Jamaica, a Trip Plan for 2012

November 29, 2011 by  
Filed under Jamaica Travel

After several trips to Jamaica and in most cases not doing the touristy thingy I’m always looking for ways to make my next trip something new and exciting.  I’ve done the Ocho Rios, Negril, Cockpits, Blue Mountains, staying with locals, exploring the island 1-3 nights at each place….so I need something new.  Having done the around the island in a car but with every night planned I’m planning on taking a twist of that fun trip.

I’m thinking about a motorbike or car rental with no plans except my arrival and departure.  Or maybe a trip where I use only the route taxi/bus system….but that would mean no transport late at night in most parts.  A motorbike would mean no progress in the rain, but that could be good if I found a cool place to chill……ah the options.  An around the island with a zigzag back through the mountains would be a blast but that would require an SUV or dirtbike (scooters are way too low to the ground).  Hmm, a landing in Mobay, a route taxi to Negril, a rental from Jah B’s……a trip around the island and interior and then back to Negril to drop off the bike and transport back to the airport= maybe the wining idea?

But…renting cost $$$ and cuts into my budget…..but ……renting means no drinking or smoking so that reduces my spending…..complex planning!

Will update soon come as my plans change!

Jamaica a Trip Report

April 29, 2011 by  
Filed under Jamaica Travel

For weeks before my 6th journey I was constantly humming the “toes in the water ass in the sand” song by the Zack Brown band even though I’m not a beach person at all.  The thoughts of being on the island for 15 nights and staying at 6 different places had my mind creating all sorts of nice dreams.  So, this is my Jamaica trip report, at times it might bring excitement and at other times it might be boring so scroll down a little if you get bored.

Getting to the island and past customs and immigrations generally will dictate my first impressions of the island so I’ll keep that part short but it might help you to understand my thought process at the start of my journey.  Back at home, my lack of planning caused my normal $80-$90 drive to the airport to increase to $142!  Ouch, that money can not be replace and will come directly out of my limited budget.  The whole “arrive 3 hours early for an international flight” is complete bullshit!  I got to the airport at 245 for a 530 flight and had to wait until 315 until the American Airlines desk opened.  Then the 4 people in line in front of me called over there 16 plus family members to cut in line with their suitcases full of commercial products that were going back to wherever they live. The TSA lines didn’t open until 4am but I knew the whole concept of time would soon be gone once I reached the island so I just laughed everything off.

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Landing in Montego Bay (Mobay) Jamaica was a sigh of relief in many ways!  God (Jah or whatever you call him) granted my flight a speed pass through the airport.  The customs and immigrations staff were nice and friendly unlike other times so I walked out the front door with a giant smile on my face.  The taxi drivers and random vendors outside the airport were actually really nice and respectful when I didn’t need their services.  Within a few seconds I found my driver from Clive’s transport and hung out with him for a little while asking over and over when we were going to leave.  I wasn’t really in a hurry but I much rather sip on a few nice cold Red Stripes at the bar than stand in the heat with him.  After a while, he passed me off to a JUTA (licensed driver) named Percy that would take me over to Negril.  Percy was a nice driver who knew Clive and like Clive he drove safely….unlike some drivers in Jamaica.  My requests to stop for my shopping list were not a problem for him so we made 4-5 stops for a machete, toilet paper, bug spray, rum, sun block and other little items.

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On my drive to Negril I finally figured out why the name Percy rang a bell in my head, Percy was the owner of the world famous “Percy’s Riverside Retreat”!  I’ve been drooling over the pictures of his place on the internet for the past year.  A link to my review of his place —–>   Percy’s Riverside Retreat after chilling at Percy’s for an hour or so we were off to Negril.  Some prices for the stuff I bought:

1 USD= 84 Jamaican Dollars

Cig lighter $20J (all prices will be in Jamaican Dollars)

Rolling papers $23

Bunny’s Insect Repellent $195

Machete $630, note should of bought a file because they sell them very dull!

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Finally reaching Negril was a sigh of relief, for two days I will be staying at Norma’s cabins with the world famous Barbara and Thunder as my hosts of sorts.  Seveen introduced me to Barbara several months ago and since then she has been a great source of info and friendship on facebook.  Norma’s cabins are located a little to the right and behind Miss Sonia’s place on the morass side of the beach road in Negril, basically in the mid beach area.  A review of Norma’s cabins soon come!

Some more shopping:

A calabash bowl from my beach carver Jah Earlelock $300

A giant mango $100 (prices are still high since they are in season every where).

A beer at Herbie’s $150, I also ate some great veggie chunks there but I’m not sure what he charged me.

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$65 for cheese buns at the Shamrock (store on the beach road).

A bottle of JB overproof rum $830

3 bottles of Grace (don’t buy any other brand) mango and carrot juice $305, yeah it’s expensive but it taste great!

Tuesday evening I walked out my front door to check out the menu at the new MiYard when I saw my neighbors eating a really nice looking plate of rice and veggies.  Seeing the drool coming from my mouth, they new they had to lead me to the source of the great looking food.  10 seconds later we were at Norma’s back door where I was able to order a nice plate of food for $300.  She also gave me my first cup of hot sorrel which is one of the best tasting drinks I’ve ever had in my life.  Norma’s food regardless of price is some of the best tasting food I’ve ever had in my life!  Along with her having great skills in the kitchen, she’s a wonderful lady and full of knowledge about things that we have in common (veggie diet, herbal medicine……..).

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Later in the evening I decided to head over to Alfred’s for some live music and to chat with some of the street vendors I know.  Rewind a little, last year I mentioned that every time I needed a taxi my driver “Stash” (because of his French style mustache) would appear out of the blue.  So today as I’m walking the lane to Alfred’s someone asked if I needed a taxi and while I was saying “nope, if I need one I’ll call Stash” (real name is Barry), Stash appeared before I could finish my sentence.  Call it weird or whatever but if I think or say the word taxi in Negril Stash will appear out of nowhere.

At Alfred’s, I finally discovered why I hate the place so much.  I love live music and I love to “people watch”, but……I can’t do both at the same time while having a good time.  Alfred’s music & entertaining people at the same time overloads my brain, it’s simply too much for me!  Other than that, I like how inside the gates harassment is kept to a safe and pleasant level.  Other than a few sex workers nobody really bothered me.  Leaving Alfred’s and walking up the lane and 50 yards in all directions of the lane is another story, everyone is selling something!  Since I know many of the vendors, I always make it a point to stop and talk to them to keep those loose friendly relationships alive.  This time I let it be known that I’m not in town if anyone asks and on a few occasions some of the vendors would track me down to let me know who was looking for me.  One of the jerk chicken vendors found out that I had done some food reviews somehow and wanted me to review his food.  Seeing as how I don’t eat dead animals that could never happen but the thought was nice I guess.

Back at Norma’s resort and spa, I stayed up until 3-4 am chatting with one of my neighbors about all sorts of stuff with a foggy head from a few drinks and some first hand smoke :-)   Once I passed out, I had a great sleep and only woke up once when a dog announced someone walking down the lane.  At 10am or so (I never wear a watch) I got up full of life ready to start day #2 of my vacation in Jamaica.

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Let me explain a little bit about Barbara and the type of guests that she attracts for Norma.  Barbara is a self proclaimed hippie and a real free spirit.  The type of person that could have nothing and Jah would provide for her because of her good soul.  So, Barbara tries to fill up the rooms with cool people and not stuck up assholes.  All of the other guests there were cool hippies of sorts who would sing and play guitar most of the day and night.  The yard had a really cool vibe and since Norma is well respected, no vendors or strangers walked into to disturb the vibe.

Day #2 Wednesday

I took a walk down to the Cafe Goa, a place with a  history but the original two owners were both cool and since the current owner let me in after hours not buying anything last year so I could use the internet he is cool in my book.  None the less, the place is a tourist place with higher prices for excellent food..blah, blah, and blah but they have free WIFI.  The beers are expensive at $250 but when I factor in not having to pay for WIFI it’s a bargain.   After a beer and some catching up on my Ipad, I got into my funky Forrest Gump mode and started to walk with no end goal in sight.

Down at the round about (rotary/circle in the road) I met a dude that begged me up for $500, without even thinking about why he begged me up for so much, I had respect that it wasn’t for 50-100!  None the less, he had a messed up leg and foot.  I’m guessing he had elephantiasis  with all sorts of open sores but I’m not a doctor in real life.  As with others begging me up, I’ll give them a solution and if they are just in it for the money they can piss off.  I’ll call this guy Tony (not his real name) but it’s a name that I will use a few times over the next day or so.  So, Tony wanted money for medicine to fix his leg and foot.  Knowing where the pharmacy was I offered Tony to take him there to get what he needs NOW and to leave credit there so he can return to get what he needs when I’m not around.  Without any bullshit, he led me to the pharmacy even though I knew where it was.  At the pharmacy, I told them to give him what he needs and to leave the rest as a credit for him.  They kept trying to give him the change but I was getting pissed and told them to keep it as credit for medical supplies and nothing else.  Finally Tony spoke up and stressed that he did not want the change and explained what I was trying to do.  With a mutually good feeling, we parted ways for now.

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Later in the day, I met up with Barbara and chatted for an hour or so learning her life history.  As I mentioned before, she is a blessed soul and I know our paths will cross again so while I could of listened to her for hours or even days I knew more of her story would come at another time.  My need to feel the warm relaxing waters of the sea took me over to Alfred’s to swim for a little bit.  Feeling safe there, I left my phone, money and assorted stuff on a table and enjoyed a swim in the ocean with no concerns about anyone messing with my stuff.  To float in the ocean on my back with zero movement on my part and to never sink an inch is like floating in heaven for me.  While I’m not a beach person, I have a passion for being in the water in Jamaica!

After my swim and a shitty experience buying 2 beers for 500(lol, give me a white/tourist tax and that extra 200 f’ed you more than you know), I went down to the Chinaman store to buy a case of cold RedStripe.  I don’t know what it is with the Chinese business people in Jamaica but they sell for less…..lol, the Walmart of Jamaica!  I messed up by buying a cold case in the heavy red crate ($$ deposit fee) and paid $2625 for the case.  Still that’s only a little over 110 per bottle and that beats the hell out of 200 or 250 per bottle!  When I got back and knowing I didn’t have a refrig added to the fact that I can drink warm beer, the whole buying cold thing made me laugh at myself.  Oh well, I have beer to drink and the kids in the yard wanted me to take their pictures so I was entertained for a few hours before the sunset.  Sunset….I have to get my ass up to the cliffs to create some images of the sunset!

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Two route taxis later and 200 out of my pocket, I arrived at the world famous 3 Dives where I have yet to taste any of their food.  Buying a bottle of water at the bar (yeah, count the times I drink water in Jamaica….you only need a couple of fingers), I went down to the thatch hut and didn’t find any of my local friends of sorts.  I made a couple of calls but only found one past friend who was at home caring for her daughter and she could not break away to meet me until later.  So, I ended up taking some pictures of the sunset and stayed around to take some pictures of the bonfire.  While at 3 Dives, I met a deportee by the name of Tony (not the same Tony as earlier) who asked if I was from Boston……fuc….a really weird question since I’m from Boston.  His second question was if I was a police officer, okay….that’s not an odd question at all but the first question freaked me out since I don’t have a Boston accent.  On my return trip I was able to take one taxi all the way back to Norma’s place for 200.

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Back home at Norma’s resort and spa, I headed over to…..crap I forgot the name….one door down to the south for dinner.  Thank Jah I ordered my meal as take out since the second I walked out the front door the town of Negril lost power.  I ended up going back to my room and took a nice relaxing shower in the dark before I got the nerve to beg Barbara up for a candle so I could eat my dinner…..lol, a candle lit dinner for one!  Once our power/current was restored I wash my clothes in the sink and soaked my sore feet for a little bit.

Day 3 Thursday.

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Woke up at a 10 which is very early considering what time I rolled in at!  I spent an hour or so taking pictures of “my” Doctor Bird who loved to get within my no shooting zone when I used my 70-200 lens.  I’m thinking he got really close so he could maybe see his reflection but if he was within 4′ my lens is not able to focus on him correctly.  Barbara was trying to put together a trip to the south coast but the planned departure time conflicted with my mission to visit the soup kitchen (St Anthony’s) across from the police station in Negril.  After a 100 ride and a 100 yard walk, I arrived at the soup kitchen just in time for lunch.  The priest greeted me inside and spent a few minutes to let me know how the whole program works and answered all of my questions.  Basically, a few times a week they serve a meal to anyone that wants one without asking them any questions or prying into their business….you show up and you will get food.  They use a number system as an attempt to track how many meals they give out and to try to curb people from getting more than one meal.  I witnessed a couple people trying to beat the system but I can’t condemn them for being greedy since God knows when they had their last meal.

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The staff at the kitchen includes the priest, a monk, a few local ladies and volunteers that are in the Negril area on vacation.  It warms my heart to know that people will break away from a vacation to help out people in need!  If you are interested in helping out while in Negril, everyone is welcome and you don’t need cooking or even kitchen skills.  Between taking pictures and talking to people I opened cases of drinks that were being handed out….lol, my made skills at work!  Another way to help out is cash $$$, I left the priest with a little of the ad money from this website…maybe you can do the same?

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One of the things that I noticed shortly after arriving was that there so many kids that should of been in school instead of standing around for free food.  Talking to the priest and others , I learned that many of the mothers could not afford the route taxi fare to send their kids to school, the school uniforms and hungry kids can’t learn a damn thing with anger bellies!  While everyone wants to raise funds to cure these issues without donations it’s all sort of a pipe dream.  To think about the only thing separating a kid from going to school is 3-4 USD a day is sort of sad!

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Later in the day I walked a couple hundred yards over to Alfred’s to go swimming since the sun was hiding behind the clouds.  Being able to float on my back motionless without sinking is really a trip.  While I’m not a beach person, I love to swim in both the fresh and salt water in Jamaica.  I can never guess how long I spend it the water, it could be 2 minutes or two hours…I don’t have a clue.  It’s like filling up your gas tank with gas, when it’s full you drive off…..the same for me and swimming or relaxing in the water.

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Around midnight, Thunder (the world famous coffee grower/roaster/entertainer/host….) returned from the south coast with the other guest that were staying at Norma’s.  I listened to their tales of exploring and playing some random gig on the way back with a smile on my face since I love it when people get out and explore instead of staying at the resort.

Later in the night or morning at this point, I went over to “The Jungle” to people watch, it has to be the best place on the planet to watch people at poke fun (in your mind) of the silly things that tourist do on vacation.  My favorite mental game or I’ll play it with others is betting on how long it takes a fresh piece of meat to find a lover for the night.  I know it’s a childish game but it entertains me!  Around 4AM I had enough since I had to pack for my move over to Little Bay and that didn’t leave much room for sleep.

Day #4 Friday

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My plans of sleeping in until 11AM ended when Barbara woke me up so I could film Norma before she had to leave for the day.  After a short promo film for her cooking and cottages I decided to stay awake to film Barbara and Thunder as promised.  I called Stash my taxi guy for a ride to Little Bay but he wanted $2000 when I could route taxi it for 200.   Delmar, the driver that lives in Norma’s yard mentioned that I would have to use a motor bike taxi for the last part of my trip and since I had so much crap it would not be easy if at all possible.  I asked him his price and it ended up being 2000 as well, looking back the 30-40 minute drive was a bargain at that price.  Along the way we found the veggie stand that gave me 80 credit last April that I was never able to find to pay the owner back.  I sort of felt bad showing up since they were closed down but I found the owner’s husband and mother.  They had a hard time understanding why a year later I would show up out of the blue to repay a 80 credit and left 1000 to cover the interest.  Hopefully I didn’t make them think that they should extend credit to all tourist in hopes of a giant interest payment coming a year later.  Oh well, that credit has haunted me for a year and it was the 2nd to last thing on my list of wrongs that I need to correct in life. A mile or so before reaching Little Bay we stopped off at the “Blue Hole” so Delmar could see it and find out the runnings so he could take guests there.

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Arriving in Little Bay we went all over the place looking for Coral Cottage, several of the locals sent us to Coral Cove and I even unloaded my stuff there until the staff informed me that I was at the wrong place.  Up and down the road we went until we found someone that knew where Coral Cottage was located….lol, 70 yards from one of the groups of people that sent us to Coral Cove!  Come to find out, the locals ALL know the place as “Richie’s Place” (Richie is one of the owners).  When we finally arrived, Richie meet us at the gate and I finally reached my “home” for two days.

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My room was unlike any room I’ve ever stayed in before, with the solid handmade furniture, decorative pieces on all of the tables and beautiful wood walls….ah I’m living it up rich people style!  I began to explore the table decorations and figured out that someone took the time to perfectly place everything, NOTHING was out of place or lacking flair!  I almost felt bad moving stuff around but I love to spread my stuff out on table tops.  The bathroom was large with HOT (sometimes not so common at places I stay) water and had a cool coral rock shower.  Between the fancy soap in the trays and the foo foo fan folded toilet paper I began to wonder if this was the Ritz or the 4 Seasons.

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After settling in for a few minutes, Richie gave me a tour of the gardens, hammock area and the cliff relaxing and swimming area.  They have two reclining chairs under a thatch roof so you can control your exposure to the sun and a ladder for the people like me who are not into jumping off a perfectly good cliff.  Without a doubt, people have spent a bunch of time making every square inch of this property like something out of a dream!  While I would of loved to stay around and enjoy the property, the little exploring bell in my head was going off…..ding ding time to explore.

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Walking down the lane 50 yards I found a little shop where I was able to buy a cheap beer, I call it a “walking beer” since it’s good for about a mile worth of walking.  Speaking of walking, I seemed to pick up a walking companion….a dog that is always next to me.  A few of the locals asked where I was staying and laughed since they knew the answer.  They claim the dog’s job is to walk around with the guest of Coral Cottage.  At the end of the lane I met a few of the local women who greeted me but had 99% of their focus on some sort of intense card game.  There was also an older farmer man who was entertained by the women playing so I chatted with him for awhile about farming and the world famous Little Bay Bat Cave.  Come to find out, he maintains the trail to the bat farm since his yam farm is right next to it.  It took me a few minutes but I talked him and his grandson into giving me a tour of the cave.  His 7 year old grandson gave me the tour of the cave and then Douglas (the farmer) gave me a tour on top of the cave where you can see the roof “exits”.

After the tour I talked some more with Douglas about farming and his plans for the future.  I always wonder what happens to the old farmers when their bones get too sore to work the rough land.  He didn’t have a clue what he was going to do but he knew that he was getting a little old to work the land.  I suggested doing tours of the cave and his farm but he claimed and the hotels and tour people bring people without giving back to him for maintaining the trail.  Oh well, I got his contact info and maybe people reading this will use him for a tour to help him out a little bit.  Here goes:  Douglas Walters 876-582-0617, tour price….no real set price but giving him $500j a person might be nice gesture.  I gave him a little less and he rewarded himself and his grandson with a cold drink (not alcohol) and I think ice cream.  It was cool how he never asked for money, didn’t expect it and was sort of shocked when i put it in his hand.

Walking around exploring Little Bay I passed dozens of people who all felt the need to exchange greeting with me.  I sort of felt that I was in Mayberry where everyone is friendly and everyone gets along with everyone they come in contact with.  I stopped at about every place that sold beer and never once did anyone attempt to charge me a “white tax” which is also called a “tourist tax”.  I ended up finding a place that cooked me some calloloo (spelling?) and I chilled there for an hour or two chatting with another farmer from the area.

Back at my room, one of the ladies that work at the resort stopped by to make sure that everything was ok.  I really wanted to screw with her and say a towel was not folded properly to test her reaction but the truth was that everything was perfect!  It was cool having use to a full kitchen since a full kitchen contains a refrig….the thingy that keeps my overproof rum, beers and mango juice cold.  I chilled out for a little but enjoying some rum before my well needed afternoon nap.  After waking up I decided to check out the nightlife in Little Bay….or lack of nightlife.  I walked down to the bar at the beach and chatted with the local guys.  I don’t remember how we got on the subject but I ended up teaching a class on how to pick up Canadian women and how to marry them for a VISA.  I could see their minds working at 100 miles a second until my lesson was done and then they rushed off to I would assume hunt down some Canadian women….  While at this bar I ordered some dinner for my travel companion…Grumpy, the dog from Coral Cottage.

A 10 minute walk down the road I found another bar with a bunch of women playing cards and then they changed over to dominoes so I could join in.  I had fun playing and listening to them chat in Patois about my bad skill level but toward the end of the night and after I won a few games  I was nice enough to translate back everything they had to say in Patois.  Lol, some open mouths since they assumed what they said went over my head….  I really got to focus on counting the tiles but other than that I have a pretty good name (in my opinion) after a few drinks.  The owner of the shop was nice enough to invite me to her daughter’s birthday party the next evening but I had plans in Negril.  Since the women ended the night at 1030, I was able to write my trip report until midnight and called it a night…..the earliest that I have ever went to bed in Jamaica!

Day 5 Saturday

I slept in until 10AM making up for my lack of sleep my first few nights on the island.  My bed was soooooo comfortable I didn’t want to leave it but that little exploring bell was going off in my head.  I called “farmer Debbie” and arranged a tour of her farm at 11AM.  Knowing that she splits her time between Maine (USA) and Jamaica I had no clue if she operated on Jamaica time or real world time so I wanted to show up on time.  Nobody including Debbie could tell me how far away she was so I had no clue if I could walk it or if I needed to take a route taxi.  I looked out back and found 4 bikes but all of the bikes had under inflated tires in my opinion (later in the day Richie’s opinion differed from mine).  I ended up deciding to walk there with Grumpy (the Coral Cottage dog in case you have a bad memory) but I stopped at the beach bar for a walking beer.  There, I ran into a guy that witnessed the domino game last night and he was also a motor bike route taxi driver so he offered a ride.  I joked with him about him needing to carry my dog and he thought it would be better if he just drove nice and slow.  A mile down the road I told him to speed up since it was cruel for me to make the dog follow us an unknown distance.  Even after dumping the dog he drove nice and slow which was comforting since my camera was strapped to my back   but I still had to keep one hand on it.

Arriving at Debbie’s was like arriving at my dream farm!  Debbie has a Noah’s ark of sorts with all sorts of animals and a really nice produce garden.  After talking to Debbie for months on Facebook it was finally nice to see her pride and joy (farm) and to talk to her in person.  I’ll do a review of her farm at a later date since it’s really much more than a farm and they want to hold concerts and parties there.  After a little while I took a tour of the gardens, pig area, chicken area, goat area……with Barry and Horace.  I gotta say, those two men know how to grow stuff like giant yams that would almost fill the average size kitchen garbage can!  I have this mix of a love and need to talk to other farmers and those two are on top of their game.  With tears in my eyes I called called my route taxi driver “Steve” at 876-384-8182 and got a ride back to my resort and spa.

After a brief shower and mixing a nice mango and carrot juice drink I called Steve for a ride up to the world famous Blue Hole for a swim in their mineral water pool and to swim around in the “Blue Hole”.  Lol, rewind a little, remember when I said nobody knew the resort as Coral Cottage?  Even Steve the next door neighbor and route taxi guy only knew it as Richie’s place.  So anyway, Steve sent a friend to take me up to the Blue Hole that is maybe 10 minutes or so away and his friend drove nice and slow as well.  Arriving at the Little Bay Blue Hole, I was greeted by the person that wanted my $5.00us but I gave him 500J and wanted 100J back for my changed.  He kept insisting that 500J and $5.00US was the same thing as I got more and more pissed.  I call this type of bullcrap “reindeer games” for some reason that I have never been able to figure out.  In the end we were fighting over maybe 80 or 90 cents (US) but for me it was all about him playing those reindeer games that will cost him more than me in the end.

Overall the Blue Hole was cool, between the actual hole, the swimming pool, the volleyball court and the bar, I can see it as a great place for a party with a bunch of friends.  Sadly it began to rain about 15 minutes after my arrival and turned into a heavy downpour for a little bit but I was still able to explore without the chance to take any good pictures.  The hole itself is 25′ or so down if you want to jump and once at the bottom it is really wide compared to the top.  In a way it’s like being in a cave with a big skylight at the top.  I opted not to jump since my last high jump was off a bridge in Maine and my nads hurt for days…..no more jumping for me!  I stayed in the hole for 15 minutes or so before climbing back up that long ladder to the top.  Since it was raining when I reached the top and it was a little cold I jumped in the mineral pool (heated) and enjoyed life for a few more minutes.

Later in the afternoon, I called the Seastar Hotel and music venue in Negril to ask some questions about the distance from the stage to an elevated place so I could figure out what lens to bring to take some pictures.  The lady answering the phone said Chris the owner would call me back.  For some reason I think he thought I was hitting him up for a press pass and said he didn’t need me since they had enough coverage.  Minutes later, he left a message saying that I was all set and to just say my name at the door.  Lol, a few minutes later he left another message to say he didn’t need me or something that I perceived as rude.  Oh well, I wanted to watch the Luciano show, I didn’t want a press pass since at some venues they kick you out after the first few opening act songs.

I called Barry/Stash for a ride over to Negril and to run a few errands.  We stopped at the China man store next to the rotary in Negril so I could exchange $200US but they would only let me exchange $100.  I sent Barry back in with my other $100US and he came back out saying the reason they would only let me exchange $100 is because they basically ran out of money to exchange.  A minute or two later, Barry came back from the Cambio that honored the same exchange rate as the Cambio.  A few minutes later we arrived at the Seastar just in time for the opening act!  For the first time, I met Rob and Lisa from realnegril.com.  It was sort of weird meeting people in person after seeing them for years on their webcasts.  Adding to the weird factor, I don’t like meeting people from the travel forums in person….with just a few exceptions.  I asked them about Chris and they said he was okay to talk to him in person about the phone messages.  Later in the evening I did end up running into Chris but he was going a mile a minute running a resort and a major live act….he was nice enough to buy me a beer.

The opening act, drummers and Luciano were all top notch!   While I generally hate tourist places, the vibe, music, people…..all created a great evening.  Even after misplacing my camera’s memory card of the opening act, the drummers and the first part of Luciano’s show I still had a great evening.  After the show, I called Barry for a ride back to Little Bay and he said 30 minutes…..this was the only time I hate to wait for Barry.  While waiting, I walked down the lane and found a little roadside stand to chill at.  I forget the bar owner’s name but had a great time there and got a good laugh when he put a giant bag of shrooms on the counter hoping to sell me some.  While  I have always wanted to try them, I’ve never been able to let my mind go enough to randomly try magic mushrooms.  Barry ended up finding me at some other bar and took me back to Little Bay for $3000 (expensive rates late at night).  Since Little Bay is the relaxation capital of Jamaica and not the entertainment capital of Jamaica I went to bed after a hour of so of catching up in my journal.

In the morning I spent a few minutes talking to Richie and getting a short video of him talking about the property before Barry picked me up for my next destination in Negril.  I really didn’t want to leave Little Bay since I love the town but I booked two nights at the Mango Tree (behind MiYard) in Negril and I never break a promise when it comes to lodging.  My informal booking had instructions to see “Hedley” and to pay him upon my arrival for the two nights.  Before arriving I stocked up on a case of beer, some mixer and a bottle of overproof rum.  Arriving at the Mango Tree resort I found Hedley and he showed me to my room.  It was a simple 8×12 prison cell but since I’m not picky it served my needs and budget.  Hedley was nice enough to let me use his refrig to store my beer and mixer and was also nice enough to let me drink his cold beer while my case of warm beer (cheaper to buy than cold beer) chilled.

After unpacking my gear I went to relax on the my and ended up breaking it!  Hedley and I laughed it off and exchanged it with another bed frame since whoever assembled the first one used some really small nails when they should of used longer screws.  Oh well…..after a few beers Hedley also offered to make my dull machete a little sharper….now I knew why the lady who sold it to me wanted to sell me a file as well!  Later in the day I walked down to Miyard (5 minutes) to catch up on the world….or the internet world and to enjoy the great vibe that Miyard offers.  I saw Delroy (the owner) but he looked like a race horse that was put away wet since he is now running the original Miyard and the new beach location.  I got to give him praise for running not one but two places that can magically cater to both tourist and locals without letting one or the other overrun the vibe.

A little later I discovered that the Thatch Hut Bar and Grill is only 50 or so yards from the Mango Tree Resort.  I talked to Celine the bartender and forced (lol) her to write a brief ad for the place and to let me take a few pictures.  Here’s her ad “Welcome to the Thatch Hut Bar and Grill. We offer lunch and dinner and a full selection of drinks.  We are open from 12pm until the last customer leaves.  My name is Celine and I’m from Darliston Westmoreland, xxx-xxxx(not sharing her phone number).”  They also offer free wireless internet with a promise that you don’t share the login info so I spent some time there chatting with Celine, drinking some beers and once again catching up with stuff on the internet.

After returning to my resort I got a beer from the refrig, closed the door, got a weird look from Hedley and figured out that I closed his self locking door and his only set of keys were inside!  Since they were on top of the refrig only 15′ away from a window I used a bamboo pole to knock everything off of the refrig until I could see the keys.  Then with the skills of a ninja master I knocked them off as well…..oops!  We ended up sticking wedges in the door so Hedley could reach his hand it with a stick or something to reach for the keys.  Everything was going really well until the wedges slipped out and Hedley almost got a 5 finger deduction thanks to the door…..in the end, his fingers survived and we got the keys back.

In the morning I woke up with a mental list of stuff to do….people to meet for the first time, people to reconnect with and random stuff to do before I headed to the interior Cockpit area of the island.  But….I was lacking protein and needed some eggs to recharge my system.  Walking from the lane over toward the center of town I found nothing open until I reached Burger King that was going to open in 5-10 minutes.  While I hate fast food, I needed a fast fill of protein or my system would fail.  I ordered two meals just for the beverages and eggs and threw out the rest of the food since it tastes like ass.  Walking back toward the west end, I ran into my “friend” Persistence..not really his name but he never gives up on trying to sell me stuff.  Over the years I have never done him any business but he still has the hope that I will have a weak moment.  I offered a video interview to the bartender lady for $100J…maybe it was $200J but the idea was to show him that I will pay for content but not for useless stuff.  It took him 5-10 minutes to give in an let me film him (with horrible street noise) about his life in Jamaica.  Odds are that I will never publish either interview because of the content but getting people to share what they had to share on video was worth the time and money.  A few minutes later I had a meeting planned so I had to run off to meet Unnamed.    After talking to XXXX for months on the forums, e-mail and facebook, I met with her for an hour or two on the West End of Negril.  It was cool talking to an elder from the US that now lives in Jamaica!  Without a doubt she would be a great person for anyone toying with the idea of making it in Jamaica or retiring in Jamaica to talk to.  Since the contents of the conversation are private and she would not let me take any pictures I can’t say much….

After taking some naps…several naps  I woke up in the evening in time to go to the beach for some concert.  I really didn’t want to pay to see the act so I hung around outside the venue talking to some street vendors that I have grown to know over the years.  Watching the men sell ass, grass and random stuff along with the working women selling what they have was sort of sad and at the same time entertaining.  It seemed like 100% of the people they tried to sell their goods to heard the same sales pitch 100 times in the same day and their responses were a little on the cold side.  Since I have a rather strong marketing and sales background I attempted to teach them something about selling but my efforts on those cold tourist failed!  As I knew from other trips, I could get the tourist over to listen to my offer since I was white but I guess if they were not in the mood for what my business partners had to offer I could not close a deal without even talking about prices.  Looking back at the evening I was glad my attempts at being a pimp failed since I would have to sleep with that for the rest of my life.

Waking up in the morning with a foggy head I waited around for my ride from Clive’s back to the airport where I was going to meet Bushman Jack (my lodging and tour connection in the Cockpits of Jamaica).  Knowing Clive’s is ALWAYS on time, I called Clive when they were 10-15 minutes late.  Clive claims he told me to meet his driver at the end of the lane and that is why his driver left without me.  I’ll give Clive the benefit of the doubt but find it odd that the driver or Clive would not call me if they really expected me at the end of the lane.  I’ll have to ponder about this and edit this trip report since Clive runs a excellent business but even his e-mail communications and such are a little off compared to last year.  My repeated e-mails for a couple photos for the review I did last year of his business that shows up on page #1 of Google and brings a ton of traffic to my positive review have never been answered.  Oh well, the driver doubled back to pick me up and then another couple and we had a great ride to the airport.  It felt great being at the airport knowing that I was not leaving, rather I was starting another chapter of my trip to Jamaica!

At the airport I was suppose to look for Bushman Jack who was wearing “jeans and a black tee shirt”, lol….a strong percentage of men in Jamaica wear jeans and black shirts!  Two other factors that added in my search for him, he has locks (long Rasta style hair) and………he is white (BINGO)!  It took me about 30 seconds to scan the crowd to find Jack.  Meeting him was cool since while he has lived in Jamaica for 30 years he speaks English (along with 5-6 other languages) and he has an excellent way of sizing up his guests in order to make them feel comfortable.  After loading up my gear in his car and going over my ground rules of sorts (tell me what is okay to publish) we chatted all the way for the 1 hour trip to his home.

Bushman Jack was a runaway from the age of 14 when he left his home country to travel the world on cargo ships.  Once he found Jamaica he found his new home in Kingston Jamaica at the age of 18 and his really interesting stories start there.  After a brief stay in Kingston and on the north coast of Jamaica he escaped to the Cockpit (interior mountain area) of Jamaica for several reasons that he might share with you…..  He met up with some Rasta people from the area and they taught him their culture, how to live off the land and how Jah provides for those with a good soul.  Now, he has 30 years of living the Rasta way of life under his belt and he is willing to share his life and the culture with guests from all over the world.  Ah…..to think about having 3 days to live with him, to interview him, to learn his culture, to get some wisdom…..it’s like winning the lotto for those that have a focus on money!

Arriving at his home was not a shock for me but it might be for others.  It was built in 1911 and not a single improvement has been made since then.  In some people’s eyes the place should be condemned and burned down but for me it was a place to rest at night without raindrops hitting me while I sleep.  The current consisted of one 3 way adapter that had to power the lights in 1-3 rooms (not all at the same time), outside lights and whatever we wanted to plug in to charge like cell phones.  After a day it was easy to figure out that cell phones and Ipads should be charged during the day so you don’t have to go without lights at night time.  The bathroom….um outhouse is about 50 yards away but since I’m not new to using an outhouse it didn’t bother me at all.  The sink….okay….there wasn’t a sink but we had 5 gallon containers of spring water that we could draw water from.  The best part was the bath, everyday at 4-430pm we would travel 15 minutes or so north to Bushman Jack’s private bath at the head of the Martha Brae river tourist area.  Bathing and washing clothes in the river while it might feel odd for the first timer at first was one of my best experiences on the island.  The mineral water has a special way of washing away bug bites and whatever ails you and taking an open air bath with random people around is just one of those things that people should do in order to escape from the Babylon ways of life.  Give me a dollar for everyone that saw my white ass bathing and I would have enough money to………

So….my living standards for the next 3 days will not be 5 star, 1 star or even a fraction of a star when you let others judge BUT, the next 3 days will be some of the best days of my life learning to separate my wants from my needs and getting a true feeling for what both of them mean.  Soaking in all that Jack’s friend the Bush Doctor has to offer along with Jack’s knowledge…..also a Bush Doctor but he doesn’t take the title will be a turning point in my life.  The whole setting would be perfect for a book or even a movie but neither could be done while the characters are still alive.

So rewind a little, when I showed up Jack asked me what I liked to eat since my lodging included all of my food.  My food demands are limited, NO DEAD ANIMALS including FISH, and pretty much anything else goes if it doesn’t have chemicals in it.  Looking at his eyes and judging his expression I could tell he was happy that he didn’t have to spend money on meat or fish at $$$ a pound and as a farmer he had 100% of what I needed for a meal.  Jack and Doc (the bush doc) showed me around Jack’s garden and the property and took joy in me taking pictures of pretty much everything they were proud of.  Around and around I went taking the same pictures in color and in black and white…..no conversions, I do it straight out of the camera!

After settling in that little birdy in my head told me to explore the town….that birdy gives me some exercise!   Down the road 200 yards I found a place for a beer and some idle chit chat with the locals.  The beers were 50j overpriced in my opinion but we sorted that out the next day.  Having no clue how many tourist the town has seen I still had my guard of sorts up when it came to prices and being honest with the locals.  Down the road another 200 yards, I found a cemetery and my little why/why/why alarm went off seeing rebar (metal bars) forming a roof over some of the graves.  A few of the local kids gave me a tour of the cemetery and explained that the bars are there to prevent goats from shitting on the graves.  Come to find out, some people have weird issues with animals taking a dump on their final place of rest.  I could go on and on after doing some more research but if you go I’ll leave it up to you to research why people don’t want animals crapping on their graves and the traditions about binding some dead souls so they can’t escape and become duppies….. <—-NOT for a first timer to the island!

Some more fill in pictures and editing on Saturday hopefully!

What to Take to Jamaica

August 31, 2009 by  
Filed under Jamaica Travel

Packing for a trip to Jamaica is easy if you remember to bring a few important items.  In this article we highlight some items that will make your vacation more enjoyable and hopefully they will save you from returning with a sunburn.  So,  grab a suitcase a nice cold beverage and start filling it up with some of our ideas.

Suitcase

Clothing

Since Jamaica is a tropical island, warm weather outfits are a must!  Depending on how active you plan to be outdoors during the heat of the day, I would suggest some shirts wick sweat away from your body to keep you as dry as possible.  Columbia clothing makes these types of shirts but you can also find copies of them at Target for 1/2 of the price.  If you plan on wearing cotton shirts you might want to pack a few extra ones so you can change your shirt if it gets wet.

Two other items that are very important are hats and sunglasses.  Hats with a visor will protect both your head and to a lesser degree, your eyes from the bright sun.  Sunglasses with a good UV rating are worth the money since you can’t buy replacement eyes.

Shoes

Anything goes in Jamaica when it comes to shoes so long as your feet can breath.  Sandals, flip flops and tennis shoes with webbing all work great just remember to put sun screen on your feet so you don’t end up with a nasty sunburn.  If you plan to do a bunch of walking in Jamaica make sure you break in your new shoes before your trip!  If you wear socks, I would strongly suggest taking several extra pairs.  After walking around for a few hours in the heat of the day your socks might be a little on the wet side.

Electronic Stuff

Take a good camera, extra batteries and plenty of memory cards!  On my first trip to Jamaica I took over 15GB of pictures and only had two memory cards with me.  I can’t count the number of times I wished I had one more memory card with me.  Now I take 16GB worth of memory for my DSLR camera and 20GB for my other cameras.

If you plan on using your laptop while sitting on the beach all day or to watch movies on your flight to or from Jamaica, you might want to look into an extra battery for it.  Also, don’t forget to take travel plugs, especially if you are travelling from Europe.

travel plugs

Protection From the Elements

Sunscreen, sunscreen and more sunscreen!  While they sell it all over Jamaica, if you have a favorite brand you might want to take your own.  Taking your own will also save you from having to find somewhere to go and buy it before you toss your luggage and run to the beach as soon as you get there.  Be sure to apply more sunscreen as the day goes on since it will wear away from swimming and drying off.

Bug spray is needed if you venture up into the hills and in some cases on the beach in the evenings.  If you have a favorite brand, maybe something without DEET you might want to pack it.

Water Play

If you like to snorkel dive you might want to take along your own mask and snorkel.  While you can rent gear all over the island, taking your own will save you money and you don’t have to wonder who used the snorkel before you.  Water shoes are also an excellent idea to protect your feet from sea critters and are needed if you plan to explore any of the waterfalls.

While this article does not contain everything you might require in Jamaica, hopefully it gave you some good ideas of what to take.  If you would like to learn more about Jamaica Travel, join us over at our forum.

Is Jamaica Safe?

August 26, 2009 by  
Filed under Jamaica Travel

While the news loves to cover negative things like murder and pickpocketing in Jamaica and then twist the facts to make some of them look like they are overrun with crime, the truth is Jamaica is a very safe place to visit.

Many first time visitors travel to Jamaica with concerns about being robbed or even worse and after a few days they figure out that it is all media hype!  Statistics prove that Jamaica is less dangerous than many parts of the United States.

Dancing

Jamaica  Safety Tips

Below are some tips for having a safe vacation in Jamaica but these tips also apply anywhere in the world.

1.  Don’t carry large sums of cash on you.  If you are going out for a $50 dinner you might want to bring $100 not $2000!

2.  USE THE HOTEL SAFE!   Most hotels have safes and they are pretty SAFE, if you google around a little you will find that not many of them are broken into by hotel staff or random people entering the room.  If you have larger items like laptops that will not fit in the safe, put them in your suitcase and lock it when you leave your room.

3.  Leave some of your valuables at home!  There is no need to bring all of your fine china, diamonds, coin collections and electronics when you go on vacation, the less you take, is the less you risk.

4.  Take is easy on flashing fancy jewellery and money in public!  If some shady character is looking for an easy target you will stand out if you are flashing 3 carat diamond ear rings and Mr T gold chains around your neck.

5.  Don’t place all of you money in one pocket.     I generally like to carry about $20,000 Jamaican dollars when I am heading out for a day but I’ll split it up between 4 pockets.  I’ll keep $10,000 in $1000 bills in one pocket, $5,000 in another pocket in $1000 bills, and between the other two pockets I’ll carry some $500 & $100 bills.  If someone is able to get in one of my upper two pockets they will only end up getting maybe $50 USD.  With that said, I have never been robbed in Jamaica and while I know dozens of people that travel there at least once a year I have never heard of one of them getting robbed either.

6.  Use real taxi cabs!  In Jamaica they will have red license plates, and while all sorts of people will offer you a ride just make sure they have a red license plate so you know they are legal.  Another tip is to ask others for recommendations, it seems like everyone has a list of who they have used and liked in the past.

7.  Know where you are staying, where you are going and how you will get back!  As silly as it might sound people venture to Jamaica and have a few too many cocktails and wind up in the middle of the night not remembering where they are or where the heck their hotel is.  While it’s fun to venture off on a long walk in the hills or to a party a few miles out of town, just take along with you the name, address and phone number of your hotel, along with the telephone numbers of a couple taxis.  In order to call a taxi you should know where you are as well so write it down before you over indulge on that sweet tasting rum or ganja.

8.  Be respectful to others and their culture! Don’t try to get up in people’s face if they are doing something that you are not used to where you come from.  If someone is pestering you to buy their goods or hitting you up for some money just be polite (no thank you) and walk away.

9.  Make friends with a few locals and ask them where the safe places are and where you should keep away from.  A few towns have some areas that are not safe for tourists and generally people will be more than happy to point these out to you.  When you think about your town or a town around where you live back home, you might have some areas that you would not send tourists to after dark.

10.  Have safe sex!  Many tourists areas have “sex workers” and like anywhere else in the world they might have STD’s, protect yourself if you seek their company.


Best Exchange Rates in Jamaica

August 2, 2009 by  
Filed under Jamaica Money, Jamaica Travel

Let’s start with one of the worse exchange rates and that is right at the airport. The Cambio at the airport is known for being convenient but stay clear of it if you are looking for a good rate. Generally people like to use banks to exchange their money but I’ve found that the banks in Jamaica don’t always offer the best exchange rates.

Question: So where can I get the best exchange rates in Jamaica?
Answer: The best exchange rates in Jamaica are found at any of the cambios that are located away from the airports! On my past two trips I found excellent exchange rates just a few miles east of the Montego Bay airport.


TIPS FOR BUYING JAMAICAN MONEY

1. Places that exchange your money for Jamaican money make money on the exchange rate. If you are exchanging a large sum of money call around to a few of the cambios and banks to inquire about their current exchange rates before you waste your vacation time driving from place to place. You will never get the same rate that the exchange rate tools give you but by shopping around you will get as close as possible!
2. Take your passport when you exchange money at the cambios. While I have no clue why they require a passport, every time I’ve exchanged money they asked me for mine.
3. Be sure to get plenty of $100 Jamaican dollars since some of the smaller shops prefer smaller bills over the $1000 bills. At the very least stock up on a bunch of the $500 bills.
4. For safety reasons be aware of your surroundings when you carry a bunch of money to and from an exchange place.
5. ASK OTHERS for their favorite places where they exchange foreign currency in Jamaica.  Most of the members over at the forum can provide you with a list of places where they have exchanged their money in Jamaica.

If you have more questions about exchanging money in Jamaica or would like to ask other questions about traveling to Jamaica, please join our Jamaica Travel Forum
See you on the forum ☺

Jamaican Travel and Culture

May 29, 2009 by  
Filed under Jamaica Travel, Uncategorized

My Jamaican Adventure

My name is Ashley and I wanted to share my first experience of Jamaica and its culture with you.  My first trip to the beautiful island of  Jamaica was back in July 2008 when I went to Reggae Sumfest.  I had no idea how much of a life changing experience it would be for me.

As I looked out of the window as the aeroplane descended into Montego Bay, I was in awe at the beauty of the island and how different the landscape was compared to what I am used to in Canada.

Landscape1

When I stepped out of the airport and the heat wrapped itself around me like a warm blanket, I thought I had died and gone to heaven.  It was so relaxing and welcoming.  I felt at home and at peace, and could not wait to see what the island had to offer. During the journey from Montego Bay to Ocho Rios, my eyes were darting all over the place trying to take in all the amazing new sights around me.  I admired the lush greenness of the Jamaican landscape, the stunning blue sea, the crazy drivers, the people by the side of the road selling Jamaican foods like fried fish, jerk chicken and ackee, as well as Jamaican fruits such as sour-sop and mangoes.  I stuck my head out of the window and inhaled all these unfamiliar smells.

Jamaican People
My first impression of the Jamaican people was just how friendly there are.  They are bold, confident and are not afraid to laugh.  It was such a pleasant refreshing change from the coldness that is often experienced in Canada.  When people honk their horn, it is to say “Hello” and not a version of the middle finger.  When you say hello, you actually get a hello back. People really know how to live and enjoy life in Jamaica, and for me it was a huge perspective changer.   A lot of people are poor, and life was simple yet they appeared to exist quite happily without the need for the all the material trappings that we take for granted.

Simple and enjoyable

Jamaican Attractions
There are many attractions in Jamaica, and I found so many fun things to do from visiting the Green Grotto Caves and climbing up Dunns River Falls in Ocho Rios, to swimming in the gorgeous blue sea and relaxing on the soft almost powder like golden sand.  I saw the most amazing sight at Firewater, which is located at a Rasta community in the hills of St Ann.  It is a healing spring that has real fire on it and you can see some photographs of it here.  It really was the most amazing thing I have ever seen!

I sampled many of the gorgeous cocktails and local Jamaican drinks, such as the Jamaican Rum Punch, Jamaica Kiss and the infamous Red Strip Beer.  During my vacation in Jamaica I visited some of the local nightclubs and hotspots in Ocho Rios such as Amnesia, Ocean’s and Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville.  There is so much to do and see, and there is never a dull moment in Jamaica.  For more information on what I did and to see photographs, check out my trip report on the forum.

not kristis sunset

Jamaican Culture
Dance and music are a huge part of the Jamaican culture, and on my first night out I was blown away by the talent.  Everybody can dance, and after a witnessing a night of Karaoke at Ocean’s which is held every Tuesday night, a lot of them are amazing singers too.  Between art, music and dance, the raw talent in Jamaica is incredible.

Night time in Jamaica is the most silent noisiness you will ever hear. On my first night on the island, I sat on the balcony outside the guesthouse, enchanted by the smell of weed and jerk chicken, and the sound of the crickets and reggae music echoing around me.

It filled me with a sense of peace and serenity that I had never felt before. Jamaica possesses a special magic that leaves visitors enchanted, and you can’t help but leave a small part of you behind when you return home.   Jamaica can be a place of healing for someone who just needs to get away, or it can be an experience full of physical activities and parties for someone who just wants to have fun and let their hair down.  Jamaica has a bit of everything and little bits of magic in every corner.

Since my fist visit to Jamaica in 2008, I have been back four times, and every time I return, it never ceases to leave me in awe.  It is the most beautiful, enchanting, fun and amazing place I have ever had the privilege to visit, and I can’t wait to go back again in September 2009.  Check back for my trip report that will be on the forum along with lots more amazing photographs of Jamaica.