Caribbean Travel Roundup

Paul Graveline, Editor

Edition 61 - Part 2

January 1 1996

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CAYMAN ISLAND BY WALTER ASHLEY

Arrived on Grand Cayman 11/29 and Karyn from MDD ( Magnificent Dive Dump) met us at the airport. After we got our Suzuki Alto (same as a Geo Metro I think) at Coconuts, we followed Karyn out to MDD. Our unit was the center one of five, and overall was about 14' X 28'. It had 2 very comfortable queen size beds, and a full sized frig. The kitchen area had a cooktop, but no oven, a microwave, and all we needed in utensils, etc. Didn't see much of Jeff and Karyn, the first few days they were in Cuba with a nother couple, and then they had other guests at their house. When we went to settle up on our last day we did talk with Jeff an Karyn for a while, and found them both very nice and easy to talk with. We found MDD to be a very comfortable, roomy, and a ve ry good value.

We had scheduled 3 - 2 tank dives, separated by an off day, with Ollen Miller. As it turned out we were the only ones he had scheduled on those days, so the first day we went with Ollen and Tom Burns?? on the Cayman Marine Labs boat. Dove Chinese Wall and Paradise ?. The next day we went with Peter Milburn, because Ollen's mother had gone in the hospital the night before. Dove Sand Chute and the Oro Verde Wreck with Peter. The scheduled day we went with Ollen on his boat and dove Main Street and Bear C law. On one of our "off" days we went to Stingray City with Aquanauts. We went in the next day and bought the video of our Stingray trip, $40 US. All the dives and divemasters were super, and we wouldn't hesitate to dive with any of them again. As novices we never felt pressured to go any deeper than we were comfortable with. The underwater scenery is fantastic.

Eating:

Lonestar; I had chicken fajita's, great. Theresa had Taco salad, not so great

Billy's; I had jerk chicken, very good . Theresa had fish and chips, OK

Liberty's: We both had the Native Buffet, it was all excellent.

Golden Pagoda; We got shrimp fried rice to go. Yuk! Shrimp were like rubber and the rice was all dried out. Nightlife:

Went to see The Barefoot Man at Holiday Inn, very good time. Bought a couple of his CD's later.

Saw Earl La Pierre on the steel drums Friday night, so he had his kids with him. His little boy stands on a box to play, but does a superb job for his age, about 8 years old I'd guess.

The rest of the time we watched a little TV and turned in early. We spent a week on Grand Cayman, and then moved over to Cayman Brac. Had wonderful trip and hope to return next year.


COZUMEL BY THOMAS PALLISTER

Spent a week in Cozumel in November and am happy to report that we didn't see any signs of problems since Hurricane Luis. The diving was super as usual, and we used Caribbean Divers for the first time. What a super operation! We had heard they were goo d, but had to see it for ourselves. The people in the shop are great and the Divemasters really know how to make each dive a good one. They even serve a box lunch between dives. It consists of a sandwich, slice of melon, a peeled orange, and some wafer cr ackers. It was really a nice touch. As for the divemasters, try to dive with either Luis Santoyo or Pepe. If you dive with Luis, tell him Tom and Eloise said hello! We had most of the same people dive with them all week and we made some great friends!

As for Coz itself, it was super. The prices are really great, especially at the restaurants. We ate at El Moro twice because it's true Mexican food and the service and food are excellent. It's our favorite. We had breakfast at the restaurant in the mus eum in town which overlooks the water. This place can't be beat for breakfast! $4 for all you can eat! Eggs, pancakes, French toast, refried beans, and coffee. Don't miss it!

We also ate at La Chosa, but were a little disappointed, as we were the last time we ate there. The food seemed to be lacking something. But it's still worth a visit. We had dinner one night at Sonoras, which is one block east of the Church in town, an d is on the second floor. We also tried breakfast there. Had super meals both times! And of course we had our frajitas and "ritas" at Ernestos. Wow! Which I was there right now. We also had dinner at another of our favorite spots, Prima. Not the deli Prim a, but the one on the second floor. If you like Italian food, that's the place to go.

We also found what can only be considered a goldmine for anyone who likes great coffee, expresso, cappuchino and mouth watering homemade deserts. It's called the Coffee Bean and is right next to Pizza Hut in town. It's new and 80% of the clientele are native Mexicans from Coz, so you know it has to be good. We went there a number of times and it was really super. Ask for Andrea, ne of the partners, and ask her about the super pies and desserts that she bakes right on premises. Tell her Tom and Eloise f rom New York said hello. Once you've tried the place you'll keep going back!

We stayed at the Coral Princess which is north of town, but there was a lot of construction going on at this hotel. They're expanding and are almost finished with the new addition which includes another swimming pool and a building that more than doubl es the size of the hotel. It will be beautiful when it's finished, but we had to put up with the noise while we were there. We ended our stay with one night at the Fiesta Inn, just to try it, and were really disappointed in the room. We took a no smoking room, but there was a very bad danky, musty, smell to the room and the carpeting was so filthy and stained that we wouldn't walk on it in our bare feet! How they can keep that same carpeting there is beyond me! I definitely won't be staying there again! < /P>

If you're heading for Coz, try some of the spots I've mentioned and enjoy! We'll probably be heading back there in March or April. Can't wait!


DOMINICAN REPUBLIC: BOCA CHICA BY JIM HINSCH

I decided to try a different hotel this time and I chose the Don Juan. I initially had trouble booking a room at this hotel. My travel agent had called and indicated that nobody there could speak English. So, she sent them a fax and requested a return fax. A fax was returned 2 days later, and it indicated that I had to make payment in full by wiring money to a bank in Nova Scotia. This was out of the question, so I decided to phone them myself, and using a friend who speaks fluent Spanish, I obtained m ore information. We were told that they did accept credit cards, and that the rate was $120 per night per person, double occupancy, and that it included dinner. My friend asked, on my behalf, why the travel agent was quoted a much lower rate of $60 per pe rson on the fax. We were informed that the rate is much lower if booked via a travel agent.

My Travel Agent.

I had my travel agent fax them back again, requesting a reservation for 2 people, with 2 double beds, and she included my Mastercard number. Two days later, they returned the fax with a confirmation. It turns out that the call I made myself cost $17 fo r not even 5 minutes using my AT&T calling card.

The actual deal.

This trips was a short one - only 3 days and 2 nights. When we arrived, we were surprised to find out that the $60 included the room, ALL meals, including snacks, all domestic drinks, and all non-motorized water sports. Indeed, this was a very good dea l. The hotel tacked on a 13% tax and if we did not settle in cash, another 7% "conversion" fee. With a few phone calls to the U.S., the total bill came to $300 for two nights for two people.

The hotel layout.

The Hotel was nice, but not super luxury. Our room was on the fourth floor, the top, and there wasn't an elevator. All rooms had private outdoor entrances, motel style. The hotel was very spread out and actually consisted of a half a dozen separate bui ldings. Our room had a balcony that contained a table and two chairs. The room had a TV with Cable, CNN, HBO, and about 6 other channels. Most of the channels had a fair amount of static. The room also had a telephone, a reading table and chair, and was q uite clean and comfortable. It was air-conditioned and had a ceiling fan. I actually preferred this room over those at the Hamaca Hotel down the road. Walking around the resort required some type of sandal or shoes because the walkways are made of flat br oken stones and when wet, are very slippery with some jagged edges.

The bar at the pool was much better than the Hamaca. It was less crowded, the drinks were stronger, and it was a lot easier to get a drink. Each drink had to be signed for, even though they were free for us. The bartenders (and all the resort workers) seemed to have a much better attitude about serving the guests than at the Hamaca. Resort guests were not completely "all inclusive". To upgrade from "lodging only" to "all inclusive" was only $15 per person per day.

The entire strip of activity in Boca Chica is only two blocks wide and 1/4 mile long. The Hotel was at the opposite end of town from the Hamaca hotel, and was right in the center of the long Boca Chica Beach. The location was perfect. The pool was very nice. It was nicer than the beach-side pool at the Hamaca, and was much more pleasant for soaking up the sun because they did not blare disco music all day long.

The Hotel was quite a bit smaller than the massive Hamaca hotel. This translated into more prompt and personal service, much less crowded, and the buffet style food was better too.

The Beach.

While the property itself was not as luxurious as the Hamaca, it was much more inviting. The Hamaca is like a fortress, keeping out all who are not staying there. The Don Juan has a huge spread of beach between the pool area and the water that is borde rless on either side. Anybody can walk the beach in front of the Don Juan, but the beach sales people are not allowed to solicit there. This made for a much nicer beach area. The public beach areas to either side of the Don Juan Hotel, as well as the Don Juan Hotel beach area were all essentially spotless. I don't know who cleaned the beach, but the ENTIRE beach (1/2 mile to either side) was beautiful -- more so than our last trip only six weeks earlier.

During one day, my friend and I decided to buy some T-shirts and beaded necklaces. Within moments, we were surrounded by every vendor in the area, trying to sell us something. We just walked away and they did not follow, unlike Jamaica, where it can be very difficult to shake a beach vendor.

Full body massages are available right in front of the hotel on the beach, for $10. Private massages are available for $15 in a small room off to the side of the pool area. The beach chairs were abundant and did not require padding because the support is made up of many flat rubber bands instead of a hard plastic surface.

The resort maintained a ski boat right on the beach in front of the hotel, although we preferred to use one of the dozen private charter boats that are docked along Don Juan's private pier. The resort boats and their ski equipment were much better than that at the Hamaca Hotel. I did not SCUBA dive, so I cannot not judge that equipment, other than to say that they had plenty of tanks and the dive boat was decent. At the end of the private pier was a bar. The beach area in front of the hotel was well gu arded by private security.

Hotel details.

All in all, this hotel was a great value. It was less then half the price of the Hamaca, had a nicer beach and pool, better food, better location, better service, and was less crowded. Of course, the Hamaca hotel boasted several restaurants, shops, a c asino, and a much more luxurious lobby and building structure. The resort guests were almost exclusively German, while the Hamaca Hotel had a mix of German, Italian, English, and Canadian.

The only problem we had was with the water pressure. Our toilet would not flush unless we flushed, waited 5 minutes for the tank to refill, and flushed again. Also, the shower would only produce water that varied between a small stream and a dribble. W hen I asked to be switched to another room, I was told the hotel was full. I told them I didn't believe it, because during the day, there were only a few people at the pool. There was NO WAY that the hotel was even CLOSE to being full. The hotel clerk sai d she would call me back.

During that time, I noticed that the door to the adjoining room was not locked. I opened it and found the room to be empty. At that moment, a maintenance man arrived with the key to our new room, which by coincidence, happened to be the same room next door. We switched to the room next door, and it had the same problem. We decided to flush the toilet by filling up the waste basket with water and dumping it into the bowl. This was a hassle but solved our problem. I must attribute these problems to the f ourth floor, but I can't be sure. The hotel maintenance people could not fix the problem. I must add however, maintenance showed up within minutes of my complaint, unlike the Hamaca, where the staff would not show up at all, even after many phone calls.

Night life.

The Hotel provided nightly shows, and the shows were pretty bad. They were little more than people dressed in stupid costumes, jumping around and lip-synching. Also, the resort sound system was so bad and distorted it was annoying. The resort also had a night club. I never checked it past 11:00pm, but I can say that prior to that, it was always empty, although it looked pretty nice, inside. It is possible that it filled with resort guests after the show, but I was never around to see that happen.

The night life just outside the hotel was great as usual, with the streets seeming to get more crowded than ever at night. In fact, the night life seemed to start earlier, around 10:00pm instead of midnight. There was much more activity on the streets (outdoor eating and drinking), and the police were even spotted on occasion. The majority of the police in Boca Chica are plain clothes, so you will never know they are there unless you talk with someone that knows.

The hot spot was a bar called "La Terraza", the main disco and right on the beach. The alternative to going to the bar was just hanging out on the street as every few feet there was an outdoor area to eat or drink, with plenty of people watching to mak e the area exciting. Music filled the air everywhere. Of course, the streets and bars were filled with the usual hordes of young Dominican women on the "prowl", young Dominican men trying to make a buck by offering rides on miniature motorcycles, trinket peddlers, and small children offering to clean your shoes.

Other activities.

We hired a boat to take us snorkeling, swimming, and water skiing. It was the same boat we hired on our last trip, and the owner had become our friend, complete with an exchange of addresses and telephone numbers. We went outside the reef to an area ju st to the side of the Hamaca Hotel resort property. There, we found the water to be deeper (10 feet), with submerged reefs, each about 10 feet wide and 5 feet high off the ocean floor. Fish were everywhere and the snorkeling was excellent, except for the rough water at the surface.


GRENADA by LINDA BUSH

Recently returned from two weeks on Grenada, and it is well worth a visit.

Spent most on the time staying at Lance Aux Epines cottages. They were not fancy, no restaurant or beach bar, but, other than an occasional low flying plane, usually in the afternoon, they were very quiet and the beach was beautiful. All the cottages w ere within 50 feet of the beach, and came with a complete kitchen at $65/night, off season (until December 15).

Also spent two nights at La Sagesse. The rooms were very nice, and the food was outstanding. If you don't plan to stay there, at least take a day trip, about 30 minutes from St. Georges. The beach is also very nice and the American owners were very hel pful.

Spent the first week using the local buses, which took us everywhere we wanted to go, and were always available except after dark.

Rented a car for the second week, and spent several days exploring the northern parts of the island. The trip up the west side of the island was much more scenic than the east side, but the real experience was the road to Grand Etang, the national park in the rain forest. Two lanes of traffic with real! hairpin turns , no guardrails, and about 15 feet of pavement going up to an elevation of about 2000 feet is a truly heart stopping experience, but well worth the trip. Not for the faint of heart.

Another experience was eating at Mama's. We were served 17 different items for our buffet, including goat, turtle, lambie(conch), squid and lobster. They apologized that they had no iguana or armadillo the night we were there. It was real West Indian c uisine.

The snorkeling was okay. Spent one day out on Calvigny Island. The snorkeling was good, and it was fun exploring the now deserted island. Arranged for a boat at the Moorings to take us over and drop us off. They came back four hours later to pick us up .

All in all Grenada was fun, relaxing, and a very beautiful island.


JAMAICA: GRAND LIDO BY JOHN SMILEY

Summary:

We loved Grand Lido and can't wait to return. This was our first visit.

Here are some tips on getting more out of your GL visit and some tidbits on what to expect. These notes are based on our trip on 11/13/95.Air Shuttle to NegrilTim Air is indeed great. They fly older, smaller planes but it was worth it for the view and time saving; $120 RT to Negril. They were efficient and set-up a return time and were there ready to go when it was time to return to Montego Bay.

Expect several rounds of baggage handlers and tips in the airport and getting to/from the TimAir plane; have a wad of $1 bills. Use the "skycaps" to your advantage to navigate you through the Montego Bay airport if your not familiar with it. We hardly spent any time waiting for the next Tim Air flight. If you want, you can loiter at the TimAir counter waiting for another couple to share the ride to Negril; it shaves a little off the airfare.

GL Staff

We found the staff to be friendly and even more friendly if you engaged them. They were genuinely interested in you having a good time. The waiters were fun. Make an effort to remember names. The staff was very good at addressing customer service issue s. My wife had a camisole damaged in Cleaning (yes, its included and worth using). We had two staff members at our door apologizing and the front desk manager also got involved (for a $15 camisole)! I'd rate the service pretty high; it should only get bet ter as the experience level increases; the staff is generally quite young.

GL Food

Expect good food. Generally, I rate the food as follows; appetizers (good-excellent), soups (excellent), salad (okay), entre (good), desserts (excellent). The buffets were good to excellent and room service was good. The room service menu wasn't ex tensive but offered chicken sandwiches, burgers, lamb chops, fruit, salad, etc. The lamb chops were great; I had them 4 times. Also, we got started ordering potato skins and skipping the fries. The longest we waited for room service was maybe 30 minutes. Breakfast room service was arranged by filling out a door-knob card where you indicated food and time. it's a Continental breakfast fare than a full menu. You had a choice of fruit, yogurt, cereal, muffins, bread, toast, etc. Coffee was good (even by Seat tle standards); Jamaican Blue Mountain. Hot stuff like eggs, bacon were not on the menu (those were at the daily breakfast buffet).

GL Drinks

They had it all; unfortunately we are not big drinkers. The Red Stripe on tap was better than bottle but its a lager and I'm an ale dude. Brand name booze bottles were on the counters and if you asked by name you got the good stuff; otherwise you got bar booze (just like everywhere else). We were unimpressed with the wines. Most were from Chile; a couple of French Bordeaux's. The best red there was Royal Rouge. The champagne was also from Chile; it was okay.Fruit juice drinks were good. Ask for Fru it Punch (without the syrup); Virgin Pina Colatas or Ting (grapefruit & 7-Up). They were really refreshing; we drank and ate lots of fruit.GL

Restaurants & Buffets

We ate at Cafe Lido, Piacere and the buffets. We didn't try the Pasta place. Cafe Lido has seating outside and inside. If you want to sit outside, arrive just before 6:30 to lock down a table otherwise you wait for a table to be free. Inside is nice also; same menu in both places. We ate here 4 times; twice outside and twice inside. Tell Dane & Robert hi for me.

Piacere requires a coat (tie not necessary). For the improperly dressed male, they had some one-size-fits-all loaner coats. You must make reservations. We ate here twice and it's worth taking the effort to eat here as many times as possible. White glov e service, best food in the resort, good atmosphere. We loved it. Get on the reservation list ASAP when you check-in. don't miss-out on this place. Thomas & Grandville were our favorite waiters.From 8 to 10:30 AM each morning, there is a full breakfast buffet. We did this once because the sun, beach and room service were much more fun.

The breakfast buffet was pretty much everything you could ever want, all of it good.Twice a week they have a Gala Buffet that starts at 7:30. It was great, go a little early and lock down a nice table. Again, some of the tables were outside and roman tic in the evening breeze.

GL Rooms

We had room 1071, a ground floor, ocean view room on the c/o side and loved it. As posted elsewhere rooms in the 1043 to 1070 range were the closest to the c/o beach, pool, hottub and bar. Rooms around 1050 to 1054 have their ocean view obstructed by the bar/pool/tub arrangement. Ground floor units allowed you to spread out in front of the unit. The second floor units had a small balcony and you had to walk around to get to the beach side.Rooms were good, clean but not luxurious by US big city stan dards; but who spends time in a room at a place like this. They could use a touch-up; the resort is 6 years old now. Beds were comfy. Each room had a wall safe. It was relaxing to lock-up passports, tickets, money, etc. and then walk around unencumbered w ith wallets & purses. Specify your room preferences on booking and then a week or so before fax them again. BeachesThere are two beaches clothing optional and textile. The textile beach is nice, large, straight, sandy beach and kinda like you'd expect with lounges parked side by side. The c/o beach was convoluted, smaller and with more shade. We liked the c/o beach better; it had more personality. If naked people bother you, I don't think you would be disappointed in the textile beach.

Entertainment

Lots of Reggae (what happened to Harry Belafonte?). The local bands were exceptionally good at Jazz (we like Jazz). Disco starts at 10:30 PM and goes; but it's disco. They have a Pajama party once a week, we missed it but heard it was pretty wild. We also skipped the Nude Cruise; heard it was fun. Frankly, we didn't engage much in the evening activities because we enjoyed the day so much.

The Fitness Center was actually quite good. My wife did the aerobics class 3 times and rated it pretty high.WatersportsWe did the glass bottom boat ride since the wife doesn't snorkel (waste of time). The snorkel trip to the reef was worth doing on ce or maybe twice. Their gear was in pretty good shape; looked like they just bought a new batch of masks and snorkels. They lend it our for 2 hour or so blocks. The snorkeling around the c/o beach was not bad; the reef was better.The staff in the water sports area was good about giving you instructions on the SunFish and sailboards. They were also focused on safety. Chris always asked you to get a life-vest on. Regretfully, I didn't do the scuba; next time.MY ZeinThe sunset cruise was fun; do it. Gu ys must wear dress slacks; they made a bunch of guys change out of their shorts. Ladies get away with dress shorts or better. We had several windy days and MY Zein doesn't sail in rough seas; so we got canceled twice before we made it (on our last night). Again make reservations ASAP and maybe a couple of them a few days apart if the weather looks sporty.

Clientele

A fair number of newly weds but mostly people in the 30-50 year old range when we were there. There were a lot of people from the mid-Atlantic states (Pennsylvania, New York, Jersey) and a fair number of Europeans (German, French & British). We met a woman from Gabon! We were on the c/o side and found the people friendly & mature. Except for the main complex; things were fairly quiet and romantic in the evening.Walking AroundOne day we took a walk on the famous 7 mile Negril beach. It was a real hassle and not worth the time (at least to us). Even though GL and Hedo were both SuperClubs and we coordinated with the concierge (who coordinated with Hedo security); we were detained, escorted and questioned several times trying to walk to and from the beach. Security was VERY tight at all the resorts (which is good if you are in them but not if you are traversing them on the beach.) We were stopped at both Hedo and Sandals as we crossed resort boundaries on the beach. Our recommendation is don't bothe r; it wasn't worth the time lost in security checks.At GL however, there was a nice, secluded beach to the right of the textile beach. We didn't walk it but it looked more like what you'd expect. Be prepared to be offered goods & services from the local s once you traverse the GL boundary.

Security

GL Security was excellent. There were lots of uniformed security people walking the grounds; they appeared serious about doing their job. I felt secure anyway.ConclusionWe recommend GL and it was worth going to; we want to go back. It was the most relaxing vacation we've had ever. The water, beaches, buildings and grounds were immaculate. If you are expecting big city, Hyatt Regency class rooms, you will be disappointed; but what a view! The food was good to excellent and plentiful all day and nigh t. The staff was charming and helpful; if you wanted it just ask.


JAMAICA: MANDEVILLE AREA BY HARRY PARISER

( Ed Note: The following material is extracted from the Third Edition of Jamaica: A Visitor's Guide by Harry Pariser. Copyright 1995, Hunter Publishing. Harry passes along the following information about his publications:

For more information on the area surrounding Mandeville as well as comprehensive coverage of the rest of Jamaica, you may purchase Third Edition of Jamaica: A Visitor's Guide ($14.95; IBSN 1-55650-703-8) which is available at your local bookstore. (Re quest them to order it from Hunter or from Ingram if it is not in stock). Copies of Jamaica: A Visitor's Guide may also be ordered directly from Harry S. Pariser (1327 9th Av., No. 1, San Francisco, CA 94122) at the above address for US$20 (check or money order); copies are shipped via priority mail. Please mark "BOOK ORDER" on the envelope. Other books by Harry S. Pariser include The Adventure Guide to the Dominican Republic, (Second Edition) $14.95; The Adventure Guide to Costa Rica, (Third Edition: Feb . 1996) $15.95 ("best-balanced, most comprehensive guide"--Lan Sluder, Tico Times); The Adventure Guide to the Virgin Islands (Third Edition) $14.95; The Adventure Guide to Puerto Rico, (Second Edition) $14.95; and the Adventure Guide to Barbados (Second Edition: October 1995). All are available from Hunter Publishing, 300 Raritan Parkway, Edison, NJ 08818. Call (908-225-1900) or fax (908-417-0482). Also distributed nationwide by Ingram. For more information contact Harry S. Pariser at (415) 665-4829 or s end e-mail to salsa@slip.net.)

Planning to visit Jamaica?

Would you like to travel to a less visited area? Here's some info about one of the island's relatively untouristed parish and its main town.

Manchester Parish and Mandeville

One of the nicest areas of Jamaica, 339 sq. mi. (833 sq. km), Manchester Parish's cool hills and low-key populace makes for a refreshing change from the heat and hustle of the coasts. In terms of the island's history, Manchester is comparatively young. An influx of coffee growers, who petitioned the government, led to the splitting off of Manchester as a separate parish in 1814. Prior to the introduction of coffee, the area had been largely wilderness and was divided between Vere, Clarendon, and St. El izabeth parishes. It was named after the governor of the time, the Duke of Manchester who served as governor from 1808-27. In contrast to the sugar producing areas, the plantation system was never instituted here, and the emancipated slaves became small f armers.

Today it produces the bulk of the nation's Irish potato crop. As any visitor will soon detect, bauxite is also a major industry. In addition to toxic red lakes, you'll spot signs such as "Bauxite returned to Housing" and "Bauxite Returned to Agricultur e." You'll also see cattle farms, citrus groves, and even bananas. Manchester's chief town is Mandeville, and you should base yourself here or in Christiana.

Mandeville

A fairly large, extremely scattered town (pop. 34,000), this is the capital of Manchester Parish, and the fifth largest city or town. Although Mandeville has long been compared to an English country town, its Continental character is swiftly fading as it becomes a carbon copy of American suburbia with shopping centers and Kentucky Fried Chicken. The area surrounding the Manchester Club, which has the island's oldest golf course, still retains a distinctly English feeling. Although at the time of its es tablishment in 1814 it was a playground for landed European gentry, expatriates today are predominantly Americans working in the bauxite industry, which has brought relative prosperity to this area. Mandeville is definitely a place to beat the heat; the t emperature here ranges from the 60s during the winter to the 70s during the summer.

To really experience the town in all its radiance, get out in the early morning and take in the special qualities of the sunlight. The area's most famous product is the ortanique. Developed here about 1920 by C. P. Jackson, the name for this seedless, extremely juicy fruit was coined by combining the words "orange, tangerine and unique."

GETTING THERE AND AROUND:

Mandeville is most easily reached by bus or minibus from Kingston (via Spanish Town) or from Black River. There's no local bus system so you'll either have to walk or bargain with the drivers of shared taxis. car rentals: A number of car rental agencie s are based here. These include Candi Car Rental (tel. 962-31530, Hertz (tel. 962-1279), Moon Glow (tel. 962-9000) and Delojay Car Rental (tel. 962-3153).SIGHTS: All of the major streets slope up to Mandeville Square where the park, market, courthouse a nd rectory are located. Surrounded by a sea of modernity, the anachronistic courthouse was built with limestone blocks cut by slaves. Completed around 1820, the design underwent many modifications before it was finished. Be sure to note the "no urinating" sign. Standing to the left of the courthouse, what was once Mandeville's rectory is still the oldest house in town. Rented out as a tavern, it was later used as a guest house before being converted to a private residence. Also on the central green, Manch ester Parish Church opened its doors in 1820. Mandeville Hotel, an old landmark on Hotel St., was originally a barracks for English troops before being converted to a hotel during the 1890s. It has long been a place of retirement for many expatriate Briti sh.

Mrs. Stephenson's Garden:

This sweet lady has been cultivating her garden for nearly two decades now. Carmen grows anthuriums, ortanique, citrus, and orchids, and her horticultural products generally take the bulk of the awards at the annual horticultural fair. A small donation is requested. The garden is off New Green Rd. on the way to Winston Jones Highway.

Bammy Factory:

This is run out of Clem Bloomfield's home. The manufacture of these cassava cakes was learned from the Indians. It's an intricate process of grinding, pressing, roasting, and scraping. The cakes, of course, form half the ingredients of the traditional dish "fish and bammy." He's located off Greenvale Rd. between West Rd. and Winston Jones highway. Check with the Astra for current tour availability.

Marshall's Pen:

This 18th C. great house is set inside a 300-acre cattle farm. Purchased by Arthur Sutton in 1939, it is also a preserve for birds. While the affable Suttons offer tours of their house and opportunities for birdwatching on the grounds, their main busin ess is rearing cattle. They care for Red Poll calves until they are 10 months old and then sell them; their calves are so popular that there is a three-year waiting period. The Suttons live in the main house, once the center of a coffee plantation, and ha ve endeavored to furnish it appropriately. The charge for tours is US$10 pp. (tel. 962-2260). Birdwatching tours of the estate (98 species reported seen) and to the Cockpit Country are also available but must be arranged in advance.

Cecil Charleton's Mansion:

Manchester Green Farms and Stables, located 2.5 km south of town atop Huntingdon Summit, appears from the distance to be a gigantic futuristic green Chinese pagoda-almost as if a spacecraft full of Oriental aliens had landed on top of the hill. Horses and cows graze on the green, fenced-in pastures along the way up to this octagonal mansion owned by Mandeville's mayor and former sno-cone salesman CeciI Charleton. Outside, bird cages containing cockatoos and other tropical exotics hang near a fountain built in the shape of a map of Jamaica and a walkway representing the Jamaican flag. An outdoor swimming pool flows under the walls into the living room where it transforms into a small pond. Get permission to view the estate by calling 962-2247/2493.

others:

Another place to visit is the small High Mountain Coffee Factory (tel. 962-4211) The coffee factory is located up the street from the former Williamsfield train depot. As they only roast the beans, there isn't much to see.

West Indies College's Westco Foods Factory offers tours on request to see how they make Banana Plus Cereal, cornflakes, brown wheat bread, and other health foods. Its sponsor is West Indies College, a small Seventh Day Adventist institution whose stude nt body comes from 38 nations. Arrangements for visiting both can be made through the Astra's Visitor Information Centre. Mandeville Practicalities

ACCOMMODATIONS:

The Mandeville Hotel (tel. 962-2138, fax 962-0700; Box 78; Mandeville at 4 Hotel St., is a local institution run in style by the affable McIntyre clan, and the McIntyres have been striving diligently to upgrade facilities and service. There are 60 doub le rooms and some self-contained units available. Set off from the road, it's in its own special, peaceful world--one which is just a matter of minutes from the center of action. In addition to a pool, there's a fine restaurant and bar. "Golden agers" are particularly welcome. Complimentary features include early morning coffee or tea and a free welcome drink at the bar. Rates are from US$65 (plus tax and 10% service) on up to US$200.

Located outside of the town's core at 62 Ward Avenue, The Astra (tel. 962-3265/3377, fax 962-1461; Box 60, Mandeville) is managed by Diana McIntyre-Pike. It has a functional simplicity which gives it a personal grace. Originally a 10-room nursing home, it was converted by Mr. and Mrs. Conway McIntyre into a hotel catering to expatriates at work in the bauxite industry. There are two bars: one inside and one poolside. Imbibe your complimentary "welcome drink" at either. A "Revival Room" next to the pool is perfect for meetings. Rates run from around US$65-$150 including tax and full breakfast.

Diana McIntyre has a special concept, one unfortunately all too rare in the impersonal, unimaginative world of Jamaican tourism. Her "Community Tourism" involves bringing the local citizens into contact with visitors. This affords visitors the opportun ity to experience life as the locals live it and the chance for Jamaicans to meet North Americans and Europeans at first hand and not only via the boob tube. She hopes to prevent the type of unplanned development that has marred both Negril and the North Coast. In conjunction with this effort, Diana and family invite locals and high school students into their hotels so that they can understand what the hotel business and tourism is all about. In order to make her visitors feel right at home in the communi ty, she takes them around and about for a complimentary tour. Ask Diana about her private home bed and breakfast program. Visitors pay around US$40 for a single or US$50 for a double room. She can also arrange a rental car which will be immediately availa ble upon arrival.

Apartments:

The Golf View Apartment (tel. 962-4471) is at 5 1/2 Caledonia Rd.

Budget accommodations:

Try the Rodan Guest House (tel. 962-2552), Wesley Rd., the Hillside Guest House (tel. 962-7838), the five-room Kariba (tel. 962-8006; Box 482, Mandeville), 39 New Green Rd. (around US$35 s or d), the Mayfair Guest House (tel. 962-2797), 11 Newleigh Rd. , the International Chinese Hotel (tel. 962-0527) at 17 Manchester Rd., or the Traveler's Rest Bed and Breakfast outside of town

Countrystyle

Founded by Diana McIntyre-Pike, Countrystyle Limited markets "Community Tourism," the concept of involving visitors in the community life. Headquartered at the Asta Country Inn, Countrystyle specializes in the area around Mandeville and the South Coas t. Programmes include bed and breakfast (see above), special interest tours and travel, a community guide program (who will introduce visitors to the area), a community tourism village program (which assists in developing business plans), skills training, and communications planning and marketing. For more information, call 962-3725, fax 962-1461, or write Box 60, Mandeville.

DINING OUT:

The best hotel dining is to be found at the Mandeville Hotel and the Astra, which has the Country Fresh Restaurant. Both of these are renowned for service and hospitality. low-budget dining: Open from 8-4 Mon. to Thurs. and 8-2 on Fri., a vegetarian restaurant run by the Seventh Day Adventists offers dishes including soy steak, rice and peas, and green pea stew, as well as juices, Irish moss, soy milk, plantain tarts, fruit punch, orange juice, salads. It's behind the church in the town center. Popul ar with locals, the inexpensive Hot Pot Restaurant parallels Hotel St. Miss Bennett's Fish Hut at 35 Caledonia Plaza has breakfast from US$2 and charges US$3-5 for fish dishes. A good value for the atmosphere is the Pot Pourri Restaurant at Caledonia Plaz a. Its dishes run the gamut from hotdogs to bacon & eggs, from curried goat to sweet and sour pork. For Chinese food, the International Chinese Restaurant (tel. 962-0527/1252), 117 Manchester Rd., is reasonable as are the Bamboo Village (tel. 962-4515-6), 35 Ward Ave.(which serves dishes such as "crystal king prawns" and "seafood war-bar") and The Feeding Tree. For baked goods try the Sunshine Bakery housed next to the Yokohama Betting Shop on Manchester Rd. Ice cream is served at Krispy Kones near the Od eon. For baked goods, Lynn's Bakery is on Ward Avenue.

Food shopping:

Marzouca's Deli in Mandeville Plaza, has pickled, sinful-tasting Satan's Sauce and Pepperwind Pepper Jelly, used for seasoning meat. Also available are dulce (guava cheese) and guava liqueur. For grocery shopping try Super Plus at 2 Park Crescent and 4 1 Manchester Rd., Bravo Enterprises at 7B Caledonia Rd., Phildon Serve All at 5 Manchester Rd., Landem Discount at 41 Manchester Rd., Mandeville Cash 'N Carry at Ward Plaza, 35 Ward Ave., and Urvill's Shop'N Save at 32 Manchester Rd. The Basic Mini Mart s tands next to the Odeon Theatre.

ENTERTAINMENT:

The Astra has live music on occasion. Discos in the same area include Coney Island and Tracks in Mandeville Plaza. Zeex is out at Caledonia Plaza. Rocksteady Nightclub is at Manchester Shopping Centre. Currently the hottest spot in the area is Jim's HQ at Gutters in St. Elizabeth. It's popular for dancing especially on Fri. and Sat.

SHOPPING:

Located behind Manchester Shopping Centre, the SWA Craft Centre (tel. 962-2138) offers employment to young unemployed women who lack skills. After they are trained, they can go on to work for themselves. Here, embroidery work, crochet, toys, clothing, and baked goods are for sale. These not only make good souvenirs, they put money where it's needed. Check out their line of cute Rastafarian dolls. Mandeville's extremely colorful market is set off to one side of Mandeville Square, housed in a yellow buil ding. Squatting higglers flow out the doors onto the sloping driveway along the entrance where they sell yams, green peppers, cassava, white turnips, oranges, green bananas, ginger, beans and sugarcane. Also outside there's usually a revivalist group pres ent with a lady, wearing a white turban, reading from the Bible and holding a white flag. Inside, the meat market has individually apportioned stalls with cow and goat heads for sale. Fishes of all sizes, shapes and colors are sold from tin washing pans.< /P>

SERVICES AND INFORMATION:

There is no longer a tourist office in Mandeville. An excellent source for information is Diana McIntyre-Pike at the Astra Country Inn (tel 962-3265/3377). The best place to change money is at the Cambio in the supermarket in the center of town. There are two health clubs: the Total Body Centre (tel. 962-5340) and the New Bodies Health Club (tel. 962-5334). Drugstores include Bennett's at 25 Main St.; Bravo Enterprises, 7B Caledonia Rd.; Hargreaves, 32 Hargreaves Ave.; Houghton's, 18 West Park Crescent ; Grove Court in Grove Court Shopping Centre; and Fontana in Manchester Plaza Shopping Centre. Bookland is at Manchester Shopping Centre. In case you would like to be helped by the relative of a leading luminary, you can visit Seaga's sister at her Global Travel in Manchester Shopping Centre.

SPORTS:

Over 120 years old, the Manchester Club is the oldest private club in the Caribbean. Its facilities include billiards, tennis and golf; the 9 hole course is Jamaica's oldest. Facilities are available to guests of the Astra and Mandeville hotels. John S . Nightingale (tel. 962-2822), 13 Perth Rd, offers horseback rides--a perfect thing to do in Mandeville!

This is just a taste of what you can do in the area around Mandeville.


JAMAICA: OCHO RIOS AND NEGRIL BY GORDON DAITCH

(Ed Note: Gordon and his wife Sue used the condo owned by former CTR contributor Marty Bush. This is a message which Gordon sent to Marty about his trip.)

Dear Marty

Wow!! What can I say but "Thanks". We really appreciate you letting us use your condo. It was just what we needed (or should I say what my wife needed). She had heard horror stories where she works about the crime in Jamaica and how it wasn't safe and that the only way to go was to stay at an All Inclusive. I knew they had been wrong, having been there before. I say - and she does now - "Bull Shit." The people were great. Everybody.

First all I can say about Carib Ocho Rios is Kudos. What a wonderful place. Now I can truly see why you like going there. Or should I say Love going there? Gene was a delight. Enjoyed talking to her very much. Do regret that the weather didn't allow he r to get into town more so we could do more talking. (Did not see Captain Morgan at all.) Although you probably know this already.

Ron (however) was the tonic that got my wife over her initial fright. I didn't know until half way through our trip that my wife really didn't want to go at all. She was just going because I had, as she said, "A gleam in my eye everytime I talked about Jamaica". And she went, because she loved me. What a gal !!

She grew up in Chicago and was taught not to trust strangers. It was this and all the talk at work that had caused her to very uneasy. VERY UNEASY. (She told me later that it was only after see the Burger King in Ocho that she quit worrying about starv ing because she couldn't eat the food in Jamaica.) It was at that very Burger King the next morning eating breakfast, I saw her crying, her thinking she had made a big mistake in coming. We went back to the Condo and had a talk with Ron. This was the toni c I was talking about. Speaking to an American, who lived there months on end, he helped putting her mind at ease about the situation there.

After that "pep talk" we went for a ride to Fern Gully. We (or should I say I) took a wrong turn and found us on a very narrow road up through the hills. After a spell, fearing we could be going in the wrong direction, we asked a girl for directions. S aid we were on the wrong road but that this one would run into the road we wanted, only we would be above it and to turn to our right when we came to the end of this road. Sure enough she was right. Along the way, we stopped at one of the many roadside bo oths. This was totally against my wife's wishes. First I was talking to a couple of men, then, before we knew it, they came from everywhere or so it seemed. (My wife told me later that it seemed like a scene out of the movie "Night of The Living Dead". Wh ere the Zombies would come at a car and just seem to surround it without stopping.) Next I see her getting out with some of the women to look at their wares. She gets back in the car and tells me that there might be a chance that I was right about Jamaica .

Let me say here that I want you to tell Max that I'm sorry we didn't appear receptive to his offer to guide us around the Island. It had nothing to do with him at all. (She rejected similar offers the entire time we were there. Although she said next t ime {yes, there will be a next time or times} she would like to take some tours. Maybe so I wouldn't have to drive so much. More about that later.) Max was very helpful and a charm to talk to. Next time we will make up for it. Please do tell Max this!

The next two days Dunn' Falls and Shaw Gardens were visited. Each day my wife felt better and better about the trip. Buying a can of Coke (or Almost Coke, as my wife says) for $20J is a little scary at first. Exchange rate $37.99 at bank to $39.50 at E xchange. Saw some Cokes at Ricks - $35.00.

Another thing that brought my wife around was the Craft Market. She likes to shop. Not to buy, mostly just to look. The opportunity to shop in the Market and the ability to negotiate the deal seemed to bring her to life. On more than one occasion, I ha d to drag her away from it. She would see something that she liked and would go around to each booth looking for just the one she liked best. First it was a frog, next it was fish, then baskets, etc. She relished her trips to the Market as a "contest". On ce she had the hang of it, there was no stopping her. (She used up her "lunch money" for the next year). The fact of the matter is both sides win when it's done right. You get something for a price that you like and they're getting some profit from the sa le. Once back in the states, you wouldn't part with any of the things you bought for any price. Who loses?

The Market revealed one thing to me. And this was only after we had been in Negril for a few days. The people in Ochee are more aggressive. I think this has to do with the fact that so many more people come to Ochee on cruise ships with only a day to s pend on land. The people in the Market know this and act accordingly. In Negril, they know you are going to be there for a few days. This fact was confirmed both in Ochee and Negril, when my wife would go back for the third time to a booth and buy the ite m she liked after telling that person she would be back. And did come back. They would be real surprised she had kept her word, because oh so many had said the same thing and never did.

Another thing about the people was their approach. One I would find very tiring after awhile. Each and every one of them seemed they had to "bond" with you. It's just a matter of finding the one you bond with. They all have just about the same thing in th em. All for just about the same price.

Driving was an experience. Better and worse than what people had told me. The actual driving wasn't near as bad as I had been led to believe. It's just the toll it takes on your nerves, having to watch out for everybody else, because they're not watching out for you. All the construction in both Ochee and Negril was horrid. I'm sure it will improve life in both towns when completed. Until then?!

The car rental came off without a hitch. Island Car rental for a small (I'm still not sure what kind of car we had) two door, automatic auto. With the steering wheel on the WRONG side of the car. Rented on an American Express card for 10 days, leaving 3/4 tank of gas was only $396US. Less than $40 a day. I was sure after the pounding this car had taken that it would be declared a "total loss". Much to my delight, nothing was found to be wrong. Maybe $20 to the check-in guy helped the cause.

After biding Gene good-bye, we headed out on that long drive to Negril with a very satisfied feeling in our hearts. My wife saying to me in the car how great Ochee was, the condo, the people, every thing. And how now she sees why I had been talking so lov ingly about Jamaica and how she couldn't see how Negril could be any better and that she would come back to Ochee in a flash.

Little did she know what I had in store for her in Negril. I sure know how to turn a woman off!

As you might remember in my postings in the forum, that I had a friend in Atlanta who has a house in Negril and he would be down during the time we were there (he never made it), and that we could stay there free if we liked. It's past the Lighthouse.

He didn't tell me about "Sport", the house guest. He stays at the house while my friend is in the States. And that "Sport" would be staying there with us.

It's a two-story block house that's just starting to get some work done on it. We looked at each other and shook our heads.

My friend had told us about a place across the street we could stay. Cottages, on the cliffs. Run by a woman by the name of Hermine. And sure enough there were two cottages on the cliffs. One of them had no roof! The other one had no running water after t he first day and only one light bulb for the entire place. It didn't look clean. And had a musky smell.

It was getting real late and we were tired. Hermine was so nice and said she would do anything she could to make our stay pleasant. And my wife knew how much I had wanted to stay there. So she said she would stay one night and let me know. She hardly slep t a wink all night. Being scared, not knowing anything about the people where we were staying, being in a strange land, not able to shower or brush her teeth, noises all through the night. She HATED it!! Woke up very, very cross. Only to find me sitting o n the cliffs, spliff in hand, looking at one of the most beautiful sunrises I have ever seen in my life. The sun was coming up directly from behind us. There was this amazing display of red that glowed in the clouds more and more as the sun rose higher in the sky. After just a few minutes, that glow was being reflected in the calm sea. The picture I took is (to me) as pretty as almost any sunset I have seen. (If you like I could send you a copy).

This was the turning point for her in Negril. We both like to camp out. So we just made up our minds that we were in a big tent that just happened to have palm fronds as a roof, cliffs for our yard, the sea and the sky for a background, and no one around for a 1/4 mile except Mother Nature. It was great. Just great.

We got to know Hermine and her family, now our "adopted" family. We got to meet and know her brothers and families in Sav-La-Mar. And dozens of other people while we were there. Many people visit Jamaica, few it seems, ever get to know it. These people ar e WONDERFUL!! They're trying to make it in a country that doesn't seem to have much of a middle class. Either rich or poor. No middle. Who can blame them for trying to make a few bucks off us "rich" tourists? We come to their beautiful Island for our plea sure. I sort of think of it as Pleasure Tax imposed by the people and governed by them. To a certain extent, I think most tourists should accept this as a fact and live with it. I have no problem with it as long as I do it knowingly. It's a cheap price fo r an island visit.

We saw the struggles of a family as it strives to send 3 kids to school (one that travels 21 miles to school and leaves the house at 10AM for 12PM class and gets home sometimes after 7:30PM), what real life is to the Jamaicans.

Although my wife still refused any guides, even from Hermine's 15 year-old son, we still managed to do plenty. Did not get much sun as it was cloudy or raining the entire time we were there.

We spent our last night in Montego Bay, as our tickets said we had 8:00AM flight out and did not want to drive to the airport that morning. Got to the airport at 6:00AM, only to find that our flight had been changed to 10:00AM. About an hour after we got to the airport the bottom fell out. It must have rained 2 or 3 inches. There was over a foot of water in the parking lot. All flights in and out were canceled until about 1:00. Our flight finally left at 3:30.

All in all we had a most wonderful time in Jamaica. If you remember in my postings, I was requesting info on all kinds of these that we might could do while in Jamaica and received many great ideas. There wasn't near enough time to do all the things we wa nted to do. Good thing is, there will be a next time.

I hope I haven't bored you to death with such a long recital. But you asked. I also hope that we would be welcome to return to Ocho and rent your condo. There are many daytrips from Ocho left to be done.

Once again, THANK YOU!! Without out you and your condo, I don't think our trip would have gone so good. And thank all the great people of Jamaica who share their Island with us.


JAMAICA: JAMAICA GRANDE BY CYNTHIA MEYERS

We (myself, my husband, and my two 11 year olds sons) left out of Phila on Jamaica Air At 7:30am. There were no direct flights on weekdays, so we had to stop in Baltimore to pick up more people (took about 40mins). From Baltimore it was 3 hours to Montego Bay. Once we arrived at Montego Bay we found the Jamaica Grande representative. He gave us a welcome letter and guided us to the van that would take us to the resort. We rode with two other couples, one who had a seven year old son. The ride took two hou rs, which I Knew it would, but i never imagined how bumpy it would be. I was glad the driver stopped after an hour at a rest stop so you could buy a soda...I was starting to get a headache from all the traveling (it was about 1:30pm by now and we started at 7:30am).

We were very pleased when we pulled up to the hotel..It was beautiful. The open lobby had a bar and beautiful views of the ocean. We were given a bracelet for our wrist that meant we had the all-inclusive plan. From then on anything we wanted..food, drink , and non-motorized water sports were free. Room service was also included, but they charged a $3.50/per person service charge. We had room service quite a few times, mostly since the kids could get pizza or hamburgers. They only charged us for the two ad ults. Breakfast was a buffet in the outdoor court dining room-very good. Lunch-went to the buffet once. Mostly ate at the beach grill. Dinner-went to the Italian restaurant twice. It was very good. Kids could get pizza. other nights went to the buffet. Ev ery night here was a show. Thursday and Monday night was especially good. Thurs. there was a fire dancer and limbo dancer. the dinner buffet was set up on the beach-Jamaican dishes mostly (this was one of the nights the kids got room service later when we went back to our room).

Our room was in the south tower. our room was newly renovated and was very nice. We had a balcony with a great view overlooking the pool and ocean. The fantasy pool was beautiful. there was a pool bar, beach bar, lobby bar, etc. never had to go too far fo r a drink. The boys thought it was great to get all the sodas you can drink for free. Every other minute they were at one of the bars getting a coke.

There was still quite a bit of construction going on around us at J.G. They had a cafe and the disco was close for renovations. They were also building a two story extension off the south tower. They even were building another pool in front of the new win g. Unfortunately since we were staying in the south tower we heard the banging of hammers starting at 8:00am. We tried to switch to the north tower but the room they wanted to give us was not redone and the view was of the parking lot. Since we were with our kids we did not mind getting up early. If you can avoid the construction or you do not mind it, J.G. is a great value for the money. We got a great deal booking it during the "Caribbean 30% off sale" in May. We paid about $2100.00 and thought it was well worth it. if I paid alot more i think i might have felt a little cheated since the place was under such major renovations.


JAMAICA: AROUND JAMAICA IN 4 DAYS BY GEORGE THOMAS TRIP REPORT

BACKGROUND

We were married in Jamaica on December 1, 1992 at Poinciana Resort Hotel in Negril. That year and for 2 years thereafter we had basically done the same "routine". We played golf at Wyndham Rose Hall Resort Hotel (Montego Bay) for four days and then off to Negril for some "fun". During our stays at Negril we had the opportunity to do some day tours of the South Coast countryside (St. Elizabeth, Treasure Beach, Lover's Leap, Black River, Y.S. Falls, Sav-La-Mar etc.). This got us "hooked" on the Jamaican cou ntryside ... we love it.

So ... last year we said we'd try something different (our golf partner couple Dwight and Kathy Epps' vacation did not coincide with ours) around Jamaica we'd go. We contracted with our driver and friend for two years, Alvin Black, who lives in Orange Bay (just north of Negril) to take us around the island. We planned a 4 or 5 day itinerary with him. We said would eat as inexpensively as we could and try to keep our accommodations to $US20 - 30 per night. Alvin would meet us at the airport and off we'd go .

When we arrived at the Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay the only reservation we had was our return ticket home on December 5th!?! Before we left our friends Dwight and Kathy began to call us the "Jamaica Vagabonds".

Day 1 - November 21, 1995.

We arrived in Montego Bay at around noon. We were prepared for what we now call "the airport experience", which is about the same every year. For first-time Jamaica visitors, we can only say that you should savor the moment and if things get a bit hot and frustrating ... remember you are going through "the airport experience".

We find it very helpful to bring with you lots of $US1 bills -- this is not a good time to be mentally adjusting to the currency rate. We always convert $US200 to $JA immediately ... spending Jamaican dollars seems to go much more smoothly all over the is land. At the time we arrived the exchange rate at the airport was $US1 to $JA37. Hotels give the worst rate, some at $JA35, banks are next, and (it seems) the CAMBIOS (professional money changing establishments) are the best($JA40).

Anyway ... Alvin was right at the taxi stand as he had promised. We greeted him and hugged and shook hands and we were off. I only had to buy one RED STRIPE (the Jamaican national brew) from a Jamaican "entrepreneur"!! Alvin had the cooler packed with RED STRIPE, TING, Ginger Beer and soda as we set off east to Port Antonio(?). We told him to shut off the air conditioning in his mini-van ... we were here to feel the warm.

We stopped at Discovery Bay, where Christopher Columbus landed in Jamaica. This was a nice spot, kind of an ugly view of a defunct bauxite refinery but the place had improved since I and I had last seen it 13 years ago. It had exhibits of old sugar refini ng technology, some kind of pimento machine thing which I forget what it exactly was ... but a nice place for a pit stop.

We stopped again in Ocho Rios, a rather bustling little place. We had to stop for coffee. We are particular about having our morning coffee ... so we brought with us a $US10 Betty Crocker (plastic) coffee maker, packets of sugar and some CREMORA (just in case). At the super market there we got Blue Mountain Coffee and some real milk (its called CREMO - COW's milk) ... says it doesn't need refrigeration until opened ... we put it in the cooler.

When we reached Port Maria we saw a sign for the FIREFLY which was Noel Coward's home in Jamaica. We immediately told Alvin, "Stop, go up that road!". This was a sight we had anticipated seeing along the north coast. Our anticipation and expectation were rewarded as this was one of the finest homesites we had ever seen in Jamaica and indeed ever in our lives! A tour of the place was offered for $10US and included HOMEMADE GINGER BEER -- very spicey! The brochure for FIREFLY says that it is "the most beaut iful view in Jamaica" and we must agree. From Noel Coward's "room with a view" you can see from the Blue Mountains right down to the sea. The house itself is simple and small (not a Great House), and you feel like you want to stay and live there. Noel Cow ard is buried on the property ... we can understand why he didn't want to leave.

One of the tour guides at FIREFLY recommended that we stay at the Casa Maria right there in Port Maria. We got there and no guests were staying there that we could see. They wanted $US70 for the night and "came down" to $US50. This was still out of our bu dget range so we left with the hotel man calling after us ... we hit the road, but could we have gotten our price??

All of us were hungry when we reached Buff Bay. Alvin stopped at the PACESETTERS CAFETERIA where we had a chicken dinner for 2 for $JA280 which included chicken, vegetables, soup, plenty of rice and peas and a lemonade. There, an Englishman (we think) rec ommended two guest houses, "SHIRLEY'S ACCROPOLIS AND BEER JOINT" and "SWIFT RIVER COVE HOTEL". We stopped at Shirley's but they had only one room available (for $JA800) so we pushed east to Hope Bay and Swift River.

The owner(?)/operator of THE SWIFT RIVER COVE HOTEL AND RESTAURANT informed us that they were not "officially open" but provided us with a clean room with a bathroom for $JA700. That night there we had 2 rounds of 3 gin and tonics for $JA200. I was introd uced to the man but I forgot his name. He was kind and friendly and we wished him luck on his new venture.

Day 2 - November 22, 1995.

As it was dark when we arrived at this guest house we didn't know what to expect to see when we awoke. To our surprise, the hotel had a nice view of the Caribbean, actually only about 150 yds. away! It was quiet there and we felt that if you wanted to tru ly "get away from it all" you might choose this spot. We awoke about 8:00 AM, showered (cold), made coffee in the sort of kitchen area of the hotel. We heard along the way that Jamaicans don't take hot showers, "it's bad for you!" (...hmmmmm?). We rode ea st.

Our first stop, only a couple of miles down the road was SOMMERSET FALLS. For $US3 each we got a guided tour of gardens and the falls, including a "gondola" ride back to what was identified as "the hidden falls". The "gondola" was kind of sinking -- bare feet were in order. Nice place to stop and view the foliage. This part of the island is supposedly most like "rain forest". In general it seems that the foliage etc. was much more lush than anywhere else.

When we reached Port Antonio, we decided that we would first find a room for the night before we continued our sightseeing. Alvin took us to DE HOTEL MONTEVIN LODGE in downtown Port Antonio. The hotel was a "grand old lady" with real tile on the balcony o verlooking the harbour -- wooden floors and an elegant dining room, chandeliers etc. They wanted $US50 a night

We took the "ferry" to Navy Island (actually a launch with an outboard motor) for $JA50 each. The island in the harbour got its name from having a British Naval Base there but is perhaps more famous by the fact that Errol Flynn purchased it in the 1940's and entertained his young Hollywood starlets there. There are guests rooms and a restaurant and marina on the island. None of the guest rooms had a kitchen which was a disappointment to us (we like having a kitchen or at least a fridge) and food was not p ermitted to be taken on to the island so the visitor would be "at the mercy of" a pretty expensive restaurant. We had lunch there (expensive) on a nice terrace restaurant with a view of Port Antonio. We took a walk around the island and then the ferry bac k to the "mainland".

Traveling east we stopped at Blue Lagoon, a 180 foot deep cove. $JA120 each got us access to the restaurant and dock. We had a nice swim -- warm currents from a mineral spring mingle with colder ocean currents. The water is a bright blue color ... a lovel y place. We of course had to sample the house drink (A Blue Lagoon) which was strong and had rum in it and it was blue (and expensive).

Alvin said we must have dinner at Boston Bay, supposedly the home of the original Jamaican Jerk Cooking. This was a rural and rather primitive complex of outdoor cooking stands. When we arrived they all shouted that "they were the best". Alvin steered us to what he said was the best and we ordered 1/2 pound of jerked chicken and 1/2 pound of jerked pork which came with "festival" a very tasty bread for $JA260.

Jerk is cooking process where meat is seasoned and then cooked over an open fire of pimento logs and leaves. The result is hot and spicey!! We also sampled some of Alvin's fried breadfruit. This was a very popular place frequented by locals as well as som e tourists. A "must" visit if in Port Antonio.

We went back to the hotel and showered and cleaned up an decided to go out and have a "couple of drinks". In the center of town we found THE CENTER SQUARE PUB. Since Alvin was finished driving for the day we told him he could have gin and tonics with us ( heh! heh!). THE CENTER SQUARE PUB did not see too many "visitors". It was a small, loud and raucous place ... and an apparently very popular local watering hole. The drink of choice for the regulars was a shot or two of overproof white rum in a small glas s, chased with warm water. This combo we DID NOT sample.

Another we did not sample was what Alvin told us was a "Steel Bottom" ... white overproof rum over which is poured a Red Stripe Beer (a Jamaican "Boilermaker"!?). We had our gin and tonics Jamaican style in the form of what Alvin called "Q's". Since all t hree of us were drinking the same thing, Joy, the bartender poured gin into a half-pint(?) bottle, put out bottles of tonic and glasses and a bowl of ice and we helped ourselves. After 3 Q's Joanne thought I was getting too loud in my conversations so we went back to the DEMONTEVIDE and to bed. Alvin stayed up and watched TV in the sitting room.

Day 3 - November 23, 1995

We rose early, 7:00 AM and Alvin joined us for fresh brewed coffee on the balcony outside our room. The aroma of Blue Mountain coffee must have been strong in the hotel as one of the staff shouted from outside below us, "You brewin' coffee up der! I thoug ht so! It smells so good!!" Packed the luggage in the mini- van and on to our next destination, Kingston via the Blue Mountains.

We drove west, back to Buff Bay, Alvin topped off the gas (diesel) tank and began our ascent.

I don't believe I have ever experienced scenery more beautiful than that on the road from Buff Bay to Kingston. As we ascended each turn of the road displayed a scenic outlook. Waterfalls sprang from the sides of the mountain almost at every turn. We made a stop and walked across a rope bridge over a deep ravine. This was one of many such foot bridges we saw.

We stopped and purchased a dozen large tangerines for $JA40 (!). We remarked to Alvin how much citrus was growing along the mountain slopes. Huge grapefruit! Joanne told Alvin I had grapefruit EVERY DAY for breakfast in the states. Alvin pulled into a dri veway of one of the farms and got a fellow to climb up a grapefruit tree and throw down a dozen HUGE grapefruit which lasted me the rest of my stay in Jamaica.

The Blue Mountains are famous for coffee and we saw coffee growing all over the slopes. We saw people on step ladders picking the coffee by hand. We did stop and purchase a pound of fresh coffee for $JA260 (try buying it in the states and you'll know what a bargain that is).

As we reached the higher elevations the mountains were in the clouds so there wasn't much of a view. This apparently is fairly common in these mountains. We stopped at a cottage and garden in (I think) Shetfield which the owner said he rented as a guest h ouse for the weekend. As we descended towards Kingston we got below the clouds and stopped for "brunch" at Gap. A lovely little restaurant with a terrace with a view of the city below. Quite a view, we could see all the way to Port Royal which is on a pen insula south of Kingston. There at Gap we saw a host (?) of hummingbirds, including the Jamaican National bird, "the Doctor Bird".

The road from Buff Bay to Kingston is quite an experience and we do not recommend it for the nervous. The road is really only one lane most of the time and though we saw few other vehicles each time one was encountered it required some "maneuvering" to ge t by. No guardrails! And I think the vertical drop in some places had to be at least 500 ft. Just don't look down and don't think about it.

Our first stop in Kingston was the Bob Marley museum. Bob Marley, who passed away in 1981, was a world famous reggae musician. He and his band the Wailers, had many "gold" and "platinum" recordings to their credit. Bob Marley is revered throughout Jamaica and the world. I believe he has the status of sainthood in Jamaica. The museum is actually Bob Marley's house where he lived after his rise to fame. $JA180 includes a tour of the house and a video about his life.

Next, we stopped at the Devon House which was the home of the first black Jamaican millionaire. Built in 1881, the house and grounds are kept by the government. Much of the furniture inside are originals. Outside the house is kind of a "mini-mall" with cr aft shops and restaurants, built around the original stables and servants quarters of the house. Great stop for antique lovers.

We then headed for Port Royal. I guess we were rather "road weary" at that point as we told Alvin to stop at the first hotel we saw there which was MORGAN's HARBOR HOTEL AND YACHT MARINA. This was way out of range for our budget (and Alvin's) but we didn' t care. At the hotel bar a Yachtsman from the states recommended GLORIA's Restaurant for dinner which was right next door.

GLORIA's was a popular place with the locals who arrived by ferry boat from Kingston for dinner. It was a true "sidewalk cafe" in that it consisted of an indoor kitchen and tables and chairs set out on the sidewalk. When they ran out of space on the surro unding sidewalk they set tables up in the street! (Port Royal is a small town.) We had a delicious grilled lobster dinner for two (with bammy) for $JA500.

From our room at MORGAN's we had a spectacular view of the city lights of Kingston at night. Rising early the next morning as the sun rose the city lights faded into a beautiful view of Kinston at dawn at the foot of the Blue Mountains. This was truly one of the memorable sights of our trip.

Kingston itself was a typical big city with traffic, smog and heat. It seemed like it took hours to get through it ... traffic jams just like home! Typical of most big cities the downtown area of modern office buildings and shopping malls was surrounded b y neighborhoods of terrible poverty. You knew you were in Jamaica however ... goats ranged freely on the grassy centers of the roundabouts and boulevards!

Day 4 - November 24, 1995

We left Port Royal about 7:30 after coffee (and grapefruit for me!). Traffic was awful. It seemed like it took 2 hours to get out of Kingston. We headed for Mandeville. The road from Kingston to Mandeville was the best we'd seen in Jamaica. It even had po lice with radar guns setting traps for speeders (rather a novelty, as my experience with Jamaican driving is that they have only 2 speeds: fast, and faster) The cops caught some speeders.

We only stopped a few places on the way ... once to replenish our supply of RED STRIPE in the cooler. Along the way Joanne announced that we would play golf in Mandeville. THE MANCHESTER CLUB has the oldest golf course on the island, built in the late 180 0's. We stopped for breakfast (bacon and eggs) in the center of town and tried to find the golf course. After taking directions from several helpful(?) Mandevillians we finally found it .. but it wasn't easy!

For 18 holes, clubs, caddies, balls cost $US40. It was a "perfect" golf day ... overcast with only a slight breeze. Plus the climate of Mandeville, which is in the mountains is generally cooler than anywhere else in Jamaica. The course was OK. About like an average to low-end public course in the states. The greens were kind of in bad shape and the fairways needed to be cut. We walked nine holes and decided to quit.

Mandeville was kind of a "disappointment" to us in a way. The tour brochures all point out that it has its roots as an English resort settlement so we expected to see lots of old Victorian and pre-Victorian houses, ginger bread etc. Mandeville looked like a thoroughly modern town to us ... very clean and prosperous. Maybe it was because we'd been on the road for 3 and 1/2 days, and probably because we knew we were close to Negril, which would be our home for the next 11 days, we decided not to spend the n ight in Mandeville but go straight "home". We joked that this leg of the trip would be called "Kingston to Negril With 9 Holes of Golf In Between!"

We arrived at XTABI, the hotel where we had planned to stay, about 4 o'clock. To our great fortune the room we wanted, right on Negril's West End cliffs was not taken (we had no reservation but Jah Bless Us!). Those who have experienced the charm of the p eople, beaches, and cliffs and sunsets of Negril will know that our next 11 days is a subject for a "whole other" trip report.

AFTERWORD

Our four day trip went off pretty much as planned with no really serious setbacks. We consider ourselves fortunate to have experienced these places in Jamaica which were new to us and now are part of our "Jamaica memories". We would like to thank all the "good people" we met along the way who truly made us feel welcome on their island, Jamaica.

Our special thanks goes to Alvin Black, our friend and driver ... we probably would not have attempted this without him.

Note:

Alvin Black can be reached at 0957-6129. He also has a cellular phone (very modern) 0999-9306.


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