Monday, 28 November 2011

City mouse, country mouse

One thing I have discovered about Jamaicans is the sharp divide between those who prefer Kingston and those who strongly dislike it. Kingstonians tend to have a general sense of superiority to the rest of the island, referring to everything else as the “country” (with the connotations of backwoods or rural, as we would say at home), and loudly extolling the virtues of the entertainment and shops in the city.  People elsewhere (and my experience is with people in Montego Bay) tend to roll their eyes at this attitude and to complain about having to go down to the city and plan to keep their stay as short as possible.

Now having spent some time in both places, here is my opinion:

What I like about Kingston:
  • Has everything: better groceries, better restaurants, more places to go, more people to see
  • Has a great view of the mountains
  • All the heads of the organizations are here – most NGOs are based here, the government offices are all here
  • Anyone who is anyone lives here. If you show up at the right places, you can socialize with government ministers, tourism big shots, the Canadian High Commissioner, members of the well-known Canadian Woman’s Club, (which has been around for 50 years and has all kinds of eminent Jamaicans as members) prominent musicians, and you can even eat at Usain Bolt’s cafe (although I've been told he isn’t always there).
  • Free lectures, concerts and other events that happen frequently
  • A whole hub of CUSO volunteers and their friends who hang out regularly – there is always someone to see and someone doing something interesting
  • Buses that run frequently with a discernible schedule and a reliable taxi dispatch service

What I don’t like
  • The concrete jungle that holds the heat
  • The ferocity of the traffic and the air pollution that goes along with it
  • The stark difference between the really high-end neighbourhoods and the rough shape of the beggars in the streets – especially those that are children
  • The smelly, hot Halfway Tree commercial market, especially the hassling that goes on there
  • There is no beach access for miles, and it is hard to even see that you are near water

View looking toward downtown Kingston

Houses high up in the hills in Kingston

Sunrise over the mountains in Kingston
      What I like about Montego Bay:
  • The fantastic view out over the bay and into the hills – excellent sunsets
  •  The fact that I can walk from one end of town to the other
  • The fact that it is small enough that I often see people that I know on the streets and “everyone knows everyone”
  • The small town feel means less bars on the window and folks are generally a little bit more relaxed and a little less fearful
  • The Yacht Club – a relaxed group of people and lots of beautiful boats!
  • Easy access to the beach and the waterfront
  • Regular tourism provides fun activities and better customer services at venues like hotels and restaurants

What I don’t like:
  • Limited regular transportation (no dispatch service for taxis)
  • Regular hassle from people who think I’m a tourist and want me to buy something from them
  • Inflated prices (again, for the tourists)
  • More limited selection of shops and items in the shops – currently I am having difficulty finding a vegetable peeler, for example
  • Limited range of services – many things are based out of Kingston and so may require a trip

View of the cruise ship terminal from the Montego Bay Yacht Club

The Montego Bay harbour and lights of the city

At the end of the day, which place you prefer probably comes down to what you like to do and your general experience.  I’m glad to get the chance to be in the city this week, but I’ll be a little bit happier when I get to go home to Montego Bay. J

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