We were supposed to leave for Portland at 8 Thursday morning, and, having arisen at 5:30 as usual (thank-you, cock-a-doodle-dogs!), we were pretty much ready when Fionn and Virginia, running true to form, arrived slightly before 9. We got away about 9:15 (delayed slightly by waiting for Matthew to get clothes out of the dryer) and headed out the A4 (red line on the map).
Before we had gotten very far (Bull Bay, I think), we stopped at a roadside coconut stand for fresh green coconuts. We were also ready for a restroom, and the vendor had thoughtfully provided one. In a small plywood enclosure was a brand-new porcelain toilet—so new that one side of the carton it had come in furnished the door of the “restroom.” The toilet was not connected to a water source, but a bucket of water had been provided for flushing purposes. We weren’t sure where the contents went when we flushed, but we strongly suspected they were piped straight out into the Caribbean Sea, just a few yards away!
We had planned to have lunch at the Blue Lagoon Restaurant, and it was approaching lunchtime when we reached Boston Bay, but Fionn didn’t want us to pass up the famous Boston Jerk Centre, “the undisputed home of jerk,” so we stopped for a “snack” of jerk chicken, authentically cooked over pimento wood. It was really good, and as we ate we tossed the bones over the railing to the chickens roaming about beneath the deck, blissfully unaware of the fate that awaited them!
I think it surprised even Virginia and Fionn to realize how close we were to the Blue Lagoon—we got there in what seemed like about ten minutes, not too surprising considering that it appears from the map to be no more than five miles away. We were not necessarily ready for another meal, but Virginia and Fionn stressed what a lovely place it was, and after some consideration, we decided we really wanted to make lunch our main meal and not have to backtrack for dinner, and indeed we would not have been able to appreciate the Blue Lagoon itself after dark.
There was an entrance charge, but this would be deducted from the price of our meal. If we could just decide on what that meal was to be! The menu boasted lobster, conch, assorted fish, jerk pork, lamb chops, and other delicacies, but the restaurant was out of virtually everything. We ordered rum punches and other mixed drinks to dull the pain as the waitress (new, young, and uncertain) kept taking our orders and then coming back to tell us that what we’d ordered was unavailable. We all ended up with our second or third choice, I think. Barney seems to remember that he got the jerk pork. I got the “medley,” which was supposed to be fish, shrimp, and conch. Because they were out of conch, they added more shrimp, but I ended up giving away many of the shrimps when I got tired of peeling them. All the meals were attractively served on a banana leaf or breadfruit slice, accompanied by delicately cooked carrots and okra and a baked plaintain patty. The meal concluded with complimentary rum cake. We admired the lagoon itself and took pictures of it and the dive boats (which operate under the name Lady G’Diver), then continued on our way.
We checked into the Fern Hill Club Hotel about 2:30 and immediately changed into our swimsuits and went to Winifred Beach in Fairy Hill, arriving about 4. The beach was almost deserted, so we had it essentially to ourselves, and we enjoyed a good swim and also explored the shore.
After returning to the hotel to shower and change, we drove to Port Antonio for dinner. Most places were closed (it was nearly 9 p.m.), so we ended up at Nix Nax (Patties and More), where I got a “trad pack,” a “traditional” meal of chicken (fried and topped with a sort of sweet-and-sour sauce), rice and peas, and vegetables (shredded lettuce and carrots).
I got up at 6 and, among other activities, took many pictures of the interior of our suite, the view of the Caribbean and the gardens below from our balcony, and so on. We’d agreed to meet at 8 for breakfast, but when we got no response from Fionn and Virginia at 8, Barney and I began to explore the hotel grounds, climbing to the top of the hill to find the upper swimming pool (and taking more pictures of the fabulous view from up there), then winding around until we eventually ended up at the office/restaurant. At that point it was 8:30 or so, so we decided to go ahead and have breakfast and let the others follow when they would. Matthew joined us almost immediately, and Fionn and Virginia showed up after we’d ordered.
It’s hard to say which was nicer, the view from the restaurant or the breakfast. Barney and Matthew got pancakes and French toast, respectively, but I opted for the traditional Jamaican breakfast of ackee and saltfish. There was a bewildering choices of side dishes to accompany this, but our waitress, experienced in the ways of tourists, suggested that I might like “a likkle of each,” and I gratefully accepted. So in addition to orange juice and coffee, I had a sample (more than just a taste) of boiled green banana, yam, johnny cake, dumpling, and fried plantain. Virginia and Fionn ordered the same thing, and we all thoroughly enjoyed it.
While they were finishing their meal, Barney and I explored down the hill from the restaurant, finding the lower swimming pool (I’ve since learned there are three pools—heaven knows where the third was!), tennis and shuffleboard courts, etc. As we returned to the room, I took a picture showing the entrance porch and balcony. Although Virginia and Fionn’s Rough Guide to Jamaica had described this hotel as “slightly ramshackle,” and the Frommer’s Guide I’d checked out of the library (covering the whole Caribbean) called it “airy and panoramic but showing signs of wear,” we couldn’t find much to complain about. We weren’t there long enough to take advantage of all the amenities, but they were, as indicated, numerous, and even if the paint on the pool cabanas was peeling a bit, the maintenance of the rooms was adequate (if you don’t count balky vertical blinds—a nightmare I defy any hotel to maintain properly). The rooms were spacious and airy, extremely well appointed, and, by U.S. standards, quite reasonable (prices everywhere were lower than those quoted in our guidebooks or online). More than anything, though, the view was incomparable.
One of the amenities of the hotel was free passes to San San Beach, so we returned to the room to change into our swimwear. It had rained in the night and sprinkled off and on all morning. By the time we left the Fern Hill Club about 9:30, it was raining quite hard. When we arrived at the beach entrance, we found the gate closed and the guardhouse empty. The gate was not locked, however, and after some dithering, including an attempt to find another entrance, we opened the gate and drove in. We later learned that all the staff were holed up in the bathhouse, assuming that no one would come to the beach in the rain. (And people wondered why I came back from Jamaica without a tan!) Fionn explained the situation and agreed to show them our passes before we left.
It sprinkled off and on the whole time we were there, though the sun did try to come out once or twice. Needless to say, we had the beach to ourselves. After the obligatory dip, Virginia and I explored the shore (more extensive than at Winifred Beach), the bathhouse, etc. She and I were ready to leave before 11 (we’d planned to leave at 11:15), but the guys stayed in and seemed to be enjoying themselves, despite the thickening rain, so we didn’t get away until about 11:25.
Miraculously, we managed to get showered and changed and packed and checked out by noon (the stated checkout time). We left, in hard rain, and headed into Port Antonio for lunch. On our way we passed the fabulous Trident Castle. This 40,000-square-foot edifice on 17 seaside acres is actually a private home (with eight servants), but it is available for rent for weddings (there’s a chapel on the grounds), parties, and conferences and can accommodate up to 16 guests in the house, with overflow in the nearby Trident Hotel. For as little as $250 per person per night, renters can use the entire facility (meals and many other services and amenities included), which is more reasonable than you might expect!
The night before, we’d passed a restaurant (closed) that Fionn said would be the ideal place to have lunch. Although it was called The Chicken Place, its menu included curried goat. This novelty appealed to all of us, and we were lucky to find a parking place right in front of the restaurant. To no one’s surprise, given our luck with restaurants, they didn’t have the advertised curried goat. When asked if anyone else did, they waved vaguely toward the center of town. So we started walking.
We stopped at many places to ask but found no one who could provide curried goat until we finally ended up at the Golden Happiness Chinese restaurant. The sign outside said, “Left Side Fast Food—Order and Pay at Counter; Right Side Air-Conditioned Restaurant.” We went to the left side for “fast food.” We selected drinks (Matthew tried Dragon Stout, and I had a Yardy shandy, a mildly alcoholic mixture of beer and limeade), and all except for Virginia (who got the Special Fried Rice) ordered curried goat, some with white rice and some with fried rice. We found a table and sat down to wait, sipping our drinks with increasing anxiety that they would not last until the food arrived. Our “fast food” arrived about 20 minutes later—huge steaming plates of goat and rice. The goat was at least 50% bones—though it would have defied the skills of a veterinary pathologist to identify them since the pieces resembled what might happen if a goat were fed through the turbine of a jet engine—but good! It was far too much, and we realized belatedly that we would have done well to share a serving between two people. None of us maintained his membership in the Clean Plate Club on that occasion.
On our way back to the car, we stopped in a pharmacy for Fionn to get peroxide and cotton balls (he’d been having a problem with “swimmer’s ear”) and at a grocery store to pick up odds and ends. We finally got on our way about 2:30 and drove through constant rain to Ocho Rios, stopping just once, in St. Margaret’s Bay for gas and a pit stop. Our route is shown by the dark blue line on the map.