From his many mission trips to the Yucatán, Barney had some idea of what to expect of both the climate and the accommodations in Jamaica. I had a general inkling that air conditioning would not be as universal as it is on the Gulf Coast, but I was unprepared for the actual conditions we observed.
On landing in Kingston we entered a building that did not appear to be cooled other than with ceiling fans. It was quite warm in the room where we stood in line to go through Immigration, though our discomfort was probably accentuated by our uncertainty about the proceedings. Having passed through Immigration, we proceeded to baggage claim and Customs. Although this area was cooled by fans of various sorts and also seemed to have some sort of air conditioning (as implied by the exposed ductwork crisscrossing the ceiling), it was only marginally more comfortable than the previous room. Still, it was noticeably cooler than the steamy outside. The Rover in which Evelyn transported us to the Russells’ was nicely air conditioned, and we assumed all cars would be, though that also proved to be untrue.
The Russells’ house was not air conditioned except for room air conditioners in the dining room and Grace’s office. This was typical of the places we visited in Jamaica. We visited few private homes (most of which were probably not air conditioned), but even most businesses were cooled only by fans and natural ventilation. Central air conditioning seemed to be very rare. Businesses that were air conditioned used modular units (the Dragon City restaurant had two or more in the room where we ate). Through Web research I’ve learned that these units are “split.” Unlike self-contained window units, these air conditioners have an outside compressor that serves one or more wall-mounted units inside. Both hotels we stayed at had these units, operated by a remote control with such a bewildering array of buttons (whose state was represented by equally cryptic LCD icons) that we never did figure them out. It was about all we could do to even get the AC to come on.
But that was irrelevant because for the most part we really did not need the air conditioning. Both hotels were designed to be naturally cooled, with glass or mahogany louvers on more than one side and ceiling fans that, combined with the natural sea breezes, were more than adequate. At Hibiscus Lodge, we did close up the room and turn on the AC, but only because the deafeningly amplified band at a wedding rehearsal party on the lawn at the front of the hotel disturbed us into the small hours.
The same was true at the Russells’. Albeit skeptical at first, we found that our bedroom, with its ceiling fan and mahogany louvers, became downright chilly in the early-morning hours. The entire house was designed for maximum cross-ventilation, with windows on all sides and louvered openings between rooms. Although it was just as hot and humid in Jamaica as in Fairhope, there was a constant sea breeze that made it pleasant most of the time.
I won’t say that we were never hot or didn’t sweat (though I’ve been equally uncomfortable in our lightly air-conditioned home), but usually it was possible to sit down under or in front of a fan with an iced drink and cool down. If that didn’t suffice, we could take a shower.
Which brings up another point: although hot water is certainly available in Jamaica, gas or electric water heaters are less common. The Russells, like most of their neighbors, had a solar water heater on the roof. Although this undoubtedly provided abundant hot water, it was not always available to us. When we arrived, Grace explained that, because of an inaccessible leak in the hot water line under the house, they kept the hot water turned off most of the time. Whenever we wanted to take a hot shower, we could turn it on. It seemed evident that this was a concession to our pampered lifestyle, and we were reluctant to request this luxury unless it was absolutely needed. Barney’s experience in Mexico had taught him that when you’re really hot, a “cold” shower is welcome, and in fact, in a hot climate, even “cold” water is pretty warm. So we mostly took cool showers, though I did request hot water when I wanted to wash my hair, since this required standing with my back under the water longer than I was comfortable with when it was cold.
This practice served us well when we got to Whitfield Hall, which didn’t have hot water at all. The hikers were not reluctant to cool off when they arrived. I, having ridden up in relative comfort, didn’t feel the need to bathe (especially since I was sleeping in my clothes) until the following morning after we’d been out for a walk; that made me sticky enough to be willing to brave the extremely Spartan conditions in the better of the Hall’s two bathrooms, though I wasn’t crazy about it!
We did have hot water at both hotels. As noted, they also had air conditioning. Both had TVs and the other usual amenities (though the hair dryers and ironing boards that are ubiquitous at upscale U.S. hotels have not made it to Jamaica yet). Neither, however, had a phone in the room. Even our lavishly appointed suites at the Fern Hill Club did not have room phones. This was especially surprising considering how spread-out the campus was. In both hotels it would have been convenient to be able to contact our fellow travelers without having to beat upon their room doors, and it would have saved several treks to the front desk of the Hibiscus Lodge to secure remotes for the TV and AC. Presumably hotels in resort areas that cater more to U.S. tourists would have phones. Virginia reminds me that both hotels we stayed in were very reasonable by Jamaica tourism standards, but they were so luxurious in so many ways that they didn’t seem inexpensive—certainly a far cry from a Motel 6!
The Fern Hill Club did offer one amenity probably found in few U.S. hotels: candles (in glass hurricane chimneys) and matches on the nightstands. The room book informed us that power outages were relatively frequent but usually of short duration. We experienced none during our stay.