As a marketer, you always want to spot trends and find the unusual angle. But as a traveler, usually you try and look up reviews and go where the going is good. Or at least where it has been good for others! But that’s why my recent trip to Jamaica was so unusual. We didn’t go where everyone goes… not Negril, not Ocho Rios (Ochi as they call it), not Montego Bay (Mo Bay as they say); we went to Port Antonio, Jamaica.
This sleepy little town on the northeast coast has no fancy rum drinks in tall glasses, no giant straw hats and no limbo contests, just a very real and local vibe. It’s home to locals who seem to really enjoy life, a pretty cool under-the-radar recording studio in a mountain tree house setting, a surfer beach cove with towering waves, an impossibly deep-water blue lagoon and a truly relaxing 2 hour raft ride down the “Rio Grande”- the other “Rio Grande”.
But Port Antonio also has another unique claim to fame: it is the home of the Jamaican National Synchronized Swim Team; think of it as the warm weather equivalent of the famous “Jamaican Bobsledders”. Drive up a non-descript—but nevertheless beautiful mountain, 10 minutes from the beach and there it is: a house with an Olympic-length (not sized, it’s much narrower), swimming pool. All around, the Jamaican Blue Mountains surround you in a tropical embrace. The girls, locals. Practicing 3-4 hours every day of the week, after their schoolwork and sometimes after helping their parents work… after their schoolwork. It’s not an easy life.
Their coach: Russian double Olympic gold medalist Olga Novokshchenova, married a local Jamaican – as if we needed any more firsts! Working tirelessly with the girls, Coach Olga doesn’t say much, she’s all about the work ethic, all about practice and dedication. But she is proud and rightfully so. Proud of the progress they have made and the commitment they show.
As we sat and watched them parade by, straight shouldered and correct before jumping into the water, I saw a pride on those girls’ faces that I rarely see elsewhere. A pride that said “we can and we will be great”. And they really were. 8 year olds, 9 year olds, 10, 11, 12, 13 and the oldest, just 14 years old. Some learning how to swim less than a year ago, twirling and spinning like aquatic ballerinas, never touching the bottom of the pool. You try that! Coach Olga says they have to work very hard if they want to compete in the Olympics. Again, this will not be easy. Jamaica doesn’t exactly have a historical past interwoven with synchronized swimming. And yet, you couldn’t help but feel the passion with which these girls performed their routines. They may not win Olympic gold anytime soon, but their hearts glimmer with a competitive spirit that definitely shines through.
It’s been 3 weeks now since I’ve been back. I still remember the beautiful blue lagoon, (it was that impactful) and I still have the memory of Clement, our Jamaican “gondolieri”, maneuvering our raft down the Rio Grande, but there’s that slight fade in my memories that time begins to paint in our mind. But the look on those girls’ faces, that feels like it happened yesterday.
I guess that’s the difference between seeing places and things, however beautiful they might be and feeling the emotion of others. Pretty is pretty, but the inner beauty of their determination against some pretty stiff odds; I believe that memory will last and last.
-Anthony Baradat, President