This Friday Focus features world traveler and blogger, Dana Carmel. Dana and I ‘found’ each other through a post on my blog and discovered that we shared a connection to Westmoreland, Jamaica’s westernmost parish. You see, Dana met her husband and travel partner, Jave, in Westmoreland. They later married near Montego Bay. She’s been back to Jamaica several times and, in this interview, shares memories of her first and subsequent trips to Jamaica. Read on to learn more about her.
Tell us a little about yourself.
I was born and raised in Los Angeles although I lived in Panama for close to four years as a child when my dad was in the military. I’m a married law school grad working full time in contracts management for a multimedia company here in L.A., but I’m slowly but surely transitioning to becoming self-employed and traveling on a more consistent basis through my travel planning and tour operating business, Time Travel Plans. Travel, voluntourism, and writing are my life’s passions, and I’m looking forward to the day when I can pursue those passions full time.
How often do you travel?
I try to travel as much as possible with 1-2 trips abroad each year and some local California or domestic U.S. trips in between. Exploring my home state and taking trips within the U.S. holds me over until I can satisfy my foreign wanderlusts.
How do you decide which places to visit?
Well, it depends on who I’m traveling with. Time Travel Plans is the exclusive travel planner for all Passporters Expeditions (PE) which are annual volunteer trips abroad sponsored by Passporters – Live Don’t Merely Exist. So when there’s a PE trip, we kind of take a vote on where we should travel based on cost and the humanitarian needs in a particular country.
When traveling with my husband Jave, it really just boils down to affordability and how much time we can afford to take off from our jobs.
What brought you to Jamaica?
I was planning a destination birthday celebration for my 26th birthday, and I initially invited some girlfriends to Puerto Rico. Several months before our trip and before we’d booked any reservations, my brother and cousin who’d just returned from Jamaica couldn’t stop talking about their trip. They had such a good time on their “guys’ getaway” that I decided to switch my birthday “girlfriend getaway” from Puerto Rico to Jamaica, and I’m so glad I did!
What has surprised you most about Jamaica?
I didn’t know much about Jamaica before my first visit, so learning about Jamaicans’ rich history and culture was very surprising to me. Most of us black Americans don’t know our country, culture, or language of origin. So to go to Jamaica, a predominately black country, and to see the locals take such pride in their culture is so refreshing. I haven’t been to West Africa yet, but Jamaica reminds me of what certain West African countries might be like. My only hope is that Jamaicans will preserve their West Indian culture and values and not try to assimilate to Western standards.
What misconceptions or myths have you laid to rest?
You know, I don’t think I ever bought into any misconceptions or myths about Jamaica or Jamaicans. Some people think that all Jamaicans smoke weed and wear locks, but that’s just not true! I will admit that I’ve always thought that no one can dance quite like Jamaicans, and I have to say that it’s the truth! No one gets down on the dance floor like Jamaicans! I grew up dancing and I’m sure that even young Jamaican kids could outdance me.
What’s the coolest thing you’ve done here?
I married Jave who’s a Negril local! I call him my “Jamaican souvenir” – ha!
Tell us a favorite Jamaica story
Every trip changes my life in one way or another, but my birthday trip to Jamaica literally changed my whole world!
After landing in Montego Bay, as we drove from Sangsters International to Rose Hall Resort, I remember seeing a pickup truck full of Rastas with their dreadlocks blowing in the breeze. This was prior to all of the recent construction in St. James, so there was still a lot of greenery along the road to the resort, and our ocean views were blocked by all of the greenery. I remember thinking to myself, Maybe we should’ve gone to Puerto Rico.
We arrived at our resort early in the morning, so our room was nowhere near ready. The check-in clerk invited us to eat breakfast, and afterward, we all sat out on some beach chairs near the pool overlooking the ocean. Soon enough, we were all knocked out. It was the best sleep I’ve ever had in my life – mouth wide open as the wind gently cooled us. After checking in, we went down to the beach, and I floated on my back for a good hour or so and I literally felt all of my life’s problems and worries seep away. I’d never felt such a sense of peace except for when I was in Bermuda which also holds a special place in my heart. But I felt like I was at home in Jamaica, and one of my friends and I romanced the idea of quitting our jobs and moving there.
My birthday in Jamaica was the most memorable. We climbed Dunn’s River Falls and spent the day in Ochi followed by a special dinner back at our resort. The next day we went to Negril to Rick’s Café and to Seven Mile Beach. As we were walking the beach, the beach hustlers kept harassing us to take a glass bottom boat tour. Once we negotiated the price down, we were game. There were two guides on the tour. One of the guides introduced himself as Jave. I told him that he had beautiful eyes, and he thanked me and smiled. Jave and his co-worker Steve took us snorkeling at the reef – scaring us with all sorts of weird-looking sea creatures from the reef.
After the tour and back at the beach, Jave asked me if he could have my phone number, but he didn’t have his phone on him. Not thinking that I’d ever actually call him or keep in touch, I programmed his number in my phone. As we walked away, I turned around and saw Jave leaning against the boat and watching us as we walked. At that moment, I had an uncanny feeling that this Jave guy would somehow be a huge part of my life, but I didn’t know how.
A few weeks after our trip, I came across Jave’s number in my phone and decided to give him a call. And the rest is history…
Name 5 of your favorite places to go or things to do when you’re on the island.
Sweet Spice (Negril) – As soon as we arrive in Negril from L.A. and once we’ve had a chance to freshen up, Jave knows that I have to stop at Sweet Spice for either their curry chicken or their lemon pepper chicken. My trips to Negril are incomplete without eating at Sweet Spice.
Seven Mile Beach (Negril) – This is my favorite beach in the world. Not because it’s necessarily the most beautiful (although it is a beautiful beach), but because it feels like home. Jave and I met on this beach and have spent countless hours there. Our favorite thing to do in Jamaica is to walk this beach. We used to dream about our lives on our Seven Mile Beach walks in the early stages of our relationship. We even got married at Rondel Village on this beach.
Blue Lagoon (Port Antonio) – The Blue Lagoon is beautiful yet a little creepy at the same time. With a mix of salt and fresh water, it’s unknown how deep the water is in the lagoon and the water is quite dark in some parts which means that it’s probably quite deep. When Jave and I visited, I asked him if he wanted to go for a swim, but he refused since he doesn’t swim in water he can’t see through.
Frenchman’s Cove (Port Antonio) – There’s a garden leading to Frenchman’s Cove, and as we made our way out of the garden to the mouth of the cove, I felt like I was in the Garden of Eden. Frenchman’s Cove truly looks and feels like paradise. There are even vines that you can swing from into the water!
Ketto (Westmoreland) – This is the community where Jave grew up and I definitely think of Ketto as my second home. I always tell Jave that it reminds me of an island-style “Little House on the Prairie”. Like so many communities in Jamaica, Ketto is a small neighborhood where a few families share the same yard and everyone knows everyone else’s business. In Ketto, you’ll be awakened by cocks crowing in the morning or by someone shouting your name from across the yard. Cold showers or outdoor showers, communal dining, and convenience stores run out of the front of people’s homes are common in Ketto as in most other rural Jamaican communities.
How do you balance work, travel, and your personal life?
I just try to keep things in proper perspective and prioritize God and family above everything else. Apart from that, travel is what balances me! I also samba to release stress. Samba is such a huge part of my life now!
Anything else you’d like to add?
I’m so proud that I’m forever bonded to Jamaica through Jave. When we finally decide to have kids, Jave and I are both committed to instilling them with a sense of pride by teaching them as much as possible about both their African-American and Jamaican heritage.
Dana Carmel is a world traveler, cultural explorer, and a community servant. When she’s not at her day job, she spends her time volunteering locally and abroad. Also, she spends a lot of time plotting travel adventures for her travel business, Time Travel Plans. Read about her volunteer and non-volunteer adventures around the world at www.TimeTravelPlans.net.