Jumpin' Jamaica!

I don’t think I’ve attended as many weddings as I have since I married Tina. Not that I haven’t had the invitations, it’s just for some reason the frequency didn’t seem as great in my single years as has been in the past few. Maybe it’s just that the children of our friends have reached the marrying age now and they’re all wanting to tie the knot at once.

Whatever the reason, I find myself being dragged off to more weddings lately, and on the “up” side, some of them are destination!

Tina has been to Jamaica more than a dozen times, owing to the fact that one of her parents was born there. She travelled there every summer as a child and has been back and forth several times as an adult with both family and friends. I however, had not yet been there.

As a child, I recall my uncle regaling us with stories of his trips to Jamaica every year while my young mind conjured images of exotic locations and people. Boy, when I grew up, I was definitely going to Jamaica!

Since marrying Tina, the subject of travelling to Jamaica came up a lot, with some excitement on her part, regarding the places and things she wanted me to experience there. The year 2019 brought that opportunity to our doorstep when one of her friends invited us to, and asked Tina to book, her destination wedding in Jamaica.

As a travel agent, assisting in planning and booking a destination wedding for 50-60 people is one of the quickest ways to completely lose your mind, however with several months to work out the details, Tina managed to get all the guests booked on time and made happy. Goddess bless her! I don’t know where she got the patience.

Jamaica sits a comfortable 4-ish hours from Toronto, and travelling with the wedding party made the flight seem even shorter. At Montego Bay, we separated from the group, picked up our rental and drove off in search of the resort. Yes, resort. It only made sense to stay at the All-Inclusive Royal Decameron Cornwall so that we could take care of our clients should they have any travel-related questions.

Like any other vacation, the first day is spent unwinding from the flight, and nothing beats all-inclusive for presenting the spectacular opportunity to drink copious amounts of cold beer in an atmosphere conducive to relaxing one’s travel-weary mind. 😉

Did I forget to mention that this wedding was taking place in the off-season? In summer? In the middle of August to be precise? In Jamaica? To say that it was quite warm would be a bit of an understatement. I can say that I have never been so grateful for an un-ending supply of cold beer in my life. Let me say that some of the enjoyment is diminished when the only escape from the heat is your air-conditioned room. The pool was warm, the ocean was warm, the eating establishments are all open-air…it’s either the room or the car. We spent a lot of time driving!

In fact, one of the first things Tina wanted me to experience in Jamaica was the famous Dunn’s River Falls. For those of you that aren’t familiar with the site, near Ocho Rios the Dunn’s River falls 180 feet and is terraced with small pools and lagoons interspersed. It’s a popular tourist destination because you can walk from the park to the base of the falls and actually climb the river up those same terraces, either as a guided activity, or independantly. I particulary appreciated this excursion even more as the river is banked by lush jungle on both sides, and the water is cool and refreshing!

We returned to the hotel later in the day and changed into some fresh clothes. Although still warm in the evening, it’s certainly a very pleasant experience enjoying dinner and drinks with a view!

Man, did we sleep well THAT night! Next up on Tina’s list of Must-Do’s….rafting down the Martha Brae River. I gotta say, we’ve done some pretty cool things when travelling in other countries over the years, but this was one GREAT experience! Headed back towards Ocho Rios again, we turn off the main coastal road and head inland a bit until we reach the Martha Brae river and the rafting company.

At the start of the raft ride you’re greeted with a complimentary drink before boarding your 30 ft. long bamboo raft with seating for two. Your raft Captain spins the tale of Martha Brae, the magical Indian maiden whom the Spanish colonists tortured to reveal the location of a secret gold mine. She ultimately succumbed to her tormentors and led them to the mine. En route however, Martha summoned her magical powers to transform the river, drowning the Spanish soldiers and herself as well. Legend says that her ghost still guards the entrance to the mine to this day.

If nothing else, this popular tourist attraction is a relaxing and romantic drift down the river, once again sheltered from the hot sun by lush vegetation and surrounded by the cool, clear water of the Martha Brae. Do this!

When Christopher Columbus arrived in Jamaica in 1494, the Spanish settlers established a capital and called it New Seville in homage to the celebrated Spanish city of the same name. Our drives so far had taken us along the coast from Montego Bay, east through St. Ann’s Bay, a town juxtaposed with the spot where Jamaica’s first capital once stood, and boasts a statue of Columbus. The drive along the coast will also take you through Runaway Bay where some of the last Spanish settlers fled after the British captured the island. It’s an incredibly scenic drive, taking in seascapes and mountain ranges alike.

Today however, we would be heading west along the coast to the tiny beach town of Negril. Now is a very good time to remind everyone that we’re driving ourselves around the island in a rental car, and that in Jamaica they drive on the left. Now….my wife has her bad driving habits just like most of us do, but there’s absolutely no one I feel safer with behind the wheel than her. She proved herself and earned her many badges of distinction in Ecuador. Enough said.

Having said that….driving in Jamaica presents challenges of it’s own. The first thing you have to very quickly become accustomed to is the use of the car horn. It’s constant, and it’s everywhere. There is a honking language in Jamaica, and you’d do well to learn that language very quickly. If you don’t speak the language you’re going to get yelled at a lot. Driving a rental (“I’m a tourist”) gives you a certain level of grace with the locals, but it doesn’t last forever and only extends so far.

The main highways have posted speed limits and stop-light-controlled intersections that absolutely no one pays any attention to. Passing on blind hills with integrated blind curves is perfectly acceptable driving behaviour. The main highways also have police checkpoints, but they have no interest in traffic violations, if there is such a thing. They’re checking for known or suspected criminals.

Once you come into any of the many towns and villages along the coast, you get to experience another exciting aspect of driving in Jamaica. Here the road shrinks to a street that’s barely wide enough for a single vehicle. There are no such things as parking lots or parking garages, so everyone parks on the sidewalk and encroaches on the narrow street. Blocks are very short, so there’s bound to be a cross-street every few feet or so, and you can bet that drivers coming from both directions are trying to get into your street and fighting the cross-bound traffic. Add to this the innumerable motorcycles, motor scooters, bicycles, and pedestrians all wanting to get to their independent destinations and you have a form of chaos that rivals that of Ecuador. A town of pehaps 200 people that encompasses perhaps a total of 2 square miles can quite literally take you an hour or more to get through, only to find yourself approaching the next one all too soon!

Although much shorter in distance than our trips to the east, our trip to Negril was…..long. Thank goodness there was cold beer!

Also at Negril is another famous tourist attraction, Rick’s Cafe.

Famous for it’s cliff-jumping and it’s amazing sunsets, we enjoyed watching both of these delights while enjoying a good (but expensive) meal and yet more cold beer! Live entertainment is a staple at Rick’s Cafe and it seems to run non-stop. Battered and destroyed by more than one hurricane, Rick’s has come back bigger and better each time. If you’re feeling brave, perhaps from some liquid courage, take your leap from the 35 foot cliff into the warm waters of the Carribean, then relax and enjoy the best view of the sunset in all of Jamaica.

It was beginning to seem like Tina had been storing an entire list of things for me to see and do in Jamaica, so we were up & at ’em early the next day as well. On this day’s itinerary was the Green Grotto Caves. We thought that along with catching another popular tourist attraction, we’d be able to escape the intense heat of the Jamaican summer by spending some time underground. This time we’d be taking Tina’s cousin Pete along with us. Although a lifelong citizen of Jamaica, he’d never been to the caves. Pete drives taxi in Montego Bay and was floored by Tina’s driving skills in his homeland. Another notch in her belt, and another level-up in my comfort and confidence in her driving.

Eastward again for us, the caves are located about mid-point between Discovery Bay and Runaway Bay. The limestone caves have a lot of history and feature stalactites, stalagmites, vaulted ceilings, and an underground lake. We spent about an hour and a half touring through the caves with our guide, and although it was still morning and we were underground, the heat seemed to be intensified. Our guide explained that this was because the only thing above us was rock and the sun was beating on it, creating an oven for us to roast in. Thank God there was cold beer!

Back to the resort for lunch, a not-so-refreshing swim at the beach, then a tour of the “S” Hotel next door to us. We ARE travel agents after all, and we often take advantage of our travels to do site inspections of properties that our clients might be interested in. It’s nice to be able to speak to their questions from personal experience, and in this particular case, we were given complimentary day-passes for the resort to enjoy their pool, bar, and beach. Yay us!

With darkness approaching, we had one last item on the day’s agenda. The Glistening Waters Luminous Lagoon at Falmouth. Now here’s something you don’t get to see every day (or night).

This marvel is found in only 4 places on the entire planet but is most spectacular here in Jamaica. It’s a phenomenon caused by millions of micro-organisms called dinoflagellates. Remember the beautiful Martha Brae river we talked about earlier? Well where it’s fresh water meets the salt water of the sea, the brackish water makes the ideal environment for these dinoflagellates. What’s so big about these micro-organisms? Well when they’re disturbed/touched, they glow with bioluminescence.

Jump in the boat and take a short ride out to the middle of the lagoon and wait for full dark to fall. When it does, stick your hand in the water and stir it around. Better yet, jump in like Tina and wade around. The water’s only 3 or 4 feet deep. The captain will expose the glass bottom and you’ll see the fish swimming around disturbing the water and lighting everything up with a beautiful blue-green glow.

In my mind, the luminous lagoon was a fitting way to end our Jamaican vacation. The wedding was amazing, we made some good friends, both local and international, and made some great business contacts for when we return home.

I’ve put off writing this entry about Jamaica because for the longest time I didn’t want to say anything positive about the country. That was due entirely to the overwhelming heat we experienced every moment we weren’t in our room or our car. Several locals told us it was one of the hottest summers on record, and temperatures ranged from the high 90’s to 100 degrees while we were there. It wasn’t fair of me to withold this blog for so long.

In fact, Jamaica was AMAZING! It’s a beautiful country with beautiful people and some fantastic food! I can honestly say that if we remove the heat from the equation, Jamaica is easily one of my favourite destinations. It’s not a cheap destination however, and there’s a reason that vacationers are willing to endure the heat of summer to save some money. With an english-speaking population and the US dollar readily accepted everywhere, along with being just over 4 hours away from most of Canada, Jamaica is a very popular destination. Certainly if you venture here in the peak season you will fall in love with this amazing island country.

Cheers!

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