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What to Do When Rain Threatens Your Vacation

A Carnival cruise ship pulled into port this morning for its daylong stop in Montego Bay and within two hours of docking, clouds covered an anemic sun and the rain began. Immediately, I thought of the passengers who undoubtedly would be looking forward to a day of sun and fun. How would they spend their day, if the rain continued? 

Carnival Cruise Ship, Montego Bay

Carnival Cruise Ship, Montego Bay

Call me pollyanna but I always thought the vacation gods would smile on all my trips but I know differently now. Here’s what I recommend:

* Pack Rain Gear: Since weather is unpredictable, it’s always advisable to put a small umbrella, rain slick or hat in your luggage, especially when traveling to tropical destinations.

* Check the Weather: Outside of the hurricane season (June to November), except for the occasional rainy day, the weather is usually the same from day to day. But if you happen to be traveling between June and November, there’s a chance (even though years can pass before a hurricane actually hits), a hurricane can form. If you’re concerned, plan cruise vacations outside this period. If a hurricane does form and threatens to interrupt or prolong your vacation, follow the advice of the cruise lines and stay safe.

* Indulge in Indoor Activities: Take a book or magazine to read if the weather turns nasty. If you have internet connection, catch up on email. Visit a museum or go see a play. Spend a day at the spa. Do some shopping or catch up on sleep.

* Keep a Positive Attitude: The most important thing is to keep a positive attitude. Don’t let bad weather ruin your mood or spoil your vacation.

5 Things to do in Montego Bay if it rains:

* Take a taxi to one of the Great Houses – Both Rose Hall and Greenwood Great House offer guided tours of their properties. Rose Hall was the home of Annie Palmer, also known as the White Witch of Rose Hall. Greenwood Great house belonged to the family of the English poet, Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Both charge admission fees.

* Visit the Rastafari Indigenous Village – Catch the vibe at this indigenous village located about a 15 minute drive from the port. Listen to drumming, get a lesson in plants and herbs that are native to the island and enjoy an ital meal.

* Pamper Yourself – Book a Jamaican Coffee or Sugarcane Body Scrub at the Ritz-Carlton Golf & Spa Resort.

* Have a meal – Montego Bay’s “Hip Strip” a section of Gloucester Avenue populated by hotels, restaurants (Margarittaville, the Bobsled Cafe, etc.) and shops, is a great place to eat or spend a rainy day.

* Explore Jamaica’s rich ethnic and cultural heritage with a trip back in time at the Outameni Experience.

When planning a vacation, be prepared for bad weather and plan accordingly. Most importantly, enjoy yourself!

 

 

Out of Many, One: The Outameni Experience

My cousin and her husband kept raving about this place he said they knew I would love. But they wouldn’t say what it was or why they were so sure I’d love it.

I was curious.

We loaded up the car and headed north east from Montego Bay towards Trelawny. Once at the sign to the Outameni Experience, we turned off the road.

Sign to Outameni in Trelawny

So this is where we were going!

The Experience starts before you enter

Outameni, the Jamaican lingo for Out of Many (as in Out of Many, One People – the Jamaican motto) is an interactive look back at Jamaica’s history from the time of the indigenous people, the Arawak or Taino, as they’re now called, through the present.

Jars like these were used to keep drinking water cool

Copper pot

Costumed tour guide

Our entertained us with mento dancing and storytelling while we waited for the tour to begin.

Traditional Jamaican house

Each period is represented by its own display with guides in period dress narrating the story of that time.

Taino woman grinding cassava

The Taino arrived in Jamaica around 650 A.D. from South America. They were said to be peaceful people who planted cassava, corn, sweet potato and got most of their food from the sea. When Columbus arrived in 1492, it was the Taino who greeted him. Unfortunately, within a few years of his arrival, the Tainos in Jamaca were exterminated. It is said that some killed themselves rather than be put to work by the Spanish, others died after coming into contact with European diseases for which they had no immunity.

Descendant of Christopher Columbus

Christopher Columbus and his merry band of sailors stumbled upon Jamaica on May 5, 1494 on his second voyage on behalf of the King of Spain. Thus began the period of Spanish settlements in Jamaica which lasted until the British took over in 1655.

Slave woman about to begin her story

The first Africans in Jamaica came as servants of Spanish settlers. These were freed when the British took over Jamaica in 1655. As sugar production exploded, Africans were again brought to the island, this time to work on the plantations.

Maypole dance pole

The Massa's wife

Our Indian connection

Nearly 40,000 Indians were brought to Jamaica beginning in 1845 as indentured workers to work in the sugar cane industry after slavery was abolished. Many were repatriated but far many remained. Today, their descendants make up the second largest racial group in Jamaica.

The Chinese story

The Chinese began coming to Jamaica in the 1845 to work on sugar cane plantations. Today, they make up the majority of the merchant class.

Present day

The Outameni Experience ends with Jamaica today, a vibrant country that approximately 2 million people – African, Indian, Chinese, Jewish, Lebanese, Scottish, German, Cuban, Haitian, American, Canadian and Latin American – call home.

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Rose Hall, Jamaica’s (Haunted) Great House

Jamaica, the third largest island in the Caribbean, was ‘discovered’ in 1494 on Christopher Columbus’ second voyage to the New World. He was in search of silver and gold. Columbus declared Xaymaca, as it was then known “the fairest island that eyes have beheld.”

Among the ‘gifts’ he brought to the New World was sugar cane, but the indigenous Taino (Arawak) population was decimated before it could be developed into a viable industry. This forced the Spanish to look elsewhere for cheap labor. They turned to Africa.

The slave trade was well underway in 1655 when, after 150 years of colonial rule, the British wrested control of the country from the Spanish.

Sugar flourished and Jamaica was, at a time, its largest producer. The wealth sugar generated made plantation owners extremely wealthy. Some of that wealth made its way back to Britain. Some of it was spent building lavish ‘great houses’ that demonstrated the wealth and power of the owners. About 700 existed on the island — all but fourteen were destroyed during and after the 1831 slave revolt which was led by Samuel Sharpe, a local Baptist preacher.

My next few posts will be about this interesting aspect of Jamaica’s history. Walk with me as we take a step back and discover Jamaica’s Great Houses.

Rose Hall

Rose Hall

Rose Hall was built in 1770 for John Palmer, then custos of St. James, and his wife, Rosa. A ‘calendar house,’ it has 365 windows, 52 doors and 12 bedrooms. The house eventually passed to Palmer’s grand-nephew, John Rose Palmer and his wife, Annie, the infamous ‘White Witch.’

Annie’s bedroom

Annie, Palmer’s second wife, is said to have killed three husbands and several slave lovers at Rose Hall before being murdered in 1831.

The slaves were so fearful of her that after her death, they burned all her possessions, including her photographs.

The property was in ruins for several years before being restored to its former glory by the owners, John Rollins (now deceased) and his wife, Michele.

Truth be told, like a lot of Jamaicans, I’m afraid of ghosts and the stories of the brutality at Rose Hall more than clouded my image of the place. But I realized later that those

stories were keeping me from enjoying something that was almost in my backyard, a place that I now find intriguing because of its history.

I can’t say that I saw any ghosts at Rose Hall but several of the photos I took inside the house

turned out blurry, a few had shadows where I know there hadn’t been any.

Walking down the steps to Annie’s torture chamber, the last thing you see is the azure blue waters of the Caribbean Sea just visible through the doorway. It made me wonder what went through the victim’s mind as he (or she) was being led away to be tortured.

Rose Hall pool

The day I visited, a soft breeze brushed my cheek as I sat near this man-made pool. The peace and beauty surrounding the house seemed incongruous with the stories of destruction inside.

Rose Hall Great House is located about a 20 minute drive from the airport in Montego Bay. Open 9-6. Tours are given daily with the last tour given at 5:15 p.m. Call 876-953-2323 for information.

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Jamaica: In Search of The Real Jerk

Scotch Bonnet, Maynefoto

Scotch Bonnet

The first thing I do when I arrive in Montego Bay is find a spot for jerk pork. I’d start tasting it, and yes, it’s always pork, before the plane even lands.

For years, Scotchies, a little joint about 1-2 Jamaican miles from the airport on the north coast road between Montego Bay and Falmouth did the trick.

But the last time I went to Scotchies (MoBay), my mouth watering in anticipation of the jerk pork that I knew would be succulent, seasoned through and through with the right balance of Scotch Bonnet peppers, scallion, thyme, a little mace and sugar rubbed in, then slowly cooked over pimento wood, I was disappointed.

While the pork was succulent, it was bland! Nary a Scotch Bonnet in sight!

Who ever said jerk should be this bland? By definition, jerk, The Real Jerk, must have a reasonable amount of the fiery Scotch Bonnet pepper.

A trip to The Pork Pit on Gloucester Avenue in town was marginally less disappointing. I blame the need to please visitors and make more money.

What’s Jerk?

Jerk is a way of cooking that was created in Jamaica. It involved rubbing the meat with a mixture of spices and cooking it over a pimento fire. The pimento wood adds a distinct smoky flavor. Jerk also refers to the spices that are used to marinate the meat.

Jerk and drinks at Scotchies, Mobay

Enjoying the company of friends at Scotchies, MoBay

Jerk has been a part of my life since childhood. As a little girl, I remember a man (known only as “The Jerk Man”), who would ride around our district usually on a Saturday evening selling jerk pork – it was only pork then – from a pan that was attached to the handlebars of his bicycle. The pork was suspended on a mesh layer over pimento coals in a tray just below. We could smell it way before The Jerk Man arrived at our gate.

Sometime between my childhood and high school, jerk pork all but disappeared, perhaps because of the influence of Rastafarianism and their abhorrence of pork. When it came back in the 70s, it had expanded to include chicken, fish, even sausage.

In time, the knowledge of how jerk was made went from a few cooks, mostly male, who knew the (then secret) ingredients to a bottled wet or dry rub that became available locally and internationally initially to satisfy the palates of the growing number of Jamaicans who lived abroad.

But something got lost in the transition from a few local cooks to international recognition – everyone was free to put their own interpretation on what jerk was supposed to be. But I knew I could always count on finding the Real Jerk in Jamaica.

Not anymore. At least, not in any area that sees a lot of visitors. Something about wanting to make jerk palatable to them and therefore make more sales produce a jerk that’s nothing like how I know jerk is supposed to taste.

(A few years ago, even the Jamaica Tourist Board announced a culinary Jerk Trail, which allows visitors to sample the real thing.)

For true aficianados of The Real Jerk, come with me to one of my favorite places. It’s right on the border of Hanover and Westmoreland and called appropriately, Border Jerk. (I also have to mention Boston Jerk in Boston Bay, Portland, the jerk capital of Jamaica.) There you’ll get some good jerk pork. For those who don’t like pork, there’s chicken, Festival (flour and cornmeal mixture) and soup. If the jerk’s too hot, wash it down with a bottle of Ting, a carbonated grapefruit drink. Me, I prefer a rum and Ting.

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