Monday, February 16, 2015

Jamaica: Day 10

Our flight left Montego Bay at 11:50 am, but we spent the entire morning at the airport because Boyfriend likes to be prepared. We officially arrived at 9:40 am, and after having checked in and gone through the most thorough security check of our lives, we were at the gate a full two hours early. In addition to the plethora of time I spent roaming the 17-gate airport,  I was able to finish a third book on this trip.

These are some fun facts about Sangster International Airport I learned while grumpily passing time.
  1. The five minute taxi ride from the Hip Strip in Montego Bay costs $18.00 (and four Red Stripe beers, in our case).
  2. The departures portion of the airport is much grander than the arrivals portion. 
  3. The exact same trinkets sold in the 394 stores on the Hip Strip can be purchased in the comfort of air conditioning at the airport for roughly the same cost--rates remain negotiable.
  4. About every four gates, the concourse/hallway/walkway becomes a Duty Free shop. That makes about four in an itty bitty allotment of space. There isn't much more than alcohol to gawk at, and less rum that one might expect. Since we weren't checking a bag, there wasn't even a chance of shopping.  
  5. Juici Patties are sold frozen in bulk. As to what you're supposed to do with 24 frozen meat pies before a flight, I'm not sure. 
  6. There is a Cinnabon, Domino's, Moe's, Quiznos, Wendy's, and not one but two Auntie Anne's, Dairy Queens, and Margaritavilles in the airport (re: 17-gate airport). I was particularly excited about the DQ until I saw the cost of a mini blizzard runs $6.00 (instead of the $2.89 I recall last paying).
  7. There are no water fountains to be found. That's particularly awesome, since no water is allowed through security and all flights leaving Jamaica are international (i.e., long). 
Our flight to Charlotte, North Carolina was packed with exhausted vacationers worried about the combination ice and snow storm sweeping the South. The second leg of our flight was equally packed, and we were thrilled to be on the one flight to Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport that was not cancelled. We were due for some good luck, and we fully appreciated it after some miserable delays last leaving Kansas City, Boston, and Chicago.
After a sluggish Metro ride, we were home sweet home in a snowy city in time for Boyfriend's program--Jeopardy.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Jamaica: Day 9

When I awoke, a part of me wished I was home. I wasn’t sure how I’d spend an entire day in Montego Bay. I felt as though I'd seen the sites (to be seen) the day before. Plus, I was warned most of Downtown and Uptown would be closed in observance of Sunday. Via a quick Google search, I was still struggling to find authentic cuisine on the Hip Strip. I set out determined to allow the day to run its course. As is well documented here, this is not something I’m particularly good at.

Boyfriend and I stumbled into Chili Pepper where the menu outside displayed items we had in mind—ackee and saltfish, round two. After sitting down, our waiter handed us a menu that listed none of what drew us in. Upon asking, she was delighted to serve the “whiteys” traditional food. The plates were hefty, and we delighted her even further by finishing every last drop. On full stomachs, it only seemed logical to stake out a place for our last dinner. We accomplished that goal, then landed afterwards at Café Tastey for a cup of Blue Mountain coffee. I simply cannot drink enough of the Blue Mountain goodness.

(Note on Jamaican Coffee: Even though I already purchased coffee to bring home, through a local roaster in Treasure Beach, I was stunned by the prices of Blue Mountain Coffee here in Montego Bay. The going rate is at least $30/lb, but, as with everything, rates are negotiable.)
Ship Day
Around noon, we bought day passes to a local beach and camped out until after sunset. Just before sunset, we treated ourselves to one last round of fancy cocktails. The crowded beach, due to ‘ship day’ in Montego Bay, was mostly deserted by sunset.
From the beach, we walked straight to MoBay Proper for red snapper prepared estovietch—still no idea as to how to define this method—with fried bammy and plantains. The meal was divine, certainly our best dinner in Jamaica! And even though we were full, we hit up the Candy Shack on our walk home for ice cream cones. There is no such vacation without ice cream in my view!
I’ll likely sneak in one more meal (and walk!) before departing, but all in all, this vacation has been capped. With that, my eighth country has been explored.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Jamaica: Happy Valentines Day

On Day 8 we said goodbye to Treasure Beach and headed Northwest to Montego Bay. Thankfully, we had one last breakfast and morning—my favorite time of day—at Lyric. We sipped coffee, worked crossword puzzles, and did a little reading. Around 11:00 am, our driver picked us up for the journey. A short two and a half hours later we were in Montego Bay, where things operate much differently than the little beach oasis we’d previously been visiting.

After dropping our belongings, we headed out for lunch at The Pork Pit. We were disappointed to see much of what surrounds us caters to tourists looking for the comforts of home. We struggled to find Jamaican cuisine of any kind along Gloucester Street, the Hip Strip. The jerk we settled for was a much longer walk than we’d had anticipated. From lunch we headed into the Downtown, unknowingly picking up two tour guides along the way. These two navigated us Uptown, Downtown, and safely back to the Hip Strip, where we’re staying. Though these two were out to make a pretty penny navigating foreigners through their hometown, they were extremely kind, knowledgeable and helpful. They taught us history at Sam Sharpe Square; guided us through St. James Parish Church, a historic site (built in 1775) and active church (built in 1775); and showed us around the food market in Uptown. Upon paying out, Boyfriend and I walked back the length of the Hip Strip to Dead End Beach for sunset. As it turns out, Dead End Beach overlooks the ocean on one side and Sangster International Airport on the other. The sun set to the drumming of airplane engines, for a unique twist.
By the time we sat down for sunset, sipping coconut water, I was overstimulated. The streets of Uptown and Downtown were packed with people, likely because it was Saturday. We showered—Boyfriend’s first of the week!—and hit the sack.

Our accommodations are so different here. The ocean is not in our forefront. In fact, the beach, if existing in Montego Bay at all, seemed to be chewed up by the resorts. Though the Hip Strip runs along the coast, the water splashes right up against retaining walls; sand is nonexistent. The mosquito net covering our bed is no longer and privacy is a concept of the past. Our room is equipped with a TV and air conditioning. There are large resorts mixed with 394 small shops, all selling the same goods, littering the Hip Strip, and while we’re not in a resort, one could get by without leaving the economically friendly Toby’s “Resort” during a stay. There is a restaurant serving all three meals, two bars, and two pools. And intermittent WiFi when dining at the restaurant. The place will more than do for the two nights where here, but I’m oh so thankful to have seen a different side of Jamaica.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Jamaica: No Lotion Friday (Day 7)

Is it the last day of vacation that makes one fully appreciate all the days before? On Day 7, we all agreed we could use more days like the one we were living--time together, minimal planned activities, and good eats.

Following another sluggish run, I had the best breakfast yet: ackee and saltfish, a traditional Caribbean dish. And later, way later as the sun set before me one last time from our pool deck at Treasure Beach, a fabulous lobster dinner. In between I filled the time by the pool reading and swimming in the ocean. Boyfriend and I also made fancy cocktails with fruit we froze earlier in the week. I tried to relish in our last day together. As I'm writing this with a cup of coffee on Day 8, I can say I already miss our company. The time we had together was a such special occasion, one I will look back on for many years to come. I'm having trouble wrapping my thoughts around this week, not that I need to. The best I can provide is a sunset comparison. When skin is sun-kissed, spirits are playful, the breeze is warm, the water glistens, there is not a care in this world but to be present in that moment.
Sunsets are a time of perspective and reflection--two things I love--but I think there is more to it. The main reason I love sunsets is because the harsh, intense, rush of the day is over and a warm glow settles in that puts everything in a softer, more forgiving light.The pressure to perform wears away--what's done is done--it is time to reign things in and put the day to bed.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Jamaica: Day 6

This fabulous vacation is nearing it's end. And with that, today a theory was decided upon. As vacations ramp up, time often moves slowly... until the halfway point has passed, when time seemingly flies. This is an unfortunate reality I'm experiencing, but I didn't let that stop me from enjoying each moment of Day 6.

Breakfast on this morning was sort of a letdown, which was honestly nice. I needed one meal on this trip where I didn't feel like I was out to win an eating competition of sorts. I had the added bonus of starting the day with a run. These runs haven't been as pleasant as my at-home winter jaunts. My legs feel as though I'm lugging bricks along. The scenery has stolen the show; helping cope with some of the extra weight.
Bamboo Alley 
100+ Year Old Bamboo - Protected by Law
After breakfast, we headed to St. Elizabeth parish for the Appleton Estate Rum Tour. The tour was every bit as wonderfully cheesy as one might expect. The tour starts with "complimentary" gingery rum drinks and finishes with as many shots of eight different rums as one can consume before the Tour Guide closes the bottles. It was a total free for all with some of America's greatest spectacles elbowing each other out of the way for the chance to take samples of coffee flavored rums. Due to a Boyfriend engaged in brewing and various illegal acts of at-home distilling, I was pre-informed about most of the information provided. Refresher courses are never bad, especially when you're treated to pure sugar cane juice and a spoonful of molasses brown sugar syrup during the lecture. And did I mention unlimited tastings? Those too!
Paz, the Sugarcane Donkey
8000+ Barrels of Rum
The heart on the barrel label represents the heart of Jamaica, where Appleton Rum is made.
A mini set up of the distillery, where photography is not allowed.
The most interesting fact though is the setting of the Appleton Rum Distillery. It's surrounded--the full 360 degrees--by limestone bumpy mountains to protect the distillery from hurricanes. Appleton Rum has been around since 1749, so I'd say to the mountains: job well done.
I left feeling as though I had had my share of rum, and rum isn't even my thing. I even purchased a bottle or four. We migrated to Maggoty for jerk and fried chicken, and the people watching changed dramatically--from America's to Jamaica's finest. This was shaping out to be quite the day.

With a full belly, we left for more food--street food, simply the best. There were plenty of coconuts to go around, coconut "cake," and sugar cane stalks. For the first time, I was able to sample the jelly of an immature coconut. I still think I'm a fan of the more mature coconut, but I do not turn down coconut in any form. Ever. And from there we were on to Santa Cruz, high in the mountains where we picked up roasted peanuts from the car window. The town must be a decent size because we came upon our first stop light since leaving Montego Bay. This is where the drive got interesting. While the rum tour was fun and the street food made my day, the climb up into the Santa Cruz mountains was truly spectacular. The road winds and winds and winds up some 2,500 feet in elevation. There were unique lush mountainous views until we crossed the peaks, where the expanse of the ocean came into view. My motion sickness held it together for the most part, and I was able to enjoy the ride.
As we were nearing the end of our drive, we stopped east of Treasure Beach at Lover's Leap. The story is as predicted by the name, and the surrounding sea cliff is landscaped to please. The views of the overhang were stunning. There was ocean for days. And contrasting blues and greens in the best ways.
We saw dolphins from the pool deck!
We made it home just before 5:00 pm, and I was wiped out. I recall a pleasant sunset and a veggie-packed dinner, with a bed time around 8:30 pm. This is the vacation life.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Jamaica: Day 5

I began this day with another cup of coffee and another flavorful omelet. Lancel, a neighbor and former caretaker of our home for the week, stopped by for coffee conversation. (He also visits to eat the rest of breakfast, when there are leftovers.) If I had to guess, I would say Lancel is 80+ in age. Our conversation ranged in topics including hurricanes, American history, his family, and his favorite television show--Deadliest Catch.
We explored Treasure Beach a bit after breakfast, stopping at the Treasure Hunt Craft Shop and to pick up more roadside fruit. Then it was time to get my suntan on. I munched on heavenly frozen peanut butter stuffed chocolate covered bananas and continued reading until late in the afternoon.
When I was finally getting "schoochy" as M.R.B. would say, Boyfriend and I took a stroll along the beach. This was my favorite part of the trip! The way the shoreline is structured is one after another small bays or coves. Just when I thought I'd found the prettiest, most gorgeous, never want to leave cove, I was stunned by the next one. This goes on and on and on as far as I've walked in both directions. Because the sun was only a few hours from setting, the colors were incredible--turquoise water, green seaweeds growing on yellow, coral-ly rocks mixed with tan sands.
I will let the pictures do the rest of the talking. 
Note: Trip HIGHlight.
The walk ended just in time for us to change clothes and head next door for sunset pictures. So clearly this day was awesome! We went to Jack Sprat for dinner afterwards. I opted for the estovietch snapper. I have zero idea what estovietch is, even after consuming my meal. Once I had enough with the bones, I moved on to the delicious jerk veggies smothering Boyfriend's mountain of crab. My meal was served with bammy, a cassava flatbread. Think a dense corn tortilla. Boyfriend opted for festival, so I proceeded to steal (more of his goodness) in exchange for the less exciting bammy. His festival were the best I've had yet.
At the ripe age of 27, I have a true appreciation for how I was raised. My parents always encouraged me to try new things. The best part of traveling, for me, is the exposure to new cuisines. As I walked to the bathroom to wash my hands after filling my tummy, I was appalled by the number of people eating french fries and chicken wings in JAMAICA. To each their own, of course. But when I'm sitting at dinner overlooking the ocean (and being consumed by mosquitoes), I certainly think seafood. And this is coming from someone who formerly went on several missions with Boss Man to track down the best french fries in Northern Virginia; I love a good fry.

Lest I fail to mention the drinks accompanying my dinner. There was a piña colada, strawberry banana daiquiri, and planter's punch to sip while conversing and munching.
Dinner (and drinks!) left me in a food (i.e., sleeping) coma. Another successful island day!