I can’t help but look at this picture of John (from whom I bought a small wooden turtle, for my godson) and smile. Not in that patronising “look, I found myself a cute friend at the market” way, but for what you can’t see, out of shot. His friend and her newly born grandson, Joshua – meek, moist and mewling at just 8 days old; my own 30th birthday, lending what felt like a seminal, clichéd coming-of-age haze to this day; and Jamaica, gorgeous Jamaica, cementing itself (and the Caribbean) as one of my absolute favourite destinations.
We were ostensibly in Jamaica for the wedding of two close friends, in Montego Bay, but in truth, the trip provided me with an excuse to get my husband to Jamaica, so that he could experience the magic I discovered two years ago, when on holiday in Negril and Treasure Beach. As I had been before, I resisted the urge to return to Jakes – heavenly as it was, with it’s 1994 Tatler award gathering dust on the wall – and instead, organised us a trip to Jamaica Inn (not to be confused with Daphne du Maurier’s Jamaica Inn, in Cornwall), in Ocho Rios. It was a close call; I’d also heard lots about Geejam in Port Antonio and Strawberry Hill, in the Blue Mountains, but the pretty pale blue facade of Jamaica Inn with its dreamy open verandas, swung it for the thirties novelist in me. Can’t you just imagine Agatha Christie, sitting with her type-writer, by the croquet lawn- a rum summin’ by her side?
The term ‘faded luxury’ very much applies at Jamaica Inn. If you are looking for a party, this is not the place to come. If you are looking for a very pretty, very gentle affair – which we were, after a raucous few days – then you’ve found your happy place. From afternoon croquet matches to early evening cocktails over a board game, segueing into ballads over dinner, Jamaica Inn encourages you to slow down. Sometimes, it can feel a little too slow, but then that’s Jamaica’s want. There’s a reason why things are done on ‘Jamaica time’ and in our frenzied western world of scoffing a sandwich on the tube whilst simultaneously replying to 487 e-mails, that’s no bad thing.
We organised our trip to Jamaica Inn with the help of Visit Jamaica. It took around 2.5 hours to get from Montego Bay to Ocho Rios and the journey was fascinating – we passed hotel complex after hotel complex, with ‘jerk centres’ (our driver admitted that he had no idea why they were called centres, rather than restaurants) aplenty.
The best thing about Jamaica Inn is the brilliant set-up: bungalows with open verandas frame the property so that you are either looking on to the pristine white beach, like this one below, or on to a fully-functioning croquet lawn (I told you it was old-school.) There’s something really lovely, especially for the incurably nosy, like me, about wandering down a line of rooms seeing everyone sitting outside reading, or playing a game, or drinking an afternoon cocktail. Initially, we were put in one of the cottages, which is much larger but also very noisy (as you are right next to the crashing sea, so the shutters rattle all night long) so I’d actually recommend the smallest, cosiest room you can find – a particular comfort during a downpour (we had pretty iffy weather.)
The staff are brilliant – occasionally stern, but generous with their time and resources – and I was very touched by my birthday cake, particularly when its delivery was accompanied with this, from a waiter, “eat a little cake, smoke a little weed, make a little love.” Having breakfast waffles and smoothies served on the beach was real highlight, as were the midday cocktails each day, which were complimentary, like the British-style ‘high tea’ (one of many colonial touches are still very much in evidence.) Little things like complimentary snacks make all the difference to a greedy holidaymaker like yours truly.
The one caution I would add is that the food at Jamaica Inn is decent, but not excellent (in the way that Caribbean food really can be. I will forever remember the jerk shrimp and apple martinis at Catcha Falling Star in Negril) and it’s also very expensive. There is a delicious restaurant nearby, however, called Miss T’s, which we really enjoyed. The decor and colour palette is suitably ‘Jamaican’, for those who like to feel absorbed wholesale by a clime.
There was plenty to do in the fairly immediate vicinity. My only gripe on that front is that we were only there for 3 days and so couldn’t do it all. If we had had a little longer, I’d have happily ventured an hour or two away to the Bob Marley Museum and to Firefly, the author Noel Coward’s Jamaican abode (Jamaica Inn can pack you a picnic to take.) I was allowed to choose what we did on my birthday, so I made us spend hours at the local craft market, where my husband bought me these supremely fabulous earrings, below. A total steal at $5. I didn’t buy a ton (finally past that ‘holiday trinket’ phase that suffused my entire teen-hood) but I really enjoyed meeting the various stall purveyors. It’s crass to generalise, but I find the Jamaican people so witty and calming. I wonder if it’s a Caribbean thing. I hope I get to travel there again, so I can find out.
Ocho Rios is known for its waterfalls. We were torn between Dunn’s River Falls and the Blue Hole, eventually opting for a trip to the Blue Hole, above. I was dying to visit the Luminous Lagoon, in Port Antonio, but sadly there were only so many expensive taxis we could justify and it was around 2 hours away. It is worth noting, with Ocho Rios being such a tourist hot spot, that transfers are super expensive (around $75 return for most trips) though they are organised very well through Jamaica Inn. The Blue Hole was a great experience thanks to the brilliant local guide. They don’t charge a fee, but you are expected to tip them – and you’ll find it hard to get into the falls/Hole without one (mainly because it’s seen as impolite, given that this is how the boys make their living.) For the brave, there are various cliff jumps and rope swings that you can do and fortuitously, for the Dutch courage required, several bars along the way.
The biggest highlight of all, was my (unplanned) birthday treat. A couple of hundred Hawksbill sea turtles hatched on nearby Gibraltar beach and, accompanied by a warden — important note for Instagram police — we washed the turtles in the sea (they look like sandy bits of crushed egg when they are dug out of their hole in the ground), so that they could be counted, before putting them down, sea-facing, so that they may waddle in to the sea. I’ve never seen something quite so sweet as a newly hatched baby turtle. They look somehow grumpy and esoteric despite being just moments old. The turtle-hatching tours are organised by Mel Tennant, a retired British teacher who relocated to the north coat of Jamaica in 2003 and is now, thanks to his efforts in ‘hatchling protection’, known as The Turtle Man. Through education, Tennant has encouraged locals to stop digging up turtle eggs, on both Gibraltar beach and Golden Eye Beach, in Oracabessa. It was, truly, one of the most joyful birthday activities of my life.
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