It took me 2 hours to climb to the top. It was a clear day, with the sun shining bright and the winds gently swaying the trees. Standing atop the 2256m peak, I knew I had conquered. In the distance I could see Cuba. Around me I could see lesser mountains, gurgling rivers, sparkling lakes and the most serene of seas. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. The spirit of Jamaica was too hard to resist. Paradise at last!
Located south of Cuba and 500 miles from Florida, Jamaica was discovered by Christopher Columbus in his first voyage. An island, with a population of 3 million, it covers an area of 10,991 sq. km. From east to west it spans 235 km. while it is a mere 80 km. at its widest. Originally inhabited by the Arawaks, Jamaica has had a colorful history. It now survives on tourism and the bauxite industry. Kingston serves as the capital and also the center of all trade and commerce.
The city in itself is quite recent, so you won’t find stone houses or any old 16th century towers. It’s not a dreamy city and you’ll find its streets are lined with offices, banks, malls and restaurants. The roads are not impeccably clean; in fact a Banglorean would feel right at home. It is a shopper’s delight. Ask your cabby to take you to the Michael Holding gas station, and you may be lucky to have your vehicle filled by the great legend himself. Just avoid the downtown area, as crime and poverty still prevail.
Jamaica is a place perfect for honeymooners. (Why I was there only between the age of 10 and 15 is still a mystery) Any town is no more than a 6-hour drive from the capital. If you are crazy about the water, then start with Negril on the West coast. A dream come true for lovers, the various hues of the ocean and the soft sand of the beaches will act as catalysts for any blooming romance. For those of you with bronzed bodies and hourglass figures, there are those ‘clothes optional’ beaches. Just an hour’s drive from Negril is the tourist capital Montego Bay, a surfer’s dream. (or nightmare) If you get tired of the water try the world famous golf course, home to many Johnie Walker tournaments.
Often natives will challenge you to find a place in Jamaica where you neither see water nor the mountains. Don’t accept, because you’ll lose! A 3-hour drive along the scenic north coast will bring you to Ocho Rios. But don’t be in a hurry, as you will miss Discovery Point, where Columbus first set foot and the eerie Green Grotto caves. As you enter the caves don’t be enticed by the live band or the bar. Keep off the Jamaican rum till you return from the exploration. Also along the way in the parish of St. Ann stop off at Bob Marley’s house in the Dry Harbour Mountains. Ocho Rios, this is where the river Ocho meets the Caribbean Sea and the adventure begins. Oops! Did I say meets? It falls! One of the most beautiful waterfalls and they even let you climb it!
Then onto Port Antonio, the mouth of the Rio Grande. Look for Ian Flemming’s house (it’s called Golden Eye) and remember ‘Blue Lagoon’ (hint: Brooke Shields) was also filmed here. If you are into rafting, Rio Grande is just right. Take a couple of beers with you, make sure your girlfriend’s in the same raft and enjoy the ride.
Of course no trip to Jamaica would be complete without a trek up the Blue Mountains. Don’t forget to stop at a café and taste the coffee, as it is the best in the world. Also visit Port Royal, the English buccaneer capital in the late 17th century. From Port Royal, you can even take a speedboat ride to many of the smaller islands nearby.
As far as stay is concerned, try any of the 2 five star hotels in the capital or the numerous all-inclusive resorts on the north coast. To make your stay as comfortable as possible, learn to speak a little patois (pronounced patwa), the local dialect. Don’t forget to get souvenirs – pick up all the Bob Marley tapes, buy the t-shirts, buy the Jamaican paintings and artifacts and please come back with a pack of Jamaican Blue mountain coffee. (A cup at Java city costs Rs.150)
That’s about all words can describe, the rest you’ll have to experience, so go to your travel agent and book those tickets now. Maybe you’ll be in time for the carnival. Have fun and as they say in Jamaica Irie man!