When my husband, Steve, called me last October from work to inform me that we had “won” a trip to Jamaica, it’s fair to say I was underwhelmed. For one, Jamaica was never a place that was on my radar as a desired destination. I honestly imagined it to be either full of walled-off resorts hosting pasty tourists frying themselves to a collective crisp trying to tan; or, outside the resorts, to be like the legendary tough streets of Kingston with clouds of ganja smoke hanging in the air.
Needless to say, Steve was disappointed in my reaction.
A little background on the “winning” of this trip. Steve & I own a small restaurant he inherited in his hometown of Vernon, Texas (it’s about 20 minutes from the Oklahoma state line). The lady who leases the restaurant from us does business with a food distributor in far north Texas (they’re based in the Panhandle) that, every year, gives away trips to a few of its customers as a thank you for their business. Now, our lady has taken a few of these trips herself – and she deserves it – but, this year, she asked if it could be transferred to Steve & me. She knows we enjoy travel to farther-flung lands than she is used to (Las Vegas is the height of excitement for her), and Jamaica just wasn’t for her, she decided. Plus, we have passports.
That’s how we ended up in Jamaica.
I let Steve do all the planning (normally my domain) for our extracurricular activities. My only stipulation was that we find a way to get away from the resort for at least one day so we could see something of the “real Jamaica”. We decided that if we were going to actually go somewhere that we knew next to nothing about except for jerk chicken, Red Stripe beer, rum, reggae music, Bob Marley, Rastafarians, and Yardies, we’d better do some boots-on-the-ground learning.
So, off we went.
Steve & I drove up from Austin to my parents’ house near Fort Worth on Tuesday, January 28. Our flight was scheduled to leave Wednesday morning. And, since our tickets had us leaving from DFW, up we went. We got a later start on Tuesday than we would have liked because it had iced over the night before. We weren’t able to get on the road until about 2:30 pm. Then, of course, we hit the legendary Fort Worth traffic right at rush hour. Lovely. We finally made it to my parents reasonably sane.
Day 1 – January 29, Wednesday
Keller, TX/DFW Airport/Miami-Dade Airport/Montego Bay, Jamaica (Iberostar Resort)
Our day started at 4:30 am (at least mine did). Since our flight was scheduled to leave at 9:10, we needed to arrive at the airport by 7. (Now, I’ll just admit here that I’m a bit of an obsessive when it comes to getting to the airport early. I’ve missed flights before [some my fault, some not] and there are few things that ratchet up my anxiety level faster.)
Mom made us one of my favorite food memories from her kitchen – fried egg sandwiches. It was a slightly more grown-up version with whole grain bread instead of Mrs. Baird’s.
Now, as we all know, you can make something for yourself that your mom used to make when you were a kid and it tastes pretty good. But, there’s nothing like Mom making it for you.
Dad loaded us up, Mom gave us each a hug and one more admonition not to bring them back anything because “you’re going to get it back anyway”, and, off we went. Dad drove, he and Steve conversed, and I was half asleep.
Airport check-in was relatively painless. (I do have to say DFW has this stuff down.) And, as always, the TSA security screening was an unexpected adventure. A full body scan or a pat-down? Always an unpleasant decision.
We finally made it through to the secure area. I changed some money (as a FYI, the Jamaican Dollar is worth roughly $.01), and we headed towards the gate.
After about 15 minutes of sitting at the gate, Steve & I decided we were still hungry. So, off we went to forage for food. Well, decent food anyway – sometimes very hard to find in the airport. We settled on Einstein Brothers Bagels. I know it’s a chain, but it’s a decent enough one. Plus, I figured we wouldn’t be eating again until we reached the resort, so this would set us up for a while.
After a rather cramped flight where almost everyone was playing musical chairs because, inexplicably, the travel company didn’t seat couples together, we made it to Miami. We were rushed to our next flight (2 gates away) where it was hurry up and wait again. There was another round of musical chairs when we were able to board.
About 2 hours later we landed at Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay, Jamaica. It definitely wasn’t DFW. But, we all caught, what was for most of us, our first glimpse of Jamaica. My first impression? It was very green.
There is some small comfort that Passport and Immigration control officers are about the same everywhere: fairly robotic and slightly rude – at least with non-citizens. Jamaica was no exception to this rule.
After about 30 minutes – a surprisingly short wait time considering the lines – we retrieved our checked bags and headed to the buses waiting to take us to the resort.
It was about a 30 minute ride from the airport to our resort. At least from the bus, anyway, we saw a little of the real Jamaica.
We finally made it to the resort. I was thrilled because I wanted a shower. Steve was just glad we were done traveling for a few days.
The company booked our group in the Iberostar Rose Hall Grand Resort. The 5-Star side. All inclusive. Fancy stuff. The room was lovely and this was our view:
After our bags finally arrived to our room, Steve & I cleaned up and headed down to the “Welcome to Jamaica” buffet the resort arranged for our group in the Port Maria restaurant – an open-air buffet restaurant next to the beach.
The food was resort food – beautifully presented, plentiful, and bland. But, it was open bar. So, there was that.
Our overly laden plates included: Salad, Ham, Salmon, Lamb Chops (which I suspect were goat), Bass in Pepper Sauce, Shrimp in Romesco, Pasta Salad, Rolls, Filet Mignon, Swordfish, Broccoli with Almonds, Seafood Salad, Cheeses, Lamb with Caraway Sauce (again, I suspect goat), and Rice Pilaf (really, just boiled white rice. It did have flavor, though.)
After a short nighttime stroll on the beach, we decided we were done with the day and headed up to sleep.
Day 2, January 30, Thursday
Iberostar Resort, Dunn’s River Falls
This was the one day we decided to do a group activity. We were going to climb Dunn’s River Falls.
But first, breakfast. We decided on room service. I was feeling it from the night before (and not in a good way), so I opted for something reasonably light. Steve took on the full breakfast.
Along with breakfast, we received a copy of one of Jamaica’s daily papers, The Daily Gleaner. It was an interesting read. One story about a man who was killed contained the line, “…when police asked about the (man’s) lifestyle, the family fidgeted nervously”. Then, there was the phonetic spelling of the Patois (the local dialect) of the witnesses. Then, there was a take-down by the reporter of the “thugs”.
You just don’t get kind of reporting here anymore.
Dunn’s River Falls are east of Montego Bay at Ocho Rios (another popular tourist spot). The falls drain directly into the Caribbean Sea – one of the few falls in the world that drain directly into the sea or ocean. Another claim to fame is in 1657 when the British defeated a Spanish expeditionary force from Cuba during the Battle of Los Chorreras. It was also used as a location for “Dr. No”.
Dunn’s River Falls is an approximately 800 foot tall waterfall that is terraced and is actually not too difficult a climb, as waterfalls go. Not to say it isn’t tricky in spots. Generally, a human chain is formed before you head up the falls to help support each other along. (I ended up holding hands between Steve and a gentleman named Al. Al was great. So was his girlfriend, Emily.) You’re grateful for the lagoons so you can stand is some calm water for just a few minutes.
Each group is given a guide. Ours was the very affable Mr. Wilson. He liked to hug the ladies. But not in a creepy way.
Each group was also given a videographer. His sole purpose was to take photos and film your embarrassment so you could buy it on CD for $40 at the end of the climb. He was very enthusiastic and managed to get just about everyone in our group to do some “whoop-whoop” noises. Steve & I did not participate in this.
While I was waiting for video guy to finish his pep talk, I wandered a bit.
Then, it was time to climb the falls. We formed our human chain and got started.
We had a great time. Got very wet. As one would when they’re climbing a waterfall.
It was also fascinating to watch the guides climbing the falls, in some cases, all their lives. They were climbing those rocks like goats on a mountain. I just know I’d never be that nimble.
At about the 3/4 up the falls mark, Steve stepped into a hole in the rocks, tripped, and fell square on his right knee. He already had a broken toe on the same side, so that didn’t help. Once Mr. Wilson and I got him up and into the next lagoon, we decided enough was enough. One of the ladies leading our group, Brittany, was just lovely and stayed with us until she was sure Steve was all right. (He was. Just a little sore.)
Our only complaint about the climb up was the amount of people they were trying to push through at once. Not only was there our group, but there were perhaps 6 others plus two cruise ships had come in. So, it was either a waiting situation until there was an opening, or you were rushed up the falls to make room for the next group.
The guides are well trained, friendly, and efficient. I suspect there are few truly serious accidents. And I’m sure that they are used to the waves of tourists coming through. Overall, people seemed to have fun. I know we did. I was also proud Steve & I got as far as we did.
We left the falls area and just wandered slowly through the rest of the park.
I say we wandered slowly. That was true, until we hit the souvenir stands. Oy. It was like a run for the hills trying to get through there. The sellers were really sweet and generous until they found out we didn’t bring any extra cash. Their M.O. was to walk up to us and give us each a “free” wooden figurine (quite cute, actually). Then, they would ask our names so they could carve it into the wood. That’s when we would stop them and say we didn’t have any extra cash on us. Then, the figurine wasn’t so free.
Oh, well. They have to make a living, too. One vendor did give us each a free necklace, though. Free after Steve bought a small carved wooden cat from him with what little cash he did have on him.
It started to rain lightly, so we made our excuses and finally got back to the bus. Most everyone slept at least a little on the way back to the resort. I know I did.
We made it back to the resort just in time for a quick change for the beach and lunch.
For lunch, it was back to a buffet at Port Maria. The food was a little better than the night before. There was more seafood, so that made us happy.
Between the two of us, we had Lobster tail (which, much to my disappointment, was chopped, mixed with a cheese sauce, and put back in the shell), fried fish, a version of Caprese Salad, Squid Romesco, Conch Fritters, Broccoli au Gratin, cheese, fried potatoes, sausage, boiled shrimp, and crab claws.
Our only excuse for the amount of food was that we were really hungry after climbing the falls.
After lunch, we made our way down to the beach to relax. We found a couple of unoccupied beach chairs, dragged them down to the water’s edge and just lazed for a couple of hours.
I did do a little walking around and took photos. Steve did take a dip in the sea. We both read and dozed. A lovely afternoon.
After a quick rinse to get off the excess sand, Steve & I went to our room, cleaned up, and eventually, went to dinner.
We did have reservations at the Japanese restaurant, but Steve really wanted to go to Galleon, the resort’s steakhouse. We ran into Brittany, who, after asking about Steve’s knee, was able to get us into the restaurant despite us not having a reservation.
I wasn’t really hungry and I honestly could’ve gone the rest of the night without eating. But Steve didn’t want to eat alone and he didn’t want room service. I opted to just get an appetizer as a compromise.
Basically, this was a glorified, bready crab cake with a very thin slice of lobster somewhere in the center. The consomme was almost jelly-like with what was no doubt the liberal addition of cornstarch. It also tasted like celery. Celery’s fine as a flavoring, but it shouldn’t be the dominant flavor; certainly not with seafood. The dish wasn’t terrible. Just disappointing.
Other than saying the food was good, Steve really didn’t have anything to say about it. He ate it all.
Then, there was dessert.
What to say. I’m not sure where the “Mountain Fruit” part came from since, unless I’m woefully ignorant about this, blackberries, grapes, and watermelon don’t grow in the mountains. Plus, the jellied strawberry topping/glaze seems to be a popular go-to in the pastry kitchen. The cheesecake was lighter in texture than one would think of when they think of cheesecake and tasted fine. Not great; just fine.
Fancy. He was happy. Note the use of more Strawberry Glaze.
I went back up to the room to read and go to sleep. Steve decided to go listen to a reggae band playing near the pool area, smoke one of the cigars he bought, and enjoy a Rum Punch.
Thus, Day 2 ended. Day 3, we were going off the reservation. We couldn’t wait.
Part 1, fin. Part 2, soon.