vacation with a side of ethics

I am easy to please when it comes to vacations. I don’t need a lot of activities and adventures. The last thing I want is an itinerary. All I ask for is a beach and a good book, healthily interspersed with fruity cocktails, good food and lots of napping. I recently returned from my second trip to Jamaica and I gotta tell you, that place does not suck.

All-inclusive resorts are the ultimate in relaxation for lazy vacationers such as myself. Eat whenever you want at one of five different restaurants. Drink whenever you want from a bevy of beach, pool or club bars. Go snorkeling, get a massage, play beach volleyball. Or don’t do anything at all. Sit on your ass and ignore the world. Nobody cares. The only schedule you need to know is when the jerk chicken shack on the beach opens and your nose will figure that out. Take off your watch. You’re on island time now.

This trip doubled as a much needed technology detox for me. Hi, my name is Kim and I am an internet addict. I can easily spend an entire day sitting in front of my laptop, only standing up to go to the kitchen or the bathroom. I am a time-waster extraordinaire and have the butt-shaped indentation on my couch to prove it. If you see me without my cell phone in my hand, it is probably because the battery is dead. No mobile device on the market can keep up with my addiction. I am constantly texting and checking Facebook to see what I could possibly be missing at any given time. It is a serious problem.

International roaming rates are ridiculous and even my level of dependence could not be justified at that price. The resort where I stayed offers 90 minutes of free wi-fi per day. Somehow, I managed to survive. I sat in the lobby for sometimes less than an hour a day just to get my fix and let my mom know that I was alive. It was, dare I say, refreshing. Unplugging from the online world gave me time to socialize with real live people. Gasp! I walked the coastline and took in the beauty surrounding me. I read half a book in a day. I slept better. I felt energized. Damnit, this is the part where I am supposed to learn a lesson and apply it to my daily life, isn’t it?

Unfortunately, a Caribbean vacation does not come without a cost, and I am not simply talking about the credit card bill.

The moment when I stepped off the plane, I was smacked in the face with the fact that, despite the booming tourist industry, Jamaica is a third world country. The roads are poorly paved and planned. The flow of traffic seems like chaos. When I first saw the windowless shacks propped up on cinderblocks that litter the countryside, I assumed that they were abandoned. Well, we all know what happens when we assume. This is how most of the locals live. A majority of these hovels are without power or furniture. They serve as shelter, and shelter alone.

Many of the homes look unfinished with rebar jutting from the roofs and half completed paint jobs. Our tour guide explained that the people of Jamaica do not borrow from banks in order to construct their living spaces. When they have some money saved up, they build until the funds run out. Then they work toward saving more money so they can build some more. Doesn’t sound like a horrible plan, really, until you realize that the majority of the locals, especially the resort workers, make around $50 USD per week. And to think, I get pissy if I don’t walk out of work with over $150 in my pocket after a single night.

The town center is jammed with ramshackle shops advertised with hand-painted signs claiming “cold beer joint” and “hair braids.” Every produce stand vendor and jewelry maker alike vie for my attention. They want my American money and they are willing to show me things I’ve never seen before in order to get it (That is a direct quote). Buying from the locals is a nightmare for me. I want their handcrafted goods. I want to support their local economy. However, between my guilt complex and my severe bartering ineptitude, it is just best that I smile and walk away.

When we get to the resort, my conscience kicks into overdrive. Here I am, about to be waited on constantly by a staff of people who seem more happy to be at work than I am about being on vacation, and all I can think about is how spoiled I am. The people employed there have no other goal than to make me comfortable. Service with a smile is an understatement. They literally break into song while serving what must be thousands of frozen concoctions a day. I, too, work in a resort town, and I promise you that I have never been happy to pick up a blender.

I tipped generously over my four days in paradise, but I didn’t see many other tourists following suit. I would not have been able to live with myself if I hadn’t given twenty bucks a night to Dalton, the bartender who was happy to serve 30 woo-woo’s at a time. He is a better man than I. Of course, that means I got preferential treatment from most of the bartenders: Some things are universal. It made me feel good to know that I was helping out individuals who deserved respect for their hard work and long hours, but it also made me wonder where all the money we vacationers pay to stay there is going. Straight to the top, I guess. The rich get richer… Boy, that sure sounds familiar.

Don’t get me wrong, Jamaica is a diverse place scattered with mansions and ghettos alike. Just like America, there are the affluent and the underprivileged, and I am definitely one of the lucky ones. I have worked hard to be able to own a house and countless other “things” that are considered purely luxury. Perhaps when visitors travel to Ocean City, they consider me one of the unfortunate ones who is forced to meet their every demand for a couple of beer-soaked dollars left on the bar.

I will definitely be returning to Jamaica in the future and I urge everyone who can to do the same. Despite the moral conundrum, I could not have asked for a better breather from my daily life. There is a peace and friendliness there that I have never found on beaches in the states. I could have done without the excess of Speedos and saggy boobs, but I think I have our European neighbors to thank for that.

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2 thoughts on “vacation with a side of ethics

  1. I concur. One of my best vaca’s ever. Went over thanksgiving many moons ago before kids. It is my least fav holiday so we celebrated with rock lobster. Fantastic. We were crazy enough to rent a car and drive from negril to ocho rios where we had lunch ten feet away from Keith Richards. Yes it is a country with many juxtapositions, but the beauty of it all is the great equalizer.
    And quit beating yourself up about your work. You my friend, are in the top 10% of the service industry in this one beach town!

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