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Jamaica, mon! I have been working with people from this sunny island for many years and we had an opportunity to go there in 2013. An island of contradictions, it has its ups and downs. So did our vacation. We went from being disappointed to elated in one short week. We booked Sunset Grande hotel and upon arrival were shocked to find out that our room faced air conditioning unit from the kitchen. Then the shock of multitude of roaches roaming the floors. The food was passable too so our first impression wasn’t impressive. This did not last as we were given a room in adjacent tower that faced the ocean. Roaches were nowhere to be seen and the morning sun took away all worries away.

Small breakfast behind us, we set out to explore the grounds, but there were not any grounds to be explored. Ha ha. The hotel is located on a tip of land and encompasses the whole tip. We read books, lounged around and took advantage of seclusion that the hotel offered. We lasted about two days like that and then started to plan a trip outside the confines of the Grande.

Our choice? The world’s famous Dunn’s river falls. We took a trip from the hotel in a bus provided by the hotel and on the way there, our driver kept educating us about not looking at the vendors. How to walk away without getting into ” buy my souvenir” vortex. Once we arrived, everyone put their head down and was herded towards the water shoe stall. If you don’t have water shoes,you have  to rent. Then you told to lock up your stuff in a locker, meet up with a guide. The group meets at a starting point on the beach, then everyone has to sing along with the guide,  hold hands and go up together. Upon completion at the top, you change and get herded back to the bus that takes you back. Just like that. A very organized sheep herd trip. Well, THAT  would not work for us. We found out when the last bus leaves back to the hotel and stayed at the falls for the whole day. This way, we climbed at our pace, explored the nearby jungle and even asked permission from the security guard to go into the jungle past the grounds of the falls. I must say that it is a trip everyone must undertake should they come to Ocho Rios. It is a fantastic experience.

We were sad to find out from out driver that we were the first couple that stayed at the falls for the whole day.People should get out more.  Apart from Dunn’s river falls, we left the hotel grounds and walked into the city twice. I did not like signs warning against leaving the premises of the hotel. However, almost every person you meet, tries to push you some weed or other drugs. It was very annoying. The people also tend to grab you and lead you somewhere to buy their shit. We just went along with it. I remember one incident where we wanted a particular gift and a lady just came out and grabbed us and said, ” I know where it is, come with me” So we went. She proceeded to walk into every store and ask for the item. Ha ha, like we couldn’t do the same. The moment we went on our way, another lady came asking what we are looking for. The people at the craft market were really nice. I had a rastafarian with dreads to the ground make us a sign. We still have it. One day, we went to a local bar and the music was blasting, the bartender singing and even though we were the only customers, he was in a great mood. Having a few beers and discussion the economic situation and his view on life, I found out that there is a lot of resentment over loss of jobs and little opportunity. The locals are very outgoing and definitely deserve more opportunities to grow. We returned to hotel deep in thought from all the conversations we had. The hotel has fences around its territory which are manned by guards and signs warning against stepping outside the boundary. Past the boundary are the locals that offer tours, seadoos and other activities. We went to one of the guys to rent a seadoo for half an hour. They are fun to take on the water, but it was not half an hour as the guy waved us back after 22 minutes. I told him that I paid for half an hour and he said too bad, so sad. Wow! no wonder no one rents from you….

No wildlife on the ground, however the water more than compensated for it. During our stay, we found stingrays, octopus, barracudas and myriad of fish that swim literally up to shore. We snorkeled almost every day and apart from burning our backs, I also got bitten by a grouper that defended his territory and found a huge starfish in a tire. There was something else in the water….

Do you remember the part in the movie” Curious case of Benjamin Button” when Brad Pitt’s character meets a man that was hit by lighting seven times and every time it would be more ridiculous than the previous. Well, Elena did not get hit by lightning but she did manage to get stung at least 5 times by jellyfish. Every time she would go in the water, not even five minutes later, boom! I hear a groan. She got to know the hotel nurse quite well. At the end, she refused to go in the water and I wanted to photograph her near water and after convincing that there are no jellyfish as the beach was full of people in the water, she relented and went in ankle deep. Before I even had a chance to zoom in, boom! Another sting, this time right on the ankle. Yeah, so the jellyfish took a liking to Elena. I must say they have good taste in women! I got stung only once, but it was right on the neck and I was resigned to walk around the resort with a hickey for half a week. I did manage to step on sea urchin, crab and corral. Apart from the water, there wasn’t much to do in the resort but we found a storm drain that carried water from the rain into the ocean and after rain, there would be a river flushing into the ocean. Right after, birds would come to feed on what’s left on the ground. We got some amazing shots of herons and terns in that area. There was also a resident kingfisher but being my nemesis, he flew away at mere sight of me.

On the last day, the staff set up for a beach night party. It was a big affair with many local stars expected to make an appearance. I met Olympic champion Asafa Powell. He was a nice guy and didn’t mind posing for a quick photo. There were other Olympians as well. Also, the West Indies cricket team. The cricketers were so popular that they had to escape in order to eat dinner.

Overall, it was an interesting first experience in Jamaica and maybe we will be back some day to meet more amazing people and explore this island with its rich history.

Respect, every time!