When you think about sport and Jamaica, two sports come to mind, Usain Bolt sprinting record breaking times at Olympic games to achieve eight gold medals, and the movie Cool Runnings which depicted the Jamaican bobsled team competing in the 1988 Canada winter Olympics. So when our new friend Michael at Ocho Rios Jamaica wanted to show us a local sport, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Let alone it was eight o’clock at night and we were in the middle of what seemed like nowhere.
Michael, our local driver offered by our Airbnb host, was a godsend. Having staying at the top of a hillside, our only means of transport around the north of Jamaica, was either our legs or hitching a ride in Michael’s car. So when we wanted to explore places further afield, we thankfully called upon Michael to assist, not only for his car, his driving skills, yet being a guide with wonderful vast local knowledge.
My friend Vicki and I had been out for a day trip around the north west region of Jamaica, the third largest island in the Caribbean, exploring natural waterways of the turquoise Blue Lagoon made famous back in the day by a movie with Brooke Shields, and tasting our way around the island, by feasting on locally cooked jerk at Boston Bay.
On our way back to our accommodation in the evening, Michael suggested we stop by a town for us to learn a local sport with his friends, yet we had no idea what he was referring to.
As our sedan pulled up on the dirt road, I looked at Vicki with both trepidation and excitement, where we were being guided to?
As we walked through the three foot high metal gate of a fence like you see in most country school boundaries, there stood a single metal shed with a tv mounted in a corner playing 80’s pop music video clips, then a lone woman sitting behind a counter staring at the tv in amusement. As we walked in, she gave a delightful smile as a gesture of welcome as we approached the small rustic building.
Upon purchasing some Red Stripe beer, we sat outside on the only seating options available, next to a couple of vintage tables, that would have more stories in their lifetime than a sailor tells. The outdoor area was lit by single light poles around the area, which our eyes adjusted to once outside and made out the figures sitting at a table.
As we approached the table, we saw gentlemen engrossed in a game of dominoes, sharing in strong laughter and passion amongst themselves as they slammed down each domino tile. The movements were so quick, a hand from one man threw down a tile, then instantly another man threw down on the table a tile as to continue with the game, no time for thinking I could see. The game was provoking a strong feeling of masculinity and pride between the older gentlemen, all fighting for winner rights. We looked on with amusement as we guzzled our beer.
Michael explained the rules of the national past-time game, very simply place a tile with corresponding number of dots next to another tile with the same corresponding number of dots, whilst ensuring the game is fast passed otherwise the other components become bored and lose the passion to play.
We played a couple of games before conceding victory to the locals. There was no way of coming out a winner against veterans in their field.
We later learned the national sport can be very competitive, with commonly heard events of violence amongst players on occasions, due to the boisterous and outburst nature the players display during matches. Did I mention the players are passionate?!
Interesting that after that evening, we seem to notice dominoes popping up everywhere around us, yet we never noticed it prior, quite possibly we had encountered the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon, whereby we were open to our newly learned sport.
So when passing through local craft markets in Kingston city in the capital, we happen to see sets of domino carved from stone being sold by a local vendor. We couldn’t miss the opportunity to grab this souvenir of our trip to Jamaica, something I could improve on once in our homelands.
I can strongly say now there are three Jamaican sports which come to mind; running, bobsled racing and dominoes, thanks to our local driver and guide Michael.