Sunday, September 28, 2014

Day 6: Manchester Reunited!

I know, I know. It’s been a while since my last post. I’ve been busy with some other projects, like finishing edits on my new novel The Butterfly (due out early next year) and working on a third novel.  But (with a trace of melancholy) here’s how I spent my last days in Jamaica.

Saturday morning started off beautiful and sunny. Since we’d been beating the road all week we decided to take it easy and relax in Mandeville. This was real family time and we spent it shopping (but, of course!) and exploring the town centre, which was alive with the sights and sounds of people getting ready to continue Emancipation Day celebrations. When I think about it now, the aromas of fresh baked patties from the Juici bakery and the fresh fruit from the open air market still fill my memory. The pace is always easy in Mandeville and I was really getting used to it. By now, I was also used to being driven around on those narrow roads that wound up the mountains and no longer worried about whether I might end up in a gully as we rounded each bend.

At home, we relaxed on the verandah, taking in the warmth of the sun and catching up on some reading. Andrea even managed to get a pic of the elusive and camera shy Talia, deeply immersed in her book.

I'm reading "Til the Well Runs Dry". Not sure what Talia has there, but I think it's a card shark's handbook or something.
No trip to Jamaica is complete without having sampled some seafood offerings from the Caribbean waters, so it was off to Little Ochie, a restaurant in Mandeville where you actually get to pick your fish and have it made to order. We had red snapper and parrot fish, served with rice and peas. Since the fish was being freshly prepared, we passed the time playing cards. I was happy when the food came – not only because I was hungry, but also because 12-year-old Talia is a bit of a card shark and I of course prefer eating to losing a game.

Our last evening in Mandeville was spent at the Manchester reunion, an event that brought together classmates from the entire parish, spanned several generations and included those living abroad in places like England and the U.S. who were home to visit family and reconnect with old friends. The awards ceremony honoring local businesses took place inside the school while people mingled outside, listening to music and catching up with each other. The food was great (Chinese food, Jamaican style!) and the atmosphere was just right. I didn’t want the night to end, knowing I would have to be up in a few hours to head to the airport, but my desire to stay up soon gave way to commonsense and we headed home.

Andrea and some of her classmates - quite a fashionable crew. I was the photographer - the least I could do since I crashed the reunion. :-)
A few hours later and I was off to the airport. I had mixed emotions about leaving on yet another beautiful day. A part of me didn’t want to leave; I’d had such a good time. But, part of me missed home too. I guess that’s the blessing of having a good life.

At the Montego Bay Airport. I'm smiling, but I'm missing my island already!

Besides, there’s always next year…

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Day 5: Portland – a Writer’s Hideaway

Whenever I travel anywhere a thought that always comes to mind is, “I wonder if I could live here?” I’d enjoyed every day of my stay in Jamaica at this point and certainly could see myself visiting all of the same places, but it wasn’t until we arrived in Portland that I had that feeling – I could live here. At the very least, it would make a great writer’s retreat or backdrop for a story.

When my cousin and I were first planning what we’d do when I got to Jamaica, she suggested we spend a day in Portland. I’d said, “Okay…what’s there? What are we going to do?” Andrea had replied, “It’s beautiful. You just have to see it. Maybe you’ll get some inspiration for your next book.”
Riding along the coast

Grove of coconut trees

Right she was. Portland is indeed beautiful. Located on the northeast coast, it was quite a hike from Mandeville, but well worth the drive. The streets were quiet the morning we set off, as people prepared to celebrate Jamaica’s Emancipation Day. We passed through St. Anne’s Parish, also known as the Garden Parish where you’ll find the majestic Dunn’s River Falls (if you have never climbed the falls, it is definitely something you must experience). Passing through this parish already had me in a mellow mood, but when we got to Portland I definitely felt a level of peace and comfort that exceeded what I’d experienced so far. The houses on the hill had perfect views of the sea and even those closer to the road had the same advantage.  I could imagine sitting on a balcony somewhere enjoying my morning tea and watching the sunrise above the rippling sea as I tapped away on my laptop. Yes, it’s really that nice.

House overlooking the Rio Grande

So what to do once we arrived? Well that question was easily resolved. When I was a child my parents had lots of reminders of Jamaica around the house, including a wall hanging with various depictions of Jamaican life on it. One of the pictures was of a man rafting on the Rio Grande, so when we saw the sign for this, we knew what we were going to do.

Rafting on the river was everything I thought it would be. The sun was warm, but not too hot and the water was a clear, vibrant turquoise blue. We had two raft captains for our group and they were contrasting characters – Trevor didn’t say much, except to point out the occasional duck or other attraction. Roy was quite talkative and every once in a while he would slow the raft he was guiding to share some interesting trivia with us - apparently many celebrities like to raft here too.

Halfway through our ride we stopped near the shore to take a dip in the cool water. All I can say here is, “Ahhh! Very refreshing.” On the way back our captains let us take a turn rafting. I did pretty well if I do say so myself. I was sorry when the ride was over – we did the one-hour tour and it seemed way too short. We will definitely go back and take the three-hour ride at sunrise. I’ll be bringing a good book and my notebook with me too.

After the Rio Grande we were torn between Somerset Falls and the Blue Lagoon (yes, the setting for the Brooke Shields movie).  Our river raft captain suggested Somerset Falls.  I must confess I did want to see the place that shared a name similar to my novel title, Somerset Grove, though it is not the actual setting for my book.  Somerset Falls is a gathering place where you can take a swim in the pool, grab some jerk chicken or fried fish and relax while a deejay plays a mix of hip hop, R&B and dancehall tunes.  Since it was Emancipation Day, Somerset Falls was filled with local families enjoying the day off. We had plans to celebrate too, so we headed back to Mandeville.

By late afternoon, the preparations for Emancipation Day were in full swing. Every small town we passed through on the way back was abuzz with activity as sound systems set out by the roadside pumped out smooth reggae beats.

Mojitos Café was the spot for us that night. The café owners had taken over the entire plaza, draping it with white fabric throughout and filling the air with a blend of old and new hits. Again, the vibe was easy as people mingled and relaxed. I was tired from the long day, but I didn’t want it to end, knowing I would be going home in two days. I finally gave in around midnight. I guess I can’t hang like I used to, but it was okay. I’d had a great day and yes, I was inspired.  

Up next: Manchester Reunited!

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Day 4 – Montego Bay

Another beautiful and sunny day in Jamaica! This time we drove to Montego Bay to tour historic Rose Hall, once home to the infamous Annie Palmer, a woman said to have killed three husbands and numerous slave lovers before her own death.

But first, Montego Bay – situated on the north coast of Jamaica, “Mo’ Bay” is a popular resort town and will be host to the Jamaica Jazz & Blues Festival in late January – I’m told this is a must, so you know I’m already plotting my return.

The drive here was beautiful with amazing views of the shimmering blue ocean on the left. Rose Hall sits up on a hill where you can get a perfect view of the sea. The house is beautiful, with large bright and airy rooms. We got some great shots outside too. See?

Rose Hall 

Entrance to Rose Hall

View from the balcony at Rose Hall

Our tour guide Thesa went into full character, dressed in her traditional costume as she let the story of Annie Palmer unfold. Here’s the short version:

Annie moved from Haiti to Jamaica in search of a rich husband. She met and married John Palmer, owner of the Rose Hall Plantation.  Annie killed him and her next two husbands along with a number of slave lovers before she finally met with the same fate. There are those that claim they’ve seen Annie in the house or their pictures never quite turn out right because of a certain glow that appears in all of their shots. I didn’t notice anything while I was there, but I also wasn’t keen on the idea of taking a candlelight night tour of the place – why take a chance? No, we had our witch’s brew punch in the dungeon-turned-bar during the daylight hours and kept on moving.

Entrance to the former dungeon.

Last stop of the day was Discovery Bay, where Columbus allegedly discovered Jamaica…and the Arawak Indians that were already living there. Hmmm. Okay.  Anyway, this is a great little place to stop to get a quick tour and history lesson for whatever you’re willing to pay. You can also pick up souvenirs or just hang out and enjoy the view.  

Discovery Bay
Our tour guide showing us where sellers would have their bananas tallied...Come, Mr. Tally Man...

We ended the day snacking on jerk chicken at a nearby outdoor restaurant then headed back to Mandeville. Montego Bay is nice and full of great tourist spots to enjoy.  I got some great inspiration for the novel I’m currently working on and another one that I’m outlining. (Sigh. Writer's ADD kicks in.)

Next stop: Portland!