THE ISLAND OF JAMAICA
It is a little disconcerting. The first road sign we see when departing the airport at Montego Bay outlines the number of traffic fatalities in Jamaica over the last five years. By my quick calculations, it works out to a horrifying one per day. Of course, we are driving on the left side of the road as we wheel into the first roundabout, horns honking and driver muttering. I tighten my seatbelt for our rather harrowing shuttle to Breezes Trelawny Resort on the island's north shore. Jamaicans seem to drive either way too slow or much too fast. And, with one middle passing lane shared by vehicles driving either direction, drivers seemingly enjoy playing a nervy game of chicken.
My twelve year old boy and I are off on a father and son getaway. No wife and no sisters, just a little bit of bonding, man to man. We do arrive safely at our all-inclusive resort and, after the drive, I'm more than ready for the Red Stripe beer I'm offered by Winchester as I exit our van. The cheery, personable valet also bumps fists with my son, offers the phrase "Respect Mon,"and delivers to him a fancy tropical fruit drink. Winchester will become our personal advisor and confident during our stay. We sip our drinks, now fully relaxed on a comfy sofa in the breeze-filled Colonial-style parlour.
The island of Jamaica is the very essence of "cool," at least in a kid's eyes. It's the perfect sun destination for the family, and birth place of Bob Marley and British super spy James Bond. The locals are inviting, contagiously funny, laid back, naturally warm, friendly and very hip, even when they are trying to sell you carved mahogany trinkets or, on one occasion when we took a stroll off resort property, a little bit of ganja.
What is important to a 12 year old boy on vacation? Well, an all-you-can-eat buffet tops his list. Besides the abundant food, sunshine helps the youngster forget its winter at home. Tempered by gentle trade winds, Jamaica averages more than 250 sunny days a year and daily temperatures of 33 degrees C. The brief afternoon showers that nourish the islands lush green landscape fall between May and October.
To keep the youngster and yourself busy, the resort allows for outdoor games of shuffle board, basketball or mini-putt and offers indoor pool tables and a games room, Billiards in the pool, gliding down waterslides or bellying up to a poolside bar for a virgin margarita are enjoyable pastimes. Guests can take an "Introduction to Scuba," an hour course held in the largest of the resort's five pools. If you like heights, a circus troupe oversees trapeze lessons, or you can clamber up the rock climbing wall.
On the ocean, snorkelling from a dive boat on the fertile reef fringing the island's north coast is included. The Gulf Stream's caress keeps the water temperature pleasantly warm and nurtures the abundant marine life. We caught sight of a colourful array of tropical fish, including a stingray, pencil fish and lobster. You can take a glass-bottom boat trip, sail a Hobie Cat, do some banana boat tubing, kayaking or rent a jet ski. Or, if your son will let you, you can relax on the sand beach or on John's Key. White, brown and even black soft sand lines much of the island's 1020 kilometre coastline.
The Breeze's entertainment squad provides enough activities to fill the day and the evening for children and adults alike, with such diverse offerings as karaoke, crab races, magic shows, drums and dancing, scavenger hunts and evening bonfires on the beach. Always, there is the rhythm of Reggae. The thumping, infectious and passionate sounds are the trademarks of Jamaica's most internationally recognized music and seemingly the heartbeat of her people.
Several trips are offered off the resort, including swimming with dolphins, catamaran cruises, dinner boats, ocean fishing and hiking up Dunn's River Falls. At Winchester's suggestion, we opted for the hike. At the point where Dunns River enters the Caribbean Sea, mountain spring water cascades 200 metres into the ocean. This scenic spot was once the site of one of the bloodiest battles between the English and Spanish in 1657. The Spanish fought desperately but in vain to maintain control of the island. Today, even after all the battles, hurricanes and tourists, nothing can diminish the majestic grandeur of the cascade. My son and I spend an afternoon clambering up the water-smoothed rocks of the Falls, stopping often for a refreshing shower or to swim in her crystal clear pools.
That's just one highlight of a charming and relaxing week's stay. Relaxing, that is, until the shuttle bus arrives to transport us homeward.
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Dominating about half of the island's topography are the 2,000 metre Blue Mountains, which produce the superb Jamaican coffee served throughout the island. The large Rio-Grande snakes down from the highlands through some of the wildest and most beautiful scenery on the island. Jamaican gondoliers skilfully ferry visitors along the river on bamboo rafts.
In the island's flatter southwest, the Black River slowly meanders 73 kilometres through the verdant Morass plain. A flat-bottomed boat trip allows a fascinating look at the river and surrounding backwaters, which are home to about 300 wild American crocodiles and 100 West Indian manatees.
Fans of 007 shouldn't miss Discovery Bay's Green Grotto Caves. Guided tours include a visit to the underground pool which appeared in Live and Let Die. For centuries the caves have been used by escaped slaves, pirates, rum runners and even a Spanish Governor hiding from British authorities. www.greengrottocavesja.com
Mystic Mountain in Ocho Rios features the Rainforest Sky Explorer which transports visitors on a chairlift up the 213 metre mountain, where you can take a 1,000 metre gravity driven ride on the Jamaican Bobsled.
If You Go:
Photos by Jamie Ross
1. Breezes Trelawny Resort
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