Around Jamaica - Kingston and Goat Islands
After a delicious fish meal at Little Ochi on Alligator Pond on the border of St Elizabeth and Manchester, and a chat with Blackie, the founder and CEO of this very popular seafood restaurant, we set out for the ride to Kingston.
Luckily, we leave well before sunset as there are many picturesque villages to see as we meander north towards Gutters. From there, we climb Spur Tree Hill and drive through cool Mandeville, always watching out for the signs for the new highway that will take us to Kingston, our next stop.
The fairly new expressway is a magic carpet ride, and in just over 90 minutes after entering the highway, we arrive at the Altamont Court Hotel in New Kingston.
The Altamont is a wonderful surprise. I've stayed there before, but this time, there are lovely new upgrades to the rooms, the pool area, the dining room, the parking area, and the front reception. We are shown to the Alexander Suite, the most lavish, spacious and beautifully appointed accommodation I've seen in Kingston in ages.
The bathroom alone, with its rainforest shower, Jacuzzi, double face basins, and ample closet space is larger than most standard-size rooms in Kingston. And the very attractive four poster mahogany bed with exquisite furnishings and amenities you'd expect with premium accommodation.
Catching up with Patra
A delicious Jamaican breakfast of ackee, calalloo and fried Johnny cakes starts off the day, and a thoughtful staff member prepares a basket of freshly picked mangoes for hotel guests every morning from a nearby tree when the fruit is in season.
"Daveeee, a you dat?" Someone is ringing my name like a church bell. I immediately recognised the voice. It was former dance hall diva Patra, who was an American sex symbol in the 1990s at Epic/Sony Music with her blistering music videos and her gold-selling album. I had not seen Patra in ages, and she is as bubbly and as busy as ever. We caught up, and she shared some of the exciting plans she had for dining and entertainment in the city and its suburbs.
Kingston is a metropolis with a dazzling array of fun activities, and on Monday, we begin with the Bob Marley Museum, the 56 Hope Road two-storey wooden structure that was once the residence of global reggae superstar Bob Marley. This excellent tour journeys through the remarkable life of the Jamaican music icon, and you can actually hear the flutter of your own heartbeat when the tour guide points to the spot where Marley was shot, the bullet holes still intact.
The tour guide wasted no time in reminding his group that we were retracing the footsteps of US President Obama, who visited the museum earlier in the year.
After a few purchases at the end of the tour, we run down the road to Ardenne High School to pay my friend Nadine Molloy a visit. School was in session, but we stuck our heads into a few classes, and we saw a few science labs and a new documentation centre. You could hear a pin drop. My New York friends were astonished that hundreds of teenagers could be so focused and so disciplined at school. The calm here is in stark contrast to the chaos in New York City schools, where metal detector checks are often mandatory before teenagers have access to the school compound.
We had a tasty lunch at the Triple Century Sports Bar & Grill, a trendy spot owned by cricketer Chris Gayle, where you'll find an amazing seafood soup. Then we headed to downtown Kingston for a visit to the National Gallery of Art on Orange Street.
We were warmly greeted by the very knowledgeable and passionate assistant curator Monique Barnett-Davidson, who conducted an excellent tour that traversed various periods of jaw-dropping creativity and innovation in Jamaican art. The gallery is a treasure house of the finest representation of Jamaican art and artefacts, some pieces dating back to the time of native Tiano Indians in 1,000 AD, but the majority of the collection representing 20th-century works from the early genius of Dunkley, Kapo, and Edna Manley to more recent standouts that include Barrington Watson, Everald Brown, Albert Huie, Carl Abrahams, Colin Garland, Milton George, Karl Parboosingh, and David Boxer.
To avoid the unfamiliar downtown Kingston traffic, we took a taxi from New Kingston to the National Gallery instead of driving. Wrong move. Upon leaving the gallery, a heavy shower of rain descended in bucket loads, and despite our best efforts to find a taxi back to New Kingston, none could be found. So we just made the most of this hurdle like true champions. With masked unease, we engaged a few passers-by on Orange Street in conversation as we watched evening turning to nightfall from our front-row sidewalk seat. But we're in Jamaica, so no problem. I carefully guarded my photographic possessions so they wouldn't get wet.
Eventually, prayers are answered. A taxi appears and we are whisked back to New Kingston through traffic-free back roads. After dinner and some rest, we headed at 3 a.m. to the international all-night street party near Half-Way-Tree called Uptown Mondays.
The visit to the street dance was brief but enlightening. Scores of flawlessly dressed revellers paraded up and down a pathway that cut through a thick crowd, some showing off their daring outfits and some showing off the latest dance moves. Others, like us, were simply gawking. The energy in the dance was ultra-hype, like Macy's Herald Square on Christmas eve. "This ya body a go sell off tonite," an attractive, voluptuous female in her 20s chanted confidently to no one in particular as she wiggled and slapped her hips. Without warning, she did a seductive dip and twirl in her tight black leather, flashing her Colgate smile.
At a nearby bar, young men were eagerly buying Guinness Stout by the 24-bottle case as if each brown bottle held a special blessing inside. A few high-profile artistes, some ancient, some modern, were working the crowd. Selfies like sand! But the video lights fell upon a group of six visiting Japanese girls who were creating waves with their choreographed dancehall moves. As the morning progressed, more party people poured in. The selector electrified the crowd with a barrage of hits, accompanied by sustained applause of approval. Everyone at Uptown Mondays appeared happy and felt validated. Everyone felt like a 'Big Deal'. We were the only ones leaving the party shortly after 4 a.m., but the early departure was inevitable. I had made elaborate plans to visit the Goat Islands later that morning and I could not allow the allure of the party to derail that rare opportunity.
Beautiful beach hideaway
The Goat Islands are actually made up of two islands joined by a network of mangrove, and it is indeed a beautiful beach hideaway that is located a few miles south of Old Harbour Bay. Nowadays, the island is very much in the news because of interest from the Chinese, who want to turn the islands into a logistical hub, but Jamaicans have been visiting for recreation for decades.
We left out early in the morning from a fishing beach at Old Harbour Bay in a canoe guided by an experienced boatman, Charles Moodie. Six of us spent the day exploring the island by foot and boat, learning about the plants, trees, birds, and wildlife on this island that was once a US army base (along with Vernamfield) during World War II in the 1940s. There are also many remains from the war period - an aqueduct, a water well, a sea plane landing strip, several piers, the remains of a military hospital, and a lot more.
We totally enjoyed relaxing on this tranquil island of unsurpassed beauty. The air was clean and rejuvenating. The only sounds we heard were the bleating of goats who inhabit the island, and the sweet melodies of birds, some of whom come from as far away as Canada to spend the colder months on the islands.
The goats, in whose honour the islands are named, are mysterious. You hear them but you never actually see them as they hide out in the impenetrable interior, so no curry in a hurry. Our guide highlighted the important role the islands play in protecting the shoreline of St. Catherine and Clarendon, especially during periods of high tides, floods, and hurricanes.
It is important to note that those wishing to visit Goat Islands must secure permission in advance from the Urban Development Corporation (UDC) at (876) 922-8310 or risk being prosecuted.
NEXT: OCHO RIOS AND THE CENTRAL NORTH COAST