This time last week, I was still in sunny Jamaica, one of my favorite countries in the Caribbean and a place I once called home.
My trusted friend and fellow adventurous soul at the wheel–Lorraine has more than 20 years’ of memories traveling to the Rock–we hopped across seven parishes in eight days.
From Montego Bay airport, with a welcoming committee offering rum shots to passengers right off the JetBlue flight, we headed straight to Port Antonio and the renovated Trident Hotel, with scenic stops along the way, or what Lorraine and I call “paparazzi” stops.
During the few hours we managed to detach ourselves from our villa’s private pool and Trident’s infinity view of rugged cliffs and turquoise waves–once a favorite hideout of pirates–we swam at a nearby beach and snacked on Boston Bay jerk chicken. “One white and one dark!” a young man ordered for us with a smile, as soon as he saw Lorraine and I approach. Ah, that Jamaican memory! The >>fact that I hadn’t been back in two years was irrelevant. I remembered him almost immediately, too, like all the faces I photograph.
It didn’t take long for us to conclude that the parish of Portland is still our favorite part of the country–dramatic peaks and drop offs, breathtaking sunrises and sunsets, nary a tourist crowd and intimate nearby sandy escapes like Boston Bay Beach or Frenchman’s Cove. It made me wonder all over again why so many tourists flock west. But in a way, I’m relieved that for now, at least, it remains this way.
Scenery aside, I noted the new Tastee Patty food trucks, the uniformed schoolchildren teasing and pushing each other on the sidewalks, the friendly guides who love “reasoning” with a couple of Jamaica-holics like ourselves. What’s changed, what’s coming? A friendly conversation while on a “paparazzi stop” by the Blue Lagoon led to a wonderful boat ride, local price. And the weather we were having on the first couple of days? Barely any rain, radiant sunsets and clear river swims that did wonders for my tired traveler’s skin.
When the third morning greeted us with ominous clouds, I heard our server at Trident reminding us, “Whatever the problem, there’s always a work around.” That’s right, no problem. I had trouble following the rest of the conversation, my mind was focused on the best ackee and saltfish I’ve had in a long time.
Wet roads aside, we arrived safely in Ocho Rios–the coastal drive is as striking as I remember, past lopsided fruit shacks on one side and glimpses of crashing waves on the other–at the Jamaica Inn, its private golden beach only surpassed by gardens exploding with bougainvillea and breadfruit trees, the scent of fresh jasmine lingering in the warm evening air. Our home for the night, or Cottage Number 2, is perched on a bluff, surrounded by more flowers and fluttering hummingbirds, with private steps to the beach and sea below.
Reluctantly, we leave behind the infinite sea and hill views of St. Ann for the touristed west coast. That’s the thing about Jamaica–once you go to “country” and breathe that fresh air, bathe in river wata and get lost in flora, allowing the tranquility to settle within, it’s hard to come back to the bustling scene of crammed beach chairs, honking taxis and the echo from vendors selling “froooooooots!” We begin to wonder if we shouldn’t have reversed our itinerary.
But Negril is indeed the one constant, its seven miles of white sand undisturbed and its foot traffic ever present. And in a way, comforting in its familiarity. Locals turning out Bob Marley renditions over the fence while I enjoy a Jamaican buffet breakfast on the terrace at Travellers Resort, the predictable “is it possible to get to know you” proposals on my beach walk, the clamoring vendors who aren’t out to harass but simply seek to make a living, and the ever-clear turquoise sea crashing against the cliffs on the West End. The sight of old friends, too, is comforting after a two-year absence, but many more I don’t get a chance to see. Such is the life of a travel writer, I learned a while ago, constantly on the go.
Over 3,000 shots later, none of which I had a chance to review while on the road, having intentionally left behind my Mac, I came away amazed–once again–at how serene, colorful and intense Jamaica remains.
The only difference, this time, was experiencing more award-winning luxury resorts, all in the name of my Jamaica projects. I came away relieved to see that they somehow manage to balance the five star treatment with the laid back attitude and culture of Jamaicans, from the uber-chic Trident to Jamaica Inn and the renowned Round Hill Hotel & Villas, where Ralph Lauren owns a vacation home.
Aside from the glam and road tripping past familiar spots, was the pleasant discovery of new sights, including a 103-acre private property home to falls, a jade-colored river and incredibly dense rainforest reminiscent of Belize, soon accessible to the public (not in any current guidebook, but coming to mine soon).
Ah Jamaica! The sights, smells and sounds flirted with my senses all day long, the colors dancing around my vision like the kaleidoscope I loved playing with as a child. The island where I became clear on my dreams and purpose almost six years ago.
On the penultimate day, the sky put on a special show–just for me, I decided. While the guests and their families were back in their rooms or villas readying for dinner, nature was at play, fiery clouds casting a golden color on the bluffs of Round hill.
After two years away from Jamaica, working on my first book, and seven days back on the roads of my former home, there’s little doubt in my mind. To use the lyrics of Jamaican recording artist Yellowman: “Jamaica nice… Jamaica nice, Jamaica nice, Jamaica nice!” Vibrant and soulful as I remember.
Stay tuned for news on my upcoming Jamaica mini guidebook and for updates to my AFAR Guide to Jamaica. My accommodations on this trip were sponsored by Trident (in part), Jamaica Inn and Round Hill Resort & Villas.