How About A Couple Days In Port Antonio?
Port Antonio My Birth Place
A look at my Jamaican Birth Certificate, and the pronouncements of my 85 year old mother, confirms that I was born in Port Antonio, a little over 60 years ago. Unfortunately, except for a short visit to see family friends, as a 15 year old, high school student, I have never been back to this eastern Jamaican city. You can then understand my excitement, on receiving an email from my younger daughter and her husband, with this question in the subject line - How about couple days in Port Antonio? I was thrilled! Here was my opportunity to reacquaint myself with my birth city, and more importantly, to share that experience with my first grandchild. Despite being born there, I knew very little about the town, and have no known relatives there. My own 90 year old Dad lives about 50 miles west of Port Antonio, and used to travel extensively, throughout Jamaica, including the eastern parishes, for his job with the Ministry of Agriculture. For those of you interested in geography, the island of Jamaica, is divided into 3 counties, Cornwall, Middlesex, & Surrey. Port Antonio is in the county of Surrey. The counties are further divided into parishes, similar to the state of Louisiana, in the USA.
Planning The Trip
Naturally, a vacation in Port Antonio has to begin with a place to stay. Port Antonio in the 50's, 60's and 70's had been a tony and exclusive destination for American Movie Stars, Music Stars, Writers, British Royalty, and other Aristocrats. Properties like the Frenchman's Cove, Trident Hotel, and others has hosted many of these celebrities over the decades. These guests visit the location for it's serenity, lush green vegetation, and the beautiful aquamarine waters of the Caribbean sea.
In addition to a place to stay. This trip would also necessitate a rental car, that would allow for greater flexibility and movement throughout the area. After gathering the necessary intelligence, including a talk with my dad, the 90 year old patriarch, and my brother who still lives in Jamaica, regarding safety, the current road condition, and other concerns, the trip was on for sure. I was primarily concern about the road condition because, hurricane Sandy, the same destructive force that hit NYC, and US northeast coast, last year, had earlier passed through eastern Jamaica as a category 1 hurricane. Thankfully, I was assured that the roads were repaired and accessible.
With all the preliminary concerns resolved we book our airfares, hotels, and rental car, and eagerly waited for our Jamaica vacation day to arrive.
Our Vacation Begins Today
We had a wonderful flight down to Jamaica, arriving at the Norman Manley International Airport, at 7:45 AM on a quiet Sunday Morning. Sundays in Jamaica are very quiet, since most businesses are closed, traffic is very light, and most people attend church services.
With a couple hours to spare, while waiting for our daughter, her husband, and our grandson to arrive from New York City, my wife and I treated ourselves to a delicious Jamaican breakfast at one of the local cafes on the airport complex. We both chose the brown stew chicken and food(ie boiled flour dumplings, yellow yam, and green bananas), Jamaican coffee, and orange juice. It was a culinary treat, and a sign of what was to come. An ideal way to begin a laid back, 'No Problem' kind of vacation on the island, we affectionately call 'The Rock'
The Big G Meets Great Grandpa
Our New York party arrived on time, and soon we were off in our rented Hertz SUV. But not before picking up two of those tasty Jamaican breakfast which our daughter and her husband demolished, as we began our road trip east of Kingston. A little over an hour, and numerous winding turns, along the narrow roadway, we arrived at my boyhood home, in Morant Bay, St. Thomas, where my dad who was sitting on his bright breezy veranda, eagerly greeted us. He was meeting his 10 month old, and first great grandson, who also happens to be Jewish. We relaxed on the Veranda, took pictures, had some refreshments, and caught up on a few stories. Thanks to Hurricane Sandy, that blew down a few trees in our yard, we were able to view the blue water of the Caribbean sea again, while sitting on the veranda. The calm ocean breeze waffling over the veranda made the Jamaican heat tolerable.
Soon, it was time to continue our road trip east to our hotel in Port Antonio. While I was personally familiar with roads from Kingston to our home in Morant Bay, I had no prior experience driving the second leg - Morant Bay to Port Antonio. So after getting a few directional tips from my Dad we were on our way to Porty, as Port Antonio is affectionately called. Despite the effects of hurricane Sandy, the road was fairly good. There were a few potholes in some areas, but overall, our ride was uneventful. Two strategic road signs proved very reassuring. The first, in the city of Port Morant, and the other Golden Grove, St. Thomas.Once we got pass those areas it was smooth sailing into the parish of Portland, and it capital city, Port Antonio. We enjoyed observing the deep green color of the vegetation, numerous large trees, shrubs, and the share abundance of plant life that blanketed the landscape. The abundant flora is consistent with the high average rainfall, which is the norm for eastern Jamaica. Of course no description of the area would be complete without mentioning the numerous, wide breathtaking views of Caribbean sea that one experiences as you drive along the coast, particularly in places like Manchioneal and many other quaint fishing villages along the way. So picturesque! and So beautiful!
We pulled into The Frenchman's Cove Hotel property about 90 minutes after leaving Morant Bay, which is actually, about 50 miles door to door. A few minutes earlier, we passed the town of Boston Beach, famously known as the original home of Jamaica Jerk style barbecue. A 'must do' for anyone visiting the Port Antonio area.From the road above, we also got a glimpse of the once famous Blue Lagoon. It was as blue as I remembered it. The Frenchman's Cove is situated on 42 acres property that backs up into a beautiful scenic cove with high rocky cliffs above the ocean below. We stayed in two single rooms in the Great House, the main hotel building. It's a two story building with large single rooms, a bathroom, and a large balcony overlooking a section of the lush garden, containing large mature trees, mango trees, pimento, royal palms, flowers, ornamental, and other plants too numerous to mention. On the ground floor of the main building, there is a large open air TV lounge, split level dining area, where a continental breakfast is served every morning, by a pleasant and courteous hotel staff. It's not unusual to see and hear chirping birds in the surrounding trees, while you enjoy your morning meal. In fact, a few Jamaican black birds will come by to test your willingness to share. It is truly a calming and relaxing environment, where one can escape from the demands and stresses of life, at least for a while.
For guest who need more privacy, the property also boasts, a number secluded 1,2,3 bedroom cottages located throughout the landscape, some of these are on the cliffs, overlooking the ocean. A short 10 minute stroll down the hill from the great house, and a left turn on a path over the Priestman's River, puts you on the beautiful white sand beach in the cove, where we spent most of our time, swimming, relaxing in the sun and wading in the mouth of Priestman River that flows through the property, and empties into the cove.
The capable little restaurant, located on the beach, provided all the meals, and Red Stripe Beers, needed to make our vacation a memorable and 'irie' one.
Boston Beach Jerk Center
Monday, after a long day on the beach, we made our pilgrimage to the famous Boston Beach, to feast on jerk pork, jerk chicken, jerk sausage, and to my surprise! jerk lobster. Boston Jerk Center, consists of a series of rustic shacks with every vendor beckoning for your attention. After deciding on a particular vendor, that we had read about, we got down to business. Two hours later we had devoured 1 pounds of Pork, 1 pounds of chicken, 1pound sausage, and we each had a jerk lobster, festivals (pretty similar to hush puppies in US) a few quarts of fresh carrot, june plum and pineapple juice. It was remarkable how fresh the meats, jerk sauce, and juices were. It was a finger licking experience that capped off the evening. Even my 10 month old grandson, had a fine time charming a few fellow patrons.
Downtown Port Antonio
On the two occasions, an early morning, and a late evening trip, we ventured into downtown Port Antonio. We past by the architecturally beautiful Trident Castle Hotel, and a few of the other hotels and guest houses during our fifteen minute ride. These properties were so beautiful to look at. All seem to have a panoramic views of the Caribbean sea.
Arriving in Port Antonio, we encountered a bustling rural metropolis, teeming with commercial activity. Despite the narrow, streets, folks were going about their daily lives. Cars, taxis, buses, and trucks, competed for the limited space. School children dressed in their respective uniforms were moving about. Finding a parking space was difficult, as I discovered on my visit to the local Lime telephone store, to top up my Jamaican cellphone. Next stop, was the Shell gas station, at the corner of Harbour St, & Gideon Avenue! to top up on fuel. What a great coincidence? My 10 month old grandson's name is Gideon. That definitely made my day. Strangely, at that moment, I felt like I had reconnected with my birth town.
Where Did The Time Go?
Before we knew it, our 3 day vacation in Port Antonio was over. It all went by so quickly.
We enjoyed our stay at the Frenchman's Cove, the large and comfortable rooms, the staff was helpful and courteous. The beach was fantastic, and the property's lush vegetation made us feel as if we were in paradise. I guess, all good things must come to an end.
Next stop, back to Morant Bay, to spend a few days with Great Grandpa, then back to Kingston, to visit with other family and friends