Monday morning we took the Yellow Kingston bus –made in Belgium– from Portmore to Kingston. From Half Way Tree transportation center we walked to an old friend where we got a warm welcome and spent the rest of the evening. We checked in in our hotel and took some rest.
Barbican Center is where the Canonball Cafe is situated and where we drink our Blue Mountain Coffee to wake up. Off to a place called Veggie Meals on Wheels (VMW), a restaurant we had heard a lot about but didn’t visit yet. It is situated on Regal Plaza, close to Crossroads. You could call it a little green oasis in a totally urban environment, a resting place. It’s a warm and friendly yard and a place of knowledge. We were offered some samples of home made concoctions with herbs,plants and roots. No sales pitch, just an exchange of knowledge and experience.
VMW has been in business for over 5 years and also started cooking on location at parties and stage shows. The restaurant itself is indeed a truck, but it’s not going anywhere (no more wheels, actually). The food is simply superb, there’s nothing more to say about it. Veggy plates, burgers and wraps are served in durable Calabash bowls (no styrofome) and there are fresh juices such as beetroot to drink. I’m not a vegetarian but in Jamaica I tend to eat a lot of vegetarian and healty food. It’s like I feel I’m using so much energy in this hot climate my body tells me to eat healthy and light. This is the perfect type of food for this island: paradise food in paradise. Have a look at the picture gallery. We’ll soon be back here because VMW is also the venue where they keep Vinyl Thursdays.
From Veggie Meals on Wheels we could easily walk to the Edna Manley School of Music and Arts where some 50 people gathered for the first in a series of Reggae University panel discussions, one of the official Reggae Month events. The panel consisted of representatives from the Mininstry of Tourism and Entertainment, the Kingston and St. Andrew Corporation, the Urban Development Corporation and the Jamaica Reggae Industry Association chairman and reggae legend Ibo Cooper. Topic of discussion tonight is the Creative City status recently awarded to the city of Kingston by UNESCO. Kingston, together with 47 other cities world wide, is being recognised by UNESCO as a creative hub, a place where art and music has a transformational power for its residents and especially its inner city youths.
As a regular visitor, you really do feel the creativity of the city and its youths, downtown as well as uptown. A generation of entrepreneurial, creative young people are setting up events, discussion forums, and heartical parties everywhere in the city. Nanook at Burlington Avenue and Paint Jamaica are a prime examples. But more about Nanook in a next posting.
Several of the panel members were part of the team that prepared the UNESCO application and testified that it was a useful excercise to try and bring together the thousands of people and places in Kingston that deal with creativity.
I started my website Reggaetourist.com because I feel that Jamaica’s tourism policy could be geared more towards reggae tourists, reggae affectionados coming to Jamaica specifically for reggae and dancehall parties and stage shows. I asked the panel if the Kingston Creative City status means that Kingston will be unapologetically promoting the reggae events in town in the future. I put before the panel the fact that thousands of reggae fans worldwide are continuously looking for information on Kingston’s weekly parties such as Inner City Mondays, Dubwize, Dub School, Nanook, Vinyl Thursdays and Dub Club, but that the information is hard to find and certainly not collected on one handy platform. The responses from the panel members to my question reaffirmed my feeling that the main focus of Jamaica’s tourism policy is top tier resort tourism. Resort and Luxury hotel tourism is featured in the tourism statistics, but if you’re not staying in the Jamaica Pegagus, one of the panelists remarked, you literally don’t count (in those measurements of tourism success).
The representative from the Ministry stated that there is an incremental shift of minds towards the appreciation of reggae as a touristic Unique Selling Point since the establishment of an Entertainment Unit in the Ministry of Tourism. The panel discussion ended with a sneak preview of the 5 minute clip Kingston submitted for the Creative Cities application. I was glad to see that reggae was extensively featured in this clip. It’s a good look. By the way, a room in the Pegagus is €275 a night. I can tell you there are a lot of tourists in Jamaica right now in countless small hostels, guesthouses or guest rooms that don’t count. But the thing is, they do. They might not be spending €275 a day but when they do spend their tourism euros they do it in Jamaican communities.
After the panel discussion we took a taxi to Nanook for an event called Level UP. We had such an inspiring time there I have to tell you about it in a next posting. Plus we have to go to the first in a series of Reggae Wednesday concerts now. Reggae Month just started.