We normally take a family vacation during August and disappear to a villa somewhere in Treasure Beach or in Trelawny. This summer though, H’s schedule did not allow us to plan this treat. So we decided to make this summer one of weekend road trips. Can I just say it has been wonderful! Two weekends ago, we went to the eastern end of the island, the lush parish of Portland and we spent one night there so we wouldn’t have to rush back once the sun set. Here’s what we did in Portland: absolutely nothing. And it was simply wonderful and even magical. I’m about to write a whole post about doing nothing and how wonderful it was. Sit back, clear your mind and come along…Continue reading Road Trip to Portland, Jamaica: Goblin Hill & Swift River
H climbs to the highest point in Jamaica quite frequently. He took our then 11 yo son with him once, he’s been up with friends and family. Our daughter did it once with a group a few years ago. I did it once when I was 13. I have no plans for a repeat performance. Anyhows, back to H and his peak climbing ways. Last year he set up base camp at a little hostel practically at the foot of the highest point in Jamaica, the Blue Mountain Peak. The peak stands 7,401 feet above sea level. I’ve been encouraging H to document his last peak ascent experience. I sat fascinated as he described it. No spoilers here. I hope he writes it one day. But what grabbed my imagination was his base camp experience! He stayed at a hostel called “Jah B’s Place”. When I saw the pics he took I immediately wanted to go there and spend a night. It took us almost a whole year, but we finally made it two weekends ago.Continue reading Jah B’s Place, Blue Mtns: Our Get-Away with a Difference
Sprinter is a movie written and directed by a Jamaican, staring many Jamaicans, shot largely in Jamaica. Note I didn’t say that it’s a “Jamaican movie.” I think it’s important to make this distinction. It’s a movie. And it’s a damn good movie that can easily hold it’s own in terms of the production, the plot, the script, the acting, the sound track, the cinematography and sheer entertainment value against any other movie out there, including the Hollywood block busters that have the might of well resourced marketing organisations behind them and the draw of big names that are paid big bucks to headline those productions. What follows is my review of the movie. I am not a technical expert. I am simply a movie goer, and yes, our perspectives count. We are the ones that buy the tickets and rack up box office sales. Simple.Continue reading Sprinter, The Movie. A Review.
Kingston, Jamaica has been hot… The kind of still, brassy heat that makes it difficult to breathe. The Sahara dust coming in from the Motherland has made things worse, and all over the city sits a haze that forces you to shield your eyes from the glare. We decided to escape one Saturday. We normally head for the beach, but the thought of sunbathing and splashing in warm water held very little appeal in our search for respite from the unrelenting heat of the city. It had to be a river. I envisaged trees along the side of the river and the icy cold water characteristic of our rivers. I created an entire picnic in my mind and I just knew how our day at the river would look and feel. We just had to decide on the river…Continue reading Hidden Beauty: Our River Adventure in Jamaica!
Sometimes you’ve just got to get out of Kingston… know what I mean? Like any major city, Kingston, Jamaica has its fair share of stressors: traffic, ongoing road improvement works, horrible taxi drivers that force your soul into your mouth with every drive, noise, searing heat especially now that they’ve removed what seems like every living tree all in the name of road network expansion and the everlasting presence of garbage. Everywhere. So two weekends ago H insisted on heading out of the city for the day. Who am I to fight against a drive out of town, that’s likely involve a beach stop and yummy food 🙂 Here’s what we did and how we stayed keto (and happily so!) on a perfect day on the road.Continue reading Road Trip While Keto: Our Day in Treasure Beach, Jamaica
“Downtown, Kingston.” What do those words evoke? What comes to mind? Crime. Dirt. Wholesale shops. Chaos. Garbage. Crowds. These are some of the images that immediately come to mind. I worked Downtown, Kingston for 9 years. And I fell in love with it. I fell in love with the area’s proximity to the sea. I fell in love with the very old, historic buildings as evidenced by their architecture that were literally on every corner. I fell in love with the potential I knew the space held. I imagined King Street being closed off to vehicular traffic one Sunday per month, with scores of people, families, the young and the old, pouring in to buy local food, supporting local artisans, enjoying Jamaican music, having access to clean rest room facilities and benefiting from free parking. Well today, a small, intrepid group of visionaries has done more than imagine. Downtown, Kingston comes alive on the last Sunday of each month!Continue reading Downtown Kingston: Artsy Capital of Jamaica.
This world is not (yet) a low-carb world. Think about it…almost everything we regularly eat has a major carbohydrate component, thanks to the misinformation we’ve been fed all our lives about a so-called “balanced diet”. We’ve been schooled to believe that carbs are an essential part of our diet and they’re not. (Heresy? Check out that link and evaluate for yourself!) And as a result, no meal is complete without bread or rice or potatoes or pasta. Additionally, our taste-buds have become accustomed to the taste of sugar hence our penchant for sugary sauces like ketchup, BBQ sauce and sweet and sour anything. So for those of us who have been liberated from extra pounds as well as obsessive and dangerous food cravings by removing these carbs from our diet (not magic, just science), navigating our daily lives while trying to remain compliant is made just a little more difficult. I’ve been keto for over a year and a half now, and I’ve managed to remain compliant and consistent with lots of planning and meal prep, but I’ve also identified ways and means of staying low-carb even when I’m forced to eat on the go.
Listen here to hear me in my own voice speak about keto on the go 🙂Continue reading Options for eating keto on-the-go in Jamaica
Road trips rock! And on an island like Jamaica, the options of where to go and what to do are endless. What’s not to like about a road trip? The open road (and we have highways that take us from north to south and back again with ease and breathtaking vistas, as well as from central out west), good company, the prospect of an adventure or two, the certain knowledge that you’ll meet memorable characters along the way and the promise of food! And even if you’re keto like me, there’s no reason why you can’t honour your keto way of eating while on a road trip in Jamaica. In fact, it’s easy! Here we go…
If you’ve ever driven to Negril via the South Coast, you would have driven along a coastal stretch in Westmoreland overlooking the bluest water you’ve ever seen. That area is an idyllic seaside community aptly named Bluefields. Back in December, the entire family took a trek to Peter Tosh’s grave in Belmont, Westmoreland (H claims that he is a relative of the late, great Tosh…antecedents from Westmoreland like Tosh, same surname..who am I to argue. I’m just along for the Road Trip!).
|Peter Tosh’s Yard|
|Peter Tosh’s Grave|
Belmont is a tiny seaside community that literally runs into Bluefields. So to call that entire stretch of white sand and blue waters Bluefields is understandable and forgivable.
Anyhows, let’s back up. I had a desire to spend the Easter weekend out of town this year. And so in January I started my research. I had some must haves:
- I must be right on the sea
- I must have WiFi
- I must have a fridge
- It must fit within my budget
I knew I didn’t want an all-inclusive vacation spot. I’m at the stage of my life where I don’t join lines for food. The children are old enough to eat on schedule. And I know exactly what I want to drink. Simple. I just need ice, Wray and Nephew White Rum, Appleton VX, Tonic Water, Coconut Water and Ginger Ale. I don’t need to be jostling and competing for a shady spot around the pool and I most certainly do not need an enthusiastic play-maker coaxing me to do the Dollar Wine. I also knew I didn’t particularly feel for the oh so convenient, predictable and almost luxurious Silver Sands villas of Trelawny experience (our summer break of choice). I also could not afford the USD800.00 and upwards per night for exquisite villas along the south and west coast of Jamaica that exist. I kept coming back in my mind to beautiful Belmont. My interest had been piqued since our December pilgrimage to H’s famous ancestor. Rustic (BUT WITH WIFI OF COURSE!) & unknown to me is what I was going for.
Luna Sea Inn, Belmont Jamaica
I logged into Air BnB and after many,many, many hours of searching and consideration settled on a newly refurbished inn called Luna Sea Inn, right in Belmont. It checked all my boxes. We would be a party of 5, with kids ranging from 21 to 5. I booked the cottage which could sleep 5. There was a fridge, there was cable TV and there was WiFi. Luna Sea was right on the sea and while there wasn’t an ideal swimming beach, swimming spots were within walking distance, and they had a tiny pool. The booking included breakfast and the room came with a fully stocked coffee station. Yes!
So we arrived Saturday midday. We were checked in, no problem, given welcome rum punches (juices for the younguns, a Red Stripe for the 21 yo) and we settled in. The cottage was obviously a caretaker accommodation in a previous life, but the new owner (a retired American doctor lady) had done her best to make it habitable. It was clean enough, had AC & smart TVs in each room. BUT someone had not ensured that all was well before handing the room over to guests and we discovered that the fridge wasn’t working, neither was one of the TVs. On the bright side, there was a large day-bed just outside the cottage, under a shady almond tree, six steps away from the rocky area where waves crashed relentlessly. I was in Paradise.
|View from the Cottage at Luna Sea|
|View from the day bed at Luna Sea|
|Another view from the day bed at Luna Sea|
Intrepid adventurers that we are, we had packed snacks, juice, water rum, more rum, chasers of all kinds, mangoes, Easter bun, cheese, salad fixings, pickles and a roasted chicken and ice. And we had 2 igloos. Broken fridge? Ha! Bring it!
We explored the small but well kept property. The adults settled down with cocktails, the kids logged on to their various devices and in between games and surfing the world wide web, walked down the rocky steps and found crabs, sea urchins and various forms of marine life dwelling in the rocky outcrop.
That night, we decided to check out the famous Dor’s Crab Shack, a 2 min drive down the road, billed as the best place to eat in Belmont, apparently famous for stuffed crab backs. It was totally devoid of patrons when we pulled up after 6pm and we were informed that only fried chicken and shrimp were available. Oh…and they don’t take cards, only cash. Bummer. We decided to drive into White House, the nearest town, and after checking at the main gas station for recommendations for places to sit and eat, we still came up blank. The one restaurant that looked like we could sit and have a meal was closed off that evening for a private party. Sure there were jerk vendors and roadside fish vendors, but road food with nowhere to sit is not the most convenient way to feed a 5 yo. So reluctantly we headed back to Dors. Truth be told, the fried chicken and curried shrimp we had there were delicious…well seasoned, nicely presented and of course nothing beats eating right on the white sand with waves gently breaking. The food was inexpensive and filling and tasty. Only cash was accepted.
Breakfast the next morning at Luna Sea was an event. They bungled our order and despite apologetic, well meaning staff, there was once again the absence of management and a missing service standard which resulted in a sub-par experience. The food was tasty enough when we finally got it: a fresh fruit plate, good coffee, and your choice of Jamaican or American style breakfast. Nice. We had ackee and saltfish, seasonal fruits, pancakes, bacon and omelettes.
|My Tribe waiting for Breakfast at Luna Sea|
Fellow Jamaicans staying in a nearly suite (those rooms are more updated than the cottage…I know because I am nuff and asked a cleaning lady to allow me to view an empty room) told us that they had actually driven into Negril for dinner and pointed us to the excellent public beach just a minute down the road. We finalised our plans for Sunday! We would go for a dip in said public beach and then we’d drive to either Negril or nearby Black River in the adjoining parish for dinner. I had planned to dine at Luna Sea, but after the near catastrophe that breakfast was (did I tell you that the card machine stopped working at breakfast?) we decided to dine off-property.
Before I tell you how awesome dinner was and where we dined, let me pause to make some observations about Belmont, Westmoreland. So you already know that dining options were limited, despite it being a fishing area. You already know that cards are meaningless in this area. So walk with cash, inconvenient though it may be. But what we noticed that day on the public beach was a relative plethora of young Caucasians, obviously staying in Belmont, hanging with locals, smoking ganja, eating local street food, absorbing the vibe. An obviously impoverished area still had enough to attract visitors! There was a tree house type establishment right on the beach with a trap set and speakers where H discovered people jammed after dark. The air in the tree house, even in the afternoon, was thick with ganja smoke, not conducive I think to family togetherness, but obviously attractive to a particular demographic. Surely it is possible to maintain the authentic, rustic vibe without being pop-down and limited in the offerings to a wider demographic. Food for thought, Jamaica Tourist Board?
Cloggy’s for Fish, Black River Jamaica
Google maps told us that it was a mere 23 minute drive from Luna Sea Inn to Black River. That evening, we headed to Cloggy’s on the Beach in Black River. We had eaten there before and were sure that we would be able to get a good fish dinner right on the beach. And we were not disappointed. We selected huge snapper fish and told them how we wanted them prepared: escoveitch and brown-stewed with festivals and bammy were the order of the day. Once again we had to pay in cash (bummer!), then we took our seats in a raised gazebo overlooking the Black River coastline. Simply beautiful.
|Cloggy’s At Sunset. Photo Credit: Rachael McIntosh|
We (happily) observed that Cloggy’s had spent some money fixing up their dining area and cleaning up the surroundings since last we were there. And bonus! It was Sunday night, also billed as Karaoke Night at Cloggy’s. Woo-hoo! We got our perfectly done fish meals, cold beers and drinks and Yours Truly made a perfect fool of herself participating in karaoke! Bellies full, still laughing, we left Cloggy’s a very happy, satisfied crew. I should note that while we were waiting on our meals, two potentially distressing things happened: the DJ turned up the volume waaay too loud. H had a quiet word, and that ended well. And then motor cyclists, almost like a gang, with their bike mufflers removed, kept riding in to Cloggy’s revving and being a general nuisance. Thank God they eventually left.
|Waiting for Dinner at Cloggy’s on the Beach, Black River|
|Brown Stewed Snapper Fish with veggies and bammy|
The disparity between Belmont and Black River was obvious: both sleepy seaside towns, but Black River had more activity going on, more options for a wider range of visitors.
We ended our weekend out west by taking the scenic, easy route over the hills into St. James, to drop our daughter back to school. I have no regrets at choosing Luna Sea Inn, and you know what? I’d go back. With better on the ground management, that spot right at the edge of Paradise could be an absolute gem. The rates are more than reasonable, the location is perfect and the intentions are righteous.
A bus with tourists pulled into Luna Sea the Sunday afternoon we were there. H & I were sitting under the almond tree, sipping rum and reading, the waves were crashing on the rocks a mere six steps away. The children were crab hunting. One of the tourists who had disembarked remarked wistfully: You have the perfect spot! And you know what? She was perfectly correct. She was part of a group of bird watchers and I was able to point her to some nesting chicken hawks in the almond tree shading us.
I knew that I was part of a picture perfect postcard: sparkling ice cold rum drink in one hand, kindle in the other hand, feet up on the huge day-bed, in the middle of a pretty garden, with the blue Caribbean Sea providing the soundtrack only feet away. I did indeed, have the perfect spot.
I needed to leave Kingston. I needed to see the sea. I needed to inhale vistas far removed from my normal life view. Ahhh…the magic of a road trip. So we agreed. Saturday, we’d depart home at 9am and head west. We’d take the kids to the Jamaica Zoo in Lacovia St. Elizabeth and then head south from there for sea, food and rum at Jack Sprat in Treasure Beach. We figured we’d return to Kingston between 8 and 8:30 pm. Fantastic. All we’d take is swimming things, drinks, water and snacks. Two stops for ice and cash before leaving Kingston were all that was needed. Off we went!
Decided to get gas in Osbourne Store, Clarendon as that is one of the 3 cheap gas spots in the island. The other two are Heroes Circle and Portmore just as an FYI. Well the PetCom in Clarendon is apparently closed! I’m still peeved that NOBODY on my Twitter timeline knew and found it necessary to tweet this reality before hand! THIS is information that would really make Twitter useful! I knew that the closure of the PetCom would put pressure on the other 2 gas stations in the area. And sure enough, a stop for gas at the Total a few miles on, turned out to be a 20 min wait. And I had no alternative. I bravely (or stupidly) left Kingston with a quarter tank of gas ’cause I’m cheap and I wanted to fill up on Clarendon’s cheap gas. Anyhoos, I filled up (a mere $3,700.00 for my small car!) and we headed out. It was a beautiful sunny day, traffic was light, nuff Babylon was on the road, and motorists for the most part were behaving themselves. We made a pit stop at the top of Spur Tree – are male bladders smaller than female bladders? Then we pressed on west with the best of ’80s dancehall torturing the kids perhaps, but creating idiots of the adults in the front seat as we pretended to be Super Cat and Jose Wales and Johnny Osbourne. Good times!
Let’s back up a bit though… Years ago we attempted to go to Jamaica Zoo but when we got there they turned out to be closed. Control Freak that I was (am!) I had a melt down of epic proportions when I realized that my plan and schedule were completely derailed. I am better these days at defining a Plan B upfront and quickly moving on when plans go awry. Nonetheless, in making good on promise to my Bonus Boy made 2 years ago to take him to Jamaica Zoo, I tried to nail down a firm plan by calling ahead to verify opening hours and admission rates and so on. Zero luck. Their social media presence appeared dated and their listed numbers rang without answer or went straight to voice mail. I left messages. No responses. I tweeted the Jamaica Tourist Board account to find out if they were open and no response. Not one to back down, I told H that we’d still head there, and if they were closed we’d simply keep on plan and head south to Treasure Beach but look for fishermen fixing their pots and hopefully hauling in a catch on the fishing beach and turn that into a look-see lesson in Agriculture and Community for the kids. Fantastic.
Jamaica Road Trip: Jamaica Zoo Stop #1
So we get to the zoo. There were signs that ensured we wouldn’t get lost. Good. We pulled up to the huge signed entrance that let us know were had arrived. But the expansive parking lot was empty and overgrown. “Lawx dem lock again!” I groaned. I drove on still, just following the road through all the various opened gates. We drove past a kiddies play area with slides, swings and sea saws. Empty and overgrown. We pressed on and as we went round a bend I saw about 5 vehicles parked on a trimmed grassy area. Ok! Signs of life! We slowed down and pressed on. A smiling young lady with a signed shirt stepped out and welcomed us, confirming that they were open. Awesome! We parked and got out, we were escorted to the reception area where we paid $1,500.00 per adult, $1000.00 per child. This is where that cash stop came in handy as they don’t take cards at Jamaica Zoo.
We spotted a horse, a donkey and a llama from where we were. We saw about 6 beautiful parrots in a nearby tree. Nothing else. Empty stalls and half-finished infrastructural works were all around us. It is a beautiful, expansive property that has an abandoned, pop-down feel. But it was a beautiful day, and we remained curious and relaxed. Our timing appeared perfect as we were immediately invited to take a seat in an arranged area in preparation for what appeared to be a briefing about the zoo. There was a sound operator on a laptop who moved quickly through well chosen, all be they LOUD musical selections (she was on a high stool, completely visible to all) in support of our narrator, a tall, I think Cuban, who it turns out, was our guide to small animals that we would be allowed to touch. It was a catchy, high energy presentation that flowed well if a tad rehearsed, and the children in particular enjoyed the opportunity to touch and have their pics taken. Our group was about 15 in all, and you can imagine that after you’ve gotten your chance to touch and have your pic taken, it becomes a bit of a drag to sit in the church like arrangement while the others go through the same procedure again and again. There was a bounce about across the way from the show, so in between animals, I allowed Bonus Boy to go frolic. And I walked around looking at the parrots and llama and horse enjoying the breeze. That segment took at good hour. We saw and touched a snake, an iguana, a rabbit, a donkey, a crocodile and guinea pigs. The kids loved it all!
|Where we sit for the interactive petting session|
|A matter scaling to fit…|
|A bounce about which was a hit with the kids|
|Our animated guide through the petting session|
|I refused to look at the snake. Ugh.|
|Little Master completely at ease.|
|Not to be outdone by Big Bro, Bonus Boy eventually found the courage to participate.|
|Big Daddy got in the action having been inspired by Us.|
El Director handed over to a smiling young woman named Paula who explained to us that she would be taking us on a walking tour to see their other animals. She was calm, pleasant and knowledgeable. The children very easily gravitated towards her. We saw 3 ducks, 2 crocodiles, 4 pigeons, the horse, the llama, 2 spider monkeys, 4 Capuchin monkeys, a zebra and 2 lions. It was a pleasant walk around a gently sloping compound and the kids got to feed the horse, llama, pigeons, ducks and monkeys.
I’ve deliberately told you the number of each animal so you can get a sense of the scale of the operation. It was obviously designed to be a grand affaire, but what obtains now is certainly not the vision at conception. The huge scale of the physical plant makes the actual small operation feel kind of derelict and abandoned in parts, and we quickly recognized that to retrofit the operation and bring it all down to a more cosy, controllable physical space would take money. Perhaps adding cabins and a camping site and converting some of the land to the cultivation of cash crops and having a monthly farmers market would inject life and energy and help to sustain the operation which truth be told, appears to be limping along.
We heard the lions roar as one of the groundsmen provoked him by banging on his cage with his machete. I didn’t like that part much. Neither did my Bonus Boy who hours after expressed concern to me and wondered if the lion had eaten the bad man teasing them. The lonely zebra in his enclosure made me sad. Who wants to be alone… Lonely looking animals in cages make me saddish too. But as H said what do you expect at a zoo. C’mon. It is a beautiful site though, and one that I would spend time at, relaxing under the grand old shady trees that are everywhere. I am sorry to see any attraction on my island go underutilized and at risk of closure. The staff at Jamaica Zoo are wonderful, pleasant and engaging people and I hope that something changes soon so that more people can make a living there, so the animals can live happily and comfortably, and so visitors and locals can have a real option for recreation and entertainment.
Road Trip Jamaica: Treasure Beach next stop!
Driving south was easy. Google maps told us it would take 25 min from Lacovia to Treasure Beach. It took about 45 min as the road was bad in spots. Not bad I-Need-A-4WD for this, but bad-lemme-slow-down-and-avoid-or-go-through-these-pot-holes-carefully. There were many many small plots of tobacco being cultivated in Burnt Savannah. Interesting! I’m accustomed to seeing plots of thyme and escallion and peppers and cabbage and melons and tomatoes growing all over South St. Elizabeth, replacing the front lawn in many, many instances. But never tobacco. Perhaps they are part of Carreras‘ new tobacco contract farmer programme, aimed at diversifying their product offerings…think “grabba” + ganja.
|Peeping at tobacco growing in a front yard in Burnt Savannah|
Jack Sprat in Treasure Beach
After a beautiful drive through rolling, cultivated landscapes we caught sight of the sea and soon enough, we pulled up at Jack Sprat, the restaurant affiliated with Jakes Hotel, run by the Henzel family. You can check out their cultural roots and history here.
Road Trip in Jamaica: The Food!
This is where I really exhaled, and truth be told, was the real aim of this road trip. Jakes and Jack Sprat are one the pioneers of Community Tourism, and their patrons are those who seek an experience that allows them to be a part of the community and true local vibe. Located right on the sea, you enter and place your order at the bar. The menu is written on the board and prices are fair and reasonable. A pleasant staff member took our order and told us just pick a seat anywhere and she’d find us shortly with our food and drinks. There’s a covered seating area adjoining the bar and kitchen area looking out into the garden area. There are tables and benches scattered under the lignum vitae trees all over the garden. There are seats in the sand in the small cove that you walk down into from the garden. There’s a jetty-like area that’s covered where you look out and over into the serene, beautiful Calabash Bay. That’s where we sat. Heaven. We spotted, much to Bonus Boy’s delight, crabs scampering over the rocks right below us. Gentle sea breezes cooled us and the sound of gently lapping waves perfectly synchronized with tasteful reggae musical selection pumping through strategically placed speakers at the right volume hugged us, cloaked us and reassured us. We were in Paradise.
Our drinks and last minute order of soup soon came out. The very pumpkiny conch soup with tender chunks of sweet conch went down real good. Fresh, simple and clean flavours and ingredients are all that’s really needed. Then our lobster and vegetable pizzas and fried chicken and fries for Bonus Boy came out. (He doesn’t like pizza). Jack Sprat is famous for their pizza and rightfully so. Fresh ingredients straight from the sea and farm feature: lobster, pineapples, tomato, onion, peppers make their appearance on the pizzas. The crust is thin and crisp and delicious. 100% yummy! Picture this: the sea and breeze and the music and the rum going down oh so smoothly, and fresh, delicious, made from scratch food… That was us at Jack Sprat.
|Calabash Bay, Treasure Beach|
|Lobster and vegetable pizza|
Bonus Boy and Daddy went and had a dip. Other patrons were doing likewise too. There are restrooms and an outdoor shower for your convenience. Scotia Bank has installed an ATM at the restaurant too. The restaurant takes cards as well as cash, and prices are quoted in both $US and $J. The three of us had two large pizzas and we were stuffed. The soups, pizzas, chicken n fries for baby, rum and water came up to under J$7,000.00
At about 5ish we slowly packed up, small cups of Devon House ice cream in hand (I had the stout ice cream of course), also bought at Jack Sprat, and headed east, back towards Kingston. By a little after 8, we were back. Everything went according to plan and a great time was had by all.