The travelogue is a time-tested means of giving prospective visitors a viable snapshot of destinations in general – and therein lies the problem.
Jamaica is about as far from “destination in general” as Kingston is from Kilimanjaro. Options for dining, recreation and tours are manifold, widespread and run the gamut from the “hole-in-the-wall” and seaside hut type of road stop to hotel-based palaces and upscale resorts. It’s the kind of challenge that might humble many a travel writer (and indeed, many have tried, with varied results). It takes cash, connections, curiosity, and no small amount of luck to do us justice without falling victim to cliché or imbalanced reporting.
Oliver Hill, who previously compiled Jamaica’s delights and challenges (bad roads, idiosyncratic people) for the MOON series, has now done it once again. In this latest version of the MOON Handbook, recently launched, he has balanced the street knowledge of Jamaica with the off-the-beaten-track, wonderful hidden gems, presenting us with the adequately concise travel guide book. What helps the MOON guide to stand out is Hill’s cheeky but savvy observations on the nuances of Jamaican society that eludes many outsiders. Take this choice example: “Jamaicans who walk around Kingston, generally don’t do so by choice, day or night, and are ridiculed as “walk-foots” by their fellow citizens. It’s mostly due to the prestige of driving.” A truer summary of the Jamaican (read “Kingston”) class divide has never been offered. But some slights are annoying to say the least. While speaking of his experience at Deli Works (in Sovereign Centre) he refers to “an adjoining cafe” that serves coffee, pastries and offers free Wi-Fi. Come on, now: if you can make out Deli Works, surely you can make out Cafe Blue if it’s right beside it.
That said, MOON Handbook – Jamaica, loaded with maps, special box sections and Hill’s own photographs, is a travel guide that both visitors and locals can carry without embarrassment.