Jamaica Road Trip Saturday: Lacovia & Treasure Beach St. Elizabeth

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!

Jamaica Road Trip Jamaica Zoo
Jamaica Road Trip Jamaica Zoo: Waiting patiently
Where we sit for the interactive petting session

Jamaica Road Trip Jamaica Zoo
Jamaica Road Trip Jamaica Zoo
A matter scaling to fit…

Jamaica Road Trip Jamaica Zoo Bounce About
Bounce about at Jamaica Zoo
A bounce about which was a hit with the kids

Jamaica Road Trip Jamaica Zoo Petting session
Jamaica Road Trip: Petting Session at Jamaica Zoo
Our animated guide through the petting session

Jamaica Road Trip: Jamaica Zoo. Petting Session with Snake
Who’s afraid of Snakes? Petting Session at Jamaica Zoo.
I refused to look at the snake. Ugh.

Jamaica Road Trip: Jamaica Zoo Petting Session with Iguana
He’s not afraid! Petting Session with Iguana at Jamaica Zoo
Little Master completely at ease.

 

Jamaica Road Trip: Jamaica Zoo. Little Boy with Snake
Petting Session at Jamaica Zoo. I’m scared but that won’t stop me!
Not to be outdone by Big Bro, Bonus Boy eventually found the courage to participate.

 

Jamaica Road Trip: Jamaica Zoo. Man with crocodile.
Jamaica Zoo Petting session: If they can do it so can I!
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 Jamaica Jack Sprat Treasure Beach
Jack Sprat, Treasure Beach, Jamaica

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.

Road Trip Jamaica Calabash Bay St Elizabeth
Calabash Bay
Calabash Bay, Treasure Beach

 

Conch Soup

 

Road Trip Jamaica Food at Jack Sprat Pizza
Pizza at Jack Sprat: Their specialty!
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.

 

about how we treat Jamaica

This is a very difficult post to make.  My island, Jamaica, is one of the most beautiful places on Earth…from the gorgeous, magical seven mile stretch in Negril, to the hills of St. Andrew and Portland.  But let’s go back to Negril…
I have been going to Negril at least twice per year since the birth of Miss World. It remains my absolutely favourite place in the world.  I lie on the beach and people watch.  The water is always calm.  It’s blue and gorgeous.  It is shallow for yards out.  There is never ever any loud music to intrude on my thoughts.  All I need is my rum, a glass, and a bucket of ice.  Vendors go past offering everything from weed, to fruit, to juices, to pastry to music for sale.  But they are never pushy.  And it’s all part of the magic that is Negril.  And then in the late evening, it all comes together in a perfect finale: the Negril Sunset.  I dare you to find another to rival it.
We always, always, always stay at Negril Treehouse. yup, the same property where Stella got her groove back…or at least, where they filmed the pool scene in the movie of the same name. 
View from my room at Negril Treehouse
Yes, this is shameless plug for this facility, and no they aren’t paying me for it.  It’s owner managed and you feel Gail’s presence everywhere all the time.  Sure, it’s an older property, but the gardens are beautiful and authentically Jamaican, and the rooms are clean with all the basics: bathroom, hot water, beds, cable TV and AC.  And it is right on the 7 mile stretch.  An added bonus is the fact that included in the reasonable rates is a top notch full breakfast inclusive of Jamaican favourites, fresh fruit and awesome coffee all served by friendly, attentive staff.
Repeated stays over the years have afforded me the opportunity to observe the receding coast line.  Yes…once upon a time, there was sand between the beach bar and the water line.  Now the sea laps up quite aggressively against the bar.  
The sea lapping at the bar at Negril Treehouse
Sure it’s picturesque sitting in the bar sipping on your rum looking down into the gorgeous sea, knowing what it was before, and extrapolating forward, well, it’s just plain scary.
See the damaged wall from increasing battering from the sea
Close up of the damaged wall
(Futile?) efforts to halt the march of time…
So where do we go from here?  Perhaps it’s time for me to get active in conservation efforts for what it’s worth.  That 7 mile stretch was given to Jamaica by God.  We didn’t have to create it, we didn’t have to buy it.  All we are asked to do is to take care of it: don’t dump raw sewerage in the seas, protect the reefs, don’t eat parrot fish (OMG!), don’t steal sand!  …and that’s another story altogether…the sand stealing, I mean.  We continue to abuse nature’s gifts to this island: tearing down forests for the rapidly growing charcoal trade (Haiti: here we come!), creating garbage dumps any and everywhere and clogging our gullies.

The same “doan cyah” mentality is evident in how we treat our heritage sites…Port Royal, Three Finger Jack monument in St Thomas, that Columbus site in St. Ann, Lovers Leap and Fort Charlotte to name a few are run down and unimpressive. 

Fort Charlotte in Lucea…a potential moneymaker in ruin!

Fort Charlotte in Lucea

They represent potential money earners for the communities within which they exist and for Jamaica as a whole.  I’ve been on a quite a few glossily presented (pricey) tours overseas that lack half the authenticity and wow factor that our own history offers us.  To be fair though, I saw adverts last week for private persons to take over the management of specific heritage sites.  That’s a win-win approach. 

It makes me sad and scared at the same time.

about the London 2012 Olympics thus far…some (not so reverent) thoughts

It’s July 31, and all of Jamaica is waiting on track and field to start, me included!  I can’t help but feel though, that Beijing was as good as it’s gonna get for us.  Look at the USA male gymnasts and swimmers…not living up to expectations are they! The thing is, there are so many extremely hungry competitors just straining at the bit to compete and win. All of this notwithstanding, I remain respectful and in awe of the talent of our athletes.  I sincerely hope that Usain Bolt not only defends his titles, but that he sets some new world records too.  Greedy?  I think so…but hey…Usain is a SUPERSTAR, in terms of his amazing talent (have you ever really looked at him over the last 40m of his race?) and also in terms of his natural ability to interact with people…so darned comfortable in his own skin.

And I absolutely love VCB and Shelly-Ann and ma girl Melaine.  Man…I wish them well.  And as for Asafa…I’m going to say it here: if anyone is to beat Bolt, I would like it to be Asafa.  I would be happy.  I am so nervous though.  In the sprints there is absolutely zero room for error, and the rounds are taxing, and the whole false start thingy….we just have to wait and send love and positive vibrations to our Team over there.  GOOD LUCK, GUYS!

Let me say, I enjoyed the opening ceremony.  It was entertaining and not too long, and reflected what Britain is quite well.  I still say that LA 1984 will remain my favourite opening ceremony.  Who can forget the 84 grand pianos playing in unison? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G_B-lgIc2_w  I will admit that the fact that I was watching the opening ceremonies with my family while enjoying pizza and drinking rum could have contributed to my overall enjoyment of the proceedings!  And then came Team Jamaica on to the filed, resplendent in their edgy and colourful uniforms. Awesome!  I suspect that at the next staging of the games, Olympic uniforms will undergo a paradigm shift from the traditional boring and stodgy to something more in the vein of our uniforms, and the parade of the athletes will take on a vibe not unlike a haute couture fashion show!  No problem as far as I am concerned.

I am pissed at the fact that I can’t watch the games on NBC.  It’s great that we can watch the events live.  But I don’t think our local station would lose viewers if we had the option of watching the games on cable that we have already paid for!  I guarantee you that in any event with a Jamaican, Jamaica would turn to CVM.  Simple.  But I want the option to take in NBC’s perspective too, and to relax and enjoy the delayed coverage that they are offering.

On now to the Jamaican athletes who have done well so far.  Samantha Albert (equestrian) remains a puzzle in my mind.  I wonder why she didn’t represent Canada or the UK…methinks she should have been able to do either…anyhows, good effort on her part.  Yes, my enthusiasm is muted, but is so it go.

Alia Atkinson copped a great 4th place in the 100m breaststroke swimming.  She competed like a champion and I wish her all the best in her two remaining events.  She’s strong, and fit and fast with the heart and demeanor of a champion.

In closing, allow me to ask some questions that have come to mind:

1.  If there’s table tennis in the Olympics, why isn’t there netball.  Just saying…
2.  Why can’t the genders compete together in events that don’t require speed or strength?  Take for instance shooting…that requires a steady hand and a good eye.  Methinks the sexes can compete fairly here.
3.  Where are the breasts of the female swimmers?  Is it the swimsuit that has crushed them flat?
4.  I wonder if the condoms that they have distributed in the Olympic village are being used up? I am somewhat intrigued by reports of sexual activity in the village.  As one person in the article I read said: “everyone in the village has a great body!”
5.  What the hell is the Jamaica50 secretariat going to do if Jamaica doesn’t get a gold in the male 100m on Aug 5?  They are planning celebrations around the race…talk about pressure!  It’s never really a good idea to plan around an unknown.  And we still don’t have any guarantee that JA will get a gold in the event.  The damn race lasts for 10 seconds (count them!) and every one of the 8 that will be in the race is a competent athlete to say the least.
6.  Why do all the female beach volley ballers have ponytails?
7.  Why do all the female beach volley ballers NOT get a wedgy?
8.  Why do all the female beach volley ballers look so darned good in a bikini? (can you tell I’m a tad obsessed with the the female beach volley ballers?
9.  Why hasn’t Yohan Blake uttered a word since he’s been in London?

Let the Games continue!

Who says low-carb has to be boring?

So on a Sunday, I really throw down, in my kitchen. I plan my menu days in advance.  Then round about noon I turn the radio dial to Fame 95 (retro…what else?!), fill a glass with ice cubes, add some rum and COOK!  On any given Sunday I pull from the following items: braised ox-tails, baked chicken, curried shrimp, pot roasts of beef or pork, rice and peas, sitr fried veg, mac and cheese, fried rice, chow mein, baked plantains, garden salad…

But I’ve decided to go low-carb  for a while, to reset my body and mind, so…sigh…gotta find a way to keep the fun in Sundays.  So instead of rum, we do water.  Yup.  Water and a lot of ice.  And I still blast my retro tunes.  And here’s what today’s fare looked like:

I call it “Smothered Chicken with Steamed Veggies”.

The steamed veggies are simply broccoli and cauliflower steamed with garlic, parsley and basil and finished with butter (salted of course).  Yum!

Here’s the main event:

4 chicken breasts
1 onion
2 stalks celery
1 cup coarsely cut button mushrooms
1 medium tomato
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 small sweet pepper
1 cup grated mozzarella cheese

Flatten the chicken breasts.  Wash with lime juice and season with salt, pepper, jerk-flavoured hot sauce, soya sauce and let marinate overnight.

Heat 2 tbsp veg oil in a non-stick frying pan and quickly sear the chicken on both sides.  It should be just brown and the entire browning process should not take more than 3 min all told.

Remove from frying pan and place the pieces of chicken a flat baking sheet and allow to rest.

Chop all seasonings (onion, celery, tomato, garlic and sweet pepper) and add to the same pan you used to brown the chicken.  Saute for 2 min.  Add the mushooms and a pinch of salt and stir for another minute.

Turn on your broiler.

Spoon equal amounts of this mixture on to each piece of chicken breast already on the baking sheet.

Sprinkle equal amounts of cheese over the dressed chicken pieces and  place the dressed and cheesed chicken breasts on the baking sheet under the broiler.

Broil for approximately 5 minutes, or until cheese is bubbly and just turning brown.

Remove and let rest for 3 minutes.

Serve hot with veggies.

Now…who says low-carb has to be boring? 😀