Levi Roots on Jamaica
Levi Roots on Jamaica
Jamaica is the biggest small island in the world. The saying “Jamaica: no problem,” is true: Jamaicans are always happy, and they want to make you happy, too.
When you get to Jamaica, have some cooling jelly coconut water. There are stalls near the airport selling it at the side of the road. It’s so healthy and watching it being made is such theatre.
The best view is from Blue Mountain Peak, the highest point on the island. Coffee is produced there – as you drive up the meandering road, you pass little coffee bars where you can stop and sit on the old wooden seats. It is best in the early evening, when the view over Kingston is amazing. This is also a great place to escape the heat. It’s like Brixton in spring: damp, drizzly and cool.
The Blue Mountains. Photograph: Doug Pearson/Getty Images/AWL Images RM
Blue Mountain coffee is a brilliant souvenir. You’re buying a piece of Jamaica’s heritage. It was once the most expensive coffee in the world, and is still one of the best. You can buy it at supermarkets, but it is a bit expensive there. Pick some up at the airport instead.
The best place for people-watching is Coronation Market, the main market in Kingston. It is the eighth wonder of the world! It has a unique hustle and bustle: great banter, food in abundance, ladies dressed in finery, shouts in Jamaican patois. Get there early – 6am is best.
The dish that epitomises Jamaica is steamed snapper with okra.Eat it at the beach; the fish will be the freshest you can get. The okra will have been picked that day, and melts in the mouth. At home you would eat it with rice and peas, but at the beach you have it with water crackers instead. Wash it all down with a freezing cold Red Stripe beer.
Guilt restaurant at Devon House in Kingston serves Jamaican nouvelle cuisine, and the best things are the desserts – my favourite is the tiramisu made with Blue Mountain coffee.
In Jamaica, bars are more for tourists. Most locals drink at home in their gardens and front yards. So make some friends, and you might get invited for a rum punch on the veranda.
Dunns River Falls. Photograph: Doug Pearson/Getty Images/AWL Images RM
The most fantastic waterfall in Jamaica is Dunn’s River Falls. An instructor will guide you up the falls, and you can then walk back down to the beach. It’s tough if you’re not very fit, though.
One of my favourite things to do is have a mud bath in Bath, St Thomas parish, about 30 miles from Kingston. Old ladies cake you in mud from head to toe and give you a massage. They batter you half to death: punching you, stamping on you, nearly breaking your toes … Afterwards you bathe in sulphuric water piped down from the hills.
Negril, a beach resort on the west coast, has seven miles of white, sandy beach. It’s a wonder of Jamaica. Fifteen or 20 years ago it was a bush area for Rasta men, and in low season you can still get it to yourself.
Portland, in the north-east, is an up-and-coming area. It’s a bit like Negril used to be, with tropical beaches and rainforest. Hotels are springing up there. It is also the home of jerk chicken, Jamaica’s best fast food, and hosts an annual jerk festival.
When I want to escape, I go to Clarendon, where I was born. It is one of the 14 parishes in Jamaica and is in sugarcane country, full of rivers and lakes. I go back to the trees I first climbed; to the dirt that moulded me.
One of my favourite places to stay is Jake’s on Treasure Beach (doubles from $95). You have your own chalet backing on to the sea and go to sleep listening to the waves; it’s really romantic. The owners take guests out to eat locally – they might host a dinner party in a sugarcane field.
Photograph: Douglas Pearson/Getty Images
I’m not a fan of all-inclusive hotels. They don’t promote Jamaica’s culture. Guests are told that the island is dangerous as a way of keeping them in the hotel. You need to get out, meet people, and eat fresh food. Hire a guide and ask them to take you to see the real Jamaica.
Jamaica is the land of music. Reggae was revolutionary – just listen to any Bob Marley album. The island hosts great music festivals, such as the annual Ocho Rios jazz festival in June. My favourite is July’s week-long reggae festival, Sumfest.
Churches are a great place to experience culture. Jamaica has more churches per square mile than anywhere else in the world. Every Jamaican goes to church on a Sunday, and after listening to the gospel singers, you leave feeling reborn!
I wouldn’t recommend taking a bus if you don’t like fast driving: the bus drivers think they’re Lewis Hamilton. The buses are also packed, as the drivers never refuse to let anyone on. Hiring a car or a driver is a better way to enjoy the island – you need transport because everything is so far apart .
A helicopter ride is something you’ll never forget; a chance to see “the land of wood and water” from the air. It’s not too expensive for half an hour, either (jamaicahelicopterservices.com, US$440 for four people).
The final thing you should do is visit my store … Levi Roots at Devon House! When I left Jamaica at 12 years old, I couldn’t read or write. Now I have the most-distributed Jamaican brand in Europe. I sell 50 or 60 different Levi Roots products (leviroots.com) at the store, and I use the profits to sponsor local schools and Jamaican charities.