After Labadee, our next port of call was Falmouth, Jamaica. Much less touristic than the ports of Ocho Rios and Montego Bay, this port had some promise ab intitio and it did not disappoint.
I watched our arrival from the breakfast buffet, making small talk with some of the other passengers that were drawn to my window to watch the same. The dock extended into the water in a V shape, with a place for two vessels to moor. Another Royal Caribbean vessel was already moored and we were backing up to take our place in the dock’s only other slot.
My two traveling companions were planning to take the Bob Marley excursion that would last the whole day and take them much deeper into Jamaica. I was planning to spend the day getting to know this little city on foot. Even from a distance, I was surveying the city and my attention kept getting drawn by a tall brick structure that I mistook for a minaret. Curiosity invoked, I decided to proceed towards that tower upon disembarkation.
Upon leaving their ships, cruise passengers are routed through a customs checkpoint where officers run bags through a metal detector. After I had cleared, I went into an office to the side and asked to have my passport stamped. I was told that I can only get a stamp if I fly in and the officers refused to stamp my passport.
After the customs house is a fairly developed cruise port which is largely identical to all of the other developed cruise ports in the Caribbean. The jewelry shops are all of the same chain and they sit amidst trinket dealers and duty free liquor and tobacco shops. At these places, the room card, which is good for all purchases made on the cashless ship, is generally accepted in all the shops along with US Dollars and Euros. I would come back here to wait for my crewmen friends later, but at that moment I bee-lined it straight to the gate and was soon out on the streets of Falmouth.
Vendors were waiting touting trinkets and tours to those passengers who were adventurous enough to venture out from the security of the port. There would be a few of us seeping out these gates, but the further one went, the fewer fellow passengers one could see unescorted. The transition between the cruise port and the city proper was stark. The aggressive selling and “come into my shop” requests were plentiful along that first street. One has to ignore these people past a point that an American would deem polite, but ignore them you must if you don’t want to be followed and pressed for more time and more examination of yet another fine Jamaican product. By no means do I intend to paint a negative picture here, it is just that if you are not looking to make purchases, it can be nothing short of work to walk 100 feet. The vendors became sparse and I found myself in a downtown square.
Mentally following landmarks towards that tower, I proceeded down the road and eventually came upon it. It was not a mosque, but rather a Catholic Church. This was actually a common stop for a lot of the tours and I found that some tour busses had arrived before me. With the tourists were the street vendors. Some of the street vendors noticed my uncommon approach and attempted to intercept me en route to sell me some jewelry and music CDs. I told them that I was not interested in buying and ended up walking straight past the church, only snapping a few pictures as I passed.
I walked a few blocks and then took a right towards the shore again. This path took me past the jail and police station, which was by far the most modern building I saw. Across from the police station was a helipad. Seeing a helicopter out front bearing American numbers, I was tempted to go inside and see if someone there could stamp my passport, but walked on instead.
Turning left along the coastal road, I passed a rather large compound that was the hospital. To be honest, I was rather shocked to see the hospital as it looked anything but modern. I was expecting, being in the Commonwealth, for a much more modern facility, but instead saw rooms being aired out by open windows and gowns hanging up on clotheslines outside of the extremely run down building. While I have been known to obtain medical and dental care in other countries, I would not be tempted to do so at this facility.
I then went to the beach to put my hand in the water and snap a few pictures. When I did a man came out of the bushes and approached me. I could not discern a word that he was saying and cannot say if it was English or some other tongue. He exhibited signs of being under the influence of drugs as he just went on and on in his almost angry sounding monologue. I eventually walked on, and he continued to talk to himself apparently without noticing my departure. I walked along that road until the next major intersection and then worked my way back to the downtown area.
This time I poked my head into a few shops and generally killed some time before I was due to meet my friends at the port. While my other travel companions were hours out on their tour, my crewman friend and his fiancée were participating in mandatory drills onboard the Freedom. We had arranged to meet for lunch and they had promised to show me the best Jamaican patties as well as one of their favourite local eateries. I did not want to be late for lunch.
Our first stop, Tastee, was really close to the port. When leaving the gate, we turned left and pretty much followed the road around, hugging the left side. At the first junction, there was a grocery store-sized strip mall and Tastee was in the middle of it. Behind this building, I would later learn, was Falmouth’s open air market. Inside of Tastee there was a decent queue, of mostly locals and it took a few minutes to place our order. I ordered a cheeseburger patty and I believe a plain beef patty as well. Both were good, but the cheeseburger patty is the one that I’d go back for. There were other items being sold, but I focused on the patties on this visit.
Juici Beef, our second stop, was near the downtown square. This was a smaller shop, but packed nevertheless. Here we met a few of the Freedom’s crew seeking some patties as well. Considering the blend of locals and the ship’s company, I take it that this was a well known and well liked establishment. Here too I had a cheeseburger patty (as one must have a common reference point) and at least one other. It was also very good and I had no complaints.
Our next stop was Jelly Man, a vegetarian and seafood restaurant. We had heard of this place well in advance as it invoked collective memories of a restaurant in Gainesville. This place was literally a shack. This place was a few blocks from the downtown plaza and was the epitome of hole-in-the-wall. I opted to go against the advice of my friend and I ordered a fish dish which was good, but looking at his vegetarian beef-tips, I do regret not going along with his advice and going vegetarian that day. Overall, I certainly think that this place was worth the visit and I do not believe that you can go wrong with anything you order.
After the Jelly Man, I escorted my friends back to the ship and went on my second solo excursion of the day. I began by going back to the first patty shop and exploring the road at its side. There were a lot of local people in this area, and I was notably the only foreigner. Along this road and peeking down a narrow intersecting dirt road, I saw an open aired market. Without the hint of another cruise passenger around and having no clue about the layout of the market before me, I absolutely had to venture in.
The market, at first glance, was not unlike so many others that I had been in Mexico or Guatemala. There were the standard fruits and vegetables, ready to eat foods, house wares, and tools. As I walked through the labyrinth, people started noticing me. This was to be expected as it was obviously an exclusively local clientele, and I, a white man, was obviously not from around there. This is when things got interesting. Every few minutes, a vendor would pull out a bag of some leafy green substance and would ask if that is what I am looking for.
It is worth mentioning that, while Jamaica is often associated with marijuana, such product is not legal in all parts of Jamaica. I have heard that there are police checkpoints on the highways outside of its zones of legality in order to curb its movement in the stream of domestic commerce. For the record, in Falmouth it is not legal. Despite the illegality, I could smell it in the market from the moment I entered it and I could have easily purchased some there had I wanted to.
Towards the end of my market tour, a man approaches me and starts walking beside me. He asks what I am looking for and I tell him that I am merely visiting the market and was not searching for anything. He then asks me if I am looking for good marijuana and I responded in the negative. He then says, “ah ha! I know what you are looking for! Look behind you.” I turn to see three rather scary women walking about 3 or 4 feet behind us. “Have you ever been with a Jamaican woman?”
Simply saying “no” often times will not end the conversation in these sorts of situations. In this case it was actually pretty easy as I told him that I was a Muslim and that I do not drink, smoke, or “get to know the local women” and was not interested. I happened to be wearing a tee shirt of the Florida International University’s Muslim Student Association at the time. Of all things, we then engaged in a brief discussion on religion before he was distracted by another business opportunity. As I left the market, I turned around to take a picture of the entrance. The “Jamaican women” mentioned supra are in the centre, wearing yellow, white, and pink and speaking to the vendor under the rainbow umbrella.
From the market, I walked back through the downtown plaza and on to a small courthouse near the waterfront. Being an attorney, I thought it would be interesting to poke my head in to see the courtroom. So I went in.
A gentleman greeted me at the door and I told him that I just wanted to see the courtroom. As he led me up to the courtroom, I told him that I am a lawyer in the United States. I entered the courtroom apparently minutes after some docket. There were still a few men in a cell in the back of the courtroom awaiting transport back to the jail. The man who took me up there took it upon himself to introduce me to the prosecutor who was packing her files. We spoke for a few minutes and then I walked out into the hall where that same man was waiting for me.
The man then told me that he wanted me to meet someone else and I followed him downstairs to the mayor’s office. In shorts and a tea shirt and very sweaty, I was introduced to the mayor of Falmouth right in his office! He invited me to have a seat and then we proceeded to talk about local affairs, particularly his vision for tourism development in Falmouth. He wanted to bring more cruise passengers into the city from the cruise port, and was hoping to find a way to ease the contrast between port and city for the tourists. We spoke for a little bit and then I asked if he would be so kind as to take a picture with me.
After meeting the mayor in his office, I decided to return to the ship. While perhaps I could have milked another hour or so out of Falmouth, it had been an eventful day and I had Jacuzzi time and dinner on my mind. As the Freedom departed, I watched the sunset over the shrinking city of Falmouth in the same seat from which I watched our arrival that morning. We were off to the Cayman Islands.
I really liked Falmouth. The city as a whole did not cater much to the tourists and I really liked that aspect of it. Walking around, one can get some sense of life in that small town by the sea. I had the opportunity to sample some local cuisine and was able to meaningfully interact with some of the locals. I would go back to Falmouth, but would like to explore a bit more of Jamaica rather than just staying in that one city. Even if I had to stay close, I am sure that I can find things to do and places to explore within walking distance from the cruise port and would go again in a heartbeat.