Laid back Jamaica :The way the world should be
March 30th – April 6th 2017
After an excellent two day, five hour, 421 mile passage from Conception Island in the Bahamas we arrived at Port Antonio on the Jamaican north coast at 3pm. For once the wind gods were in our court and GWTW sailed along very nicely just chewing up the miles. On day one we had a 201 mile day while on day two our 24 hr run gobbled up 198 miles. Not bad given the old girl is no spring chicken any more. The residual miles were a combo of sailing and motoring.
We called up the Errol Flynn Marina when we were a few miles out and they advised us to proceed to their face dock to complete our inbound clearance formalities. Christine, the office manager met us there with a welcoming smile and a cheery “Welcome to Jamaica”. She handed us a wad of paperwork to give us a head start before the all the officials arrived. Our check in went very smoothly and after a few hours we were all sorted, so down came the yellow quarantine flag and up went the Jamaican one.
Having had very little sleep over the past couple of days we mooched on up to the poolside restaurant, played on the internet for a while, let someone else cook our dinner and do the dishes and then fell into bed for a well earned uninterrupted night’s sleep.
Over the next 48 hours we also had late running visits from the Agriculture guy, who wasn’t at all interested in looking at any foodstuffs or fruit and veg. Then came the Marine Police, who also didn’t want to look at anything and we still really don’t know why they stopped by. Next up were the Defense Force boys. Their only question was do we have a GPS on board. I guess there must still be some old salts out there who are yet to move from the sextant era to the electronic one. So all up we had nine men in uniform grace us with their presence.
Port Antonio is a combination of two bays, East bay and West bay. East Bay is where anchoring is free but the neighborhood looks a bit dodgy to leave your dinghy ashore and West Bay, where the marina is located, has all round weather protection but the bay is regulated by the government. That means that no matter whether you take a slip in the marina, pick up a mooring ball or drop your anchor and swing, there is a fee. We opted to take a slip as the price was right and it was far more convenient than using the dinghy each time we wanted to go ashore. Fee details are at the end of this post.
We spent the first four days in Jamaica joined at the hip to the internet. There was a mountain of researching, copying, scanning, sending and receiving emails to do in preparation for our upcoming Panama Canal transit and Pacific Islands visits that we wanted to get put to bed while we were still connected to the rest of the planet.
For example, things like the paperwork to enter and stay in the Galapagos Islands needed to be lodged at least six weeks in advance of our arrival there, while just applying for an appointment to get a long stay visa for French Polynesia was a challenge in itself when you don’t speak French, can’t read French and are not lucky enough to be travelling on EU passports. Then there was organizing GWTW to be hauled out at Shelter Bay in Panama for a well overdue bottom paint as well as writing to, getting quotes from and then choosing and employing the services of an agent for our canal transit as well as agents for the Galapagos and French Polynesia. Me thinks that life would be way easier and cheaper and we’d have a lot less grey hair if we went everywhere by plane rather than boat sometimes. Anyway, once that was all done and dusted it was time to go play tourist for a few days.
The town of Port Antonio with the magnificent backdrop of the Blue Mountains has a colorful hustle and bustle of every day life. Jamaicans are early risers but late night hounds. Come early evening once the heat of the day is gone music starts to drift across the bay from various bars and clubs while the waft of coconut fires adds to the ambience of the place. During daylight hours the footpaths are crowded, vendors set up BBQ’s selling jerk chicken and pork while others sell fresh veggies and pirated DVD’s. The homeless who have stacked out there spot on the footpath sit and watch the world go by. There are very few tourists here which is a welcome change from other Caribbean islands. Pretty much each time we walked into town we are the only whities around.
The open air produce market just off the main street is the best we’ve seen since our time in Guatemala back in 2014. Every Thursday night the new shipments of fresh veggies arrive so Fridays and Saturdays are the best time to buy, but you have to get there early, say 6 or 7am ’cause the new stuff goes pretty quick There is also a fresh meat market and although we didn’t purchase any it looked equally as good as the produce. They were even selling goats heads and that’s something we haven’t seen since we sailed up the Red Sea to Suarkin in The Sudan. In town there was a good supermarket with a decent variety of stock but we heard there was a better one 15 mins out of town.
Since all our internet jobs were now done we thought it was time to organise a couple of day trips so we hot footed it down to the local car rental place. They had lots of cars on their lot but when it came to the $55 cars we were interested in we struck out. Sure the cars were sitting there but the keys were with the agency’s boss and he was “out of town for the day’', however the agent did have the keys to the more expensive cars if we’d like to upgrade to one of those. Umm ,hat all sounded a tad fishy to us so back to the boat we went to sort out plan B.
By now it was late morning but we still figured that if we could sort out the transport side of things we’d still be able to go see the places that had been earmarked for today’s trip. Christine in the office got us out of jail by phoning a local taxi driver named Harry. Harry had a van and for $60 bucks he’d run us wherever we wanted to go. Done deal. Figuring the more the merrier we invited some new acquaintances, Michael and Tammy from S/V Aria to join us, and they willingly said yes. Great, we get to have some company and split the cost.
To sweeten the deal for Harry we paid an extra $10 per couple seeing as how there were now four of us rather than just two and within half an hour we hit the road. We had three stops planed, two of which involved getting wet so we decided to have lunch first. Boston Beach is renowned for it’s jerk chicken and pork as well as curried goat. Although there are many eating places out at the bay, we were recommended a particular one by George, the marina’s dock master, so we figured we’d give it a try. The little restaurant was pretty laid back and dull but the food was great. We shared plates of curried goat and jerk pork.
The goat was very tasty but had a few too many bones while the pork left a lingering fiery sensation in the mouth. Both dishes were accompanied by the Jamaican staple of rice and beans and we certainly didn’t leave hungry.
Stop number two was at the “Blue Lagoon”. Yep, it’s the same one where young Brooke Shields and Christopher Atkins had starring roles in the 1980 movie of the same name. Some of the scenes were filmed here while others were moved to various locations around the world.
We’ll have to watch it again some time just to see if it looked the same as today. We swam across to the beach and stayed a while taking in the lush surroundings. The water was very refreshing, sometimes a little too much.
Our last stop of the day was at Reach Falls. This was another movie magnet location. This time it was the waterfall scene in Cocktail which starred Tom Cruise and Bryan Brown. The falls, although relatively small, packed a lot of punch, especially when we swam under the falls and into the cave behind. The waters were incredibly clear. From the falls we swam and waded upstream for a bit before heading back to town. It was a great day out and so nice to get away from town and see something different.
Day two of playing tourist had us rafting eight miles down the Rio Grande. The river was amazing, twisting and turning with the thick jungle foliage coming right down to the river banks. Now this wasn’t your usual rafting trip in an inflatable boat or kayak. This one was on a bamboo raft and in control was our very skilled raft captain. The swift flowing river is full of many rocks, shallows and rapids which he steered us though using just one long oar.
We stopped half way down at a little beach restaurant owned and run by a local lady named Belinda. She walks an hour and a half each way through the jungle and over a mountain everyday bringing with her all the fresh food needed for the day. This woman was an amazing cook and she did it all with a couple of pots strategically placed over some hot stones and a small fire.
Apart from her culinary skills Belinda was also a true songbird entertaining us with her repertoire of songs as she cooked. We swam, ate and had a ball in this witty woman's company. If you ever get the chance to do the raft trip be sure to ask the raft captain to stop at Belinda's for lunch, you won't regret it.
By 10am the following day we were bidding Jamaica a fond farewell. Although we only had a whistle stop in this friendly country and saw only a miniscule slice of life here we really enjoyed it. And so started the next four day passage to Panama’s San Blas Islands.
Cruiser Info : Formalities: Both checking in and out is free of charge providing you get there Monday to Friday during office hours ( 0800-1630 M-T & Fri 0800-1600) Overtime charges may be payable for weekend arrivals.
Currency: Jamaican Dollars or US Dollars
Errol Flynn Marina. Up to date rates are available on their website. During our stay Electric was 60 US cents per KWH, Water was metered@12c per gallon. Concrete fixed docks with wooden fender boards. Slip cost 95c per ft..
Pool and grill/bar on site, free wi-fi, showers and laundry room ,with washers & dryers, But tokens from office.
Port Antonio is just a 3 min stroll from marina with many banks, atm’s, shops,grocery stores, bakeries, bars and eateries.