“We not comparin’, we just sharin’!” Those were the words of our guide, Gary, as he told us stories about his homeland of Jamaica while the rhythmic sounds of legendary Bob Marley vibrated loudly throughout the bus. The Zion Bus couldn’t be missed; this “country bus” was easily spotted with its brightly colorful paint job and familiar reggae sounds that emanated from its open windows that provided the only a/c on board.
Josh and I were only in Jamaica for a short time, but the activity that topped our list during our visit was to travel to Nine Mile and Mount Zion, the home and final resting place of the great Bob Marley. Both of us are huge music lovers, and we particularly enjoy reggae, so making this trip seemed more like a pilgrimage. Traveling in the rural parts of Jamaica can be tricky, so it’s valuable to have a guide. We were lucky enough to book an organized trip through a local operator, Chukka Caribbean Adventures. It was a fantastic choice because we didn’t have to worry about anything, and they did a fabulous job!
As soon as we stepped aboard the bus we were surrounded with images of Bob and his family throughout the years. Photos were inlaid throughout the bus interior and quotes, from the man himself, were painted on the ceiling and walls. When we took our seats we were handed a tasty rum punch by our driver Alan, who assured us he was NOT partaking in the beverage himself.
As we departed, Gary gave us an enthusiastic welcome and cranked up the Marley music. The entire bus gave a surprised gasp when we suddenly felt the music and realized the sound system on the bus could enable it to double as a mobile nightclub! Josh and I looked at each other with the biggest smiles and agreed; now this is how you experience Jamaica!
Our trusty driver, Allen, took us quickly away from the tourist areas and deep into the heart of rural, mountainous Jamaica. As Gary explained, in this part of the country the roads are “one lane, two directions!” So we were happy to be sitting toward the back of the bus and decided to be blissfully ignorant to the horn honking, sharp curves, and steep cliffs. Instead, we focused on enjoying the stunning views of the countryside and swaying to the reggae sounds around us.
Throughout the journey you could hear our guides and other guests singing along with the famous tunes, and Gary would interject every now and then to provide some background and history about Bob and the music that we were hearing. He would also take time to share information about the culture, lifestyles, history of the island nation, as well as local herbal remedies of the legal and non-legal kind. We couldn’t help but love Gary with his big smiling face and enthusiasm!
We made one rest stop on the way to Nine Mile to enjoy local beer and complimentary “patties” (a traditional, flaky pastry snack filled with meats and spices). When we arrived at Mount Zion we were immediately impressed with the cleanliness, organization, and conditions of the facility. Now I do have to warn you, this is Jamaica… and there are elements to the culture that some people will not be used to or comfortable with. However, it is very important to keep an open mind and remember to respect the culture and different perspectives.
After being escorted to the entrance, we were given a guided tour of the facility and had an opportunity to visit the home and final resting place of both Bob and his mother. From the moment we arrived the energy of this place was incredibly apparent; such positivity, peace, and love. These feelings just overwhelmed us, and it was easy to see why this place was so inspirational and important to the family. It was truly a magical experience that we will never forget.
On our return journey from Nine Mile we stopped again at a local establishment for a break, shopping, and some food. A lovely woman provided us with an amazing home cooked meal that she had been working on since the early morning. Jerked chicken, pork, rice & beans, as well as other local delicacies; it was scrumptious! In keeping with the local spirit of hospitality, she told us she had extra blankets if any of us wanted to stay a while. “My home is your home,” she lovingly expressed to us; and the way she said it made you wonder if she wasn’t half-joking.
Even though this was an arranged tour, we truly believe that it gave us the opportunity to experience the real Jamaica – far away from the tourist resorts. Not only did we see the beautiful countryside, but we met real people who live, and love Jamaica. We experienced the true culture of the island, danced and sang to the music, and gained an education and appreciation along the way. Overall, I feel much more in touch with the Jamaican people and culture then I ever could have imagined. And it was a journey that I’ll cherish in my memories forever.