We normally take a family vacation during August and disappear to a villa somewhere in Treasure Beach or in Trelawny. This summer though, H’s schedule did not allow us to plan this treat. So we decided to make this summer one of weekend road trips. Can I just say it has been wonderful! Two weekends ago, we went to the eastern end of the island, the lush parish of Portland and we spent one night there so we wouldn’t have to rush back once the sun set. Here’s what we did in Portland: absolutely nothing. And it was simply wonderful and even magical. I’m about to write a whole post about doing nothing and how wonderful it was. Sit back, clear your mind and come along…Continue reading Road Trip to Portland, Jamaica: Goblin Hill & Swift River
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!
When you subscribe to my blog, you’ll get a free copy of 5 different Jamaica south coast road trip itinerary options! Sign up below:
I’m heartsick. I’ve been putting off this particular post for two years now, but no more. So here goes.
Dear Jamaica: We have a garbage problem. We are nasty.
We’ve perfected the art of the road trip. We can now turn on a dime and head north, south, east or west. Easy: keep vehicles properly maintained, stop at the grocery the night before or on the way out, procure water, juices, rum and chasers, nuts, cheesy snacks, granola bars, keep the igloo clean at all times, keep one bag clean and packed with cups and ground sheet at all times, and at the word go, load up and head out.
|View from Black Hill, Portland|
And so we explore our island at any and every chance we get. Portland’s beaches and hills, St. Ann’s beaches, Trelawny’s beaches, rivers and beautiful vistas in its center, Negril’s beach, St. Elizabeth’s rolling landscapes and St. Andrew’s rivers and breathtaking mountainscapes.
|Driving from St. Mary into Portland|
|Beautiful Duncan’s, Trelawny|
|Abandoned tunnel in Portland|
|Paradise, aka Negril|
|Black River, St. Elizabeth|
|View from New Castle, St. Andrew|
I’ve been very selective in my picture taking, choosing to overlook the nastiness that coexists with the beauty that abounds everywhere.
Yesterday we drove through St. Thomas to Long Bay, Portland. Long Bay is one of the best kept secrets in Jamaica. There it sits, part of the main road through east Portie. There are no huge hotels, no fancy famous restuarants, no “attractions.” But there are always tourists there, walking on the road, sleeping in one of the many BnB’s that you can find on the internet, rolling a spliff, sucking on a cold red strip or swirling a plastic cup with ice, White rum and Ting. Heaven. The surf is rough but the water is blue and the sand is white. And it is all mere steps away from the main road. There are no loud sound systems. And tourist harassment… what’s that in Long Bay?
|Long Bay, Portland|
Yesterday we simply turned in off the road, parked under some coconut trees, unpacked our igloo and grill, turned up (just a smidgen…) our music, and enjoyed a few hours in Paradise. Easy. But when we looked to our left and then to our right, there it was: garbage: styrofoam, plastic, latex, glass…ugh.
I averted my eyes quickly and kept my focus front and centre. As we left and were heading back, the garbage deposited where it ought never to be all along the coast was inescapable. I said to H: “Can you imagine if we kept Long Bay EXACTLY as it is now: humble BnBs, rustic cook shops, roadside bars, but cleaned up the garbage?”
|Deep, white sand right off the main road, Long bay, Portland|
There is a lot of talk about our tourism product, creating visions of more rooms, more high prices attractions, orchestrated, pre-packaged tours, all things shiny and new. But simply cleaning up the garbage would result in a step change in what is our current vibe and what we offer to locals and visitors alike.
We visited Jackson Bay, south Clarendon about a year ago. This is way off the beaten track, winding south through wetlands. And there was garbage here. How? Styrofoam and plastic as well as scrap metal in the form of old vehicle chassis and discarded appliances. God.
Almost any hillside in upper St. Andrew is a potential dumping site: check out spots in Irish Town and Red Hills for example.
|When last was garbage collected?|
|When last was garbage collected?|
So how do we fix it. Huge sigh. One perspective is that leadership in Jamaica has lost the art of implementation and has become preoccupied with speeches and box-ticking. It further posits that those in positions of influence and power have managed to insulate themselves from certain Jamaican realities and therefore expend nothing on fixing those ills besetting others; think private schools, private education, private security, gated communities, vehicles that shuttle them from A to B, high off the ground in air-conditioned insularity. They vacation in exclusive locations, out of the line of sight of road side dump sites, and in all-inclusive, created experiences, totally separate from the speak-easy that exists beside a pile of garbage uncollected in two weeks. Out of sight, most definitely out of mind.
And so priorities are set based on a particular skewed perspective and outlook by the powerful and wealthy. And those who see and know and feel The Other Side of Things, in their quest for the Great House quickly adopt the priorities of those who are where they want to be, eschewing the urgent and real needs of our present context.
Dear Jamaica: we are on the cusp of an environmental crisis of humongous proportions. The garbage in and around us is piling up.
I’m unwilling to relinquish my safety, health and peace of mind so easily though. Community Action has to step to the front of the line now. Local leadership: YOUR TIME NOW! I have latched on to grass-roots activism as one of the first steps towards making our present system of governance redundant and shifting the current paradigm towards one that is more proactive and relevant to us. Yes, I know nothing can really substitute for national policies that are framed and resourced and enacted by central government as we seek to move from here to there. But I cannot wait. Jamaica cannot afford to wait.
Imagine this happening at the Community level:
1. Education campaigns about improper garbage disposal. Get a local company to sponsor a poster competition in the community schools. Tell them to include actual pictures of what is wrong in their community.
2. Again get a local company to sponsor the printing of dozens of the winning poster and then commission local groups like the 4H Club, Scouts, church youth group to strategically, and with permission place these posters in central areas.
3. Set a small goal of creating a garbage free zone in a public area enjoyed by locals and visitors alike. Make noise about it. Use social media to spread the news of this success story. Replicate this in another area.
4. Get the Councillor and MP on board: THEY have to pressure NSWMA to cart the garbage away regularly and reliably. KEEP UP THE PRESSURE! Use social media to shame and congratulate. Because make no mistake, there are those who make every effort to bag and discard their garbage properly, but their best efforts are thwarted by the non collection of their garbage! There’s no reliable schedule of collection and public skips seem to be a thing of the past.
I think one clean area, one locality doing the right thing, made visible, will result in spread of ideals and practices. Naive? Maybe. But I’m not ready to give up. And current leadership practices have resulted in Jamaica being buried and drowned in nastiness.
Dear Jamaica: We can do this. We must do this. Get Jamaica clean and keep Jamaica clean.
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|