Jamaica – An Earthly Paradise
Article and photography by Michael Morcos
Minus 30 to plus 30 equals plus 60. Not really, but leaving Canada for Jamaica in the midst of one of the coldest winter spells is like going from the freezer to the oven…and I welcomed the oven.
Jamaica is very well known for its beaches and all-inclusive luxury resorts and the thousands of tourists who visit can attest to that. However, beyond the shoreline there is a whole other world waiting to be discovered; a whole country to be exact, one that includes a unique Jamaican culture. Our 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.
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 at the Excellence resort at Oyster Bay in Falmouth. This property is as perfect as any world-wide resort. Set on its own peninsula with a private white sandy beach, tropical manicured gardens and a large heated pool, it is a wonderful place to relax and recharge.
Simply put, our suite was amazing! It was a ground floor unit with a private plunge pool facing the ocean. Add to this the well-designed and handsomely decorated resort that is only months old and included all the modern amenities and creature comforts and we had a home away from home. With a wide choice of dining options, top shelf spirits, wines and beers I could see why it would be hard to leave the grounds but even though we did, we enjoyed the resort thoroughly.
Jamaica and rum go hand-in-hand and a visit to Hampden House sounds perfectly Jamaican. Established in 1753, this is the oldest distillery on the island. Situated in the countryside, away from it all, it was an off road adventure just getting there. We would get a real feel of the authentic Jamaica, passing by farmers, villagers, school kids on there way home, a wonderful bamboo forest and finally a palm tree lined driveway that led to the wrought iron estate gates.
The tour would start in front of a beautiful mansion nestled in a tropical paradise with geese, ducks and peacocks roaming abound. With little time to spare, we would indulge in a delicious friut punch made with over-proof estate rum. Rustic and well worn, the distillery tour is wonderful walk back in time. Needless to say, the educational and fun visit ended with tastings of aged rum!
A stone’s throw away from Falmouth is Jamaica’s third largest city Montego Bay. There we would venture to visit a multitude of activities and offerings.
Tracks & Records
To me, Bolt would be the perfect name for the fastest man on earth. Another perfect name is ‘Tracks and Records’. That is the restaurant that Jamaica’s living legend ‘Usain Bolt’ started, first in the capitol Kingston and now the second location in Mobay. A wonderful and typically Jamaican meal of jerk chicken, fried fish, rice and beans made you know you are on the island (Mon)! I looked forward to this visit and enjoyed every last minute knowing I was in the shadow of a superstar athlete.
Witches, voodoo and murder; sounds like plots from a Hollywood horror movie but this is the tale of Rose Hall in Montego Bay. 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 in the night.
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. The interior might be new but the facade and the spirit of Annie still live on.
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.
A short distance away is Ocho Rios, yet another popular sunny destination for visitors. 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 and the Mystic Mountains.
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 for a communion 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. Then, 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. After that, a once in a lifetime experience as we climbed into individual roller-coaster style blob-sleds that whisked us through the canopy forest at breakneck speeds. It works well as a blend of nature and man-made contraptions co-exist and the whole thing was fantastic.
A final word
I have had a couple of very close Jamaican friends in Canada. They both proudly tried to describe their beloved country and 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 a true earthly paradise.
Click on cover to view published article