Trip Reports

Trip Report on Starfish Trelwany November 2003

Written by Steve Landry

Falmouth- Coopers Pen Jamaica …

Like a perfectly preserved flower, this tiny piece of Jamaica continues to hold that elusive “old-world” charm and I could not help but immerse myself in the warmth of the local people and the beautifully unspoiled areas. I found myself sometimes having to rush back to the resort in order to make it for meal times. But, even with all the amazing facets of the resort, there is NO doubt that the moments I spent beyond the limits of the property are the ones I will cherish forever!

Too often I hear fellow travelers complaining about the vendors and the pressure and discomfort they sometimes feel from solicitations and I have noticed an ever so slight increase in the desire to “make the sale” myself. On the beaches in Trelawny this is not at all the case!!! Yes, there are vendors both Westward about 200 yards in the Bamboo Village and eastward beyond the nude beach area where there are 5 or 6 small shops but we were both taken aback by how low key and quite simply friendly every last person was! We were never once asked twice by anyone. When asked to look, if we declined, the response was infallibly, “No problem mon!” followed by terms like “enjoy your day, or respect and blessin’s” etc. EVERY time. The vendors in Mo-Bay, Ochi and even Negril could learn a great lesson from the people on the beaches around Trelawny.

The highlights of the vacation (for me) were our wanderings so I will tell you a little about them first. My first trip to Jamaica was about 15 years ago and I stayed at Starfish Trelawny, which was then known as Trelawny Beach Hotel. On that trip I met a man named Caleb ”Puttymon” Ellison. We spent many hours learning and sharing with each other, a good friendship was born and on my next two trips to Jamaica (again at Trelawny Beach Hotel and then Sunset Beach) we spent much of our time together again. However the last time we saw each other was in 1992, and I (ashamedly) having returned to Jamaica so many times since then, never got back to see him.

As soon as we had our bags in our room, I got us drinks and we walked down to the Bamboo Village (for those who don’t know, this is a village of about 60 or so vendors on the beach west of Starfish where I first met Caleb). I doubtingly asked the first woman who asked me if “everything was alright” and if she knew of a man they called “Puttymon”. I was elated as she smiled and pointed to where his bamboo hut was located. I was moved beyond words as I made my way over and saw that his shop was still there (slightly enlarged) but still in exactly the same place!!! Over eleven years had passed but when I walked into his shop and saw him sitting on the floor carving a dolphin sculpture.

He looked up at me, slowly smiled and said, “My friend! Steve! Yes mon, you back! Such a long time mon…” I now truly regretted not having gone to check for him on all those other trips. Caleb, like myself, is a very spiritual person and we both thank the Lord for each other’s friendship. He has over the years built himself a modest home with a small bar and sound-system where he serves up snacks, drinks and irie vibes from the music for many of the locals. Because of this, he has gained a huge amount of respect within the community!

On several mornings, we went down to see him and I helped him carry his tools and wood for carving from his home up by the road down to his shop on the beach. Keep in mind that his home and shop would be regarded as exasperated hovels here in North America. There
is no running water and he along with his 70 year old mother and 3 year old daughter whose name is Rachel or affectionately “Miss First”, live in a small room off the back of his bar. Speaking of his daughter, I was saddened and enraged to learn that the mother of his child had run off to England! Unforgiveable!!!! This is a wonderful man with a wonderful spirit and, although I am concerned for him and his family’s well being, I have NO doubt that he loves and cherishes his daughter.

On two occasions I babysat Rachel for Caleb as he ran some quick errands, the second time was actually the morning we were leaving. We had given Miss First a few treats and some toys including a bucket and shovels (she has no toys to speak of) for the sand. It had taken her some time to warm up to me and understand but this last morning she eagerly led me down to the shoreline to ” fill up de pail, fill up de pail …” Watching her smile and laugh looking to me for acknowledgement, I wept profusely. It took every fiber of my being to tear myself away from her and leave.

I also was provided with the privilege to sit and play dominoes with Caleb and two of his friends. This was something I have always wanted to do in Jamaica but hadn’t to this point. We played for a couple hours and Putty and crew all agreed that, although I was a BIT slow to play and much too quiet on my “slam”, I made a fine player regardless!

There is a magical and extremely rustic local restaurant on the sea named Time and Place down the beach a short walk from the Bamboo Village. Owned by a man named Tony, who is a great guy. We walked down there with Caleb one afternoon and made arrangements to go back for lunch the next day. This place is truly like a whole other world. Being the most barren and rustic place you will ever see, yet boasting some of the best accolades ever to be bestowed upon an eatery! Conde Nast rated it to be one of the all-time best places to eat in the Caribbean.

My wife had a huge Rock Lobster as fresh as fresh can be, grilled with all the trimmings for $700 Jamaican dollars (about $11.00 U.S.) Jacob really liked Tony and he also had a ball playing with a group of puppies that were living behind the bar. It wasn’t easy to tell him that we couldn’t keep one. There are rooms there that you can rent as well, and the rates are very affordable. For someone looking for a truly rustic “getaway-from-it-all”, this place is ideal.

The three of us also walked all the way down on the other side of the beach as well on several occasions. There is a superb stretch of white sand down that reaches out a LONG ways into the ocean to a beautiful sandbar. You can wade the whole way out there on nothing but powdery white sand and then stand ankle-deep on the sand bar!!! My wife and Jacob thought it was so cool to be able to be standing in the “middle of the ocean” as it really sort of felt that way!

There are also some really great folks down there. Sonny, who owns a drink stand and a Rasta who cooks incredibly delicious soups with everything from Yams to Irish Moss. Jacob loved this place as well. Sonny took a real shining to him and gave him an Apple soda that Jacob enjoyed so much that we bought more. There was another man there who I enjoyed talking with and who was very hospitable but I cannot remember his name. Also, Jacob was given some invaluable lessons from a Rastafarian who taught him a few things about the local wildlife. There are some excellent places at the end of the beach there to see tropical fish right at the shore, and we saw several really nice fish as well as a mating pair of Blue Crabs and some beautiful Egrets and other birds. If you go… DON’T miss this area!

Tuesday was Caleb’s 43rd birthday and he invited us to his bar to help him celebrate. My wife was a bit reluctant at the thought of being out in the village with Jacob at night in the dark, but I convinced her that all would be fine and we happily did not miss out. Jacob and Rachel did really good together and had a good time. Rachel was very shy at first but not for long. I must say there were some local patrons who were a bit surprised to see us tourists out there at night with a 4 year old boy, but my wife now says that evening is one of the real highlights for her and she is so happy to have gone. It was extremely dark when we left but Caleb’s friend Patrick was more than happy to lead us back to the beach. Jacob had gotten tired so I had to carry him most of the way back to the resort. He’s getting a bit heavy!

My friend Paul Williams (Chairman of Tobolski School) stopped in to the resort to say “Hi” one morning. It was very upsetting to me that he was not allowed in and was treated like dirt by the security guard. After much hassle, he was allowed to (leaving his car across the road) run up on foot to ask for me at the front desk. By sheer coincidence I happened to be in the lobby and he recognized me. We chatted for a while and it was really good to see him again. When he told me of the hassle at the gate, I went down there with him and chastised the guard demanding that he apologize for his behavior. It is appalling to me that if Paul had been white or driving a Mercedes he would have been waved right on through. On the bright side, however, this was the ONLY unpleasant interaction with staff throughout the entire week!

Originally, Paul was going to pick Sandy, Jacob and me up and bring us to and from Tobolski school, however we wanted also to stop for shopping/sightseeing in Brownstown. So as not to be a problem for him, we arranged transportation for the day with a private driver.

Return visit to Tobolski Basic School:

One of the biggest benefits in staying at Trelawny instead of one of the much too high-priced Sandals is that the budget I saved allowed me to give back SO much more to the people who need it most. We were on our way to get our cab for Tobolski School when we met a French couple from Quebec. After a quick chat, they were really excited and asked if they could come along with us, seeing we had just enough seating room we were happy to have them join us. Marcel and Louise Lemieux. They were so moved by the whole experience that they eagerly gave a LARGE cash donation.

Upon arriving the children were playing in the (so called) schoolyard. And when Marcia and the other teachers recognized me, they came running with open arms. I cannot begin to tell you how special it feels to have someone you hardly know who lives so far away, bestow you with hugs and kisses and blessings especially when they are not resort staff. I was moved immeasurably.

It was also extra special when some of the children remembered me as well. The lessons my son Jacob learned on this excursion, although abstract, are immensely important. I am so happy to report that through word of mouth etc. we have managed to make a measurable difference for the school.

– THE RESORT –

Rooms:

The tower rooms are not large, and there are a few that still need renovating (about 3/4 are complete) however they are really nicer with the updates. Not elegant but clean and comfortable. We had a one-week old bathroom very tastefully appointed and freshly painted as well. The balconies could be a bit larger. Some of the best parts of the room were: a C/D payer/clock radio, Mini-bar and fridge, Coffee maker and very comfy beds. If you are a room person, then it is worth taking the upgrade to a cottage.

We were hanging with a British family who were staying in them and I checked one out quickly. They are furnished with dark-wood furniture and four-poster beds and they are a bit larger and surrounded by gardens. I personally don’t like tower style resorts, but Starfish makes up for it in so many different ways that we will definitely return.

The amenities:
They are seemingly endless!!! This is one area where Starfish rises way above the rest. Here’s what I can think of: Four pools, pool tables in pools, beach chairs in shallow pool ring, kids splash pool, two awesome waterslides, Jacuzzi’s in the pools, swim up bar, canopied mattresses around the deck, four hidden Jacuzzis, nude beach, private island, rock climbing wall, trapeze, trampoline, water-trampoline, hockey rink, basketball court, mini golf, tennis courts, volleyball, ping pong, billiards, shuffleboard, water sports (i.e. kayak, sunfish etc… )Full spa, Golf, Arcade, Casino, movie room, gym, on site shopping, six bars, four restaurants, beach bar& grill, piano bar, wedding gazebo, awesome kids program, disco with a Jacuzzi on the dance-floor… and more!

Entertainment:
Mostly good, the resident band was pretty good and they enjoyably put a lot of Bob Marley into their sets (including some of his lesser known works which I really enjoyed!) The two best nights were the Beach Party and the traditional Jamaica Night show. There was a woman who did a fire-breathing act that was absolutely amazing! The best I’ve seen of it’s kind, and I have seen over a dozen!!! Also the talent night was tons of fun. Karaoke night and Fashion show were a bit lame… A quick stroll down to the late night beach grill and bar with the non-stop reggae cured that though.

Grounds:
Very well kept, not always beautiful but as there are a lot on the property. There are some gorgeous gardens and all the pool areas are really REALLY cool … As good as pools get really. The beach is very, very nice. The only drawback was that it was often choppy (typical of the North Coast) but the sand coverage is excellent and the beach stretches over 2 miles when you include the public sections. As is typical in Jamaica the sand was constantly raked. The private island has hammocks, sunshades and plenty of loungers. One great thing about the island is that it forms a nice shallow cove for the younger children to play safely. Speaking of loungers and sunshades etc., the resort was at 75% capacity and there was always plenty available. A couple of improvements would be to do more work on the front entrance fountain/garden area. They would do well to replace a tennis court or two with a garden park or something quiet. I saw several couples getting married in the Gazebo on the pier and they did a beautiful job.

Staff and service:

True Jamaican. Warm, friendly, and eager to make you happy. Only with the exception of the previously mentioned Gate guard and one woman at the front desk. Even all the groundskeepers and gardeners were gracious and overall happy to make your acquaintance. The exceptional ones include : All the Activity coordinators, Derval at the beach bar, the women who ran the kids club, Glen the piano player, and Curtis who has been there since the beginning.

Dining:

This is another area where Starfish REALLY shines! My wife and I were extremely impressed with the quality considering the 3 1/2 star resort rating. ‘Casablanca’(French), ‘Guiseppi’ (Italian) and ’Munahanna’ (Oriental and Sushi) were TRULY outstanding. Yes there were some menu items carrying surcharges, but only the really expensive items like Lobster (understandable with the incredibly low rates the resort charges!) My wife and I joked that we would have had to eat 27 lobsters EACH per DAY to get our cost up to what we would have spent for a week at Beaches Plantation. To be honest, the five course meals we had at Casablanca were more enjoyable and every bit as good quality as at BRP and almost as good as Le Piacere at Grand Lido Negril !

The only part that wasn’t 5 star was the professionalism and caliber of service. Breakfast buffets were like what we have come to expect in Jamaica with Omelets to order, French Toast, Pancakes, Bacon, Sausage, tons of cheeses, fruit, breads and pastries, cereals and always several typical Jamaican morning fare items like Ackee and Saltfish etc.

Lunch buffets were usually just average. I think it might be because so many eat at the Beach Grill. (Jerk Chicken & Pork, Burgers (chicken, beef and fish), Hot Dogs, Fries, Nachos and cheese and a great salad bar as well. The dinner buffets were very good as well with a wide range of choices for everyone. There were always four or five main course choices along with the usual salad bars and of course dessert tables mmmmmmmmm!!! Be sure to eat often in the A la Carte places though as they are really outstanding. Another really pleasant surprise was the late night snacks. I was expecting real snacks, but they put out a spread the equivalent of about half of the buffet! Providing a usually much needed fourth meal.

Overall, this resort is absolutely unbeatable value. Unless you absolutely need white glove service, this place is truly great for everyone. The crowd was an eclectic mix young and old from around the world. We met a couple who were multi-time visitors to Hedo II as well as a couple who had stayed at the Ritz Carleton their last visit. Sure enough, both couples (and everyone else I met) were amazed at how much better Starfish was than they had expected. Several guests repeatedly said they couldn’t believe the 3 1/2 star rating.

If you are a room person book a cottage, if you are a sportsman the platinum plan might be best for you. If you are like me, you will agree that the difference in price is much greater than the difference in the value when compared to so-called 5 star resorts.

I would give this resort a 4 star rating, and would not hesitate to pay more for another week. It is truly an unbeatable value all the way!
One negative for some might be the children, however the kids club ladies were awesome and although there were many children there, they were almost always off somewhere out of sight. The east end of the beach was always void of children, and the few kids that were around the pools and such were never a problem at all.

If you go to Starfish (or any other resort in Jamaica for that matter), Spend some time out of the resort! It is beyond the walls that you will take home lifelong memories, even of you’re staying in the most elegant place on the island, it still pales to the magic of Jamaica’s people and her “real life”

My entire cost for my wife, son and myself was such a good price that I managed to have about $1000 US to spread around the community, and I never felt like I was imprisoned by the A/I because I had to get my moneys worth. Instead I spent hundreds freely with the locals and still took advantage of everything the resort had to offer. I STILL came out spending much less in ALL than I would have at a 5 star like GLN or BRP.

Enjoy all the magic that is JAMAICA and GOD BLESS THE CHILDREN OF JAMAICA!

NOTICE TO READERS: If anyone has an interest in helping the Tobolski Basic School with donations, supplies or other gifts, PLEASE feel free to contact me through my Email address [email protected]

And if you are passing through or staying near Starfish Trelawny, be sure to look up “Puttymon” for a great deal on his beautiful carvings.

He could really use some help. Tell him Steve sent you!
Respect!

About the author

Steve Landry