Road Trip to Treasure Beach, Jamaica: Pelican Bar

Pelican BarWe awoke to the strong rays of early morning sunlight, eager to start our day. The plan was to drive to Parrottee Beach so that we could launch our kayak and paddle to Pelican Bar, situated on the water.

Breakfast was, again, a surprisingly good meal. We ordered the mackerel rundown, a local dish of fish stewed in coconut milk and served with ground provisions. It was a large meal, and we washed it down with strong, excellent Blue Mountain coffee. Then we packed our bags, checked out, and drove off to the last stop of our road trip.

Standing on the shore at Parrottee, which we reached in about half an hour, we could clearly see the Pelican Bar. To be honest, we were underwhelmed. The place looks likes a childish attempt at hut building, with crooked lines everywhere. But the novelty of it being in the middle of the water makes it unique and worth a visit just to say you’ve been there.

It only took about 10 min. to paddle out. We tied up to one of the foundational stilts and entered the bar, greeted with a local’s admiration for our method of arrival. We ordered Red Stripes and sat on the dock, watching a pair of big pufferfish swimming around. It was before lunchtime, so there was plenty of space. As the afternoon came, a crowd began to build. We snorkeled around the bar and warmed up in the sun with shots of rum, surrounded by the glittering crests of small ocean waves. It would be time to go soon, and we would be satisfied with a little more knowledge of Jamaica under our belt.

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Road Trip to Treasure Beach, Jamaica: Jake’s

Jake'sWe had decided at Little Ochie that we would continue on to Treasure Beach and spend the night. After about a 45-minute drive, we got to the Treasure Beach area and spotted Jake’s, a boutique hotel on the cliffs by the ocean. We walked in and booked the only room they had left.

In general, we’ve been disappointed by hotels in Jamaica. They’re overpriced for the quality, and we’ve never truly been comfortable in any of the places we’ve stayed. There’s always something off. I can’t say Jake’s is perfect, but I can say it’s the best Jamaican hotel in which we’ve stayed. It’s still slightly overpriced for the room we got, but the boho chic vibe of the hotel drew me in. Yoga sessions are offered at the spa, holiday lights snake though the trees, local black and white photography hangs on the walls, and the colors–shades of blue, yellow, white and red–harmonize vibrantly throughout the property.

Our room was small but charming. No TV but WiFi, books on the shelf at the head of the bed, an iPhone dock for playing tunes, a “wet” bathroom with a pressed-tin door decorated with hearts, a firm queen bed, and a large Morrocan-style picture window with red shutters that opened out to a view of the beach.

After a delicious dinner of jerk chicken–which pleasantly surprised me with its subtle goodness–we sat in front of our room, watching the moonlit water ebb and flow and looking up at the stars, amazingly numerous with the little light pollution around. When we turned in, we kept the window open; the sound of the waves continuing as the backdrop for the night.

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Road Trip to Treasure Beach, Jamaica: Little Ochie

Little OchieContinuing our road trip, our next stop was Little Ochie. A big sign announcing the oceanside restaurant greeted us when we got there. We parked in the dirt lot as one of two cars around. By the time we left an hour later, the lot was full.

When we walked in, we were met by Dennis, the chef, who showed us what he had in the cooler. We asked if everything was fresh caught. “You don’t use Rainforest, do you?” Rainforest is a local seafood company, and we heard that beach restaurants like to pass off prepackaged frozen fish as fresh catch. Dennis laughed and told Blackie, the owner of Little Ochie, to come over. “This is a first,” he said to Blackie, telling him about our Rainforest quip. Blackie was just as amused and asked us what we know about Rainforest. I told him we’re locals, so we know the low down. We ordered a crab, snapper, and smashed, fried plantains from Dennis, then chatted with Blackie, telling him about our road trip. He eagerly gave us pointers on our map.

We sat at one of the booths outside, which, at Little Ochie, are made from fishing boats fitted with a roof and raised on stilts. The view isn’t great–the ocean looks brown and murky, and there’s a failed makeshift seawall very near the shore–but the food was excellent. The huge crab came out still in its shell, and the meat doused in the garlic sauce was delicious. The best crab dish I’ve ever had. The snapper was big, and it was cooked Helshire style; steamed and surrounded by a stew of okra, pumpkin and carrot, with a side of bammy. We took our time and ate until we were more than full. At that point, it was already 2 p.m.  There was no way we could drive to Treasure Beach, enjoy the place, and drive back home before dark. So, it was decided: We would continue our drive and spend the night. We thanked Dennis and drove off to the next leg of our adventure.

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Road Trip to Treasure Beach, Jamaica: Alligator Hole

Alligator HoleAfter about 1.5 years, my husband and I are in the middle of wrapping up our tour of Jamaica. Naturally, we’re trying to check more “things to see” off our list. This weekend, we chose to do a road trip to Treasure Beach, on the south coast. We made several stops, which I’ll detail in other posts. The one I’ll concentrate on here is Alligator Hole.

We started our trip driving out of Kingston. Once off the highway, the roads led deeper into the countryside until there was nothing but scrub brush and forest to see. We had to drive slower on what Jamaicans call “bush” roads as we got nearer to our first stop, Alligator Hole, about two hours away from the big city.

The site wasn’t hard to find (which is not typically the case in Jamaica). There’s only one road leading to it, we were driving about 20 mph to suit the terrain,  and the sign marking the spot was clear. We parked out front and stepped into the tropical humidity, alleviated by a gentle breeze.

The pond’s entrance is hidden from the roadway by the roots of an enormous mangrove tree. We walked down a short flight of steps and were amazed at what we saw: a beautiful body of water surrounding an island of reeds, with water so clear you could see to the bottom. We’re used to the polluted waterways of Kingston, so this was a treat. Underwater was a carpet of seagrass and rocks, obscured slightly when the breeze rippled the water’s surface, but made clear once again when the pond returned to stillness. Below the lookout point built for the site, there was a canoe moored to the right for those who want to hire a boatman to take them out.

The pond was deserted when we were there, which made it feel like our secret. The sun was out and the colors of nature were popping: the green leaves of the mangroves, the neon pink bougainvillea sprouting from the cliffside, the dark blue green of the water, the black feathers of ducks alighting, the whiteness of a crab hiding underwater.

We would have loved to explore the pond with our inflatable kayak, but we wanted to get to Treasure Beach by the afternoon, so we savored the moment, got back in our Jeep, and drove once again into the bush.

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Homemade Chorizo

Chorizo tortillaI love chorizo. When I lived in Park City, Utah, my apartment was diagonal to a Mexican grocery store. I used to walk over there several times a week. My diet comprised very large doses of chorizo, tomato, and quesa fresco tortillas. Good memories.

Chorizo involves a lot of spices. Here’s a simplified version you can easily try at home, using ground beef instead of pork. It’s an approximation of traditional chorizo; not exactly the same taste, but roughly the same idea. Enjoy!

Ingredients:

1 pack ground beef
1-2 tablespoons crushed red pepper
salt, desired amount
black pepper, desired amount
vinegar, desired amount (a flavor substitute for sour cream)1-2 large potatoes, cut into small cubes
large tortillas (I prefer whole wheat)
2 Roma tomatoes, chopped
grated white cheddar, desired amount
prepackaged shredded veggie mix (optional)
1 lime, sliced

Hand mix the beef, pepper, salt, and vinegar in a large bowl and let sit in the fridge for about 3 hours so that the flavor sets.

Fry up the potatoes with a sprinkle of salt and pepper until they get a golden crust.

Cook the chorizo mix in a frying pan, stirring often.

Serve the chorizo on tortillas, with a garnish of potatoes, fresh tomatoes, shredded veggies, cheddar, and a spritz of lime.

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Lionfish in Port Antonio, Jamaica

lionfishAsh Wednesday is a holiday in Jamaica. My husband and I spent the day diving in Port Antonio, on the northeast coast, with friends. It’s a good place to spear lionfish. We caught three big ones and a few smaller ones and handed them over to a local who has become our cook on the Blue Lagoon beach–yes, it’s the beach in the titular film–when we visit.

Lionfish, an invasive species outside of Asia, makes for an excellent seafood dish. This time, our cook grilled the fish with a dressing of margarine, scotch bonnett, and green pepper. The morning was cloudy, but, as usual in Jamaica, the sun came out and made the green of the land and the blue of the ocean pop. We sat on the shore and dug into our dishes, warming up from the dives and enjoying the bounty of the day.

Illustration by Aileen Torres-Bennett

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Kayaking Goat Islands, Jamaica

Kayaking Goat Islands, JamaicaThe Goat Islands seem remote because you have to drive through narrow dirt roads and sugar cane fields to get there. It’s a scenic country drive once you get off the main drag.

The site has become a battleground of sorts because China Harbour Engineering plans to build a megaport on the islands, which are part of the Portland Bight. The land is uninhabited, except for iguanas that are considered endangered. Jamaica is badly in need of something to jump start economic growth, so the government has been loathe to say no to a big port project. But some locals, including fishermen, and environmentalists are not keen on having the pristine area transformed into something unrecognizable.

For now, the Goat Islands remain in their natural state, bordered by mangroves. It’s a great place to explore by kayak. Depending on where you paddle, you can find clearings that open up into internal bodies of water, and eventually a river.

When my husband and I drove back from our first kayak trip there, we stopped by a chill spot, what the locals call roadside bars, on the road through the agro fields towards Spanish Town. We drank Red Stripes and gazed out at the horizon, absorbing the discoveries and efforts of the day.

Illustration by Aileen Torres-Bennett

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