The distance between Cuba and Jamaica is barely even 80 miles, but when you travel from one place to the other, it literally feels like you’ve arrived on the other side of the planet. Jamaica is about as far from communism as a society can be, and that’s a refreshing change. Our week so far in Jamaica has been made more interesting than most because of the people we’ve found here. In addition to the unusually large number of young (30-something) sailors we’ve met here, we’ve also connected with Kiewa the Messiah, which is Piers’s Jamaican friend from his last visit some years ago. With this very diverse group, we’ve explored all corners of Jamaica during the past week.
As almost always is the case, we’ve gone far off the beaten path in Jamaica and have been learning about local life here while avoiding anything with a tourist bus out in front. That’s been pretty easy thanks to the time we’ve spent hanging out with Kiewa the Messiah, who’s about as local as a Jamaican can be and, luckily for us, as curious about our lives on the boat as we are about his. Kiewa is a Rasta, which means he subscribes to the beliefs and lifestyle of the Rastafari movement, which is partially a religion and partially a way of life. This means he’s deeply reflective, maintains a simple and humble lifestyle, rejects materialism, accepts everyone, eats a strict vegetarian diet, and like all Rastas, smokes the “sacred herb” (marijuana) in a way that is far more spiritual and religious than recreational…. a nicer, more selfless person would be difficult to find anywhere.
Crime in Jamaica, unfortunately, is a real problem, particularly the petty theft variety, and visiting sailors need to be careful here. We learned about this the hard way the day we arrived when we lost a cell phone to a clever teenage street thief (now in jail after showing off to the wrong people). The growth and consumption of marijuana here, despite its popularity, is all totally illegal and, surprisingly, quite strictly enforced. We’ve already been thoroughly searched several times (one boat boarding and two vehicle searches), and although government searches are always an annoyance wherever we are, the suspicion here is probably more justified than usual given the drug smuggling problems. A confiscated American sailboat sits just 100 yards from our anchor after the owner tried stashing away 400 pounds of the sacred herb last week – a tempting $500k profit if he’d made it all the way to US soil.
Most tourists to Jamaica come by cruise boat or to visit one of the gigantic all-inclusive resorts. This is a shame – their protective bubbles shield them from the hazards of Jamaican street life, and also shield them from almost everything that’s interesting about the place. We’ll probably be here for another week or two while we wait for autopilot parts coming from Miami, then as soon as possible we’ll be heading south to Colombia – a place where the drug smugglers think in $millions, not $thousands. The weather is changing now with storms, torrential rain, and squally winds becoming pretty routine, so we’re anxious to get across the Caribbean Sea before this becomes a more significant threat.