I met Reinhold on a late afternoon this past week when he walked into the main office at Cotton Tree Place where I happened to be using the internet after having a conversation with the property manager Marie about how slow things have been for resorts this summer. This would be my third summer while living in Jamaica and specifically Negril and this has got to be the slowest summer season I have ever seen.
Things are aways slow in summer and you see fewer people in town this time of year but this year seems especially weak and a number of local businesses in Negril are suffering. Reinhold and his daughter Ana were visiting from Austria and they were taking a walk up West End Road when they decided to stop in the lobby at Cotton Tree to ask some questions about where they were and what there was to do in the area.
I struck up a conversation with Reinhold and told him about all of the wonderful things that I love about Negril and the rest of Jamaica for that matter. He made a comment about how slow things seemed and that he did not think there was much here to do. I told him that many of the better things to do on vacation in Jamaica are just outside the tourist towns and a trip down the south coast of Jamaica may be a great way to get out of the resort and into a Real Jamaican experience. He seemed interested and I told him that I would be glad to build a custom vacation tour for him and his daughter based on what I thought they may enjoy about Jamaica.
It turned out to be a very special tour of Jamaica for all of us and one excellent Jamaica vacation for Reinhold and Ana. One of the first questions Reinhold asked me about Negril was where he could find a good espresso and I told him there were not many options available to those of us used to gourmet coffee shops. Jamaicans don’t actually drink much coffee and the few shops that do offer it do not usually offer any gourmet blends or specialty coffees like espresso. Many of the resorts offer Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee but many more of them cheat and offer the lesser grades such as high mountain and other blends that are not to the same standard as the Blue Mountain brands. I thought he may appreciate a Blue Mountain Coffee Tour but Kingston is a long drive for some coffee and we would need another reason to go that far.
While speaking to his daughter Ana I asked what the reason was for the vacation and how it was they arrived in Jamaica. It seems that mother suggest that father and daughter take a vacation in order to be together more this summer and they ended up on a 16 day adventure from Austria to New York to Jamaica of which they had but a few days left to enjoy before returning home. Reinhold gave her the choice of where they should travel and suggested she choose two options. When she said New York and Jamaica he decided that both places were interesting and they should then go ahead and see them both. Her choice of Jamaica was influenced by her love of Bob Marley and reggae music. This gave us an even better reason to visit Kingston and ended up as the first of two days of adventure which began with the Bob Marley Experience Tour that included stops at the Peter Tosh Museum , the Bob Marley Museum and Ghetto Youths International although we were unable to make it over to Tuff Gong Records or Culture Yard in Trench Town due to time restraints and the decision to visit YS Falls for an extended hike up the falls and photo shoot on the lush property for Ana the aspiring photographer.
The need to reach the Montego Bay airport turned out to be the perfect reason to make the long drive from Spanish Town on the morning of the second day to Ocho Rios crossing the mid section of Jamaica before heading over to Mobay for the early evening flight and the end of our trip. We made the best of it and made dozens of short stops for small bites to eat and photo stops. Ana is vegan and Reinhold will eat only eat vegan or seafood so we enjoyed a number of stops at local eateries and road side cafes for the best in fresh fruit and local seafood cuisine. We had just about every kind of fruit in season from fresh cut pineapple and mangoes in Sav La Mar and pretty much all of Westmoreland Parish to the super sweet honey bananas, guinep or spanish lime as we called them in Key West and sweet sop we found in St Elizabeth and who could forget the best oranges we got in Porus and Manchester Parish. It’s always a pleasure to drive that much of Jamaica as you get to experience the very best that each community offers at the almost endless roadside vendors, cook shops and beer joints. Of course we had peppa shrimp in Middle Quarters and the fried fish and bammy in Scotts Cove but we also stopped a small road side fire that offered up some of the best vegetable stew I have ever had with a big cup full off farm fresh vegetables served steaming hot and packed with enough flavor and spices to break you out in a sweat. All of these were washed down with fresh squeezed juices we purchased along the way as well as the usual assortment of my favorite Tru Juice brands and of course a Ting for a carbonated shot of Jamaican Grapefruit to beat the heat as we drove in the summer sun.
I think it turned out to be an unforgettable experience for them both and I have no doubts that Reinhold and Ana enjoyed their last two days taking in much of the beauty of Jamaica in a whirlwind tour from Negril to Kingston to Ocho Rios with a final destination at the Montego Bay airport as they boarded the flight home to end their vacation. Everything timed out just about perfect and they reached the airport in Mobay with just minutes to spare after enjoying a final meal at the Jamaica Bobsled Restaurant on the Hip Strip in downtown Montego Bay.
After a some deliberations the decision was made to make it a two day adventure tour across Jamaica starting out in Negril and heading out over the south coast with an overnight stay in Kingston before the second days trip from Spanish Town to Ocho Rios and across the north coast where they had a flight at 8PM.
The first day would be very much like our standard South Coast Jamaica Tours except that after leaving the YS Falls property around lunch time on the first day we headed over to Kingston for the Bob Marley Museum Tour instead of Appleton as we do on many of the South Coast Jamaica Tours we do for people that are interested in the 200+ year history of rum in Jamaica. This not only takes us past the Holland Bamboo Avenue which everyone loves to see but on to Santa Cruz and Mandeville up high in the Jamaica hills where things are a little colder and life seems to slow down even more. We pass through a number of residential communities on this leg of the tour and get to see what the real Jamaica looks like with some real culture for those interested in seeing how the average person lives in Jamaica. Much of this area seems like the rest to some people and we did not make many stops here until we reached downtown Kingston on our way to the Marley Museum.
The Bob Marley Museum is a moving experience for any reggae fan when you realize just how important a man Bob Marley was and what an international influence his music has been. The Bob Marley Museum was a wonderful introduction to Bob Marley for Reinhold who knew very little about the reggae musician and his history or the rastafarian culture his 13 year old daughter was being exposed to through her friends and their musical influences. Reinhold was impressed with how much there was at the museum and he seemed glad for the opportunity to understand more. I feel he left with a clearer picture of who Bob Marley was and how great his musical influence has been not only on Jamaica but the entire world.
The final decision to stay up in the mountains allowed us to stay at an actual Jamaican coffee plantation in the Blue Mountains where we hiked to the peak of a privately owned mountain and witnessed some of the best vista views in Jamaica. We rented a room in the Jamaica Blue Mountains at Forres Park which is located on the road to Hagley Gap and the last township on the way to the Blue Mountain Peak. Hagley Gap and the peak where visible from our veranda whenever there was a break in the clouds which came up on us early in the morning as we were hiking and created a wonderful visual experience well beyond that of the capabilities of my camera and my photography skills. I wish my photos did justice to the depth of the landscape and far off mountain tops and the rays of sunlight and color busting through holes in the clouds but this was the best I could get in between small rain squalls that hit us as we neared the top and threatened to soak us and our equipment but were suddenly dashed away when the sun came raging through and remained for the rest of the afternoon.
Forres Park is such a nice place it is deserving of its own article and series of photos. Check back for those soon. After we took the morning hike to the Forres Park peak we took an even more treacherous decent on the now slippery and steep trail with hairpin turns that dropped off forever down the side of the mountain. It was tricky but we made it down just in time for a wonderful breakfast of ackee and saltfish and the best cup of coffee in the world before we made the trip back down into Kingston for some photo stops and on to the drive over to Spanish Town and the A3 highway that crosses from the south coast over the central highlands and north to Ocho Rios.
There are a number of stops in this area as well as directions that we could have gone and with more time there are quite a few things to see and do in this part of Jamaica. If we had more time we had the option of heading over to St Anns and the Bob Marley Mausoleum but Reinhold and Ana decided we had enough of Bob Marley for this tour and we chose instead to head straight for Ocho Rios. This brought us further up the North Coast and kept us on the main highway for most of the afternoon. This part of Jamaica is rich and fertile and the roads are dotted with as many fresh fruit stands that offer the very best that each parish or community has to offer as there are fresh fruits to be eaten. The farm fresh produce is reason enough to travel through areas like this if you love food as much as I do. Before we reach Ocho Rios we pass through Walkers Wood which is home to the WalkersWood spice company which produces an island favorite line of spices and sauces for cooking the most delicious foods on the island including jerk and brown stew delicacies that are so popular in Jamaica.
We enjoyed more time hiking in the Blue Mountains than I had originally planned and this cut into the time we had for attractions on the North Coast of Jamaica. The beauty of a customized tour itinerary is that you can make any changes you wish and not be bothered by what a bus full of strangers want to do. Upon arrival in Ocho Rios we passed through Fern Gully which is home to 100′s of varieties on fern plants all laid out in an old river gorge converted to highway that gives the feeling that you are driving in a tropical rainforest as the trees tower high above the road up the sides of the old river gorge. Fern Gully drops us right into the center of Ochi and allowed us to take a loop around the main part of town before we headed out onto the A2 highway towards Mobay.
Ocho Rios is a tourist town and many of the attractions besides the beaches and Dunns River are actually outside of town. Ocho Rios and Montego Bay are not my favorite parts of Jamaica and I feel the entire north coast in general offers a very artificial Jamaican experience full of cliches and bland boring flavor. Reinhold was never the less impressed with the overall development of the northern coast and the amount of high end living available. He was able to view the paradox that is Jamaica and see giant concrete homes laid out next door or across the street from zinc shacks and board houses in what must be one of the most blatant examples of the gap between rich and poor one can see in the world.
I really enjoy the Cranbrook Flower Forest and I had planned to stop there just to see the Jade Vine but sadly the vine was not in bloom and that caused us to skip the rest of the tour in favor of spending more time in Montego Bay before arriving at the airport. If we had time I also planned to make a stop on the Martha Brae River Rafting Tour but we made the decision to skip this as well in favor of a nice long dinner in Mobay before they had to catch their return flight home.
On this trip we took our time driving straight across the north caost to end up at the Hip Strip in Montego Bay where we stopped by the Jamaican Bobsled Cafe for a dinner that turned out to be fabulous and a final conversation with what are now my new friends in Austria. After two days of conversation on everything from travel and the cultural differences between us to cycling, sustainable development, passive solar construction, the necessity of money in the structure of society, the power of religion and the many problems our world faces I feel that we are sure to meet again and this is the beginning of a great friendship.
We drove past a lot of things on this tour of Jamaica but we can plan a custom Jamaica tour and vacation for you and your party so that on your next Jamaican vacation you can see just about all of the variety that Jamaica has to offer and every major city just like Reinhold and Ana did on the last two days of theirs.