On June 10, John flew to Montego Bay, Jamaica, on his third business trip of the year. Over the next five days, Mary and I meticulously prepared for our own departure: we packed our clothes and our carry-on items, watched the weather in Mo-Bay, and finalized our travel plans, in hopes that our trip would go off without a hitch. After all, this would be the first time that I would have to fly alone with Mary - and it was an international flight on top of that. I didn't want anything to go wrong.
Naturally, the trip had every potential of going wrong. For one thing, when I booked our flight through Travelocity.com, I was unable to get two seats together on the Charlotte to Mo-Bay leg of our journey. It wasn't until the day before our departure that I was able to change our seats so that Mary and I were seated together! Second, I worried that I was going to run into trouble traveling alone with Mary; although I did have a notarized letter of consent from John that I had permission to travel alone with Mary, I still had a nagging fear in the back of my mind that someone would give me grief about it. (After all, I had problems before, when the last name on my passport didn't match Mary's! Of course, I had recently renewed my passport and our last names now match...)
The day of our departure finally arrived, and it was a busy one. We weren't scheduled to fly out until 11:15 p.m. on the evening of June 15; so I went to work as normal, and Mary went to day care. After work, Mary went to her regularly-scheduled Pom & Cheer lesson, so as not to miss more than one lesson during the term. Once that ended, we were officially on vacation!
We arrived at home at 6:30 to find that my best friend Suzanne and her daughter Katie had arrived; they would not only be taking us to the airport, but they would also be house-sitting for us while we were on vacation. Now that she was living in Phoenix again but did not yet have a permanent residence, she had been volunteering to house-sit for anyone who went on vacation. She had just finished a stint at Debbie's house that day, while the Browns were in San Diego; now that they were back, it was our turn.
Before leaving for the airport, the four of us went to dinner at Rubio's, down the street. After dinner, we returned to the house and loaded up our luggage into the back of Suzanne's Highlander. Our luggage included two suitcases, my laptop case, and Mary's backpack of toys and books. (I felt that it was important to pack as light as possible, to make it easier on us.) Then, with Mary in her pajamas and me in very comfortable clothes, we left for the airport.
We arrived shortly after 9:00 p.m., a little more than two hours before our flight. As we approached the US Airways counter, we discovered that the line was very short, so it only took us about ten minutes before we were checking in. That was when I learned something interesting...something that could have ended our trip abroad before we had even left, had we been traveling elsewhere. Upon viewing Mary's passport, the ticket counter agent noticed that it was about to expire. (At first, she thought that it WAS expired, but she caught her mistake right away.)
"That's okay," I told her. "It won't expire until after we return."
"Yes," she said, "but some countries require that you have a passport good for six months following your return."
Well, I thought, I didn't know that! I never saw anything about THAT on the State Department's website!
"The good news is," she continued, "Jamaica is not one of them. You're okay to travel."
Whew! That was a relief!
She issued our boarding passes and took our two pieces of luggage, so with that, Mary and I proceeded to Security. Once again, we were fortunate to have a short line; it took us only ten minutes to make it through the Security checkpoint.
Once past Security, Mary and I took our time looking for our gate; after all, we still had an hour before our flight was due to board. We purchased a few snacks for the flight at one of the airport shops; we also took some time to go to the restroom. Then, we sat at the gate and waited for the boarding call...
...and about twenty minutes before boarding, Mary fell asleep on my lap. I can't say I wasn't surprised, though, because she was very tired. I was just grateful that she wasn't grumpy, too!
I woke her up when the gate opened, and when pre-boarding was announced, Mary and I were the first ones in line. We immediately found our seats - the first row, just behind first class - and I helped Mary get comfortable so that she could go back to sleep. It didn't take long for her to do so; she was asleep before the plane pulled away from the gate.
It was a four hour flight to Charlotte, during which time I slept for maybe two to two and a half hours. Mary, on the other hand, slept the whole time, and when we landed, at 6:00 a.m. local time, she was quite refreshed.
Mary and I made our way across the Charlotte airport to the next gate, where we would catch our flight to Montego Bay, at 8:00 a.m. Once we found our gate, we looked for a restaurant close by where we could get a little breakfast while we waited for the boarding call. We also called John to let him know that we had landed in Charlotte, safe and sound.
That was when John gave me instructions on what I needed to do to go through Customs, once we reached Montego Bay. Having been through Customs there three times now, he was becoming a bit of an expert at it. He explained that, during my flight to Mo-Bay, I would receive a Customs card, which I would need to fill out before we landed. After landing, we would be sent on a very long walk through the airport to the Point of Entry, where we would have our passports inspected and stamped. Next, we would have to walk down another long hallway to baggage claim, where we would gather our luggage. Finally, we would go through another Customs checkpoint, this time with our bags. "And you'll be doing all of this with no air-conditioning," he warned. Lovely!
Our flight boarded at 7:30 a.m. - on time. Once again, Mary and I were first in line when they called for pre-boarding. We settled into our seats and waited for the plane to take off. By this time, Mary was wide awake and ready to play with the toys and books that she had brought along in her backpack. That lasted until about ten minutes after take-off, when she decided to put everything away and go back to sleep.
As for me...well, I was wide awake by then, so I worked on my laptop for most of the three-hour flight to Montego Bay. I also filled out my Customs & Immigration Card, so that I would be ready for my trip through Customs.
Our flight took off ten minutes late from Charlotte, but surprisingly, we landed exactly on time in Montego Bay. As the plane came in for a landing, I caught my first glimpse of Jamaica: lush, green trees, luxurious beach resorts, and, of course, the sparkling teal Caribbean Sea. It was so beautiful that I couldn't wait to get out of the airport to see it in person!
Upon landing (at 10:00 a.m.), we got off of the plane and followed the crowd through a very long hallway, towards the Point of Entry. When we entered the room, through the sliding glass door, a tall uniformed woman asked if we had completed our cards. Throngs of people were held up at the entrance, struggling to fill in their information; Mary and I, on the other hand, were sent right into the line. After only a five minute wait, we approached one of the Customs officials, who stamped our passports and allowed us to proceed towards baggage claim.
We were told that our bags would be coming off of the first carousel; but after waiting for ten minutes, without finding our bags, another gentleman came in to tell us that the bags from US Airways were in the next room and had already been unloaded. Sure enough, there they were, already neatly arranged next to the carousel. One of the baggage handlers helped me get my luggage onto a Smarte Carte, and once we were set, Mary and I went to stand in one final line. Here, we turned in our Customs & Immigration Card and received our Exit Visas, which we would have to turn in when it was time to leave Jamaica. We were not sent for inspection, so Mary and I were now free to leave the Customs area and proceed into the airport.
And it had taken us only thirty minutes! Not bad! Despite what John had told us, it was a very easy process.
As we approached the exit, we could see John waiting for us on the other side of the doors. Mary called out, "Daddy!" and before I knew it, she was running out the doors towards him. In seconds, she had jumped into his arms and was squeezing him tight, much to the delight and admiration of the various taxi-cab drivers and rental car personnel who were watching the scene.
Once Mary had finished her greeting, John helped gather our luggage, and he led us to his rental car, which was parked nearby. The car - a "sexy" silver Toyota Yaris - was a tiny car, with right-hand drive and - thankfully - air-conditioning! Oh yes, it was hot and humid, as promised. Hot and sticky, much like South Carolina had been last summer. But I was okay with it...as long as we had air-conditioning!
We left the airport and started towards the Coyaba Beach Resort, which was ten minutes away. That was when John introduced me to the "fun" of driving in Jamaica. There is nothing fun about driving in Jamaica. First of all, you drive on the left, just as you would in England. (Of course, that's a remnant from Jamaica's history, when it was once a British colony.) The streets, however, are chock full of potholes, and there is construction everywhere, making driving hazardous to both vehicle and rider. Add to that the crazy taxi-cab drivers (the ones with the red license plates), and you have an experience that far exceeds Mexico when it comes to dangerous conditions. It would take me several days to get used to it...and even then, I still didn't have the courage to drive it for myself!
We arrived at the Coyaba Beach Resort at 11:00 a.m. The Coyaba was the hotel where John had been staying during the business portion of his trip, and we would be staying there for the first three nights of our vacation, too. Prior to arriving, John had talked to the front desk to see if we could just stay in the same room, so that he didn't have to move his belongings. They were happy to help, and so when we arrived, all I had to do was sign for the room and we were set!
We brought our luggage up to our room and took a few moments to rest and get settled. While I busied myself with the bags, Mary impatiently watched television; she really wanted to go swimming and didn't want to wait for us to finish getting settled. I had to remind her that, until I could get the swimwear unpacked, she would have to wait.
It only took me a half an hour to get settled, and that was when we announced that it was time to go down to the beach; so we all put on our swimwear and headed outside.
The Coyaba Beach Resort, located in Mahoe Bay, near Ironshores, is an SLH - a Small Luxury Hotel - with only fifty rooms. The hotel has a spa, two restaurants, a bar, a tennis court, a pool, and even an activity yard for kids. (As we discovered, there are not many hotels in Montego Bay that cater to children; this one did.) It also had a private beach with a lagoon. The lagoon was surrounded by a low retention wall that kept the breakers out, creating a calm and clear body of water that was perfect for swimming.
In the middle of the lagoon was a boat dock, with large, brightly colored wooden chairs. Here, people can sit on the dock and read a book or watch the sunset. John pointed out to us that it was also the perfect place to look at sea creatures. Here, the water was so clear that you could see fish swimming around and sting rays gliding along the sand and rocks at the bottom.
After finishing our tour of the resort, Mary announced that she wanted to go swimming in the pool. No surprise there; she had just finished two weeks of swimming lessons and had excelled, so she was ready to go. We spent a half an hour in the pool, which was very refreshing in the hot and humid air; then, we went to lunch.
Since we didn't feel like changing clothes to go somewhere nice, we put on our beach covers and stepped over to the bar, which was called Docks. Docks had a small lunch menu that included a number of American dishes as well as some traditional Jamaican food. They also had a long list of rum drinks. Now, I'm not one for rum drinks, but I had to try one because Jamaica is famous for its rum. John and I each ordered a banana-rum drink that was quite tasty and went down smoothly...so we had another...and another...and another...
...And by the time lunch was over, I was ready for a nap! The combination of the alcohol and the lack of sleep finally caught up with me, so I announced that I wanted to go back up to the room for a short snooze. John thought that was a good idea, and so all three of us returned to the room for a nap.
When we awoke two hours later, we were thoroughly refreshed and ready to go again.
As is customary on Verley vacations, we often like to buy supplies of food and beverages (sodas, juice, and beer) to keep in our hotel room. John had been keeping the small refrigerator in the room stocked while he was there on business, but he had depleted his supplies and suggested that we go to the store for more. So, we went to the closest convenience store, located about five minutes from the hotel, in Ironshores. There, we bought a six-pack of Red Stripe Light (Jamaica's national beer), some Coca-Cola Light (Diet Coke to us Americans), some ginger beer (like ginger ale, but with a lot more ginger in it), and a fruity concoction called Ting, which Mary came to enjoy. (She also loved the ginger beer, despite the overwhelming amount of ginger in it.) In addition to the beverages, John also purchased some ginger cookies that were quite tasty; again, like the ginger beer, they were loaded with ginger. "Between the cookies and the ginger beer, we won't be sick for a year!" I said to John.
By the time we returned to the hotel, it was getting close to dinner time. We had discovered that it was Native Night at the resort, which meant that the Docks Bar would be opening at 6:00 p.m. for dinner. They would be serving authentic Jamaican cuisine for dinner, and there would also be a live Reggae band playing on the dock. That would be a perfect way to spend our first night in Jamaica!
Authentic Jamaican cuisine is more than just jerked chicken or pork. John had already experienced some of their different dishes during his first two trips to the country, while eating lunch with his employees at the cantina next to the ACS building in Montego Bay. He had already tried ackee and saltfish (the fruit of the ackee tree, mixed with cooked fish), as well as rice and peas and curried goat. Since he already knew more about the food than the rest of us, he acted as sort of a tour guide to the various foods that we were about to try.
So what did Native Night have to offer? Well, at first, we were served an appetizer platter containing ackee and saltfish, fried plantains (tostones), escoveitch fish, and festival (fried balls of cornmeal that tasted just like hush puppies). Next, John and I both had jerk pork, made in the traditional way, with the bones still in the meat. This dish was served with rice and peas (beans) and steamed veggies. And to drink, of course, we had Red Stripe beer.
Mary, on the other hand, ate from the kid's menu: she had pizza! She did, however, try some of the different foods from our plate and decided that she liked the ackee and saltfish the best. She also didn't hesitate to try some of the various Jamaican desserts that were set up buffet-style near the bar! There was bread pudding, a sugar-coated chocolate cake, and other wonderfully sinful items to try.
We finished eating dinner around 8:00 p.m., which, of course, was Mary's bedtime. After we paid the bill, the three of us slowly ambled back to our room, where we retired for the evening. Despite the nap that we had taken during the afternoon, we were all very tired, and we all went to sleep at the same time...
Return to Jamaica!
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