Five Nights in Jamaica January 2014

(Part 2)


Highlights of my recent trip to Jamaica (Part Two) by Dennis F. Stevens:



Herein is part two of the report on my recent vacation in Jamaica; the first part having been emailed last Wednesday (05 February).   When we left off, Nicole Kelley and I had just scammed ourselves a free meal and some drinks from the Goldeneye Resort, built around the hilltop Jamaican home of Ian Fleming and where he wrote all the James Bond books.  With the unknowing help of Clayton, the Goldeneye concierge, we were about to continue the scam on Sandals Grande Riviera and the Royal Plantation. 


PART 2: 


Nicole and I had just met Rocco the personable general manager of the Grande Riviera and Mark Starkey the GM of the next door Royal Plantation, when Rocco surprised the hell out of us by calling in Lydia, the concierge, and asking her to comp us as a guest for the night, with all of the inclusive privileges.  Even Nicole was stunned.  The gesture was worth at least US$1,200.00, if not more.  


If that wasn’t enough, Mark proclaimed that we would be his guests for the second night.   All they asked for was to eventually receive a copy of the book or series of articles that I would be writing on their resorts.   It looked like my work was cut out for me.  


Since my occasional journalism days with Reuters, I’ve always written my notes on 3 X 5 memo books.  I had filled a complete book at Goldeneye and it now looked like I would need some extra Memo Books for this assignment.  Lydia promised to see that I had plenty of such pads.   With that, there was nothing left but for Nicole and I to go to work.  


Fortunately Nicole had insisted that we take an overnight bag with us in case along the way we might need to dress for dinner.  And, of course she included our swimsuits and other essentials.  Nicole is one of those persons who think of everything.  


Lydia personally escorted us to our room, which was on the Riviera (Ocean) side as opposed to the Great House side.  As I previously mentioned, the resort is basically two resorts (separated by a functional roadway) and you take a free resort shuttle which makes three stops (in a loop) to get to the other side.  The Great House side has a main pool, smaller (individual) room pools (al la Mexico’s Las Hadas and Las Brisas), and larger rooms with butler service.  The Riviera side has more restaurants and all the water sports activities because it's on the ocean.  

Our favorite water sport is scuba diving and grabbing our swimsuits we wasted no time in rushing to the dive center in an attempt to make the final boat of the day to the scuba dive site.  Nicole has her IDSA, level 3, “open water” certificate and was assigned by dive master Richie to look after me.  My PADI “scuba diver” certificate was somewhat more limited.  Fortunately, both of us had the foresight to bring our plastic credit card size certifications.  With the dive shop providing us with the necessary equipment, we took the boat out for the last dive of the day.   


The dive was 45 minutes in the water on a coral reef, and we saw lots of big and little fish (I loved the ugly groupers).  If you wanted, they would give you a spear to catch lion fish (which the resort would cook for you a Kelly’s Dockside).  This was a lot of fun and Nicole and I enjoyed the experience immensely. 


After returning to our room and a lengthy rest, we met Lydia who introduced us to the resort’s popular Oceanside restaurants; including The Manor House, Valentino’s, China Doll, The Reef Terrace, Napoli’s, Tepanyaki, and Kelly’s Dockside.  After showing us each venue and introducing us to those chefs in attendance, Lydia left us to return to her concierge duties; leaving the decision as where to eat up to us. 


We chose Valentino’s due to its gorgeous setting and Italian-Caribbean fusion dish specialties; with everything cooked to order (from scratch) using only fresh ingredients.  We tried some fish antipasti (imoscardini) and the mozzarella in carroza (fried mozzarella) which were exquisite.   For the main course we both decided to go for the handmade tagliolini with porcini mushrooms, callaloo and melanzane alla parmigiana.  For desert we ordered a handmade dessert with an authentic espresso ristretto.  The flavoring was outstanding.  Even though this restaurant is not part of his group, Piero Selvaggio would have been proud. 


Afterwards, we stopped by the Manor House where the chef poured us a rare Penfolds (Thomas Hyland), South Australian premium (extra aged) Chardonnay which had enough oak and tannins to make an impression, even when paired with red meat.  To prove a point, the chef paired this buttery wine with samples of his signature dishes: a coffee rubbed, smoked rib eye BBQ roast (which cut like butter) and his coconut shrimp dish; proving that there are chardonnay’s that will go with nearly everything.   The Sandals resorts are not known for Michelin three-star food, but Valentino’s and the Manor House certainly qualify for the stars.  


The nighttime entertainment at the amphitheatre was very entertaining.  We attended both nights we were there.  The performance reminded me somewhat of the Rockin’ “R” Ranch in Mesa, Arizona; talented musicians doing what they do best.  Also, the resort doesn’t go into shutdown mode after dark.  Bars were open late and you don’t have to pay al cover charge to get into a nightclub.  And, of course, the more restrictive dress code kicks in after dark.  Although ties are not required, jackets are encouraged at most venues. 


The next morning, after a breakfast consisting of a stuffed omelet (onion, green peppers, mushroom, tomato, and callaloo (like a sweet spinach) and a stack of banana pancakes, we headed for nearby Mystic Mountain and its Rainbow adventures; including the popular one-man “Jamaican bobsled” ride.  


For the mere cost of US$89 each we elected to do the Sky Explorer (the chairlift ride up and down the mountain), the one person bobsled ride, and what they call the zip-line; similar to what I used to call bungee jumping.  


Taking the chairlift through the rain forest to the top of the summit, the first thing we did was soak up the extraordinary view of Ocho Rios’ curving bay, first glimpsed from the chairlift as it ascended through the canopy of flamboyant trees.  


At the summit you can enjoy a beverage or browse a few handmade crafts booths along with watching some Jamaican dancers dancing to the drums.  There is a retail gift shop whose prices were a few dollars more than what the gift shops charge at the port where the Carnival and Royal Caribbean ships dock. 


We headed over and checked in at the zip-line shed, where we soon found ourselves putting on the gear, with the assistance of the zip-line people.  One couldn’t help notice the sign that stated that no one younger than 14 or over 62 years of age was allowed to risk making the jump. 


With a full head of hair and little, if any gray, I’m often assumed to be in my late fifties, instead of my actual age of 74; especially when seen with Nicole.  But Nicole could see the fright in my eyes.  However, instead of talking me out of making the jump, she did her best to console me.  She knew that it was important to me that I kept up with her, although I was at least 29 years her senior and in reality the task would prove impossible; at some point be doomed to failure.          


The Zip-line turned out to be fun.  If you count the bounces, I think there were 6 zips and one 25' repel.  I actually enjoyed the sweeping views of Jamaica’s mountains from high in the forest canopy; zipping through the trees on up to 1,600 feet (487 meters) of cables.  But then there’s the finish. 


It only takes about 2 seconds to drop the 25 feet.  The women only have time to get off one scream.  At the end I was so excited that I contemplated doing it again, but then thought better of it.    


Next was the Jamaican bobsled ride.  The single person roller-coaster-like cars quickly pick up speed, propelling riders on a wild journey alone 3,280 feet of track; hurtling through the forest and plummeting more than 300 feet down the mountain before finally coming to a rest.  


Mystic Mountain also has one of those ubiquitous water slides that typically have teenage boys, with an overload of charging hormones, standing on the sideline near the bottom of the run, waiting for the building water pressure to whip off the bikini tops of the young women who may or may not have known what to expect.  


Returning to the Grande Riviera we were delighted to learn that under the watchful eye of Mark (the manager of the neighboring resort to the east), our overnight bags had been expertly packed and moved to our new room at the Royal Plantation.  


We were in suite 303 on the third floor, a king-size air-conditioned suite with a fantastic view of the ocean and all the amenities, including the huge flat screen, satellite TV screen.  The Royal Plantation is another of those wonderful boutique resorts, with only about 72 suites, instead of the hundreds of its neighbor to the west, the Grande Riviera. 


Moving between the Royal Plantation and the Grande could not have been easier; a simple, regular shuttle.  


The Royal Plantation is a Butler Only Resort, which may take a little getting used to.   You have two personal butlers that work in shifts and two beach butlers during the day also working in shifts; the latter for all guests. 


Our butlers, both young and attractive females (Romaine and Shelley) were wonderful.   There was a cell phone in the room which we used to call and talk to the butler on duty whenever we wished for something.  The butlers made it happen, acting as a concierge in making reservations at the restaurants, taking care of the laundry, turning down the bed, or booking the water sports, etc., even at the next door Grande.  If you ordered room service, one of them delivered the meals together with the adult beverages, and set everything up; lighting the candles and pouring the French champagne. 


Nicole has far more experience than I in dealing with this accommodation, so I left dealing with the butlers to her.  They followed her instructions to the letter.  Except for your personal butlers, you’re not supposed to tip any of the staff, including at the restaurants.   Nicole and I didn’t think it was fair and broke this rule many times throughout our stay in Jamaica. 


Whereas the food at the Grande Riviera is hit or miss, Valentino’s and the Manor House being a hit; according to the food connoisseurs we talked to, the food at the Royal Plantation is consistently first class in every restaurant.   So we decided to have lunch at the Royal Grill and dinner at the highly rated French restaurant, Le Papillon (the Butterfly); both highly recommended.  


For lunch at the Royal Grill, with memories of the tasting at the Manor House the previous evening, Nicole went for the coconut shrimp and I had the Lobster BLT.  We accompanied this with the outstanding chicken nuggets.   For dinner at Le Papillon, Nicole went for the rack of lamb while I settled for the fillet steak with avocado butter; both terrific choices.  


During dessert we were visited by the executive chef.  Noticing the grilled duck listed on the menu, I mentioned that after having twice eaten at The Fat Duck, Berkshire, UK, west of London, I had developed a fondness for the meat when properly prepared.  I merely asked how he dealt with the layer of fat indigenous to the duck.  The chef was impressed with my mention of the Michelin 3-star Fat Duck Restaurant, always listed as one of the world’s top eateries.  He dragged Nicole and I to the kitchen where he showed us in detail how he prepared his grilled duck and chicken dishes.  


First, after cutting the chicken and/or duck into two pieces; the breast and thigh with leg-in, discarding the back and using the wings for another dish; using an oversized pot, the chef marinates the meat overnight in a combination of water, salt, chopped onions, herbs like rosemary and bay leaves, peppercorns and some secret ingredients which reminded me of an episode of Guy Fieri’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.  It doesn’t matter whether the oversize pot is filled with duck, chicken or both.  The next day the meat is removed from the pot and the mixture sans the meat is brought to a boil.  Before reintroducing the meat to the boiling water, in the case of the duck, puncture wounds are carefully made in the skin to allow the fat to ooze out during the boiling process.   


Once the chicken and/or duck is reintroduced to the boiling water with all its added ingredients, and the bubbles again become noticeable, the chef suggested reducing the heat so that it is at a “simmer” which means that it is not rolling at a boil but rather simply bursting a bubble every now and then on the surface.  Depending upon the size of the meat boiling in the oversize pot, after approximately twenty minutes remove the chicken and place on the grill.  After approximately 30 – 35 minutes do the same with the duck.  Due to its larger bones, the duck will naturally take slightly longer to cook.   Both meats will be slightly undercooked when removed from the oversized pot.  


Now, here’s the trick – according to the Le Papillon, chef.  Since grilling isn’t for the purpose of cooking the chicken / duck, but merely to give it flavor, there is no hurry to toss it on the grill.  Instead, you can do so as the orders come in; in the meantime keeping the cooked chicken / duck in the fridge. 


Depending upon taste, at this stage a sauce may be introduced to be cooked into the meat while over the grill.  Or, instead, an appropriate sauce may be applied to the chicken or duck while on the plate, prior to serving.  Regardlesw, the sauce is always cooked from scratch.  The Le Papillon chef then told me to grill the chicken and/or duck until the meat pulls away rather easily and that it is cooked inside with little if any trace of pink. 


Within six weeks or so, when the weather warms up a bit, I will invite some food and wine aficionados from Jackson, Wyoming, for lunch at a friends place (perhaps the Liz Cheney-Perry home in Wilson) and try cooking this same dish, using their Weber barbeque as the grill.  My trusted readers will receive a full report on the outcome. 


After dinner we wondered over to the Wobbly Peacock where Andre held court at the piano bar.  After a few drinks, we made the transition to the Grande Riviera and the more lively entertainment at the amphitheatre. 


Exhausted, the next morning (Saturday) we slept in; having a late breakfast at the Royal Grill where we both ordered the tasty ackee and saltfish, a traditional dish, known as Jamaica's national dish.  The ackee fruit was imported to Jamaica from West Africa before 1778.  It is also known as Blighia Sapida.  The scientific name honors Captain William Bligh who took the fruit from Jamaica to the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew, England in 1793 and introduced it to science.  Because parts of the fruit are toxic, there are shipping restrictions when being imported to countries such as the United States. 


To prepare the dish, salt cod is sautéed with boiled ackee, onions, Scotch Bonnet peppers (optional), tomatoes, and spices, such as black pepper and pimiento.  It can be garnished with crisp bacon and fresh tomatoes, and is usually served as breakfast or dinner alongside breadfruit, hard dough bread, dumplings, fried, fried plantain, or boiled green bananas.   It’s the Caribbean version of an omelet.  


We checked out early, having decided to have lunch in Montego Bay before heading south along the west coast of Jamaica to our resort at Negril.  


At check out, we were told by both the Grande Riviera and the Royal Plantation that in addition to some premium adult beverages (heavily discounted) all we only owed was the equivalent of the Jamaican room taxes, which are substantial, especially when compared to the Bahamas and the United States.  As we were told from the beginning, comping a room doesn’t relieve the resort owner from paying the outrageous room tax.  If a room is occupied, taxes are due.  But the resorts are happy to pay it in exchange for all the courtesies extended by the Jamaican government.    


By 11:00 a.m. we were in the Mustang, heading westward to Montego Bay.  We didn’t mention our luncheon plans to anyone lest they might have a compulsion to phone ahead and arrange for a free lunch.  We felt guilty enough as it was.    


After checking with her Smartphone, Nicole suggested we have lunch at the Port Pit, near Fletcher beach in Montego Bay, a down to earth fast food style barbeque joint that offered all of the Isle’s succulent grilled meals.   It turned out to be an inspired choice. 


The bustling eatery is almost always jam packed with hungry beach goers who deserted their beach towels to enjoy a hearty grilled lunch and many tourists munching on succulent jerk pulled pork or spicy jerk chicken.  Non meat eaters need not fret because they also have grilled seafood.  Side options include salads, fries, baked yam, corn on the cob, or baked potato.  They also offer soda and local beer for drinks as well as combo set meals with Jamaican wines.  There are several tables indoors by the counter and the building is also surrounded by picnic tables. 


I enjoyed the jerk pulled pork while Nicole chose the jerk chicken.  Jamaican cooking uses a lot of spices and the culmination of their fiery and flavorsome potential is jerk sauce.  A mixture of island-grown seasonings like Scotch bonnet peppers, pimento, cinnamon and nutmeg are dry-rubbed on meat which is then traditionally roasted, sometimes for hours, over pimento wood.  Any meat can be jerked, but chicken is the favorite, and Jamaican chicken is unlike any you’ll find in the States.  Chickens raised in the Caribbean are fed on locally grown foods rather than the typical imported grain, which results in a deliciously richer taste.  If ever in Jamaica, try the sweet and spicy meat with a piece of hard-dough bread for a traditional meal. 


We debated whether or not to take in some of the tourist sights in and around Montego Bay and have dinner, before heading down the west coast to Negril and our resort, The Caves.   Recalling the caution of the Avis rental agent who insisted that while it was perfectly safe to drive the roads during the say, at night we might be subject to car jacking and robbery, if not worse.  He was looking at Nicole when he added the “if not worse.”   We elected to take in some of the sights but not stay for dinner. 


I don’t recall why we chose the Half Moon Equestrian Center; known locally as Chukka Blue, but again it was an inspired decision. Located a few miles west of Montego Bay, without booking in advance, we showed up at the Center and put ourselves in the hands of Trina, who suggested the beach ride at Sandy Bay; called “swimming with the horses.”  


Since being thrown from one of Liz Cheney’s broncos, back in August, I admit to being somewhat apprehensive about climbing back on a horse.  After that incident, I was stiff for months.   But I need not have worried.  Although all the horses were healthy and strong, they were extremely well trained and people friendly. 


The Horseback Ride N’ Swim staff of 18 includes the best-trained and fully certified guides who not only know the horses but also specialize in matching their personalities to those of the riders.   There are two different types of horses:  thoroughbred and quarter horses, each flanked with their own caretakers.  The equipment is top line, including military, English and Western type saddles.  They also provide life jackets during the “swim” aspect of the ride.  


The horseback tour takes about 1 hour and 45 minutes to two hours and 45 minutes; depending upon whether you return from the swim on horseback or take the shuttle.  The actual swim with the horses lasts approximately 12 to 15 minutes and is the thrill of a lifetime.  


Our group consisted of me, Nicole and six other tourists from the cruise ship docked at the Port of Falmouth, one hour away.  Three guides were assigned to the group.   Nicole and I were in the back of the pack and out guide, Tony, was very informative, entertaining and attentive.   He continually kept up a running commentary and made sure we were riding safely up and down the hills by making sure we were leaning forward/legs back or leaning back/legs forward when necessary.  


Being able to see the countryside was awesome – Tony pointed out local flowers and fauna as we rode across a seemingly peaceful valley, hills and a small stream.  We even rode through a shanty town of very friendly people ... it was a very interesting day – and an eye opener!  People were poor but seemed to be in good spirits.  


We rode through a pasture and up and down some hills on dirt paths.  The ride lasted about an hour before arriving at Sandy Bay.  At the water’s edge we dismounted to get ready for the ocean ride; switching horses for the ones that swam in the sea!  It was exhilarating...the horses actually swim.  I was told by Toney that for this part of the tour they only choose the horses that love the water. 


The saddles used in the water are different from the ones used on land; although you have the choice of riding bareback if the guide agrees that you’re a good candidate.  After convincing Tony that I was an excellent swimmer and showing him my PADI Certificate, I was declared a good candidate. 


The horses were so docile and well-behaved.  We had about 10 minutes to change into our swimsuits and drop off our shoes (closed toed shoes are required for the horseback riding).  While I wore long sleeves and long pants, many in the group simply wore bathing suits or shorts and were fine.  No problems with tree branches or insects. 


After changing into my swimming suit, I wore my old Nike Air Jordan 5 Retro sneakers out to the mounting area where we mounted up.  I took off my seldom used (like-new) sneakers and left them on the elevated berm and rode in the water barefoot.  The swim lasted less than 15 minutes during which I found myself sliding off my horse’s back and hanging onto his tail in water over my head – and loving every moment.   The horses (obviously used to this game) cooperated and remounting in water over your head was easy. 


There are bathrooms and lockers at the swim site and you can purchase jerk chicken and rum punch while waiting for the shuttle to take you on the eight to ten minute ride back to the Equestrian Center, where our Mustang was parked.  Or, if you prefer, you can ride one of the horses back with the guides.  By this time, most choose the shuttle.  


At US$79 per person it’s a real bargain (I believe children receive a discount) and you have to be at least 6 years of age.  I should caution, however, there is a weight limit.  They prefer riders weighing 220 pounds or less.  However they make exceptions for height.   At 6 ft. 1 inch, I weighed in at 227 (fully dressed with sneakers) and I was welcome.   Because of my weight, however, I was assigned a thoroughbred.  Mounted atop the horse, I could not help but feel the power beneath my legs.  It was thrilling and exiting at the same time.  


Nicole and I made it back to the Caves Resort in time to sit and watch the spectacular sunset from the balcony of our Moon Shadows cottage, while sipping chilled Veuve Clicquot (gladly paying the extra charge for premium beverages).  


Unlike Goldeneye, Grande Riviera and the Royal Plantation, there is only one restaurant at The Caves.  All meals (breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks) are prepared in one massive kitchen and then served at various locations, including in your room, or in one of the many romantic caves.  Exhausted by the past two day’s activities, we chose the room service.   


We decided to go native and ordered mostly the real Jamaican fare no fancy fusion attempts.  We shared the curry goat, jerk chicken, roast lamb; with a large snapper, fried calamari, lettuce, tomato, callaloo, and green pepper salad; with a local (very tasty) dressing.   Everything was Michelin 3-star quality.   We washed it all down with one of the vast selection of Caribbean wines (red and white) found in our refrigerator (not a mini bar, but a full size fridge).     


After an early breakfast the next day, Sunday, we hooked up with Paul for some kayak and snorkeling.  As I mentioned earlier, for some reason I find it much easer to get around in water than on land.  I guess that’s why I love scuba diving so much.  It’s certainly not has hard on the body as snorkeling.  Like Skiing, snorkeling burns up a lot of calories and truly tends to whip one into shape.


In our kayaks, Paul guided us into some partially water filled caves (that reminded me of the Blue Grotto on the Isle of Capri) and pointed out marine life you wouldn’t normally see.  Emerging from the caves, feeling somewhat invincible, even as exhausted as I was, I couldn’t wait to make another jump from the Clift; which I did. 


Nicole checked her iPhone and learned that the Super Bowl kickoff was scheduled for around 6:30 p.m. EST (also Jamaican time); considering our evening plans, not a particularly good time for us.  So, using a 4-hour tape, she set the Magnavox VHS / DVR to record the Fox Sports Channel, HD Satellite transmission on a tape; where we could run it back and forth upon viewing at a more convenient time.   Naturally, we were rooting for different teams; I for the Broncos and Nicole for the Seahawks.  


So, instead of viewing the game live, we enjoyed happy hour at nearby Rick’s Café; after which we would have dinner at the Three Dives, a non tourist restaurant catering only to locals.  


Rick’s Café is within walking distance of The Caves.  However, since we had a car, we drove.  Rick’s is one of those so-called tourist- traps but can be fun if you get there ahead of the tourists.  Voted as the Best Happy Hour by Caribbean Travel + Life readers, Rick's Cafe is a Negril Cliffside classic for two reasons: the island's best sunset views outside of The Caves, itself, and the breathtaking daily performances of daredevil divers, who plunge from heights of up to 100 feet into the turquoise waters below.   


If you’ve ever witnessed the La Quebrada cliff (professional) divers of Acapulco make one of their 125 foot jumps into an average dept of 12 feet (depending upon the waves), then you can begin to appreciate what these Jamaican divers do. 


We sipped rum drinks and watched the local daredevil divers until happy hour was over and then, before the tourists began arriving, we headed over to the Three Dives Restaurant where we each ordered the restaurant’s signature dish, the lobster and curried goat with red bean/rice and callaloo.   Pardon the cliché but as Nicole always says, it was to die for. 


There was a bonfire by the cliff, which definitely makes it a potentially romantic setting.  The place itself looks quite shabby, but it is remarkably clean; including the kitchen and restrooms.    


Lloydie, the owner also creates a mean chicken jerk that is cooked so good it falls off the bone.  His wife Paula prepares the red bean/rice and callaloo to perfection.  Time permitting, Paula and Lloydie sit and share time with you. 


Nicole speaks (and reads) fluent Spanish, as well as French and German, and we were treated like locals.  This has to be the most relaxing restaurant in the entire world.  I understand that you can even stop by just to chat.   It was a truly memorable experience on our last night in Jamaica. 


My interest in cooking had me studying the Three Dives chef as he whipped up various indigenous dishes; including the following:  


Escoviche:       The bountiful seafood of the island, whether its snapper, kingfish or grouper, is often cooked in a style known as “escoviching.”  The fish is marinated in vinegar, onions and spices for a dish that preserves and brings out the taste of the ocean-fresh fish.  It tastes better than it sounds, and the longer it marinates, the better.  Think of escoviche-style fish as an ultra-fresh seafood cocktail, with extra Jamaican kick. 


Rice and Peas:       Don’t be fooled by the name. The “peas” in the dish are typically red beans, though any legume can be used.  Rice and peas are a mainstay of the Jamaican diet, and as you can probably expect, there’s more than meets the eye.  The extra Jamaican twist to rice and peas is that they are simmered in fresh coconut milk, making a creamy, sweet side dish with a tropical taste.  Peppers and other spices kick it up an extra notch, and combine with the sweet coconut to make a traditional side that’s pleasing to the tongue in multiple ways. 


Plantains:        You’ve probably seen plantains at the grocery store and been perplexed:  What’s with the big, green bananas?  The sweet and starchy fruit has to be cooked to be palatable, but once it is served piping hot, it’s a delicious side dish to any spicy Jamaican meal.  Often fried, then topped with butter and salt and pepper, the plantain is much like a tropical sweet potato.  You can also find them sold by themselves as a substantial snack; their gooey richness makes them delicious at mealtimes or in between. 


Gizzadas:        The gizzada is the Jamaican version of a pastry, and it rivals any European dessert with its decadent sweetness.  Found in bakeries, restaurants, and at food stands, the gizzada is a tart shell filled with butter, fresh sweetened coconut, ginger and nutmeg.  It's crunchy and gooey at the same time, and you’ll be glad that the majority of Jamaican food is made up of veggies and fresh fish.  You can afford to indulge in a pastry or two … or three. 


Fresh Fruit:        You can’t sample Jamaican food without tasting its best natural resource: fruit.  Don’t expect dull apples and oranges, though.  In Jamaica you have the chance to sample exotic and unusual fruits, fresh from the tree that you’d never find at home.  Try a ripe paw-paw, a sweetsop, a star apple or a guinep.  Even the fruits you’ve heard of are better on the island: juicy pineapples, lush tangerines and mangoes in shapes and sizes you’ve never seen before.  Even if you’re not normally a big fruit eater, you won’t be able to stop yourself from indulging in these sweet, sun-kissed varieties. 


Blue Mountain Coffee:       If you’ve seen Blue Mountain coffee at your local coffee shop, you may have been shocked at the price.  That high cost is because the coffee beans grown in the Blue Mountain region of Jamaica are among the best in the entire world.  Known for its smooth, non-bitter taste, the cup of Blue Mountain coffee you drink in Jamaica will be one that is at the height of its freshness.  What a way to start your day on the island! 


A final observation on Jamaican food.   You have to try jerk chicken, of course, plus the Tastee patties, the Blue Mountain coffee and so much more.  If you have to pick one place to sample everything, try Negril.  The cuisine reflects the national motto, 'Out of Many, One People.' Almost every plate reflects the island’s rich cultural tapestry.  The Spanish, first to conquer, left behind escovitch and other vinegary marinated dishes.  From the English came the patty, the Jamaican turnover inspired by the English pasty.  The Maroons, former slaves, cooked over open fires, contributing to the birth of jerk cooking over allspice wood.  Then there is curry, brought by West Indian indentured laborers, and Rastafarian ital cuisine — totally vegetarian, devoid of salt and extremely flavorful.  This is why someday, the good Lord willing, I plan to return to Negril. " 


If you’re planning on spending any time on the isle of Jamaica, be sure and try as many of these specialties as you can.  It won’t be a chore, but an exciting culinary adventure.  From the fiery spices to the juicy tropical fruits, your tongue will be doing a reggae dance, Jamaican-style.  


Back at our resort, The Caves, I suggested we take a stroll on one or more of the property’s lighted trails.  There was something I needed to discuss with Nicole.  


Walking alone one of the lighted paths and listening to the waves crash against the limestone cliffs, I once again broached the subject of our age difference (29 years) and once again she didn’t want to hear about it.  Nevertheless, I persisted.   I pointed out that while the relationship worked great when I was only 48 and even into my fifties and perhaps early sixties, it was doomed now that I was in my mid seventies.  She needed to find someone her own age. 


Insisting that she had no complaints, I suggested that such was because, for the past decade, we only occasionally saw each other that those hookups were under idyllic circumstances similar to that which we were currently experiencing.  


I told her that while she had no complaints now, the time was nearing when a beautiful, spry young woman of her age would; and that perhaps it was best to end the relationship now while all the memories were positive.  I told her that I had some lady friends nearer by own age; one of which I was thinking of asking to settle down with me for whatever time we had left.   


Nicole didn’t appear to be particularly put-off by my suggestion.  After all, we have had this conversation before.  That said, ever time she calls, it’s like Homer and his reaction to the singing Sirens-of-the caves in the Odyssey.  He knows they are dangerous and that he should put wax in his ears, but they are so enchanting that he cannot help himself.  


The Super Bowl game had concluded when we returned to our cottage.  Nicole rewound the tape and, sipping chilled Veuve Clicquot, by fast forwarding the tape we watched the nearly four hour game including halftime highlights in slightly under two hours.  


As you know, the Sea Hawks humiliated the Broncos.  Even though I bet on the Broncos, I wasn’t upset since I’m from Washington and greatly admire the Seahawks.  Although I still found the game exciting, I just wish it hadn’t been such a rout.  Nicole loved the halftime show with Bruno Mars and the Red Hot Chili Peppers while I couldn’t help reflecting on last year’s halftime performance by Beyoncé Knowles.  Both shows were visually spectacular.  I guess it’s just that I prefer Beyoncé’s spectacular thighs to a shirtless Red Hot Chili Pepper.  


The next morning, Monday, after the traditional omelet and banana pancake breakfast (with a large, spicy German style sausage thrown in), we headed for the airport at Montego Bay.   Without the usual passionate goodbye kiss; obviously to needle me a bit for the previous evening’s lecture, Nicole caught her direct flight to JFK.  Forty minutes later, I caught a Delta flight to Atlanta; where I changed planes for a flight to Phoenix and eventually on to Salt Lake City and finally Idaho Falls.   At the Idaho Falls airport parking lot, late at night, I found my car was covered with 10 inches of snow.  The sight made me long for another week in paradise.   The previous five nights just went too quickly.  


Nicole phoned to tell me that despite the balmy temperature the day before (Super Bowl Sunday) her Mercedes (in the long term parking lot) was covered with 5 – 6 inches.  JFK was closed in the morning but opened up in time for her Jet Blue flight to land on time.  


If the proverbial genie in the lamp were to grant me my third and final wish it would be that all my many friends and relatives still with us would have the opportunity to grab such an experience, while it’s still possible.   But be aware, despite the discounts and airfare credits, it’s not cheap; and if you refrain from adult beverages, an all exclusive resort is not for you.  


Also, make sure to use your credit card for purchases when possible.  While most tourist restaurants and sights post prices in Jamaican dollars, US dollars, the EURO, and English pounds, the cash exchange rate is usually 1 USD to JMD 700.  Your credit card will likely give you an exchange rate at or in excess of 1 USD to JMD 707.15.   This can add up depending on the amount of purchases.     


The average all inclusive Jamaican resort cost is US$825 per person, per night, depending upon the accommodations and length of stay.   But there are tremendous discounts for stays exceeding seven nights and even more for stays exceeding 10 nights; the latter of which can offer discounts of as much as 50% - 65%.  A 12 night (14 day) visit can be had for as little as USD 330 or less (per person, per night) and a reimbursement of from $250 - $355 on airfare, depending upon resort, accommodations and time of year.  


For stays of 4 nights or less, generally, full rates apply.   And rates do not include side tours or premium wines and other expensive adult beverages; nor do stays of 5 nights or under include airfare discounts.  While Nicole and I did not receive any airfare reimbursement, we did get a fairly decent rate for our five night stay at The Caves.

Dennis snapped these photos of Nicole at Sandals Riviera Resort, Jamaica.  The dress Nicole is wearing is interesting.  It’s suitable for both the beach and the resort’s finest restaurants, with their dress codes for after 6 p.m. Underwear is optional.