Sunday, June 1, 2008

Jamaican Vacation

Memorial Day Weekend '08 had us back on the road, traveling once again to the crystal clear waters and lush hills of Jamaica. We plan to visit all of the major destinations in Jamaica together. Last year we went to Negril, this year our stop was Ocho Rios and next year we plan to stay in Port Antonio. Ocho Rios is known for being rich in tradtion, culture, food and lifestyle. It's the area of Jamaica known for constant motion and activity with a plethora of great restaraunts, shops and attractions within close proximity. Because of this we decided to forego staying at the customary all-inclusive resort, we decided to stay at a local resort in Ocho Rios where we'd be able to venture out each day and experience all that the city is known for.

Our hotel was on a steep hill overlooking the downtown city center of Ocho Rios. The views were stunning with a clear view of the Caribbean as well as the numerous mountains that surrounded us. After our 2 hour ride from the airport in Montego Bay we arrived in 'Ochi' early Friday afternoon. We spent the afternoon touring the hotel, hanging out at the pool bar and later had dinner on the property at the on-site restaraunt and rested up for our busy Saturday.

Saturday morning was filled with excitement for the highly anticipated trip to one of Jamaica's crown jewels, Dunn's River Falls. After enjoying a great breakfast at the hotel (which offered a selection of local Jamaican dishes as well as standard American fare) we took a taxi to The Falls. We arrived bright and early, before the crowds began to build. After getting into the park and getting situated, it was time to tackle the falls. It was John's first time to Ocho Rios and seeing the falls was breathtaking. Cynthia had memories of visiting the falls with her family as a little girl. The rushing white water, the smooth rocks, the steep but accessible inclines were a challenge that we were ready to tackle.

Initially we took the guided tour. There were approximately 20 people (plus 2 guides) in our group, mostly Europeans including a very nice couple directly ahead of us from London, England. The guides did a great job of alternately leading the group and snapping pictures/videos of the tour. It may or may not show on our faces but the cool water was a great refresher on what was shaping up to be a hot day. We had an amazing time walking up the falls, carefully navigating the rocks and wading thru water that, at times, was chest high. There were no less than 2 'springs' where we were fully submerged in the cool mountain water. To call it anything other than an amazing experience would be doing it a disservice.

We decided to make Saturday a beach day so once we ascended the falls we relaxed on the beach and spent some time in the water. The memory that stood out the most in Cynthia's mind from Dunn's River was how beautiful the beach was and how clear the water was. She marveled at how many years later the water was still the same. We waded and swam in the crystal clear water for about 30 minutes before our attention was caught by the jet skis. We took advantage of the calm waters and rented the jet ski for a quick 30 minute ride. After the jet ski we tackled the falls one more time, this time without the help of the guides. At first we were apprehensive about climbing without a guide, because they don't suggest it. Cynthia was insistent on getting some great shots of the falls using her own camera before leaving. We decided to slowly make the climb exchanging the camera between the two of us along the way. As we made our climb, we saw a lot of local children practically running up the falls with ease. Some fell but quickly got back on track. This sort of eliminated some of our fears as we continued to the top. After getting changed, we caught a taxi from Dunn's River to Margaritaville. When we got there it was extremely crowded with young children and loud music was blasting. As we stood in line waiting, the manager came up to us and explained that there was a High School Beach party going on. He said he wanted to let us know that it would be very noisy just in case we were looking for a relaxing atmosphere. He must have read our minds because that is exactly what we needed after our day at Dunn's River. We had planned on kicking back and having a few drinks and dinner by the beach at Margaritaville. We decided to go to another restaurant called John Crows closer to downtown. The food was extremely delicious and we sipped our drinks as we watched the passers-by.

Sunday we ventured out to another gem of the country, Port Antonio. While here, we planned on visiting the legendary Boston Jerk Center; bamboo rafting on the Rio Grande; as well as visiting the Somerset Falls or Reich Falls. We had met a driver the previous day coming back from Dunn's River Falls, who offered to do the tour for us. We set out early Sunday morning on our journey. Along the way we got great pictures of the Caribbean, a castle and the famous Blue Mountain. Our driver showed us the location where the famous movie Blue Lagoon was filmed. On the drive over, we reveled in the beauty of the countryside of Port Antonio. This will definitely be our next stay in Jamaica.

Once we got to Port Antonio, we went immediately to the jerk center. We ordered the BEST jerk chicken John had ever tasted and and a fresh jerked fish for Cynthia with "festival". Local vendors rushed up trying to sell jewelry, homemade juices and other delicacies. John got some fresh squeezed natural pineapple juice and Cynthia had the passion fruit. We ordered some jerk pork and lobster to go. Boston Jerk definitely delivered on the high praises we had heard about before we left on our trip.

Upon leaving the jerk center, we set out to the bamboo rafting on the Rio Grande. The afternoon was growing late and the timing was perfect for the ride. Our 'captain' Roy told us the history of the river, the surroundings and stories of his life growing up swimming and fishing those very waters. He introduced us to a delicious local fruit, Rose Apples, plucked fresh from the trees hanging over the river. A rafter with cold refreshments came up and we purchased some for ourselves as well as a red stripe beer for our rafter. The tour included an experience that neither of us will ever forget. We got to a shallow area and walked to a natural 'seat' in the river. The cool waters flowed over us as we sat and basked in the beauty of nature surrounding us. We enjoyed our drinks and slowly continued upward on the river and waved at other rafters going by. The backdrop of the Blue Mountain peak towering over us made this the most serene experience ever. It was truly a once in a lifetime experience that we will forever cherish. We slowly rode back on the bamboo raft to the dock, taking in the setting sun and calm waters. Traveling the long 3.5 hour trek back to Ocho Rios from Port Antonio was well worth it as we reveled in the day that we had and the adventure we shared.

After a couple of days filled with excitement and adventure we decided to make Monday a relaxing day in town. We took our time and made our way to the downtown city center (about a 5 minute walk) and sat for a few hours at the local 'hot spot', Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville. We had drinks, lunch and just enjoyed watching the Caribbean roll into the beach. Some light shopping and an evening walk to Juici Patty for beef patties and Coco bread. These are undoubtedly the best beef patties you can find on the Island. We spent the evening at the bar savoring some last blended fruit (John's favorite) and island rum punch.

We had a wonderful time in Jamaica, especially since we did something different by not going the all inclusive route. It allowed us the freedom to set our on path, experience local flavors and people. We are looking forward to next year's Port Antonio visit there. Right now, we are planning our next trip, to the Big Apple-New York City- for July 4th. That should be an exciting one!

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