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Monday, September 22, 2014

Getting Out of the Water to See Jamaica

Yes, it's a beautiful pool and beach here at the Luxury and Gran Bahia Principe hotels and we could easily spend the whole week here but we want to see what's on the other side of that big wall and guard gate.

On arrival, we picked up a Toyota Corolla from Hertz. If you've seen our video about traveling without a wheelchair accessible vehicle or power chair, you'll know that we've got a pretty good system about putting Tim in the car without the wheelchair.

Well, that works here in America very well but, since we're used to the passenger sitting on the right, it doesn't work so well for us when the passenger sits on the left as they do here in Jamaica.

Watch the Video!

It's definitely like putting a square peg in a round hole but, with some effort, we manage.

Driving in Jamaica isn't too bad but occasionally, you'll come across someone doing ten miles an hour (pulling over to let traffic pass does not seem to ever enter the local drivers' minds here) or some speed demon behind you will whip by in a pass, no matter that a big truck or bus is coming the other way.  Avoiding night driving and being on your toes, attention-wise, is the antedote.

We have three destinations today...the town of Ocho Rios, find a roadside jerk stand, and the Green Grotto cave.

First off, it's about a 10 mile drive from our hotel to Ocho Rios. Along the way, we pass Dunn's River Falls (which offer only accessible platforms for wheelchair to watch others full price, by the way). We did this 25 years ago and Tim won't be able to climb so we keep driving.

Then, it's past the Dolphin Encounter...also inaccessible...with many tour buses and vans parked along the side of the road. A Kiwanis Club sign welcomes us to Ocho Rios where we make a lap around the town to find a place to park.

On the way, we pass the "crafts center," which even the locals call the flea market. Letty and I have bad memories from that place where the vendors are very tenacious and literally hands on to get you to buy stuff. It makes the hagglers in Tijuana look like amatuers. 

The second time around, we pull into a lot that advertises aprking for $120 (Jamaican, about a buck twenty) for an hour. When I ask the attendant if they accept U.S. money, he gives me a slip.

"Have one of the shopkeepers stamp that for you and you'll get two hours free."

The shops are quiet on this hot and humid day. The highlight is picking up some premium rum, jerk sauce, and some mixers at the supermarket anchoring the plaza. Letty picks up a swim wrap and some Jamaican flag flip-flops at another shop and that's about the extent of it, except some hawkers from the nearby flea market exhorting us to accompany them over there.

Nothing earth-shattering about the shopping or selection of goods here, so we get back in the car and head out.

Checking out the map from and recommendations from locals, we were originally going to try Scotchie's, a jerk stand near Ocho Rios, but after some hardcore wrestling Tim into the car, we go to another jerk stand on the map, the Ultimate Jerk Center in Discovery Bay simply because it's across the street from the Green Grotto, meaning that we would only have to get Tim out of the car one more time instead of twice.

A bar full of local taxi, truck, and bus drivers welcomes us as a server shows us to a table. It's open-air and we can occasionally hear the whine of a nearby windmill that's powering the place. In the restroom, the electric hand dryers only work when those blades are spinning.

We order some sodas and plates of jerk chicken and pork. My wife pronounces them delicious and authentic but they seem a bit dry to me.  Authentic or not, I think the beachside jerk bar back at the hotel makes a better meal.

A five minute cloudburst livens things up as we watch the staff scramble to hang curtains to keep the water out of the dining area.

Whatever we think about the food, it's fun to hang out with real locals for awhile instead of our fellow tourists back at the hotel.

After the meal, we walk across the street to the Grotto.  Several online resources noted that they had installed a wheelchair accessible trail into the cave.

The management at the Grotto informs me otherwise.  No accessible trail exists and, no, you cannot walk up to the entrance to take a picture without paying for admission.

My wife presses them on this by simply walking up to the entrance and a few minutes of negotiation with the management gets us an ok to go and take pictures. The lady at the ticket office even volunteers to man the camera to take the picture of the three of us, above.

We end up with a drive through the countryside, including a minute of watching the local fire brigade battle a roadside brush fire, some mediocre shopping in Ocho Rios, a fun meal at the Ultimate Jerk Center, before being disappointed that the one attraction we thought would be accessible turned out to be off-limits.

Still, it's an enjoyable day out and a change of pace from the all day eat-and-drinkathon at the hotel's pool and beach.

Copyright 2014-Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

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