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Bullets, Cuban Cigars and Flooding in Jamaica
Travel to Jamaica and Runaway Bay for the Beaches and the Golf
Our Vacation at Breezes Golf and Beach Resort on Runaway Bay in Jamaica
This started out as a long awaited trip to Israel and Egypt. For about a year Carla and I had been planning to tour the Holy Land with a group from church. We were supposed to spend a week in Israel and three days in Egypt. The money was already in the coffers of the travel agency and the flight and ground transportation had already been arranged.
The tour was cancelled at the eleventh hour because of the rising tensions in the Middle East. With less than five weeks until departure, the whole thing was cancelled. The State Department had issued travel warnings and our pastor was not about to take his twelve year old son anywhere near the fracas between Israel and the Palestinians.
Being an unscathed veteran of the ground war in Vietnam, I wasn't particularly concerned with security. All I could think about was the fact that I might miss the opportunity of traveling with someone who had been there before who knew the ropes and where all the good stuff was. In Carla and the pastor's defense, the two sides were exchanging bullets at the time.
Back to the Story
We now had five thousand dollars tied up in a non-event, two weeks of scheduled vacations and nowhere to go during the coldest part of the year.
Carla and I discussed our options. We wanted to go somewhere warm. Although we both like snow skiing, that was not an option at this time.
We had cruised the Bahamas on our honeymoon; had been to Hawaii and Bermuda. We had spent some time on an island in the Gulf of Mexico and another off the coast of Georgia. That's the kind of thing we wanted to do.
We looked at the Florida Keys. Sipping mint juleps and enjoying the warm breezes in the land of a famous author sounded like a good idea.
I called my uncle who had spent quite a bit of time over the years sailing and boating those waters. I figured that he knew the lay of the land as well -- that he might be able to steer us in the right direction as far as places to stay and things to see.
When I called him, he wasn't there, but my aunt told me that my cousin had just returned from a trip to Jamaica where she had stayed at one of the all-inclusive resorts. I called her and within five minutes I knew where we were headed.
I found a list of resorts in Jamaica on the Internet. We decided on Breezes Golf and Beach Resort on Runaway Bay. I love to golf and Carla loves to beach. None of the travel agents that I contacted had access to any space there, because it was so near time-wise. An agent did, however, give me the eight hundred number for Breezes Resorts. They had accommodations available, but they could only get me there by Air Jamaica from Miami. It was too late to make flight arrangements from Charlotte, NC.
We were able to make some last minute, albeit expensive, flight arrangements from Charlotte to Miami. We were going to have to leave at sun-up on Christmas day and spend most of that day in Miami twiddling our thumbs at a motel just off the airport, so that we could catch the early morning flight to Jamaica on the twenty-sixth, the day after Christmas.
Trouble with Airline Pilots
The night before our departure, Christmas Eve, we received a call from Delta Airlines stating that they could not get a pilot for our flight -- that we were going to be shifted to a US Air flight that would leave an hour or so later. That sounded good to me. The best part about that was that we were able to sleep a little later and that we were bumped up to first class at no additional charge. We did have to submit to having our checked baggage being x-rayed because we were changing airlines and that put us into some higher risk category.
We didn't realize how fortunate we were. Due to the Delta pilot slowdown and snow in the East and Midwest, people were being stranded in airports all over the place.
While we were waiting for takeoff, it was stated that the flight was overbooked. They were looking for three people to take a voluntary bump to a later flight. In exchange for the inconvenience they would receive free round trip tickets to anywhere in the US. We didn't bite. We were happy that we were in the airplane and apparently on our way. A family of four took the bump and we took off.
Miami on Christmas Day
We were shuttled to a local motel after we landed in Miami. It was cold and blustery. It was Christmas day and nothing in town near the airport seemed to be open. Because of the holiday, the restaurant in the motel wouldn't be open until six-thirty or so in the evening. While Carla was napping, I ventured out and finally found an IHOP that was open four or five blocks away. I got a couple of hamburgers to go and brought them back to the room to eat them with Carla.
After a couple of hours, we ventured out and found that a small local tavern near the motel was open. We went in to the dark, smoke-filled pub to pass some time. The bartender was an old gal who had returned to her old stomping grounds after spending several years in some exotic locale. We were told that it was the only place where we could order in English and be understood. We sat around for an hour or so, watching people play pool and darts and other things that people do in bars until it became obvious that an Irishman and an Italian at opposite ends of the bar didn't like being in the same place at the same time. I am sure that the barmaid was going to be able to handle the situation, but we didn't stick around to find out.
Finally, the restaurant was open. When we got in there, we realized that no one was speaking English for good reason -- they didn't know any English.
Apparently two very young male relatives of the owners had come in to hold down the fort on Christmas evening. Using my limited Spanish, we were able to order. We each ordered a bowl of seafood soup of Cuban origin. There was nothing sophisticated about the place or the service, but the food was, to our surprise, very tasty. We paid our bill -- the cuenta. We retired to our room so that we could get up, again at daylight, to get to the airport for the early morning flight to Montego Bay.
We got to Montego Bay with no problems. We met a young lady from Connecticut, a headhunter for the drug manufacturing industry, on the one-hour-and-fifteen-minute shuttle to Runaway Bay. She was good-naturedly miffed that some passengers were diverted to a Lincoln Town Car. Her appeal was ignored. We stayed on the microbus.
Everything was as advertised. Our room was well furnished and comfortable. The view was of a garden in tropical bloom -- hyacinths galore. There was a tuxedo kitten -- black jacket with white shirt -- that visited our patio regularly. The beach was large enough for a nice walk and had beautiful white sand. The food was plentiful and varied with lots of local fruits and vegetables and fish. Of course there was the famous jerked chicken. We were served in any of three or four restaurants that were available during the day. One was in the large covered area adjacent to the pool and beach, one was on the beach, one which required shoes was in the main building, and one that featured a low fat menu was available on beautiful rainless nights just outside of the entrance to our room.
On the third or fourth day there I discovered, to my amazement, that I had unknowingly packed a clip with ten bullets in it. I had thrown an empty sports bag into my luggage at the last minute. Needless to say, that bag wasn't as empty as I had thought. That clip and those bullets are still somewhere in Jamaica.
Carla has a gift for meeting people and making them feel comfortable. In addition to the lady from Connecticut, we met several other people whose company we really enjoyed. We met a gentleman from London who we plan to visit in the near future, a couple from the English countryside, a single lady from Las Vegas, a family from China, couples from Chicago and New York, people from Scandinavian countries, and a family that lives less than a hour away from our home in Charlotte, NC.
We had excellent service from everyone associated with Breezes. Even though the service was always there, no one even hinted that a tip might be expected. A couple of tips were given to off-location guides or drivers.
There was first class entertainment every night in the lounge upstairs over the main lobby and on a stage in the large covered area by the beach. The stage by the beach was where we experienced one of the best New Years parties that we have ever attended.
There was a trapeze area where some of the guests were taught simple routines. There was a young talented Jamaican named Dennis who played at the piano bar every evening for two or three hours. He played from a long list of tunes that seemed to include everyone's favorites. He even smiled as he tolerated my singing.
I played golf just about every day and Carla was a regular at the beach. On a couple of rainy afternoons we played pool and ping-pong and used the gym equipment that was located over the recreation and spa area.
The Cuban Cigars
On one rare rainy afternoon we stopped by a duty free jewelry shop that was on the grounds. We bought a beautiful emerald ring studded with diamonds for Carla. Because of the holiday there was no one to size the ring so the manager gave us a couple of Cuban cigars to offset the cost of having it done when we returned home. Neither of us nor any of our friends smoke, so we just stuck the cigars away, hoping we could find someone who might enjoy them.
One of the more memorable things we did while there was to climb up through the Dunn's River Falls at Ocho Rios. A guide was provided so that we wouldn't be injured falling into some of the big holes or onto submerged rocks. We went up with a group of nine people from the resort. We would stop at various resting places on the way up the falls. We intentionally fell into a couple of deep holes, soaking everything that we had, including billfolds. I amused Carla by using an electric iron to dry my money when we got back to our room. At one small falls area we rested in the falls and enjoyed the water running over our heads.
The beautiful young lady from Las Vegas, after standing under the shower created by a small waterfall, lifted her soaked t-shirt up to her chin in stripper-like fashion and shocked even the Jamaican girls with what she revealed.
New Years Day was rainy, but still pleasant. We just took it easy and got our clothes and gear ready to take off for Miami the following morning.
We took a few pictures, had dinner with some of our new-found friends, listened to a Reggae Band, sang a few songs with Dennis for the last time and went to bed early.
On the final morning it was raining quite heavily. The clouds were thick, black and ominous.
Our van driver was a little late in arriving to take us to the airport. He had to pick up a gentleman from a resort a couple of miles beyond us. We were supposed to arrive at the airport two hours before our departure time.
It was nine-thirty and the plane was to leave at twelve-thirty. We had an hour to make an hour-and-fifteen minute trip. The driver drove as fast as he could through herds of goats, around potholes and various slow moving vehicles that always seemed to be at the wrong spot.
About half way there, the non-conversant other passenger awoke, felt through all of his pockets and realized that he had left his wallet in the safe in the room at the resort.
The driver showing some disgust and resignation turned around and made like batman all the way back over the road that we had just traversed. We got back to the other resort, Hedonism, and retrieved the billfold, etc.
Flooding in Montego Bay
Now we were under the gun. It was around eleven. We passed the same goats, potholes and inconveniently strewn vehicles as we had before. Only now, it was obvious that the clouds were also voicing their displeasure at the day's events. It was raining so hard that the water was soon standing in the road, making the potholes nearly unseeable. The closer we got to the airport the higher the water became. We were soon in water up to the bottom of the van. We were wading through water that would stall out a smaller vehicle. The driver pointed out that the van was a diesel and the air intake was well above the water line-that we could continue on and that he would get us to the airport on time.
We went through areas of Montego Bay that tourists are not supposed to see -- through back alleys and slums, etc. We saw a refrigerator shell floating down the road, water over the hoods of cars and rocks the size of your head rolling down the hills and onto the streets.
The driver did it. He got us to the airport at twelve-thirty-take off time.
We gave John a nice tip and rushed into the airport. Even though we were over an hour late the plane was still boarding. Thank God Jamaica is on "Island Time." We presented our tickets and made it to the gate before the plane took off.
We had planned on buying some gifts at Kingston when we changed flights for Miami. We got to Kingston just as that plane was taking off. No gifts.
We headed for Miami, waved to Castro and arrived on schedule.
The Cuban Cigars Again
As we headed through customs in Miami, it seemed there was a drug-sniffing dog every hundred feet or so. About that time I remembered the Cuban cigars. I hoped they weren't trained to smell them. We had had enough excitement for one day. We passed all of the dogs, who thankfully showed no interest in us, found the shuttle to the car rental agency and actually relaxed for the first time since we left Runaway Bay.
We spent a few days with my uncle and aunt at Punta Gorda, in the Fort Myers area, and; then flew back home, winter-tanned and not quite ready to go back to work.
Bob Diamond R.Ph