“Want to buy some weed?” asked the man we passed on the sidewalk just outside our hotel in Montego Bay.
“No, thanks, man,” Mike responded. “We don’t smoke.”
The guy broke into a wide grin. “I’ll teach you!”
“C’mon,” his friend urged. “Support the local economy.”
We again declined and walked away laughing at their wide variety of sales techniques.
It was our first visit to the third-largest island in the Caribbean and the final stop on our year-long around-the-world adventure. We were fighting conflicted feelings — did we want to keep going? Or were we looking forward to being home? Once you get in the rhythm of constant travel, it’s hard to go back to a daily routine in one place for any length of time.
Many of the things we did each day on this journey were no longer necessary. Instead of washing our clothes in the sink, we rolled up the dirty shirts and swimsuits and put them back in our bags. Rather than searching for train tickets, rental cars, and hotels, we began perusing event calendars back home for things to do in the coming weeks. We started accepting invitations to meet hometown friends for dinner or drinks, not sure how to explain what we’d experienced over the past year.
The second day in Jamaica, we had a heart-to-heart conversation, hoping to put our anxieties to rest.
“We still have the rest of the week,” Mike said, “and we shouldn’t get ahead of ourselves. There’s plenty to see and do here, and we don’t want to waste this opportunity worrying about things back in the States.”
So we rented a car and hit the road, enjoying a day trip along the northern coast of the island. We cruised through Runaway Bay and Ocho Rios, heading toward the Blue Mountains National Park. And we stopped at every local restaurant, beach shack, and food truck that caught our eye along the way.
Jamaica is known for its jerk chicken — and it’s wonderful — but the cuisine is so much more than that. The country’s national dish is salted codfish and ackee, a fleshy fruit that resembles scrambled eggs when it’s cooked. Know your chef if you’re trying this one, since unripened or undercooked ackee can lead to a very specific illness: Jamaican vomiting sickness. Having just recovered from a terrible bout of Cuban food poisoning, I skipped the codfish and ackee this time around.
What I couldn’t get enough of were the delicious soups and stews, several of which were served with bammy, a thick, skillet-fried bread made of ground cassava. You can also find bammy soaked in coconut milk and served with syrup as a sweet breakfast treat.
If you’re looking for vegetables in Jamaica, look no further than callaloo. This leafy green is typically cooked with onion, garlic, tomato, scallions, and Scotch bonnet pepper, and you’ll sometimes find saltfish added to the recipe. While Jamaicans love callaloo for breakfast, I found it to be a terrific dish for lunch, especially with a side of bammy.
Although Jamaica is 15,000 km (9,320 miles) from India, you’ll find great curries all over the island. The country used to have a higher Indian population, and their cuisine remains a strong culinary influence. Curried goat is a particular local favorite, and the spice is nicely tempered with a side of fried plantains.
As we ate our way across the island, something occurred to me. We could easily bring our experiences on all seven continents home with us through the delicious dishes we tried in more than a hundred countries.
And we didn’t have to leave behind us the life we created over the past year. We can keep in touch with new friends from all over the globe, continue new routines we enjoyed, and even wash our underwear in the sink if we want.
The world isn’t out there. It’s in here.
It’s with us, wherever we are.