Jamaica – Part II

***Continued from previous post.

{February 9 – 6:00 pm – Montego Bay, Jamaica}
Dragged myself out of bed at 5 am to shower, get dressed, and pack my beach bag with towels, cash, and sunscreen. We were in the lobby by 6 am, just on time to be picked up for our trip to the Blue Mountains. No time for breakfast, just a granola bar. Dark outside and we’re the first ones on the bus; turns out the driver made a special trip to pick us up. When we first tried to book the trip, the Jamaican Tours agent said there weren’t enough people wanting to go (meaning, in Montego Bay) so we would have to try for another day. But because we showed such an interest in this bicycling tour, she called the tour company again and they agreed to have us picked up. Anyway, we picked up more people in Ocho Rios and Runaway Bay, then headed all the way across the island to the Blue Mountains. We drove for hours, past lush banana and papaya plantations.



First we stopped somewhere for a quick brunch of toast, eggs, juice, and rolls. I really have no idea where we were. But then we hopped back onto the bus and drove up some pretty crazy winding roads to get to the top. Endless photo opportunities through the window. Absolutely breath-taking landscape. Once at the top everybody picked out a bike and were given a helmet, elbow protectors, and knee pads for safety. We were told we were not allowed to bike down the mountain without wearing them. Now I must mention that there was a Belgian family with our group, a mother, father, and daughter, and they caused some trouble when we first picked them up. Apparently they didn’t have their tickets (ie. proof of purchase) for the tour and weren’t going to be allowed on the bus. They delayed us quite a bit and finally were allowed to come. They were very loud during the ride. Now that we had our bikes and were ready to go, they put up a huge fuss over wearing the safety gear. Oh. My. God. I could not believe how annoying they were being; all I could think was “Just put the stuff on and let’s go already!” But they finally got their way and didn’t have to wear the knee and elbow pads. Idiots.



Anyway, we were finally on our way! A pretty smooth ride all the way down, some bumps and ruts, but lovely weather for biking and taking in our surroundings. There were special “check points” where our guides had the group stop and they spoke about the region and pointed out local flora and fauna. We inspected a primary school, tasted Blue Mountain coffee brewed outside in a large iron pot, and ate slices of grapefruit one of the guides picked off a tree by the side of the road. We were shown different leaves and herbs that are used to brew into a tea that, after drinking for a couple days, removes all traces of marijuana from one’s bloodstream so that the person can visit a doctor and not be caught with the drug in their system. At the bottom of the trail we got back on our bus and visited a nearby waterfall. By now it was cooler and I didn’t want to swim, but Jordan was the first into the water! He almost lost his glasses, too. There was also a beer-drinking contest that Jordan and two others volunteered for. Afterward, tipped the tour guide $250J and the driver $300J (approx $3.50 USD).



{February 9 – 8:00 pm – Montego Bay, Jamaica}
Just got back from dinner and some shopping. Delicious pasta for dinner at “Little River”. I am addicted to this dish. So far there hasn’t been much opportunity for me to shop. I brought money to spend and I was determined to spend it all before leaving. So after dinner we visited the hotel shop and I ended up spending about $75 USD on a beautiful sundress, a blue “Jamaica” T-shirt, photo frame, two postcards, and a gorgeous pink tote bag.

{February 10 – 10:15 pm – Montego Bay, Jamaica}
First thing after breakfast, we went down and signed out one of the catamarans since it’s such a gorgeous day. However, not much wind so we didn’t get very far, just kinda floated around and enjoyed the solitude and sunshine. The sky was so blue and hardly any clouds at all. We were allowed to sail for an hour for free but got bored after half an hour of hardly any movement so we returned the catamaran and found ourselves some chairs on the beach. Jordan joined a game of volleyball, which didn’t last long because there were only a few players, and then we went for a dip in the water. Lazy, relaxing day. Later, we visited the craft stalls just off the property, along the beach, and bought some beaded bracelets, necklaces, and a couple shot glasses ($15 USD).



At four o’ clock we hopped on the free shuttle to “Rose Hall Shoppes” and wandered around there for awhile. There was a Scotiabank ATM there, even though two workers at the hotel said there wasn’t, so I used that to get out some cash without having to pay any fee. Bought some cool magnets, a black tote bag for my sister ($12 USD), etc.
Took some photos of me in my new sundress by the picturesque waterwheel. Back at the hotel, picked up two more bags of Blue Mountain coffee from the store, plus some Jamaican vanilla extract with cardamon ($30 USD). Also found a ladies Fossil watch that I actually liked, so purchased that as well for $85 USD (I’m so picky with watches). Ate dinner at “Jambalaya”, the Cajun restaurant, at 9 pm, but because we had a quick bite to eat before going to the “Shoppes”, we were not overly hungry. The food was just alright, nothing spectacular.


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{February 11 – 7:00 pm – Montego Bay, Jamaica}
Yet another fun and adventurous day on our final day on this beautiful island! We ate an early breakfast of fried eggs and then met in the lobby for 7:45 am. First off, an extremely bumpy ride out of Montego Bay to the south coast to Black River. Small group, only five of us and all Canadians, so we introduced ourselves and chatted during the ride. Once at the Black River crocodile safari, we piled onto a boat with some others. Black River is the country’s longest navigable river. Our guide pointed out egrets, herons, osprey, fish, mangroves, and five different crocodiles. For each one he brought the boat as close as possible. He explained that during the day the crocodiles are docile; it’s only at night that they are dangerous because it’s hunting time for them. We learned that the river is called Black River because the water looks a dark sludgy brown or black. But if you fill a water bottle with the river water, it’s perfectly clear. After that lovely, hot boat ride we ate lunch right in the open-air buiding: jerk chicken, rice, pork & beans (too spicy), and cole slaw.



Another winding, heart-jarring bumpy ride 30 minutes away to famous YS Falls. Hopped on a tractor that pulled us in a sort of trailer with bench seats that took us from the main building where the souvenirs are to the park where the falls are located. Got bit by mosquitoes! We were allowed to go off on our own and explore, as long as we met back at a certain time. The falls kind of rise at different levels and at each level there are pools that you can swim in. At one level there is a rope swing that Jordan jumped off a couple times. Everything was so beautiful, but there were also a lot of people. Took lots of photos, of course.



When we got back, we ate a hamburger at “Uncle Tony’s” and then walked down to the sister resort, Iberostar Rose Hall Suites. Wandered around their shops, which are a lot better than our measly two stores. Collected some final souvenirs: postcards and magnets ($11 USD). Now we are back at the resort. Suitcases are stuffed to the gills! We need to be ready to go at 10:45 am tomorrow (Saturday). Goodbye Jamaica!



***End of journal.

Getting through security when leaving the island is just as much a pain as arriving. Had to remove all excess sweaters/shirts and even shoes (that’s the first time I’ve ever been asked to take off my shoes at an airport). Regardless of those inconveniences, what an amazing trip! When I look back on our trip now, I’m so happy that we did more than just lounge around the resort. There was so much to do and see on the island! I think my favourite thing to do was climbing Dunn’s River Falls and bicycling down the Blue Mountains. For me, those activities were adventurous.

Jamaica – Part I

Jamaica, my first trip to the Caribbean! I really needed a break from work and I’m so glad we had the opportunity to go. After Europe in October, we didn’t think we would go on another vacation for awhile, considering the expense, but Jordan wanted to go somewhere after returning from his deployment. He knew he would have extra leave time to use in February so we chose a week in that month. I requested the time off work, and then started researching which Caribbean island to visit. Even though I would have loved to go to the Dominican Republic, Jordan specifically said anywhere but there. Since he was in Haiti last January as part of the DART team, he claims he has no desire to visit that island any time soon. Maybe another time I’ll convince him!

So my search led me to the lovely island of Jamaica. And once I’d decided on the destination, I hopped onto TripAdvisor and started sifting through all-inclusive resort listings. After reading a bunch of reviews and asking some questions on the TA forums, I picked out the Iberostar Rose Hall Beach Resort as the place to stay. I sent off an email to the travel agent who set up our Europe trip and she booked the Westjet package for us: Ottawa departure to Montego Bay, February 5-11th, 2011.

For spending money we brought some US dollars, but I had the majority of my cash turned into Jamaican dollars (represented as “J”). Most places will accept either currency. For tipping, we used either $1.00 USD or $100J. All the vendors would give us US prices and then I’d have to ask what that would be in Jamaican dollars. I think if we were to go again, I’d just stick with US dollars.

Jamaica is in the same time zone as Ontario, and the electrical outlets accept our plugs. Anyway, here is my journal from our fabulous stay in Montego Bay, Jamaica!

{February 5 – 9:10 am EST – Ottawa MacDonald-Cartier Airport}
Yesterday I worked until 4:30 pm and then rushed home to finish packing the rest of our – meaning Jordan’s – luggage. He stuffed everything into one carry-on bag, whereas I had packed a large suitcase and a carry-on. I never know what I want to wear, I’m terrible at packing light. Made egg-fried rice for a quick dinner. We locked up the house and headed to Ottawa sometime after 6 o’ clock and found our hotel, the Hilton Garden Inn, by 9 pm. Checked in, paid for a parking permit for the week, then went up to our room. Comfortable king bed and spacious room. Changed into our swimsuits and took a dip in the indoor pool. I hung out in the hot tub because I didn’t think the pool water was very warm. Went to bed sometime after 10:00 pm, knowing we had to be up extra early the next morning.



Woke up at 4:30 am this morning to have a quick shower and dress. Down to the lobby for 5:50 am to catch the free shuttle to the airport. Jordan grabbed a green tea to go. Once at the airport we checked in and then sat down for breakfast at one of the restaurants – fried eggs, bacon, toast, and potatoes, way too much food for that early in the morning. Found our gate and boarded just after 8:30 am. Sitting here on the Westjet plane, with nothing but a packet of Bits & Bites to eat and something to drink. Nothing on this flight, other than tiny snacks and beverages, is free, not even movies to pass the time. While I read a book, Jordan watched something on his Netbook.

{February 5 – Noon – Over the Bahamas}
Flying over the Bahamas! Took some photos. Wow, looks so beautiful from the sky. So much green and blue. Soon we’ll be flying over Cuba!



{February 5 – 7:00 pm – Montego Bay, Jamaica}
We landed fifteen minutes early and spent almost one and a half hours in line to get through Customs. Heat not that bad; air-conditioning in the building made it bearable. By the time we got through that line, everyone’s luggage had been taken off the belts and piled on the floor – Jordan had to sift through everything to find my bag. Left that room and found the Jamaican Tours booth to collect our passes for the hotel transfer. We boarded the proper bus and the driver told us some information about the island. A few clouds in the blue sky, warm but with a nice breeze. We arrived at the Iberostar Rose Hall Beach Resort just before 4 pm and checked in quickly. We were given a cold drink during check-in; I don’t know what it is but it certainly tasted tropical! Our room is on the same floor as the huge lobby, but far enough away that we can’t hear any noise. To us it was the perfect location, because we didn’t have to walk very far for food or to get to the pool.



Decided to stroll around the grounds to get our bearings. The hotel provided us with a map that showed all the restaurants and listed the times that food is available at each one. Grabbed a hamburger and fries at the beach buffet, “Uncle Tony’s”. While we ate we watched a wedding take place on the beach. After eating we walked up to the lobby and made a reservation for 9 pm at the Japanese à la carte restaurant called “Samurai”. I’ve never eaten Japanese food before so this will be a new experience for me.

{February 6 – 10:10 pm – Montego Bay, Jamaica}
The “Samurai” restaurant last night was cool. The food was cooked in front of us while the chef put on a show of tossing his cooking utensils. To start we were served sushi rolls, then our choice of soup, and finally teppanyaki with fried rice. The fried rice was delicious and for the teppanyaki I ordered beef and chicken, and Jordan had the salmon and octopus. Jordan had some desserts but they all looked like they were made of gelatin so I stayed clear.



Today we woke up early to eat breakfast at the indoor buffet, “Little River”. After sampling a bunch of different breads, fruits, cheese, and fried eggs, we headed inside to the lobby for a briefing with our Jamaican Tours representative at 10 am. We booked a trip to Dunn’s River Falls for Monday (tomorrow), costing $65 USD per person (on AMEX). Returned to our room to change into swimwear and then descended on the pool! I expected it to be much warmer, but brrr it was cold! The breeze certainly didn’t help. We went to the swim-up bar and ordered a couple drinks and then proceeded to shiver and drink cold cocktails. I decided I was not a fan of the cold water and climbed out and instead we lounged on the beach and soaked up the rays. There were no chairs available at the pool but plenty on the beach. There’s lots of natural foliage on the beach for shade if you’re not able to find a palapa.



Ate dinner at “Little River” in the air-conditioning. There is so much to choose from for food. I am in love with the pasta with cream sauce that is cooked right in front of you. Still wearing long sleeved shirts. Later, at the lobby bar, I had a frozen strawberry margarita and Jordan drank a mojito. The Super Bowl is happening in the Calypso Theatre but we’re not interested in watching football. Getting late so we’re heading to bed.

{February 7 – 6:00 pm – Montego Bay, Jamaica}
Today’s tour was a trip to Ocho Rios for shopping at a centre called “Taj Mahal” and then to a craft market. Bought some Blue Mountain coffee ($12 USD) at one of the shops, as well as a couple postcards, a keychain, and a country patch for a total of $25 USD (including the coffee). At another shop I spent $15 USD on a beautiful frame and 2 more keychains for a couple people at work. At the craft market, the people were very pushy, which I did not enjoy, and I only ended up buying one item – a pink waterproof zippered pouch for carrying money ($4 USD).



After shopping, and making friends with the ladies on our tour bus, we drove to the “Ruins at the Falls” restaurant where we had to each pay $15 USD for lunch buffet. I thought that lunch was included in the tour price, but apparently it wasn’t. The food was alright but definitely not worth what we paid. After eating there we headed over to Dunn’s River Falls and walked through the parking lot in our skimpy swimsuits to get our tickets. We had to leave everything on the bus, even towels. Our tour guide even said to leave glasses behind but I wore mine anyway, otherwise I wouldn’t be able to see to climb the falls! A nice lady gave me a string to wear around my neck that attached to the glasses so that I wouldn’t lose them. Finally we were brought to our guide and walked down the beach, and then we all linked hands and started climbing! It was exhilarating and the water was very cold but after awhile you don’t even feel the cold. We brought along Jordan’s waterproof camera and there were plenty of opportunities to take pictures. I had a lot of fun during this part of the tour!



When we returned to the hotel, exhausted, Jordan and I ate dinner at “Little River” and we were back in our room by nightfall. Watched some television and fell asleep.

{February 8 – Noon – Montego Bay, Jamaica}
This morning we ate breakfast and then booked a dinner reservation for “Uncle Tony’s Steakhouse” for 9 pm tonight. Also booked the Cajun restaurant for Thursday at 9 pm and some other fun activities to keep us on the go! Excursion for Wednesday (Feb 9): full-day Blue Mountain bicycle tour, $157 USD per person (on AMEX). Excursion for Friday (Feb 11): Black River safari to see crocodiles and a visit to YS Falls, $88 USD per person (on VISA). Wanted to go sailing after completing these bookings but winds are too fast right now and we were asked to try back later.



{February 8 – 10:00 pm – Montego Bay, Jamaica}
Still couldn’t sail due to high winds. For a day that started out as the warmest so far, it turned chilly and rainy pretty quickly. We went for a walk along the beach all the way to the Grand grounds and back, even though it rained a bit on us. Ate dinner at the steakhouse. Buffet selection not that great but the onion rings, pork chops, and potatoes were delicious! Wake-up call set for 5 am tomorrow morning as we need to be in the lobby by 6 am!

***Continued in next post.

Raise your glass *

Okay I know I still haven’t finished my posts about our trip to Europe from October, but I have been busy! I do plan on finishing the posts. 🙂 I also have a ton of photos from Jamaica that I would like to post as well. Jamaica was great! However, I never expected to go to the Caribbean and feel cold. Most of the days I wore long-sleeves because the breeze made me shiver and I was constantly covered in goose bumps. There was a bit of rain off and on throughout the beginning of the week we were there, but the last two days were absolutely beautiful and hot! So stay tuned for some upcoming travel posts…


Gift basket from Nancy & George


This weekend my good friend Nancy and her boyfriend George drove up for a visit. I hadn’t seem them since our wedding in August 2009. They arrived Saturday around lunch-time and we ended up spending the afternoon at the mall shopping. Poor George was so bored but Nancy and I really like to shop together! Then we went out for a quick bite to eat at Quizno’s. After eating we picked up my sister and came back to the house to hang out and snack on veggies with dip and crackers and cheese. While the boys played “Halo: Reach”, we baked a batch of Skor cookies. And then we sat down to eat the country chicken stew I had thrown into the slow cooker that morning.


Skor cookies

Moose steak

Candle holder from Bath & Body Works


On Sunday, we exchanged something at the mall and then headed downtown. We were lucky to have such nice weather this weekend. The sun was out and although the air was crisp, it definitely felt like spring was on its way. Found some used movies at “Chumleigh’s”. Drank green tea and a pumpkin spice latte from Starbucks. And then back home. I started to prepare shepherd’s pie for dinner while Jordan pan-fried a moose steak for him and George to sample. Both boys said the meat turned out good but I wouldn’t try it. Our guests had to leave early so they missed dinner, but it was great to have them here even for only 2 days. 🙂


Goodies from the gift basket

Alcoholic goodies

Except for the body scrub, another gift from Nancy!


Now, on Friday I had a bit of an incident. Initially I was not supposed to work that day but the schedule was changed while I was in Jamaica and I came home to discover that instead of a four-day weekend, I now had only three days. I had planned to clean, grocery shop, and bake that day. Instead I had to rush-clean Thursday night after work, didn’t bake anything, and then Friday morning I drove out to No Frills for groceries. I had to get home, dump the groceries, and then go to work. However, on my way back from the grocery store I was coming around a corner from one busy road to another with two lanes of turning traffic when all of a sudden the “check gauges” light dings on the truck dash, the vehicle shuts itself down, and the power-steering fails! I couldn’t keep the wheel turning because power-steering died (God knows I tried), I didn’t know what was going on, and I almost crashed into the vehicle turning beside me. That person must have saw me veering because he sped up and instead I ended up in a snow bank. Luckily I didn’t hit anyone or hurt the truck or myself! I sat there while traffic surged around me, in a panic and not knowing what to do! It took me two tries to call Jordan’s cell phone because I couldn’t remember the number (shock) and when I did get a hold of him, he said he’d be there in 20 minutes to tow me. I was afraid of getting hit by turning traffic since my truck wasn’t off the road enough. I texted my friend Stacey just so I could talk to someone while I waited, to calm myself down, and she said that she was right around the corner with her husband. So they came to my rescue! Her husband, Chris, works on cars so he got the truck going again and pulled it into a parking lot. I was so thankful! He looked under the hood and figured it was the Electronic Throttle Control that had failed, which also caused the power-steering to fail temporarily. There also happened to be an issue with the EGR valve. My poor truck! Once Jordan and a friend from his work arrived, we took the truck into the shop and spent almost $400 fixing the damn thing. 🙁 After all that, I wasn’t even late for work!

Two Christmases

Welcome 2011!


In front of our Christmas tree


Christmas was great with my family and our trip out to New Brunswick to visit Jordan’s family for the New Year was just as wonderful and relaxing. We drove the car this year, rather than the truck, hoping to save on gas money. Luckily, we didn’t spot any moose on our drive, but we did see a couple deer in the middle of the road. We arrived in time for a New Year’s Eve dinner at my sister-in-law’s house.


Home-made Vietnamese rolls on New Year's Eve


We stayed the week at Jordan’s parents’ house and ate way too much good food. Each day his mother cooked lunch and dinner, and I’m definitely not used to eating that much food! We visited two of Jordan’s friends (whose wives are expecting, both due in January, but they didn’t have their babies until the week after we left), hung out with family, went on some walks/hikes, and Jordan even went snowboarding. He ended up spraining his right wrist and wore a tension band all week!



Jordan’s sister, Serena, sold her house while we were there and she came with us back to Ontario. Her husband is living and working in Ottawa and now they can buy a house there. They’ll be much closer to us now! His parents should be coming down in the spring to visit and they said they would help us with some renovations around the house. We need to paint some walls and fix the roof over the kitchen!

Jamaica = 18 days!

I light a fire in your new shoes *

Things have been pretty busy around here. I have been working a lot, which is good, and Jordan has been on holidays. Now that Christmas is only around the corner, work is getting really busy. We’ll be spending Christmas Day at my mom’s, like usual, with family. And then the following week Jordan and I will be leaving for New Brunswick to spend the first week of January with his family.

And in February — Jamaica! Yes, that’s right, the Caribbean! Very excited to be visiting Montego Bay.

Celebrity sighting: Avril Lavigne came through my line at work yesterday, which was cool. She wore huge black sunglasses that covered half her face but we could tell who it was, especially by her voice and her mouth. She was with a tall guy with dark hair, which my sister thinks could have been Brody Jenner, but as I have no idea who that is, I can’t confirm it. I cannot for the life of me recall what she purchased, but she spent just over $18 USD. I bought the $20 USD she paid with! However, I’ll be spending it in Jamaica. 😉

Last but not least, Keesje is 12 weeks 2 days pregnant. 🙂 Due in July!