I must say ahead of time, that I can’t tell everything. Some stories must not be told, and some need to be told over a beer, in person. But I think there are enough stories here to make this worth reading anyway….
Day One, Wednesday (Airport-St. Mary)
We were so ready for this trip. Two weeks in Jamaica…a first. That, and no kids this time. We’d planned some of the trip ahead but left many of the first few days open to whims. This was the trip I’d wanted to do for a long time…almost all the way around the Island, in a car.
We arrived in MoBay on time, blah, blah, blah and immediately found our rep from Vernon’s Rental Cars, who met us at the airport in MoBay. We signed a few papers (OmiGod, how much do we owe you if we mash this car up???) and we were on our way. Now I was leery about renting a car but it was all my husband P wanted for the trip so I arranged it. After much research we chose Vernon’s/Fun Holiday. Good recommendations and they gave us a nice internet discount on a new Toyota Corolla with AC and the works. About 5 minutes out of the airport I turned to P and thanked him for making me do it…I felt so free! Heading east from the airport we stopped at Ironshore to grab some gas and a road map and stopped again for some coco bread (oh yummy….) and drinks at a roadside stand somewhere before Falmouth. From a guy in the shop, we got the first run of the question we’d get asked a lot this trip – "What do you think about the war?". Seems to me most Jamaicans I meet love to talk and so do I, so it works well, we had a nice chat and were on our way.
P was driving like a champ. He’s driven in Jamaica before but not for years. 10 minutes in the car and he’s waving the route taxis over to pass him, beeping like a Jamaican and handling the left-side driving thing remarkably well. As Carolyn Barrett would say, he’s earning his PhD (pothole dodger). The windows are down, Irie FM is blasting from the radio, we’re in Jamaica and all is well.
P heads to the left to avoid a pothole and catches a different one hidden in the vegetation at the roadside. Flump, flump, flump….you know the sound of a tire going flat, don’t you? We pull over and P surveys the situation, opens the trunk and has the spare on in about 5 minutes. I watch and wonder why I’m so happy to be having a flat. We’re back on the road feeling very broken in. But we do think we ought to get the tire fixed soon because we could hit another pothole and now we have no spare. So we drive on until Runaway Bay, there’s a light rain now. We see a "TYRE REPAIR" shop and pull in. The very friendly guys there agree to fix it for $500J (just under $10US) and so they pop off the tire and we see it has already been patched 2-3 times. Hmm. OK, one more patch. While he works on the tire, we hang out in the "office", actually a very large shipping crate, you know, like 2 rooms big. It’s raining and we have some more nice chats while we wait. Finally it’s done and we head off….we want to get to our first stop, Castle Garden in St. Mary (about 40 minutes east of Ochi, between Port Maria and Oracabessa), before dark as we have never been there before.
By the time we hit Ochi, it’s dark (except for the many lights of Ochi itself, of course….that’s a big bright town for sure, high rises and everything) so we just resign ourselves to finding the place at night.
I saw my first real sidewalk in Jamaica in Ochi, it runs along the road from Dolphin Cove and Dunns River Falls into town. Turns out it’s not really a sidewalk, it’s the "One Love Trail" meant for people to use to walk/bike, whatever, between those attractions and downtown. Only one small section was washed away, pretty nice.
Libby, a friend who lives in Castle Garden and had booked us in the cottage we stayed in, had given excellent directions and we found the right road off the main. The main road thus far has been great…only a little construction before Ochi and otherwise smooth (well except for that pothole). This road to the cottage though, is a different story. What Libby refers to as "the nice flat part" is only a slightly less washed out, pothole-marl mess than the rest of the "villa road". We do about a mile an hour, looking for the gates to the home we are staying at, dodging potholes we can only see with our headlights. It is quiet around here, no lights, only a few people back at the main. Now here is where I have a story that you need to ask me about should we ever meet over a beer 🙂 .
We do arrive at (as Libby wrote in her directions) "the large iron gates" finally and head up. We meet the owner of the "big house", Richard Sinclair (Hurry! Hurry!). He’s very sweet and shows us our cottage. The house the Sinclairs live in was built by Bob and Rita Marley. It’s huge and very modern, tons of verandahs and a pool, on 11 lush, jungly, sea-view, rolling acres. The property is beautiful….gorgeous views from many points and paths, thoughtfully cut through the jungle for walking. There is also a huge recording studio with a killer rooftop deck, a house for the staff, a few storage buildings and our cottage. Richard plans to add 4 or so cottages to rent, that’s it. Our villa/cottage/house was originally built for the studio musicians to use. It has 4 bedrooms, a kitchen and living/dining area, a back patio with orchids hanging down off a trellis overhead and a wonderful verandah that runs the length of the cottage on the sea-facing side. We had booked only one room ($75 including breakfast at this time) but no one else was staying there so we had the whole cottage to ourselves. The cottage is called Dream River Villa, by the way and Libby and Chef (Libby’s husband Chef is an excellent driver and guide as well as a super-nice guy, more on them later…) have a web page about it (and take reservations for it) on their web site at www.sealawncoralbeach.com.
We were pretty beat by now, but hungry and eager to see what was around, so we went towards Oracabessa, to Dor’s. It is probably a beautiful place, we could hear waves crashing on the cliffs, Negril west-end style, but it was too dark to see. We had steamed fish with okra and veggies which was all they had at that hour. It was great for me but P isn’t a huge fish fan (a huge PHISH fan, yes, but not in love with sea critters unless they have shells). We laughed about that "final icing on the cake of the day (so we thought at the time) and headed back.
The whole Sinclair family was home now and we enjoyed meeting everyone. Intelligent and outgoing children and Mrs. Sinclair was very sweet. We went up to the cottage ready to fall into bed, we were exhausted. Key in first lock, no problem. Key in second lock……uh oh. It seems I have accidentally locked a lock on the bedroom door that we don’t have a key for. Down to the main house we go and explain. Richard returns with a bag of keys he found in an attic that the Marley estate had given them with the house…maybe 50-60 dusty keys in all. One by one, he, P and Mrs. S, try each one while the kids and I play marbles on the floor. All keys now tried and failed, P suggests and implements a somewhat cruder method of entry and with no damage to the door, we’re in at last.
The cottage does not have A/C but being high on a hill overlooking the sea, has great breezes and a powerful ceiling fan and we were more than comfortable with a light blanket. Richard believes A/C is unhealthy so it won’t be added. Screens were being added but frankly, even with me being the mosquito magnet that I am, I was not bothered by bugs at all there. It had been dry for awhile and the same breezes that cooled us apparently kept the bugs away too. We collapsed on the bed, listening to the sounds of the country…a dog here and there, the odd time-of-day-confused rooster. I don’t think I was awake for 5 minutes.
Hopefully tomorrow won’t have quite the drama and excitement that today had….we were planning to head to Port Antonio tomorrow but we’re starting to like it around here….