Our last stop in Kingston was a visit to the Bob Marley Museum. It is a bit commercial, but the essence and spirit of the man is definitely there. You see the kitchen in which Marley was shot; the bullet holes still visible, and other rooms in his house with newspaper articles, awards, original album covers and photos, his clothing, bedroom, guitar, and completed with a half hour movie of live concert footage. It was almost too much to believe that we could have two consecutive inspirational stops in one day. It was a lot to absorb. My son and I were both moved as we each touched several times the jean shirt that hung for display. We recognized it from many taped concerts we had watched at home. This was a shirt he apparently took on the road and wore quite often. We were unable to take any photos at the museum as they made us put all cameras in our van. Exhilarated, but tired we departed Kingston with Chef who took us on route B1 through the Blue Mountains to Port Antonio. Chef had also helped to plan our trip. We wrote several times by email and once we all got comfortable the four of us traveled as a team. He knew everything about the vegetation across the island, and was invaluable for getting us from one place to another. The roads can be quite poor in areas and the driving an exercise in fortitude, something he possessed. We befriended Chef and enjoyed his companionship. We continued on our drive through the mountains on our way to Port Antonio. It is quite a long road that takes you up the mountain to heights that give you beautiful views of Kingston in the distance. The ride is through lush vegetation on tight winding roads. Somewhere midstream on this journey I realized how close to edge of the road I was and admittedly felt a little nervous. We admired many small children in uniforms walking home from school. They looked charming and sometimes yelled “hey whitey”, which Chef explained as a welcoming hello. I was in awe of the distances and the difficulty the walk must be for these children to attend a school. That which we take for granted here in the states can be an awesome task for others in a poor country. Chef stopped at one point, and we had no idea why. We climbed out of the car and walked a few steps only to see a beautiful waterfall.
Of course my husband who loves to swim and is a man of the sea, immediately trekked as close to the falls as he could get and jumped right in for a swim. He said the pressure from the falls was too great to get under it. Refreshed, and all relaxed we climbed back into the van for the rest of our journey to Port Antonio. I particularly enjoyed when we stopped in a village to buy a meat-filled patty and a soda at a local stand. I am always hungry when I travel, but it also lends to getting closer to the people and entering their establishments. I was happy to give them my business. We arrived around 5p to our hotel in Port Antonio, called San San Tropez. Two Italian men and one woman run it. One of the men in particular, Nino was very cordial and welcomed us with a cappuccino. Their place is set high on a hill and they have an Italian restaurant with pretty good food. Their staff was some of the nicest people I met, especially the morning cook in the kitchen. We shared with him some tapes we picked up at Tuff Gong, which they played in the restaurant. He even took some of them home to copy. In return he brought back a tape for Danny. Later on we brought out the laptop we had brought with us with its DVD player. We put on the “One Love Concert” and all the staff gathered to see this. They were amazed at this technology, as they had never seen it before. This lovely young man in the kitchen moved me. He was very gentle and curious. I wish I were wealthy enough to have just left the computer with him, but that was not possible. Chef showed us a few local beaches before he bid us farewell for two nights and a day on our own.
Only later did I realize this is a town I recommend one to have transportation. We were quite spent so just ate a lovely dinner right there, and went to sleep. The room while spacious was quite hot. The AC didn’t work, and Danny got a tremendous number of bug bites. I think in time this place will be even better when they continue to put their loving hands to work on it. They are relatively new owners, and all of this takes time. I would still recommend it, because it has a homey feeling. On our first morning, we hailed a taxi into the bustling town of Port Antonio for 20 Jamaican dollars each. We were accompanied by one of our hotels partners. She knew her way around, so we winded through the streets with ease. I really enjoyed this town a lot as there was so much to look at, and witness in terms of everyday life. I stared so hard as to put a permanent imprint in my memory.
We headed for the market place and craft galley where Danny bought a carved face, and we bought some wooden toys. The gal we were with had brought us to a particular carver, but he seemed to be the one with the biggest stand and squeezed out all competition. He acted as if he had the monopoly. We were determined to buy a carving from a more quiet man in a smaller booth. Later on in the trip we realized we didn’t love this carving, but were glad to have supported him. As we continued our walk through town I marveled at the variety of fruits and spices and the hustle and bustle of street life. I stopped to exchange some money for the first time at the Cambio. The exchange rate averaged 42 Jamaican dollars to 1 American dollar. Remember to keep the exchange slips because if you are left with any Jamaican dollars at the end of your trip, the only way you can get American dollars at the airport is to show what exchange rate you got. Needless to say I threw all mine away, so spent, or gave away my last Jamaican dollars in tips. I saved one piece of each coin as a memento. Port Antonio is in a rain forest, so at one point when we were having something cool to drink down at the marina in town it started to pour by the bucketfuls. It had already down poured quite heavily the night before. I never heard rain pound that hard. We were held up there until it subsided, a good hour. We then raced back to our hotel, as I wanted desperately to go to the beach and relax in the sun. Admittedly, I have but one true vice, the heat and the sun. I love to sit for an hour and see that my skin has turned a golden bronze. We went to Dragon Bay Beach, famous by the movie “Cocktail” starring Tom Cruise, but by the time we settled in it started to rain again. Therefore, we went under the thatch-roofed restaurant and ate a hardy meal and had a few drinks. We still had a good time, although I was somewhat disappointed and frustrated by the rain. Later that the day and also the morning of the next we visited Frenchmen’s cove (oh so beautiful, my type of beach, quiet and calm), and the Blue Lagoon, another famous spot with very deep blue water.
Bruce took a quick swim there. I didn’t know that the Blue lagoon also had a restaurant with a thatched roof, and felt cheated that one out of the two nights we didn’t dine there. It was raining so hard we just stayed at our place. However, this place is well covered and looks like a lot of locals would have come, and it would have been fun
The following morning chef arrived around 930am to pick us up, and take us along the North coast towards Ocho Rios. We needed a place to stay for one night that would be closer to our visit to Nine Mile (Bob Marley’s Mausoleum) the following morning. I found the majority of the drive to be uneventful, except for two things. There were huge banana plantations, row after row. I couldn’t remember if I had ever seen a banana tree full with fruit.
We also stopped at a local fruit stand, which Bruce had anxiously been waiting to do so he could taste a jelly (the mushy inside I think of a coconut).
We spent a good half hour there tasting different fruits, and Danny sucked on some sugar cane. That experience was memorable, and these little moments really make a trip. I wish we had stopped at many more of these stands. I think if we had driven on our own we would have, but we didn’t want to ask Chef to stop too much.
He was always hospitable and ready to do what we wanted, but we were aware of the long drives and the poor road conditions. What was of interest to the outsider is probably plain ordinary for a local. The only other point of interest on this drive was at a carvers shack. He did beautiful work, was a nice man and we bought two pieces from him. We even watched him carve for a bit.
His shack was also across the street from a beautiful overlook of stunning water a brilliant turquoise. A little further up the road we pulled into Ocho Rios. Chef took us to some resort hotel to get out, swim and get a rest from the ride. The place was kind of hokey, but since I had been robbed of the sun in Port Antonio I raced down to the small crowded beach, found myself a chair and quickly lay down in the sun. I had one of the ladies braid some of my hair only to pull it out later that night. It was uncomfortable and I felt too touristy with it in. Danny and Bruce went for a jet-ski ride; we all had drinks, and within a 2-hour period left.
We took a drive outside of Ochi called Fern Gully, which supposedly has the largest collection of ferns in one place. It too is a winding road where you pass many stalls of crafts people. I thought this road was so lush and beautiful. I stuck my head out the window to take it in the smell. While we stopped at the craft shacks for a little while, I really had no interest. It was much of the same as we had seen elsewhere, and I was not in the mood to shop and haggle over price. Bruce bought a wooden mug he really didn’t want, and that we later left in a hotel just to give a man some business. Chef dropped us at our hotel, The Little Pub in the center of town. It was in a good location, but was sort of creepy. It had a bar, a restaurant and some stores, but it was virtually empty. It was also decorated in a flamboyant tacky way. It was one night, and the room was clean, so who cares. We had our mission. Chef spent a few more hours with us in town, and Danny walked the craft market, which is quite large. I zoomed through it and stayed mostly on the main or side streets trying to take in local color. I did not like Ochi. It is a town that receives cruise ships every day, and I just didn’t like the feel of the place. It is set up primarily for tourists. We really didn’t know where to go for dinner, and we weren’t tired so we walked into one of these glitzy resorts (the Renaissance) where Danny blended with the guests and swam for a long time in their pools and hot tubs, which had fake waterfalls. The child in him emerged, and he asked to be watched. Those moments are short and few, so I was happy to do it. Bruce and I splurged for a buffet dinner with the millions of other guests, and I was grateful not to be one of them. I would hate to stay in a place like that with people all of one kind, being served, and enclosed in a non-reality. What kind of Jamaican experience could they have gotten when most of their contact was from people who served them? My bias, sorry. We dragged ourselves home to bed and looked forward to a quick escape the following morning.
Chef picked us up around 8:30am and we were very ready to leave. Bruce and I ruled out a visit to Dunn’s River Falls, because it is a huge tourist attraction where busloads of people from cruise boats come. Not for us. If you can take in one of the less crowded falls you will be a lot happier. So, we headed on our long awaited journey to 9-mile, the resting place and mausoleum of Bob Marley. be delighted.