Thursday, December 20, 2012

CATCHING UP – PART 3 - Two over-privileged Americans! And how we’ve earned the title.

Now to explain to you how we ended up in Negril, Jamaica today, which also happens to be our 2 year anniversary.    Prior to leaving for the Boston Marathon in April 2012 I was, as usual, signing up for random contests on Facebook and Twitter like I normally do.  Puma had a Twitter contest: Tweet us your favorite inspirational running message and use hashtag #inspirespeed.  Will be posted at the Boston Marathon expo and you could win a trip to Jamaica.
So I quickly typed in “I may not be the fastest and I may not be the strongest but damned if I’m not trying my hardest. #inspirespeed”
About a week after we got home from Boston I received an email stating that I won!  Holy crap right?!!?  Flight to and from Jamaica, 4 nights at an all-inclusive resort plus two entries into the Reggae Marathon!  Ironically the marathon was December 1st and we were slated to come home on the 3rd but my quick thinking hubby (who at the moment is laying on his bed in pain from massive sunburn today) found a Groupon deal to extend our trip by 3 days and allow us to stay over our anniversary <3
We got to Jamaica pretty late in the day and after being encouraged to exchange some of our currency and surviving the taxi ride that was almost 2 hours, it was very dark by time we got to Club Riu.   Another lady in the taxi bus was talking about how so many hotels and resorts don’t support the local economy but yet so many people flock to them and won’t leave their comfort zone to go out and get to know the real country they are visiting.   They just want everything provided for them just like at home.
 
After taking the taxi through tiny streets with a driver that had little personality and seeing areas that looked much like poverty and LOTS of people that did not look Jamaica friendly….my first impression was to do anything BUT leave the resort.   Although after a few days you realize that Jamaicans are a very friendly people and you just have to get used to pretty much all of them trying to sell you something.   Clothing, art, jewelry, boat rides, jet ski rides and the occasional side deal of hash and/or “brownies.”    But I’d still recommend staying in the resort areas. 
Club Riu was great in that it was very nice and clean and meals were 3 times a day, all buffet style that included Jamaican food along with plenty of American staples (fries, burgers, chicken, pizza and ice cream).   I got pretty used to the 2-3x a day ice cream treat J  Funny though it took both of us to figure out how to get into our resort room.  Real keys instead of the typical key cards and you had to turn it 3x to get the lock fully disengaged.  
Our first full day at the resort on Friday we pretty much took it easy, walked the beach and took a taxi over to go shopping.  Breakfast buffet was great.  Lots of fruit and bacon J  I found myself getting hooked on the yogurt though with a few spoonfuls of granola and fruit on top.   Unfortunately though the coffee was not that great but for me it was mostly because I need Splenda and cream and all they had was milk and sugar.  Not wanting to be in the sun a lot or drink too much (yes all drinks were also included in the stay) it was a fairly relaxing day to just take in the sites and happily got a few pictures of the one bird we were hoping to see.  

That evening was the pasta feed and pick up our packets.  We were supposed to have someone arranged to pick us up but that never happened so we ended up having to pay a taxi ($10) There were a number of different restaurants there serving different types of pasta dishes and while I tried a number of different kinds, we both went back for seconds on the good ole beef lasagna.   After the dinner we stayed to watch the steel drum band for a bit and then grabbed our taxi back to the hotel.   Luckily this place had in room air conditioning that did fairly well and Red Stripe beer, bottled pop and water available at all times.   Plus an in-room alcohol dispenser of your basic liquors.  Cheap stuff but still, it was free.  Mark enjoyed the Red Stripe a lot.
While we did use some of the Jamaican currency at this point, pretty much everyone took US Dollars.
Oh and by the way sorry if I jump around but there’s a lot to remember as I’m writing this post-trip on the flight home.   Flying AA which is great but I’m craving a cookie…..Brandon…… J
Sleeping was ok although you had to get used to their birds.  It was some kind of black bird that basically sounded like a chirping alarm all night long.  Marathon morning was a 3-something AM wake up call.  It was over 70 degrees at the start with about 1,000 people all starting at the same time either doing the full, half or 10k.  It was completely dark and the leadout had a bunch of people holding tiki torches so that was cool.   What I thought was funny was instead of some really upbeat, fast-paced song blaring at “go,” it was Bob Marley’s "Jammin" which gave me a good laugh since I felt like I should be walking with a head bob instead of running.   First 8 miles or so were pretty much dark and consistently dotted with second-hand of marijuana.   And the water stops did not have cups of water, they were sealed plastic bags, about the size of a small bag of chips, containing either water or Hi-Lite which is their local version of Gatorade.  You just tore the corner with your teeth to drink it.  Weird but I found it to be nice since you could easily carry it along with you much farther than you could a cup.
 
Our first sighting of the sun was at mile 9 something and it was HOT.  By mile 13 when we had to run through the finish area for the half marathoners I was already ready to jump in the water but we had to go out for a second loop of the course.  There were just under 200 registered for the full marathon so the course got very quiet in terms of company and as you went along, more and more of the daily life started to spring up around us.   Somewhere around mile 21 we even started becoming second priority and were moved to the sides of the road so traffic could flow down the middle.  The heat had us walk a number of times and unfortunately that was leading to my knee getting quite sore so we had a lot of walk breaks and finished up at 4:35 and change.   The finish line was pretty calm except for a few spectators and the photographers.  The medals are super cool and getting a coconut hacked open for you to drink the water was a nice touch too.   Unfortunately they were out of beer by time we finished up so Mark didn’t get any until we got back to the hotel.   We stepped out into the water to cool our legs and do our best Usain Bolt impression before we headed out.    
 
 
Pretty much no vendors anywhere selling anything or chatting with participants and no sight of PUMA anywhere either.   A little annoyed that I didn’t even meet any of their reps or anyone since I won the trip from their contest but oh well, their loss.  Could have been a good little plug for them with a photo and especially since I am one to blog about things J

After the marathon was time to get cleaned up and pass out for the afternoon.   Went to dinner at the resort wearing our marathon shirts and medals and got lots of people sharing stories and asking how it went.  Interestingly many of the local wait staff didn’t really seem to get it.  Kind of that “you paid money to do this and you weren’t even trying to win?” kind of reactions.  But as usual they were all very nice about it and were just making conversation.
Sunday we were hoping to get on the Rick’s Café and snorkeling cruise but we checked in a few times and it was booked full so we wandered back down to the water sports area and wanted to at least book on the snorkeling tour.  Our salesman was very chatty and helpful and just as we were about to pay, Mark mentioned that we wanted to get on the Rick’s Café cruise and the salesman quickly said that we could go today.  Just a few minutes before we arrived, 2 people canceled. 
So off on the cruise we were!  We boarded the catamaran with about 60 other people.   40 of which were a group from MN.  They had a wedding the day before.   There is pretty much a wedding every day on the beach of that resort.   Our first stop was the snorkeling spot over a beautiful reef.  I guess Mark and I were more adventurous as I think we got much further away from the boat than most people did at first.  There was a really cool old anchor and lots of fun fish.   We spent a few minutes playing with the GoPro camera too J

Next stop was a cave you could swim in to (GoPro battery dead at this point…damn it!) and was a location for filming of Pirates of the Caribbean 2.  Once again, Mark and I lead the way into the cave and climbed up on to this little set of steps and you could see there was electricity in there at one point.  Probably for the movie I’m guessing.   And there were bats flying around in there too.   Once back on the boat, there were these 3 local boys that were waving at us to get our attention and then were diving off the cliffs.   Once they dove, they would come over to the boat and ask for tips since they just “gave us a show.”   I gave them credit and a few $$. 
From there it was a longer ride over to Rick’s Café.   At one point I decided to steal a good idea from another couple and sit with our feet off the front.  Big enough waves we would be touching the water.   About 2 minutes after we sat down, 3 dolphins started swimming just ahead of us and jumping out of the water.  It was SO cool!
 
Upon getting to Rick’s Café, we decided to grab a couple drinks and some food and watch the cliff divers.  I was thinking about jumping from the smaller 10ft or so spot but right after we ordered food, Mark had his shirt and sandals off and was standing at the 25ft spot.  He took that one with no problem but standing at the 35ft spot I could see he was a bit more nervous but all the liquid courage he’d been drinking up to that point helped him over the edge ;)  During this time a couple local guys were gathering tips and if they made it to $20 the one guy would jump from the 70ft landing.  And of course he did it in diver style with a flip in the middle.  (Wonder if he aspires to go to the Olympics?)  I had a really wonderfully fruity drink called “Sex with Rick” and we had some appetizers before hitting the gift shop and then it was back on the boat.
 
 
Cruising back I decided we should sit in front again.  5-10 minutes in I said “I hope we see the dolphins again,” and at that very moment, there they were J   It was fun going back through the waves too since many times the front of the boat dipped down far enough that our feet were about 12 inches under water.   Sunset was behind us and there were a few clouds to make it “OK” but I’m a bit biased in that I’m not sure the Key West sunset experience can ever be topped.   Back off the boat we stuffed ourselves with dinner and called it a day.
 
Monday we had to switch between hotels so we got packed up, grabbed breakfast and headed out.  Our new resort was much deeper into Negril and while you could tell there were lots of nice places to stay, it was a little more “Into Jamaica” feeling.   It was a small, quiet resort on the Cliffside.  We got there and learned this was a different type of “all-inclusive” from Club Riu.  No drinks or fridge in the room and meals were served at more specific times.  Dinner was the one that just about killed us.  It wasn’t served until 7-9pm.  No drinks in the rooms, no snacks in between meals and ice cream cost extra.  Ratz…..   We did get in some sun time on the lounge chairs and some fun sunset pictures on the cliffs but no swimming as the sea was really rough that first night.
 
I read a lot of feedback before we left on the trip so I was prepared for the likelihood that our room would not have A/C.  Which it didn’t.   It was a cute space and worked just fine but the room lights were dark, the windows didn’t close and there was plenty of noise from animals, neighbors and the road to keep us awake most of the first night.   Oh and the beds were fairly small and on opposite sides of the room so we actually slept in separate beds since it was much too warm to cuddle. 
Tuesday we were up early as we booked to take the Zipline Canopy Tour.  It was a long drive in the shuttle, over an hour but our driver taught us a lot about the different things and areas of Jamaica as we drove through.   Even taught us a little about the Jamaican language.   The zip lines were a total blast as most of the 8 lines took you out of the trees and across these beautiful open areas.  The few longer lines were fun to run and cannonball off the platform so you got a good bounce ;)   And our tour guides were hilarious, Al and Rennie (not completely sure on that spelling but it sounded like that).   What was also very entertaining was the middle aged, not so little, hill-billy type couple that was in our group.   He was just kind of goofy and always chewing on a toothpick and she was a little ditzy and afraid of the whole thing but did seem to enjoy herself.   Once back to the base, we bought into the Jamaican jerk chicken lunch and I entertained myself by feeding the couple cats that were wandering about.

 
It was fun to see cats and dogs wandering around Jamaica but they definitely have an over-population problem.  I don’t think there is any spay or neutering going on so it’s kind of sad too.  Oh and our driver on the way back to our resort was explaining to us why we kept seeing so many goats along the road.  People own the goats but they just roam free and sometimes wander along the roads for up to 3 miles away from home and then make their way back before night.   And they are really good about staying off the road but occasionally they do get hit and the deal is, either the owner of that goat pays you to fix your vehicle or you get to keep the goat for meat. 
Back at the resort we were getting the munchies and I was craving ice cream so Mark handed me a $20 and I picked up snacks.  Now unfortunately this resort doesn’t deal much with US dollars so every time we bought something, our change came back in Jamaican.   Which is worth a little less so in my perspective I was paying more like $6.00 for a Drumstick and small bag of Doritos.
Wednesday was our laid back day.  Got up and had a nice breakfast with coffee that I once again just couldn’t drink without my special blend and then we caught the shuttle over to the sister property the Legends Resort which was on 7 mile beach.  Up until now I’d been keeping the sunscreen on pretty thick but knowing today was my sun day, I kept it fairly light.  Now my mistake was in not ensuring Mark thoroughly covered his delicate pale self.    We got over to Legends about 10:30 and bought a couple cheap snorkels and headed out into the water.  7 mile beach is almost completely sand and you can walk out into the water a long ways and still touch bottom.   We saw a few stingrays float by and tried to grab a picture.  A few areas along the beach had good spots for finding shells so we are bringing a good load of those home too.  I didn’t realize that on the beach amidst all the resort areas were a lot of vendors selling once again a little bit of everything and/or trying to get you to go out on their boats snorkeling or parasailing.   And at any given time you can find a jet ski to rent out.     The largest section along the beach belonged to Couples Resort which looked really nice but kind of quiet at the same time so I’d have to look into that one more to see if it would be worth staying at.  By time we got back to the Legends section of the beach, we grabbed some lunch (I fed a cat) and were in awe of the shade of red Mark now had all over his front and back.  So he pulled his chair into the shade while I worked on my tan for a little over an hour before we had to catch the shuttle back.    
Now for those of you in the know, you’ll know that this day was our anniversary so we wanted to do something special.  The front desk staff was super friendly and today there was actually a guy there that seemed pretty “American” and understood what we were looking for in a nice restaurant.   He helped us pick out Ivan’s and make reservations.   He even told us to let them know ahead of time it’s our anniversary.   We got cleaned up and had the driver take us a little past Ivan’s restaurant to the Lighthouse on the western tip of Jamaica.  We got there just in time too.  Luckily the keeper was there and gave us a little tour and took us to the top just in time to see an amazing sunset.   Mark was in heaven J
From there it was about a 20 minute walk back to Ivan’s.   Not walking on these roads is something you do carefully as the drivers are fairly…..erratic.   They pass whenever and wherever, tailgate and honk all the time.   Now mind you none of this is aggressive.  It’s just the way they drive.  They honk for just about anything – when they are going to change lanes, pass a vehicle, pass a pedestrian, round a corner, see a friend, see if someone needs a cab, etc.  And I learned along this walk that if a taxi honks and quickly flashes their lights, they are asking if you need a cab so you can wave them along at that point.    We got to Ivan’s which is also a resort and were very happy to see a beautiful seating area overlooking the cliffs.  It was very nice accommodations with nice lighting and music.   They had a great table setup for us and all wished us Happy Anniversary and had little rocks in the shape of hearts on our table.  The food was spectacular.  We shared the crab cakes and I had the Mango Chicken while Mark went for the “hot” chicken penne.   I gave it a try and I can’t imagine what the “hot hot” would have been like!!  We had a couple glasses of wine and a really nice Banana flambé (with Jamaican rum) of course before they hailed us a taxi back to the resort. 
 
Settling in for the night we were certain Mark was going to have a difficult night sleeping.   I tried not to feel guilty that I didn’t make sure he was fully coated in sunscreen that morning but at the same time….you’d think after putting it on every day for the last 5 days he would have thought to do it himself.
 
So now we are at that unfortunate Thursday where we needed to pack up and head home.  Our flight itinerary has us leaving at 4pm so we figured we had until noon to play in the water one last time and pack up.  Luckily it was finally a calm day so we could swim around the resort cliffs a bit.  I finally got in a couple cliff jumps in the water.   Yes ladies it’s confirmed….. about 10 ft is all it takes to hit the water and bring your bikini top to your neck.  It would have been great snorkeling around mid-day so we were both kinda bummed we had to get going.
 
We were supposed to have transportation to and from the airport on this trip but the cab ride back cost us $80.  And where things got interesting was when we tried to check in and found out our flight was leaving right as we got there.  We didn’t get any communication that there was a change to our flights.   This information would have been sent via email to my contact at Puma and the message was never relayed.   So we had to pay $150 to switch flights and an extra $12 to buy another bag so disperse our weight and not get charged for a heavy bag fee (we didn’t find out until we took our first flight from MSP to Miami that we had two bag charges covered with the trip that Puma paid for so we tried to stuff everything into one.  That would have been useful information to know….)    So now instead of already being in the Miami airport, waiting for our flight that would get us back to MSP around 10:20pm, we are in route to Dallas/Fort Worth and won’t be getting back to MSP until probably after midnight.
All in all we had an amazing trip and agreed we would love to come back to Jamaica and stay in Montego Bay which is close to the airport and a lot of the other day trips that we wanted to do (Bird Sanctuary, Dunn River Falls and Mineral Springs and the Dolphin Cove)
And in summary:
  • Not venturing too far from the resort
  • Expecting food to be readily available whenever I’m hungry
  • Always expecting to have a/c
  • Wishing everyone used American money
  • Expecting WiFi everywhere, for free
  • Wanting a little authentic food but mostly pasta, pizza and burger-like options
  • Being surprised when I don’t get creamer, Splenda and Sweet n’ Low with my coffee
  • Wishing all rooms would include windows that closed and walls were sound-proof
  • Would like to be left alone when I’m walking down the beach
  • Somehow wishing Puma would read my Thank You and send me a check for the $252 that we weren’t expecting to spend
= a great trip had by two over-privileged Americans 

Full album of photos here: http://photobucket.com/Kuhn_Jamaica2012

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