Kingston, Jamaica’s capital and largest city, is also home to Bob Marley’s former residence. TW and I booked a Kingston tour through our resort, Riu Reggae. We had expected Kingston to be a bustling hub of Jamaican culture, brimming with craft markets and institutions rich with artistic or historical significance. Alas, Kingston did not live up to our expectations. The only highlights of the tour were the landmarks related to the legendary Bob Marley.
The tour began so early in the morning that our resort’s buffet had not yet opened (we were heartbroken to have missed out on the beignets!). TW and I had to snag wrapped sandwiches and pastries from the resort’s display counters of snacks, which were really just leftovers from previous buffets. We slept on the bus as the driver picked up guests from other resorts.
About an hour or two later, our tour guide began talking. The problem was, there wasn’t much to talk about. The bus chugged past small cities, port towns, and agricultural villages, as the guide informed us of how the Chinese were contracted to fix the toll road we were on, or how the adjacent port town received a lot of imports. I slept through much of her tedious explanations.
Then, feeling alarmed by our lack of interest (though what did she expect, with guests who were half-asleep?), the tour guide tried to engage us in conversation. Her approach was painfully energetic…she was trying way too hard. TW and I missed the genuine warmth of Alicia, the amusing and deeply knowledgeable tour guide from our earlier tour of Croydon Plantation.
The most interesting thing our Kingston tour guide said was that we should not judge Kingston by its reputation for violence. She claimed that Kingston experienced no more crime than other major cities around the world, and ensured us that once we met and conversed with the inhabitants of Kingston, we would experience the true colors of the city. I felt a bit excited by the prospect of engaging with the locals on the streets.
Several hours passed by. The drive to Kingston was long. Finally, we approached a city that looked…well…a little like South Los Angeles. There was nothing that appeared culturally distinct or exotic about Kingston, at least not to me. I thought it could pass as a rundown, dated American city.
The tour guide announced that we would be taking pictures from a hill. To my amusement, I realized that she was treating this tour like a Hollywood Star Tour – except that she was pointing out the homes of people that were well known locally but unknown to us tourists. The bus stopped in a residential neighborhood at the top of the hill so that we could take pictures of the cityscape below.
The guide plucked some foliage off a bush growing nearby and claimed that these leaves were the cure for prostate cancer. What the what?
The bus also stopped at Emancipation Park, whose main features were a long pool of water and some interesting statues.
The guide excitedly pointed out a newly renovated bus station that was mildly attractive in a slick, modern kind of way. We rolled by some hills known as “Beverly Hills” (no, really), which featured expensive homes owned by government officials. We disembarked at a Bob Marley statue, which was pretty neat.
And, finally, we arrived at the Bob Marley Museum, the house where Bob Marley had once lived. By that time, however, I was already disappointed in the tour, and was further chagrined to learn that the museum was not even included in the steep tour price. Feeling road-weary, I decided to sit in the pleasant patio outside the house and sip on some Red Stripe. TW, a big Bob Marley fan, joined some others in the museum tour. The remaining tourists from our bus went to lunch early.
I admired the colorful entryway and murals that captured the spirit of Marley’s music and beliefs. The outside of the house was also charming to look at, with its 19th-century architecture, statue, artsy accents, and lush plants. At that point I felt a little voice tell me: Don’t worry about a thing…cause every little thing…gonna be alright.
When TW emerged from the tour, she was excited to describe the museum’s sites and artifacts, including Marley’s home recording studio – still intact – and the wall riddled with bullet holes from a failed assassination attempt on Marley. She proudly held a Bob Marley vinyl record, which she had purchased at the gift shop, awaiting the moment when she would be jammin.
The bus transported those of us at the museum to the mall where the rest of our group had already begun lunch. The mall looked like a shabby American mall from the ‘80s, complete with a pink and teal color scheme and geometric shapes.
Unfortunately, lunch was not included in the tour price either. And instead of authentic Jamaican cuisine, we had our pick of fast food, which did include some “island” sandwiches, Asian food, and Burger King, among other options. I ate an underwhelming island-style chicken sandwich, while TW picked at some Asian fusion food. We wandered the mall for a bit, enticed by nothing, until the bus was ready to sweep us away to our next stop.
The courtyard shopping center where the bus dropped us off was more appealing than the mall, at least. It featured colonial style buildings bordering a verdant lawn. The stores were not big commercial chains, but instead included small souvenir shops, a candle store, and an ice cream parlor. We browsed the wares for a bit, until finally, it was time to leave.
As the bus made its long journey back to the resorts, I reflected that, throughout the duration of our tour, we had spent more time on the bus than off it. There had been no opportunity to chat with the locals on the street, as we had hoped. There were only business transactions with Jamaicans who sold us fast food or merchandise over the counter.
Conclusion: If there was anything in Kingston worth traveling so long for, other than the Bob Marley Museum, our tour did not reveal it. If you’re a Bob Marley fan, it might be wise to explore other options, like a private driver, for instance. Get up, stand up…stand up for your rights. Or at least, for the sights you wish to see!