Contributing Writer: Danielle Press
When someone brings up Jamaica our minds immediately conjure up images of long sandy coastlines and an array of greens and blues, which create an indescribable ocean hue. We imagine coconut drinks, sun kissed cheeks, and reggae beats. Negril, Kingston, Ocho Rios, and Montego Bay are some of the most well known and visited areas of the country. While they do deserve time and exploration, there is one small town in Jamaica that has stolen my heart and deserves a spot on anyones Jamaican itinerary.
For nearly 6 months my husband and I have lived in Nine Mile, a small town in the heart of the mountains, and Bob Marley’s birthplace. This beautiful area offers a glimpse into an authentic and simple way of life, insight into the present day beauty and hardships of rural Jamaica, and a look into the future, where dreams are constantly being chased. Spending time in Nine Mile isn’t for the faint of heart though, if only for the reason that this is a true small town, in rural Jamaica. Music can blare until 6 a.m., dogs can be heard at all hours, and a squealing pig will regularly rouse you from a deep slumber. It isn’t for close minded or judgmental travellers. It isn’t for someone searching for luxury and the finer things in life. It is for those who seek an authentic experience. It is a place for the traveler who doesn't want to be a tourist. It is a place where if you invest in it, it will invest in you.
As you pull into the small town of Nine Mile you will be hit with a collection of sights, sounds, and first impressions. I am going to be honest with you. This is one of those situations where you shouldn't judge a book by its cover. Houses aren’t crumbling down, they are being built up. Most people build their houses until they run out of money. It may take years for the houses to be finished, but they eventually do. It is a slow process, but one that is necessary when fluid cash is hard to come by. You will also notice people hanging out all along the street, at all hours of the day and night. This isn’t an indication of laziness or a lack of purpose. Their lives are centred around community and relationships, which they sustain by hanging out on the street. More so, many of them have lost their livelihood, their ability to farm. The history of Nine Mile lies in farming, and deeper than that, it lies in their connection and reliance on the natural world. Generation after generation has depended on the beautiful red, Jamaican dirt that builds the foundation of this country. Strip mining for the materials used in aluminum have devastated this land, leaving the once fertile soil stripped of its nutrients. Yet, out of this hardship comes ingenuity, creativity, and new dreams. This is the community you will find if you spend time in Nine Mile.
THINGS TO DO AND SEE IN NINE MILE, JAMAICA
Whether you arrive on the East coast of Jamaica or the West, from Montego Bay or Kingston, people will know of Nine Mile. It is located in the heart of St. Ann Parish, nestled in the mountains and far off the beaten path. Still, most guest-houses and hotels will be able to provide information or transportation to Nine Mile. However, this will most likely come in the form of a day trip to the famous Bob Marley Museum. While this is a great draw and well worth the visit for any Marley or music fan, I implore the ‘seekers’ to spend more than a few hours. Stay for a day or two, immerse yourself, get to know the people, and I promise, you will leave with a full heart. This community is growing, just like the farms they are trying to bring back into the area.
NINE MILE CULTURAL HANGOUT
Nine Mile Cultural Hangout is one of the few established tours in the area. Acting as a guest-house, a restaurant, and a tour provider, the Hangout has it all. Located next to Bob Marley’s Museum, you are immediately drawn to the bright green and pink paint against the vibrant blue bird skies. The Hangout is run by Lovest and her daughter Priscilla. You will find the premise occupied by Lovest’s kind and observant parents, her adorable granddaughter, and scores of other children and passer-bys. The building has been around for 50 years, first starting as their family home, and slowly growing into what it is today. The Yum - Yum restaurant provides delicious and authentic Jamaican cuisine. Keeping it in the family, Lovest’s nephew Bobby will take you on an Eco tour of some farms in Nine Mile. He will introduce local fauna and flora and explain the history of the area. The tour reaches its climax as you ascend the mountains to reach a beautiful crystal cave. While it is small, it is magical, and you are greeted by nothing but clear blue skies and a vast mountain scape, as you crawl out the other side.
#1You can hire a taxi to take you to the starting point of the tour or you can walk. I highly suggest walking so that you can channel the vibe and energy of the area.
#2The tour will last about an hour if you take a taxi and around two hours if you walk.
#3While the Cultural Hangout is currently the only established tour group, others are always willing to take people around. You can usually find a tour guide hanging around the Bob Marley Museum, open to showing you the different types of farms in Nine Mile. Additionally, these locals can also guide any nature lover on a hike through parts of the bush. Here you will pass the other residents of Nine Mile and the hundreds of goats, donkeys, pigs, and cattle that call these hills and pastures home. It is not unlikely to even pass a baby goat, roaming free and frolicking amongst the high grass.
THE BOB MARLEY MUSEUM
While there are other Bob Marley Museums located in Jamaica, the one located in Nine Mile is special. This is the birth place of Bob Marley. Nearly everyone working at the museum, and countless others still living in town, are related to Bob Marley in one way or another. Their pride runs deep and it can be felt. His music blares and there is a constant barrage of One Love sentiments. The first thing you will notice as you approach the Museum is the hustle. The salesmen can offer you anything, food, necklaces, wooden sculptures, refreshments, and other goodies to get you into the Jamaican mindset. You can choose to indulge in the game or simply continue on to the inside of the compound. Once past the large purple gates you enter the museum. You will immediately find your ears greeted with music from the local band. Grab a Red Stripe at the bar and the reggae vibe will be sure to set the mood. Further inside you will also find a showroom, another bar and restaurant, and one of Bob’s homes! The end of the tour brings you to a rock where Bob often laid his head to dream of Zion and create his magic, and finally, to the resting place of Bob and his mother. The tour will leave you feeling connected and reminded of Bob’s vision, his brilliance, and his soul.
THERE IS ALWAYS A REASON TO CELEBRATE
More nights than not, music can be heard reverberating through the hills until the early morning hours of the next day. There seems to always be a reason to celebrate. Whether it is a birthday, a wedding anniversary, a holiday, or even a death, the Jamaican people regularly keep the party going. Starting early in the day, you can see people making preparations. Speaker systems are being set up, fires are being started to cook food for all who attend, beverages are being delivered and organized, and the energy is in the air. Parties can be held in homes, at the Bob Marley Museum, outside on the street, or at the local club. The party doesn't start till late but when it does, the beats will pound, the drinks will flow, and the dancing won't stop.
Tip #1: Prepare yourself by taking a long, early nap in the evening. While a party may claim to start at 10 pm, most people won’t bother to show up until well after midnight!
Jay’s Restaurant and Dan Dan’s Restaurant
There are a few restaurants in Nine Mile, but these two stand out the most. Jay’s Restaurant, open Monday-Saturday, is a delicious Jerk and Fried Chicken Restaurant. The owner and Chef, Jay, will greet you with a big smile before asking your order. The dish will include a generous serving of chicken, rice and peas, pasta salad, and mixed vegetables. I ROCK Health Food Restaurant is owned by Dan Dan, a local Rastafarian man who provides a vegetarian option for those who seek a meal without meat. While the meal of the day is chef’s choice, you can find delicious dishes with Ackee, tofu, or veggie chunks. Per usual, the meal is accompanied by a heap of rice and peas andvegetables. From the upstairs patio you can enjoy your meal as you watch the hustle and bustle outside of the Bob Marley Museum.
THE FUTURE OF NINE MILE
The future of Nine Mile comes in its potential and the dreams harboured by so many here. It is not uncommon to see homes turning into guest houses. Store fronts remain stocked, painted, and ready for service and anxious faces wait for an adventurous traveler. Tourism still has a long way to come in Nine Mile but the vision and the drive are there.
Natural Mystic is part of Nine Mile’s Future and a vision created by Roxanne Little, a native to Nine Mile who is currently practicing Naturopathic healing in the United States. She splits her time between her practice and her true home in Nine Mile. Natural Mystic is her dream for a healing sanctuary and lodge. Her plans include sweat lodges, a bird sanctuary, accommodations, and tree houses. She will also offer her services, which include acupuncture, cupping, and iridology. Her family and countless others in the community, including my husband and I, are currently helping to build this amazing dream. She hopes Natural Mystic will be ready to accommodate within the year. So for the seekers who want something deeper, keep Natural Mystic on your radar!
Tip #1: The first and most important tip- A trip to Nine Mile isn’t necessarily about what you will do and see, so much as what you will experience and feel. You will experience a beautiful community, a calming and green natural beauty, and a genuine interaction with Jamaica.
Tip #2: Also important- There is no hospital, doctors office, or supermarket in the community. This is something to take into consideration when visiting. My husband and I came with a general first aid kit and, thankfully, that has worked out to be more than enough. Additionally, if you would like snacks or specific food or drinks, plan ahead. The closest supermarket is about an hour away, and it can be limiting. The larger supermarkets can be found in the major cities.
Tip #3: There is no ATM. The closest ATM is also about an hours drive away. Prepare ahead of time. Most people will be happy to take American or Jamaican currency.
Tip #4: If you require wifi access during your visit to Nine Mile, I suggest purchasing some credit or data from the local phone company, Digicel.
Tip #5: Enjoy every moment.