Saturday, August 27, 2016

Jamaica's Montego Bay and the Perils of Traveling with Friends

Jamaica has always been an intriguing place. Renowned for world-class beaches and well known for its distinctive and vibrant culture, I knew Jamaica was a place I wanted to visit. It's also a place with a huge range of opportunities for vacationers - you can get there fairly cheaply, there are lots of direct flights, and you can choose to stay close to your airport and cut down on transportation time and cost, or you can head for more upscale locations on what is a relatively large island.

Of course, I had to opt for cheaper stuff on my trip. I couldn't afford a place like Negril - while beautiful and interesting, it's too far from the airport and doesn't have a lot of budget accommodation. Instead I opted for Montego Bay. There are plenty of gorgeous beaches here, and you can stay really close to the airport and beach at the same time for a good price. Of course as you can see below it's touristy. But that also means the thing you need are never far away, and I felt secure the entire time I was there. This wouldn't be a solo trip though, with a lot of encouragement and a little cash to ease the process, I had convinced a friend to get a passport and come along.

Traveling with other people can be wonderful. Often when I go to the beach, I like to be with people. Beaches aren't great places to hang out on alone, and they attract couples and groups, so it just makes being alone feel more lonely. It's a totally different situation from an urban vacation where there is often no end of museums and points of interest and activities. Many times I've found solo travel to be very rewarding when there are lots of choices. It simplifies things. But when there's a much less to do, say in the Caribbean, it can be more fun to have a companion. But it's also best to travel with people who you know so well, you know their routines and their idiosyncrasies, or you invite trouble.

Where we stayed in Montego Bay, there are some stunning public beaches, seen above and below. They are clean, and weren't crowded when we were there in February. But there are no facilities here.

Aside from the beach, the toen of Montego Bay is brimming with frenetic activity. While bustling and busy, it was a fine place to wander around and get a sense of the place.

The town square was filled with people, especially because school had just let out.

We walked with a local to a quieter part of town where he liked to crash.

I was wondering where we were being led, but my friend decided she wanted to head this way. This is where being alone would have made it much easier to just say I didn't feel up for this and gone my own way. But, I decided to go along with my pal since she doesn't travel often.

We met some interesting folks.

All in all, everyone was really friendly and sweet.

Yes, but enough of that. It was time to get back to town.
The sun set on a gorgeous day.

The next day, we headed to a beach in town that you pay a few dollars to visit. While that seemed a bit irritating, for the money you get a manicured beach, facilities, and access to a waitstaff that is only too happy to bring you food and drink.

It was a beautiful day that did justice to these incredible beaches. But an issue arose for my buddy, who had planned poorly for the trip. She'd only brought $60, and no ATM card. I was flabbergasted (especially since I'd paid for our hotel). Maybe it was partly my fault for assuming someone would bring more money than that on an overseas trip in which you could not access money at all. But basically, she had very little cash to pay the small $5 beach fee. So, I paid for that as well. 

Still worth it.

I'd made our hotel arrangements and we were just across the street from this beach. I thought it was a great location. There isn't a lot aside from the beaches and the tourist strip in Jamaica, and after awhile it felt like we were spending too much time together. My friend seemed far more interested in the guy she'd met the day before, and we were left without much to talk about.

I'd thought of this as a cool friend trip, but ended up finding out that we don't know each other as well as I thought. My friend also took this trip as a chance to give me some lousy news. I'd describe it as the opposite of relaxing, and at some point I started looking forward to the end of the trip.

The beach was still as amazing as ever, so I took the time to wander around and take photos. On some of those strolls, I ran into several 'pharmacists' who are only to happy to try to remedy any situation.

Another nice thing about the beaches that charge admission are the playground they provide. One is seen below; the structure the adults are climbing on was open for all to use.

The airport is close, and made for fun viewing, especially knowing it would only be a matter of time before I was back there and headed home.

I still wanted my associate to have a good time, and we headed to a spot that's famous for jerk chicken. While there isn't much for me, the vegetarian, to eat, the fries were good.

Jamaica definitely has a great atmosphere and if I disregard my lame companion, it was awesome.

I was not sad that this trip was over, but I'm still pleased I got to visit Jamaica.
I would love to return and explore more of the island.

Not much was said at the airport, where things became even more tense. What can I say? I guess I found out my friend is great at taking and not too good at being appreciative or prepared. Maybe as an experienced traveler,  I could have been better at anticipating the hiccups. Either way it didn't matter much, we returned home and never spoke again. That was over four years ago and I don't have any desire to pick up the tattered threads of whatever that relationship was.

I have learned however, don't try to turn a homebody into a nomad - the results ain't pretty.
Travel with people that love travel. Choose traveling partners and companions that have shared interests and similar outlooks on the pace of vacations, and are like-minded when it comes to both time-management and standard of accommodations. Before the trip, take the time to discuss what you and your companion expect from the trip, and what a typical day on vacation might involve. Try to address major differences in your expectations before you go anywhere.

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