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Trip Report Jamaica - Trip Report

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Part One

My wife and I just returned from a wonderful 2 week (Feb. 2-20) tour of Jamaica. This was my wife’s first visit to Jamaica, my fifth but I’ve not been since 1985. We traveled with another couple who have been going to Jamaica for over 25 years. Their familiarity made this journey different than other islands we have visited on our own.

Our vacation got off to a poor start due to fog in Ottawa and heavy fog in Toronto. Our 8:00 a.m. flight did not get off the ground till 9:15. On approaching TO we soon realized what heavy fog meant and why the flight delays. Normally you would get a very good view of the city way off into the horizon. All you could see that morning was puffy clouds like cotton-batten with only the top 300 feet of the CN Tower in view. It was quite surreal. Fortunately we made our connection (plane was already boarding) in TO but discovered in Jamaica that our luggage hadn’t. TIP for travelers....carry your bathing suit, an extra T-shirt and underwear in your carry-on. We are well traveled yet overlooked these basic necessities.

We spent our first night at the Atrium in Ironshore just outside of MoBay proper. We had a 2 bedroom villa (more like a garden home). What a great place. We talked them into giving us the local Jamaican rate for our villa....$10,000Jam ($200 Can). We walked down to the Blue Diamond mall, bought bathing suits and then back to the Atrium for a relaxing swim. Wow what a treat after the weather we had at home during January. In the morning we went in town to the Native restaurant for a typical Jamaican breakfast of ackee (a vegetable when presented resembles scrambled eggs), saltfish (cod), and callaloo (spinach-like green vegetable) accompanied with a few side orders of bammy (made from cassava, a large root vegetable, is shredded, made into little cakes, soaked in milk and then baked in the oven). While I was hooked immediately my wife eventually went a wee bit over the top. She had ackee for breakfast at least 10 days of our vacation and with dinner at least 5 times. By the end of our vacation people referred to her as Rasta-girl given her enthusiasm for any local Jamaican delicacy. After breakfast we went to the local fruit pick up some oranges, watermelon, melon, pineapple and such then picked up our van and left on our sojourn.

More to come..........

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    Part Two

    We spent three nights in Negril at the Whistling Bird. Again, another great choice of accommodation located almost center of Negril Beach. We paid $650 US (39,000J) for 2 cottage-like rooms. While the rooms are fairly basic, they are quite comfortable and includes a huge shower with plenty of hot water. With less than 20 rooms available the place had a nice homey atmosphere, meals are served buffet style. Of course our first morning we partook of the Jamaican breakfast....hmm. We ate dinner there the second night....jerk chicken, rice and peas (beans), yams, sweet potato and salad. This too was quite good. Our first dinner in Negril was at a Rastafarian restaurant up in the wild-west towards Ricks Café (unfortunately destroyed by Ivan). They don’t really have a menu so we simply asked for a plate of whatever was available (Itel eating is strictly vegetarian). More ackee with rice and peas but also a good variety of fresh vegetables, yams, sweet potato along with a healthy serving of deliciously prepared tofu. It was simply divine. Our last night we ate at Jenny’s. With the number of locals seen eating there we figured it had to be good. Well we were not disappointed. The four of us had red snapper with the usual side dishes. We were also introduced to cassadas, a coconut filled pie-crust-like tart about 3 “ wide. We were to eat many more of these during our tour.


    Now about Negril. It has notably changed since last there. No more hoards of higglers. Sellers are set up a various spots along the beach and are not allowed to wonder from there locations. There were still the odd lads walking by asking (almost whispering) if you were interested in cigarettes, ganga, carvings, etc. but they never lingered. One of the workers at the Whistling Bird told me that there are only about 10 ‘bums’ who walk the beach bugging people but most hotels have there number and move them along immediately. I did have one encounter with a guy set up under a tree on the hotel strip. He had called me over to his cart and asked if I wanted to buy chicken, rice, beers, etc. I declined. But when I left I said I’d see him later. Well in Jamaica that can be interpreted as ‘I really will come back and buy something from you’ not the usual context of ‘bye for now’. Well my last day in Negril he scolded me from clear across the street for not having gone back.

    Continued........

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    Part Three

    From Negril we went to Treasure Beach on the south coast just beyond Sav-la-Mar. Along the way we stopped and picked up provisions (more fresh fruit, vegetables, staples) and had a nice breakfast of fried fish at a roadside stand. We stayed 2 nights at the Calabash House ($140US/night) in Calabash Bay. The villa has 4 bedrooms, large living space and both a front and back porch. Upon arrival we were greeted by Jocelyn the caretaker. What a pleasant spirit. While 75 years old he still gets his daily chores done without difficulty nor complaint. We really enjoyed spending time with him; talking, joking and learning more about this most mild-mannered man. The housekeeper and cook is Dawn. What a wonderful cook and truly great lady. The first night she prepared jerk chicken, rice and peas, yams, irish potatoes and bammy. The second night she cooked us one mean feast of lobster (10 lbs @ $2US/lb) accompanied by ackee, the most delicious cabbage casserole (covered in shredded cheese), salad and of course the requisite bammy. The close friendship between Jocelyn and Dawn was immediately evident and truly made our stay more of a family visit then a vacation stop.

    While in TB we met a nice local Rasta When we mentioned that we were off to Bath the next day and our concern of getting lost on our way through Kingston, he told us he was quite familiar with Kingston and offered to accompany us as he had business there anyway. What a god-send. We’d of been lost before getting as far as Mandeville. Once we reached Kingston he borrowed his friend’s car and guided us clear out of the city. We parted on the side of the road with many thanks and handshakes.

    After a 5 hour drive we finally arrived at Bath Fountain Hotel and Spa ($3000J/60Can per room/night) just above the village of Bath which is 10 miles north of Morant Bay. Bath Fountain is an old British Colonial hotel that the Jamaican government has renovated. People have been coming here for decades for the soothing, therapeutic, hot mineral water springing forth from the mountain side. In fact each morning the locals could be seen trekking up for their daily. Running beside the hotel is a fast running stream. We had reserved the 2 apartments with the balconies over hanging this stream. What a wonderful, restful sleep to this sound of running water. However the main reason for our choosing this place was the ‘baths’. For each night there you are entitled to a free bath (otherwise you would pay $150J). The bath is well over 6'X4'X4' deep. It is filled from the hot water spring, so hot in fact they have to add cold water so you won’t burn yourself. Now, being 6'3 I’ve not fit in a bath since I was 14. This was absolute heaven for me, I could float. While you are only supposed to stay in the bath 20 minutes, on both occasions my wife had to come and get me out after 45. I am still undecided if I should damn her or thank her. For meals you tell the cook in the late afternoon what you would like and what time you want to eat. They knocked on our door when dinner was ready. The meals were excellent but a little pricey ($30US for 2 orders of shrimp fried rice, salad and coffee). One day we went for an excursion on narrow, winding roads, with sugar cane tucked up along side and ended up at Bowden Wharf. We decided to try raw oysters (for breakfast) for our first time. A local fisherman went out to his ‘pots’ and brought us back 5 dozen for a cost of $500J. He shucked them for us, provided the lime and the local spicy vinegar to help them on their way. Well after the four of us had our first few we invited the six men and boys sitting watching us to join in. Every one helped themselves and a great time was had by all.

    From Bath, we headed out to the eastern tip of the island and then up the north coast; our destination being the Silver Sands Resort at Duncans just beyond Ocho Rios. We left Bath at 7:30 in the morning. Now we did stop along the way a few times for provisions but we were quite surprised when we arrived at the Almond Lodge in Orange Bay for our first meal of the day that it was 11:30 with close to the same distance traveled, ahead of us. Well after a wonderful lunch we headed out again, through Port Antonio, Ocho Rios and finally arrived at Duncans around 3:00. It had been a long day. The distances on that damn map sure were deceiving.

    Continued.........

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    Part Four

    We stayed 3 nights in the Queen’s Cottage ($770US) at the Silver Sands Resort, a quiet little enclave just outside Duncans.. The resort has numerous villas with the ours being closest to the beach. The Queen’s Cottage has 3 bedrooms, a large living area, a wonderfully relaxing front porch and an uber-relaxing jacuzzi. After our long day of travel the jacuzzi certainly hit the spot. As we arrived on Valentine’s Day we had Angela, the housekeeper and cook, prepare us a lovely, romantic candle-lit dinner. Fantastic. She also prepared other great meals for us especially our lobster breakfast (5lbs/$2US/lb). The beach was quite nice with no bother from anyone. While the water was a little rough over the 3 days we were there we didn’t care much as we thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to body surf. We giggled like school girls each time we ‘caught a wave’. I would not hesitate to return to the resort.

    From here we returned to MoBay for 3 nights back at the Atrium. We did most of our own cooking this time but did return to the Native for dinner one night. The Bonoonoonos Native Platter (curried goat, saltfish, jerk chicken, escoveitch (battered fish with onions, red peppers), rice and peas accompanied by what else...bammy) was a delight. We also went to the Straw Market for some shopping. While most stalls sell the same ‘tourist trinkets’ we did find one that also sold some rather unique wood carvings and paintings. It is located just down from the gambio (money exchange) with a display of antique Jamaican implements and utensils just outside. The gentleman owner’s name is Errol. Drop in and see him. You will find some truly interesting items on offer.

    Our trip home was not without problems. As we approached Toronto we were told that our landing would be delayed due to the snow storm. Well, we landed at 9:00 p.m. instead of 8:00. We ran to catch our connection to Ottawa only to be told that our flight was delayed till 11:00. We boarded at 11:00 but didn’t actually take off till 12:30. We finally arrived in Ottawa at 1:20. It was a long 12 hour day from check-in to picking up our luggage. Oh the travails of travel. However, nothing (ad)ventured nothing gained.

    In conclusion........

    Safety - we never had a concern, but yes take your normal precautions.

    Roads - the new highway from MoBay to Negril was a pleasant surprise from what I remembered from my previous visits. There is a new by-pass (toll road, $1-200J) around Mandeville, Mae Pen and Spanish Town which made the trip to Kingston less trying. There are also segments of the new highway completed between Port Antonio and MoBay. When done the travel time between places on the north coast will be greatly reduced. The only real rough roads we encountered was going in and out of Bath.

    Higglers - what a difference. The problems previously encountered in Negril, or along the ‘front’ in MoBay just weren’t there.

    Weather - was perfect. While it may have been 80 and 85 degrees most days there was a lovely breeze to keep you comfortable. I do remember having goose-bumps one night in Negril as we sat outside for dinner. I joked that they will have to start announcing the Caribbean ‘wind-chill’.

    Jamaicans - what wonderful people. Share your dinners, share your stories, share your time. Most importantly, be respectful and you will be respected.

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    Wow! What a GREAT trip report!!! :D

    You have truly made me want to go back as soon as possible, and it hasn't even been six months!

    What a wonderful trip.

    I am very sorry to hear of your wife's ackee addiction. I had the same thing happen to me, and I cannot find ackee here anywhere :(

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    How did I miss this? What a great report, looks like you got a great overview of JA and saw some unique things, met some cool people.

    My Jamaican friend is always telling me I have to go to Bath, he says it makes him feel 20 years younger after going there!

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    liza, don't feel bad. i missed this trip report the first two times it came around. Dave, thanks for taking me back there with your report. My husband and I LONG to go back there. Unfortunately for our last two trips to the Caribbean and our next upcoming trip, there are factors preventing our return. If not 2006, then definitely 2007. After all, I still need to try bammy!

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    Bump.

    We are palning to get ot Bath in April. We have 10 days in Negril (with friends, and a music fest), then we have 5 nights/6 days after. The plan is to rent a car and head east along the south coast this time, hook around and return to MoBay via the north.

    Treasure Beach (again), Alligator Pond, the "Alps", Kingston/Port Royal, Bath are on my list. Question: is Bath in the mmountains or not really? I have passed by, next and around the Blues several times and really not explored more than a half hour or so in. I know climbing the summit is not for me, at least not right now, but I'd like to get up as high as one can reasonably drive.

    After that a little time in Portland, I think, I would like to do some shorterhikes like to Scatter Falls or Nonsuch Caves.

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    Morant Bay is about a half hour drive east of Kingston. The village of Bath is about 10 miles north of Morant Bay. Bath is NOT in the Blues. It is more the foot of the mountains. Notwithstanding I would encourage you to spend a night or two at the Bath Fountain Hotel and Spa. This would be a perfect place for you to relax and re-energize after the long drive from Negril. A good long soak in the 'bathes' will be a definate rewarding experience. Enjoy

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