Anyone remember the song ‘Island in the Sun’ by Harry Belafonte? I had this playing on my desktop computer as I wrote this post on Jamaica. We had just returned from a beautiful 10 days on this fourth-largest Caribbean island surrounded by mountains, rain-forests and reef lined beaches. I had always wanted to visit Jamaica ever since I lived in London which is home to probably the largest Jamaican population outside of Jamaica. The reggae music, the food, the warmth of the people attracted me to this island in the sun. I was familiar with names such as Montego Bay and Kingston, but had never heard of Portland, the area we explored.
A local friend who lived in Portland Parish many years ago encouraged us to seek it out. So in my usual fashion, I went about researching the area, I asked around and jumped on the Trip Advisor forum, my faithful source for seeking information from travelers who have actually been there. Portland Parish is on the northeast coast of the island. When researching Portland, I found that it was a mixture of lush green countryside and beautiful beaches, rivers, caves, coves and waterfalls. I’m so glad we checked it out, it was all that I had read and researched about and so much more. We felt we had experienced the real Jamaica. Below are just a few highlights of our trip to paradise.
We arrived in Montego Bay, then took a private hire to Ocho Rios. Our main focus was to explore Portland Parish. However, we did decide to stop along the way and spend a couple of nights at an Airbnb in Ocho Rios. We were right on the water, so as you can imagine, the scenery was just breathtaking. We took a few excursions around the area during the 2 days that we were there, but also enjoyed the views from our balcony.
The next part of the journey saw us taking the local Knutsford Express bus from Ocho Rios, along a beautiful costal route. Two hours later we get to our destination in Port Antonio, which is the capital of Portland Parish. Port Antonio also boasts two beautiful harbors. Can you imagine the excitement when we saw the beautiful, relaxed and picturesque villa that was home to us during our stay here? It felt like my blood pressure immediately went down a few notches, what a wonderful spot! Nature was literally at our doorstep, except for the rooster crowing every morning, this was paradise!
Take a look at the video above with the lush surroundings and the individual villas overlooking some majestic views. This is the rain forest part of Jamaica, so naturally everywhere is just lush and green. It did rain almost everyday when we were there, but in no time the raindrops disappeared and the sun happily shone through.
Our first day exploring brought us to Reach Falls. The scenic hike and natural beauty that surrounds these waterfalls was part of the allure. There’s a large natural pool which is great for swimming and a cave behind the falls. I surprised myself and went through the falls and into the cave behind. The rocks were slippery, but with some help, I managed to get through them.
It was close to lunchtime so we headed over to Boston Beach, where jerk is supposed to have originated. We stopped at a roadside vendor to sample…..you guessed it, jerk 🙂 There was pork jerk, chicken jerk, sausage jerk and fish. A side of breadfruit on the plate, and soon we were joining the locals and eating jerk chicken and fish. I opted for the fish and settled for a cool tender coconut drink. Served in the coconut shell, I scooped up tender bits of coconut with a shell that was carved from the coconut. This brought back wonderful memories for me. The locals call it “jelly coconut” but growing up in East Africa, we called them tender coconuts. We also feasted on sugar cane, my husband had never really tried sugar cane before, so I managed to give him a lesson.
Our next stop brings us to Winnifred Beach which is a public beach for the people. This free beach is threatened by the Jamaican Government. They want to remove the local people, privatize it and allow it to be developed into an exclusive resort. This would take away the only public beach in Port Antonio. The locals are up in arms, they want to keep this beach public and I don’t blame them a bit. Our friend who had lived in Portland before had put us in touch with Cynthia, a lady who owns one of the shacks on Winnifred Beach. He also thought it would be a good idea to see a church service, so Cynthia very kindly offered to host us at her local church. It was quite special meeting and greeting everyone at the local church.
With its glistening, turquoise waters surrounded by lush greenery, The Blue Lagoon is a vision of beauty. The movie “The Blue Lagoon” with Brooke Shields was filmed here. When you first see these waters, it feels like you’ve entered into a magical cove, it’s as if some painter has emptied his can of paint into the deep waters. We decided to take a boat ride in that wee yellow boat. Not too sure I was ready for that adventure just yet, but I did make the journey to Monkey Island and back. So far I was surprising myself with all these adventures. I’d been suffering from back and hip pain for the good part of last year, but I did not want it to get in the way and felt pretty chuffed that I challenged myself. The water in the Blue Lagoon is a mix of fresh water and salt water as the lagoon is open to the sea and fed by freshwater springs. If you were to swim in the waters, you would notice the alternating temperatures (the warmth of the Caribbean Sea and the icy cold waters of the underground streams).
Frenchman’s Cove is known for its isolated scenic cove and fresh water river emptying out into the sea. Once a playground for the “rich and famous” in the 1960’s, its guests included Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. Today, Frenchman’s Cove is home to tourists who value the quiet and scenic beauty of Portland. I know we definitely preferred this idyllic setting compared to some of the more “touristy” areas of Jamaica. Frenchman’s Cove beach was also featured in the movie “Knight and Day” starring Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz.
Rafting on the Rio Grande River had to have been for me, one of the highlights of this trip. Your bamboo raft gently meanders along the turquoise green waters. It was the most peaceful and stunning scenery along the rainforest. We heard and saw birds and sounds from the forest floor. Rafting first became famous when the Hollywood icon, Errol Flynn introduced it in the 1950’s when he was living in the area. Bamboo rafts were originally used to transport bananas from the interior of the island to the coast, but now these 20′ rafts are used mainly to transport tourists downriver through the beautiful Rio Grande Valley. It has gotten popular all over Jamaica as a result.
I had read a lot about Belinda’s Kitchen and her dishes that she cooks outdoors over a wood stove. So half way through the raft ride, we stopped to partake of Belinda’s offerings. The jumbo crayfish in a coconut broth has got to be her top dish. That day she had served crayfish stew, and Browned chicken Jamaican stew. There’s also Red Stripe Jamaican beer. With the main course, you are also offered sides of peas and rice, fried plantains, and bok choy and carrots. If you have a special craving, you could call ahead and order jerk lobster, which I wish I had, but was not aware of it till the day itself. Belinda has no help, she carries the utensils and the food she cooks for the day on her head and back she told me. She’s not aware of how famous she is, nor is she interested, she just laughs 🙂 I heard a New York City magazine covered her story too. But she’s oblivious to it all and just enjoys making a living the way she does.
Taking off to the cold and wintry coast of the USA, this was the last scene we took with us. We loved this island so much, we are already planning a return trip for another adventure. Stay tuned for another post on cooking Curried Goat ( a very popular Jamaican dish) at one of the local homes.