And now for something completely different...
The purpose of this blog is to record my adventures of travelling in the Airstream with my family. I often leave out travel unrelated to the Airstream. Like most Airstreamers, I love to travel and experience new places. Over the last few years, I have discovered the magnificence of my home country from a different perspective. Every once in a while I may decide to throw in a more traditional vacation destination on this blog. This is one of those moments.
The cost of airfare has gotten ridiculous in the past ten years. Gone are the days of a last minute weekend airfare to Madrid for a few hundred dollars. With a family of five, I am forced to shop hard to find a good deal. I have learned that it is better to find good airfare and then figure out why to go than choosing to destination and then price it. Jamaica is the perfect example of how this strategy worked for my family. Melizza and I wanted to go to Nevis until we saw the airfare. As soon as we gave up on a Caribbean family escape, we found a deal on flights to Montego Bay.
Jamaica has never been on my wish list. Like Cancun and the Dominican Republic, I pictured paradise poisoned by mass tourism and cheesy all inclusive resorts. When we boarded the plane in Atlanta, I was more than a little concerned with the crowd. It looked like a plane full of Homer Simpsons that had just won a free trip to Sandals. The idea of being stuck in a resort full of loud, obnoxious tourists who drink twenty one Red Stripes, eat at a continental buffet and then proceed to pee in the pool is not my idea of a vacation. I do not want manufactured fun either. I want to explore and find what is unique about my destination.
I had always thought of Jamaica as good for the cruise ship traveler. I also knew that it was good on the high end traveler. If you want to rent a home or stay in a stylish hotel like Strawberry Hill, Goldeneye or the Caves, parts of Jamaica provide privacy and exclusivity. I did not know what the offerings would be like in the middle. Our needs were simple. We sought a quiet enclave near a nice beach and access to good food.
We found that balance in Negril. The Seven Mile Beach is white and the water is blue. There are no high rises. Most important, the food was fresh, unique and delicious. There are many beautiful beaches in the Caribbean but very few with such a unique culture. You do get accosted by locals on the beach selling goods but, for the most part, we wanted what they were selling. There was a lady selling mangoes and papaya. There were people selling spiny lobsters and jerk pork. In other words, we received beach side service without paying Four Seasons prices. There were hustlers trying to sell everything from glass bottom boat tours to pot but a polite no thank you usually sufficed.
We stayed at the Idle Awhile Resort in Negril. I cannot say enough positive things about this hotel. The rooms were spacious and stylish. We had plenty of room for the five of us. The room included a working kitchen and a balcony overlooking the beach with a hammock. The property sits on a thin sliver of land on Seven Mile Beach. The landscaping is lush and jungle like. They have a restaurant with decent food and great drinks. I always opted for the Jamaican breakfast of Ackee and Saltfish and some local Blue Mountain Coffee. The service was excellent from top to bottom.
|The beach at Idle Awhile|
|Jerk Chicken just across the street from Idle Awhile|
I highly recommend exploring the island with a private driver. We went with Kenneth Watson who I had read about prior to arriving. Ken made sure that we had a great experience in Jamaica. He was friendly, knowledgeable and listened to what we wanted. More importantly, he delivered. We wanted to see Jamaica outside of the tourist belt with an emphasis on local food. Ken picked us up in Negril and took us on a journey through the mountains the the south shore. We visited local markets where we purchased spices, fruits and sugarcane sticks. We stopped for lunch and bought bammy bread and the escovitch. The warm and doughy bammy bread is made from cassava. It was a perfect complement to the Jamaican escovitch. Escovitch is a Spanish inspired dish of whole fried fish with a vinegary sauce spiced with scotch bonnet peppers, onions and tomatoes. We also sampled pepper shrimp. No tropical trip is complete with out drinking some coconut water. Ken brought us to two tourist attractions on the south shore. The first was a short cruise on the Black River. The tour is similar to an Everglades tour but with crocodiles instead of gators. You travel up the river through thick mangroves but unlike the Everglades you are surrounded by mountains. We also visited YS Falls which is a popular attraction for good reason. YS Falls is located on a large estate on the south shore. You can swim in the natural pools below several tiers of waterfalls. They also have man made pools that were very refreshing after spending a bit of time in the van. If you ever find yourself in Jamaica in need of a driver, check out Ken's Jamaican Dream Vacations. Here is a link: http://www.kensjamaica.com/en.
Here are a few pictures of our day with Ken.
|Cinammon and nutmeg at the market|
|Escovitch and bammy bread|
|The friendly local crocodile|
|The pools at YS Falls|
There were a number of surprising things about Jamaica. First, the people were so warm, friendly and welcoming. That is not always the case in areas overrun by American tourists. We had a good time watching the Jamaican men flirt. Local women are greeted with a comeons like "Hi sweetie, you have been waiting for me." The female response is usually indifference until the male persistence pays off with a smile. That is just part of the culture. This would not fly at home but the local ritual is fun to watch. Second, the Jamaicans do not cater to American dietary trends. If you drink, they offer Red Stripe beer or a rum based cocktail. I saw very little wine and no bourbon, mojitos or martinis. The same was true about the food. There were very few fast food outlets in Negril and no crepe or fish taco stands. They have such a bounty of local fresh fruits and vegetables. The ubiquitous dish in Jamaica is jerk. You can get jerk chicken, ribs and pork. We had more than our fair share of this national dish and I savored the heat of the scotch bonnet peppers on my lips. My mouth is watering as I write this. I tried many of the local dishes including curried goat. This is definitely a place to sample the local fare.
In the final analysis, you can travel to many islands for great beaches and hotels but Jamaica offers a little more local flavor. Plus the reggae music is not bad either. The truth is that Jamaica has something for everyone and I should not judge others so harshly. For many travelers, they want to relax and escape the real world. For some, that means never leaving the resort gates. For us, Jamaica provided an inexpensive and exotic escape that was just a couple of hours by air from Atlanta. I have never been so glad to be wrong about a place.