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Sandals Island Jamaica

It’s impossible to ignore this Sandals recreation resort, with its Asian-inspired design, bright red color and unique location on Sandals Island, a private off-shore island near Montego Bay. It is the only hotel in Jamaica that occupies its own island. How cool is that?

Sandals Island
Sandals Royal Caribbean

Guests get to the private island, which has all amenities, including restaurants, a private beach, pool, Jacuzzi and more  by hopping on one of these dragon boats, or by sea kayak or sailboat. Can you imagine the stories they tell when they return home?

Dragon Boat near Sandals Island
Dragon Boat

Sandals Resorts is the largest locally-owned hotel in Jamaica. It operates seven properties in Jamaica, and several more on the islands of Antigua, the Bahamas, Cuba, St. Lucia and Turks & Caicos. All Sandals resorts are couples only.

This is my submission to Travel Photo Thursday, which is organized by Nancie at Budget Travelers Sandbox. Be sure to head over and check out more photos from locations around the world.

This week, I’m also linking up with the Friday Daydreaming series organized by Becca at Rwethereyetmom. Hope to see you there!


Reach Falls Jamaica

Reach Falls has been on my travel list since the late 1980s when  I had found out that it had been featured in the Tom Cruise movie, Cocktail.  You might remember the one where Tom’s a bartender whose skill at flipping and juggling bottles of alcohol and pouring them perfectly into a glass had everyone dazzled. Frankly, that’s about all I can recall of the movie now but it made me curious about Reach Falls.

Reach Falls
Reach Falls Jamaica

Said to have been discovered by slaves from the neighboring parish of St. Thomas, Reach Falls is located in the tropical rain forest of the John Crow Mountains in the eastern parish of Portland. Though the Falls is on the Driver’s River, it takes its name from Reach, the community that it’s a part of.

We set out from Montego Bay around mid-morning a few weeks ago, and after  a few stops, arrived in Port Antonio, the capital, about 4 hours later. Following the signs to Reach Falls, we turned on to a secondary road that was fringed with a variety of flora. There were many downed coconut, banana and other trees, the result of Hurricane Sandy’s pass over this part of the island but not even Sandy could alter the carpet of lush green that spread to the mountains in the distance. After about 20 minutes of relatively slow going – the road was pot holed and narrow – the entrance to the Falls appeared.

Tree and foliage at Reach Falls
Entrance to Reach Falls

Except for a hotel bus, only a few employees were in sight – Reach Falls was deserted. Following the release of Cocktail, in 1988, the Falls saw a spike in visitors but numbers have leveled off. That might be due to its location relative to Montego Bay. Although Port Antonio is where tourism began in Jamaica (ships taking bananas from the island would bring visitors back), it too, has lost some of its former glory.

Size could also be a factor. At about 11 acres, much of it rain forest, Reach Falls is just too small to accommodate the hordes that visit Dunn’s River or YS Falls annually and with just one plunge pool, there isn’t much to do except enjoy the peaceful scenery. Which was quite fine by me – I like places that not overrun by visitors.

Reach Falls
Reach Falls Jamaica

After we purchased our tickets, our guide led us the few yards through a thicket of hibiscus and ginger lilies down the steps to the Falls.

The Driver’s River rises in the mountains and traverses limestone rocks before it empties into the sea 3 miles beyond Reach Falls. At the Falls, the river cascades approximately 22 feet down a rock face into a sparkling turquoise pool.

Hibiscus and foliage near Reach Falls
Reach Falls Jamaica

Though not as popular as Dunn’s River Falls with its human daisy chain, or as spectacular as YS with its rolling countryside, it is no less beautiful, and because there are fewer visitors, is an oasis of calm. You can hear and see a variety of birds, including the black and yellow billed parrots, overhanging vines, bamboo canes, and over 23 different species of ferns.

Main pool at Reach Falls
Reach Falls shallow pool
At the edge of the Falls, the water is so clear – you can see all the stones at the bottom – we didn’t want to go in. Seeing our hesitation, our guide asked if we wanted to swim. It was refreshingly cool but also quite shallow. The water hit me just above my ankles but it got deeper further away from the edge. The shallow area, he explained, was reserved for non-swimmers, while the roped-off area was for swimmers. Yes, Reach Falls is a great spot to cool off on a hot day.
Foliage near Reach Falls
Reach Falls foliage
The more than 20 rivers that crisscross Jamaica produce almost as many waterfalls. If you’re a nature lover or a waterfall enthusiast, you should check out Reach Falls and take the guided tour down the Driver’s River.

Before You Go

About 25 miles from Kingston and 100 miles from Montego Bay
Open Wednesdays to Sundays and local public holidays from 8:30 – 4:30 p.m.
Cost: Age 4-12 years – US$5; 12 and over US$10
Amenities: Bathrooms, changing areas and store


This is my submission to Travel Photo Thursday, which is organized by Nancie at Budget Travelers Sandbox. Be sure to head over and check out more photos from locations around the world.

This week, I’m also linking up with the Friday Daydreaming series organized by Becca at Rwethereyetmom. Hope to see you there!

The Quakers in Jamaica

Until I spotted this pretty little church in Portland, one of Jamaica’s eastern parishes, I had no idea there were Quakers still on the island.

The Quakers, also referred to as the Society of Friends, were among the earliest settlers in Jamaica having come to the island after the English conquest in 1655.

They believe that God is in everyman, therefore there’s no need for priests to speak on their behalf. That was revolutionary thinking at the time and many were charged with religious blasphemy. Some were jailed in the UK, others were sent to abroad to serve their sentences. In Jamaica, the Quakers continued their religious dissent. They refused to serve in the militia or to be sworn in as jurors.

In 1671, George Fox, founder of the Quakers visited Jamaica and established seven meetings on the island and by the start of the 18th century, there were nearly 10,000 Quakers on the island.

Pretty Quaker Church in Portland
A Quaker Church, Jamaica

Although the Quakers became the face of the movement to emancipate the slaves, for a time some were involved in the trade. Following abolition in 1834, there was an “apprenticeship period” before full freedom, but ill treatment of the almost free slaves continued.

In 1837,  Quakers Joseph Sturge and Thomas Harvey traveled to Jamaica and other islands to investigate reports of brutality on the plantations. Sturge and Harvey’s journal notes were published under the title, The West Indies in 1937, and were used to create the storyboards at the Hanover Workhouse.

In 1898, the Quakers established the Happy Grove High School in Portland. They also created the first public health facility in Jamaica in the 1970s, and boys’ and girls’ homes for orphans.

Today, they are 14 meeting houses and about 500 Quakers in Jamaica. Their numbers have dwindled reportedly because their form of worship – no pastor, singing, rituals or collection of tithes – is too staid compared to the more exuberant congregations that are referred to locally as “clap-hand” churches.

I was curious to go inside but we didn’t have enough time.

This little church can be seen just outside of Hector’s River, Portland, near the border with St. Thomas. It’s about 30 miles from Kingston.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Despite its crass commercialism, it’s hard to ignore the message of love that Valentine’s Day evokes.

There are several stories about the origin of the day of lovers — and they all come back to Valentine. One is of a third century priest who defied the Emperor Claudius and performed secret weddings on young lovers. Claudius believed that single men made better soldiers than those who had wives and children and forbid them to marry. When the emperor discovered what Valentine had been doing, he ordered his imprisonment and later his execution.

Another Valentine rescued Christians from the beatings and torture they received in Roman prisons. Still another Valentine is said to have sent a letter to the young girl who visited him in jail – he’d apparently fallen in love with her. He signed his letter, “From your Valentine.” 

Whatever the truth of the origin of Valentine’s Day, one thing is sure. It’s the one day in the year that lovers, and those who want to be, feel free to express their love by sending flowers, chocolates and cards – though maybe now, they also send emails, ecards and text messages.

Valentine’s Day represents a huge economic boon to florists, restaurants, card sellers. Approximately 189 million roses are produced for Valentine’s Day. However, if you waited until today, you’re likely to pay up to four times more per rose than you would have yesterday. You’ll probably also pay more for the meal.

Here in Jamaica as everywhere, lovers will celebrate Valentine’s Day with dinner and flowers.

I have learned not to worry about love; but to honor its coming with all my heart.
 – Alice Walker

Torch lily for Valentine's
Torch lily

Continue reading “Happy Valentine’s Day!”

Finding Romance in Jamaica

Romance isn’t something I think about when I travel as most of the times, I’m traveling solo. When I travel with my partner, it’s an entirely different trip as every activity we engage in, whether we’re looking at art, admiring the architecture of an old building or sharing a meal, is infused with the passion we have for each other, and romantic feelings bloom.

That’s not to say that when I travel solo I don’t notice places that evoke romantic feelings or ooze romance and make me wish he’d come with me – I do – but I focus on what interests me. So in celebration of romance and Valentine’s Day, I’m sharing some of the places and things that, to me, scream romance.


Sunrise, especially those moments when night is slowly giving way to day, always stir romantic feelings. I was halfway up Jamaica’s Blue Mountain as the glow of the moon receded and the sun began to stain the sky with a muted palette of colors that made me feel just warm and fuzzy.

Early morning romance on the Blue Mountain
Sunrise on the Blue Mountain, Jamaica

Continue reading “Finding Romance in Jamaica”

The Story Behind the Lucea Clock Tower

If an order was delivered to you in error, would you keep it?

Lucea Clock Tower with distinctive looking helmet
Lucea Clock Tower, Hanover Jamaica

That was the question the residents of Hanover had to answer when they received this clock instead of the one they ordered. The mistake wasn’t theirs of course. It seems that the captain of the ship that was taking the clock they received, a gift from Germany to the people of the island of St. Lucia, got confused and delivered it to Lucea instead of St. Lucia.

It was an honest mistake on the captain’s part. Lucea, the capital of the parish of Hanover, had been known at various times as Sant Lucea, St. Lucia, and St. Lucea. I’m not sure what it was being called then but I can easily see how the captain could’ve become confused, especially since Jamaica was probably better known than St. Lucia.

Unfortunately, for the St. Lucians, the people of Lucea fell in love with the clock, which was designed to resemble the helmet worn by the German Royal Guard, and decided to keep it — the one they had ordered was more modest — and took up a collection to pay for the difference in cost. A German landowner paid for the tower and the clock was installed in 1817. It is an eye catching landmark that seems has been watching over the town of Lucea for almost 200 years.

No word on what the St. Lucians thought of the Hanoverians’ highjacking of their clock or if theirs still stands.

While most towns in Jamaica still have their clock tower, none has as fascinating a history as the one in Lucea.

This is my submission to Travel Photo Thursday, which is organized by Nancie at Budget Travelers Sandbox. Be sure to head over and check out more photos from locations around the world.

This week, I’m also linking up with the Friday Daydreaming series organized by Becca at Rwethereyetmom. Hope to see you there!


What visas do I need when travelling?

Most travelers and backpackers are familiar with the feeling: The journey has been planned long in advance but as the date of departure approaches, many new questions arise. What should I pack and what items do I really need? Luxury hotel or no-frills hostel? Did I plan my travel route and budget correctly? They are common questions that pop up during the planning process. Another equally important aspect to be considered is the travel documents and visa requirements for the respective countries. As visa applications can sometimes take a few weeks to be processed, it is important to consider this aspect well before the planned departure to save unwanted bureaucratic stress.

Miss Liberty I

Getting the right visas
When planning to travel to any foreign country, always be informed about the respective visa requirements. For travelers from the US or Europe, most countries can be explored for 90 days without having to apply for a visa beforehand. It is, however, important to check whether this rule applies to all the countries one plans to visit. In most cases, this information can often be found on a country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs website. If for the rare occasion that visa requirements are not stated, you can always call the respective Embassy you are planning to visit. It is always better to read up and double check on such information when thinking about travel so you don’t experience an embarrassing situation in customs.

Tips for the USA
The USA is a popular destination to visit. Its differing lifestyles, natural beauty and its world-class cities make the county highly alluring for different people. Despite this, many potential travelers are still uncertain about specific visa requirements to the United States of America. The country’s strict border controls probably add to that uncertainty. Yet, the US visa requirements are clearly defined and constantly updated. The Visa Waiver Program enables citizens of 37 countries to visit the US for up to 90 days without obtaining a visa. However, if one plans to permanently live and work in the US, it is necessary to obtain permanent residency, more widely known as the Green Card. One increasingly popular way of getting the permanent residency status is through the Greencard Lottery System. More information about the whole process can be found on this useful site. Of course each country has a different entrance policy, with the US generally being a lot more selective and strict with its security control. However it is wise to treat any country with the same vigilance and double checking their border security policies before making any spontaneous travel bookings.

– Guest Post

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Jamaica: Keeping Alive the (Almost) Lost Art of Making Peppermint Candy

It was faint at first then as I trained my ear, a rhythmic slap-slap-slap sound filled the spaces within the noise of the festival. Was someone chopping wood? Curious, I moved quickly towards the direction of the sound. That’s when I spotted her.

Standing in front of a board that was hung about arms’ length above her head, she was wrapping a brown, sticky mixture around a nail that protruded some 6 inches from the board. Each time she folded the mixture over the nail, she slapped it against the board — that was the sound that had caught my attention. I inched closer and watched, fascination spreading over my face. What was she doing?

The crowd around her stall grew larger as more people were drawn to her stall. Using smart phones and digital cameras, they recorded her movements as she stretched, slapped and wrapped the mixture for several more minutes. When she stopped, it had turned from brown to beige. A whiff of peppermint floated through the air as she added a few drops to the mixture and continued to stretch and fold  until it glistened. Finally, she took it off the nail and added a few dollops of red that produced vibrant swirls as she stretched and twisted the mixture. Cutting off small pieces, she shaped them into canes and laid them on a small table.

Peppermint Candy swirl
Peppermint Candy

My excitement at seeing the Peppermint Candy Lady, as I started to call her, turned to pride. I had no idea that peppermint candy was ever made from scratch, let alone here in Jamaica. In a country that is often quick to embrace the new, I was thrilled to see someone who was carrying on the tradition.These are the kinds of experiences that, for me, make travel rewarding.

I was to learn something else that night: peppermint candy making was an art that my paternal grandmother had practiced. I never knew my grandmother and as I watched the Peppermint Candy Lady, I imagined, for a moment, that I was watching her.

After she finished and everyone had walked away, I approached. We didn’t get to talk long as Fay, that’s her name, had to set up her booth for the independence celebration that would begin the following day in Kingston. I wanted to watch her again and promised I’d meet her at the festival. I arrived just as she began setting up and we talked as I captured these photos of her at work.

Fay Thomas, 52, learned to make peppermint candy by hand from her great grandmother. She was 13 or 14 when her great grandmother brought her into the business saying she was getting older and needed her learn and eventually take over.

Back then, her grandmother used to turn 12 lbs. of sugar — boiled in two pots — into candy. Now, Fay does 6 lbs. and mostly displays her art at fairs and festivals. It’s a laborious process that she carries on for the love of it; it’s not enough for her to make a living at.

Continue reading “Jamaica: Keeping Alive the (Almost) Lost Art of Making Peppermint Candy”

Jamaica Responds to the VW Superbowl Ad with a Video of Their Own

Between fits of laughter during lunch on Thursday, my friend tried to explain the new ad that VW plans to air during Sunday’s Superbowl Halftime show. From his description, I wasn’t sure how the ad, of a white man who returns from his vacation with a Jamaican accent and a laid-back-turn-your-frown-upside-down kind of attitude, was supposed to sell Volkswagen cars – but I was curious to see it for myself.

I had been on the road for three days without television, radio or Internet and as soon as I returned home, I went online. Before I could even search for the ad, I noticed that I’d received five emails with VW in the subject line. One was a forwarded message of a press release that was put out by a Jamaican organization in support of the ad. I read it quickly but since I hadn’t yet seen the ad, I couldn’t understand why it was even necessary.

Now I was really curious. I did a Google search and was surprised to see that the entire page had article after article about the ad. Scanning a few, I noted that several people thought it was racist, others weren’t sure. I was mystified. I hadn’t gotten a sense from my friend’s description that he was offended. Why was everyone making such a brouhaha? What were we missing? 

Two women enjoying a laugh at a Jamaica 50 event
Two young women enjoying a laugh

Have we become so sensitive that we can’t laugh at ourselves?

I was prepared to hate the ad but when I watched it, I couldn’t stop laughing. Maybe I should watch it again to get what all the fuss was about, I thought. I did but I still didn’t get it.

Although it was at times uncomfortable, my friends and I laughed at the portrayal of the Hedleys, a Jamaican family, in the always irreverent, always politically incorrect 1990s hit television show, In Living Color. I don’t remember anyone questioning then whether the  popular show was racist or asking for it to be canceled even while it referred to us “coconuts” and played on and perhaps help perpetuate certain stereotypes.

Though we’re certainly not naive or unsophisticated about stereotyping or racism, every Jamaican I’ve spoken with or emailed about the VW ad thinks it’s funny. Most of us can’t understand what all “the noise,” as one friend characterizes it, is about.

Despite high unemployment, underemployment, corruption, crime, slow economic growth and a host of other ills within the society, Jamaicans manage to maintain such a sunny disposition that last year, the UN’s World Happiness Report ranked the island the 40th happiest of 156 countries in the world.  Perhaps it’s that happiness that some visitors want to take back home.

They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. We’re flattered that VW decided to use Jamaica in their ad but maybe they should do one better: allocate a percentage of the proceeds of their sales on this campaign to fund automotive education here. In the meantime, we have our own unique way of responding to the ad. See for yourself. If it doesn’t make you smile, nothing else will.