One Love

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Blue Mountains

We spent just over two weeks in Jamaica.  During our time there we stayed in AirBnBs, a hostel with no electricity, an all-inclusive resort, and we camped in a beautiful spot overlooking Kingston. We drove from one end of the island to the other while trying to refrain from drifting to the right side of the road- the side we typically drive on in the U.S. We went to the highest point in Jamaica, saw an “alright” Blue Hole, got scared by ghosts, drank the best cup of coffee we’ve ever had, and climbed a cliff only to plunge into the pristine sea 35 feet below.

I am sure you’re aware that Jamaica is beautiful and filled with wonderful beaches, lush tropical forests, breathtaking mountains and teeming with hidden gems tucked away waiting for you to find. So, the hard part of this post is deciding how to write about Jamaica without being trite, especially because  it seems that everyone knows someone who has been to Jamaica.  The all-inclusives of Montego Bay take all the worry out of a holiday.  Get on a plan at your local airport and then some hours later when you arrive in Jamaica, a shinny van whooshes you away to your resort.

That was not our experience in Jamaica.  Our adventures began with trying to catch a route taxi-yes, at night- and ended with us soaking in the past few weeks while floating in a lazy river.

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Rick’s Cafe – Dino deep water solo

 Highlights

In no way is it simple to boil down a trip into “highlights,”and we certainly do not aim to reduce a travel experience to a sum of attractions. At the same time, we value providing tangible suggestions that might to help guide a fellow traveler (or local exploring her own backyard).

Great Rose Hall: Ever been to a “staged” haunted house? Ever been to a museum? How about a staged haunted attraction that simultaneously provides a history lesson? This stunning historic home in Montego Bay is worth a visit. We visited at night, which limited our ability to take in the view, but the nighttime tour allowed for an extra spooky time. We learned about paranormal activity in this house and listened to recounts of the disgrace in the days of slavery. While the spooky actors made light of the haunting, the historical narrative highlighted the importance of the historical context. We recommend buying your tickets in advance.

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Irie Blue Hole – entering a waterfall cave

Irie Blue Hole: Apparently Jamaica has quite a few blue holes in different regions of the county. We visited the lovely Irie Blue Hole.  A brief Jamaican patois lesson: irie means “alright.” This site is not officially a tourist attraction, so we were alone to enjoy parts of this geological wonder with few visitors around. Come prepared with your bathing suit, as you can take your time swimming in the natural pools and explore various levels of the river. You can rappel off of a small waterfall and free fall 25 feet down into a natural pool. It is worth hiring a guide but keep in mind that they will try to rush you. We enjoyed the first level on our own and then asked for a guide to take us up the river. You can easily spend several hours here! There is a small fee to enter (less than $15; in addition,guides work off of tips).

 

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Irie Blue Hole – waterfall massage…beauty is pain

Rick’s Cafe: Rick’s Cafe in Negril is certainly worth a visit. Whether you are open to jumping

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Rick’s Cafe – Potato deep water solo

off of cliffs of various heights (up to 35 feet) into pristine waters or whether you feel more comfortable as a spectator, it’s an interesting place for people watching. For the climbers out there, you can do some basic deep water soloing there-we reckon about a v2 up the 35ft face. We arrived before the mass of tourists and it really was night and day once those tourist buses arrived. We suggest arriving late morning/early afternoon. Do not let anyone fool you, there is no entrance fee nor a fee to jump off the rocks/cliffs. The food/drinks are over priced so I wouldn’t go with an empty belly either. However, you can cross the street or walk down the road for more reasonable and less crowded options.

 

All Natural Cafe: We highly recommend this gem in Negril. The setting is so beautiful and unique. Imagine an outdoor tropical cafe that creatively utilizes all sorts of scraps to furnish and decorate. The juices and food were delicious and reasonably priced. This cafe is off the beaten path and you might think you are lost as you try to locate this place, but we promise, it exists and is worth a visit!

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Just Natural Cafe
  • Blue Mountains: We spent several days in the mountains relaxing, exploring, and drinking the perfect coffee blend. It took a little time for us to plan out this part of our trip considering it is highly advisable to hire a guide if you want to hike to the peak for the sunrise. Also, once in the mountains, the terrain is relatively rural. So, it is advisable to plan the most basic aspects of your trip beforehand.  We decided to devote a separate page to discuss the Blue Mountains. Please see here for our detailed account of visiting the Blue Mountains.
  • Jamaica by car: We mostly explored this country by car, which was a great experience. Tourists seem to stick mostly to organized tours, so we often found ourselves feeling especially free. We could arrive at “attractions” on our own schedule and we really got a feel for some of the landscape and small towns. We bought fruit from vendors on the road and visited small grocery stores to make our own meals nearly every night. The roads were generally good and we were able to navigate easily with a basic map and GPS from time to time. Keep in mind that car rental agencies seem to be stricter in Jamaica requiring you to have written verification from your credit card company if they cover the cost of insurance. I never ran into this issue before. So, it’s a good idea to have a printed document or one in your email…assuming you’ll be able to access email once in the country.

Getting around, route taxi

A route taxi is a shared taxi that zips around most Jamaican roads.  They are marked with red license plates and are shared with as many people as the driver can cram in.  The trick to riding a route taxi is knowing the cost of the fare before you get in.  If you ask the drive once you arrive at your destination, you are likely to be overcharged.  If you know the price, you can just hand the driver the cash and part ways with a smile.

Potato thoughts

In reflecting on my experience, the sense of adventure and the beauty of this island are certainly salient. However, the discomfort, uncertainty, and

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Road in Blue Mountains

sadness I feel about human history are also at the forefront of my mind. I do not intend on diminishing anyone’s approach to vacationing in the Caribbean, but in approaching this trip, I knew that the resort life had never really appealed to me, at least not for an entire trip. With the approach to seeking the “local” experience, also comes the reality of the conditions of the country and its people. Moreover, the incredible privilege of holding a U.S. passport and to earning U.S dollars, was crudely brought to the forefront of my mind. Upon reflecting to a cab driver about the wide spread of Jamaican culture throughout the world, the driver quickly challenged my attempt to praise his culture. He immediately responded, “That’s because of slavery” and went on to discuss how Jamaica was one of the last stops in the imperialists’ journey, resulting in “only the strongest survived.” I’d like to think that I am a culturally and politically conscious person, but this individual promptly showed me that no amount of reading, college degree, or knowledge of his island would show the true and complex picture of this country.

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An incredible nap- Negril

Although I reflected on important global issues throughout my visit, I also had lots of fun exploring. I absolutely loved relaxing in our off-the-beaten AirBnB in Negril (email us for contact info). I slept one night in the hammock on our balcony overlooking the sea, while being serenaded by the sounds of lively ocean crashing on the rocks. I also loved driving from Ocho Rios through the Blue Mountains. Once in the mountains, it was great to camp in Hollywell National Park overlooking Kingston below. Overall, it was great to drive around the island. I will not deny that ending the trip in the comfort of a resort was a relaxing way to unwind and heal from sunburn and bug bites. This was my first trip to the Caribbean and I think this experience certainly set the bar high. Any trip that provides beautiful sights, interesting conversations with natives, awareness of global issues, and a reflection of my privilege is certainly a gift in the journey of life.

And yes…I did hear reggae morning, noon, and night. One love.

Dino Thoughts

Jamaica is a wonderful country filled with beaches, mountains, bustling cities, and a wide array of people.  I’m sure there are a million blogs that will tell you that Jamaica is a magical wonderland filled with people with big hearts and bigger smiles… which can be true.  One thing I’ve always found true is that no matter where you go, the sky is the sky, the ground is the ground, and people are people. Keeping this in mind has kept the rose colored lenses off of my eyes, allowing me to see wherever I am as it is.  Like anywhere else, there will be amazingly kind people and people who are not so amazing.

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Montego Bay – locals showing us a secret beach

Something to keep in mind…people will try anything to engage you in conversation then try to sell you something.  For example, if you are wearing an”Ohio State” t-shirt the peddler will start with something about Ohio, and then he’ll try to sell you something.  If you are polite and firm, the solicitor will give up.

In one situation someone came up to me and said he was from the hotel security.  At the time Potato and I were not saying in a hotel but an AirBnB.  I smiled and asked him “what hotel?”.  Remember when walking around to be polite and firm and the solicitor will give up.  But you will be solicited often, and for everything.  The minimum wage in Jamaica is around 150 Jamaican Dollars, which would be around 1.50 USD.  So if you tip someone a dollar that is roughly an hours work.  With that in mind, Jamaica can be a really expense island with a liter of gas costing 450 Jamaica Dollars, and a gallon of milk is about the same.  It easy to understand why so many people try to get a few dollars out of you.  A dollar to an American might mean very little whereas a US dollar can go a long way for a Jamaican.

The fun

There is no more eloquent way of saying (or writing) it, I had lots of fun in Jamaica. I loved driving around and making plans essentially the day before or maybe the day of. We were able to fly by the seat of our pants mostly due to AirBnB. We found most of our lodging though instant booking. We cooked most of our meals and simply took our time. We definitely were stared at, as random tourists walking around isn’t all that commonplace in smaller towns. On the other hand, apart from those soliciting from us, most people did not bother with us, and many were very helpful.

 

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Cold Mornings, the Best Coffee, and a Hell-of-a View.

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Blue Mountains

An introduction by Dino

If you’re reading through this page because you’re looking for some information on Jamaica’s Blue mountains, you’re are one step ahead of me.  I didn’t know Jamaica had such a treasure.  I knew about the beaches, the resorts and the islands vibes, but I was clueless about the Blue Mountains.  If you know about the Blue mountains go ahead and skip to the next paragraph. For people like me, who didn’t know about them, stay tuned and let’s run through a brief intro to the blue mountains.

The blue mountains dominate most of west Jamaica.  Wikipedia will tell you that the Blue Mountains have about 7,400 ft of elevation, and are a World Heritage Site.  The Blue Mountains are covered in lush green vegetation.  In the morning and evening they turn a lovely shade of blue-green (which is where the name came from).  Little clusters of homes and business cling to the steep drops.  While only a dozen or so miles apart, it will take you 30 to 60 minutes to pass from one town to the other.  You’re limited to about 25mph, unless you are a native Jamaican, a world rally drive, or very brave due to the windy mountain roads.  Coffee plantations have been terraced into the Blue Mountains, which provide the cash crop for the region. Locals also grow bananas and others fruit, which will be for sale on the side of the road. The high altitude keeps the area cooler than the rest of Jamaica, which is a pleasant departure from the daily beach going temperatures of Jamaica.  Bring a hoodie, it will get a bit chilly at night.

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Camp site at Holywell National Park

Tips for visiting the Blue Mountain range

Hiking to the peak

  • If you are planning on hiking to the peak, you should plan to arrive the day before since it’s ideal to hike before sunrise. This means that you will need to coordinate your stay. There is everything from tent camping to staying in  high end accommodations. The Jamaican Conversation and Development Trust can give all of the necessary contact information. See below for contact information.
  • You will need a 4 wheel drive vehicle! The launching pads for hikes to the peak are in
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    On the way to Whitfield Hall

    pretty remote areas that are only accessible by 4 wheel drive. If you do not have such a vehicle, you can coordinate with your hostel/hotel to pick you up in a bordering town. We drove to a small town called Mavis Bank and were allowed to park at the police station. Our driver picked us up from there.

  • The previous point brings us to the next, plan ahead! While we love having an adventurous travel spirit, hiking to the peak requires planning. It’s a good idea to call ahead and reserve your accommodations, even if you plan on tent camping. You can also arrange for transportation, your meals, and a guide for the hike.
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Whitfield Hall
  • Keep in mind that some of the accommodations are very basic, so they will need to know to expect visitors. For example, we stayed at Whitfield Hall, which does not have electricity. We needed to inform them exactly how many meals we would eat in order for them to have sufficient provisions. It was a great place to stay!
  • Hire a guide! It is pitch dark on the trail and you really do not want to risk getting lost alone. Don’t forget to tip your guide if you make it back in one piece. =)
  • There is some controversy surrounding the fee to hike to the peak. Consult with Jamaican Conversation and Development Trust and whoever arranges your guide.
  • CASH IS KING. DO NOT rely on ATMS in this area. People often accept both Jamaican and US dollars. Since we were running low on cash, we often mixed the two currencies and we were fine.
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Blue Mountain Peak at sunrise
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Waterfall dancing at Holywell National Park

General trip to the Blue Mountains

  • Holywell National Park is great for a day trip to the Blue Mountains. There are short trails with beautiful views. We camped there for one night and had beautiful views of Kingston below us. They have cabins as well.
  • Have some Blue Mountain coffee! Support locals and buy some coffee. You can even schedule a coffee plantation tour. We recommend getting in touch with Coffee Mon (Holywell, Jamaica (876) 391-6311. He has a small farm where he grows produce and delicious coffee.

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    Forres Park Nature Retreat
  • Visit Forres Park Nature Retreat lodging for a delicious lunch and maybe even book a spa treatment. This is a lovely historic hotel. It’s very peaceful and lush. We did not spend a night here but we enjoyed a lovely lunch amidst tropical plants.
  • Drive down the B1. If you only have one day and no time to explore the mountains, simply driving down the B1 will give you beautiful views and a taste of the culture. Be prepared to drive very slowly as the road hugs the mountain on one side and you have a view of a cliff on the other side. There will be small places to stop for provisions along the way…but do not rely on them! Have                                                                               snacks and water handy.
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Hiking down from the peak after sunrise

References

Oldest City Around, St. Augustine

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Crucial Coffee Cafe

Stumbling upon St. Augustine was really a treat. After a tiresome drive from the northeast, we knew that we wanted to rest in the north of the peninsula before making our way to Miami. Having heard of St. Augustine before but with essentially no specific information, we booked a room at the beach at the last minute. We arrived late at night so our first glimpse of this city was the next morning. At first, St. Augustine seemed like a quaint and quiet beach town. Luckily, I had an insatiable craving for waffles that morning and we realized that the closest waffle establishment was a 20 minute drive away. Taking that drive was one of the best decisions on our road trip from New Jersey to south Florida.

After about a 20 minute drive, we found ourselves amidst a quaint and historic town unlike any I have seen in the United States. The narrow streets were lined with historic landmarks and artisan shops. This city felt reminiscent of New Orleans with a Spanish flair. After learning a bit about the history of this city (the oldest in the US!), the architecture all made sense. St. Augustine was first settled by the Spanish nearly 200 years before the Declaration of Independence was signed.

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Castillo de San Marcos

Highlights

  • Castillo de San Marcos: This seaside fort is worth a visit. Although the fort itself is pretty simple, there are many interesting and informative placards. Did you know the fort was occupied by the Spanish about 150 years before the United States was established? It is also a national park, so you can get a stamp for your national park passport too!
  • Exploring the quaint historic section: Simply walk around and get lost through the narrow roads and passageways while exploring interesting shops and historic sites such as the oldest wooden schoolhouse in the US. You can easily spend a day aimlessly exploring.
  • Cousteau’s Waffles and Milkshake Bar: Who knew that a delectable treat would lead us to discovering the historic section of St. Augustine. The small size of this shop does not take away from the delicious and unique variety of waffles. Ever try a smores waffle? If you wear a red beanie you get 10% off your purchase!
  • Crucial Coffee Cafe: This tiny cafe is definitely worth a visit. The tiny inside is lined with humorous art and trinkets while the lush outside seating is lovely. Although St. Augustine can be quite busy, you can hide away among the greenery and enjoy a nice cup of tea.

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Crucial Coffee Cafe

Potato Thoughts

I am happy to say that waffles made it all happen. We nearly utilized St. Augustine as simply a layover on a long drive until we set out on a pursuit for waffles. The unique selection of waffles at Cousteau’s Waffle Bar was a lovey find. As per usual, I also really enjoyed simply walking around and getting lost among the narrow roads of St. Augustine’s historic district. By exploring these roads, we found the oldest wooden school house in the U.S. You can a visit this small attraction for about $5, which includes a diploma commemorating your visit.

The fort Castillo de San Marcos was a highlight for its great view of the town and for the interesting placards within. I really enjoyed reading about what life was like at this fort 150 years before the U.S. was established. In particular, it was fascinating to read about the ways in which indigenous individuals participated in the fort. After exploring for hours we stumbled upon Crucial Coffee Cafe, which is another highlight. This coffee shop has a wide array of beverages and even ice cream that you can enjoy inside the funky shop or amidst the lush greenery outside. St. Augustine was such a lovely surprise that we have been back for another visit!

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Couseau’s Waffle & Milkshake Bar

Dino Thoughts

The Castillo de San Marcos was the highlight of the trip for me.  I enjoyed roaming around the oldest fort in the oldest city in America. It’s a national park, meaning the fort is staffed with friendly park rangers in spiffy hats.  The $10 entry fee is good for 7 days.  You can wander the fort on your own or take a tour with a ranger.  We opted to explore on our own, ducking into the chambers of the fort and reading the cryptic writing on the walls. There’s literally writing on the walls scribed 300 some years ago. After exploring the lower lever of the fort, we made our way to the top of the fort walls. Once on top, you are greeted by a 360° view. The Matanzas River, Tolomato River and Altaic Ocean meet in front of you and St. Augustine sits behind you. The view is wonderful…so wonderful we forgot to take any pictures of it. I did manage to snag a picture of the ocean though a gun port in one of the turrets.

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Castillo de San Marcos

The calm before the party

  A Sunday in Charlotte, North Carolina

We arrived in Charlotte late on a Saturday night and checked into the Hampton Inn Charlotte-Uptown.  The hotel was located in walking distance or a free trolley ride away from most of the attractions in downtown Charlotte.

Highlights

1- Strolling along on foot: From our limited perspective, you could easily walk to most of the main attractions. Our map indicated that the city limits are about a mile from the center. So, just grab a map, make a few rights and lefts, and see what you find!

2-Levine Museum of the New South: We had so much fun here! This museum does an excellent job of bringing history to life. In addition to traditional informative museum placards, visitors can enjoy the interactive components such as dressing up in early 20th century clothes, exploring a historic kitchen, and sitting in an old-fashioned barbershop.

3- 7th Street Public Market: This open concept market seems to cater to a food conscious population by offering all sorts of organic, vegan, and raw delicacies. There is a great coffee bar that allows you to bring their mugs/utensils to the outside eating area.

4- Amelie’s French Bakery (pictured above): The cafe is captivating at first glance. The decor is absolutely lovely with each detail carefully considered. You are welcome to dine indoors amidst the French decor or to sit outside and enjoy the passersby. The cafe offers a full kitchen with excellent soup in addition an impressive array of pastries. There is a full espresso bar as one would expect. As a cafe aficionado, I feel that this place is certainly a special find!

Potato Thoughts

I have long wanted to visit Charlotte since hearing vague details about this growing interesting city throughout the years. My disclaimer to my experience is that we only spent one day in this city, which likely implies that we missed some of the gems. However, my overall impression was that there was an intangible air to the city almost as though we were all waiting for something. I felt as though everything was in place and we were simply waiting for the party to begin…hence the title of this post.

I enjoyed how walker-friendly the city is and the free public transportation (free trolley). The Levine museum and Amelie’s French Bakery cafe were definitely my highlights. Even if you are not typically a museum kind of person, you might enjoy dressing up and handling cotton in its various stages as you wander this museum. Most of all, Sunday tickets are discounted. Amelie’s French Bakery was lovely. One of my hobbies is visiting cafes all around the world so this cafe had quite the competition and it certainly stood up. I really enjoy establishments that are proportional in their attention to aesthetics and quality of the food/drinks.

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Playing dress up at the Levine Museum

Although our stay was short, Charlotte offered us a fun history lesson, a free trolley tour of the city, and delicious French pastries along with impressive decor in one full day.

Dinosaur Thoughts

Downtown Charlotte has a new a shiny feel.  It’s obvious that the city planners have put a good deal of thought into making the city center inviting for everyone.  It is an easy walk or a nice trolley ride to the city center.  Once in the city center all of the attractions like the NASCAR hall of fame and the Hornets’s arena are short walks away.  There’s a large indoor market to grab anything from a cup of coffee, a drink, or some food.  From our hotel we rode the free trolley into the city center and walked back at the end of the day.  The trolley was clean and air-conditioned.  I’m a fan taking the trolley in any city. Trolleys are normally cheap and provide a good view of the city.  The Charlotte trolley is no exception, and is Dino endorsed. I recommend giving the Charlotte trolley a ride.

Despite our time in Charlotte being brief, I had fun. Charlotte has all of the fixin’ for a party…you just have to show up.  I know I’ll be back.

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Old fashioned barber shop at the Levine Museum