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Does anyone do the Bob Marley Mausoleum tour in Jamaica and not get stoned? As in baked, loaded and high? While my tour companions passed a reefer of weed, sipping cannabis tea brewed over a fire pit outdoor kitchen, I could only stare at the sky. The mountainous back roads adventure to Nine Mile, Marley’s childhood home, and final resting place had already been a back roads adventure. Now the heavens had opened up with a massive thunderstorm cracking above and pounding rain had permeated the jungle canopy, creating rivers around our feet. Washouts on the 1.5 hour drive back to Ocho Rios, much of it on narrow dirt roads with potholes capable of burying half a tire, was all I could think about.

Paying Homage to Bob Marley – the king of reggae

You can’t go to Jamaica without paying homage to Bob Marley. The king of reggae made it big on the global stage, but his humble beginnings are rooted in Jamaica. Fortunately the options for getting a Marley fix are plentiful. From the Bob Marley Museum, formerly his residence as a young man in Kingston, to the Tung Gong Recording Studios, which Marley himself started as a struggling artist, paying homage involves choices.

But I was determined that choice wouldn’t be between overpriced souvenir t-shirts at a tourist stand. The origin story, where he was born and raised by a single Mom, held the greatest appeal. Plus it was a doable day trip from Ocho Rios where I was staying.

Going solo

My Bob Marley Mausoleum tour group members had arrive by a mini bus. That detail was observed with some envy, after navigating the challenging roads into the hills with a right-hand drive rental. But it had been a welcome trade off, offering independence and an authentic glance into everyday life in rural Jamaica.

It had also granted access to climb Dunn River Falls without another sole in sight earlier that morning, a savored experience easily appreciated by those who have visited during cruise ship season.

Our tour group

And so it was, that I found myself with a gaggle of young girls in their 20s from Ethiopia, visiting Jamaica to celebrate a girlfriend’s birthday, and a young American couple in their early 30s, on holiday while parents cared for their children back home.

With the return drive spared, inhibitions were low in my group. The weed no doubt promised plentiful laughs in the back of the bus while devouring a bag of Doritos on their return. Plus smoking a spliff in honor of the man who was rumored to do 18 joints a day, seemed natural in this setting. For me, one flat tire away from disaster, and a planned return to Ocho Rios before dark, giving a pass was the price to pay for independence and adventure.

Freedom has its benefits

Renting a car from Avis in Ocho Rios had allowed me to escape the gated community of the all-inclusive resort. While I had enjoyed my time there immensely, courtesy of a client, I was bursting at the seams to experience the real Jamaica. Armed with a guidebook outlining sites, history, suggested outings, and safety measures, I had tossed the resort wrist band in my bag, and headed for the hills.

Getting to Nine Mile

As you arrive in Nine Mile, the Cedella Marley basic school, named after Bob’s mom, looms in red, gold and green splendor just before the family home. But the road getting there is not for the faint of heart.

Once leaving major Hwy 2000 off the coast, the route becomes increasingly less traveled along B11 through small hamlets. But it’s the final 45 minutes that features twists and turns, often narrow enough for only one vehicle, where pavement gives way to a permanent patchwork of mixed gravel and potholes. Road speed was negligible out of necessity on the rough roads.

At one point I passed a guy roadside, returning from work carrying a machete, doing my best to dismiss it as utility, while hitting the 4-door lock button. You certainly need to be mindful of crime in Jamaica, particularly in populated areas, since it’s an under developed country with a lot of poverty. But the majority of people are wonderful, and the countryside is beautiful.

Despite having read about the hustlers offering parking in the area at a price, I ended up at their mercy on the hill, since the fence and large wood gates of the Marley property initially appeared impermeable. It’s worth noting that free parking does in fact exist inside, but you need to knock on the gate for entry. During the busy tourist season space could also be at a premium if small buses were already on site.

The Bob Marley Mausoleum Tour

Tours of the mausoleum (9am – 5pm daily) start at the gift shop, where once the $25 US entry fee is paid, visitors are led upstairs to another gift shop and bar. Milling about there is encouraged while a band plays reggae music. Framed news articles and record studio memorabilia are on display too. It was a fun ambiance to begin the tour, but the real hope is you’ll tip the band, buy some souvenirs, stock up on pot (which they sell on site at a kiosk), and linger long enough upon the tours end, to tip the guide generously. At least that’s the way it felt to the “soon to be” only sober person in the crowd!

photo credit: SimplyLocal.life

Marley’s home

Up the hill, our tour guide introduced us to Bob’s one-bedroom home. Pointing out countless details as inspiration for Marley’s songs, including the single bed referred to in “Is This Love” and the rock pillow from “Talkin’ Blues” the stories rolled off his tongue, punctuated generously with “Yah man.” He filled in details about Marley’s life, including how his father, a UK military officer, at the age of 60, met and later married 18-year old Cedella, Marley’s Mom, while working as a supervisor on a plantation in Jamaica. The couple separated soon after Bob was born in 1945 and he was raised by a single Mom, largely in poverty.

Bob Marley the musician

As a young man, Marley moved to Kingston, where his rise to fame through music began. His group the Wailers released a debut studio album in 1965 which contained the single “One Love.” The Wailers would release eleven more studio albums before signing with Island Records and becoming Bob Marley and the Wailers. 

The group gained international attention after signing to Island, and toured in support of their albums, but the Wailers disbanded a year later, and Marley carried on under the band’s name, relocating to London UK. Breakthrough albums in the US would follow in the mid 70s, but in 1977 Marley was diagnosed with melanoma, and died as a result of the illness in 1981.

His awards were many, but a few of note include Rolling Stone Band of the Year in 1976, Peace Medal of the Third World from the United Nations in 1978, the Jamaican Order of Merit in 1981 and Induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994.

The outdoor kitchen

Learning the grandeur of Marley’s musical accomplishments stood in stark contrast to his humble upbringing. The home, with a detached outdoor fire pit kitchen, is where his Mom prepared daily meals for him as a child. A bit like permanent camping, connected to nature, and shared in an environment of acceptance and love, we were able to appreciate how those formative years shaped the music which would come later. It’s also where the tour paused for some cannabis enlightenment, prior to entering the mausoleum.

The Bob Marley Mausoleum

Two elaborate mausoleums stand on the property; the largest one for Bob Marley, and the other for his Mom Cedella. Our tour entered the Bob Marley Mausoleum and entombed stone monument, which he shares with his half-brother. Respectfully, guests are asked to remove their shoes and refrain from photography, so there are no photos from that part of the tour. We entered in silence, observing a few candles and incense burning as we walked the perimeter of the marble stone tomb. Back in the entrance area hung recording awards from the US, Australia, and Europe, along with commemorative photos on tour. The experience was both solemn and spiritual.

There is a small chapel on sight too, across the path from the house and mausoleum, but entrance to it is restricted on tours, and guarded as a sacred place.

As we wrapped up our tour by a Rasta styled clubhouse building, we tipped our guide, and then were invited to stay at the restaurant lounge. If you choose to linger on the second floor, it offers great views from the balcony over the quiet hills of St. Ann interior.

The return to Ocho Rios

Bidding my tour companions farewell, I heard a resounding “Yah man” in return. The munchies had set in and they were collectively on a mad search for snacks. I had a car to reclaim, and a journey back to the resort ahead, which unknown to me at the time, would include a Google maps navigational error, leading to a dead-end road, where the map suggested I drive through an impassable jungle valley.

It was at that point that that I turned off Bob Marley greatest hits blasting from the car stereo and I got serious about the recalculated route back to Ocho Rios, offering just enough time to return at dusk. Avis graciously shuttled me to the resort, sparing the walk-through town as a single female approaching dark.

But it was all part of the adventure. Isn’t that what true traveling is about?

If you go

Avis Rental Car, Ocho Rios (link here to book). There is only one car rental in town, and it’s Avis. So if independence is your goal, be sure to book ahead. While not mandatory, a 4-wheel drive would be an asset making the trek to Nine Mile. And if you want tips on how to visit Dunn’s River Falls without crowds (another benefit of renting a care and arriving early before the tour groups), be sure to check out Dunn’s River Falls: 10 tips for how to avoid the crowds.

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Join a tour

If the thought of a right-hand drive car on pot hole back country roads isn’t doing it for you, and you secretly want to be with the Doritos gang at the back of the bus, check out GetYoutGuide for Bob Marley Mausoleum Tour options. They list multiple tours at different departure points.

Need a little One Love inspiration to get you in the mood? Check out these stretched canvas wall art quotes – “Love the life you live. Live the life you love.”

For general information about Jamaica check our Visit Jamaica.

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