Blog: Jamaica Celebrates 50 Years of Independence

Local 10 travels to Jamaica for the island-nation's 50-year anniversary

JAMAICA - Aug. 7 - 2:30 p.m.

By Steve Owen, Asst. News Dir.

We are back from Jamaica!

It was a whirlwind four days but the journey delivered so much more than we could have ever imagined. Jason Martinez, Bill Damas and I documented so much interesting material that we are planning a Prime-Time special for this fall. We think you will love it.

I am going to write a longer debrief about my time from the island soon, but just wanted to send out a short blog to salute those who helped us along the way.

Thanks so much to Karen Rundlet, Dr. Rebecca Tortello, Lyndon Taylor and Delroy Murray. All four are either Jamaican or Jamaican-American. Their passion and vision for their country helped make our trip a smashing success.

Thanks again!

Aug. 6 - 11 p.m.

By Jason Martinez

We just returned from the stadium. Jamaica blew the candles out on their 50th birthday cake. What a night. Such pride the Jamaican people have for their country. I honestly envy it and wish ALL Americans shared the same passion for the stars and stripes.

PHOTOS: Jamaica celebrates

Some people think these trips are exotic and fun. A co-worker jokingly tweeted me saying we were "stealing money" from the company on this Jamaican trip. We just worked four 15-hour days in a row. No ganja inhaled, no Red Stripe consumed. Hard work and no play. And you know what? I loved every minute of it. I fell in love with the Jamaican people. They've shown me a refreshing way of life... laid back, respectful and an uplifting pride for their land. Plus, I love the way they answer my questions... with two endearing words... "YEAH MON!"

Thank you Jamaica for your welcoming spirit.

Aug. 6 - 10:30 p.m.

By Steve Owen, Asst. News Dir.

The Jamaicans sure know how to throw a party. 

They celebrated the 50th anniversary of their independence from the UK by opening their national stadium to the people. 

Every seat was taken -- green and yellow everywhere.

PHOTOS: Jamaica celebrates

This gala came complete with what you'd expect: marching bands, military salutes, dancing children, even a flyover, but I was much more interested in what was going on in the stands.

I was overcome by the love the people showed for their country.

The last time I remember a similar show of total national pride in the states was when America united after 9/11.

I think people in the USA would be inspired if they spent just a few days with the Jamaican people.

The next 50 years for this country is in good hands.

Aug. 6 - 5 p.m.

By Steve Owen, Asst. News Dir.

Jamaica turns 50 today!

It really is amazing how far this country has come in such a short period of time.

Just think about just how big the Jamaica brand is around the world for such a small country.

Everyone knows about Bob Marley, the music, and the beautiful beaches.

But what about Capt. Jack Sparrow??

We visited Port Royal today.

You may not recognize the name, but Port Royal was once was a haven for pirates and privateers -- home to the most famous pirates, such as Blackbeard and Anne Bonny.

At the time, Port Royal was called "the richest and wickedest city in the world."

The movie series and Disney ride "Pirates of the Caribbean" were based on Port Royal.

The sad part is, you would never know that now.

What we found today was rundown buildings, barefoot kids playing in dirty water -- poverty.

You probably haven't heard the connection between Jamaica and Capt. Jack because it was Disney and not Jamaica that jumped on the legend and made millions.

With a little bit of investment, the Jamaican government could turn this place into a little Key West, complete with tales of pirates and naval battles.

Jamaica has done a great job selling other parts of its history on the worldwide stage. Here's hoping they can make Port Royal great again.

Aug. 6 - 2:00 p.m.

By Jason Martinez

This should seriously be called "Pirates Town." This is the birthplace of Jamaica. At one time, Port Royal was the capital city of Jamaica.

PHOTOS: Jamaica Day 4

The Spanish settled here and eventually gave up control of the island to the British in the 1700's. Walking through the town today, it feels like history is standing still. Fire cannons and legendary tales of pirates are the foundation of this town. When you see pictures, it's clearly run down and hit hard by poverty....but as you stand on this land, you can *feel* the history of piracy. If Port Royal sounds familiar to you, that's because they say the Pirates of the Caribbean concept was inspired by Port Royal although the movies weren't filmed here. It's amazing to stand on the soil of an entire country's beginnings.

We're off to Kingston to check out the Independence party. See you tonight at 11!

Aug. 5 - 9:30 p.m.

By Steve Owen, Asst. News Dir.

I will never forget what I did today.

I had the privilege to watch the 100m Olympic final in what's known as Kingston's Times Square. It's called Halfway Tree.

PHOTOS: Jamaica Day 3

Thousands packed the square, waving Jamaican flags, all wearing green, gold and black.

The crowd grew so large that the police were forced to close all of the streets in the area.

The race was being shown on several big screens in Halfway Tree and the people came to root on their hero, Usain Bolt.

Jason compared the atmosphere to when the Miami Heat won the NBA title. But this is different. The entire country roots for one man, Usain Bolt. He is the most famous Jamaican alive. To say the pride of the country rests on his success is not overstating it. Jamaicans love track and field -- and they really love Bolt.

Because of the incredible passionate crowd, I already had goose bumps and the race hadn't even been run.

But when Bolt stormed to win, I was nearly brought to tears.

I have never witnessed, in person, so much joy from such a large group of people in my life. It was incredible.

The 9.63 seconds it took for Bolt to win gold ranks up there among the most exciting sporting events I have ever seen live.

And no, I didn't have tickets to see the race live in the Olympic Stadium, but I wouldn't trade my spot in the street in Kingston for any of those seats.

Aug. 5 - 12:00 p.m.

By Jason Martinez

This is my 3rd day in Jamaica, a country I had never visited before. First and foremost, I am blown away by the welcoming and united way of life by the Jamaican people. They have treated me and the Local10 crew like family. The combination of beauty and poverty is as contrasting as it gets. My emotions were all over the map yesterday when I visited Mysitc Mountain which is located 700 feet above a beach in the town of Ocho Rios. Incredible views and jaw-dropping beauty. Then we took a 2 hour trip to "nine-mile", the birthplace and burial site of the great Bob Marley. The journey there took us through the villages, neighborhoods and huts that showed that poverty is a sobering reality here. Kids were trying to sell us marijuana outside Marley's mausoleum. No, I didn't buy any. Not a fan of pot.

Still, the spirit and pride of the Jamaican people is alive and well. And I'm proud to say Ive made a few friends along the way.

Aug. 5 - 5:30 a.m.

By Steve Owen, Asst. News Dir.

Driving in Jamaica is terrible. The drivers are crazy (although we have not seen an accident), the roads are brutal and there are not enough of them, and half the time you are sharing them with goats, donkeys or wild horses.  Because of this, you are sitting parked in traffic much of the time. Think Aventura traffic times 100.

But when you are covering a story, you have to get there and driving is the only option. Thankfully, we are in the care of Delroy Murray (a spectacular driver). But even with Delroy, it takes forever to get anywhere, so we are used to it by now.

On Saturday, we decided to visit the place where Bob Marley is buried. It was also his boyhood home.  The place is called Nine Mile. Delroy said it got its name because it was exactly nine miles from Marley's aunt's home. That's the only place it is close to.

Marley used the very remote estate to get away from the hustle and bustle of Kingston. You couldn't get any further away. After many mountain roads and battles with motion sickness, we made it there.

But the forever drive was worth it.

The landscapes were beautiful.

I was touched by the tour which was very religious in nature. It helped me better appreciate Bob Marley the man.

But what was most interesting to me what was outside the gates of the Marley estate.  This area is a shantytown - about as poor as you can get.  Dozens of kids and adults grab you as they beg for money.  The place has not grown at all despite being home to one of the biggest tourist attractions in all of Jamaica.

I asked myself why it was like this, why this town remained this way. But I had no answer.  I have noticed there are towns like his all over inland Jamaica.

Delroy says Usain Bolt came from a similar neighborhood.

The tourists in Montego Bay and Ocho Rios don't see them, but if you take a long enough drive, you do.

Aug. 4 - 8:30 a.m.

By Steve Owen, Asst. News Dir.

So we woke up to find out we are under a tropical storm watch here because of Ernesto.  You would not know it by looking out the window. It is a calm, sunny day here. There is not a cloud in the sky.

No one on the island is talking about Ernesto. The nation is consumed by the Olympics and Usain Bolt's bid to win the gold medal again in the 100m dash.

VIDEO: Jamaicans pulling for Usain Bolt

PHOTOS: Jamaica Day 2

Bolt won his preliminary heat on Saturday morning in a less than sparkling time. There are whispers that he is not 100%.  The islanders are very stressed about this.
As for Ernesto, not so much.

It should be noted that we are on the north side of the island in Ocho Rios, which is well away from Ernesto's projected path.

On Sunday, we head south to the capital city of Kingston which would most certainly feel Ernesto's impact in some way.

We will report back later. Now, off to the rainforest!

Aug. 4 - 2:30 a.m.

By Steve Owen, Asst. News Dir.

Just moments after landing in Kingston, we noticed two things about Jamaica: the beauty of the island and the pride of the people.

The Jamaicans are very proud of what they have accomplished in their first 50 years.
They know there are problems on the island like in any country, but they brag that the world's fastest man and most famous musician come from Jamaica.

We visited the former home of the musician Bob Marley. It's now a museum. We were amazed by how peaceful it was, being right in the middle of bustling Kingston.

We talked to several families from South Florida who have made the trip to Kingston for the anniversary celebrations .  They all said they wouldn't miss it for the world and how South Florida is the perfect second home for them. 

Today, we got acquainted with the island, tomorrow we get to see it's jewels up close with a trip to the rain forest.

Aug. 3 - noon

By Steve Owen, Asst. News Dir.

There are very few jobs where you meet a huge star like Pharrell one day and then leave the next day for Jamaica to produce a prime-time special.

On Friday, I leave with Local 10 News anchor Jason Martinez and Chief Photographer Bill Damas on an amazing journey to Jamaica as the island country celebrates its 50-year anniversary. Jamaica broke away from the UK on August 6, 1962.

Although a small country, Jamaica has become one of the largest brands in the world. Everyone knows Bob Marley, the country's beautiful beaches and rainforests and their amazing athletes, including the world's fastest man, Usain Bolt.

PHOTOS: Jamaica Day 1

Our team will study Jamaica's very colorful history that dates back hundreds of years.

Jamaica was first claimed by Spain when Christopher Columbus landed in 1494. Over the centuries, Jamaica has been known for slavery, pirating, Rastafarianism and its incredible enterprising spirit.

Sure, we will visit the most well-known places like Dunn's River Falls and Montego Bay Beach, but we plan to find hidden jewels you haven't seen on the Travel Channel.

We will, of course, dig into Bob Marley's legacy and enduring influence on Jamaican musical artists. The country has produced a litany of superstars including: Jimmy Cliff, Sean Paul, Sean  Kingston and Alicia Keys. More kids in Jamaica aspire to be musicians than anything else. Jason will be doing some serious reggae Karaoke!

Usain Bolt is just the latest world-class speedster to come from this tiny island.  We will investigate what makes Jamaicans so fast. We will be lucky to be in Kingston on Sunday to watch the Olympics 100-Meter dash final with more than 100,000 cheering Jamaicans. It should be insane.

The independence celebrations are a major deal for the very large Jamaican diaspora in South Florida. Broward County is home to the fastest-growing group of Jamaican immigrants in the USA. There are 125,000+ Jamaicans in the county.

We will be blogging throughout this trip and sending back photos, which we will publish in slideshows accessible through this page. In fact, now might be a good time to bookmark this page so you can check back often and keep up with our updates.

To make our trip even more interesting, what could be Tropical Storm Ernesto is forecasted to head towards Jamaica so we will be there for that as well. Fun!

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