Caribbean flavors with a touch of Blue Mountain - Jamaica - May 2014


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Published: June 27th 2016
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It's been way too long since I blogged, but here we go again trying to catch-up on our travels. I wish I could start a blog by saying "so we've been planning this trip for a while". The truth of the matter is that we never plan any trips. We know when we are going to take time off, but generally we don't book plane tickets until about a week or two out. Skyscanner is probably my most favorite app in the world. Plug in departing airport, put in your travel dates and it will give you prices for any and all countries for your selected dates. Anything under $1,000 is acceptable and then wherever we do notneed a visa.

Jamaica it was this time. About 3 days before departure we booked tickets and the day of (we flew out later in the afternoon) I got a car and booked a room at the Grand Port Royal Hotel Marina and Spa. We kind of had the trip planned out, but as usual we booked all hotels the day of. We got to Kingston really late at night, got the car, and drove to the hotel which was only a short
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Gettin' ready for the flight
distance away from the airport. Rooms were outdated, but reception was really nice and they spent about 10 minutes in the room trying to show us how to operate the tv and navigate the channels (I don't care about the tv I just want to get sleep).

The next morning we got up and was treated to breakfast on the water (very simple - fruit, coffee, juice and scrambled eggs on toast). All while a local was gingerly making his way around in front of us in his boat trying to catch some fish. What a way to start a short vacation - sit back with some food and watch the locals apply their craft.

Coming into this all we honestly knew about Jamaica was Bob Marley and Blue Mountain coffee. Ok - we definitely knew more (got to thank the books for that), but this definitely was foreign territory to us. One of the drives in our books is pretty much a drive around the island and is titled - JAMAICA'S PIRATE PAST. You start in PORT ROYAL (where our hotel was) and can visit ST. PETERS' CHURCH (also right there) and then you make your way
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Starting the morning with breakfast and watching the locals go about their day
around the island through MONTEGO BAY and NEGRIL. More on these later.

We drove around Port Royal a little bit (extremely run down and very poor). It's just a strip of land across from Kingston and the Jamaican navy is on this part. We even saw some massive apartment building complexes completely run-down, desolated and deserted. Oh man - what are we in for? I will add poverty had never deterred us from doing something or seeing things, but it is sad to see the state of some of these areas at times.

KINGSTON was not much better. Very poor, lots of street vendors selling pretty much anything you can imagine. Personally we never felt unsafe but this obviously is not island living as we all think of it. That being said these are the things we like to experience. If we wanted island living we would have flown into Montego Bay, gotten a hotel taxi and sat at the resort the entire time, eat buffets and lay on the beach all day, and 4 days later go back to the airport and say we experienced Jamaica. Sorry - that is not our idea of experiencing a country
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Beaches are a little different on this side of the island
and the culture and if this is what you do I will generally tell you that you might as well save yourself the flight and cost and go to the Jersey shore or Florida because it is in essence the same thing.

We drove around. We had to be at the north shore at some point and really wanted to explore THE BLUE MOUNTAINS. Nikkie has worked at Starbucks for forever, loves coffee (this is where we met and we are coffee junkies) and this is some of the best coffee in the world. We honestly had no clue where to go. Google maps at the time did not help, we had maps, but soon discovered that we were on roads that did not exist on the maps. There is a very easy straight road around the mountains (should probably take about an hour to get to the other side of the island). We are a different breed however. Around and around we drove. Dead-ends, back-tracking and trying again. All of this on some of the narrowest roads I have driven on with very, very sharp turns. A lot of the time you have to honk so the guy
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Just stopped somewhere at a food stall and got some fried chicken and rice
coming from the front knows that a car is coming

One of the first things we found high up in the mountains was a little roadside food stand (couple poles with a tent cover over them). In other countries we used to drive past many stands saying "We'll stop at the next one" and the next one never showed up. So one of the promises I've started making myself is that we will stop at the first of these stands we see. Yeah I know you probably should not eat from these stands because the hygiene is most likely atrocious. No serious illnesses so far. We had some delicious deep fried chicken, rice and Jamaican apples ( a cross between a pear and an apple). The chicken was some of the best we have had. The food was great and we kept going. Soon after we were "pulled over" by this lady. She was coming out of this beautiful estate and we just happened to have stopped at the gate for a view across the blue mountains. She pulled out a little container of red, red berries. How could we say no. Just supporting the local economy. They were somewhat tart and pretty firm. On we went. Here and there we had to make some pretty tough decisions as to which direction we thought we had to go. We passed a couple sheds where the occupants offered us some coffee and a joint. I guess we were in Jamaica after all. We saw BLUE MOUNTAIN PEAK (the highest peak) and many beautiful FLOWERS.

We definitely got lost at some point. No guardrails, a road that had massive, massive craters in it filled with rainwater (did I mention that it started raining) and a road that got narrower and narrower. At one point we doubted that we could go any further and figured that the correct road probably would be a little more navigable. I was able to turn around after a 30 point turn. We finally found what looked like the main road. We passed IRISH TOWN and pretty soon we saw the Blue Mountain Restaurant & Coffee Shop. A stop was necessary. It was pouring rain, we ran for cover and got a pot of Blue Mountain magic. These are some of our favorite moments. We had a similar experience in Costa Rica where we were sitting
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Found this old gate high up in the mountains
in the mountains in a little coffee shop with pouring rain DRINKING JAMAICAN BLUE MOUNTAIN COFFEE. Oh bliss. Definitely a happy place and highlight of the trip.

We figured (more like hoping)we were on the right road as we started the descent. We drove through many very small towns where we got lots and lots of looks of "who are these people". Truly felt like this was the first time some of these people have seen westerners. We finally hit the coast and it was only a short drive to Club Ambiance Resort. Well - not normally our hotel of choice, but not much of a choice as this was one of the only options left in the area - all-inclusive. Yeah we generally don't do these but let's see how it goes. The room was ok - a little outdated. Food was not the greatest (buffet style), but the drinks were pretty decent (they are free and as many as you want). There was entertainment and you can play shuffleboard, ping-pong, pool, etc. Seems like plenty to keep people busy. The next day we spent a couple hours on the beach. Sorry - I don't know how people
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Happy couple - now where is the coffee?
do this for 5 straight days.

Next stop - NEGRIL, but first need to go through MONTEGO BAY and visit the PORK PIT. The drive there was lined with beautiful water, goats all over the road and all-inclusive resorts too many to count. Pass. Finding the Pork Pit was a process. A real process. We had it mapped and drove by the recommended spot several times and no signs of a restaurant. Seriously. Finally a good natured Jamaican stopped us and asked us where we were heading. We said the Pork Pit. He was on his bike already so we were told to follow. Slowly we wound through the streets - up one-way's sometimes, through red lights, turns and corners and finally we were there. He was expecting a big tip. We obliged. We ordered and drank the obligatory RED STRIPE BEER (just what you do) and ordered BARBEQUE PORK and BARBEQUE CHICKEN. We tried a couple other things as well. Absolutely fascinating how they make it. It is smoked and burned and smoked more and slowly cooked, and so and so on. They really get the flavor into these things. It's all covered by a steel plate and
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This old lady stopped and tried to sell (ultimately sold us) these berries. It was a cross between a strawberry and an unripe raspberry
occasionally they will lift it and turn all the meets. Definitely a process and you just patiently sit there and wait for a piece to be considered ready. It was good. I was really hyped for this jerk chicken and it did not deliver. We were not blown away exactly, but it was still good. Definitely more about the process and the experience. Time to hit the road again.

Negril was not too far away. We had rooms for the night at the ROCK HOUSE HOTEL. Amazing property surrounded by water. We were greeted and shown to our rooms. We immediately headed for the POOL AT ROCK HOUSE which is right on the water. And with 1/2 price drinks this was gonna be a fun day. We found a couple of sun chairs with direct ocean views and started drinking. The staff was very helpful in getting us the right drinks - a different one every time. Got to say that this was probably the longest we spent next to a pool on any of our trips - EVER. My wife was happy. We stayed until the sun was completely gone - even though we were not waived goodbye
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And then the clouds started rolling in
by the typical SUNSET FROM THE ROCK HOUSE HOTEL POOL. It was a little bit too cloudy. Dinner was right on the property at the PUSHCART which is more of a streetfood concept where they serve what is considered some of the typical seafood found at street carts in Jamaica. The PUSHCART FOR SEAFOOD FRITTERS (conch, snapper, squid, and shrimp deep fried) is a must to start the meal as is the JERK SAUSAGE which was very spicy and good. For the main meal we shared the curry conch with rice and vegetables (not our favorite as it definitely was a little bit on the chewy side as conch tends to be). Nikkie had a drink in a coconut and I stuck to the rum. A great day overall. The next morning we started off the day with plantains and fruit and yogurt and ackee and saltfish (the local specialty which turned out surprisingly good and tasty).

The Rock House did not have any accommodation for the night so in a hurry I found The Westender Inn. A little outside town, but nice and right on the water. We spent the day driving around town, buying ice-cream from the
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Definitely probably should not be on these roads especially when it is raining
street, going into grocery stores and seeing what the locals eat/buy, and exploring the coast with the crystal clear waters. We booked a snorkeling trip through the Rock House Hotel and was picked up in the afternoon and off we went. This was a first for both of us. There was about 6 of us and at $20 a person this was a steal. We swam around and saw all kinds of fish, stingrays, coral, etc. What an experience. Highly recommended.

RICK'S is a required visit in Negril for the CLIFF JUMPERS and the SUNSETS. DRINKING FRUIT DAIQUIRIES and EATING FISH AT RICK'S was on our list. I wish I could say you should go there for the food. This place is a tourist trap unfortunately. Packed/ overcrowded, bad service (or no service) and lots of very obnoxious people. Oh and yeah they charge you to jump down the cliff and risk your life 😊. We had a couple lime daiquiris (took forever to get) and ate snapper and shrimp which took even longer to order and finally arrived. Not one of our favorite experiences, but I will say that the sunset was worth it. It was cool to
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With our tiny car these puddles also probably should have been avoided
see the locals dive in (doing tricks and tumbles) and seeing the tourists go in in all shapes, ways and forms. The live music makes for a spring break atmosphere so if this is your thing then Rick's is the place for you. The NEGRIL LIGHTHOUSE is right on the way to the inn and from all recommendations NEGRIL IN MAY is a great time to come. The weather definitely was perfect.

Well off to the next adventure of the roadtrip. We drove and drove looking for things and not really finding it. Nikkie wanted to do the Black river as they are famous for their crocodiles. About an hour or so and a very, very informative trip about these creatures and how long it actually takes them to grow to maturity. It is crazy to think that they actually survive knowing it takes them years and years and years to just reach some sort of size where they are not just everyone's pray. On the way on our crazy driving we stopped by JAKE'S right next to the ocean. Nikkie had the shrimp w/ caesar salad (the shrimp was really good), I had the jerk chicken sandwich (good)
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First cup of Blue Mountain in the Blue Mountains
and we both had a good cup of coffee and topped it off with probably one of the most amazing pieces of coconut cream pie that we ever had.

On the road we were again driving back to the blue mountains. Coconuts and various fruits are sold on the roadside and about every 500 feet there is a fruit stall with exactly the same stuff as the guy before him and the guy after him. How do these people make a living? Winding roads, road signs with crazy, funny slogans and several hours later we made it to STRAWBERRY HILL - sitting high atop the Blue Mountains with a stupendous view of the city/mountains/ocean below. We got there pretty late so we just got ready and headed up for dinner at the RESTAURANT AT STRAWBERRY HILL. We started with some brut, ordered wine during the meal, had a fresh salad w/ herbs (very surprising since it was actually really good even though it was pretty simple/plain) and sweet potato soup (really good) for the appetizers. For the main course we had JERK LAMB LOIN (awesome) and whole grilled snapper (really good). We finished off like anyone should - affogato
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You think she likes it?
with creamy ice cream and Blue Mountain coffee (really - great) and cream puffs w/ coconut ice cream and chocolate sauce (good). Overall a great meal in a great setting overlooking Kingston.

Waking-up the next morning there are few better places to wake up to. Throw open the windows, sit on the balcony with your feet up, a hot cup of blue mountain coffee, and views that stretch for miles and miles over Kingston and into the ocean. Breakfast was again with splendid views with great coffee, homestyle pancakes, and Irish Town sunrise (eggs and bacon). My only "beef" is that the homestyle pancakes and rest of the breakfast was $20 each. A complete rip-off and just one of those cases where the price is only charged because this is an "expensive" establishment so any cost/ charged is justified. Just not something I like at all. But hey - what are you gonna do. We also got a last minute reservation at the SPA FOR THE COFFEE SCRUB. They could not take us together since they only had 1 room for the scrub. They take you into a room that almost feels/looks like a morgue. You are laid on
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Happy girl!
a table and scrubbed and sprayed and scrubbed with a coffee mixture. Afterwards you stand up and are sprayed off with a big hose. Not the greatest experience and a different treatment/ massage probably would have been a better choice. To make things even worse we were told to leave our room as soon as we can because it was 12. Sorry - I just took a $100 plus spa treatment so give me a break. At the end of the day it is a fabulous property that we would go back to any day, but the overcharging of breakfast and rushing to get us out of the room was a little bit of a down-turn.

These are the Jamaican blue mountains so no visit would be complete without a coffee tour. We picked Craighton Estate for coffee and coffee tours. First we were sat down and enjoyed a cup of coffee. They walked us throw the whole process, different beans, who buys the majority of the beans (Japan). We started HIKING up to the higher elevations where we walked between the coffee plants, took some pictures and asked more questions. At the end of the day a very
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We finally found the right road
informative tour for around $50 and then you can buy some coffee afterwards. Again seems a little excessive in price, but is what it is.

We had a lot of time to kill before our flight very late that night so we stopped at the DEVON HOUSE - a historic heritage site in Kingston. We walked around and had to just do the MANGO ICE CREAM and SOURSOP ICE CREAM. Nikkie did her research and read about the restaurant 689 by Brian Lumley. One of the rising chefs in Jamaica we got a reservation and started with curry spring rolls (really good) and a couple glasses of pinot grigio and zinfandel. For the main course we had snapper in a fish broth w/ okra and pepper jelly and we also had the shrimp alfredo w/ cream cheese and white shrimp sauce and brandy (awesome). We finished with jackfruit cheesecake (wow). Really goodmeal to conclude a very good trip.

Likes

- plenty of places you will be offered coffee (you will also be offered joints in a lot of places)

Dislikes

- very, very poor conditions that people live in

- Strawberry Hill charged rediculous
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"Relaxing" on the beach
prices just because - hate that. $20 for an omelette

- northwest coast seems really, really developed

Advice
- get lost in the blue mountains

- find a coffee stand/ shop

Well another last minutes trip and another success. Visiting the island we definitely feel that we ventured off the beaten path as always and this really made us enjoy the country. We managed to cross off 6 things on our list including the Pork Pit, the Rock House Hotel, Rick's, Strawberry Hill Hotel, the Blue Mountains, Devon House, Jamaica's Pirate Past, and Negril. So 265 down and 5,516 to go. Slowly but surely.

'Til next time from cool runnings land


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No wonder they cook so much with goat - these guys are all over the place - even walking around the highways.
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Our "direction giver" leading us to the Pork Pit.
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Cooking Pork Pit style
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And the obligatory Red Stripe


27th June 2016
Rock House Hotel

Great road trip!
Love these signs, amazing roads with the 30-point turns, offers of great coffee and a joint and, of course, the specialty of you two--fabulous food! How fun the way you two plan your trips with Skyscanner--I love surprises!
28th June 2016

What a fun way to decide your travel destination, using sky scanner. And You've sold me on Jamaica, especially your pictures of the blue mountains. Beautiful mon.

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