A weekend away in Ocho Rios

So, this past weekend was one of my last weekends away with the volunteer group here in Jamaica. I say one of my last because I’m not sure if I’ll be doing anything on my final weekend here in Jamaica because I’m a broke girl atm 😂

Anyway, this weekend was a bit different from my past 2 weekends- I actually partied with the squad, tried some new and different ways of hanging with them, and despite being short on cash, I made the decision to try some once-in-a-lifetime opportunities, the memories of which I will cherish till the end of my time.

I knew this was going to be one of the more expensive weekend getaways, because nothing in Ocho Rios is free…including their beaches. Idk about you, but that blew my mind! Granted it was only around $5AUD for entry into a beach minutes away from our accommodation, but having lived in Australia [the land of beaches], this just seemed like a waste of money to have to sunbathe and swim in the salty sea waters – something that is readily available as a natural form of the environment. But, as I learned from some of the other volunteers, it’s a thing in the UK…OK then!

Anyway, our accommodation cost around $50AUD for two nights – a fairly outrageous $10AUD more than I would have liked to spend. However, it was the local rate, came with really good WiFi outside the rooms, had an air conditioner in the room that I shared with 3 other volunteers (a huge win in the Jamaican heat!!!), had hot water (praise all the Gods!), and even had a kitchen where you could prepare and/or store your own food! Plus, it was minutes away from the local beaches – 1 free and 1 paid – along with the local markets. So, all in all – a decent deal! Bonus that it had some gorgeous art murals and Rasta-inspired vibes spread throughout the hostel. 🙂

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After arriving at Ocho Rios Friday evening, our tiredness soon dissipated as we made our way to the free beach, took a swim in some of the coldest and uneven temperature-d waters, and enjoyed the view of a sunset (behind an ultra-cool party boat of people who came to shore struttin’ their dancing moves)! Shortly after, we decided to head to the supermarket, buy some groceries and booze to have a fairly social and relaxed night back at the hostel.

Except it got pretty wild (and awesome) after that! While my Friday night ended up being a big one, I was glad to have experienced it all – we had our dinner at a place where counting was a skill that was lacking 😛 However, the food and drinks were tasty, so it made up for the sloppy service. Next, we went back to our hostel and popped open all the booze and played a game of Kings Cup on the balcony, where our circle of friends grew bigger and bigger by the hour. Before you know it, a bunch of backpackers and our group were bonding over our mutual love for travel and all things Jamaican. Up to this point, I had sworn off checking out the clubbing scene in Jamaica, based on the stories I was told. However, this night was different – I really loved hanging out with the volunteers (old and new) and decided to try it out. It was an awesome experience, where my [ridiculous] dancing moves came to surface, but it was a good night! A seriously sweaty but good night at a club where ‘the Whiteys’ took over and brought down the house in the best way possible! We danced, we drank, we made new friends, and we learned a lot about each other in the process.

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After a fantastic first day / night in Ocho Rios, Saturday was when I chose to take it super easy and be a lazy beach bum at the paid beach. I was a bit disappointed by how the depth of the sea was constant, as I love swimming in the waters [in case my Instagram didn’t give you that idea ;)], but it was still a nice beach to relax with some of the volunteers and have a super chilled day.

Here’s a thing that happened though (and Im surprised it took this long tbh), but I got tanned. I got tanned REAL NICE. Except, it made me cry. Now, I don’t think it’s obvious or even logical as to why I responded the way I did, but hear me out. Having hailed from a culture where moisturizing creams called “Fair and Lovely” are a thing, you can only imagine my utter disgust at seeing my skin turn two shades darker than usual. Now, I love to see other girls and boys getting tanned – somehow it looks amazing on them. But on me, it’s a whole different story. I can’t stand to look at my body when Im tanned. It legit makes me wanna gag. As hard as it has been though, I have had some conversations on this topic with the other volunteers and am trying my hardest to accept the fact that a tan on me is beautiful and makes me look good. But, it’s hard to come to terms with it when you grow up in a society where the concept of “fairer is more beautiful and prettier” is unofficially indoctrinated into the young minds.

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Anyway, aside from that, my Saturday was fairly chill – I got to eat some delicious Margarita pizza with my new home-slice Kirsty, share a few drinks with the gang, and have [several] fits of laughter with my girl Enya when looking at Trip Advisor photos of people who have been to Mystic Mountain. Seriously, just go through the photos and spot the two gems (if you can) that made us crack up for close to 45 minutes! I was fairly content at not having spent much like the rest of the crew that day – even though they spent it on some seriously awesome places such as Dolphin Cove and the Blue Hole. Having come to Ocho Rios with a fairly tight budget, I was ready to spend most of that at Mystic Mountain.

Cue in Sunday – Mystic Mountain was the place that I had been wanting to visit since before arriving in Jamaica. They have the Sky Explorer, which takes you up to the highest possible point of the Mountain and provides you with some seriously picturesque views of Ocho Rios. For nearly $100 (US), I chose to go for the package of using the Sky Explorer and trying Ziplining through the rain forest of Ocho Rios. I was incredibly terrified, but I was also excited beyond belief. I have been wanting to check out the sport of ziplining for the longest time and this was my chance! While it may have taken out a big chunk from my bank account (#sorrynotsorry), it was well worth it. The feeling of having all those tall trees surrounding you and embracing you as you make your way from one part of the forest to the other in seconds is something that is unexplainably adrenalin-filled and oh so awesome a feeling!

Snorkeling in Pirates’ Cave, swimming in the Blue Hole in a cave, and now ziplining- I think I’ve made the most of my time here in Jamaica. It may have killed my bank account, but my god I had so much fun that I wouldn’t have it any other way! As the saying goes, “travel is the only thing you’ll buy that makes you richer”.

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When things don’t go as planned…

So, today’s focus has mainly been about problem-solving. If you have been following my blog thus far – firstly, thank you! Thank you for continuing to read my blog posts and supporting me as I make my way through this adventurous journey that has been nothing short of a roller coaster ride of emotions, excitement, and ecstasy!

As the title of this post suggests, I’m here to give all volunteers – past, present, and future – a heads up on how to deal with some situations when things don’t seem to be working out during your volunteering career – be it with Projects Abroad or another organization.

OK so here’s the deal – I have had to deal with a lot of bullsh*t in the past week.

ISSUE #1: Changing host families
WHY?
Ethical issues
So, in Jamaica, it is a common act of discipline to smack the child when they are not behaving or not obeying their parents. A pretty primitive form, but it’s part of the tradition. And when you’re living in another country or even just visiting another country, you normally respect the tradition and beliefs, even if you don’t necessarily agree with it.
However, the family I was living with – they were nice, don’t get me wrong. They fed me well, they were very welcoming, they were a big family of about 10 – 6 kids + 4 adults, and they made sure I was comfortable in their home. But, they were very strict disciplinarians. Like, REALLY STRICT.
We were told on our first day of induction that this is not a sign of abuse when you see a parent smacking their child. But what I heard and witnessed from my room made me question that statement.
When you come home after a long day of working / volunteering with 40 screaming kids at school, you expect a sense of peace, calm, and relaxation at your home. But, on the rare occasion that I was home after work (and not hanging out with the volunteers bc we were all so #dead from our epic outing at YS falls the other day), I was treated to 45 minutes of non-stop smacking from the parents and non-stop crying from the kids. I’m sorry, Jamaica and Jamaicans, but that to me is abuse. It is not a nice feeling to hear 3-4 kids constantly being hit “as an act of discipline” and them constantly bawling their eyes out. Sorry, I am all for respecting cultures and traditions, but there’s a line. And that line was crossed.
SO WHAT NEXT?
Well, I contacted my placement advisor and mentioned how this situation was unnerving, uncomfortable and emotionally taxing to the point where I couldn’t see myself living in this household for too long without standing up for the kids. So, after a bit of back and forth text messages on Whatsapp, I was advised that it would be best to be moved to a new host family where no kids were around.
FEELINGS
Obviously, the host family was informed of this situation, to which they did not respond very well. After agreeing to be moved to a new host family within 2 days, I returned home to pack up my stuff and was “welcomed” with a very cold and rude mom and grand mom. By that stage, however, I didn’t care. I have principles and so do you, host mom and grand mom. Unfortunately, we’re not on the same page, so it’s the best possible solution in this very awkward situation.
WHAT NOW?
I have a new host family – the dad and mum are down-to-earth, simply gorgeous people who are retired and live in a mansion-style home. They have 2 dogs (WIN!), 1 cat (who has taken to like me YAY), some goats, chickens, PUPPERS SOMEWHERE ON THEIR MASSIVE LAND (WIN WIN WIN), and house me in a room with a double bed (praise be!), another room where I can store some of my stuff and charge up all the techno bits, and generally provide me with a much better living experience for the remainder of my time here in Jamaica (which isn’t very long now)! And my host mum is such a darling – I have been cooking us both brekkie, which she seems to love (yay), and the dad is so friendly and always there to make sure I’m comfortable in their home (bless)! All in all, a great switch from what I was living in prior.

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ISSUE #2: DEALING WITH THE WORST CAB DRIVER EVER (SO FAR)
WHAT?
So, PA is responsible for paying for the transport between placement and home. I am still learning how this system works because it’s a bit different here in Jamaica, compared to Morocco, where trips to and from the PA office were also covered. Anyway, in the 3 weeks that I’ve been here, I have never had an issue with getting cabs to take me where I need to go. You pay a flat rate of $150 from your home to the Mandeville town centre and it’s a route-based system where, if you want someone to get you from yours, you walk to the main street and hail a cab, from where you’re practically stuck in a cab that should ideally hold 4 people but instead holds anywhere between 6 – 13 (YES, 13) people!
ANYWHO, today was my first bad HORRIFIC experience of being in a cab on the way to my new host family from the PA office. For the past couple of days, I’ve always been dropped off by our trusted tour guide and chartered taxi driver (and care bear) Kemmar, so I haven’t had to worry about getting home safe…till today. I asked PA to get me a cab from the office so that I could go with someone trustworthy HAF*KINGHA back home. I was told I’d be charged $200 instead of $150 – fair enough. Whatever, as long as I can get home safe.
So, I got into the cab and confirmed the rate of $200 with the driver, who showed up in an empty cab (not that I had asked for an empty cab but whatever).
Except, not whatever. He started to give me the excuse of turning up with a car especially for me and charging me $400. Ain’t nobody got time fo’ dat shit. So, I said that I wouldn’t pay that amount as I was told it would only be $200. I asked him to stop unless he was willing to take $200, to which his response was – of course – NO. I asked him to stop his cab so that I could find another way to get home. BUT HE DIDN’T. Dat shi’ ain’t on, brah! I was terrified for my life. This guy was seemingly taking me home but wouldn’t stop when I asked him to. I broke down and demanded to be let out, to which he didn’t seem to care. I told him to stop repeatedly, till we got to my street. He finally stopped, called me names for accusing him to rip me off (which HI, you were trying to do, C!) and then told me to keep my monies (which BTW, thanks! I did)!
WHAT NEXT?
I contacted PA, thoroughly upset, and they have assured me that they will deal with it and call the driver and find out what the heck went down there. I have also asked to be escorted to school tomorrow from my home so that I can be assured a safer way to get to places. I will also be asking for them to give me a RELIABLE and DECENT cab driver’s number. SO yeah, that happened.

So, what I’m hoping to say through this blog post is that don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it. If something’s not going right, mention it in great detail during your weekly feedback sessions. Otherwise, PA staff won’t be able to help you out because they’re not aware of the predicament you may be facing. Where possible, they will help out. It may take a while to get them to do so, but they WILL do it – so to all present and future volunteers, PLEASE ASK FOR HELP WHEN YOU NEED IT.

And if you’re really curious on how to deal with matters related to your time of volunteering with PA or any other organization, please don’t hesitate to drop me a line!

xoxo

 

N E G R I L || J A M A I C A

So, this past weekend was my first weekend out with the other volunteers here in Jamaica. Naturally, I was feeling a bit anxious and unsure of how it would go, since we all didn’t really know each other that well. But this weekend changed that and brought us closer in so many ways!

Negril is a beautiful, little town that is about 3-3.5 hours away from Mandeville. And let’s just say it’s a slice of paradise. There are sandy beaches and orgasmic Pina Colada cocktails and lots of amazing characters who pretty much shaped our weekend to be one that we will never forget!

There were 6 of us who crammed – nah we were pretty comfy, I have to admit – into a chartered taxi with our designated driver Kemmar, who also brought along his incredibly sweet girlfriend Lorraine (who drove beside us). We stayed at this resort-style accommodation called Roots Bamboo and were thrilled to be given the local discount of $2000 Jamaican dollars (instead of a whopping $8000) as we are volunteers.

The resort was absolutely stunning! With a row of multicoloured houses, and the beach literally 5 steps away, I felt like we had hit the motherload – in terms of value, atmosphere, and general merriment. After having driven for nearly 4 hours (thanks to rest stops and imminent rain that Negril is normally prone to), we arrived at our accommodation with an hour till sunset. It was the perfect way to celebrate the advent of the weekend – a couple of us went sunbathing to catch the last rays of the day, while the rest of us decided to take our time in cooling off from the Jamaican scorching heat and walk along the beach, taking photos of our surroundings and acquainting ourselves to what was close by to Roots.

We were treated to a stunning sunset and decided to treat ourselves to some cocktails by the beach, thereby being the ‘easy to spot’ tourists in the area! 😀 We started off the night by being treated to a free drink of classic Jamaican rum (Wray & Nephew) with some peach juice. Sounds weird but it was gooood! Although, I don’t know how many shots of rum were there, but let’s just say half the glass was full of rum (which the bar tenders offered to top up with MORE RUM instead of the juice)! And then, we discovered what is possibly THE best pina colada I’ve ever had (x9 in the span of 3 days)! The night was young, we were greeted by some of the loveliest locals ever, and we ended up chilling as a group with some Rasta guys and girls and sweet Reggae music in the background. There were lots of laughs, the group bonded over the littlest and simplest of things, and all in all, we had a great first night out in the beautiful town of Negril!

13323890_10153564069661806_1262274422_o The next day, we decided to have the laziest, most relaxing day at the beach – and it did start off that way! Sunbathing under the Jamaican sun, enjoying some (more) delicious pina coladas, and munching on some good ol’ BBQ chicken wings and fries, our morning was shaping up to be a fantastic one! Afternoon came and so did the clouds. And wow, the rains that followed were equally soothing and terrific! The water was warm and calm (till the rains came in, of course), but we decided to embark on a quest to go snorkeling in the Pirate Caves! While we were almost certain that the rain had effectively ruined our plans, the skies miraculously cleared up (as though they knew that some very eager and enthusiastic volunteers from around the world wanted to go on an adventure)! For $1500 (Jamaican), we were taken out to sea, where we were provided with the necessary snorkeling gear, had a guy swim with us to the caves, give us a brief but fun tour of the caves, hold a sea urchin (man, those things are CUTE AF!), go to the iconic Rick’s cafe, from where two of our brave volunteers jumped off a cliff, and bring us safely back to our accommodation – AND WE WERE ON A BOAT!

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We were exhausted after our unexpectedly fantastic adventures at sea, but we were also famished. While we had attempted to budget our spending all day, we decided to spoil ourselves with some real, finger-lickin’ good Italian food, so that’s exactly what we did. While we spent J$1000 the previous night on dinner, we spent nearly twice that on the Saturday, but oh man! Was it worth it? HELLS YEAH. That’s nearly $20 for a decent meal of pasta + a classic (and very strong!) G&T and the priceless addition of hanging out with some seriously awesome peeps!

13334304_10153564044516806_713479281_oSo, remember that I’m one jetlagged af mofo! SO, by this stage, I’m functioning on about 10 hours of sleep in two nights and awake at 430am on Sunday. But, here’s the thing – it felt so good to hear my Lumberbae’s voice first thing in the morning and connect with home – I’ve been terribly homesick for almost all of this trip, but it really helps to be able to talk to Lumberbae and a couple other close friends back in Australia! I even get to Skype here in Jamaica, so Jacquie in the States has been an absolute angel as well, in terms of helping me deal with my sprouts of anxiety attacks from the homesickness and the constant adjustment cycle that I keep visiting as I move from one developing country to the next! It’s been tough, but it’s been a good learning experience, that’s for sure!

Anyway, after starting the morning on a wonderful note, I was welcomed with a subtle but soul-pleasing sight of the sunrise. The beach waters were warm, the birds were starting to bring life to the morning with their lovely chirping and sweet singing, and it was generally a good feeling to take a nice, long walk along the super soft sandy 7-Mile beach of Negril. As the day taking form, the other volunteers woke up and before we knew it, we were back at the beach, sippin’ on some pina coladas for brekkie 😉 and making the most of our last day in this sandy, beachy paradise. We took a lot of photos, we sunbathed like it was the only time we’d get the chance to do so, we spoke to the ever-so-friendly locals and we were given a beautiful send-off by the crew at the beach who took care of us and provided us with their excellent services (dining, drinking, socializing). We saw people parasailing, we saw horses along the coastline, we saw a new wave of tourists, I MADE FRiENDS WITH THE CUTEST BAR TENDER IN THE FORM OF A PUPPER (who also became my swimming buddy shortly after) and it was all just…perfect.

Upon leaving Negril, we were exhausted af but we wanted to check out the Roaring River Park, where you can find nearly *every* type of tree – apple, banana, pineapple, lemongrass, oregano, mint, A V O C A D O ❤ , grapefruit, ackee (the national fruit of Jamaica, pictured below) and we felt like we were in a green heaven. The place is so lush but it’s so sustainable, I almost wanted to buy a house on the spot so I could live there for the rest of my time in Jamaica (and come back on a vacay with my #1)!

13324222_10153564030231806_1056060727_oWe also decided to go caving, where we walked in the dark among the perfectly preserved crevices that resembled tortoises, rabbits, elephants, Bob Marley (YES!), and the holy bible. Another volunteer and I also braved the cold and decided to take a swim in the bottomless pool within the cave – it was so cold but it was so worth it!

So that was our weekend in Negril – it was epic, it was awesome, it was brilliant!

Can’t wait to visit this beautiful little town again! xoxo

Getting to know Jamaica

So, as some of y’all know, I’m currently in Jamaica and will be volunteering with Projects Abroad, where I’ll be participating in a teaching project at the Villa Road Primary School and working with kids in Grades 1-3 (tentative).

While it was an adventure to get to Jamaica from Morocco (read previous blog post), it has been a really good (although wet) start to the journey. I got here at 4am on a Sunday and was greeted by a sleepy but absolutely lovely and heartwarming family in the mountains of Mandeville.

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There are at least 6 people who live in this cute and cozy house – I say at least, because I see new faces around the dining table every day, so I’m not sure how many live here and how many visit, but it’s always fun and full of energy! The kids and I have hit it off on a great note too, which makes me very happy. As most of y’all know, kids and I have our perks when it comes to getting along with each other 😛 so I think I’ve done well 🙂

The family is super lovely, quite religious, and very entertaining. There are some cultural differences I’m noticing, but nothing too severely distinguishable from what I’m already used to.

I have also had my induction, where I was shown around town and got to know the local city centre. I’m so not confident about traveling alone, mainly because the way to get into the city centre from my mountainous home is through a taxi that crams in 4 people at the back and 1 person in the front (which isn’t as bad as the taxi service in Morocco, but it’s harder to get a cab to come to you, unless you have the cabbie’s number). But I’m sure I just need to give it a bit more time for adjustment purposes and I should be good.

The most striking thing I’ve noticed about Jamaica is how incredibly gorgeous their people are. Not just superficially, but also underneath. People here are so lovely, so friendly, so kind. I’m sure there are the other kind of people, but luckily, I haven’t met them yet 😀 Everyone here is willing to help you get around, give you directions, provide you with a lift – and all it takes is exchanging a smile and/or a “hi” to start a conversation! I’ve had a couple of days at my placement and one of those days, I was given a lift to the Projects Abroad office by a beautiful older woman, who offered to help after she saw me visibly distressed at my taxi not turning up at the school to pick me up. I feel so bad for asking “How much do you charge?”, because she said that kindness doesn’t come at a price. Bless her!

13334824_10153564082586806_1112131998_oI also had the opportunity to meet some of the other volunteers who are also stationed here in Mandeville. So far, I’ve met 2 English people – one who was so hilarious, I’m actually bummed out that I met him when he was ready to leave, another who is such a sweet girl and has moved to Mandeville after being in another part of Jamaica, 2 German girls – equally hilarious and friendly, 1 Norwegian who is pretty much like me personality-wise, 1 from the US who was initially a bit intimidating but is actually a pretty down-to-Earth guy, and 1 from Canada who is so funny and is such a fun-loving 17 yo girl. We all have even been on our first outing together – going on a drive all the way to Kingston and visiting the Bob Marley museum (which, by the way, is a must-see: for all the spectacular memorabilia that has been displayed in the Legend’s former home). It was so much fun and was a great way to get to know each other.

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So there you have it – my first week in Jamaica has been amazing! Placement is amazing, people here are so gorgeous (inside and out), I’ve met some awesome new volunteers who have become pretty good friends of mine here and are like my new family away from family.

I’ll be writing up a blogpost on my weekend in Negril – and oh boy! I have a lot to say ❤ ❤ ❤ Hint: it’s like a slice of heaven!

xoxo