“What, if anything, surprised you about Jamaica?” — Mark Forscher

I had wanted to go to Jamaica for about 15 years. I suggested Julia and I go for our honeymoon in 2002, but we ended up going to Ireland. Looking back now, I don’t even know where in Jamaica I would have gone, I didn’t even know much about it in particular. All I knew (or thought I know, rather) was that I loved reggae, and that the country itself would be beautiful. It’s an island in the Caribbean, after all. So what was I surprised by? A bunch of things.

I didn’t expect to have food I’d never had before. I expected new recipes, sure, but I was pleasantly surprised by callallo and ackee being in nearly every dish. I’d never heard of either of them, and they are delicious. Also, everything is fresh. I don’t believe anything they eat on a daily basis is imported, it’s incredible.

Every local has something to offer you, and they are quite straightforward about letting you know. We were constantly asked if we needed a tour of the island, a ride to the airport, bananas, mangos and other indigenous fruit, drugs, jet skis, boat rides and other tourist-y things. And when I say “every local” I mean it. You cannot walk 20 feet without having an exchange with a new person. This is something I had to get used to, but quickly learned how to approach these offers. They are extremely respectful, and leave you alone once you’ve convinced them you really don’t need anything.

Jamaicans are the most kind, helpful and honest people I’ve met besides Wyoming farmers. But unlike Wyoming farmers, they are not shy to talk to you. In a very short amount of time after meeting someone, they will have told you where they’ve gone and where they’re going.

The Jamaica motto is “Out of Many, One People” and they really live it. I was told it’s what the color black stands for in the Rasta colors. I felt more accepted in Jamaica than I have ever felt anywhere else before.

Everyone accepts Jamaican or US currency. $100 Jamaican is nearly equal to $1 US. This is confusing sometimes, especially when withdrawing $20,000 (J) from the ATM. (Check out this photo of a receipt I got while I was there.)

Everyone say “ya, mon!” and fist bumps each other saying, “respect!” and it’s awesome. It’s not a stereotype, it is real. And appreciate it, because it’s genuine.

I will be going back.