This week’s Friday Focus visits with Kristi Keller, a Calgary native who fell in love with Jamaica and has visited the island about twenty times since 2003. Kristi has also spent months at a time in Jamaica.
1. Tell us about yourself.
I was born and raised in Calgary, Canada. As a youth I was a dancer and a country girl, spending most of my time riding my horse. As an adult I spent my time being a single mom and working for a communications company, and then for the municipal government. My corporate time totaled roughly 15 years. Life was pretty normal and uneventful and I just blended in….until I started traveling.
2. What brought you to Jamaica?
In 2003 I won a trip to Jamaica through a local radio station here in Calgary. Before that I had never considered traveling abroad at all. Travel was not on my radar other than visiting family in the USA.
3. What were your first impressions of the country and how did those match up with what you knew or had heard from others?
Since I had never experienced a foreign country or a different culture EVERYTHING about Jamaica struck me from the very first minute on the ground. Landing at a tiny airport (back then), stepping off the plane onto the runway, the amazing greenery and palm trees everywhere I looked, and the heat. In that first week on the island I was part of an organized group and had to stay with them and participate in the excursions they took us on, but I distinctly remember wanting to get the hell off of that bus and go explore! I wanted to know everything and everyone! From that first trip I knew that I hadn’t even seen or learned a fraction of what Jamaica is all about. Staying in resorts and spending time with an organized tour group doesn’t let you learn anything except how to eat, drink and shop a lot.
4. What made you return, how many times have you been back and how long, on average, do you stay?
I returned to Jamaica 2 months after my initial trip and the reason I went back so soon was because I received an offer I couldn’t refuse by a Jamaican police officer I briefly met. He said that if I ever want to come back to Jamaica he would show me what the island was REALLY about. It was a done deal and I went back, stayed at a home in the countryside and toured the entire western half of the island. I went to places that tourists don’t normally go, shared a yard with a family of donkeys, met people I would have never met if I had been staying in a hotel, and just absolutely fell in love with the island.
I’ve been to Jamaica twenty times (and counting) since 2003. My trips evolved from 7 days, to 10, then to 14 and eventually I quit my job and left Canada for months to stay in Jamaica. I’ve done that twice now.
5. What does your family think of your visits?
For that second trip where I flew back to hang out with a complete stranger, my mother thought I was on crack. She was very worried about my safety, knowing that Jamaica has a bad/dangerous reputation. Now, after all these years and trips I think my family just doesn’t care anymore. My mother wonders how I can just keep going back to the same place every single time and wonders why I don’t want to discover something new. But what she doesn’t understand is that every single trip IS new. If you do Jamaica the way I do Jamaica there is no sameness in any trip. I drive around the island solo and discover something new every trip. I stay in local guest houses (not hotels), experience new things to do, meet new people and learn something new every single time. [Read more…]