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.
So I read a comment on my Cousin’s wall on FaceBook. It was posted by a Jamaican woman now living in the USA, married to a foreigner and they have two young sons. She was waxing nostalgic for her homeland. She spoke of growing up in rural Jamaica and she expressed a desire for Jamaica of old and a desire to share her heritage with her sons. But she countered that desire with a very real fear of the Jamaica of now. She compared us to Syria in terms of violence (gasp!) and immediately I knew that I had to do this post. You see, as my cousin correctly stated, I live here and I make it my point of duty to enjoy my homeland as often as I can within the constraints of my budget. So this post is in essence, a travel guide, aimed at both the average Jamaican now living overseas, eager to recapture the innocence and joy of childhood in Jamaica, as well as the adventurous visitor to our island. My recommendations are based on my own experiences and are bound by my own very real constraints of budget, security consciousness, keeping kids interested and engaged and an aversion to garbage.
Being Safe in Jamaica
Do NOT advertise the fact that you live overseas. Here’s where a local guide really helps. I’ll be available in a few years time 🙂 Until then, all the best! Unfortunately, once you are perceived as a foreigner, prices triple and unscrupulous scammers will take advantage.
Don’t be naive. Would you as a tourist in California tour Compton after dark on your own? Right. Don’t be silly. Move as you would in any big city anywhere else in the word. We are the Caribbean. Not the Garden of Eden.
Around Jamaica on a Budget
My recommendations are geared towards middle-class people saving and investing for retirement and college funds for their kids. Enough said.
Jamaica’s Garbage Problem
This deserves its own heading. Jamaica has a garbage problem which intrudes noisily in the enjoyment of our island. I hate it. I wish it were otherwise. My recommendations are based on things that we’ve been able to enjoy in spite of the garbage.
So here we go.
Jamaica vacation itinerary: start in St. Elizabeth
This southern parish marries rural Jamaica of yore with a little beach. It’s not the white sand of the Bahamas or Negril, and it’s not land-locked Mandeville. AirBnB is your friend in terms of finding suitable accommodation. I recommend Jakes Hotel or any villa with seaside access between Treasure Beach and Black River. In checking out accommodation ensure that WiFi is available. It’s not automatic in St. Elizabeth.
Rent a car and go to:
- Little Ochi for great seafood on the fishing beach
- Lover’s Leap for a bit of history and fantastic south coast views
- Black River safari for a historic tour up the Black River and crocodile sightings all along the river’s course
- YS Falls for beautiful gardens and waterfalls with zip lining.
Spend 2 days in St. Elizabeth.
|Incredible Food at Little Ochi|
|Vistas in South St. Elizabeth|
|The Black River Safari|
Jamaica Vacation Itinerary: next stop Kingston City
Liguanea Club is central and budget friendly. Right in the middle of the commercial district of New Kingston, you’ll be safe within the enclosures of this hotel. They have a pool and tennis and squash courts. You are within walking distance of good jerk spots (Sweetwood Jerk), a beautiful green space where you can jog or people watch while licking on an ice cream cone (Emancipation Park) and patty shops (Juicy Beef and Tastee). Can it be any better? No need to rent a car on this leg. You can take taxis to the local attractions: The Bob Marley Museum Tour, Devon House for great food and souvenirs and the Little Theater where you can be entertained when the sun sets by the local pantomime or National Dance Theater company depending on the time of year you visit. Spend 2 days in Kingston.
Jamaica Vacation Itinerary: catch your breath in beautiful Portland.
Heal your soul in the beautiful eastern parish of Portland. Winifred Beach is a must. It is one of the few remaining beautiful public beaches on the island. Food and drink are reasonably priced right on the beach and there is an incomparable vibe right here. Be sure to spend some time at Frenchman’s Cove beach where a white sand river snakes into the sea. This white sand resort beach will have you thinking that you’re in paradise. And you’d be right. I recommend the villas at Goblin Hill. You will be directed by villa staff to local service providers who can ferry you around in Portland if you didn’t drive yourself from Kingston to Portland. The Knutsford Express bus company can transport you safely in air conditioned comfort to Port Antonio safely from New Kingston. A taxi can take you onwards to your villa.
|Can you tell how happy I am at Frenchman’s Cove?|
|White Sand River at Frenchman’s Cove|
|Paradise is Winnifred’s Beach|
Spend 2 days in Portland. While it is heaven for us earth-weary adults, it’s a bit too slow for kids.
Jamaica Vacation Itinerary: Negril, Babee!!!
Allow a full day to enjoy the drive along the north coast highway all the way to the other end of the island and end up in Negril. You’ll drive past good old Ocho Rios and Montego Bay. Don’t get me wrong…I can recommend places to stay and things to do in either place, but not this trip. I recommend staying at the small boutique hotel of Negril Tree House Resort. Ask for the 1 bedroom suite right on the ocean front. You literally step right out of your room onto the 7 Mile white sand stretch of beach. This resort is not fancy but you’ll be comfortable. There’s Wifi and cable TV and a great Jamaican breakfast is included in the price of the room.
Kids will enjoy the pool and the shallow calm waters of Negril beach. You’ll feel as if you’re in the Bahamas but with the incomparable vibe of JamDown. Negril is not as quiet as Portland but not as touristy and kitschy as some parts of Montego Bay and Ocho Rios. Negril truly is the other side of Paradise. Cosmos, LTU Pub and Kenny Italian Cafe in Negril are great dining options.
Pro-Tip: A small igloo filled with ice and your own Appleton and Red Stripe purchases at a local supermarket will keep you happy without breaking the bank all day long on the Negril beach.
Spend 3 days in Negril.
Jamaica Vacation Itinerary: fly out of Montego Bay
In few days, you’ve tasted just some of what Jamaica offers. We haven’t explored the hills above Kingston where hiking in 70 degree temperatures (cool by local standards) affords you the opportunity to photograph surprise waterfalls and unusual mountain flora. We’ve stayed far from convenient all-inclusives (great when you have small children, ho-hum when you’re after authentic Jamaica). I haven’t introduced you to the luxury that is a real north coast villa vacation. We haven’t visited historic Port Royal or experienced Pelican Bar, right in the middle of the sea, accessible only by boat. You haven’t been to a street dance or a ritzy night club. You can do all of that next visit 🙂
Want more itinerary ideas? Hit me up here! I’d be happy to help!
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We both needed it. Life gets stressful. So off to Parottee, St. Elizabeth we went.
Evidence of recent rains was a welcome sight as we headed west along the south coast. Clarendon which was parched just a few weeks ago showed signs of new life in the now green bush and the barely there trickle in the river. We made our way through Porus and climbed the hill into cool, evergreen Mandeville. A quick stop for ice at the top of Spur Tree ensured that we would be in business when we arrived at our final destination. Driving through Jamaica is one of the pleasures we still enjoy.
Three and a half hours after starting out (yes..we drive slowly) we were there: Parottee. Parottee is a small fishing village just beyond Black River. It has a West End, Negril vibe: chill, organic and very laid back. It’s laid out along a straight road running along the coast. The beach is not white sand though…it brownish, silty stuff that renders the sea itself kind of cloudy, and it does take some getting used to.
Road Trip Jamaica details: Overnight Stop at Idler’s Rest
H had made arrangements for us to overnight at one of several guest houses that exist in Parotee: Idler’s Rest. Reviews on Trip Advisor warned us, but we go where angels fear to tread! “Strength…no weakness!”
Well…first warning: the parking lot was empty save for a lone pickup with a man and someone who was obviously his apprentice. H called it: “Lord…that looks like the plumber!” I remarked that we already have plenty of practice with buckets, so let’s rock and roll. As it turned out, it was the plumber. And yes, we had water issues. But I digress…
The hotel was obviously planned and decorated by an artist…the little touches and accent pieces are evidence enough. But it has an abandoned feel to it. I swear that we were the only ones there.
|Basic room…very basic…|
When a Jamaica Road Trip Involves a Boat Ride!
H had arranged a little adventure for us. YASSS! A fishing boat, arranged through the hotel, pulled right up on the shore. A well dressed, pleasant Huggie helped us into the pretty little fishing boat, equipped with a 60HP engine (a single outboard engine…yikes!) and off we went. We were headed for the famous Floyd’s Pelican Bar…a rugged construction in the middle of the ocean where one can go to drink, eat and soak up a very special vibe.
|Huggie and his vessel. See the colour of the sand?|
Along the way….
We moved along parallel to the coast before turning right to get to our final destination which was a mile offshore.
|Captain Huggie at the controls!|
|Abandoned hotel in Parotee being claimed by the sea.|
Approaching final destination 20 minutes later…
Final destination: Pelican Bar!
Lobster stew…cabbage was plentiful in St. Elizabeth and so they used it! He confirmed that he was going to add coconut milk to the final product…I had to ask…
|The Jacks were running, so that’s what was served….along with the freshest bammies ever.|
|Idlers at rest|
|Beautiful face of Parottee…|
|Young Serbian come to Jamaica as a fitness instructor. He carried his chicken & rice n peas to Pelican 🙂|
|No question as to where we were…|
The rain came down and we all huddled under the thatched portions, warmed by the typical Jamaican libations on offer.
|H and Floyd. This is all Floyd’s vision.|
|After the rain…|
Jamaica Road Trip: Scenes from Parottee…
|Someone’s thinking green in Parottee….|
|Signs of neglect and decay and dead dreams…|
|Wetlands in Parottee|
|Wetlands in Paraottee…|
Parottee could easily be another Treasure Beach…there’s enough to go around. Of course massive investments would be needed in order to move from neglect to prosperity. And for investments to flow, a master developmental plan is needed: think music festivals, community tourism, literary festivals, sporting events, regattas, and so on. Treasure Beach is a short drive away and there’s enough to see in the parish of St. Elizabeth to keep visitors engaged and interested: Black River tours, Lovers Leap, day excursions to Negril, immersion in the life of the locals on the fishing beach. The plan would have to include training, beautifying the community and ensuring security. All very doable. All urgently needed.
The poverty in Parottee is real and palpable. You can see the shifts in relative wealth as you transition from Black River (bustling town with shops, markets, etc.) to Parottee (struggling fishing village..small, mean residences, abandoned hotels, bush…) to Treasure Beach (quaint, rustic, organised artists haven)
We’ll be back… promise….
A Love Affair with Portland…Not me!
For as long as I’ve known him, H has loved the parish of Portland in Jamaica. My dad too… as a young army officer back in the 60’s when he first came to Jamaica from Grenada, he said he used to go to Portland at any chance he got. Portland reminded him of Grenada, he said. Having lived in Grenada for a bit during my childhood, I understand where he is coming from. Portland is green, rain-foresty, hilly, humid and has beautiful beaches. My attitude towards Portland though has always been “I can take it or leave it.” Meh. And I had a particularly bad experience when we were just married and had spent a weekend at Goblin Hill. I got the worst ever case of gastroenteritis that put me out of commission, and painfully so for a whole week! I suspect there was an unconscious coupling of Portland with gastro in my mind that didn’t create any yearning within for that parish.
Ambassabeth, Winnifred and Me
So when H announced that he wants to retire there, I pushed back with: “Enjoy! Yuh nah carry me out deh fi drop dead!”. He knew better than to push back. Think Eminem’s line: “…when a tornado meets a volcano…” But he’s also very smart. I have to believe that he hatched a plan to make me fall in love with Portland. It started with him organising a weekend at Ambasabeth cabins in the John Crow Mountains. He KNOWS that I live for drive outs…anywhere…and that it was somewhere new, in the hills, he had to know that I’d jump at the chance to go. What I didn’t bargain for was a weekend that did more than provide an opportunity to live like a pioneer (sort of) and walk some historic trails.
|A cabin at Ambassabeth|
In retrospect I can see him smiling smugly and pumping his internal fist when I waxed warm for MONTHS after that weekend about how struck I was by the community that we became part of for those few days. Part Next of his plan included repeat visits to Frenchman’s Cove beach. I am an unrepentant beach baby. My soul re-centers and I feel all the cares of the world slip away, like a shirt slipping off my shoulders with each lap of the waves, each gentle gust of sea breeze… or is that the rum? Whatever! I live for the beach. And Frenchman’s Cove, with its beautiful garden setting, its pristine, blue river with white sandy bottom (not dark and pebbly like other rivers) undulating lazily into the small bay that is Frenchman’s Cove is how I imagine the Garden of Eden.
|The river at Frenchman’s Cove|
The last visit there was with family and friends and we reluctantly dragged ourselves back to Kingston after a perfect day,but not before I snapped this sunset.
|Paradise aka Winnifred Beach|
But this was not said with a hint of arrogance. It was more a grateful acknowledgement, a happiness that his message had been heard and had connected with another soul. H wanted to buy his music and Johnnie found a copy of a CD and the transaction was done.
|From L-R: Cultural, Me and Johnnie Walker|
This week, a friend asked me how I do all the stuff that I do with the kids. “You must have a huge budget, Kelly!” he remarked. The answer is no. I do not have a huge budget. But when you have kids and you work too, it is critical to do stuff together where everyone (and that includes you!) can relax. You get to de-stress and you build memories too. It is possible here in Jam Down with a little planning. So this post is dedicated to EY. May you have fun times with your girls and build memories for a life-time.
MY MUST HAVES FOR A FUN TIME
1. Working vehicle
2. Tank full of gas
You see, with all of the above in place, there are so many options open to you. Here are some of my favourites:
1. BEACH TRIPS:
Ocho Rios Public Beach, Frenchman’s Cove (Portland), Doctors Cave (Montego Bay), Negril, Ft. Clarence. Any of the above can be done in a single day. For Negril and Mobay, leave home early (think 6am). Buy patties en route for breakfast or make sandwiches from the night before. Pack your own snacks and fruit that you bought in the grocery, and pack water and juices, soda and rum for Mummy. Admission to these beaches ranges from 150.00 per person to 400.00. Now many of these beaches don’t allow you to bring your own food. Some of the food options on the beaches are really overpriced in my opinion. So for those beaches with the expensive options, I still carry my snacks and frozen bottles in my beach bag, and promise the kids to stop somewhere more affordable for food on the way back. This adds another dimension to the road trip. Kids are usually more than satisfied with the low budget options available like BK and KFC, and I also use the opportunity to expose them to various jerk spots and “decentish” cook shops where you can get get good Jamaican food for under 500.00 (there are great places with parking along the Northcoast highway like that spot opposite Green Grotto Caves, Lyming, jerk in Blueberry Hill, St. Mary, Spur Tree curry goat. On every road trip I look out for potential stop-offs and plan for them on my next trip.
2. THE ZOO IN KINGSTON:
I think it is now 500.00 for adults and 200.00 for kids. This is a central oasis that doesn’t require big planning. Stop at KFC or your favourite take out place, get your food, carry a blanket (or not!) and head off to the zoo. The zoo has recently been transformed and the grounds which were lovely before with huge expanses of lawn, are even lovelier now with the addition of many many palm trees and the creation of new picnic areas. You can picnic in peace and quiet under the mango trees and enjoy the quietude and breeze. The children will enjoy running up and down looking at the animals and you can walk with them or not. It never gets tired. There are new animals with the promise of more to come. There are interactive exhibits where for a little more money (think 200.00 per person) you can feed the birds or pet specific animals. Check it out! It’s a fun, hassle-free way to take a few hours off and just relax.
3. THE NATIONAL GALLERY
An hour and a half in the gallery on a quiet Saturday morning down town Kingston is a wonderful way to expose your children (and you too!) to another side of our culture. Sometimes there are exhibits and activities there geared towards children. Admission is free I believe. Parking is secure. And when you are finished., just take a walk with your children along Harbour Street. Take them into Burger King for a little treat. Easy, fun and memorable.
4. TOM REDCAM LIBRARY
I could almost copy and paste the verbiage for the National Gallery here.
5. EMANCIPATION PARK
The park is lovely in the evening, just before the sun sets. It’s still light, but it’s cooler. There’s an icecream shop opposite the entrance to the park. Get a single scoop of your favourite flavour and saunter slowly into the park. Chat, walk, people watch and grab a seat on a bench or on the grass. From time to time there are shows there that you can enjoy for free. But even without a show, the park remains a great choice to just exhale and clear your mind. Really young children love it. The huge expanses inspire them to just run, and by the time you get home and bathe them they’re ready to crash! Hint: keep those toddlers awake in the car on the way home so they sleep when you get home, and you can relax with a glass of wine in from of the TV. Heaven!
6. HOLLYWELL PARK
It’s just a 45 minute drive from Papine. Pack a picnic, wear your sneakers, carry your sweaters and lots of drinking water and fruit. A regular car can make that drive. Once there, I think you pay a nominal entry fee (something like 200.00 or 300.00 per adult and way less per child). Park and take one of 2 main hiking trails. Young children can do these walks. Each trail is 45 min long with great views along the way and lots of interesting things to see. Check in at the Ranger cabin so someone knows you are out there. Ensure that you have your cell phone and get to walking. Aim to get there by 10:00 am. and do your hiking then. The afternoons get overcast, misty and rainy…great picnic weather huddled under one of the many gazebos on property.
7. DRIVE-OUTS IN AND AROUND KINGSTON:
So I love to drive! Grab your favourite music, make a big deal of it, and load up the car. Head out to the lighthouse near the airport. Watch the planes come in, look at the sea. Talk. Collect rocks along the shore.
Drive through the more affluent neighbourhoods like Beverly Hills, Norbrook, Cherry Gardens and do some harmless House Hunting. It’s fun. You can chat along the drive.
Do the Port Royal Tour. I don’t think it’s more than 500.00 for adults. It’s fun and it’s informative.
I highly recommend the Bob Marley Museum tour. Can’t remember the fee, but it is way less than a movie for sure. Even children will find it interesting.
Go for ice cream at Devon House. Saturday afternoons are good. It’s not too crowded, and it feels like such a treat to break your day and just sit under a tree or gazebo eating great ice-cream.
Mayfair Hotel in Kingston is a great spot for the kids to swim and Mom and Dad to have a drink. For 350.00 you can swim and relax under a huge mango tree out back. There’s a bar and grill. It’s central, quiet and safe.
8. LIGHTS, CAMERA, ACTION!
Palace Amusement rocks. I loooove the movies: the dark and cool and nachos and my sneaked in flask of tonic to take me through animate features (I hate cartoons in any form). Nowadays, I consider movies a big budget item! So I carefully choose what we’ll go to see and make an event of it. And to be perfectly honest, I go by myself after work from time to time. Ain’t nothing nicer than sinking into that cushy seat by yourself, in the dark with your snack of choice, enjoying not having to talk for 2 hours and being entertained. Try it…
Take the kids to an age appropriate local play. My kids enjoyed Breadfruit Kingdom
They enjoyed the Pantomime last year too.
Save some $$$ and look out for all-inclusive hotel specials and do this once per year.
Create your own rituals. In my house, Sundays are special. I throw down on a Sunday and we lounge around at the dinner table for 3 hours eating and talking.
Always be on the look out for festivals, free shows, exhibitions, etc that you and your children could be interested in. Naturally, this list is not exhaustive. There are numerous big ticket items like the Water Park in Negril, paint-balling in St. Thomas, Mystic Mountain and swimming with the Dolphins. You can plan for these. I haven’t spoken about Castleton, heritage stops in various parishes, and the many other beaches around Jamaica Land we Love.
My next road trip will be a drive to Black River to do the Black River safari (1600.00 per person). I may stop at the Grace agro-processing facility in St. Elizabeth on the way back and get a tour of the facilities. We’ll see…
It’s always more about building the memories and creating an environment and context where your children feel safe and loved. Have Fun!!!!!
To say that the last 2 weeks have been stressful is an understatement. So, not one to wallow in unhappiness and stress and strain, I hastily planned a weekend doing some of the things I enjoy best! The yells of joy when I informed Little Master and Miss World confirmed that I had made the right decision.
ROAD TRIP! Yep, I absolutely love a good drive out, and the state of our roads notwithstanding, the Jamaican countryside is soooooo beautiful. I decided to head west to my all time favourite place on the island: Negril. Here’s the thing about Negril: that 7 mile stretch of white sand and clear, blue water and the absence of the more commercial, high-rise complexes and the way Jamaicans and tourists quietly co-exist make Negril’s vibe relaxing and therapeutic. There is never loud music offending you, but always the quiet, low throbbing of a comfortingly familiar reggae beat, gently lulling your soul into a state of rest. The beaches are shallow and waters calm, allowing for children to frolic safely and allowing you to paddle and soak and just be. And when the sun sets, there are no words. The beach comes to a standstill for a few minutes while everyone basks in the awesome sight of the sun dipping below the horizon. Negril sunsets never, ever get old.
I have been staying at a modest hotel right on the beach for the last decade or so called Negril Treehouse Hotel. This is where Stella got her groove back! Well, before she discovered that her groover was bisexual/gay/whadeva…Oh well, Stella aside, I ALWAYS enjoy my stays there. The rooms are modestly priced and modestly outfitted. But really and truly, when you are in Negril, you really only need the room to shower and sleep. All waking hours are best spent on the sand which is literally footsteps away from your room. I walk with my igloo and my beverages of choice (woohoo!!!!) and set up camp under a huge almond tree and happily pass the hours away there. Negril Treehouse is owned by the Jacksons (Mr. Jackson passed away late last year…may he rest in peace) and you can feel the impact of these owners/managers throughout your stay. There’s a real family feel there.
But before I got to Negril, I had to drive four hours to get there from Kingston. We departed at 6:30am, a cool, clear Saturday morning. It was an uneventful, enjoyable drive. The ubiquitous speed traps were largely absent and the radio station of choice was on point with their selections. We enjoyed lots joking and laughter and singing and even some quiet time as at one stage I was the only one awake!
|Bamboo Avenue, St. Elizabeth|
I decided to stop in Middle Quarters for “peppa swims” (read: peppered shrimp). The shrimp are prepared in the shell with lots of salt and a whole heap of hot pepper, stuffed into small plastic bags and sold by the roadside.
Eating the spicy treats was an adventure, but being the prepared traveller that I am, bottles of Catherine’s Peak spring water were quickly deployed to deal with the burning! Apart from the spice, beware the spiny claws and other appendages on the shrimp. They stick…hard!
|Peppered Shrimp from Middle Quarters|
Negril was just what the Doctor ordered…the kids played, I relaxed, I napped and I really enjoyed having what I thought was great conversation with Rachie and it was just, well…perfect…
|Negril Tree House|
I should mention that Negril Tree House serves a great breakfast that is included in the cost of the room!
|Callaloo, ackee & saltfish, johnny cakes, ham & cheese omelette and pineapple|
Yes…it was a well needed break. Sometimes you just need to put down the load for a while, regain some strength and then you can take it up again once you’ve rested a while. I put down my load this weekend for sure!
|The view from between my legs 🙂|
Reluctantly, we packed up midday Sunday morning. Sigh…back to life, back to reality. Cho man…
It was a great day for driving and at Miss World’s request, I decided to drive back via the North Coast. That’s a 5 hour hop!
|Road Warriors on the move|
We stopped for cold coconut water in Trelawny and for soup at Scotchie’s in Drax Hall.
Thank God for a moment of fun in the middle of living. Tomorrow is another day. And we will continue the struggle having rested a while. “Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow”.