I'd decided to arrive about an hour and a half before my flight (and my cab was a bit late since the first one sent to pick me up got hit making a u-turn), got there about an hour fifteen before my flight and quailed at the long line of people at check in. Air Tran's auto check in kiosks were all down and I hadn't been able to check in online the night before because I was taking an international flight. I think they came back up at some point as the line was approaching the zig zag part near the desks, things started moving a bit more quickly. An airline staff member was calling out for people on flights leaving soon, so I didn't worry much as I got up to the desk at about 40 mins before my 6:35am flight. Then the check in clerk almost gave me a heart attack by saying that I was on the 6am flight. Nope, never. Luckily she smoothly fixed the situation and got me on my intended flight, in a first class seat. I wasn't too worried since I had a three hour layover in Atlanta and there were frequent AirTran flights to that hub, but I got on my intended flight no problems. At around 8:30am on the flight to Atlanta, I saw gorgeous limestone cliffs and many branched rivers/lakes. I looked up the area on a map after I got home and think it's Lake Sidney Lanier or Lake Hartwell, up near where I'd previously been near the border between Georgia and Tennessee. There was a medical emergency on this flight too. :( I think in this case a guy passed out but came to on his own, and was able to walk off the plane to meet the paramedics so we all didn't have to wait for them to come on and get him.
During my 3 hour layover, I texted with some friends for a bit, had lunch
at the Sam Adams pub then chatted with one of my friends on the phone,
sitting near the Delta service desk. My connecting gate to Montego Bay was
three down from my arrival gate so I sat and read for a bit then boarded,
not really having any excuse to wander. I did pick up some hot tea in my
new travel mug, but then dumped it due to leaks (filled with just water
was fine though on the first flight). This economy seat was narrow
compared to the first class one on the previous flight. :)
I saw smoke rising near Miami as we flow down Florida, then swamps, cloud shadows on water, Cuba, and hills as we crossed Jamaica to land. The Customs and Immigration form was a bit complex, but the process was easy once I made it to desk (had to fill out departure form before entering). I changed $100US into Jamaican dollars, grabbed my suitcase and made a bee-line to the official taxi stand. My driver was older, driving slow and drifting around the lanes, and it cost me $30US to go the 7 miles to the Holiday Inn Sunspree Resort. I saw everyone as soon as I got in line at the hotel check in (Monica, Roger, Gwen, Nurse Vinette, Betty Ann, Fiona, Denis, Kayla, Neil, Jean Guy, Susan), and was a bit overwhelmed as multiple people told me that I was switched into rooming w/Neil rather than Sue and Jake. I went up to my new room, winding between palm trees and flower bushes to building 5, and changed into a light skirt and short sleeve top, then Neil and I chatted at the lobby bar. The family group split and merged, I got some insect bite stuff from Betty Ann when the tiny mosquitoes found me (the lobby is open to the air, right next to the pool). We had an early dinner for 12 at the buffet (paella, kale? rice), and while we were eating Rosemary and Richard arrived to say hi and good night after arriving from England. Sue and Jake arrived as Roger and I went for a walk. We saw Fiona, Dennis and Neil by the pier at the far end of the resort beach, then we meandered back and I sat w/ Monica and Roger, and Sue and Jake while they ate. Then we went up to the Port Royal bar (hrm, not sure we found it that soon, my notes might have meant the lobby bar). Then another walk along the boardwalk. By then it was well after dark and I was winding down from my long day, so I headed to my room (across the hall from Sue and Jake, they put us mostly near each other). I took a shower, then curled up in bed to read so I could finish the book I'd almost done on the plane (Ash) then sleep! Surprisingly it was only 10pm, though there was a time change (that Jamaica didn't do).
Back to my room to shower and put on a swim suit under a skirt and long sleeve top and headed back to the buffet for second breakfast - I found the smoked salmon this time, memories of Alaska. I ate with Sue and Jake and Monica as the rest had just finished. Sue and I headed back to the rooms so she cut put on her swim suit and I grabbed my hat. We waded out to the island and chatted with Susan under her palm tree - got caught up with her kids and grandkids. More cancer in the family but survived, and business shenanigans seem to be weathered as well. Sue and I might have grabbed lunch then. Then wandered about by myself reading - by the pier and napped, then got some jerk chicken when I was feeling peckish (two pieces was more than I wanted). headed to the other end of property by the gym - it was very quiet and reef rocks and fishing birds were fun to watch. Then I went back to the room and sat on balcony as they finally cleaned it at 4:30 (I had verbally asked 2x and left the sign out). I was starting to think that I could relax from all the work stress. Neil came back to the room too. I had a quick wash and got into my purple sundress, and when we were both ready, we walked to the lobby to meet the group for the welcome drinks and dinner, starting at 5pm and 6pm respectively. We had a big group already, I got a gin and tonic (their gin is odd, reminiscent of Tanzanian in that it's a clear liquor that isn't vodka), and there were pictures of the 16 of us. I'm going to see my uncle Donny later this week, the only one of my mom's brothers left (not 100% sure if I've met him before). He and his wife weren't able to book into the same resort as the rest of us, so plans were being hatched to meet up at Margaritaville or someplace in Mo Bay.
We all went up to The Terrace for a Jamaican meal. The service was slow but the food was good - I need to reverse engineer the xmas pudding tasting chocolate rum cake. Their ice cream was creamier too, the beach stand had fairly gritty stuff. I had the saltfish and ackee appetiser w cassava patty, then a veggie stew that was delicious. The rum punch was a bit strong and didn't get a water refill despite asking. I chatted with Rosemary and Richard, Fiona and Betty Ann, as well as Kayla and Aunt Gwen and her nurse Vinette. Sue, Jake, Neil and I went to the Port Royal pub afterward, it was right there and enclosed (sound insulation from the band on stage), with strong air conditioning. It felt very different than everywhere else at the resort, much more dark wood and dim lighting. Same drinks as everywhere else though. I went back to the room at 10, but there was no hot water for my shower (apparently have to run it for 5-10 mins at that time of night?). I picked up the wifi code from the front desk, but I can't get email or post my workout to fitocracy since the phone thinks it's 1980.
I got into the first car load with Denis driving Roger, me, Sue, and Jake. We got dropped off by the T intersection and walked along the beach to the wall by the airport (marker lights on towers in the water), fielding lots of offers of taxis. Apparently a big cruise ship was in town, we could have easily grabbed a ride there instead of back to our hotel. :) We meandered back to the drop off point and waited for Neil to drop Rosemary and Richard. He'd also brought Fiona but there weren't planning on staying for lunch, so they explored on their own. We walked up the hip strip, and I got a bottle of water in a convenience store. It was very hot, at least 30c and humid, I had on a linen shirt and hiking trousers and trail shoes. Rosemary got a cover up in the store next to the convenience shop. Lots of people were encouraging us into stores or taxis but were pretty laid back about it and always took no for an answer. We peeked into Doctor's Cave ($6 entry), and heard the story of how Roger and Monica met there. We also sat in the shade at Hospital Park where Monica was born (before they tore down the hospital0. We had lunch at the Pork Pit, very good jerk chicken (cooked over coals at an open air kitchen in the middle of the outdoor seating area) and very spicy shrimp, and even more water. A persistent taxi driver convinced most of us that he was an employee of the place, herding us up to the counter and then to tables.
We continued our walk on to downtown, where the press of people was almost over-whemling. Burger Shack (my late aunt's business) is no longer there and we couldn't find the bookstore upstairs (edging past the bullying girl threatening to throw a backpack down the stairs, as well as dodging fighting boys). White hatted official Tourist Ambassadors took over ice cream guide duties after I found only rum raisin in a container at the supermarket (and was given a fork to eat it). The led us around from the central square with the preaching statue to an indoor mall and I Scream. I couldn't resist a second serving and had a hand scooped mound of guava ice cream this time. We took the quiet way back, through the library park and back to the other mall where we were getting picked up. School was letting out as we waited for our ride, it was neat seeing the different uniforms (all school children wear uniforms).
Denis drove us back to the hotel, I think I got in the first group again, the heat was getting to me. I changed and headed back to the gym, feeling guilty about the second serving of ice cream, and did a dumbbell workout. I saw Sue and Jake heading to the beach as I got my bathing suit off the rack on the room balcony, and called to wait for me. I swam and floated at the adults only beach, swimming around the bouy. It was pretty quiet out there.
I took a quick shower and changed into my black and blue mandarin collar dress. I played 1.5 games of pool with Neil after he finished with Roger (bad cue, so I made him use it in our second game, and the score board was badly placed requiring a change to a tiny cue for some shots). This time we headed up to Sorrento for our 6:30pm reservation. Good service this time, a bit more formal, I had a salad, the snapper, a slice of Betty Ann's bday cake, and my ordered mousse/panna cotta. Tea to finish. Took some pictures, but it was a bit dark in there. The next door to the Port Royal pub again with Fiona and Denis and Neil and Sue and Jake. We got back to the room at about 11pm, and Neil and I talked a bit before getting to sleep.
I walked down to the adult area bar for a virgin daiquiri (mm, slushies) and then back, and had a short swim. Lunch was at the buffet again and Richard (my cousin), his wife Shawn and their twin daughters Sahara and Indigo arrived. Chicken curry and sweet and sour tofu. Went to look into the Japanese restauraunt menu with Sue - only three sushi choices and nothing raw, it didn't seem worth the $20 surcharge. The seafood restaurant was closed, so Sue eventually booked us back at The Terrace for dinner (Monica had delegated).
I caught up online for a bit then went out to join Jean Guy for a sail on the catamaran. There wasn't enough wind, so he and I and also Fiona and Denis took out 2 person kayaks for a short ride (they had to stay between the lines of buoys, we were out 10 minutes tops). I hit the gym next for bench / squat / deadlifts. There was a couple there with the guy working hard and the lady phoning it in. I had my shower and packed up a bit and then went down to the lobby for 4:30 or so. Kathy (other cousin I was to stay with) had arrived, so I swapped into her room. I was down to the lobby in time to chat a bit with Jake about crossfit then we went into the buffet dinner. I sat with Susan, Jean Guy (who was very quiet, it was worrying!), Richard and Rosemary. I wasn't very hungry either, I had salad and rice and peas, then 2 small pieces of dessert.
I stayed to watch the show (stage in the middle of the swimming pool area) with Richard, we traded off gin and tonic and Campari runs to the lobby bar. The fashion show was an ad for the gift shop, and man heavy (5) with just one young girl (a guest?) and one woman. Pre show was a unicycling balance and fire guy. The main show steel drum band did too many pop covers for me, but they were energetic and the dancers were great (and familiar from the fashion show). Then I went up to Port Royal with him and Neil (who'd been looking for us) and called in Jake (Sue was done for the day). There was US election coverage on screen, the dreaded Fox News. Had a cranberry and amaretto. I'd had another virgin daiquiri after my workout and a mudslide after swapping rooms. I had spilled one gin and tonic at the show (sitting on loungers) but drank the other. Kathy slept through me screaming when there was a lizard by the door - no luck getting it out of the bathroom, so tried to barricade it. There's a tub in this room, just a shower in the other, so looking forward to a bath. 11:30 or so.
I ate lunch with Denis, Sue, Jake, Fiona and left to head back to my room, just after thwarting a suggestion for Denis to drive Gwen downtown instead of going through with the mini group's plans for the day. I was given the front seat (most susceptible to car sickness) and was given the task of navigating with a tourist map (why do I always end up with not to scale maps in foreign countries? :) ). We headed west, through Montego Bay and out along the road to Negril and then made a left into the hills. It was a winding narrow road like the one to Worthy Park, with high banks cut through the hills. We passed the bird sanctuary sign, a tiny side road and got to Anchovy, which was our "gone too far mark". Denis got us turned around, and we decided to go to the bird place first since it was actually sign posted. Denis asked for directions a few times, very friendly people in that area. The 1.5km road to the sanctuary was horrible, then they had a short drive way with 1 car parking, though luckily we were first there right after it opened at 2pm. The entry fee was up to $20 from $10 but we paid after seeing all the hummingbirds flitting around (and the money went to preserving and training the birds). They were gorgeous, and we got a mini tour around the grounds, we saw and smelled a pimento/allspice tree, and the guide crushed some herbs for Sue to put on a bug bite. I didn't get a hummingbird to land on my finger to feed (the guide gave us all nip bottles, filled with sugar water and with tiny holes poked in the cap), but had a few come by to hover and feed (a mango hummingbird and a doctor bird (also called swallowtail hummingbird I think, with the two long tail feathers which molt and grow back). Jake was fascinated by the birds and really enjoyed the stop but kept asking if we were ready to go so I thought he was getting impatient. :) We slowly drove back down to the main road and turned up the tiny road that we'd blown past earlier - it was even worse in spots, more pothole than road. The hurricane and seasonal rains had destroyed a lot of the interior roads and there weren't any funds to fix them. :( We finally made it over hills and through valleys, past big houses and tiny shacks, and over a bridge to a round about with school children playing soccer in the road, where we found out that the zipline was closed for the day. A guy (in a staff t-shirt) offered to reopen it for us and call in the other staff, but it was 3:30 and we needed to get back to the resort for dinner (and weren't sure how much they'd charge for the privilege of a private session!).
We made it back to the hotel at 4:15 or so, and I shared pictures of the others with birds feeding from their fingers. English Richard is a birder, so I encouraged him to make time to visit the sanctuary. I sat with Kathy and the twins for a bit. I just had enough time to change into a nicer top for dinner and head down for drinks at the agreed upon time. Had a layered Shooter (the Bob Marley had banana liqueur in it), the blue curacao on top was strong smelling. Sue got our mom and dad on Skype, and we found out our nephew was born in the morning. I chatted with Richard about the birds we'd both seen recently, and then it was time to head up to the Terrace. We were seated at two big tables, I think we had 21 people. Fast service this time, but it was still a two hour meal. I had the ackee and rum cake again, but spicy chicken with a dry yam. We took group pictures after, just before Donny had to leave, my camera flash is really obnoxious. :/ I turned down chance to go to Negril tomorrow, Kathy wanted to check out a hotel property and it sounded like there might not be a lot of time to see the Roger-hyped beaches there. :)
A few of us were still up for hanging out, so Jake saw us settled on loungers on the beach, and promised us a party in 5 minutes. He soon hustled back and got us set up with rum and coke on the beach. It was story telling time, and we heard from Monica (Stampede), Richard (meeting Rosemary), Fiona about parties at McGill, Jake about the ice fishing hut sauna, I told my highschool aftergrad party story, and we got the details of how Neil won a car at bingo. I'm totally blanking on the story that Sue told. I was back in the room at about 10:30, and wrote up the day for an hour or so.
We met by the ice cream stand and then waded out to the island to leave our towels there. The tide was a bit low, we saw some sea urchins and fish around the island and then mostly waded east to the pier. Lots of big urchins there, I'm still a bit freaked out by them (stepped on one by mistake as a child), as well as two schools of fish under the stone (I was annoying and swam through them though I'd intended to go more over them). I saw a fish with a circle on its tail end, and one with three squares along its side, tropical fish markings are neat. We walked back along the beach, then swam to the island to get our stuff. I took a shower and then headed to the buffet for lunch with Sue. It was slim pickings at close to 2, and I was pretty hungry, but I was able to put together a plate of food.
Roger offered me a Maclean's magazine to read (future tech) so I waited by the pool for him to come back with it, and then read for a bit and then walked with him to join Sue, Jake and Denis reading near the gym. I pick a lounger in the shade and moved it to keep it shaded as the sun came out from behind a cloud (the temperature was perfect, and there was a nice breeze). I'd put on my tank top to try and get a tiny bit of sun to even out my biker tan. Denis said the angular birds soaring above us were probably frigate birds. I finished the Macleans while Sue & Jake had a game of mini golf, and then read a bit more until it was time to change for the 5pm meet up in the lobby. I had a bit of a dither over my clothing choices (end of vacation, suitcase emptying out), I ended up wearing my black sundress with a cotton top over it and my long suffering white shoes.
Gwen and Vinette and I were down first, then Roger and Jake, then Sue and Denis and finally Susan. I tried a Wedding Bell, tasty, not too much coconut from the flavoured rum. The road trip people came back at 5:55pm as we were heading over to the Sea Breeze restaurant (aka the sea food one). We had a bit of a wait to gather enough people for them to seat us - I think we convinced them to let us in once we had one table full including somone who had to eat soon. We ended up at three tables close to each other. There was a nice breeze through the open shutters, and fast service including drink refills (I had 2 gin & tonics), and good smells pervaded the room (mmm, seafood). My table had Neil, Denis, Fiona, Sue and Jake. The pumpkin soup was salty, the snapper in parchment paper had okra but it was otherwise good, and filling! The chocolate bread pudding was okay but the pumpkin cheesecake that Fiona also got (she asked for small pieces of both when seh couldn't decide) was good. Our table settled on a trip to Ocho Rios (1 hour) tomorrow instead of driving all the way to Worthy Park (3 hours). We were the last table out, and talked a bit on the pier gazebo - white caps and wind. Most of the others headed to bed, I decided to catch the show with Richard and Jean Guy. The Michael Jackson impersonator and the dancers were good, though they need to work on transitions. I wasn't tired, so I sat on a lounger for a while, and then walked back to the pier by myself, watching the stars and waves. I went back to the room eventually and found a sun burn on my right back shoulder. Went to sleep at about 11pm.
I grabbed a croissant on my way back to my room, showered and packed for the trip to Ocho Rios. My back was still red at the shoulders, so a tank top got paired with my safari shirt and rain jacket. I put on my hiking pants (rolled up), my Tilley hat and packed a bathing suit & towel and I was good to go. Back at the buffet, granola and a heap of ackee and salt fish filled me up, and I had time to sip my tea. We were slow hitting the road, the rain was still coming down and being discouraging. Richard let us check the weather on his iPod - 30% chance of rain there, while it rained a bit less here. Convinced Fiona to come with Sue, Jake, Denis and me - we were going to climb Dunn's River Falls, it didn't really matter if it was raining.
The rain was steady as we skirted a series of bays along the northern coast (Half Moon, Discovery, Runaway), but then it petered out as we hit Ocho Rios. We turned off the highway right into the Dunn's River Falls parking lot, and found it not to be very busy. It was all built up, and reminded me of Niagra falls, structures obscuring nature. It was $20 to get in, so I decided to change into my swimsuit and climb the falls even if I was the only one. Jake held my stuff and Sue took a couple of pictures of me climbing in a long sleeved top, hat, and sunglasses. :) It was slippery where moss covered the rocks, was but mostly grippy - I used my toes a lot. I was alone, between groups, it was kind of peaceful picking my way through the pools and climbing up the boulders, feeling the water flowing around my arms and legs. The sharp gravel in the flat areas was hard on my feet, that was the only time I regretted not getting water shoes.
Denis asked around a bit when he stopped for gas in downtown Ocho Rios, and got a recommendation for patties at Mothers. Traffic was horrible, Jake and I had to dart across random lanes of traffic. I grabbed lunch for the group (1450 Jamaican dollars), and we made it back to the car with the marked bags full of different kinds of patties. Fern Gully was closed due to construction, so we stopped at a bar just outside the construction zone, and they got Red Stripe beer and we ate our patties at Pooh's tiny gospel bar, it was awesome. :) I think this day was my favourite, the bits in Ocho Rios and at the bar felt much less touristy than anything we'd done.
Denis drove us back, I ended up napping in the car, I'd taken a back seat this time, it was soporific. I brought my stuff back to the room, and went in to confirmed my airport transfer - she confirmed Sue's first, but did mine as well, so I just told Sue not to bother going by. She and Jake and I went across the street (outside the resort on foot! past the taxi touts!) to the market/outdoor mall kinda thing. Jake got a good deal on coffee, Sue found a "spidermon" baby t-shirt, I grabbed a couple of magnets, for some reason not really into souvenirs (kinda got out of the habit on my last few big trips, this time especially I was hoping not to have to declare anything at customs so I could go through the Global Entry lane). Lots of encouragement to check out shops, but still laid back. The weather was still drizzly but warm.
Back into the resort, and I headed up to the room to showered and change, back to my purply sun dress but with the silk shawl to keep the damp off. Back in the lobby, I managed to convince all the cousins to pose for a picture, then called in the second cousins as well. I tried the Blue Flamingo drink, it was much more blue in person than the light purple picture that inspired the order. We all had dinner at the buffet, finding another dinner reservation that night for the group was too complex (supposedly you were only allowed to eat once at each restaurant in the week you were there). I chatted a bit with Kathy and Monica. They had jerk chicken being cooked on half oil barrel grills, it was good.
After dinner, we went up to the Port Royal pub with a big group. I had a Manhattan and convinced Jake to try a Negroni when he couldn't quite deal with Campari on the rocks - Richard liked the Negroni as well. Good conversations. Everyone left, and I was still awake, so I walked down to the adult beach area, then doubled back to the gazebo pier again. There were fruits/nuts on the decking, but no sign of bats that we think might have left them there (didn't see any tree dwelling furries). Went back to the room at 10:30, brought in my swimsuit that I'd left drying on the balcony and headed to bed.
I made my way to my departure gate (2) then headed back to get a bottle of rum cream after all, as well as some fruit and nut mix, a jalapeno Aunt Annie's pretzel and water. I gate checked my bag with the liquor in it (no charge). Then had to head back to gate 9 with both my bags to drop it off and wait again to board at the new gate. I didn't feel rushed since I planned to put my totebag under the seat, but everyone who moved gates lined up right away.
My transfer in Baltimore was 3 hours so lots of time to transfer, though I had to go through customs and immigration there. I finally finished "Factory Girls" on the plane to Baltimore (as usual, brought too many books with me, but I had expected to spend more time reading on the beach instead of napping). I was feeling oppressed by being surrounded by so many boisterous Americans in the airport, and was happy to get my noise cancelling headphones on.
We had a calm flight to BWI but I made the mistake of not getting up to
stretch, and limped my way to Immigration once we arrived. After all my
dithering, there wasn't a Global Entry kiosk anyway (maybe just for
Europe?). Luckily I didn't pause on my way there, the short line I joined
exploded behind me. Easy time getting through (family in Jamaica? what do
you do?), but almost got brained by a rifle case trying to get through the
Navy? flight that came in just before us. No problem at Customs though
they were distracted by the guns. Had to get staff to open up the baggage
re-check area, was a bit worried about the gate claim ticket but he
checked it and said "Boston" so I have hopes. Just outside of security,
there was a huge crowd welcoming the soldiers with cowbells and cheering
and clapping, my head was pounding a bit. I had a fairly long walk from
concourse E to B, and got asked why I don't go through the body scanner
when I got there. I was just pissy enough to answer (including data
privacy points) and the TSA agent actually thanked me. I got groped really
badly during my opt out pat down, she could have told if I'd been on my
period. :-( I made a restroom stop (breathe, calm down) and made it to my
gate. Had some ice cream at Baskin Robbins and got onto the plane while
eating it, not sure where all the time went. It was a smooth flight again,
and short, and I finished "Guardians of the Dead" on the T home. Blue line
to Green line to bus, and it was chilly, I dug out my rain jacket to add
on top of my sweater that I'd worn for the plane ride.