The Best Trip I’ve Ever Been On (So Far)

My hands were sweating and my knees were shaking as I stepped on to the rickety wooden plank. I heard a crack beneath my feet and thought to myself “how in the heck was I convinced to do this?” There I was, standing on a small platform 110 feet above the ground in the middle of the Jamaican jungle. The only thing supporting me was a few pieces of wood that had been nailed into a tree, a rope, and a small metal carabiner. I was about to zip-line over the treetops in Montego Bay, Jamaica. Despite being scared senseless at that moment, this would turn out to be the beginning of the best trip I’ve ever been on.

While I haven’t been able to travel everywhere I want to yet, the places I have traveled provided me with some incredible experiences that I will never forget. And Jamaica topped the list, ‘mon’

Headed to Jamaica

When I learned that I was going to Jamaica I was ecstatic. This would be my first ‘real adventure’ abroad and I was eager to experience the Carribean culture. I remember the trip just like it was yesterday. I woke up early, packed my camera bag and suitcase, grabbed a coffee and I was on my way to the airport. My boyfriend’s mom, originally from Jamaica, was joining us on the adventure. During the flight she shared stories of her childhood and the hardships she endured when she left the country. I could feel her anticipation radiating knowing that she was returning home.  As we flew into Jamaica I was in awe at the site of the crystal blue water meeting the edge of the lush green island beneath us. I snapped a quick picture from the airplane window.

We Made It

“Welcome to Jamaica, everyting irie!” rang in my ear as we stepped off the plane. It’s a common Patois term that loosely translates to “everything is great or peaceful.” Upon arriving at the Riu Montego Bay Resort we spent the first few hours at the beach indulging in some authentic jerk chicken-it was to die for. Later that night we attended a fire show put on by local dancers to benefit the community. The alarm sounded at 6:00am the next morning. We were headed to Kingston for the day and wanted to get an early start since it was about a two hour drive from the hotel. (Side note-our bus driver O’Neil tacked on about fifteen minutes because he stopped at the local grocery store to see his girlfriend, hey a man’s gotta do what he needs to do, right?) The drive was beautiful, filled with lush green trees and spectacular views. Along the way we drove through the famous Fern Gully, a stretch of road lined with towering fern trees. The spot is so famous there is an animated movie based on the area.

We arrived in Kingston and spent the day exploring the unique city. For lunch we ate at a small local hut situated on the beach. I ordered some fish and a few sides of festivals, which are the equivalent to biscuits in America. When the fish was served I was a bit confused because it was the FULL fish, eyeballs and all. Thankfully some kind locals nearby showed me how to fillet it open and eat it the “Jamaican way.” Because Jamaica’s inhabitants originate from all over the world, their cuisine is comprised of an array of cultural influences. Eating at the hut opened my eyes to trying new food that I never would’ve previously and helped me realize how much traveling exposes people to a variety of different things. After a long day in Kingston we headed to the hotel with O’Neil back at the wheel.

Conservations With Locals

The next few days were a whirlwind, but I had a few opportunities to venture out and get a sense for the people and their culture-my favorite part about traveling! There’s something fascinating about experiencing how others live on a day to day basis that truly excites my soul. One of the first things I noticed was that a majority of the homes on the countryside were only partially built.  Raymond, a local to the area, informed me that mortgages in Jamaica are nearly impossible to obtain so it’s very common for families to build their house as they go. These tattered sites of real-estate made me realize how little we appreciate and how much we can take for granted.

After my experience with the fish in Kingston, I didn’t think I could find something more bizarre, but boy was I wrong. On my adventure into town I met a local who was boiling green bananas and mixing them with butter and salt, similar to mashed potatoes. During our conversation she explained that mashed green bananas are a staple in Jamaica. She also made sure to inform me that contrary to some foreigner’s beliefs, the locals eat green bananas because they like the taste, NOT because they’re so poor and hungry that they can’t wait for the banana to fully ripen.  

The last day of the trip we made our way to Negril. This was my favorite place we visited over the course of the week. Everything about Negril was amazing-the food, the views, even the people! The day consisted of some snorkeling along the famed seven mile beach and indulging in more jerk chicken. During the evening, right before sunset, I made my way over to a large cliff overlooking the ocean. 

Reflections From Paradise

While I sat upon the edge and reflected on the week, I had a moment of what I consider to be pure bliss; I gazed out at the crystal clear water, I could hear the waves crashing against the rocks and reggae music playing in the distance. Everything was calm and I felt a sense of belonging in a place that was so foreign just 7 days before.

The Chance to Visit Tanzania-Fingers Crossed!

Ever since I can remember I’ve been a curious person, constantly seeking to learn new things and explore new places. Perhaps that’s why I love the thrill of traveling so much. I aspire to have that feeling of belonging in a foreign place again and I’m convinced that it could happen in Africa with Yellow Zebra Safaris. Africa is a place I’ve yet to visit, but somewhere that has been on my bucket list for quite some time! I picture myself getting lost in the sight of the sunrise over Mt. Kilimanjaro. I can imagine how the authentic food tastes and smells. I ponder what it would feel like to ride in a jeep over the African plains and photograph elephants in their natural habitat on the Serengeti. I dream about how rewarding it would feel to play even a small part in wildlife conservation.

Perhaps one of the biggest motivators for taking a chance on entering this contest is to have the opportunity to fully start my travel career. I’ve always had an intense passion for travel, but I haven’t been able to travel as much as I’d like. For years I’ve searched for an answer to the question, “what do you want to do in life?” I finally figured it out and the answer is simple-I want to travel and write about my experiences. BUT, I’ve had trouble figuring out how to get started and sustain such a life, an issue that a lot of travel bloggers have when starting out. I’ve spent months interning for various full time travelers, including Jules and Christine of Don’t Forget to Move and Kristen of Border Free Travels in the hopes I will learn the necessary tools, tricks, and tips through mentorship. The opportunity to travel with Yellow Zebra Safaris leading the way would not only be a dream come true, but would be the gateway and catalyst needed to continue my dream career. 

Disclaimer: This post was written and edited by Makaela Smith. All thoughts and opinions are my own.