Redmen, Fishermen, Higglers and Gigolos

This is the view from the end of the garden of Calabash House, the guest house I stayed at in Treasure Beach. You can imagine it was hard to move. I did make it to Jack Sprat’s restaurant, just a mosey down the bay. They had a wicked jukebox playing lots of reggae I know in England, from my Trojan box sets.

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Treasure Beach is an unusual place. Way off the beaten track and a far cry from the resort tourism of the north coast, it has a rustic, hippy feel.  Many of the residents are fishermen and occasional tour guides, taking tourists up the Black River to look at crocodiles .  Many of them have an unusual look – red or blonde hair, green or blue eyes, light skin and freckles. Legend has it that a Scottish ship sunk off the coast in 1600s, the survivors swam to shore and settled, and the intermixing of Scots and locals led to this distinctive appearance. This all sounds harmonious, but in fact Jamaica was a slave colony in the 1600s and Scots were common in Jamaica as slave-masters and owners – a slightly bleaker account of this racial intermixing.

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Redman of Tresure Beach

Treasure Beach is engaged in community based tourism and committed to sustainable local development. Still, I felt very sobered by my long conversations this week with the delightful Roy Reid, Kingston taxi driver and wise man, who told me how most Jamaican workers cannot afford  holidays on their own island, how many have never visited the resorts but only heard of them.

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According to Polly Thomas, author of the Rough Guide, a woman traveling alone in Jamaica may well be propositioned by the “gigolos” that work the resorts, who might rightly assume they’ve come, as many women do, for an “exotic” encounter. This, of course, is another side of the poverty of this island. I’ve been accompanied for most of my time here, but even sleepy Treasure Beach has its Lothario, who this morning, offered to….no, honestly, I can’t say. Really.

But it did make me reflect on traveling alone, and specifically traveling alone as a woman, and what it means to visit a country as poor as Jamaica. The subject of the economy is worthy of a separate blog post, but just to relay an anecdote from this morning: two higglers approached me while I was lounging on the beach – one selling wood carvings, the other mangos. I was honestly interested in both, but I was so apprehensive, I told them I didn’t want their goods, not only because I had no money on me (I could easily have run inside to get my purse), but also I felt vulnerable in my bikini, and felt a wariness of strangers, of engaging in haggling, that I know I wouldn’t have felt if I’d been with someone else.

The guy with the carvings looked forlorn as he wandered off, polishing his carved bird as though I’d insulted it, and the guy with the mangos looked at me disdainfully and then up towards the (American-owned) guesthouse and said “you only give money to rich folks, not locals”.

I felt a mix of feelings, among them guilt, that these men really did rely on the money made along the beach from tourists.  But another was injustice – if I hadn’t been alone and nervous, I’d have bought a mango and a carved bird. And it wouldn’t have been out of guilt – I wanted both!  – and lucky me, for being able to buy both, and articulate this  particular “dilemma”.

Lastly, on the way back to Kingston, I saw a few bananas hanging at the roadside fruit stalls, – it seems, not all the bananas in Jamaica are gone, and, according to Roy, they’ll be plenty more in a couple of months…

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