The very name of this island conjures up images of golden sandy beaches, palm trees, sapphire seas, sunshine and cocktails.
Jamaica is all that.
It really is an island paradise for those looking to relax and recharge their weary bones and tired minds.
We flew in from London, arriving around nine o’clock in the evening, local time. The ‘we’ in this case were my wife and I, along with half a dozen friends who were all sun worshipers, except for a chap named Neil. (I’ll get to him a little later).
‘We’ were staying at the Half Moon, which is, funny enough, situated at Half Moon bay, Montego.
But I am getting ahead of myself, so I’ll start with exiting the plane at Sangster International Airport, also known as Montego Bay airport, as denoted by its three-letter code, MBJ. (that’s is the ‘International Air Transport Association (IATA) Location Identifier’, for those who don’t know.)
Anyway, as this is a Wild Geese post I try not to get all specific and technical, or too detailed. Life is far too short for all that nonsense.
The moment I stepped out of the planes air-conditioned fuselage and onto the top of the steps, Jamaica hit me.
I mean it smacked me right in the face.
The heat, the humidity and the scent assaulted me all at once. My skin became coated with a fine mist of condensation, as the comforting tropical warmth wrapped itself around me and that smell, a heady mix of tropical fauna, coconut palm oil, Caribbean Sea salt, and a thousand and one other micro scents which make up Jamaica’s distinct aroma hit my senses.
One thought ran through my mind as I stepped off the plane, one which was meant to be a silent and personal observation, but which I uncontrollably vocalised.
“We’re hear” I said, pathetically stating the obvious.
A short ride later and we arrived at the Half Moon. A rather resplendent holstery, set in a good few acres of well-tended, manicured gardens, with its own private beach, the bay from which the hotel takes its name.
First stop, the portico reception for a cool me down cocktail and a can or three of Red Stripe. Chilled, laying back on the sofa with a cold beer and looking up at the…stars. The stars…this place had no roof.
Porters whisked our luggage away, other staff sorted out the paperwork and room keys, all done quickly, quietly and efficiently, while the welcome was as warm as the night air.
Soon, too soon, because I was so relaxed I could have stayed there all night, we made our way through the gardens towards our rooms, which were villas on the edge of the beach.
We were offered transport from reception, in the way of those humming golf buggy thingy’s almost all hotels seem to utilise nowadays. But as the night was a hot tropical one and we were ‘newbies‘, my wife and I elected to take a slow wander through the gardens.
Three minutes later, without warning, the heavens opened and the rain came down. We stood under a canopy and watched the huge raindrops as they hammered into the ground, many seemingly bouncing back, bouncing right up to waist height.
I have not seen such large raindrops before, or since.
The entire downpour only lasted five minutes from start to finish. My wife was concerned that it would rain again, which could spoil the holiday. The next day, on commenting, we were assured that would be the last of this season rains.
I think it was around two o’clock, maybe half-past two in the morning, when we eventually made it into bed.
At five thirty a.m., our companions were knocking on the door and calling us.
“Come on,” they said, “the suns out, last ones down buy the drinks”. Their voices fading along with a chorus of giggles.
It took me about three seconds flat to jump out of bed, stagger into a pair of swim shorts and run out onto the beach. It was stupid o’clock in the morning but the sun was already up, shining brightly and throwing out more heat than we get during the height of a British summer.
A little later, my wife and I strolled along the beach, headed towards the Seagrape terrace for breakfast, when we passed a member of the hotel staff. Being the polite people we are, we said “good morning”.
In reply, the man said, “Manning Mon” and continued “it’s a bit chilli this manning”. He said this while blowing into his cupped hands and rubbing them together. The sort of thing I may do if the temperature was, say sub-zero.
But here, in the bright morning sunshine of the Caribbean, where the mercury was already pushing 28 degrees and visibly climbing, the man was dressed in a beany hat, at least two jumpers, a scarf wound around his neck and a thick pair of trousers tucked into wellington boots.
I was wearing a pair of swimming shorts and sunglasses, while my wife’s entire ensemble consisted of nothing more than a small triangular ‘eye-patch’ of white lace she had fastened over her most intimate nether region. Both of us feeling the ‘burn’ on our lily-white skin, even at this early hour.
Breakfast on the Seagrape terrace is wonderful. Everything from iced water and the freshest of fruit juice, to fine Jamaican coffee (of course). Cereals abound, as do fruits, breads, cold meats, smoked marlin and more, all home cooked. The choice continues with sausages, bacon, eggs, Johnnie cakes, ackee-ackee, mushrooms, beans and on and on… In a word, world-class. (yes, I cheated, I used a hyphen).
As wonderful as the Half Moon may be, no one, at least no one in their right mind, would choose to stay within the hotel’s grounds for the whole time they are in Jamaica. There is far too much to do beyond the confines of even the finest and most luxurious establishment.
Here are a few of the things we did during our stay. These are apart from the usual beach and water sports, all the regular, almost expected activities like jet skis, scuba diving, paragliding, deep sea fishing and such.
As some of my travelling companions were fans of the James Bond movies it was ludicrous not to visit the Falmouth Swamp crocodile farm, the one which was used in the Bond Movie, Live and Let Die, where it was portrayed as Kananga’s crocodile farm.
On the way to see the crocodiles, we stopped and looked down into Oracabessa Bay, at a point known as Golden Head. Located below is a white painted house, a small estate which some chap called Ian Fleming named Goldeneye.
This was Ian Fleming’s bungalow, the place where he wrote every one of his James Bond novels. It is as sort of very large one-story villa, he designed himself in the 1960’s.
By the by, did you know Fleming took the name for his character from that of the American ornithologist James Bond, an expert on Caribbean birds and author of the definitive field guide Birds of the West Indies?
I thought not.
For those who do know little about Ian Fleming, you may wish to add to that knowledge by learning he was the author of the children’s book, ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, a non-fictional book called ‘Thrilling Cities’, based on his own impressions of a number of world cities. He also provided several ideas, including the names of characters ‘Napoleon Solo‘ and ‘April Dancer‘, for the television series, The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
It is possible to stay on the estate, even in the ‘Fleming Villa‘ itself; which sleeps up to ten people. Previous guests have included Kate Moss, Johnny Depp, Willie Nelson, Pierce Brosnan, Grace Jones, Harry Belafonte and the Clintons…yes, ‘those’ Clintons.
The estate has a little helpful advice too; “If you are flying private, Ian Fleming International airport, located, latitude: W76° 58′ 09″ Longitude: N18° 24′ 15″, less than a 10-minute drive from Fleming Villa, is your best travel choice. Of course, we are happy to arrange all the details surrounding your trip”.
This is why we stopped to look down upon Goldeneye from the roadside, rather than stay there. Although we all agreed it would be a wonderful experience to do so. Maybe, I shall get the opportunity in the future? Who knows?
While the crocodile farm is interesting, the heat of Jamaica lends itself to slightly more laid back and relaxing activities.
There are few of these which can be considered as relaxing as Rafting down the Martha Brae. All one has to do is sit back and relax, while a boatman gently punts you downstream.
That’s it… and it is absolutely fabulous.
First stroll through Martha’s herb garden, before sitting back on your bamboo raft floating on the jade-green waters of the Martha Brae River, located in the parish of Trelawny (birthplace of sprinter Usain Bolt).
Trail your hand in the shimmering waters, gaze into the trees filled with colourful birds and exotic flowers. Surrender to the romance of the moment as you float in the cool water glistening in the beautiful Caribbean sun. During the trip down-river, our boatman carved a ‘loving cup’, inscribed with our names, from the outer skin of a gourd. A wonderful extra touch.
If you want a slightly more active fun, try climbing up the Dunns River Falls.
Dunn’s River Falls has a fascinating history. It is the location of the legendary battle of “Las Chorreras”. This battle was fought in the year, 1657 between the English and the Spanish Expeditionary Force from Cuba. The battle was in fact for ownership of the island. The outcome of the battle was in favour of The English who won.
The falls are about 600feet,(180 meters) in length during which they climb approximately 180ft, (55meters). You do not have to climb this in one single go. There are a number of shallows and rock pools on the way up where you can rest and take pictures.
Your guides will carry any extra bags, phones, cameras you may have with you, they will also take the photos if you wish. (Tipping them for a good service is appriciated).
If you like good food Jamaica is a fantastic destination.
A favourite spot for me is sitting 500 feet above the city of Montego Bay, on the Richmond Hill Inn’s famous ‘Terrace Restaurant’, looking at the lights of the city twinkling below, eating grilled lobster and fillet steak while sipping on a full-bodied Châteauneuf de pap. Ahh, bliss.
Much of our (my wife and I) visit to Jamaica involved doing many more ‘touristy’ things that we generally don’t do while travelling. This is because we tend to travel alone, while this trip we were accompanied by three other couples. So, on occasion we would ‘slope-off’, leaving the others sunbathing and swimming, and take some time out.
This particular day we did just that. Our companions, besides Neil (I told you I would mention him again), were sunning themselves on the golden sands of the Half Moon Bay, while Neil sat in the deepest shade dressed in shirt and trousers.
To give Neil his due, his shirt was unbuttoned to the waist and trousers rolled up, to just below his knees and he was barefooted. You may have guessed Neil was a sun-dodger, he did not care for the heat or the brightness. But coming from Hull in Yorkshire, I guess you can excuse him a little; but not for placing a knotted handkerchief over his balding head. (Yes, he did do that).
So, where was I?
Oh yes, taking a walk with my wife. We left the Half Moon hotel, walked past the golf course and wandered up the hill. It was a very hot, even in Caribbean terms, day. But the road was lined with tall trees and grasses which provided patches of intermittent cooling shade. We sensibly carried water with us, a lesson learnt long ago but decided we would find somewhere to sit and have a coffee or a cold beer. Where exactly we would find such a place along an empty rural road was not a question we considered.
Talking of roads… with the chance of making me sound a little ‘retentive’, we did notice, unlike many modern tarmac or ‘iron’ roads, the ones here used sea shells as the aggregate in there makeup, rather than stone. I know that will be of little interest to many, but I found it quite fascinating at the time.
Shortly after noticing the above, the sounds of Tracy Chapman floated towards us on the slight breeze.
“Mmh, mmh, Mmh, mmh, all you folks think I got my price, at which I’ll sell all that is mine”
Looking up from the shells beneath our feet we saw a small ‘shanty’ shack across the road with a few people sitting outside drinking beer.
It looked perfect. So we went inside and were greeted with a huge smile from ‘George’ the barman. Looking about at the eclectic mix of people, Rasta (of course) and bald heads, some playing Ludo, backpackers and holidaymakers like ourselves, a lorry driver, two men in high vis vests and tatty denim shorts and one tall, elegant woman in a flowing evening gown.
“Mmh, mmh, Mmh, mmh, some say the devil be a mystical thing, I say the devil he a walking man”
How such a mix of so many folks found themselves brought together at this moment, in a remote(ish) shack, amidst the fauna of a tropical island astounds me. It is the basis for a story, a book I must write.
Several, or more, icy cold Red Stripe and some hilarious conversations later, my wife and I made our way back to the beach… just in time to watch the last rays of the sun dip below the horizon.
Am I going back, yeah, sometime, maybe? You see I really do hear those Wild Geese calling, but they are always ‘somewhere else’, somewhere new, somewhere I have never been… yet.
If you enjoy reading my travel posts, perhaps you would enjoy some of my stories. Take a peek on my WEBSITE, where you can see what books are available and what new works are underway.
Thank you, Paul.
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