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Jamaica Revises Proposed Tax on Tourism Sector

Following the recently concluded Caribbean Tourism Summit in Montego Bay, the Jamaican government announced that it had revised its proposed tax on the tourism sector.

Under the tax plan announced on May 24th by Finance Minister, Dr. Peter Phillips, hotels would be charged an accommodation tax from US$2 to US$12, depending on the number of rooms they had, while starting August 1, arriving passengers would be charged US$20.

The proposed tax would bring in J$6 billion from the tourism sector to help close the J$19 billion shortfall in the 2012/13 budget.

Tourism stakeholders were outraged over the announcement.

Former tourism minister, now opposition spokesman on tourism, Ed Bartlett, called the move “ill-advised and punitive” and cautioned that it would “damage the only sector in Jamaica that has shown consistent growth over the last five years.”

The Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association (JHTA) also expressed its disappointment at the government’s decision and through a technical working group, put forward alternatives, including an environmental tax on cruise ship passengers.

The revised tax was reduced to US1, for accommodations with less than 51 rooms; US$2 for 51-200 rooms and US$4 for those with 101 rooms or more. Accommodations with more than 200 rooms saw the biggest cut from US$12.

Other Tourism Tax Woes

Under the recently passed Airport Administration Charge Act 2012, passengers traveling to the Caribbean island of Antigua will see an additional US93.75 (up from US$63.75) added to their airfare.

Another issue discussed at the CTO Summit was the Air Passenger Duty (APD), a tax assessed by the British government on travelers to the region. The APD, which has been in place since 1994, taxes countries in groups based on the distance of their capital cities from London. The tax for travelers to the Caribbean rose last November from £50 (US$78.54) to £75 (US$117.92), and again in April to £81 or US$127.20.

Caribbean tourism officials argue that the increase puts the region at a competitive disadvantage. Their arguments, however, have not found traction with the British government.

REDjet’s in the Red; Ends Service

REDjet, the Caribbean’s first budget airline, ended all flights last Friday, March 17th. The company announced that it would offer refunds to its passengers. It cited budget problems as the reason for shutting down.


Ian Burns, REDjet’s CEO, said he hoped the airline would be able to receive subsidies from Caribbean governments and resume service. The budget airline, which began operating in May, was based in Barbados. It offer flights as low as served Trinidad & Tobago, Jamaica, St. Lucia, Guyana, and Antigua.

New Ferry Service for the Eastern Caribbean

I used to feel a little envious when my aunt would talk about the island hopping she and her friends did when they were at the University of the West Indies. Back then, the best way to travel among the islands was by boat. The trip she talks about often took place the year she graduated. She and some of her class mates decided to accompany those from different islands who were returning home. Whenever they reached the island home of a member of their group, they disembarked and did that until they arrived at their last stop, Port of Spain in Trinidad & Tobago.

My aunt never revealed what they did while they were on board or after they disembarked, but from the smile on her face when she tells the story now, I know they had a blast.

Unfortunately, that service ceased operating in the 70s.

Now, a new service, announced by Trinidad & Tobago’s Transport Minister Devant Maharaj is set to launch later this year and will be based in Port of Spain. It will be operated by a Barbadian consortium, Fast Ferry Ltd.

The  first phase would connect the islands of Grenada, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, St. Lucia, Trinidad & Tobago and Barbados. Ferries would leave Port of Spain, at 6:00 a.m. and arrive in Bridgetown, Barbados, its last stop, at 6:00 p.m.

The proposed average price of tickets for Trinidadian citizens would be between US$25 and US$35, however, 100,000 seats, priced at $10, would be available annually.

The company has announced that additional routes will be added when they achieve commercial viability.
Photo from the Internet

The service will join already established ferry services that make travel within the US and British Virgin Islands, and the Bahamas possible. There is no ferry service connecting the larger islands – Jamaica, Cuba, Haiti and the Dominican Republic.



Caribbean Airlines Will Need to Rebuild Customer Trust

Though it is said that air travel is statistically safer than traveling our congested highways, it’s the high probability for loss that gets me. Thankfully, all 162 passengers on board Caribbean Airlines are alive but when I heard the news of the crash late Saturday night, I felt a sense of unease.

As someone who travels frequently, this type of news always shakes me even though my attitude is, if it’s going to happen, there’s little I can do. I think of the time a few years ago in Spain when news reached us of a crash just as we were about to board a flight. We were delayed for several tense hours but when our flight was ready, we went with it. I also recall the American Airlines crashed near Queens in 2001. I tried not to see any of the photos as I was flying out the following morning. And finally, I think of a friend who was lost on Air France 447. The relief I’ve felt that no lives lost were almost overshadowed by these other thoughts.

Continue reading “Caribbean Airlines Will Need to Rebuild Customer Trust”

Weekend Getaway – Bermuda

Bermuda Cup Match takes place this weekend in Bermuda. My friends are there. Since I couldn’t make it, I’m thinking about them and wondering which of the sites they’ll get time to see.

Held over two consecutive public holidays, Cup Match is a signature event of Bermudian cricket that pits two rival cricket teams, Somerset and St. George’s, against each other. It has been held on the island since 1902.

Outside of Christmas, Cup Match is the most popular event in Bermuda. Scores of Bermudians and international visitors swarm the island, swelling the population to more than twice its size. It is one big weekend-long party that shuts the island down. Continue reading “Weekend Getaway – Bermuda”

A Step Back in Time: Greenwood Great House

Great houses provide a wonderful opportunity to step back in time to see how life was lived in a particular period.

Greenwood Great House, which is located on the border of Trelawny and St. James in the

Ring the bell to enter

town of Greenwood is a time capsule that has carefully preserved the legacy of its previous owners.

Part of an 84,000 acre plantation, Greenwood has an impressive pedigree. Built in 1790 by Richard Barrett, a custos of St James, Speaker of the Assembly and cousin of the British poet, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, it has been in continuous occupation since.

Chair with Barrett family crest

Greenwood boasts the original Barrett family library complete with leather-bound books dating to 1697, china and original furniture, some with the Barrett family crest.

What impressed me most about this house is that is has never been abandoned. It still has original furnishings and artifacts, a lot of which I had never seen before.

Bob and Anne Betton, its proud current owners and operators, opened Greenwood as a museum in 1976.

Main bedroom

Greenwood Great House, 876-953-1077 is open every day from 9-6. Tours cost $14 for adults, $7 for children under 12.

View of the Caribbean Sea from Greenwood

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Rose Hall, Jamaica’s (Haunted) Great House

Jamaica, the third largest island in the Caribbean, was ‘discovered’ in 1494 on Christopher Columbus’ second voyage to the New World. He was in search of silver and gold. Columbus declared Xaymaca, as it was then known “the fairest island that eyes have beheld.”

Among the ‘gifts’ he brought to the New World was sugar cane, but the indigenous Taino (Arawak) population was decimated before it could be developed into a viable industry. This forced the Spanish to look elsewhere for cheap labor. They turned to Africa.

The slave trade was well underway in 1655 when, after 150 years of colonial rule, the British wrested control of the country from the Spanish.

Sugar flourished and Jamaica was, at a time, its largest producer. The wealth sugar generated made plantation owners extremely wealthy. Some of that wealth made its way back to Britain. Some of it was spent building lavish ‘great houses’ that demonstrated the wealth and power of the owners. About 700 existed on the island — all but fourteen were destroyed during and after the 1831 slave revolt which was led by Samuel Sharpe, a local Baptist preacher.

My next few posts will be about this interesting aspect of Jamaica’s history. Walk with me as we take a step back and discover Jamaica’s Great Houses.

Rose Hall

Rose Hall

Rose Hall was built in 1770 for John Palmer, then custos of St. James, and his wife, Rosa. A ‘calendar house,’ it has 365 windows, 52 doors and 12 bedrooms. The house eventually passed to Palmer’s grand-nephew, John Rose Palmer and his wife, Annie, the infamous ‘White Witch.’

Annie’s bedroom

Annie, Palmer’s second wife, is said to have killed three husbands and several slave lovers at Rose Hall before being murdered in 1831.

The slaves were so fearful of her that after her death, they burned all her possessions, including her photographs.

The property was in ruins for several years before being restored to its former glory by the owners, John Rollins (now deceased) and his wife, Michele.

Truth be told, like a lot of Jamaicans, I’m afraid of ghosts and the stories of the brutality at Rose Hall more than clouded my image of the place. But I realized later that those

stories were keeping me from enjoying something that was almost in my backyard, a place that I now find intriguing because of its history.

I can’t say that I saw any ghosts at Rose Hall but several of the photos I took inside the house

turned out blurry, a few had shadows where I know there hadn’t been any.

Walking down the steps to Annie’s torture chamber, the last thing you see is the azure blue waters of the Caribbean Sea just visible through the doorway. It made me wonder what went through the victim’s mind as he (or she) was being led away to be tortured.

Rose Hall pool

The day I visited, a soft breeze brushed my cheek as I sat near this man-made pool. The peace and beauty surrounding the house seemed incongruous with the stories of destruction inside.

Rose Hall Great House is located about a 20 minute drive from the airport in Montego Bay. Open 9-6. Tours are given daily with the last tour given at 5:15 p.m. Call 876-953-2323 for information.

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Jamaica: In Search of The Real Jerk

Scotch Bonnet, Maynefoto
Scotch Bonnet

The first thing I do when I arrive in Montego Bay is find a spot for jerk pork. I’d start tasting it, and yes, it’s always pork, before the plane even lands.

For years, Scotchies, a little joint about 1-2 Jamaican miles from the airport on the north coast road between Montego Bay and Falmouth did the trick.

But the last time I went to Scotchies (MoBay), my mouth watering in anticipation of the jerk pork that I knew would be succulent, seasoned through and through with the right balance of Scotch Bonnet peppers, scallion, thyme, a little mace and sugar rubbed in, then slowly cooked over pimento wood, I was disappointed.

While the pork was succulent, it was bland! Nary a Scotch Bonnet in sight!

Who ever said jerk should be this bland? By definition, jerk, The Real Jerk, must have a reasonable amount of the fiery Scotch Bonnet pepper.

A trip to The Pork Pit on Gloucester Avenue in town was marginally less disappointing. I blame the need to please visitors and make more money.

What’s Jerk?

Jerk is a way of cooking that was created in Jamaica. It involved rubbing the meat with a mixture of spices and cooking it over a pimento fire. The pimento wood adds a distinct smoky flavor. Jerk also refers to the spices that are used to marinate the meat.

Jerk and drinks at Scotchies, Mobay
Enjoying the company of friends at Scotchies, MoBay

Jerk has been a part of my life since childhood. As a little girl, I remember a man (known only as “The Jerk Man”), who would ride around our district usually on a Saturday evening selling jerk pork – it was only pork then – from a pan that was attached to the handlebars of his bicycle. The pork was suspended on a mesh layer over pimento coals in a tray just below. We could smell it way before The Jerk Man arrived at our gate.

Sometime between my childhood and high school, jerk pork all but disappeared, perhaps because of the influence of Rastafarianism and their abhorrence of pork. When it came back in the 70s, it had expanded to include chicken, fish, even sausage.

In time, the knowledge of how jerk was made went from a few cooks, mostly male, who knew the (then secret) ingredients to a bottled wet or dry rub that became available locally and internationally initially to satisfy the palates of the growing number of Jamaicans who lived abroad.

But something got lost in the transition from a few local cooks to international recognition – everyone was free to put their own interpretation on what jerk was supposed to be. But I knew I could always count on finding the Real Jerk in Jamaica.

Not anymore. At least, not in any area that sees a lot of visitors. Something about wanting to make jerk palatable to them and therefore make more sales produce a jerk that’s nothing like how I know jerk is supposed to taste.

(A few years ago, even the Jamaica Tourist Board announced a culinary Jerk Trail, which allows visitors to sample the real thing.)

For true aficianados of The Real Jerk, come with me to one of my favorite places. It’s right on the border of Hanover and Westmoreland and called appropriately, Border Jerk. (I also have to mention Boston Jerk in Boston Bay, Portland, the jerk capital of Jamaica.) There you’ll get some good jerk pork. For those who don’t like pork, there’s chicken, Festival (flour and cornmeal mixture) and soup. If the jerk’s too hot, wash it down with a bottle of Ting, a carbonated grapefruit drink. Me, I prefer a rum and Ting.

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Jamaica: Little Ochie Delivers Big Taste

Way down on the southwestern coast of Jamaica, just over the Manchester border from St. Elizabeth is a seaside restaurant called Little Ochie (not to be confused with Ocho Rios on the island’s north coast).

Started in 1989 by Evrol “Blackie” Christian, this little spot has become a favorite destination for Jamaicans (some of whom travel 2-3 hours to get there) and visitors alike who are looking for freshly caught fish and seafood cooked to order.

Little Ochie boat table
Boat Table

Strewn on the black sand of Alligator Pond as if they had been scattered by some unseen hand, are canoes – the primary means of getting the fish that’s served and sold here – that now have been raised off the sand, outfitted with tables and benches, and sheltered by thatched roofs.

Once you place your order, for fish or seafood, and decide how you want it done – steamed, jerked, fried or grilled – it is prepared and brought to your table.

FoodieTuesday Steamed fish with vegetables Little Ochie
Steamed Fish with potato, carrots, okra, bammie
Jerk Lobster from Little Ochie
Jerk Lobster

I’ve had the steamed snapper and it is delicious. The jerked lobster is to die for but if you visit between April 1st and June 30th, you’ll be out of luck. It is illegal in Jamaica for anyone to have or serve lobsters, whole or in part — this is so that the lobsters can breed and replenish.

You can also select sides: roasted breadfruit, bammie or rice and peas. While you wait for your order, grab a cold Red Stripe, rum and Coke or any drink from their extensive selection, or watch the fishermen push off or return from fishing.

Little Ochie Boats
Pushing out to sea

Little Ochie is more than a restaurant, it’s an experience that delivers big taste without breaking the bank.

Little Ochie,
 or 876-610-6566

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[Home = Jamaica] Where My Heart Is

Until I purchased my apartment several years ago, home, for me, meant the place where I grew up in Jamaica; the place I go to relax and recharge when life in the U.S. takes its toll, the place where my heart really is.

Then, it became “home, home” to differentiate it from my “home” – the place I owned.

When I go “home, home” I revert to the person I was when I lived there, except now, I’m the adult. I have the freedom to do whatever, go where ever.

So I explore. I explore the place and I explore the me I am when I’m there. The me that feels free – to engage, to push back, to confront, to love, to be passionate, to be playful. It’s the me that sometimes comes to the fore when I’m in the States but takes so much more energy to be.

And simple things, like drinking the juice or water of a freshly picked coconut, make me smile.

Getting the coconut
Getting it ready
You really have to know what you’re doing
It’s all in the wrist

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