Don't worry about a thing 

Jamaica, Bob Marley's birthplace, worth a visit

click to flip through (3) WITH FILES FROM LUCIAN MILASAN/SHUTTERSTOCK.COM - Don't worry about a thing
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  • Don't worry about a thing
   

Captain Crazy lives up to his name and, just like Jamaica itself, the tour guide is a fun kind of crazy.

He's from Nine Mile, a tiny village in the northern mountains of Jamaica, which is known as the birthplace and final resting spot for Bob Marley — the "King of Reggae." The spirit of Jamaica's most well-loved artist lives on here and it's especially evident in 37-year-old Curtis Peart, a.k.a. Captain Crazy.

Peart prances up a vegetation-rich path, singing "One Love," followed by a group of tourists here to see Marley's mausoleum and the two-room house, where he lived until age 13 before moving to Kingston. The vibe is pleasant thanks to the laid-back Peart, who comes across as a friendly Pied Piper — albeit a high one.

Behind the brightly painted house, another Rastafarian has a fire lit, brewing ganja tea and, for a small fee, there's also a selection of small and large spliffs. "The big ones I call Bob and the small ones I call Ziggy," says Peart, laughing before adding, "Sorry Zig," referring to one of Marley's 11 children.

"If you're a regular marijuana smoker, it won't make you feel gnarly but if you are a beginner, you'll feel mellow. Nothing strong enough to see Jesus — just John the Baptist." Peart, who describes himself as a farmer, works five days a week as one of six tour guides in Marley's hometown, about a two-hour drive from Montego Bay.

While Jamaica recently decriminalized marijuana, the drug is still technically illegal.

Nine Mile Museum is owned and operated by Marley's family. After Marley's death in 1981, fans would travel the bumpy, winding road that ends 900 metres above sea level, to show their respect to the beloved singer.

So many kept coming, the family began offering guided tours 30 years ago for visitors to gain insight into Marley's childhood, his musical career and to stand on "Mt. Zion Rock," which was his meditation spot.

Peart estimates anywhere from 1,000 to 2,000 tourists continue to arrive monthly, depending on the season.

In the early days, the lucky ones got to meet Marley's mother, reggae singer Cedella Marley Booker. She lived on and off at Nine Mile, until her death in 2008. While staying in Nine Mile she was known to invite visitors inside her home, pointing out the simple kitchen she had installed, with granite countertops.

The kitchen was a luxury she couldn't afford as a teenage mother.

Marley's childhood home had no kitchen and instead the family's meals were cooked outdoors, under the cover of a tin roof.

The community itself is pretty much the same as it was when Marley lived here and where he continued to return as an adult for inspiration.

Last December, the house where Marley was born and where his mother later lived was opened, as well as his small, childhood home on the lush hillside above.

Before leading a group into Marley's first home, there's a blunt warning from Peart about Marley Booker's hobby — creating paper mache dolls that are stored in glass enclosed cabinets lining two walls.

"I like Bob's mom but she could have done better with the dolls. They kinda look creepy for me. They're ugly."

His laughter is infectious and visitors would have a hard time leaving not thinking they met a new best friend.

(Sunwing Vacations has partnered with Nexus Tours to offer a Reggae and Culture tour that allows visitors to "walk in the steps of Bob Marley" and learn about his life.)

Jamaica has much to offer visitors, from the calm, blue Caribbean waters, white sandy beaches and delicious local cuisine, such as spicy jerk pork and Jamaican patties. But it's the people who stand out the most.

Their friendliness is genuine. And their love of life and desire to show you the best their culture has to offer is real in this country where tourism is the No. 1 industry. There's plenty of opportunities to get to know the locals, who are keen to welcome you and teach you about their culture. Like learning some of the Jamaican dialect, known as Patois. You'll soon be bumping fists and repeating "yay mon" and "respect." While it may seem awkward at first, visitors soon realize the shared greeting is genuine.

IF YOU GO:

Sunwing Vacations (Sunwing.ca) offers many flights out of Toronto.

The all-inclusive RIU Hotels and Resorts have six hotels on the island, including the new Hotel Riu Reggae, Hotel Riu Palace, and Riu Montego Bay, all in Montego Bay.

While foreign resorts have been criticized for not offering a sense of local flavour, this isn't the case with Riu Hotels. More than 95 per cent of the staff is Jamaican and the entertainment and many of the buffet food items are local fare, such as spicy jerk chicken, Jamaican patties and curry goat.

The resorts also offer free kayaking, pedal boats, paddle boards, windsurfing and snorkelling to guests and, for a fee, catamaran cruises, to name just a few of the many resort activities.

All of the hotels are within easy reach to popular attractions, such as Rick's Cafe in Negril, swimming with the dolphins and climbing Dunn's River Falls in Ocho Rios, to bamboo rafting in Martha Brae.

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