What are the scary things in Jamaica

Bike run fun

Highs and lows on an adventure vacation in Jamaica

 

October 29th to November 11th 2017. Our trip to Jamaica. Originally we wanted to go to the Canaries, to Lanzarote and Fuerteventura. But then I discovered the cheap Eurowings flights and quickly booked them on the same day. For around 400 euros per person, you can take a direct flight from Cologne / Bonn to Montego Bay and back again. What we didn't know beforehand: With the decision for Jamaica, it should not be a relaxing vacation, but an adventurous road trip with some ups and downs. But one by one.

 

One day before the flight, we take the train to Bonn early in the morning. From Bonn / Beuel we take the tram into the city and do a mini tour before checking into our AirBnB around noon, which is in an attic apartment directly across from the main train station.

Then we take the subway to Königswinter. From there we hike up to Drachenfels Castle. Unfortunately the weather is a bit changeable, but we make it up and back dry. After a snack in the beautiful "Eselcafe" we drive back to Bonn and have a delicious burger at Hans im Glück before we go to bed early.

 

 

 

A few days ago our flight was brought forward at short notice. Instead of 11:20 a.m., we are now leaving at 6:10 a.m., which means a short night. And since there is no shuttle bus to the airport at around 4 a.m., we only have a taxi for around 50 euros. Bad luck.

After take-off I see a completely empty row of four seats in the middle of the plane. There I manage to sleep fully stretched out for around 2 hours. I can use the rest of the time quite well and work on the notebook.

 

 

Then we land in Montego Bay. There is a lot of baggage chaos there with more than an hour waiting time after the entry procedure. Our first little "low" on the trip. We leave the airport and the muggy air hits us immediately, so that we immediately start to sweat in the long trousers from the flight. We recognize the driver of the rental car company who picks us up from a nameplate. Although we arrived a good hour later than agreed, he was waiting for us.

When we arrived at the “office”, we were initially a little shocked. It's an old trailer container with some damaged and scrapped cars behind it. The boss is in a bad mood and 5 or 6 dark-skinned employees surround us, which is a bit uncomfortable. Our small car, which I booked cheaply, is currently not available, so we get a larger limousine, which we should exchange for the small car 2 days later (which will be difficult in terms of time). Then we see the bill, which is around $ 100 more expensive than actually posted. And when we finally want to drive off, I notice that the tank is almost empty and the display only has a bar ...

This is a real low now!

We feel uncomfortable, literally ripped off and would like to return the car straight away and take a taxi to our accommodation. But then it says “No Problem” and one of the employees drives us to the nearby gas station. Instead of filling up, however, he only lets enough fuel into the tank that the display rises from one to two bars ... At least now I regret that we booked with a small local car rental company instead of an established but more expensive provider.

Now it's time to make the best of it.

So first off to the accommodation. On the way there, however, we are first stuck in a traffic jam. Then we make the wrong turn, because we don't immediately classify the branches in left-hand traffic, and pace at a snail's pace through the chaotic city center of Montego Bay, which at first glance looks more like Africa. Everywhere people are running all over the place, the cars jostle and honk and nothing is moving forward. I feel a little lost and am glad that Micha is with me (and she is glad that I am driving).

As always, I had explored the way to our accommodation in advance on Google Maps. But there is a problem: where it was marked, there is nothing to be found far and wide. We ask a few residents, but nobody knows anything. Is the accommodation perhaps no longer there? We have neither internet nor telephone. After more than an hour of extensive search, a few unfriendly dogs in the wrong houses and some nasty mogul slopes on small "streets", a taxi driver finally knows where we have to go. Once there, however, there is still no evidence to be found, so that we are slowly losing hope.

It is precisely at this low point that a man comes towards us. The first “white” in hours. We ask him for directions and he laughs - it's Jan, a German, and he replies: “Yes, I live there too, you can come with me right away”. That sentence was like a release. We park the car and go through a gate to the hidden accommodation, the Cedar Ridge Lodge. The dog that just "drove us away" is suddenly totally playful, because now he perceives us as guests instead of potential intruders. We feel at home straight away when we check-in. Everything is nicely decorated and the view of Montego Bay from the terrace is really great!

 

 

In retrospect, the flight that was brought forward was quite good. Otherwise we would have had to do the search in the dark, which might have gone completely wrong. Since it is still light for about an hour, we drive back into town at around half past four. Withdrawing money is an "experience" when I type in $ 30,000 and the machine spits out 1,000 and 5,000 bills. What is meant, of course, is Jamaican dollars, 125 of which are roughly equivalent to one US dollar.

 

 

Unfortunately the supermarket is quite expensive and the milk we buy is sour too. But no matter, after a day like today it doesn't matter anymore. At dusk we hear the frogs (Toad Frogs) everywhere in the forest, much like last year in Hawaii. A feeling of exotic vacation spreads. We let the ceiling fan run so that the air feels a little cooler and the mosquitoes are driven away. This ends the first, eventful day.

 

Jet lag. I wake up very early, around 4 a.m. (also because the dog is barking). I use the time productively on the notebook, but pay for it with a few mosquito bites. Around 7 a.m. I check on Micha. Unfortunately, she is not doing so well, I hope it's just because of all the excitement ... Our hostess Alina has a pack of milk powder ready for breakfast, so that at least the muesli works almost as planned. For the rest of the trip, we will also switch to powdered milk to avoid another bankruptcy with sour milk.

In the morning Alina gives us some tips for the round trip in Jamaica. Then I tell her the story of the car rental company. She thinks it would be best if she calls them herself. I give her the number and she speaks to the boss “among locals”, so to speak. Then she says we should go there again in the afternoon. I'm curious. Meanwhile, Micha is also better, so that we can use the rest of the day.

Around noon we drive into town with two other Germans, Mark and Anastasia. First something to eat at Juicy Patties, then to the chaotic and somewhat scary Fruit Market in the middle of the city and then to a free beach. Normally it is better to choose a paid beach so as not to be harassed all the time, but since there are four of us it is worth a try. And indeed, in around 1.5 hours we are “only” asked three or four times whether we would like to buy weed or drinks.

In between, I test the sea for a short swim. The water is very pleasant, almost too warm for swimming. We observe that the locals only go up to their stomach in the water, if at all. Apart from the two of us, we don't see anyone else swimming in the sea during the entire vacation. The reason is that most of them cannot swim at all, as we will find out later.

 

 

In the afternoon we drive past the car rental company. The boss suddenly acts like a friend and says that we should just keep the bigger car until the end. So the call from Alina really brought a lot, thank you very much! Now the slightly higher price is okay too. Once again a "high" on our trip!

Since there is still some time until sunset, we drive into the hills away from the city. Suddenly it turns green around us, the landscape turns into a jungle. Once at the top, we drive past the Rocklands Bird Sanctuary and see a beautiful hummingbird "standing" in the air at the entrance, which Micha is very enthusiastic about. But we are too late to take another tour as it will soon be dark. Instead, we try a detour to the zipline in the remote town of Lethe, which turns out to be an annoying tourist trap. So turn around and back to your accommodation.

 

Out early again, work on the notebook again, mosquitoes again. The beasts are getting annoying. They prefer to prick the ankles, so I've already collected some “souvenirs” there. After breakfast we set off and take Mark and Anastasia with the first piece, as they are also traveling eastwards. In Montego Bay we get a local SIM card so that we can make calls if something goes wrong again.

Our first stop is at Silver Sands Beach. We go there for a short walk on the beach, on which we are accompanied by four or five stray (but nice) dogs. Mark and Anastasia are staying here and plan to continue traveling cheaply with the Route Taxis for the next few days. So we part ways and we keep going. At this moment we are really happy for the first time that we have our own car.

 

 

The next stops are the Green Grotto Caves and Dunn’s River & Falls Park. Unfortunately, both of these are nothing but pure tourist attractions, which we leave out accordingly. The next destination, Irie Blue Hole, is also a disaster - countless self-proclaimed "life guards" jump in front of the car or run alongside to become our tour guide. So we don't stop at all and continue straight away. It's a shame and another low on our trip.

In general, almost all sights are either expensive or overly pressured. On the other hand, we like to stop at the fruit stands that keep popping up along the street. Here we buy papayas, mangoes, bananas and coconuts, but also vegetables such as sweet potatoes and carrots at fair prices. As in Hawaii, this is one of the best things about our vacation: fresh, delicious fruit every day.

In the late afternoon we arrive in Port Antonio after driving more than 300 km. When we turn into the street where our accommodation is located, we are (once again) shocked. It's a pretty shabby housing estate where we seem to be the only white people (again). Everyone looks at us as we carefully drive through with the car. Not only people run around on the street, but also dogs, chickens and cats.

We are relieved to find that our host Stefano is an Italian. We ask him whether we and our car or our belongings are safe here. He says “Jaman, No Problem”, you can even walk around outside at night. We are amazed, but believe him and test it right after check-in. And indeed: the area looks more dangerous than it really is. Unlike in Montego Bay, we are hardly pressured and can even go out to eat in the city - unfortunately the wrong thing, a soup with chicken feet (!) In it, even though it was called “Pumpkin Soup”, uh.

In the evening we chat on the veranda with Stefano and his friend “Rastaman”. Both of them seem to be quite drunk, but they keep smoking their joints. That's how it goes here every evening. Apart from us, only one young woman from Israel lives here at the moment, so it is quite quiet and we can end the day.

 

At night I wake up despite earplugs because it is raining heavily. The water pounds loudly on the tin roof of our accommodation. So get out early and catch up with your notebook until breakfast. Then we start our exploration tour in an easterly direction. After the road from Montego Bay to Port Antonio was quite good, the real potholes now start. Some of these are so deep that you might hit a flat tire or get stuck in it if you accidentally drive into it. It's like driving into a water drain that is missing the manhole cover.

I am careful and drive slowly because we want to see the landscape. Some locals, on the other hand, drive like executioners. Nevertheless, they seem to get through well, as they probably know the biggest potholes and the most confusing places. However, the horn is constantly honking and it is not uncommon for a car to come towards us more or less in the middle of the road. The overall driving style here is quite aggressive, similar to Georgia, so Jamaica is not recommended for novice drivers. Micha is allowed to drive, too, but she'd rather leave that to me here after she was behind the wheel all the way in Ireland. A couple of times I catch myself trying to drive on the right side of the road habitually or mistaking the windshield wipers for the indicators. Otherwise it works well with left-hand traffic.

 

 

With a few short stops we drive along the east coast and then a little west to Bath. There is a botanical garden in front of which many “guides” are waiting for tourists, so we'll skip that right away. Instead, we stop a little further in the forest, eat some papayas we bought on the way and collect some new souvenirs (mosquito bites). In between two men suddenly come out of the thicket with machetes, which is a bit scary at first. But the two give a friendly greeting and pass by. It's perfectly normal here to walk around with a machete.

On the way back we see a small bar and want to stop for a coffee. I drive straight across the middle of the street to the other side to park there. For a split second, I'm a little distracted and I step on the accelerator instead of the brakes to stop. The car accelerates. I still try to change the pedal quickly, but there was a crack. We hit the wall with the front right corner ...

At first I think: "That's it". The deepest low ever.

First engine off, take a deep breath. The wall looks so close from the driver's seat that I don't even want to get out to look at the wheel arch. At least the airbag didn't come out. I start the engine and am relieved when it starts normally. We slowly roll back a little and get out to inspect the damage. At first glance, it is not quite as bad as feared. The bumper hangs down and the door squeaks when it is opened because the paneling is warped and the gaps are no longer correct. That will probably be expensive, we don't have fully comprehensive insurance. So far it has always paid off because we have never had any damage.

The wall of the house is fine except for a few scratches, it is made of stone. Apparently nobody else saw or heard anything besides us. So first we go in and have a beer to digest the shock. The mood is of course in the basement. After driving accident-free for 16 years (at least officially), these beautiful statistics are now gone. We continue slowly. Fortunately, the bumper seems to hold up despite the bumpy road.

Then it starts to rain heavily. Small lakes form in the hollows of the road because the water does not drain properly. But we get through without further incident. Shortly before Port Antonio we stop in a residential area and walk (in the rain) to Winifred Beach, which Stefano recommended to us. At least a little exercise today. It's a small community down there. People keep the beach clean, sell souvenirs and take a small donation as entry. Since the weather is bad, we just take a quick look around and leave again.

Back at the accommodation we chat with the new guests, two Israelis. Then we walk into the city center to process the turbulent day with a beer. Unfortunately it's pretty dirty everywhere. As we sit on a path by the sea, we see some big rats running around. There's also a lot of rubbish floating in the water. Unfortunately, this is the case in some places in Jamaica, a real shame. The expensive hotels and resorts keep “their” private beaches clean, but almost all public areas are neglected. There is a lack of public investment across the country, which is also evident in the sometimes disastrous roads off the main routes.

In the evening we walk back in the dark. We now feel safe here. But since white people still stand out, we are asked again and again whether we need a taxi, buy souvenirs or book a rafting tour on the nearby river. Many people live in simple conditions and see whites as inherently rich. This thinking is firmly entrenched in people's minds as the average per capita income is just under $ 5,000 a year.Tourism brings a lot of money into the country, but at the same time there is a lot of corruption (as Alina told us), so that in the end only a few benefit from it - especially the cruise ships, resorts and hotels. This is a shame because, in a balanced system, many people could do much better here.

 

Again it rains at night. I'm doing some work on my notebook, but the internet is down. The weather remains bad in the morning too, so we'll wait and see for now. I decide to go for a jog. The first part is uphill, so that with an air temperature of around 30 degrees I sweat a lot. Some of the residents say hello or cheer, which is great. I was expecting skeptical looks, so it now feels like a "high". Then heavy rain sets in again, but I just keep walking. It is like taking a warm shower, and except for the soggy shoes, very comfortable. All the locals take shelter somewhere and look puzzled as I run past.

After around 80 minutes I'm back at my accommodation, great workout. Meanwhile the weather is getting a little better. We first sit on the veranda and watch what is happening on the street. We notice that the residents watch everyone who walks by, not just us “whites”. We are slowly starting to feel at home here, after having been shocked less than two days earlier - a real paradigm shift.

Then we set off by car towards the hills. We park in a small town and start hiking with our backpacks. Along a river it goes further and further into the jungle and then uphill. We pass a banana plantation and some small huts with friendly residents who rarely see a tourist. Again and again there are animals along the way: goats, cows and even a pig, a horse and a donkey. Absolute contrast to the tourist metropolis Montego Bay!

 

 

We are completely surprised when a route taxi actually comes from behind. The car even masters the steep, from our point of view, impassable roads. In front of the steepest passages, all occupants get out and go up, while the driver just manages to skillfully maneuver the taxi upwards. Everyone gets back on there. Incredibly, with these driving skills he could apply as a stuntman.

In the evening we stroll down "our street" again. We get a beer and the delicious banana chips in the bar across from our accommodation. In the meantime, the neighbors no longer stare at us and greet us in a friendly way. After just two days, it almost feels like our home base. We sit on the side of the road, drink beer and say goodbye to Stefano, who is already a bit high again and is chatting in his funny English with an Italian accent. Unfortunately we miss taking a picture of the three of us.

 

Today the weather is better, there was no rain at night. The day before I called our accommodation in the Blue Mountains and asked if the direct road from Buff Bay to Kingston was passable. After the rain of the last few days, it could well be that a landslide has happened on the winding mountain road that makes it impossible to get through. But it looks like the way is clear.

 

 

On the way I stop for a coffee just before the mountains. I also ask the woman in the shop whether the street is okay. “Jaman, No Problem,” she says, nice and funny at the same time. So we continue as planned. The road becomes narrower, partly single lane and has more and more potholes, but with careful driving we make slow progress. Before every bend I horn like the locals to announce the possible oncoming traffic.

In between we are confused because the street is incorrectly drawn on Google Maps. Then we turn wrong in the military camp up on the mountain before a jeep full of soldiers (brief shock) shows us the way. The journey to the “parking lot” of our accommodation is then again a real tightrope walk and at the extreme limit of what is still passable by car. But there is again a cheer when we see our room and the furnishings in the whole house, really great - and the beautiful garden even more!

 

 

 

We use the afternoon for a round of exploration. The place is so small that it doesn't even exist on the map. Actually there are only a few scattered houses in the forest and a few tin huts with tiny shops that are run by very nice locals. Then we go through a forest where 3 men cannibalize a car that fell down the slope. Further down we ask a woman about the next fruit stand and she says we should just take the bus a few stops down. Said and done. This is how we experience public transport. We pay 100 Jamaica dollars (about 70 cents) for the ride and just let the bus driver know where we want to get off. The price is apparently independent of how far you travel.

 

 

We get off at the fruit stand and test the little snack bar called “Bloom” next door. The menu of the day is “all natural” and tastes fantastic, so we order another portion right away. Just as fantastic are the views of the mountains and the capital Kingston down by the sea. Now we have a real high again, everything is going optimally and the day is really fun. After dinner we meet a local at the fruit stand who is about to go upstairs, and he takes us straight away. We then walk the last stretch to the accommodation and listen to the frogs, who loudly start again when it gets dark.

 

 

We're staying a day longer than planned. We get a better price for the additional night, as it is the low season and we are happy about every guest. We'll remember this trick for the next time, instead of pre-booking everything in full (which has proven useful elsewhere, especially in the USA).

Unlike before, we have Bed & Breakfast here. So first of all there is a nice breakfast. Then we consider hiking to Catherine’s Peak, since the highest mountain on the island, the Blue Mountain Peak, is logistically inaccessible for today. The car is also better to stop because I only want to drive the borderline mogul slope once on the day of my departure.

At first it is still sunny and hot, so we sweat a lot uphill. We take the wrong turn and end up in a remote Rastafarian community in which the people live according to a partly Christian, partly indigenous religion. Back on the right track, the weather is slowly getting worse and it is starting to rain as we just reach the military camp. We pause in a small Army Cafe and then go on, but the weather remains bad.

Fortunately I have an umbrella with me. With that we make it halfway dry up to around 1530 meters, where we even have a brief view of the valley. Good timing, because on the way down it is pouring rain again. Now we are really soaked and small streams are forming on the roadside. But since it is easily over 25 degrees, it can still be endured. A local stops and takes us a bit so that our way is shortened. In the evening we order a little meal at the accommodation, which the housekeeper had also cooked for her family beforehand.

 

 

After yesterday there was scrambled eggs and toast, today there is fish with plantain on the table. And it even tastes really good! Then we leave for Kingston. I finally rejected the plan with the Blue Mountain Peak because the weather forecast didn't bode well. The capital, from which we have heard little good things on the way, lives up to its reputation: dirt, traffic jams, barbed wire on the walls around the houses and bad air everywhere. The only thing supposed to be worth seeing here is the Bob Marley Museum, but we'll leave that out too. The whole city seems too uncomfortable to drive through, and the way is far enough today anyway.

 

 

After Kingston we drive on the fast toll road. Suddenly it rolls almost as well as on a freeway. It is by far the best road in Jamaica, we can drive more than 100 km / h. The next stop is on the south coast in the small fishing village called Alligator Pond. There are no alligators here, but mainly birds fighting over the remains of the fish.

 

 

Then we continue in the direction of YS Falls, whose access is closed today. Therefore we take a detour through the mountains on an increasingly bad “road”. Fortunately, this action goes well again without further damaging the car. Then we continue via Black River to Negril on the west coast of Jamaica. On the way, the funny presenter on Mellow FM can be heard constantly on the radio, who offers unique entertainment with his distinctive, super-relaxed voice. During the whole trip we also saw groups of school children in their uniforms waiting for the bus, very chic!

 

 

Shortly after sunset we arrive in Negril and check into our accommodation. Unfortunately, it is teeming with mosquitoes, so we got a double-digit number of bites that evening (which again feels like a decent low). We chat a little with Maraya, a Dutch woman, and Martel, the security guard, who is already smoked up. Then I can't take it anymore and flee from the mosquitoes to bed, which luckily has a protective net over it.

 

For breakfast we go upstairs to the terrace. A light wind is blowing there and the sun has more surface to attack, which keeps the mosquitoes at a good distance. I take my time and test the hammock before we set off with Maraya and a woman from Nigeria, “Simply Simeon”, to one of the few beaches that are not accessible to hotel guests. I swim far out twice and see some small fish and starfish. Then we drive a little north to Green Island, where I find an excellent Rastafarian fruit stand and stock up on the best mangoes of all time as well as giant papaya and coconut.

Shortly afterwards we stop at Halfmoon Bay. But instead of going to the pay beach, we hike a little in the other direction and discover a tiny, lonely stretch of coast. There I try to swim a little, but it fails because of the shallow water and the many plants (and sea urchins). Instead, we find lots of beautiful seashells, some of which come home as souvenirs.

 

 

In the late afternoon we go jogging. The destination is Rick’s Cafe, one of the obvious highlights in Negril. It's a little tight with traffic along the road while walking, but everything works out and we arrive just before sunset. When we step through the entrance, we suddenly find ourselves in "America". All of a sudden almost everyone is white, the prices are overpriced, there is a pool with a view of the sea and a show in which a life guard jumps into the sea from around 20 meters from a rather wobbly construct.

The sunset is good for a photo. But it's a strange little world here, completely separated from what is happening outside. We start running again to make it back in the halfway light. In the evenings I put on long jeans, closed shoes with socks and a long-sleeved windbreaker every day to protect myself from the mosquitoes. That works quite well, but it's also quite warm.

 

 

In the morning we take Martel and Simply Simeon to the souvenir market. We look around there, but feel too pressured in this tourist corner. After a little exploration to the south, we visit a few more souvenir shops, where I buy a tourist shirt. Since nothing else is planned, we go to the beach from yesterday again, alternately swim a longer lap and drink a large coffee in the Canoe Bar. A woman from the accommodation had recommended a good vegetarian restaurant to us the day before, which we are also testing. There "natural Italian food" is served, which tastes really excellent and is once again a "high".

In the late afternoon I go jogging again, this time alone. It goes further and further along the beach into the hotel and resort areas. Mostly US tourists wallow in the sun here, of whom you hardly see any outside of these facilities. At one point a security employee even asks me where my accommodation is - apparently not even jogging is really allowed on the beach ?!

On the way back I meet Micha. Fortunately, she has a water bottle that I forgot when I ran in the heat. Unfortunately we miss the sunset and then go back to the accommodation. There we feed the dog coconut what it actually eats. Two Americans check in later and tell of their turbulent day including a car crash. Compared to their story, I was lucky with my wall campaign ...

 

 

In the morning at breakfast we take a farewell photo with Martel and Simply Simeon. Then we set off to drive the last bit back to Montego Bay.

 

 

On the way I get more fruit from the Rastafarian man. Then we stop about halfway at an idyllic, somewhat hidden beach that proves to be a direct hit. Almost undisturbed, we observe a few crabs in the sand, one of which is even ready for a documentary to eat a bee lying on the ground.

 

 

In Montego Bay we go to Ol ‘Joe, where the locals also eat. It takes forever to get our order, but it's super tasty and cheap. One large portion is enough for both of us (which is really rare). Then we go to eat a huge ice cream next door (also one for the two of us) and have a coffee in peace. Somewhat early departure feeling becomes noticeable. We're going to shop for a few souvenirs in the shop next door, and I finally get my hands on the chic Bob Marley flip-flops.

On the way to the accommodation, we briefly stop by the marina. However, there isn't too much to see here, most of it is cordoned off again. Then it goes up "home" to our last accommodation, which was also the first (Cedar Ridge Lodge). There we meet Jan again, who lives here for 2.5 months during an internship, and talk about our experiences.

 

The last day is dawning. We enjoy a long, chilled breakfast on the terrace. Then pack, checkout and off to town. Because it was so nice yesterday, we repeat the ice cream, coffee and food campaign.

 

 

Then comes the really tricky part: handing in the damaged car. As far as I know, our deductible is $ 1000. The mechanic inspects the situation briefly and then says it costs $ 100. I'm relieved inwardly, but prefer to put on a poker face. We ask if we can pay the money in cash and drive to the ATM. Then the driver drops us off at the airport, we tip him and disappear into the building. What a mild end to my stupid driving mistake!

Because of the uncertainty about what would happen because of the car, we're extremely early. Since everything went smoothly, there is now a lot of time that we spend at the airport. But it doesn't matter, because the weather is getting really bad outside anyway, there is constant rain. I work on the notebook, then we check in. In contrast to immigration, everything runs very efficiently, as there are hardly any other flights in the evening. During the flight, I actually manage to sleep around 3 hours, while Micha has a little trouble with the woman sitting next to me about the best place to sleep on the four-seater row. I spend the rest of the flight on my notebook again to write large parts of this article.

 

Everything is going as planned. Landing in Cologne / Bonn, S-Bahn to Cologne, coffee there and brief admiration of the carnival costumes (it is November 11th). Then get on the train to Würzburg.