In retrospect, it was pretty unnecessary to go searching for Bob Marley in Jamaica.
At Club Ambiance, the all-inclusive resort at Runaway Bay on Jamaica's north shore where my friend Jay and I stayed for a long weekend, the gazebo bar at the end of the pier started playing the reggae star's songs at breakfast and didn't quit till sunset, and a three-foot-tall statue of the singer perched on the railing, his back to the Caribbean Sea.
By the end of the trip we'd cringe a little every time we heard Jammin', but our first morning there, we were eager to visit Nine Mile, Marley's birthplace and mausoleum, one of the excursions offered by the resort.
Our driver, an elderly Jamaican man named Clifton, steered the minivan up steep mountain roads that wound through a Jamaica far different from the palm-tree-studded highway along the coast by our resort. We drove past houses surrounded by high walls, scraggly goats grazing by the roadside, yam plants snaking up eye-high stakes and stripped red mountaintops being mined for bauxite, which Jamaica ships abroad to aluminum factories. A cow looked out the doorway of an abandoned house across the road from a half-built new villa, and Clifton pointed out a sprawling white house that he said belonged to a drug dealer: ``He has the beautiful house, beautiful pool, beautiful women, but he is not happy.''
As we pulled into Nine Mile's gates, a trio of teenage boys pressed up against the van, offering us joints and tours of a farm. (''All different kinds of ganja, man!'') But we were there to see the house and mausoleum, which serve as information center, shrine to the dead artist and source of income for Marley's family, which owns the property.
As our guide led us through the compound, he stopped here and there to sing Marley's songs, from Three Little Birds (accompanied on guitar by Marley's Uncle Floyd) to Is This Love, sung outside the tiny two-room house where Marley lived with his wife, Rita (and, indeed, shared a single bed).
On the way back to the hotel, Clifton stopped the van and hopped out to break off a few leaves from an allspice tree, which grows wild on the island and is used extensively in Jamaican dishes, including goat curry, the final destination for many of the goats we saw along the roadside. Had that tidbit of information not made us ravenous, we would have stopped in Brown's Town to browse the Saturday market, where vendors were selling food, spices, jewelry, CDs and crafts.
Back at the hotel, though, we had no goat curry, jerk chicken or even exotic fruit. The only dishes labeled ''Jamaican'' turned out to be disappointingly bland: a pork-and-beans casserole, boiled tubers and some fried dough. With only one buffet-style dining room and an outdoor grill, the food was plentiful but seemingly British-inspired, with roast beef and Yorkshire pudding one night, fish in cream sauce another. Breakfast quickly became my favorite meal: The bacon was cooked to a crisp, and Jay loved the omelet bar. The best dinner was Saturday night, with barbecued ribs, chicken and steak, some spicy enough to remind me that I was on a tropical island.
The resort's mellow atmosphere seemed appropriate to the warm and breezy climate. Though many smaller hotels offer all-inclusive packages, the island's larger resorts are almost exclusively chains. At Runaway Bay, for instance, our neighbors to the east were adults-only Hedonism III and family-friendly Breezes, and the Gran Bahia Principe, with more than 700 rooms, dominated the landscape to the west.