A fun Jamaica Vacation Itinerary…C’mon home! (Re)Visit Jamaica.

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.

Seafood spread at Little Ochi, St. Elizabeth, Jamaica
Enjoy Seafood at Little Ochi, St. Elizabeth, Jamaica
Incredible Food at Little Ochi

 

South St Elizabeth Coastal Scapes, Jamaica
South St Elizabeth Coastal Scapes, Jamaica
Vistas in South St. Elizabeth

 

 

Fishing Boats at the mouth of the Black River, St. Elizabeth, Jamaica
Fishing Boats at the mouth of the Black River, St. Elizabeth, Jamaica

Black River, Jamaica.
Black River, Jamaica. Photo credit: Rachael McIntosh
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.

Frenchman's Cove Beach, Portland, Jamaica
Frenchman’s Cove Beach, Portland, Jamaica
Can you tell how happy I am at Frenchman’s Cove?

 

Children playing at Frenchman's Cove Beach, Portland, Jamaica
Perfect harmony at Frenchman’s Cove Beach, Portland, Jamaica
White Sand River at Frenchman’s Cove

 

Winifred Beach, Portland, Jamaica
Winifred Beach, Portland, Jamaica
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.

7 Mile Beach Negril, Jamaica
7 Mile Beach Negril, Jamaica

 

Sunset in Negril, Jamaica
Sunset in Negril, Jamaica

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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(Re)Visit Jamaica: Sunset in Negril
(Re)Visit Jamaica: Sunset in Negril
(Re)Visit Jamaica: Boys at Frenchmans Cove & scene at Treasure Beach
(Re)Visit Jamaica: Boys at Frenchmans Cove & scene at Treasure Beach
Road Trips and Keto Jamaica Style
Road Trips and Keto Jamaica Style

Negril’s 7 Mile Beach… here today, gone tomorrow… or not…

About a year ago, I did a post speaking to beach erosion in Negril.  Read it here.  That post had pictures of a severely eroded shoreline right by Negril Tree House Resort, Negril, Jamaica.  I took those pics April 2013.  In March 2014 we returned to Negril Tree House resort and I noticed something different.  Where water once lapped up against the bar, there was solid at least 25 feet of powdery, white, gorgeous Negril sand.  The beach appeared to have magically extended.  Naturally, I started to ask questions of the staff.

“De sea did tek it weh, and it gi we back now”.

“A so it go enuh…give and take”.

So there was no addition of sand?  No one came and dumped sand here to reconstruct the beach?”

*laughing* “Noooo, Man…a so it go.  It just come back so.”

There’s the bar in the back ground…see how much sand now between bar and sea

That low concrete ridge is where the sea used to lap up against…only glorious sand now

No sea encroaching here anymore….at least a brand new 25′ of white sand

Ok, then.  I really want to understand what is happening here.  This last week, Negril has been very topical in the news. This commentary in the Sunday Gleaner of May 5 gives a useful summary and perspective I think.

And you know my  love-affair with that piece of Paradise that was simply gifted by God to us. We didn’t have to buy it. We didn’t have to make it.  All we are asked to do is two things: enjoy it and take care of it.

I already enjoy it. Please help me understand what is happening so I can do my part to take care of it.

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 living in Jamaica today.

I may just have used up all my sulking points for 2012 today…I may even have a jump-start on 2013.  Here’s the thing: I work hard.  I consider myself to be a good mother.  I give of myself to these two endeavors.  When I’m at home my wants are simple: electricity, water, Internet and cable TV.  What?  Am I crazy?  Aren’t these “amenities” a given?  After all, it is the year 2012…
The main road near my house
Hurricane Sandy passed through about 3 weeks ago and we were left without electricity for 8 nights.  This in and of itself was uncomfortable enough, but it was the lack of responsiveness and dearth of credible information from the Jamaica Public Service Co. (JPS) that really, really got my goat. So I went to battle.  I called them…every day…multiple times per day.  I stalked their Twitter feed and their Face book page, making myself known at every opportunity.  I wrote to the press.  I wrote to one well known reporter.  I bitched using every medium I knew.  Service was restored on night 9, and on day 11, the Daily Gleaner published my submission on this issue to them.  I heard from the CEO and now I am on a first name basis with my Parish manager and I have a direct line to her should I have any issues in the future.  I am tired.

Then 2 weeks after the passage of Sandy, our water in storage got dangerously low.  So I put on my boxing  gloves again, but this time the opponent was the National Water Commission (NWC).  I was already on a first name basis with the gentleman who trucks water in my area in times of shortage.  And I already had the mobile number for the Operations manager who is responsible for service delivery in my area. When your water supply depends on your being on a first name basis with “Ruddy”, you know you’re in trouble! After hounding them for 2 days straight, we got our tanks filled from a truck and pumping from the NWC source resumed the day after.  I am tired.
I live 15 minutes from the outskirts of what we call the corporate area.  It’s blissfully cool, green and very quiet.  I enjoy decompressing on my veranda.  
My Veranda
But there are moments when I feel as if I really live behind God’s back.  We are definitely NOT a priority when it comes to utility companies.  At least it feels that way.  We’ve been living here for 12 years and it feels increasingly difficult to survive here.  The (public) road leading down to my house is like a river bed.  The feeder that provides electricity to this area is totally unreliable and at the first smell of rain, the first roll of thunder, the first flash of lightening, there goes the electricity.  So we decided a few years ago to make ourselves independent of JPS.  Over the years, we have increased our capacity, and I have to admit, that our response this time around post storm was decidedly better than in previous years.  We were able to keep the ‘fridge running and we could iron and read and watch local TV.  But because we are still not where we plan to be, we still had to rationalize our use of power during the period we were without service from JPS and so comfort levels were not at all optimized.   As for water, we have capacity to store 1650 gal of water, but this is depleted after 2 weeks with no re-supply. 
Me in front of the water tank: Water is Life!
Post Sandy, it took two weeks for the National Solid Waste Management Authority (NSWMA) to resume garbage collection.  Garbage receptacles from the bottom of the hill all the way up were overflowing.  I simply waited and hoped for the garbage truck to come.  I didn’t have the energy to do battle with that lot.
That’s to give you some context.  Let me continue my rant now. 

Then last week Friday evening, cable TV suddenly went.  Service was restored Monday evening.  I called.  I called again.  And still I called.  A whole weekend with only TVJ as entertainment comes as close as I can imagine to what hell must be like.  It is the lack of responsiveness and clear, credible info in the absence of product/service that really ticks me off!  I was told that the storm damaged their lines.  I was told that vandals had cut their lines.  Still don’t know what the real story is.  I am tired.

Then this Thursday night, we lost Internet service.  And land-line service.  We reported it to Lime.  They could not proffer a reason but diligently recorded the complaint.  And while watching news last night, my initial fears were confirmed: vandals had yet again stolen $5M worth of Lime cables from the area.  They aim to replace said cables and restore service by the end of next week.  This has happened twice in the past to the best of my knowledge, and the last time it happened, service was restored after 6 long weeks… and this only after I pressed a colleague of mine who had a direct line to the then president of C&W (now Lime) to intervene on my behalf.  I am tired.
And now today, Saturday…  I came home at 1pm after spending the morning at the Learning Center at my church helping out.  I collapsed into my bed and started watching re-runs of the Voice when the screen went blank.  Nothing.  Cable service once again interrupted.  It is now almost 9:30pm on Saturday night and I am forced to watch TVJ.  Hell all over again.  I was able to report the issue to the cable company before they closed for the weekend. Big deal.  Dunno if their cables have been stolen too.  Dunno when I’ll be able to watch some good TV again.  I am tired.
H says that the country is in decline…that what we are experiencing are the results of a society falling apart.  I can’t disagree with him.  Main thoroughfares have simply broken away: Mt. Ogle in Stony Hill, Dunrobin near Red Hills Road, Junction en route to St. Mary, Cassava Piece off Mannings Hill Road…a clear sign of neglect and decay.  
Bloomberg News says that Jamaica is perched on the edge of defaulting on our debt.  The few dollars that I have managed to save and invest in government paper are once again at risk.  The portfolio took a hit in the JDX scheme implemented a few years aback where we were asked to accept lower interest rates.  “Jamaica has been the poster boy for imminent default for years now, but they don’t default,” Segura said in a phone interview. “The country has a weak ability to pay but strong willingness to pay.” So how do I preserve the little that I have accumulated? Equities? Real estate? FX? I am tired. There are those who have worked hard, educated themselves and fine themselves under-employed or un-employed. I’m not going to go into the crime situation, the young and old begging at stop-lights, the steady decline of civility in terms of how we deal with each other in terms of tone and deed.  I am tired. 
Now I have to strategise if I am to continue to live up here: increase the capacity of the solar set-up, add at least another 1000 gal to the water in storage, investigate options for wireless Internet (and this is not as simple as it sounds as right now I can’t pick up Lime cellular signal at home) and just decide to read more and build a library of DVDs in lieu of watching cable TV.  I am tired.   
Perhaps when the weariness overtakes me I should simply transport myself in my mind to those perfect times when I am sitting on Negril’s white sand looking at the perfect sunset, perfect cocktail in hand.  Perhaps I should focus on the fact that my family is intact and in good health.  Perhaps I should focus on the fantastic Sunday dinners that we still have, and the love and laughter and music and banter that we still share.   
Paradise?

De-stressing in Jamaica

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.

Negril Sunset

 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”.

                           

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