I still don't know how it happened. I set 4 alarms for my morning flight on June 13 yet there I was, staring at 5 missed calls and multiple text messages confirming the worst outcome: I was about to miss my flight to Montego Bay unless I was able to get to JFK from Wall Street in 13 minutes. Feeling unusually calm, I was able to rebook the flight for the next day. That night, I set 6 alarms.
When you step outside of the airport, you feel a wet blanket of humidity wrapped around your body. Growing up in Tampa, I was used to being damp, but the Jamaican sunlight seemed ten times brighter as I shuffled my way to the waiting van and met Bailey.
As the bus rumbled up the paved driveway of the Sea Garden Beach Resort, all my stress disappeared upon seeing the bright yellow exterior with picturesque palm trees set against the bluest skies not found in my concrete jungle.
The resort had a certain old school charm to it; checkerboard floors, mahogany stairwells with red carpet, ceiling fans whirring above languidly, and birds chirping outside.
My hosts Kumiko and Philip greeted me enthusiastically and told me a few places of interest to visit as they led me past the swimming pool and the "game room" with classic games such as Twister and Jenga.
The Bohemian Montego Suite was nicely appointed with clean, white walls, wood furniture, and linen drapes that swirled every time the door to the balcony opened. Very Zen chic.
My crew greeted me with open cameras and gave me shit for missing my flight which was well deserved.
The best part of the suite was the balcony overlooking nature in all its glory. An expanse of shimmering emerald water was impossible to ignore as it stretched for miles and surrounded the little tiki huts right on the water with gentle lapping waves.
Coming from NYC where beauty seems manufactured with a perfectionist's zeal like some runway model during NYFW, it was refreshing to see the natural beauty of Montego Bay with her hair down and free of makeup. Hot damn, did she look good.
After hanging out on the balcony, we decided to hit up a beach about a mile away. On our walk, we encountered no less than four entrepreneurs on the street offering free samples of eight balls, which sounded appealing at first (free is always good) until I realized they weren't talking about the Magic Eight Ball from my childhood. Oh noes, run away, run away.
We set up camp under an umbrella and felt the hot sand between our toes as we enjoyed a few frozen pina coladas. A bright yellow and blue trampoline caught our eye and minutes later, we found ourselves swimming toward it, climbing aboard, and back flipping into the warm turquoise water while giggling like children.
After an hour, the combination of swimming, backflips, and laying out in the sun made us hungry. We hit up a local spot near our resort that served pretty much whatever it felt like. After we sat down for a few minutes, the server slowly sashayed over with a smile on her face. Her bleached blonde hair was kept in a ponytail and she had long fake nails that were bright coral.
"Hello, can we see a menu?"
"No menu, mon."
"Oh, what are the specials?"
"Specials sold out hours ago."
"Oh...ok. Do you have any type of fish?
"No fish today. maybe we catch some tomorrow, maybe not. We do have chicken, though and....(pause) no, yah, that's it. Want some?"
Anything sounded great since we were starving and the $5 plate of tender chicken with a sweet jerk marinade on top of rice and beans hit the spot. It was exactly what I craved - local food full of flavor.
While we tore into the chicken, we watched planes descending from the sky to land at the airport just a mile away; the roar of the engines accidentally setting off a few car alarms along the way.
We were fortunate to also try Ackee and Saltfish, the national dish of Jamaica. They prepare the dish by sauteing saltfish with boiled ackee, the national fruit of Jamaica, along with tomatoes and onions. Everything was savory and the fish had the saltiness of sardines with less fishiness. The ackee was interesting - texture was fleshy almost like scrambled eggs that have sat out for an hour on your kitchen table and develops that harder exterior yet retains the softer interior. The bread was necessary to balance out the saltiness. Not my favorite dish (perhaps it's an acquired taste) but I'm glad I got to try it.
As the sun began to set, we fired up the grill on our balcony while watching planes coming in to land. On the menu: Jamaican jerk chicken (marinade was freshly made and provided by our friends at Bohemian), porkchops, and grilled veggies.
The next day, we got on the bus for an all day tour of our surroundings. Although there were some nicer properties here and there, the majority of the hotels and houses were dilapidated, each more crumbled than the last. Locals walked along the road barefoot as the air filled with the shrill laughs of children.
Technically, our first stop was a local jerk chicken stand. Our driver literally parked the car and suddenly said, "um, I'll be right back...gonna pick up my lunch," took the keys and left us in the bus. And that's when we saw the gentleman in bright orange track pants jog down the street as graceful as a gazelle, his head bopping to the Bob Marley blasting out of his car's speakers.
Our actual first stop was Columbus Park, an area where Christopher Columbus first set foot on Jamaican soil in 1494. Great views of the water as well as interesting artifacts that weren't interesting enough to post in this entry.
Before reaching our ultimate destination, Dunn's River Falls in Ocho Rios, we needed to fuel up first in order to have the energy to climb up some waterfalls. We stopped at Scotchie's where they specialized in chicken and sausage. They basically placed the marinated chicken on these heated wooden logs and covered everything with sheet metal to trap the moisture and the seasoning. The result was some of the juiciest chicken I've had that didn't cost $80, cough, NoMad chicken, cough.
Along with the chicken, we ordered some yam, rice and beans, and really good pork sausage. Both Ted and Jason were enraptured by the taste of local culture that cost $10.
Dunn's River Falls was definitely one of the most memorable highlights of the trip. You basically enter this park and go down many flights of stairs. The goal? Get to the top by climbing up slippery boulders and sharp rocks against some pretty strong currents and waterfalls crashing into your face and making it hard to see. Sure there were times where I fell and bruised my butt like a peach, but I'd do it again in a heartbeat. You are led by tour guides who make sure you don't die (that reminds me...the park didn't give us any liability waivers to sign) but it's pretty much self-paced.
Definitely not a place to bring a nice camera but here is a capture by Brad's GoPro that shows us near the end of the hourlong hike with smiles on our faces as the cold water cascaded over our shoulders.
All that climbing made us hongry so we chilled out and grabbed a hut in the back right on the beach. A reggae band was setting up their equipment and the sun was starting to set. We sipped on pina coladas while being serenaded by Bob Marley (not to sound cliche - but that's seriously all they play there. You can feel everyone's respect and love for Marley).
Of course they happened to have a pig roast and of course they used the words "limited time and quantities" so I fell for the trap. As the picture shows, I received a dry piece that was only salvaged by the cups of sauce. Bummer.
The drinks started to take effect and exhaustion from the day's activities kicked in for us and the dog in the parking lot as we piled back onto the bus. We stared at the sky during magic hour and took it in.
On the way to our hotel room, we stopped to say hello to our friend, the parakeet, who kept repeating "I love you.....I love you!"
On our last morning there, I wanted to get one last taste of local cuisine and to make up for the dry pig meat. I walked to the usual spot down the road but they weren't open and didn't look like they were going to be serving anything anytime soon. With a plane to catch in an hour, I just had breakfast at our resort: Beef liver stew, yam, potato, plantains.
Special thanks to Philip and Kumiko's hospitality during our stay and to Bohemian for having such an awesome prize for a karaoke contest. Tasty food, pristine beaches, and gorgeous views. Until next summer!
- How to book: The Bohemian suite is a vacation rental room over looking the Caribbean ocean. The Suite features 2 queen-size beds, a fully-equipped kitchen, living area, full-size bathroom, and a balcony and can accommodate up to 4 guests.
Winter Season (12/16 – 20, 1/5-4/15) $280/night
Winter Holiday Season (12/21 – 1/4) $300/night
Off Season (4/16 – 12/15) $250/night
Above Rates are based on single/double occupancy. Any additional guest (14 years +) will pay 20% and an additional child (4 to 12 years old) will pay 10% of the rate per night.
For booking, lease send your inquiry to firstname.lastname@example.org
- Transportation: There are a few beaches within walking distance of the resort. Mostly everything else, like grocery stores, will require transportation via taxi. If you're going with a group, I recommend booking a driver and a bus. I believe you pay for the day (around $200) and have the ability to customize your own itinerary.
- What to Do: Due to our limited time there, we mostly spent time outdoors at a beach down the street called Doctors Cave Bathing Club, Margaritaville Montego Bay or lounging around the resort. Dunn's River Falls is highly recommended but it was adrenaline-filled and may not be suitable for everyone. If we had more time, we would have checked out Negril but I believe that was a 2-3 hr drive. The whole point is to unplug and relax. Pop open a Red Stripe, stare at the sunset, and watch the planes takeoff. Everything irie mon.
- All pictures taken with Olympus E-M10 and lightly processed with Vsco and PS.
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