I apologize for how long this post is – all of the weekend is worth sharing about. 🙂 If you prefer pictures to rambling posts, here’s the full album.
All last week all I could think was “you’re going to Port Antonio this weekend! You’re going to Port Antonio this weekend!” I can’t honestly say why I was so enthralled, but I was. Mostly, I think, because of the responses I would get whenever I told someone my plan, even Jamaicans who haven’t been said it’s the most beautiful part of Jamaica. Jamaica is a country of pretty much endless beauty, so I was anxious to see what all the fuss was about. Friday afternoon I loaded myself onto a Coaster (that is its own special post) and held on tight for the two hour trip over the Blue Mountains.
Port Antonio was not oversold. It is a charming, historical, welcoming town in the middle of a paradise I can’t even accurately describe. What was oversold, unfortunately, were the accommodations at Dolphin Bay Yoga Guest House. I kept telling myself “you get what you get for $45/night,” but at the very least I wanted hot water and wi-fi, and both were promised. After a quick settling in, and a make-do sink ‘shower,’ I was off to find dinner. At the recommendation of the route taxi driver, I check the fish at a quaint (though perhaps on the tourist end of things) boardwalk café. There are actually three cafés nestled side-by-side here, a bar and four ‘craft stores’ (craft store is a Jamaican euphemism for souvenier shop).
I skip the stores in favour of dinner – Escoveitch snapper is quickly taking over jerk chicken as my favourite Jamaican meal. I’m enjoying the people watching and the ambience, but feel slightly out of place. It’s the off season in Port Antonio and I appear to be the only non-local of the few patrons there are. As this is Jamaica, it’s soon dark (FYI, it’s hard to see fish bones in the dark), and I decide the best defence is a good offense and plan to go back to the room, shower the heat of the day and the press of the Coaster off, phone my son, and read. Well, that was the plan, but on my return there was no water at all. :$ It’s actually hard to unwind when you’re damp & sticky with a long day’s worth of perspiration & multiple layers of OFF!, but the sound of the tree frogs was some consolation.
The next morning I wander the northern end of Port Antonio and end up at the Errol Flynn Marina. Yes, that Errol Flynn – the swashbuckling man in tights Errol Flynn. It seems he fell in love with Port Antonio in the 40’s – in fact he once supposedly said ‘Port Antonio is more beautiful than any woman I have ever seen’ – and dreamed of developing it into the next Riviera. He died without fulfilling that dream, but his name lives on. After a slow wander, I experience one of those serendipitous happenstances – I asked the only official looking staff person for advice on river rafting or other excursions, and her cousin just happens to be there showing a nice young Austrian couple the sights.
They agree to let me join them, and so I spend my happiest day so far in Jamaica with Peter & Kerstin from Tyrol & our driver Mack. Mack (or Mr. Mackenzie if you’re formal) is the owner/operator of Portland Experiences and a local, which is awesome because he knows all the best places & we trust him to show us all that his home region has to offer. What’s less great is that he also knows every cousin/neighbour/friend with a side trip to offer or something to sell. Of course he says no pressure and it’s up to us, but our $5,000 tour ends up costing much closer to $8,500, and that’s with opting to skip lunch. I will say it was $8,500 well spent. We left Errol Flynn Marina at 10:30 and I got back to my room just after 5; it was a very full day.
Jamaica’s south coast is alarmingly beautiful, and Mack did a great job of pointing out particular spots along the way and going slow enough for us to take it in. Our first stop is the Blue Lagoon, yes -the Blue Lagoon of Brooke Shield’s infamy and apparently several other movies. Here we are presented our first ‘no pressure but you really want to do this’ option – a boat ride out of the lagoon, past the villas that cling to its border, past Monkey Island, and back around the edge of the lagoon.
The boat is piloted by a stoic Captain Phil, and our charming and informative guide is a Rasta man named King Saba. The boat ride is so enticing that we decide to linger and go for a swim. The Blue Lagoon opens to the ocean and is also fed by an underground freshwater spring. As a result the water is a uniquely dappled mix of cool fresh and warmer salt water. King Saba guarantees the mix of fresh & salt water will take 20 years of age off us. In exchange I sacrifice my cheap but loyal shades to Neptune. Doh! Note to self – don’t swim with sunglasses on your head.
Our ultimate destination is Reach Falls, south of Manchioneol, so we eventually leave the most perfect of swimming holes and settle our damp selves back in the van. The drive is so interesting that I don’t really have much sense of how long it took – maybe another hour from the lagoon. We pass open farm land, seaside bluffs, Boston Bay – the birthplace of jerked meat. And then we are there. Reach Falls is my second (& far superior) Jamaican falls climbing experience. Yes, Dunn’s River Falls had that fun party atmosphere & was great in tandem with the snorkeling, but this was a real adventure. Somewhere below the official Reach Falls government park Mack pulled off the road & yelled for someone named Naya. It turns out Naya is to be our guide through the falls. The path down to our starting point is a bit slick in spots, as a trail cut through steep mountainside jungle is apt to be. I have stupidly brought both my film SLR camera & my iPhone and Peter soon offers to carry the former so I can better concentrate on not falling.
It’s actually quite a short walk/slide, and from that first glimpse through the bamboo Reach Falls is stunning. As soon as we get to the edge Naya takes all our cameras & towels and waves us in. For the second week in a row I am interrupting a community bath/laundry day, this time for the boys who live nearby. No problem though – I’m sure a few suds in the water won’t hurt us, and at least they are ‘bathing’ with their undies on.
The first pool has a low falls which we are instructed to swim behind; there we find a much more concentrated – and cold – stream that provides a fantastic shoulder massage. No one has really told us what to expect, so I for one am relieved when we start climbing up stream. At a friendly, casual pace we carry onwards and upwards through colder deeper pools and warmer more shallow ones. We’re guided through one low rock jump, offered a ‘squeeze through this opening into a cave you have to dive back out of’ that we all refuse (to be fair, Peter started through and then changed his mind when he realised how shallow the entrance is. Kerstin and I said no from the get-go), lead to off of a much higher jump (about 15 feet?) and ever up.
As we near what turns out to be the end, water-logged, tired, distracted and growing complacent, I have a curse word moment; generally the rocks under the water are not very slippery – it’s the surface rocks you have to look out for. I’ve been looking around enjoying the scenery and dropped a few feet behind the rest, and as I traverse a low section trying to catch up both of my feet start to slip out from beneath me sideways. I go down sidesaddle very slowly, but it’s the fact that I kept sliding once I was down that inspired the F-bomb. That and the struggling like a beached whale to get up again on moss-slick rocks. It was really only a second or two (though enough time for Naya to whip out my iPhone and get blurry shots of my recovery for some reason). Once more Peter comes to my rescue by the time I figured out what to do and inelegantly get to vertical again. I was only embarrassed, not hurt, though it did make me tentative for the remaining little bit of climb & up the (more developed) trail back to Naya’s house.
At Naya’s house we had another surprise treat and a very Jamaican experience – my first coconut water & jelly. I’ve tried to drink canned coconut water & found it totally repulsive. But drinking the water from coconuts we watched Naya and his wife harvest from their tree was a whole different thing! Naya expertly topped the cocos so we could drink from them, and then hacked a scoop off the side & split them so we could eat the soft coconut meat called jelly. At the stage these cocos were at, there was at least 2 cups of water inside. They also harvested wee bananas for us that were as sweet as the sugar-soaked banana chips at home. I had thought Naya’s price was included in what we were paying Mack, so I was a little embarrassed when I went to tip him & he wanted $1,000 – that’s not a lot considering the experience, I was just caught unaware.
We made two more stops on the way back to town: one at a roadside bar called ‘Chill Out’ that had a lovely beach out back. Peter stood us all a round of drinks, and it was really the first time we’d had to just sit and chat. Kerstin charmingly is gape-mouthed when I tell her I have a son almost there age – that’s more flattering than all the come-ons I’ve shrugged off here. Somehow, an artist friend of Mack’s just happened to stop by with his paintings, but none of us were biting.
We also stopped at Boston Bay, the birthplace of jerk meats and reportedly the best surfing beach in Jamaica. We were all too tired and running out of cash to want to eat there, but we checked out the lookout/jump-spot surfers use to avoid having to paddle against the current, took pictures of a surfer doing just that, and rambled home.
After a quick clean up & phone charge I set out to find dinner & made a tactical error; the Trident Hotel and Match Resort are equidistant short walks from where I was staying, but I wasn’t certain that Trident has a restaurant (I thought it was just villas) so I walked up the hill to Match Resort for dinner, hoping they’ll have functioning wi-fi and decent food. Yes and yes, though I am literally the only person in the dining room. I check my FB messages and realize the live jazz Erin told me about is at Trident. It’s too early for jazz when I finish dinner – jazz is late night music – so I walk back down to my room thinking I’ll rest, charge my phone again and head over to Trident about 9. Only as I wait my eyes keep closing and my blinks get longer and longer. Staying in looks good.
Sunday morning I sieze the opportunity to correct my mistake and take coffee and a fruit plate with a view on the Trident Veranda. Wow. The other half lives in peace and elegance. Maybe I’ll come back for my birthday or leaving weekend. I’ve always wanted to swim in an infinity pool – well, always since I learned they exist. 🙂 Even more impressive, the staff treated me like a very valued special guest even though I was really just hanging out passing time.
Erin was one of the huge fans of PA who sold me on this weekend, and she drove out to Port Antonio Sunday morning to go to the beach with me and then drive me home. First things first though, and we zip down to Boston Bay for an amazing lunch of jerk chicken, jerk pork and breadfruit. Appetites taken care of we head for the private beach at Frenchman’s Cove Resort (aside – the villas at Frenchman’s are surprisingly affordable and may be my birthday weekend spot!). I have philosophical issues with the concept of private/pay beaches – it’s just so foreign to Canadians. However, they are a ubiquitous reality here in Jamaica, and if they come with perks – Frenchman’s Cove offers wi-fi – I can justify it to myself. We expected to pay JA$500 each and were surprised but mentally already committed when we found out it was JA$1,000 each.
I readily admit the price of admission was worth it – as incredible as the Blue Lagoon was, in many ways Frenchman’s Cove tops it. Erin gave me a walking tour of the resort (much to the staff’s apparent consternation), which is made up mainly of very well-spaced and privately positioned mid-century modern bungalows. Each one has a bluff-side view of the ocean and great walls of windows. The cove itself is a jewel – a small rock-bordered cove fed by a wide, placid freshwater river on one side – it really is a special place. Like the Blue Lagoon the water was a mix of fresh/salt and cool/warm. After a quick swim we asked for and settled into loungers, only to be told a few minutes later that they were an additional $10 each so we said forget it and sat in the free plastic lawn chairs to enjoy our cold drinks.
As had happened throughout the day, a rain storm came up out of nowhere (actually, they sweep in from the Atlantic, but that’s less dramatic). We figured it’d blow right by and held our ground while everyone else ran for cover. It rained, and then it poured, and still we sat – drinks covered to keep them from getting watered down, sunglasses protecting our eyes from the drenching, bags tucked under our chairs to try hopelessly to keep them dry. It continued for maybe 10 minutes, which is long by Jamaican standards.
At one point Erin looked at the empty beach with us sitting in our chairs as though nothing was going on while everyone else huddled in the picnic tent or under the lifeguard’s chair, and she said “well, we’re can’t change our minds now.” I looked around, laughed, and replied “spot the Canadians on the beach; ‘it’s not snowing, so it’s not that bad.'” In fact the rain was warmer than the shower I’d had at the hotel that morning, and, as Erin pointed out, rain water is good for your skin. It eventually did blow over, but by then it was almost time to pack up and drive home.
I have to give Erin a superhero award for driving back over that crazy highway in the dark. We left Port Antonio later than we’d hoped and by the time we got to the twisty-turny section of the highway it was totally dark. I hadn’t fully appreciated from the back of the Coaster just how narrow and winding that road is, that steering is as constant as in an in-line racing game in an arcade, and how quickly and closely people come up behind anybody driving a reasonable speed. I can see why the rich and famous take either small planes, yachts, or helicopters from Kingston to their resorts, but Erin handled it all with aplomb.
The sketchy roads won’t stop me, Port Antonio, I will be back.