Destinations & Articles
An Earthly Paradise
by Michael Morcos
Jamaica is very well known for its beaches and all-inclusive resorts. Thousands of Canadians will attest to that. However, beyond the shoreline there is a whole other world waiting to be discovered; a whole country to be exact. Jamaica is a country unique in its' culture. Our weeklong visit would bring us across the north-western parts of the island, far from the big city of Kingston. Here we would enjoy some sand, surf and sun along with dabs of adventure and history.
Montego Bay is Jamaica's third largest city by population. With 96,000 inhabitants there is still a rush hour and we managed to get caught up in one. The reason for this surprising rush hour is the population is abetted by the almost 1,000,000 visitors annually. Needless to say this area's main industry is tourism. The locals welcome the visitors and will offer them just about everything and anything to make them feel comfortable and happy.
Witches voodoo and murder; sounds like plots from a Hollywood horror movie but this is the tale of Rose Hall. Known as the White Witch and the mistress of Voodoo Annie Palmer was a white Jamaican estate owner who became so by marriage. It seems that her three marriages did not work out as her husbands and several slave lovers would mysteriously die or disappear.
Rose Hall mansion is a fine example of Georgian architecture. It sits on a hill overlooking the Caribbean Sea. The mansion was completely destroyed and refurbished to its original glory in just the past decade. The interior might be new but the facade and the spirit of Annie still live on.
Bob Marley and Reggae
Perhaps Jamaica's biggest export is its' music, reggae. And its' best known practitioner past or present is Bob Marley. His music remains as fresh and popular as the day it was written, and is synonymous with Jamaica.
If Marley is Jamaican music then Jerk is Jamaican food. I was not sure what Jerk meant at first but put simply, it is marinated meats and fish that are slowly cooked over a charcoal fire. Often, the best meals are the simple ones.
Simplicity rules at Scotchie's outdoor restaurant. Our meal consisted of several courses: soup du jour (pea soup), bammy (deep-fried cassava flatbread), Jerk Chicken and Beef and Red Strip beer, filling the heart, soul and stomach. On our visit to the outdoor kitchen we learned that the specific spices used for marinating were a highly guarded secret and the wood used for cooking was Sugarwood brought in from the forest.
The melting pot
Native Jamaicans, European, African, East Indian and Chinese are the bloodlines of most present day Jamaicans. The Outameni Experience Centre is a great way to learn about the history of these people who immigrated to this island over 400 years ago. Visitors to the centre participate by walking through different life size period sets and are greeted by live actors who play out Jamaica's history.
Along with Montego Bay, Ocho Rios is yet another popular sunny destination for Canadians. The city is well known for its port of call for cruise ships and cargo ships that load sugar and limestone. The main natural attraction (besides the sandy beaches) is the Dunn's falls. Other off -site destinations to experience are the Enchanted Gardens, Mystic Mountain and the Chukka Caribbean Adventures.
The famous falls
Dunn's River Falls is one of the main tourist attractions and one that I had seen endless numbers of times in TV travel shows and travel magazines. After having scaled the site I can see why. Climbing the falls with a guide is a popular activity but visitors can also opt to walk the length of the falls on a well-paved sidewalk. Either way the falls are amazing; so much lush vegetation that border and canopy the falls.
The tropics mean rain and rain means lots of rivers and vegetation. You do not need to go very far to commune with nature in Jamaica. A great deal of the island is forested. Enchanted Gardens is a great place to experience this tropical paradise. In it you will find 14 natural waterfalls, streams and natural spring-fed pools. In this venue however visitors cannot walk up the falls.
Visitors will find a wide variety of beautiful flowers, fruit and spice trees as well as a large Japanese Koi pond. The garden also includes a large walk-in aviary filled with friendly exotic birds such as parrots, budgies, and lovebirds, all of whom will literally climb all over you just to get a tasty snack.
Imagine a ski-style chair lift bringing you up through a tropical mountainside. Once on top you get an outstanding 360-degree view of the surrounding area including the city of Ocho Rios, the Caribbean Sea, the beaches, the harbour area and the dense green forest. Then what? Then a once in a lifetime experience as we climbed into individual roller-coaster style blob-sleds that whisk you through the canopy forest at breakneck speeds. It works, nature and man-made contraptions co-existed and the whole thing was fantastic.
Chukka Caribbean Adventures
Contrast that carnivalesque ride carved through nature with a traditional horseback ride through the Jamaican countryside. The best part of the ride for me was when our guide brought the horses into the ocean for a swim. The horses actually moved faster in the water than permitted on land. There are many other activities available at Chukka Adventures; activities such as 4x4 off-roading, Ziplines, river tubing and kayaking.
Accommodations in Jamaica can vary and there are hotels for every budget. The most sought after places are the all-inclusive luxury resorts. Our stay while on the island was with two of the best known hotels. In Montego Bay we stayed at the newly opened Secrets with its own private beach while in Ocho Rios we stayed at the famous Sandals. Both were posh, comfortable, relaxing and fun, pampering you to the point of satisfied sighs.
A final word
I have had a couple of very close Jamaican friends in Canada. They both proudly tried to describe their beloved country. They always mentioned the easy-going lifestyle, the beautiful scenery, the great foods, rums and beers, and their culture and music. Yet there is a world that lies between hearing of it and experiencing it. The very earth beneath your feet, the sun above, and the evening breeze all work in unison pampering your spirit, easing your soul. One would be hard pressed to be stressed on what is this earthly paradise.
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