January 15th, 2017
Over the weekend, I read a story (reproduced in a number of overseas newspapers online) about a bus crash that occurred a year ago, which resulted in the death of a tourist and the injury of 18 others. The bus was reportedly overtaking at high speed along a stretch of road in Trelawny on its way back to the Royal Caribbean cruise ship from Dunn’s River Falls. Now eight of the passengers are suing the cruise line for damages. The passengers allege that the driver was “speeding, driving erratically and changing lanes frequently,” and the lawsuit alleges that when passengers asked him to slow down, the tour operator told them “the bus driver was driving the way he normally drove and/or the way everyone typically drove in Jamaica.”
This incident highlights a growing concern I have had in recent years about the careless way in which many tourists are treated in Jamaica, especially on our roads. Of course, we know that speeding and crazy overtaking is the “normal” modus operandi in which many bus drivers conduct themselves. But why do we tolerate it, and why are tourists expected to tolerate it? I have personally observed how Jamaicans behave towards tourists, while they are sitting on the beach, relaxing with a book and minding their own business. Those in Negril (one example) are literally preyed on at regular intervals by people trying to sell them drugs, sex, trinkets – or all three. I am painfully aware of this because I could easily pass for a tourist myself. The last time I was in Negril – just standing and waiting for someone in a parking lot – I was propositioned three times in the space of five minutes. One of the men was literally hiding behind a bush, lying in wait, and hissed at me; he had some ganja for sale. And, like the windscreen wipers at Kingston traffic lights, the hustlers don’t always take “no” for an answer.
No thank you, if I wanted some ganja I would advertise the fact. If I wanted a night of uninhibited sex with a dreadlocked man, I would go looking for it. If I wanted a wild ride in a bus or on a motorbike, I would seek it out. But no, thanks. (Yes, like most visitors I am polite in my rejection).
Back to the roads. Several tourists have been killed by cars racing along the main road in Negril in the past few years. Visitors are relaxed, enjoying themselves, and may be distracted and quite unaware of the dangers of marauding Jamaican drivers. A friend of mine from overseas, who walks with a stick because she has a bad back, had a near miss on that road. The same kind of situation used to prevail with jet skis – thankfully now somewhat curtailed, although I am not too sure what the rules are – with some awful accidents that were not necessarily made public. Being in the company of tourists seems to encourage young men to behave in an exaggeratedly macho fashion, showing off their muscles and flashing enticing smiles. It’s quite embarrassing, sometimes. Part of this act for the tourists involves behaving recklessly, and getting their targets themselves to behave likewise.
I will now do anything I can to avoid tourist resorts; and if I do go to one, I prefer to stay in an all-inclusive hotel (which is a soul-destroying experience, admittedly). Jamaica’s tourism product markets itself as so cool and easy-going – everything “Irie, mon.” I would rather spend an hour hanging out on the waterfront, watching the boys dive into the perilously toxic waters of Kingston Harbour; or at a roadside bar in the country. I feel less threatened.
As a non-tourist, I just don’t “feel alright” with Jamaica’s tourism product. Are Jamaicans really comfortable with it?