International Travel

Jamaica Trip – Montego Bay

In early March we took a trip to Montego Bay, Jamaica.  It was the annual “Best in Class” trip for the top performers of the company and I was number one in 2016 for my division so was invited to go.  I’d won two times in the past but the event was previously held in Cancún, Mexico.  At first, I was a little disappointed that the event was switched to Jamaica because I’ve spent time in Mexico, speak Spanish and know where to go/what to do.

The last time I was was in 2013, I missed it 2014, 2015 because they took much less people, not because I did worse!  In 2013 we went a week early and stayed on Isla Mujeres.  My favorite part about that island is you can rent a golf car and drive around the island.  There is also Garrafon which is really like play time for adults.

So yes, I was disappointed we weren’t going back to Mexico but then I changed my mind.  I had never been to Jamaica so this would give me the opportunity to explore a part of the world in which I’d never been.  I did my research, read up on the history and planned out what to do and see.  Unlike most tourists to sun drenched, beach locales, I take the time to study the history and want to also visit the historical sights in addition to drinking on a beach.  I learned about the history of Jamaica and was satisfied a few days in advance with what I’d learned and that I’d get the most out of this trip.

Montego Bay from the airplane

Upon arrival we looked for a representative from the MoBay lounge which is a special service one can purchase.  It gives the traveler expedited passage through immigration and customs and to an exclusive, VIP lounge with all the amenities including drinks.  It is pricey with arrival service being $50 per person and departure service $30.  The arrival service is only worth it if customs/immigration is crowded.  Reading the forums I learned that on Saturday the wait can take up to two hours so MoBay is absolutely worth it in that case.  For us however, we arrived on Thursday morning and it wasn’t crowded at all.  The main lounge also wasn’t open but a very tiny one instead.  So as to try and get a little of my money’s worth we sat down in the lounge and drank one cup of the free rum and punch.  We had to gulp it down because the shuttle was leaving soon and we only had five minutes.  The departure lounge was totally worth it in my opinion and I’ll get to that at the end of this post.

My Google Maps review of Mobay: Click Here

From there it was on to the Hyatt Ziva Hotel.  We got a very good room with a bedroom as well as living room, two bathrooms and a nice view.  Before I visit a hotel I always ensure I’m enrolled in their loyalty program so they give me a better room.  In my profile I state that I prefer higher rooms because I like the view.  At the Hyatt Ziva however, the lowest rooms are the best in my opinion because it looks like the majority of them have a plunge pool.  I would have definitely used the plunge pool but it wasn’t such a big deal because they have three gorgeous pools right outside.  Two are at Hyatt Ziva (for families) and one just next door at Hyatt Zilara (adults only.)

View from the Hyatt Ziva terrace

We arrived around noon and spent the rest of the day as well as all of Friday in the all-inclusive resort.

All-inclusive resorts are absolutely fabulous, gorgeous and wonderful but they have one major downfall:  they are all very similar wherever you go in the world and are a barrier to the culture and country you’re in; everyone speaks English, there is plenty of Western food, and every whim and wish is catered to.  Experiencing a new culture and country by staying at an all-inclusive is akin to swimming by just dipping your toe in the water then going home. For me, I like to experience the exhilaration and shock of diving right in to the cold water from the highest board.  It makes me feel so alive as my body adjusts to the sudden change of temperature that a wide smile comes on my face and I’m so happy to be in the pool.

Yes, I prefer to stay away from the resorts and experience a culture/country directly, taking the good with the bad.  But I also know how to enjoy my circumstances and this was not difficult to do at the Hyatt Ziva.  I had a plan to experience Jamaica and put that into effect on Saturday.

All of my colleagues either went on one of the guided excursions or stayed in the resort.  For my wife and I, we went our own way but needed transportation.  I asked the concierge and true to form as all-inclusives do, they wanted to charge me an arm and a leg for half a day of fancy taxi-service.  The boss-lady gave me a quote of $155 and then generously knocked it down to $150 as she could see I was a bargaining man.  I told her that I had experience overseas and had no qualms about walking out to the road and hailing a taxi.  It fell on deaf ears and I hate getting ripped off so I let it drop.

I then just looked up Jamaica taxi services on my phone and quickly learned that half a day would still be expensive at $100.  So, I went to the bell hop I’d gotten along with and asked if he had any friends that wanted to make some money.  He said his buddy Mike would do it for $100 and I accepted as this seemed to be the going rate.  On Saturday Mike’s Taxi showed up and to my surprise it was a really nice 12 passenger van – made in Japan!  Mike’s real name was Kimani and he was awesome:  he gave us so much information, took us to additional interesting places we didn’t know about and was a lot of fun to be around.

The first place I requested the Rose Hall Great House where I had a reservation for a tour.  I had expected there to be more tourists but we were the only ones on that tour, seeing only one other group the entire time we were there.  Rose Hall is of historical importance and a popular place due to the legend of a ghost which haunts it.  I won’t rehash it here as I’ve already given it its own post – Rose Hall Great House.

Rose Hall Great House

After the tour it was around 11:00 AM and I thought we should get lunch before we started driving around seeing different parts of Montego Bay. We did do a quick stop at the “Shops at Rose Hall” but everything was severely overpriced so we didn’t linger.  I remembered our taxi driver from the airport saying there was an excellent restaurant just down the street and Kimani confirmed.  The place is called Scotchies and is absolutely delicious.  Scotchies is not an enclosed restaurant but rather a collection of huts, a few with grills under them and a standard third world, small, two story building.  We all had lunch and I invited Kimani to join us.  In Jamaica the most represented food is jerked chicken or beef.  We ordered both and Kimani told me to be careful with the green sauce as it is very spicy.  I like spicy so was not afraid.  This sauce I tell you was the only one in the world that has actually given me hiccups.  I only had two bites and the hiccups started which took a lot of concentration to stop.  My eyes watered and my face turned red but the sauce was delicious and I did not stop eating it.

After Scotchies Kimani gave us a tour through both a rich and poor neighborhood.  What surprised me is that the houses there look like small palaces!  In the rich neighborhoods they are very nice and clean palaces while in the poor neighborhoods they are less nice and many of them incomplete.  Kimani told me that the people will work, save money and continue to build as the money becomes available.  Yes, in the ‘poor’ neighborhood there is trash on the side of the road and even a herd of goats ran in front of us going to eat at the trash pile but I have to say, the neighborhood wasn’t ‘poor’ like one would find in a village in the Mekong Delta; it was pretty good even by American standards as I’ve seen worse in the dead coal mining downs along the Ohio river.

Next, he took us to a place I didn’t know about called the Richmond Hill Inn.  This was a wonderful, old style hacienda like house built on top of the largest hill in in Montego Bay.  The view was very nice.

The Richmond Hill Inn is where we’ll stay if we ever return to Montego Bay.  This place is historical, beautiful and will give an authentic experience.  The first thing I did was sit at the beautiful, quaint bar and order a rum drink to help me soak in the ambiance around me.  Just like Rose Hall we seemed to be the only tourists in the place and again, only saw one other group later on.  If I ever do stay here I’d like to spend time at the pool, drink plenty of rum and survey the city while reading up on more history.

And speaking of history, our next stop was Sam Sharpe square.  I learned that in 1833 the British Crown abolished slavery throughout its empire. However, the white plantation owners didn’t tell the slaves as their estates and lives would crumble without the free labor.  Sam Sharpe – the national hero of Jamaica – was one of the very few educated slaves and he learned of this secret that was being kept from the Jamaican slaves. He led the rebellion which eventually lead to freedom and was duly executed by those wonderful British who have always had such a great reputation in taking care of the natives in lands they colonized.

“I would rather die among yonder gallows, than live in slavery.” – Sam Sharpe

And so, I wanted to pay tribute to this very brave man whose heroics led to better lives for the majority of inhabitants in Jamaica. He has a statue in downtown Montego Bay.

Sam Sharpe Square

After the square it was to St. James Parish church which is the oldest church in Montego Bay.  There is a graveyard out front and reading the inscriptions one sees that everyone is white and many died young.  That they are all white is evident in only rich plantation owners could afford such nice graves and the fact that many died early is due to yellow fever which often swept through the island.  Many of them didn’t make it past thirty and one or two of the graves were for children.  Reading the inscription on an old grave is one thing but trying to imagine the pain of the day in which they were interred is quite another.  Then imagining the pain and suffering many buried here inflicted on their slaves is another thing entirely.

St. James Parish Church

All memories, all people and all deeds are washed away by the march of time.  The pain, suffering and tears which took place at that very spot are dissipated with no one left to remember them until they become a small mote in the imagination of a tourist reading a barely legible inscription on a broken, weather-worn grave.

Rosa Palmer’s grave

There is a connection with this graveyard and the Rose Hall Great House we visited first.  Rosa Palmer, one of the proprietors of Rose Hall is buried in this graveyard.  Coming out of the church, hers is the third on the right, closest to the walkway.  As I explain in my post about the Rose Hall Great House, Benjamin Radford, a well known skeptic says the ‘ghost’ of Annie Palmer is fictitious; Annie did not exist and the legend that she killed her three husbands comes from the fact that the very real Rosa Palmer did have three husbands but she was very well regarded as shown by her epitaph made by John Bacon (the elder), a famous English sculptor.

Rosa Palmer epitaph – St. James Parish, Montego Bay, Jamaica

One interesting thing that stands out in this memorial is that the letter ‘f’ is substituted for the letter ‘s.’  The guide at the church told us that the aristocratic planters thought the letter ‘s’ too difficult to pronounce.  Imagine how difficult they might find a day in the life of a slave if they found making the sound of the letter ‘s’ too difficult!

After St. James we went to a souvenir shop and I learned that many of these places are run by Indians (India) who make up a small percentage of the population in Jamaica.  They let us taste different rums and then sold us severely overpriced rum.  I should have known better:  rum and other similar consumables are best bought at the duty free shop.  They charged us twice the regular price and I’m upset with myself since I have a lot of experience and again, should have known better.  After this shop we also went to a few of the locals huts where they all insist you step into their little hut to buy some trinkets.  The tourist dollars are their lively hood and so I couldn’t help but part with some money especially when I saw a little girl around two years old peacefully sleeping on a bamboo mat in one of the huts.  She was a precious little angel and so I bought something I didn’t need from her mother.  It makes me feel much better to overpay something to locals who need it rather than those shifty Indians who have a reputation for being greedy.  I’m still mad the ripped me off and so if you go to Jamaica, do not shop at a place called “Bananna” something or other; I’m sure they change their name from time to time so it probably doesn’t even matter what they are called now.  I have them geotagged here and plan to pay them a friendly visit next time I’m in town:  Google Maps Geotag.

In any case, it was a very successful day and I’m really happy about how everything went.  Here is a map of the day.

Finally, it was time to return home.  Immigration was still were not very crowded but we had a couple of hours before our flight so the MoBay lounge was worth it this time.  I had a couple of coke and rum drinks then decided to be a little adventurous.  I asked for the first drink on the menu which turned out to be a “girls” drink and the bartender told me so.  Then the attractive older lady next to me must have been from Texas as she told me to “put my big boy pants on,” with a slight chuckle.  I told her I had had my big boy pants on for the past four days and was tired of pants!

This made her and the bartender laugh and the bartender took care of me with a special concoction twice more after that.  The older ladies husband came back and he looked like a sun damaged, wealthy yacht owner.  I wonder what their lives were like and guessed they lived in some rich Texas community from which they escape from time to time visiting their other home in the Caribbean.

Then we were home and the adventure was over.  Jamaica is a beautiful country full of wonderful people.  It is amazing to think of the change that little rock in the ocean has been through with its entire population changing dramatically over the past few centuries.  A place where the descendants of Africa roam in a sun filled existence, raising families, building small palaces and living an existence not unlike many places I’ve found in the third world.  The people and country are fantastic and we enjoyed our trip.

International Travel

Rose Hall Great House – Montego Bay Jamaica

Rose Hall Great House

As planned I took a tour of the Rose Hall Great House in Montego Bay, Jamaica.  This house is popular with tourists based on the legend of Annie Palmer the former proprietor who practiced voodoo, was a supposed witch and whose spirit is said to haunt the place.  There was a book written about her in 1929 by Herbert G. de Lisser but apparently this book is fiction and as skeptic Benjamin Radford states, if the book is fiction, then there was no Annie Palmer and therefore can be no ghost.

Even so I read the book anyway and wrote a post about it.  Even without a ghost I was very interested in the history of the place.  I tried to imagine what it must have been like for hundreds of slaves working the sugar cane fields in the hot Jamaican sun while the white owners sat in their big house and living a life of ease, boredom and monotony.  Every day must have been a trial:  for the slaves it would have been physical, working those fields day in and day out; for the white owners it would have been mental, sitting around all day with nothing to do, living a very boring existence where even doing nothing seems tedious.  I tried to feel the ghosts, pick up on any vibe, hear any whisper of the terrible things that occurred in the past but I felt nothing.  It was just a tour of a restored plantation house that focuses 95% of the story on the falsehood of Annie Palmer.

The first stop on the tour is in front of the house where a photographer takes your picture in order to sell you a framed copy at the gift shop after the tour.  He saw that I had the book, but it was an old version and had a different cover than the one they sell in their gift shop.  He said I was the first male he had met who had taken such an interest in the house; usually it was the women who dragged their husbands to the tour, not the other way around!  For me, I have a very intense interest in history and the past and am very content to go exploring by myself, sometimes I even prefer it, as I like to go at my own pace and take my time.

Rose Hall Dining Room

The thing about Rose Hall is it is completely restored and retains only four or five items from the original house.  The recreation is done beautifully however and I enjoyed the tour.  Even though the guide spoke almost completely about a non-existent  ghost, my mind was on two things:  the first was how incredibly bored the inhabitants of this house must have been; the second, how sad and terrifying it must have been for the slaves to be ripped from their tribes and families, shipped to this strange land and made to work in terrible conditions for the rest of their lives.  I thought about how we as humans still seem to be barbaric animals, not much different from the apes: terrible world wars with the most extreme atrocities continually occur; not long ago, otherwise very intelligent men and women thought it perfectly fine to enslave other human beings for their own profit; slavery ends yet my grandparents generation thought it ok to refer to colored people with the very hateful and hurtful word ‘nigger’; and yet the majority of humanity adheres to complete falsehood and fairy tale of religion which just happens to be a major cause of wars and whose adherents were also slaveholders!

To see the world as it truly is and to see the truth is not something one can share with most people.  They prefer to live in the reality that was taught to them from birth and have subsequently reinforced their entire lives.  Perhaps that is why it is so difficult to find really great knowledge: it is not that a few very wise people do not have it, rather it is that people who have learned incredible truths don’t feel like sharing as the majority of humanity apparently already knows everything and would get angry at any knowledge which contradicts.

But back to the tour, our tour guide Natasha was very informative.  I tried prodding her to tell me a little something extra about the history but the focus is on Annie and her ghost.  But Annie didn’t exist!  And it wouldn’t be nice to ruin the tour by continually bringing this up so I just enjoyed myself.

Annie Palmer’s bedroom

When we came to the grave that supposedly contained the body of Annie Palmer I had to ask: “Say, hypothetically, that Annie didn’t exist.  Who would be in this grave?”  Natasha wasn’t going for it and told me it was Annie in the grave.  This is an actual grave and I cannot imagine they just built it to reinforce the story about a ghost.  Somebody has to be in this grave and here is what we know:

  1. There was no Annie Palmer
  2. It seems to be an actual grave
  3. Everyone insists it is the grave of Annie Palmer who didn’t exist (see point one)

Does it not seem rather wrong to tell a story over a real persons grave in order to sell tourists tickets?

Somebody’s Grave

I haven’t been able to read Benjamin Radford’s account yet although I’ve tried to find it.  The reason I put my faith in his conclusion is that Annie Palmer supposedly had three husbands.  Well, there was a Rosa Palmer who also was a proprietor at this house and also had three husbands.  However, she was said to be a pious and virtuous (as much as a slaveholder can be I guess) person.  I found out that she is buried at St. James Parish Church in downtown, Montego Bay.  I had to pay it a visit.

Apparently I am the only tourist to ask our incredible driver Michael to visit this place.  Before going in I walked through the cemetery and noticed how old all the tombs were, mostly from the late 17 hundreds and early 18 hundreds.  Upon reading the inscriptions, all the graves seemed to be white people who had died very young with rarely one above 40 years old.  I was told that yellow fever took a terrible toll on the population in Jamaica and thus so many of those buried here had died young.  I surmised that only the white planters would have been able to afford a grave anyway, thus all the English names.

What a life that must have been, coming over from England to this hot, sun drenched rock, only to die after a few short years mostly spent concentrating on sugar cane production.

I entered the church and a wonderful elderly gentleman gave us a nice tour.  I found Rosa Palmer’s epitaph which confirmed what I had read in that she was pious and not a witch at all.

Rosa Palmer’s Epitaph – St. James Parish Church, Montego Bay, Jamaica

You’ll notice that they’ve written an ‘f’ in place of all the ‘s’ letters in every word.  The guide told me they did this because the white plantation owners found the ‘f’ sound more agreeable and easier to pronounce than the letter ‘s,’ so they replaced all the ‘s’ letters with ‘f.’  That sounds so bizarre to me and I think I would have a very difficult time researching this further.  I think the answer would only lie buried deep in some dusty tome regarding linguistic traits of 17th century English colonies in the Caribbean.  I just did a quick Google search and found this but doing a quick scan it says nothing about the ‘s’ to ‘f’ replacement.

Rosa Palmer’s grave

Anyway, I had found Rosa’s epitaph and the guide showed me her actual grave just outside.  When you exit the church Rosa Palmer’s grave is the third one on the right, closest to the walkway. This one was hard to read but I made out that she did live into her seventies.  You can see how much wear and tear this tomb has had and in just a few more generations will be nothing more than a pile of rocks.  We are born, we hang around for a while, we die and then time eventually washes away all traces of our existence.

Such deep thoughts make me need a drink!  Going back to the Great House the tour ends in the bar.  It was an absolutely lovely bar, seeped in a refurbished history.  How I would have loved to spend more time drinking there with either lively company or alone with my own thoughts.

Rose Hall Great House Bar

But the wife did not share the same affinity as I for neither history nor rum and was ready to go.  So I gulped down the touristy $7 ‘witches brew” rum drink and even splurged for the $2 souvenir witch glass mug.

Should I have the opportunity to visit Montego Bay again, I’d like to take the night tour and spend an hour or two alone, drinking and writing down my thoughts as I commune with the actual spirits of this place.  Nothing better than a warm Jamaican summer night, with a slight breeze and a couple of stiff rum drinks to hear the whispers of those who lived and suffered here.

Culture International

Little Apple – Chopstick Brothers – My favorite song of 2014

My FAVORITE song of 2014!!! TRULY EPIC!!! “Little Apple by the Chopstick Brothers. 本当に素敵この歌は。ビデオもおもしろい!!今年の一番 好きな歌になりました。 (>.<)/

Little Apple

I planted a seed
And finally it bore fruit
Today is a great day
To pluck the stars and give them to you
To pull down the moon and give it to you
And let the sun rise for you every day

(I would) turn into a candle and burn myself up
Just to cast light on you
Give everything of myself to you
As long as it made you happy
You make my every tomorrow
Become more meaningful
Although life is brief, my love for you is forever
Never to part, never to let go

You are my little, dear little apple
However I love you, it’s never too much
Small red face warming my heart
Lighting my life’s fire fire fire fire fire
You are my little, dear little apple
Just like the sky’s most beautiful clouds
Spring has come again and blooming flowers cover the hillsides
Planting hope, one is sure to reap reward

I never find you irritating
I like everything about you
Every day with you is fresh
With you, the sunlight is brighter
With you, the nights are not dark
You are the white clouds; I am the blue sky

Spring, strolling with you among the blossoming flowers
Summer, evenings with you watching the stars blink
Autumn, at dusk wandering with you in the golden fields of wheat
Winter, among the swirling snowflakes I am warmer with you there

You are my little dear little apple
However I love you, it’s never too much
Small red face warming my heart
Lighting my life’s fire fire fire fire fire
You are my little dear little apple
Just like the sky’s most beautiful clouds
Spring has come again and blooming flowers cover the hillsides
Planting hope, one is sure to reap reward

Google+ International Mexico Sunrise / Sunset / Moon

La salida del sol desde Templo Ix Chel

La salida del sol desde Templo Ix Chel.
Google+ International Mexico Sunrise / Sunset / Moon

おはいようござます!- Isla Mujeres Sunrise