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Cruising to Jamaica - Blue Mountains, Waterfalls and Reggae!
Jamaica is one of our favourite ports of call as there is so much to do and see. The following is how we spent our day here recently. Hopefully it might give you some ideas of what to do if you visit this beautiful, luxuriant but often quite poor island.
Jamaica is a simply stunning island, one of the largest, with friendly happy people, coffee, lush tropical flora, mountains, magnificent waterfalls, wonderful beaches, winding rivers and of course reggae music! However, there is another side to Jamaica, abject poverty, and it is true that if you drive into the hinterland you will see just that. However, they are working hard to improve roads, build new hotels etc and the warmth and hospitality of the people shines through, despite the poverty. It is a culture where tomorrow will do, so things don’t always get done quickly.
Ocho Rios, is situated on the northern coast of Jamaica and is 67 miles from the more well known Montego Bay. It is famous for being the place where Ian Fleming had a magnificent home, ‘Goldeneye, ’ where he wrote many of his James Bond novels. It is now an exclusive villa resort, which costs from $950-$3800 per night, although that does include meals!
There are sounds of activity below our window, and as I peep out of our cabin window I can see that we have docked alongside in Ocho Rios, Jamaica, our first port of call. There are two docks in Ocho Rios, and unfortunately we are at the more remote of the two, in a rather unimpressive area dominated by a cement works. It is exactly the same as when we last visited it, a few years ago, and we are sorry we are not nearer the centre of the town at the more developed dock. But the sun is shining, and a Caribbean beach awaits, so we are not complaining. Today we are not going on one of the organised tours, we are doing our own thing.
We dash up to get a quick breakfast, then its back to the cabin to pick up our beach gear and we are off, down the gangplank, having been scanned ‘out’ first. We walk along the rather grubby concrete dockside and find the busy area where the tour buses are waiting to take passengers to the many lovely sites around Ocho Rios. It is well organised, and you need have no fears if you make sure you hire one of the licensed taxis which are waiting. Entry to the port is strictly regulated and there are officials around to make sure that only such vehicles are allowed to ply their trade.
We have visited Dunn’s River Falls several times, and it is as beautiful as the pictures, so is certainly one that I could recommend thoroughly. Indeed, it is one that you could attempt to do on your own by picking up a taxi on the dockside and organising your own times with the driver. We have also visited the beautiful Prospect Plantation, which was owned by the British author, Sir Harold Mitchell. This wonderful estate is a tropical botanical delight, and we thoroughly enjoyed the tractor-drawn jitney ride through this estate. My son was even used to demonstrate how to climb a coconut tree on our first visit to Jamaica – although he did not manage to get high enough to pick a coconut. If you get the chance to visit this plantation you won’t be disappointed. The scenery is stunning. We will be visiting this island twice – as we are staying on board ship for a second week- so we have decided that today will be a chill out day on the beach.
There are officially licensed taxis waiting alongside the buses – it’s very important to use only these taxis, as Jamaica has a reputation for being dangerous in places, although we have never felt uneasy, and Ocho Rios is regarded as one of the safest places in Jamaica. We ask where the nearest beach is and are escorted to a minibus waiting with its engine running. After a few minutes wait the bus is loaded and we set off, towards the town. Now if you have never been to Jamaica before then you will not be familiar with the state of many Jamaican taxis. They are, to be honest, pretty run down, and much dented. But if you see how the Jamaicans drive then the abundance of scratches and dents is self explanatory! The ride is fast, bumpy and pretty uncomfortable – but it is not far and we really don’t mind.
Ocho Rios appears as undeveloped as it was the last time we visited. The streets are rather grubby, and dilapidated, with litter and unfinished building sites the norm. There are still touches of its British past, and of course cricket is a national obsession. We head west out of the town and after a few minutes the minivan pulls into a car park, with a path which leads through a tropical garden and down to a beach – Mahogany Beach. We can just see the glint of water in the distance. We jump out and the driver asks when we want picking up. We agree on 2. 30. and he drives off. We wonder if he will ever come back, but there is nothing we can do now.
We make our way down a steep and narrow path, through what could be a beautiful tropical garden, but which is woefully uncared for. We wonder what the beach is going to be like, but as we emerge from the vegetation we can see a small but sandy beach, with the blue Caribbean Sea lapping gently onto the sand. It is already busy, and we can see a few recognisable striped ‘Princess’ beach towels scattered about – so we realise there are others from our ship here. We find a shady spot underneath a tree and relax. It’s hot and sunny and perfect beach weather. There are plenty of chairs and loungers available, and music is playing in the background – typical reggae mixed up with a little calypso, and a touch of steel band.
The sea is as still as a millpond and the sand is wonderfully soft. To the left there is a huge house perched up on the cliff top, with a staircase running down the cliff onto the beach. It looks completely dilapidated but must have a superb view of the bay. It is a rather odious shade of raspberry pink, and looks abandoned, but it must have been a very luxurious property once upon a time. The beach itself is quite interesting, with a large bar area, and a place where you can buy hot food. There are also a couple of small craft tents selling the usual touristy things – woven bags, wooden carvings, beads, and other souvenirs. I watch as people bring back food from the bar area – I am not sure I would risk eating chicken cooked on the beach in what appears to be fairly primitive and rather unsanitary conditions, but amazingly some people are tucking in as if they have not eaten for a week.
Hibiscus abound, their deep scarlet and pink blooms opening in the noon day sun, and if it was a little less busy it would, indeed be a tropical paradise. After a while I get itchy feet and decide to go for a swim. My ‘better half’ does not swim, and I normally have my children with me, but this time we have escaped without them, so I must swim on my own while he ‘guards’ our bags. The water is warm to my feet as I paddle along the edge, looking for shells, and, finding none, I decide to go for a refreshing swim as the sun is very hot. The water is lovely and inviting and I swim and float until I feel quite relaxed. However, I miss having my son around to swim with me.
Swim over, I sit on the beach and let the sun dry me off while we snack on some of the lovely muffins we picked up at breakfast time. We had a good breakfast so are not hungry, and tea will be waiting when we get back to the ship. The beach begins to clear as those on tours from other ships return to the docks. We look at our watches and decide to pack up early just in case we miss our taxi – if he turns up, that is! After a final paddle, we walk slowly up the path to the top of the hill, where there is a large car park. Taxis come and go, but there is no sign of ours. We know our driver’s name and ask another taxi-driver if he thinks he will come. In his reassuring Jamaican drawl he assures us there is ‘no problem’ and that he will turn up. We are not so sure….
But, bang on time, we hear the throaty cough of an engine in the distance and our ramshackle minibus appears over the horizon – we are relieved, as we would be in a real pickle if we missed the ship. We get in, sandy feet and all, and our driver chats to us as we make the rapid journey back to the ship. As we make our way wearily up the gangplank we feel that overwhelming pleasure that returning to the ship always gives us. Stepping into its cool and pristine interior it is a world away from the hot and noisy world of Ocho Rios. It’s been a lovely day, but it’s wonderful to be ‘home! ’ Tomorrow its Grand Cayman, but that’s another story….
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