Trip Report Jamaica Nov 2002

This report may end up being a bit long, but hopefully it will be helpful for others.

When we first started out, it seemed like it was going to be one of those nightmare travel days. Heavy overnight snowfall and the subsequent de-icing of the plane delayed our first flight by 50 minutes. Seeing that our schedule was to be: 6:00 am out of YUL 9:55 into MIA connect with 10:55 to MBJ this left us a whopping 10 minutes to deplane (gate E) and race through the Miami international airport to catch the next flight (gate B) … wasn’t going to happen! When we got off our first flight from Montreal an American Airlines employee told us that we could not make our connection and that we had already be reconfirmed on the next flight, which was not until 5:45 PM! I decided to give it a try anyway, and we raced from wing E to wing B in minutes flat. Much to our great relief, they saw us running up, just before they closed the (irreversible) door!!! We literally JUST made it… by seconds!
We boarded they closed the door and took off.

The weather was absolutely gorgeous upon arrival: full sunshine and 90 degrees. Throughout the week the weather was superb, there were two days that we got half cloud half sun, and a bit of rain (Friday and Saturday I think) but the rest of the time it was just sun, sun, and sun! I always get a kick out of the way most people go running in to shore when it starts to rain though, I wouldn’t want the rain to get me wet while I’m swimming in the ocean. LOL

The drive was much like always. It took about one hour and 20 minutes to get to the resort; with a quick 5 minute at one of the usual pit stops (the one not far from Columbus Park) this pit stop is always where I make my first spiritual reconnection with the land that I call Heaven on Earth. I went down to the ocean side and gave thanks. The growth of Mo-bay is so clear as you pass through Trelawny and Rio Bueno etc. I just feel a bit nostalgic at the sight of the “Golden arches” in JA. : (We had a really nice driver (not a surprise) who was very friendly and animated. I tipped him DOUBLE!
-Incidentally there was a couple on our bus headed to Breezes Runaway Bay for their eighth time. They said they had been coming to Jamaica for years, and have decided that BRB is perfect for them.

The reception at the Club Caribbean was efficient and friendly and went by without a hitch. Some of the front desk staff remembered me from my last visit, which always feels really nice. We were given drinks and led down the winding path through the gardens to the bungalow. The cottage was in the garden section and it was a beautiful setting. I had hoped to ask for an upgrade to beachfront (stayed beachfront last time) however the resort was almost completely full, so it wasn’t going to happen. (Not a problem) Our bungalow was a “whopping” 23 steps from the beach! They have courtyard rooms, newly furnished suites, garden view bungalows, and beachfront bungalows. Some of the beachfront bungalows are 2 STEPS from the water! Some of the bungalows are larger and have a loft to accommodate families.

I must say they have done lots of work here over the last while and it really shows. They have planted thousands of new trees and plants and many things have been freshly painted. The bungalows have been refurbished. They have added some new features and they are trying to improve the beaches (which has been mildly successful). The beach area here consists of five separate coves about 200 steps long for each. There are some nice sandy areas in each cove, but there is quite a bit of coral and rock also so water shoes may be a good idea. I found the middle cove and the next one east from the middle to have the most sand. The easternmost cove also serves as a snorkeling bay, although the area is full of good places for viewing.

-For those who don’t know, this is the property that houses Jamaqua We Be Divin’.

David Henesey the GM informs me that they have planted over 1000 Banana trees alone, and I see bananas growing all over the grounds, as well as many of the other usual fruit trees of course. They have also added many little artifacts etc. Which are nice for the most part although there are few I didn’t care for. (A four foot imitation grasshopper on the roof of the performance stage for one) … As I jot down these notes the tree frogs have started into their singing to God…

— Some of my initial observations: It saddens me in a way I can’t really explain to see how Jamaica is slowly being transformed. More and more signs are appearing showing the influence of the “North American” ideal. Not that “progress” isn’t a good thing for Jamaica and Jamaicans but somehow it seems that along with this comes a darkening negative effect on the spirit of the common man here. Not overt and obvious, somehow more subtle and vague. Call me nostalgic but I feel Jamaica is becoming much to “modernized” or “Americanized” or “Lido-ized” or “Sandal-ized” or whatever you want to call it.
…. Too much “Pizzazz” if I may…

First dinner and evening entertainment was fortunately an appropriate one for me. We were not served breakfast or lunch on the flight so hunger had definitely set in big time. It was beach barbecue night, I like the buffet when I’m really hungry as you can load up and eat all you want. The buffet itself was fairly basic, but wonderfully Jamaican. Jerk Chicken, Pork, Snapper, and Steak. An assortment of four or five vegetable dishes, a nice cheese and bread table, a great salad table with many different ones from seafood to corn and peppers, a typically Jamaican fruit table and some beautiful desserts as well. All wonderfully presented.
Overall the food was very good and a much higher quality than you would expect for a 3 star resort. Also fortunately it was the “new standard” fashion show night…having no interest, it was off to bed for ONE good night sleep.

Actually got almost eight hours sleep. Woke up around 6:30 to an absolutely perfect morning. I did my first beach walk of the week and learned the beach was only 860 steps in length. Although nowhere near the size of some I’ve been on in Jamaica, larger still than most of the S/B beaches. The sand here is a medium brown, with some black sand mixed in. It is extremely soft, however there are a fair amount of rocks and coral. The beach has improved somewhat.
One thing some people will appreciate about RDCC is there are no “fence vendors” at all here. The only ones you will find are out the front entrance on the road. (Once a week some vendors are allowed to set up their works around the pool deck who are all very well behaved as I’m sure they have been asked to not be pushy)

I asked at the front desk about occupancy and at that time it was 78 percent and it filled up more as the week went on. Like the other times, I would say the clientele is mainly Canadian and European (especially English). A fair number of children, though not a lot, and they seem very well behaved so far.

Breakfast was buffet, and there were a good variety of the standard breakfast items like omelets made to order (which I prefer because I always find the scrambled eggs runny (no different here). French toast, pancakes, fresh fruits and breads, cereals, bacon sausage, plantains etc. I must say, the food here is really good. Went for some beach time after breakfast and met up with a wonderful senior couple from Europe named Collin, who is British, and Zeta who is Polish. We shared a couple drinks together (yes at 11:00 am!) and had some delightful conversations.

Lunch buffet was great. There was Stuffed Snapper, Curry Chicken and more. There were some delicious salads and a simply wonderful Pumpkin soup. Soups are definitely a Jamaican specialty. The weather was just perfect so we spent the afternoon on the beach.

The buffets dinners here are themed; they have Mediterranean, Seafood, Steakhouse, Mexican, French, Spanish and Jamaican. We had reservations to dine at one of the two a la carte, Cafe Mediterranean for 7:00 … showed up around 7:45…”no problem mon!” We dined inside (you have the choice) The Cafe is on the second floor so there is a nice view of the ocean from there. Again we are very pleasantly surprised at how great the food is. I can’t for the life of me remember what that soup was, but it was with Parmesan cheese and was simply divine. The menu was a bit limited in choices with Squid, A pasta dish, Shrimp with Filet Mignon, and an Italian chicken dish (Marsala I think) There is also a very nice salad and fresh bread bar. For dessert we had an Italian cheesecake, which was delicious but a tad heavy. We dined as a group of six and everyone agreed the food was superb. This night’s entertainment was my kind of thing as they had a local reggae band that was really good. They also have two variations of “Calypso trios” who play by the pool bar every afternoon and evening… a REALLY nice touch!

Like almost always, we spent the remainders of our evenings sitting up and enjoying the sounds of the waves and the tree frogs and the distant reggae music while watching the glorious stars.

Day three overall the weather was not great… a few showers, a few sunny breaks but more cloud than sun until after 2:00 pm. Had another great breakfast and set out to bring the school supplies to the Hampton School.
Things did not go as planned, however, and we ended up deciding to give a few of the items to our maid and the front desk ladies for their children, and the bulk was brought (not by myself) to Tobolski Basic School in Summerhill, Brownstown. I cannot begin to describe the love and appreciation I was overwhelmed with from the ladies. Their truehearted smiles that cried out silent blessings and their words of sincere thanks. It is also good to know that they can all in turn have the pleasure of making their own children happy as well themselves. I’d like to mention that we made a point to make it very obvious to the other tourists, and in turn I believe influenced many to perhaps consider like actions themselves.
— Action = Reaction —
Little did I know what was to become of the donation to Tobolski…

Went down to the beach for a dip and discovered the beach grill. There were the “standard non-local” fare: Burgers, Hot Dogs, Pizza, Fries … however they also had Jerk Chicken wings with one of the best jerk sauces I have EVER tasted. (And I’ve had my fair share!) Can you guess what I ordered? LOL I ordered another plate they were so good! The lunch buffet offered Turkey, Grilled Saltfish and Roast Beef as the main courses. Couldn’t resist eating more … so I did.

There were two weddings today .the wedding gazebo is in view from our cottage so it was a bit like an added bonus. We watched one and it was really nicely done. There was a steel band, and the Reverend was a wonderful man whom I enjoyed. I spent some time speaking with him between the two weddings and he is such a wonderful spirit- God Bless him. I had been chatting with the bride of the larger wedding prior to the ceremony and she didn’t mind me taking some photos… so I did.
Dinner was another delightfully excellent meal. We dined in the other restaurant (Jasmine Delta), which is Pan-Asian cuisine. Had another wonderful soup: Coconut/Chicken. Sandra had Shrimp with Oyster Sauce and I had an awesome concoction with chicken and ginger and a variety of sauted vegetables. The dessert was a walnut creme tart with a two-sauce coulee, which was extremely tasty but again a bit heavy after our meals. We dined with a great couple we met (Liz and Richard) from North of Toronto… great folks. This restaurant has a true Oceanside setting … very nice. I would say of both restaurants the service was good and very friendly. Not quite as formally trained and “white-glove” as GLN or BRP, but more than one might expect.
I will say again the whole dining experience here has been all around better than I expected it to be.
After dinner we walked back down the beach to the entertainment area. Tonight’s entertainment was Rasta Reggae vocal trio who were just what the doctor ordered for this happy camper:) The crowd enjoyed them so much they were called back twice for encores. After the show they were continuing the reggae theme in the discothèque, but we all played cards and listened from afar instead.

Woke up at 6:15 and hit the beach… wrote some of this, and watched the sunrise on a perfect clear-blue morning. Had breakfast, did some snorkeling and water-skiing and played some water Frisbee. There have been a few complaints from the guests about having trouble getting fresh towels in their rooms (which was temporary) Also the beach towel hut should open a bit earlier. They have a full assortment of water sports here including: peddle boats, kayaks, windsurf, sunfish, glass bottom, water-skiing, snorkeling, free scuba course, and the extremely popular banana boat.
Had a light lunch because we were heading to BRP later for dinner and we wanted to go hungry. Got a call from front desk saying that they had a letter for me (too early for the ‘eviction notice so I was curious) Turned out to be an official thank you letter from Tobolski School with an invitation to go and visit them, and a touching thank you card from the front desk ladies. I shed tears as I read.

I decided to walk down to Breezes Runaway Bay (about 30 min walk west) to visit my friend Glen Adams (Jeff) but unfortunately he wasn’t there so I will return. Got back to the resort and went for a dip in the adult pool before heading off to BRP for the evening. I worked out a fair price with one of my favourite drivers and off we went.

The Royal Plantation turned out to be almost exactly as we imagined it would be. Richly appointed and adorned everywhere you look. There is no doubt that they have put the emphasis heavily on the decor and adornment here. Although overall it is not at all much like Jamaica, it is undeniably elegantly decorated. Personally I think the washrooms were just a bit much. (Some of the pieces of decor look like they could feed a family for 10 years)
We had drinks and (which were superb) in the Appleton Bar, and then took a walk around and checked out the grounds and a couple rooms. Overall the resort is extremely classy and feels very intimate. I was not impressed with the beaches, which are very small, and we both could do without the stairs but the Jacuzzi was really nice, and the bayside restaurant is very pretty. The French looked much like many restaurants at home. I’m not sure if I would be able to spend a week there as I think I might go stir-crazy. The rooms are very ornate and richly decorated and although they were extremely beautiful and stately looking, my wife and I both agreed that it would be hard to feel comfortable in them (especially in Jamaica)

Although too superficial for my taste, BRP is definitely a high-class place. No doubt about that. At the risk of being temporarily politically incorrect, I will say that in general, this resort will be liked more by women than by men, and I also cannot help but feel sorry for the Jamaican folks that have to clean those rooms and then go home to their struggling family.

The next morning, I had not previously discovered that there IS actually a nice section of public beach beyond the far end of the Decameron. I was provided with much entertainment by the guard dogs for the villa that is next door. I was expecting to see them, as I knew already they were there, however they were not around. I walked down the public beach when all of a sudden they appeared out of no-where… Running side by side at full-tilt… Chasing the Sea Terns. LOL (funny thing is the dogs are on shore, and the birds are like 200 yards out! They did this up and down the beach the whole time I was there, but the problem became when I decided to go back… the dogs “of course” did their job and when I got to the villa property line they forced me to go into the water to get by.

Another aspect of Club Caribbean that is of exceptional value is the entertainment. They have two strolling trio’s afternoon and early evening, dinner music and then Showtime which tonight was another excellent reggae act. We followed up with a couple of drinks in the English pub then called it a night. I stayed up all night.

One of the many wonderful members of the staff here is Anne (the wedding coordinator) I have gotten to know her quite well and she has extended an open welcome to us to stay in her home anytime in the future. (I have a photo of her) We exchanged contact info.

This was the morning for the visit to Tobolski Basic School. We were picked up by the school chairman Paul Williams and brought through Brownstown to get there. The images experienced there are so vivid and powerful that I will never forget. This place is in DESPERATE need of funding for essentials and to the extent that they presently have 2 year old children using a 12 foot deep outhouse as a toilet: (they have no plumbing! The play yard is a bed of broken jagged rocks… It is saddening beyond words. Paul explained some of the plights of the school to me but had very little encouraging words as of yet. The town of Brownstown is a wonderful Jamaican community and looks like it will stay that way.
Not only had the school sent me an official thank you for the gifts, they also were happy to invite me for a visit. Upon entering the school within seconds one of the children pointed and said “tourist” with that the headmaster called upon the children to sing the song that they had prepared especially for me.
I was moved to tears, and felt so warm inside. I took the money I had budgeted for Negril and gave the school their first official donation. I took many great photos (check them out) the children’s smiles are indescribable! I sadly became the first ever to sign their guest registry. I have decided I will try and encourage everyone and anyone to fill the log. Returned to the resort with an entirely new perspective. If you are at all interested in this kind of thing I would, as I have so many times in the past, suggest it in a heartbeat!

Here is the Thank you letter I received:

November 8 2002

Dear Mr. Landry

Let me on behalf of the teachers, students and friends of the Tobolski Basic School; express sincere appreciation for your gift of school supplies.

The school is situated in the quiet community of Summer Hill, Brown’s Town in the parish of St. Ann. For years friends of the school have sought sponsorship from various organizations, but this has not been forthcoming. Efforts by members of the school board to create a healthy environment for the students seemed to be non-existent. Your kind gesture today is well received and we hope that this will be the beginning of a long and fruitful relationship.

Please be assured that the items received will be used prudently for the school community and I am sure will bring the children a step closer to a better education.

You are invited to visit the school while you are vacationing in our beautiful island.

I take this opportunity to wish for you a happy stay in our country and that you will continue to experience the immeasurable blessings of the Lord.

Barbara McKenzie (Miss)
Corresponding Sponsor

“Children live what they learn”

I will be officially suggesting to the management of the Royal Decameron Club Caribbean (David Henesey) to organize some sort of charity fund for the Tobolski School. This can be as simple as donating one dollar from every phone call made or similar and could result in making an immeasurable difference in the lives of those wonderful children. This school has NO RUNNING WATER!!! I think the public image of Royal Decameron would only benefit from this sort of exposure.

While Sandra had a massage, I hit the beach. Played a bit of volleyball, then spent some time at the beach bar. (Which is actually on a small jetty out in the water.) It used to have swings and is still referred to as the swing bar. I have suggested to Mr. Henesey to paint Jamaican flags around the hexagon shaped base of the bar… it would be a nice touch. Didn’t feel for a large lunch so a couple orders of awesome jerk chicken wings at the beach grill was the perfect option. Dinner was in the Jasmine Delta and I had a delicious pork tenderloin preparation, while Sandra had a seafood dish which was also very good. The soup was another tasty delight, a chicken based oriental. Dessert was a scrumptious tiramisu type of cake.

Listened to the entertainers at dinner, and then it was guest talent show night. Which was an unexpected pleasant surprise. Last time they had taken it out of the itinerary. I was asked to get up and do something which is always fun. I usually play guitar and/or sing, however there was no guitar so I decided to play some drums which was a lot of fun, even though I am not “overly practiced’ on the drums. We played Three Little Birds and an improvised Funky jam.
A bit later in the night they convinced me to get up again and sing a song. I did a version of the Otis Redding classic “Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay” which went quite well, except I misplaced a verse a bit. No problem Mon.

Started the day off with some meditation on the beach with the sunrise. This is the point in our vacation where typically, the reality of going home is inescapable and a sort of melancholy tends to set in. Sometimes I wish I could come every month or two just to not have that feeling. Had a large breakfast and headed down the road to Breezes to spend the morning with my good friend Glen Adams. He was so happy to see me and I happy to see him also. We talked about all sorts of stuff and before you knew it hours had passed. He is a true blessing.

Last dinner was at Cafe Med. and was another fabulous meal. Scampi, Grilled Lamb chops, Seafood Linguini and more… Dessert I had was a raspberry/orange cheesecake. After dinner we were once again treated to some great Jamaican entertainment. We had the traditional Limbo Dancer, Fire Breather, Jamaican show followed by an astonishing world famous steel-pan drummer (whom I’ve seen perform elsewhere) who played everything from Debussy to Marley.

The departure was mostly uneventful… waited perhaps a bit too long before giving in and sprinting from the beach to chase the airport shuttle as it drives away. Seriously though, I would have liked to take a bit more time to say goodbye to everyone.

O.K. I’m done Steve