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Jamaica Mistaica

Is it cold where you are? We are under yet another winter storm advisory here. I feel a need to escape t some place Hot! So with this Valentine’s holiday coming up had me reminiscing over past holiday trips, since we can’t actually go on one this year. Its been fun looking at pictures and reliving past experiences. It helps take the chill off! Thinking back, the trip that is the most memorable was the year we spent Valentines in Negril, Jamaica. So if you have a few minutes, can I tell you a funny story? Funny, now, that is.

First I have a few disclaimers! A) This vacation trip was a good five years ago. Any resemblances to this blogger in the pictures is merely coincidental. B) All the rumors you have ever heard about Jamaica are true….It is a beautiful tropical island, yes, there is a ganja drug problem there, and tourists do actually disappear there. C) There are many, many beautiful resorts there, most by the big chains from Breezes to Sandals and more. We unfortunately didn’t stay at one of them.

The view I had from my beach chair

Arrival: We flew into Montego Bay airport. Now for a third world air port Jamaica’s was pretty nice, with no hassles upon arrival, once they staffed the Passport arrival area. In fact, it may be one of my favorite air ports because it is small and there is a Jimmy Buffett Margaritaville right on premises. This is particularly cool for when you are waiting for your flight to arrive on the way home. Margaritaville has a great menu and a gift shop that is sure to leave you cashless, in case you had any funds left at the end of your vacation.

As with any trip when leaving the country, always do your research first! One very valuable tidbit we found was find yourself a taxi driver in Jamaica before you arrive. I can’t under estimate this enough, given what we heard about some. We actually found a few advertised on the Internet with references. Stepping out of the air port, on to the curb with your luggage, this piece of research paid off from the beginning.

The cab drivers were thick as thieves, trying to get you to ride in their cab. I immediately pulled out my sheet and asked for “Juan, our cab driver”. They all quieted down in an instant and one said he is over there. We went over to his cab stand, introduced ourselves, and boarded his cab. Once inside this rustic 4 door sedan, he turns around points to a small cooler on the back seat and asks, “ Would either of you care for a Red Stripe? I brought one for each of you.” Score one for Jamaica! (It took almost 7 hours to get a Guinness in Ireland) Double score, since my wife doesn’t drink beer!

It takes about a good two hours to travel to Negril from Montego Bay. So our cabby asked if we were hungry. We said yes. So before we left Montego Bay he pulls off to a quaint road side café; a locals only type of joint. He asked if we ever had Jerk Chicken before? We shook our heads no. So he said, “come on…”

We had our first taste of Jerk Chicken by some locals that knew how to prepare it. It was great! It was served on paper plates with a big helping of dirty rice. I stumbled upon another Red Stripe. So far so good. The rest of our trip to the resort was very bi-polar. Very beautiful scenery coupled with views of poverty ridden towns, that we have grown accustomed to seeing in the Caribbean. It always leaves you wondering what happens to all the tourist money, taxes and jobs that come into a tiny country like this.

The Resort: We arrived at our resort, Merrills III. It was only our third all-inclusive we had been to and easily the least glamorous. But it was what we could afford at the time, and given what we just drove through, very adequate. We unpacked, cased the joint for amenities and waited for dinner…..Jerk chicken and rice. 😦

We ate. We explored. We went to bed. Hmmmm? I can see through the roof. The ceiling above us was very much a thatched roof. We could literally see some stars. Trying to be positive, we thought very appropriate for a beach side resort…as long as it doesn’t rain.

On the other hand, if the property directly beside you happens to be an outside, midnight beach bar, with absolutely no walls, right on the beach, catering to late night beachcombers because the volume is so loud it draws them in from two miles away, then we have a problem. (Sigh) And, yes we were in Jamaica. And, yes every song was reggae but there are some songs that should not be covered in a reggae motif. The Captain and Tennile’s “Muskrat Love” is one for instance. Even after days of hearing this it still made no sense. Live bands playing top 40 hits to a reggae beat just don’t sound good. Reggae songs sound good. The Bee-Gees do not. This bar started around 12 midnight. It was very loud, like our beds were stage front. And the party lasted until the sun came up. Pretty cool if you were 20 or so. I guess.

The beach and ocean was beautiful though. Our room opened up to the pool area (beside the beach bar!) on one side and above the kitchen on the other We had either Jerk Chicken or Jerk Pork everyday for lunch and dinner. And regardless of which entrée we were having that night, the kitchen side always smelled like pot. When in Rome we thought!

Beach: The beach was nice; coarse white sand and clear blue Caribbean waters. Gorgeous! We were there to tan and snorkel and just relax and figured to spend most of our time there. Considering how much sleep we weren’t getting at night (from the outdoor bar silly person!) It was the place to be. Relax with a Red Stripe and soak up some vacation I thought. My foot had to be wrapped in tape every day from a running injury so the idea of walking far in the sand or shallow surf was really out of the question any way.

A wrapped foot kept me on the beach and out of the water

But what is with the armed guards on each side of the resort? The resort had rental police at each side of the beach along the property’s borders. We soon deduced it was from keeping unwanted locals off the property and harassing the guests. A few hours later we found out they were on the beach to keep unwanted locals from harassing the guest….on the beach.

You see the beach front was open to anybody walking by and the best way to describe the traffic along the beach was think about your last professional baseball game you went to. How many vendors marched by you there, selling a wide variety of goodies?

Negril’s beaches were very similar. You had all kinds of locals parading down the beach, trying to sell you their goodies. They tried to sell relaxing tourists everything from aloe plants, baby bananas, jewelry, bandanas, people-who-knew-people that sold the local crop, souvenirs, and even a Valentines Day dinner and snorkeling cruise aboard a sailboat. They all sounded just like those barkers at the ball parks. If you made eye contact they closed in. If you said no, they tried harder. If you got frustrated and asked them to leave, and they figured out you were an American, they called you a racist (we all must be racists in America evidently). This is when the policemen on the beach stepped in. Now this didn’t happen all the time but you did learn not to make eye contact. It is with this type of mentality, of a local beach peddler, that we were advised not walk very far on the beach at night. ..very unfortunate on a Valentine’s getaway!

Now the beach wasn’t all bad. We walked up to a locals craft market and found some nice things to bring home. We found another Margaritaville beach bar about a mile in the other direction down the beach. This was very nice; like a mini resort. We spent half of our souvenir money there it seems. It turns out half of Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville’s are located in Jamaica, which is another story (summed up in the video at the end). But if you are a fan, it was a pretty cool place to be on in barefoot, sun burned, half-naked on vacation.

I blew out my flip-flop

We met other nice people. Ate at some nice beach side bistros we found while beach combing (you can only eat Jerk Chicken so many times!). We were actually enjoying ourselves on the beach, as we should. Did I mention all-inclusive and Red Stripe? We actually had everything we wanted except…. snorkeling. So on Thursday, when the lady selling the Valentine’s Dinner Cruise and snorkel trip passed by we hopped at the chance.

St. Valentine’s Dinner Cruise: Our vacation getaway to some place warm had been OK so far. A little sleep deprived, but OK. But it was Valentine’s Day coming up and we hadn’t had a chance to swim with the fishes yet. We thought this was just what we needed to make our trip …memorable!

The plan was to sail on this large sail boat, sail down to a snorkeling spot, swim for a while, and then be served a dinner on the boat on the way back while the sun set. It sounded like fun!

We boarded the boat with the other 20 or so passengers. Everything was included , including a bar downstairs in the cabin. We proceeded to sail down to the snorkel spot. Then we heard a voice from the captain’s chair, “Oh no! Pirates!”

A chuckle in his voice kept me from terror. I turned around and here, speeding up to us, was a motorized canoe with two freaky dread lock males aboard. Now, I don’t know Jamaican pirates from Somalian but I didn’t like this. They came on board, went down below for a few minutes, then left the same way they arrived. We were spared!

It wasn’t long after I noticed, couple by couple going downstairs, two at a time, then coming back up. It wasn’t long after that we got wind of that familiar cash crop of Jamaica’s rising from the cabin below. Modern day pirates in deed! Watch out Tubbs and Crocket! (sorry 1980’s refereance) I smiled to myself…no escape!

We reached our snorkel location. It was at the foot of what was called one of the 10 most famous bars in the world, Ricks!

See the local climbing the cliff to get back up to Ricks?

Here was a bar, on the west side of Negril, with perfect sunsets, where the apparent draw is cliff diving! Can you imagine?  Getting all Red Striped, feeling invincible (or invisible) and jumping two stories into the famed Caribbean Sea? With no apparent way to get back up to the bar…unless you can climb the cliff wall. Have you ever been THAT drunk? Not me. I’ve done some crazy things

Watch out below!

but …..

We grabbed our snorkel gear and hopped in the water. The water was nice and clear. Their were enough fish swimming to keep it from being a wasted dive. We explored the caves and tried to stay clear of the drop site from above. Not too bad really. We enjoyed it.

We finished and climbed back in the boat, toweled off and prepared for our Valentine’s Dinner Cruise dinner. You guessed it, Jerk Chicken and rice of course  😦

We ate our modest meal, happy to have finally been able to snorkel. We watched the coastline as we motored back home. Not a bad day all in all. Even met some pirates!

We soaked in the scenery along the coast. Oddly, I noticed we were slowly being left alone. Did I smell? Whassup? It seems everyone had migrated over to the ocean side of the boat. I stood up and looked over and then grabbed my wife by her hand. As we were cruising home without a doubt the most beautiful sun was slowly setting on the horizon. Nobody talked (they were all stoned…..just kidding). We just watched as something beautiful was happening before our eyes. Then someone pointed to a solitary sailboat was on a collision course with the sun on the horizon. The timing could not have been better scripted. As the sun slowly dipped halfway into the sea the silhouette of the sailboat cut across the orange ball, sailing directly in front of it before our eyes. It was like it was a scheduled perk of the V-Day cruise. It was a Valentine’s Day gift to us.

Our Valentine’s sunset. Can you see the sailboat approaching?

With apologies to myself, my family and all future readers, I was not going to spoil this moment by whipping out a camera. I decided to take a picture early, tuck the camera away, put my arm around my wife and just enjoy this moment unfolding at sea. The camera doesn’t come close to capturing the moment anyway. It was a special moment, at least to me and few future Valentine’s moments could ever stack up to it.

We got back to our beach, walked hand-in-hand back to our resort. Resolved to be forced fed yet another midnight version of Muskrat Love, and remember that day for a long time. Pirates for crissake!

Jamaica left us with some wonderful memories of a beautiful island yet inhabited by hundreds of panhandlers. We resolved never to go back because of that. Many of the locals were just too nasty if you ventured off the property. And we like to walk on the beach at night. There are too many other Caribbean islands out there, just as beautiful, we thought.

 And we resolved to explore every one of them for some more memories.

The sun setting on our Jamaican vacation

“What do you mean you lost the camera?!”

Jimmy Buffett’s Jamaica Mistaica:

Hidden Gems: Curacao in the Netherland Antilles

I am in the process of doing a Guest Travel survey for one of my favorite travel blogs, EmilyLuxton: Explore, Dream, Discover. Emily accepts surveys from people taking special trips and so I wanted to offer her one of our favorite hiding spots, the island of Curacao. I sent Emily our story and she will post it next week.

I thought in the meantime I wanted to offer it to you. If you have some spare time this holiday and you want to go someplace exotic, come on along with us to Curacao!  Here is the survey for Emily:

My wife and I love to travel. We love to explore anywhere and dig into the history or discover the local people and culture. Every place is different and that’s what’s interesting to us. One of our greatest passions has been the water and beaches.

My wife, who is cold blooded by nature, doesn’t like to be cold and so each winter we try to take trip some place warm in the Caribbean Ocean. The warmer, the better! So what could be anywhere warmer than close to the equator, right?

Where did you go/what was it like?

So several years ago we looked for a nice resort, close to the equator (warm!) that offered great beaches and diving to cool off with. We found the hidden gem of Curacao, one of the ABC islands (Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao in the Dutch Antilles).


We chose Curacao because it is supposed to have some of the best diving in the Caribbean. The island boasts of some 60 diving locations and 35 beaches.

Close to the Equator, this island is little more than a stone’s throw from Venezuela in South America. In fact farmers from Venezuela ride boats to Curacao and sell them at their ‘floating market’; home to everything fresh, fruity and tropical!

the Floating Market downtown

The colorful floating market with fresh produce

Curacao is a small volcanic island, like most in the Caribbean. It has a diverse heritage being fought over and conquered by the Dutch and French in colonial times. You land on north side of the island than take a bus trip to the south side. When you reach the other side you sit atop a small mountain with a great picturesque view of the capital, Williamstad.

Curacao's 'Rainbow Row'

Williamstad is a colourful town, separated in the middle by a deep harbour for cruise ships. It is largely comprised of Dutch based architecture.

Dutch Architcture

On the east side of the capital (Punta) is the touristy area, filled with colourful, affordable shops, multi-cultural restaurants, night clubs and hotels.

shopping downtown

The west side of Williamstad is more of the professional and artsy side. The two halves are connected by a swinging pontoon bridge that actually swings open across the large harbour to let the large ships pass by.

poontoon bridge

Along the harbour in the Punta are many boats that make the trip across the sea from Venezuela. These boats are filled with the produce of that country and dock. It is a unique attraction called the Floating Market. Here you can barter for loads of fresh produce, both known to this traveler and unknown.

If you are interested in more of Curacao’s diverse history click here to find out more.

Where did you stay/what was it like?

Each time we visited Curacao we stayed at an all-inclusive called Breezes. Its rates about a 3 on a scale of 5, but it offers everything we look for in trips, free food and alcohol! ~ kidding. But it does offer one free dive per day, free diving lessons and the best part is there is a great man-made coral reef just a stone’s throw from the beach.

That is how far the reef is from the beach!

That is how far the reef is from the beach!

The mudslides were great for my wife. They pour free Amstel light on tap (Dutch heritage) and so we have gone back to this Breezes 3 times. It would have been four but I found someone bought this resort and is turning it into a Timeshare resort now.

Kids area from our room

The picture above was part of the Kid’s Corner part of the resort that we looked forward to taking our girls to.

Any time of the day, you can go to the dive hut, pick up some snorkeling equipment and go explore this reef. On the lagoon side are colourful fish, protected from the larger predators of the deep.

tangs at the reef

school of fish at the jetty

If you swim to the outer side of the reef it is like exploring the moon, with huge corals and underwater plants. Its like another world we never see…. lets go for a swim

Curacao - Underwater & west coast beaches-07

Curacao - Underwater & west coast beaches-13

This is some of the best snorkeling we have ever experienced and you can do it any time of the day right from the resort; no schedules or buses to catch. I even had a face to face encounter with a four foot barracuda that is STILL vivid in my mind.

I was looking down at the corals and fishes. I looked up to clear my mask and there he was about 30 yards away just looking at me. Huge! I froze! I remember our diving lesson where they told us barracudas are lightning fast and like to go for shiny things (rings, watches) thinking they are fish.

I folded my wedding ring under my other hand in a prayer type of position (literally…Help!) Then, I slowly backed away. I looked down to see where I was at one time, looked up, and she was gone!

Later I found her offspring hiding in the lagoon…where we swam!

A baby barracuda blending in in the shallows of our lagoon.

A baby barracuda blending in in the shallows of our lagoon.

One of the nice things about staying at Breezes was there is a nice aquarium within a 5 minute walk of the resort. This ‘open water’ aquarium has the dolphin shows, sea lions, swim with the fishes and more. Not to be missed is the eel feeding. I have never seen anything so vicious as these nearly blind creatures fight each other for the food.

The aquarium is also unique in that instead of a large filtration system it is actually maintained by the ocean. This aquarium has ocean rocks for walls and the ocean freely passes in and out the areas where the large fish are maintained. A perfect Ph!

the Curacao Aqurium

the Curacao Aquarium

Curacao boasts of 35 beaches around the island. We only had the one at Breezes. So one day we paid one of the staff of the resort to take us around to some of the better ones. Most of these beaches are small and secluded. Lovers or divers this is Shangri-La!

We visited some nice romantic beaches, romantic if our guide had not been along. A few of the beaches didn’t have any one there at all. We did some snorkeling, saw some of the scenery and then our guide took us to an overlook he described as Post Card at Kenepa Beach.

Postcard from Curacao

What do you think?

Those of you in the restaurant scene might know of a blue cordial called Blue Curacao. This liqueur is made on the island and you can go to this quaint factory and have some samples. The beverage originated from the slightly bitter oranges that grow on this island. It now comes in 4 or 5 colours.

Blue Curacao

What was the highlight of your trip”

The highlight of our many visits, to me, was that one beach exploration trip with our guide from Breezes. He took us to a secluded Jeremi Beach.

Jeremi Beach

No one was there. I hopped in the water and swam out to the edge of the cove along the cliff walls. As I reached the edge I saw, not one but two Atlantic Puffers (Porcupine Puffers) swimming together. Having a saltwater aquarium at home I recognized these two fish were getting more than friendly. They just kept a slow chase in circles, like they were courting each other.

Here is my distant pictures, on my disposable underwater camera. Can make them out in the center? They are both about the size of your head circling in the middle of the picture. .

Curacao - Underwater & west coast beaches-21

After watching them for several minutes, I swam back to get my guide and a camera. The fish either didn’t know I was there or didn’t care. I swam back to my same spot and they were still there. I wanted to get a picture of this but knew not to get too close as I knew from my aquarium they have a sharp beak for a mouth, often used for breaking up coral in search for food.

Keep in mind this picture was taken with a disposable underater camera. Not top of the line!  Then think about how far away  or deep those Puffers are. That’s easily 30 feet away yet a cheap camera can easily pick out the fish. This gives you an idea of how clear Curacao’s waters are.

 What was the food like?/Where did you have the best food?

Sadly, we did not get off the resort that often for meals; one of the downsides to all-inclusives. We did stay at a hotel, the Renaissance Hotel, on the mouth of Williamstad’s harbour one night. This attractive hotel was once a fort protecting the harbour in the 19th century.

We walked the streets and found a water side café with some great seafood. Again, the dining is diverse from the diverse heritage of the island.


Any funny/embarrassing stories or disasters?

We often make these Caribbean trips in the middle of winter to warm up. What better time to go then Valentine’s Day!  We don’t celebrate the day much so it’s our gift to each other!

One year my wife’s wedding ring broke about a month before our trip. I took it to get fixed and while waiting enjoyed looking at the various rings. I could afford a bit larger diamond now and so decided to trade in our diamond for a bigger one, have it reset in the original ring and then re-propose to my wife on Valentine’s night at Breezes. I had proposed on Valentine’s Day originally.

Well we picked a nice restaurant that night. Had dinner. Then I got down on my knee again, in front of everybody and asked if she would still have me. She laughed at me and thought I was joking! The curse of a vivid sense of humour!

and I proposed again

I gave her the new ring and she cried. She wanted her old one back! It was sentimental to her. That ring salesman didn’t tell me that would happen! I was in the dog house the next two days of the trip. Live and learn!

How was the weather (and when did you travel)?

The weather was hot but not as hot as you might think for the equator. We did get our share of sun.

I saw an old friend

I got some sun that day!

I think in the 3 weeks we have been there we might have seen about 3 hours of rain. Curacao does sit below the hurricane zone in the Caribbean so gets spared from most of those storms

Do you have any tips or advice for anyone planning a similar trip?

My only advice is if you visit there please make plans to explore the island and its many secluded beaches. There are other sites to see as well including a national park, national dive site and the Curacao aquarium and more.

With the closing of Breezes Resort we were forced to look for another family-friendly resort. A short swim or walk up the coast from Breezes, and right beside the aquarium, is a Dutch resort Called Lion’s Dive Resort. This is a beautiful resort but not the all-inclusive we look for.

Lagoon at Lions Dive Club

It does have the same man-made reef out front. It has its own dive shop on property, right beside Curacao’s aquarium and a very popular beach bar, Hemingway’s, that gets a good crowd at night.

We occasionally walked up to Hemingway’s, grabbed a local Polar Beer or Mojito and sat on the edge of the island just listening to the waves turn over at our toes and the Caribbean music in the background. It was very nice!

with Polar Beer and Mojitos

Traveling is not real difficult as the island is small. But many of these beaches are off the beaten path so a guide would be helpful if you do.

Most useful word/phrase you learnt.

Bon! This simply means “Good”. Its easy to say with a smile and always gets a smile back.

If you go to Curacao’s homepage they offer a handful of useful expressions. ’ it was my experience that the locals speak many languages there. I was quite impressed that the young staff at our Breezes spoke five languages with ease.

The island of Curacao is affordable, the hotel rates are cheaper than similar touristy Caribbean islands and its not the tourist mecca that some exotic locations can be.

So that’s the story of our passion for Curacao. Weekend at Bernies!

Can you think of a better place to spend next Valentine’s Day?

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