Wrapping up Jamaica: Montego Bay

Travel (blogging) can be kind of punctuated with periods of dramatic change and steady states. Our last few days in Jamaica were not super interesting, although Montego Bay was pretty cool.

After finally wrapping up (surviving) our third night in the jungle/bug/powerless/remote hostel we headed to Montego Bay on a $50 shuttle (can't you get to JFK for that?) and landed at our last Jamaican hostel, Mobay Kotch. We should have taken pictures, it's a really stunning old building, possibly historic, with beautiful hardwood floors, high ceilings and spacious rooms.

We booked the 7 person dorm because the room looked nicer than the 6 person dorm in the online pictures. Unfortunately so did the only two other people staying at a hostel with capacity for maybe 20? Didn't matter, they were fine and the guy was a historian by trade that was visiting sites relating to his research in the African diaspora and slave trade. It was fascinating to hear what he'd been up to and the local's response to his work on Jamaican history.

I really regret not getting pictures of the Market Square in Montego Bay too, which is historically relevant (even to that guy's work) and was a neat, bustling, Caribbean & colonial town square. Our hostel was about three minutes from here.

Sam Sharpe Square Montego Bay (Expedia)
Expedia's picture of the square, with far less bustle

So the excitement for the day was our great victory: making it to Scotchie's (beloved by expats and tourists, scoffed at by locals) on a local budget. Getting anywhere in Jamaica on a local budget was one of the real challenges of our stay there, and one of the biggest frustrations. While we haven't figured out the finer points of route taxi vs chartered, route bus vs local, etc, we managed to get this one right.

We were sent from the hostel with vague instructions to take a couple turns from the square and start yelling "falmot bus" (?) until we found someone to take us to Scotchie's for $200-$250 JMD each. From those vague instructions we managed to get close to the intended destination, got a little help from a cabbie who insisted that "Jerkie's" was way better than Scotchie's and that he'd take us there for a couple hundred, and finally found the guy yelling "Falmouth bus" on a corner.

Our destination

We yelled "falmot bus" back at him and he got us into a Falmouth bus (what we were yelling became clear at this point) headed to Falmouth. After frantically trying to get a price out of someone before we were ushered onto a bus and trapped, we heard $300. I tried to negotiate down to $250 before we realized they only wanted $300 for the both of us -- we got a better price than the Jamaican woman at the hostel thought we could!

If you've ever heard of a dollar van, or similar concept, that's what this was. Slightly bigger than a 15 passenger van, it goes between two fixed points - in this case Montego Bay and Falmouth, at high speed, making rapid pick ups and drop offs along the highway on its route. A friend has confirmed that the Flatbush dollar vans that run up and down Flatbush Ave at nights for a dollar in fact originated in this Caribbean mode of transit.

This way of getting around was unique and exciting to us for a few reasons. First of all they cram as many people in as possible - since you're not paying much. I sat on a square ottoman that was cut to fit between two bench seats. Second, it's super local: people going to work or coming home from school. No tourists, just everyday folks going about their everyday business. That was really refreshing because nobody on the bus cared about us or where we're from or what they could try to sell us. Finally, there's an "expediter" that rides in the bus, often standing in the door well, who handles the money, flagging down people to get on the bus and coordinating the stops, all so the driver can just drive. It's a well oiled machine and was cool to see in action.

There was a bit of concern if they'd remember that we have to get off at the tourist jerk spot 5 minutes out of town, or if we'd end up in the city half an hour down the road. They did remember and let us off onto the highway median right across from Scotchie's.

So that was a bit of an adventure getting out to this place, but for me that's one of the best parts of travel. Heading out, not fully knowing how you're going to get where you're going but figuring it out successfully without necessarily understanding how you did it. That sense of accomplishment is a hug part of the thrill of travel. So when we got off at Scotchies only about $2.50 USD poorer I was pretty happy, but when we saw the rows of chicken and pork cooking directly on pimento wood under sheet metal lids, I knew it was worth the trip.

Meat cooking!


Clockwise from the top left, we had:
1/2 pound jerk pork, conch soup, 1/4 jerk chicken, festival and roast breadfruit.

It was pretty damned good, although the difference between fast food jerk and Scotchie's isn't as great as say, cheap sushi and destination sushi. It didn't change the way we thought of jerk or take it to heights unimaginable. Really good though, and probably the best festival we've had. I'm not sure if festival is better described as a meatless, stickless corndog, or a hush puppy breadstick.

Oh, and breadfruit tastes like bland bread. There was almost no flavor or texture to speak of. It may have some nutrition but I have little interest in finding out. I had to try it though, some actually grew near our shed at the Negril hostel.

Seating area - it was really nice!

With that done, we avoided expensive taxi ride offers ($20) and took the route bus back to Montego Bay; coincidentally the guy who put us on the first bus was riding as expediter on this one.

We would have loved to do more in Montego Bay but limited ourselves to one night there based on literally every recommendation that we got about MoBay vs Negril. The thing is, we actually liked what little we saw of MoBay and weren't crazy about Negril. Oh well. I got to try something called "June plum" juice in my rum that last night and Melissa has a bag of unique chips she will be reviewing from Montego Bay.