by Mr Donald DaCosta and Lt Col Robin Stewart of St Ann.

The tower is of a freestanding square column design on a simple plinth base, a block construction with vertical feature panels. Each face has a classic white dial set into a panel-moulded upper quadrate and topped with a triangular pediment. A discreet service door to the westernmost side allows access to the inner workings.

Over time the Clock Tower has been painted cream and various shades of blue; it has been shot at and set on fire, daubed in graffiti, adorned with xmas lights, urinated on and occasionally slept in.

And despite all of this, it stands proudly today as the central meeting place and undisputed focal point of Ocho Rios — and as such deserves to be preserved and loved.


People and t’ings to know

NO INSULT INTENDED

Jamaicans are typically no-nonsense and will call people as they see them. For example: if you are a Caucasian male you are White Man, if Chinese you are Mr Chin.

Simply a perception of your race, appearance or walk of life, no insult is intended. Folks are openly referred to as Rasta, Indian, Chef, whatever... or in Wilson’s case, White Bwai and Fatty, just before you ask.

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YOUR FRIENDLY GUIDE

Tourists stick out a mile, so don’t be alarmed when you’re hit on by a friendly fireball pitching his services as your personal town guide.

A lot of the tourism channels warn against this but most of these unofficial hosts are honest and genuine, and seeing the town in a nutshell with a local for an hour or so is a fascinating diversion, a bit of fun in return for some dollars. But keep your wits if you’re offered a ‘smoke’ — it would not be the first time someone got woozy and the ship set sail without them!

STREET SELLERS

Whether waiting to be whizzed-off in a sweltering minibus, strolling through town avoiding eye contact, or just lyming around in a bar nursing an ice cold beer, you’ll be offered everything from donuts and sugar cane to cologne, leather belts and facecloths. Where else could you purchase your weekly groceries and summer wardrobe from the comfort of a minibus or barstool?

Street sellers, and other enterprising characters making a living off the pavement, are part of the town’s lifeblood and deserve your custom.

And yes, it’s Official... one of life’s greatest pleasures is speeding back from Kingston to Ochi in a crammed minibus next to the open window with a bag juice and a box of pineapple donuts all to yourself.

THE “FIST BUMP”

Popular greetings of ‘respect’ come in all levels of intricacy; the simple ‘fist bump’ is the one you will most receive. In another, the fists meet vertically, then horizontally, then a brief flick of the thumbs, but there are countless variants from ‘high fives’ to the ‘elbowing’ of elbows (a good one when holding two drinks).

One theory we entertain is that the fist bump greeting came about so that germs and other icky substances were not passed between bredren who had neglected to wash their hands after relieving themselves — it would be quite a keen show of initiative were this to be true.

KEEP IT COVERED

Out of the many cultural misunderstandings Wilson discovered the hard way, one is that, no matter how heavenly your torso, it’s considered impolite for men (and indeed ladies) to be stripped to the waist when entering a restaurant, bar, bank, shop or office. You will be refused entry by the security doorman unless you cover up.

So when not on the beach or by the pool, affirm your dignity in a shirt or marina vest.*

*Unless you are of a certain age and from the USA in which case you will already be decked out in an unflatteringly loud Hawaiian shirt.

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TEMPT ME NOT

Here's a good word to roll around... Sensimilia. Wander down any street and you will pass unwittingly through frequent clouds of a certain pungent nostril-tickling aroma.

Laws relating to marijuana (ganja, da herb, etc) have softened — it is ‘illegal’ but only a ‘petty offence’ to possess up to 56 g (quite a sizeable bag we are told). For religious purposes, true Rastafarians may use the stuff. Visitors from overseas with a medical prescription can apply for a permit — but for better guidance on such medicinal matters than we can offer, the Kaya Herbhouse is a good place to start.

We all know what goes on so just be discreet — you wouldn’t build up a chalice pipe in a restaurant after a meal would you? And don’t start chicken-dancing on the roof of a stationary police vehicle with a big seven-skinner blazing between your teeth.

What do we think? We’ll just settle for a few cold beers and a Matterhorn, thanking you kindly.


A GENTLE WORD ON HUSTLING

Hustling is a part of everyday life, and everybody has to eat, but not by harassment or deceit. Beware of those who will try to trick you into false familiarity — “Remember me from the hotel?” is a common and tedious example. Another nuisance will follow you asking for a ‘tip’ or some ‘compensation’ for nothing. You must be friendly but firm with these characters, and usually a “No, thank you” or an “I’m all set, thanks” should do.

ETIQUETTE (AND LACK OF)

Don’t assume you’ll meet cordiality down every alley. If nudging in line toward the cashier in a shop queue, watch orderliness evaporate as folks sidle in to get served before you. No need to vex, it’s just how it is. Or you’re politely awaiting your turn at the bar and a loudmouth appears, banging his money down — remember a lot of aggression on display is ‘window dressing’ and not your concern. But buying a stranger a cold beer works like a charm to promote a friendlier accord between nations — try it.