Welcome to Jamaica

Many emails about ignoring Jeff’s aunt — thanks. I knew that was the right answer, I just needed to hear it. Marcy, your idea about sending her a note and mentioning how nice it was to have the last few months with Jasmine is great.

I couldn’t post while in Jamaica and I just didn’t have the discipline to journal every day if I wasn’t going to post it, so most of what I write now will be from memory. But since I think I had the most sober vacation (aside from the kids), it will probably be good anyway. I did, to my credit, try to find a journal to write in while I was there (why didn’t I take one of the five I have floating around here? I don’t know — it would have been too easy), but all I found were lots of photo albums that looked like journals at first glance. It seems that Jamaicans don’t journal much, or if they do, they don’t buy them in gift/souvenir shops. Shocking!

Our trip to Jamaica was pretty uneventful. The shuttle ride to the airport was full of thrills for the rest of my family, who were sitting in the front of the bus and witnessed many ignored stop signs, but for me, in the back, it was boring and slightly nauseating. It didn’t help that it was four-freaking-AM. Once at the airport, we made our way through security, showing our birth certificates and driver’s licenses so often I’m surprised they aren’t falling apart. Good thing we had new ones. I’m thinking we need to get passports, soon. The folks with passports moved through everything much faster than we did, and with lots less juggling.

The flight was fine, with no crashes. That is my criteria for a good flight. No crashes. Flying over the Caribbean was weird — all that blue below us and above us. Since the clouds were below us, I had the curious sensation of flying upside down. The airport was interesting. From the incoming side, it seemed really small. There were three Jamaican women in swirly white dresses singing when we arrived, with one man accompanying on guitar. It was quaint — I doubt the US has anything so flavorful when people come into our country! Everyone was very friendly, with beautiful accents and smiles.

Now the shuttle ride to Beaches — whoa! I’m not sure how these people stay alive, but I’m sure the many roadside signs about “keeping fatalities down” aren’t really helping. We had a 2.5 hour drive to the resort. It wasn’t a problem, really, that we were driving on the opposite side of the road. It wasn’t even that the roads were narrow and poorly paved. It was that the drivers in Jamaica are INSANE! They drive like kamikaze fighter pilots, diving around each other with little space to spare. I can’t believe I didn’t see a head-on collision, though I did see a few narrow misses. Even the bus drivers are crazy like this, passing where they have no business passing. And in the part of Jamaica I traveled there is no such thing as a no-passing zone, so if you can’t see around the bend? No problem, mon! Added to the passing mayhem, drivers who apparently don’t feel you need to pull off the road when you stop and pedestrians who step into the road at will. Oh yeah, and let’s not forget the goats and cows that wander as well.

Finally I just stopped watching the road ahead and soaked in the beautiful countryside. The lushness of the green is amazing. Florida is the closest I’ve seen, but I wasn’t bordered by beautiful turquoise sea there, nor were the towns in Florida as enchanting. The shanties and houses reminded me of some of the places I’ve visited in Mexico, in the sense of them being built with whatever materials were available. We passed banana plantations and several small towns on our way in to Ocho Rios. We passed the beach where Columbus landed and we passed Runaway Bay, where slaves used to hide after escaping their masters. We had one stop, where we sampled our first Red Stripe, a beer brewed in Jamaica, and jerked chicken. There was a woodcarving hut there — one of many, they were ubiquitous — where I bought a nice sun/moon carving from a woman named Gloria. Gloria had hands gnarled from carving, mahogany skin and a face that told of a harder life than many Americans experience. As we stood there, a lanky little orange and white tabby kitten darted out from her work space, one of many kittens I saw on the island. I’m not sure what their feral cat situation is, but none of the cats I saw seemed to have the multitude of toes that I’ve seen on feral cats in the US. They were also much friendlier. But I digress.

When we finally got to the resort, we had passed several on the way that made me sort of apprehensive. I thought of all the comedies I’ve seen where someone books a tour in another country and gets there only to find a ramshackle hotel with insects and holes in the roof. Fortunately, that was not the case with Beaches — it was wonderful. They wouldn’t let us take our bags to the room, our check-in was hassle-free with top-notch service and the rooms were fabulous, with a sort of British tropical decor. We had a balcony that looked out over palm trees and the ocean.

Our first trip was down to eat as we were all ravenous. The food started out good and just got better. Lunch wasn’t anything special — a burger and fries — but it was really flavorful, with jerk seasoning. Different brands of soda… and a soft serve ice cream machine for anytime ice cream. Heaven for kids. Heaven for adults was in the form of a swim-up bar where we could sit with a pina colada while cool water bubbled around us and consider the brilliance of the ocean. That was our next stop. We played in the pool and had a few drinks before visiting the beach.

The beach was small, but it had the white sand and palm trees Jasmine wanted. She would have loved it. They had a water trampoline, several ocean kayaks and water tricycles. Hobie Cat catamarans, a glass-bottomed boat, a deep-sea fishing boat and a dive boat, all enclosed in a private beach. As we stood down there with Gabrielle and Nina, we had our first experience with the hard-sell Jamaicans who were standing with one foot on the pier and the other on the non-property beach next door. They wanted to braid Gab’s hair. They wanted us to come to the other beach and look at their crafts. They wanted us to bring them a burger from the resort (I might add that none of them looked like they were particularly lacking for food). Mainly, they wanted our money, as tourism and tourists are the main industry in Jamaica. We made arrangements to return later to have Gab’s hair braided.

Dinner that first night included TONS of seafood, including shrimp scampi and grilled lobster tails. Did I mention that this is an all-you-can eat buffet? Grilled snapper, lots of yummy fruit, veggies and rolls. The food was excellent. I went to bed with Nina at about 9 and everyone else stayed up and watched the evening’s entertainment — a live band. Jasmine would have been in heaven. It was just her kind of thing.

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