Blue Mountain Bicycle Trip

Gorgeous scenery in coffee country (c) Iain Purdie

Our only full-day trip of the holiday set off around 9am with a very friendly driver, Cleve. It’s around 2.5 to 3 hours to get to the cycle route, and he took the time to point out many interesting sites on the way there. These included one of the oldest churches on the island, a house built in the shape of a cruise ship and the areas where several of the island’s “heroes” were born.

Jamaica has many of these heroes, and they range from early politicians to freedom fighters and athletes. Their coins have some of these on the “heads” side and I love the way they’ve been gifted the title of “Excellent” or “Right Excellent”. It makes our political “Right Honourable” sound distinctly dry and boring in comparison. I know I’d rather be excellent than honourable any day.

Little Mister rode up front for a large part of the journey with Cleve keeping him entertained and, indeed, for the whole day. He was very well behaved given that he wasn’t taking part in the cycling. Come on, a 4 1/2 year old stuck on a bus for roughly 7 hours out of a 9-hour day? Most adults I know would have gone stir crazy.

As with all the staff we’ve met pretty much everywhere, the guides and assistants on the ride were cheery, fun, outgoing and just plain brilliant. We began up in the hills with a brunch and a quick demonstration of coffee manufacture – only a short show detailing how coffee is made in the plantations around the Blue Mountains, using manual techniques rather than mass mechanical means.

We were driven further uphill to the start point and to collect our cycles. The climate (and more specifically the change from where we’d begun the morning) reminded me very much of the trip from Kuala Lumpur to the Cameron Highlands I did a few years ago. Scale it down in size a bit and swap tea for coffee and there is a host of similarities. There are even similar examples of plant life with the ferns that fold up when touched. Views from the top down valleys are just gorgeous, even with the low cloud cover we had to accompany us.

Yes, because I need to know that on a bike with one brake (c) Iain Purdie

The bikes were a little scary, being “beach bikes” which only had a front brake lever. The rear brake was activated by pushing the pedals backwards which takes a lot of getting used to! My bike was very sensitive – one wrong push and the back wheel would lock up. I ended up swapping with the guide later on as he reckoned it didn’t “sound” right. His was a little easier to control!

My mum can’t ride a bike and they supplied her with a tandem and “pilot” for the trip. All she had to do was keep her feet away from the pedals – chueffeur-driven, basically.

Lunch was supplied at the same place we had brunch, and there were a handful of stop-offs on the way down for our guide to point out little items of interest. There was very little pedalling with the downhill route, and the final section was done through some moderate rain. Our guide was wondering why we weren’t bothering to use the (free) plastic ponchos – he didn’t appreciate that a bit of rain is nothing new to the British, and that we’re more used to it coming down in temperatures a quarter of the ones we were experiencing!

Little Miss was near the front of the pack for the majority of the ride, only stopping briefly when she hit a pothole and rammed the handlebars into her midriff when she fell off. Ouch. It didn’t stop her though – straight back in the saddle.

I passed a little pub towards the end with a great licensing sign which looked very genuine but was along the lines of “I promise, during the next session of court, that I will trail into town and apply for a liquor license so that I can serve alcohol to be consumed on and off the premises legally. Honest.”

We rounded things off with a dip in a pool beneath a gorgeous waterfall and a beer-drinking contest. Out of all the nations present, the only three people who volunteered to take part were British. Tut. I came a close second and narrowly missed out on the prize of… another beer!

The trip back was quiet, Little Mister up front again for most of it. We got back to the resort in time to chow down some more lovely food and back up the photos.

Definitely a trip I’d recommend. The change in climate will suit some people, the scenery is excellent and there’s very little exercise involved so as long as you can ride a bike (or share a tandem), there’s no reason not to do it.

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Settling in and Making Plans

As I type this up, the first rain of our stay is pattering down on the roof of our little shack. I’m not too fussed as it’s still warm, Transformers Prime is on one of the 70-or-so channels and I’m keeping an eye on Niamh while ploughing through the Jack Reacher novel I picked up on the way here.

The wedding is booked, and all the extra arrangements around it have been sorted. We’re looking at 11am on Monday 22nd so all we need to do now is cross our fingers that it doesn’t decide to chuck it down then!

In the meantime, we’re making the most of the (generally) lovely weather and the all-inclusive food and drink. The quality of the food has varied from, at worst, acceptable right through to “would someone please swap my stomach with that of an elephant so that I can eat more of this?”. With a different spread each of three meals a day there’s been something for everyone, and the local beer is Red Stripe which isn’t bad in anyone’s book.

We picked a good time to come, it seems. There’s a celebration on this year and as a result many of the things that would normally be charged for are free – amongst these is internet access at the hotel. In addition, several of the excursions are reduced or offering free upgrades. Very handily, this includes two of the trips we definitely wanted to go on before we got here. So we’re booked for the Dolphin Experience, and will get ourselves sorted for the Blue Mountain bike trip and Dunn’s River Falls once Hans arrives.

Oh, and diving. I think we’re planning on doing that the afternoon after we get married :)

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Our Jamaica trip – an introduction

Русский: Флаг Ямайки Slovenščina: državna zast...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m putting these posts up around 2 months after our trip simply as work and life have been ridiculously hectic. I couldn’t update while we were there as the wireless wasn’t up to it.

A couple of points to note:

a) Keep $22 (or equivalent in J$ or GBP) to one side, per person, for your departure tax at the airport. Even most scheduled flights don’t include this fee.

b) Do the excursions if you’re there on a resort. They’re worth it (see the posts)

c) Considering a wedding? Considering abroad? We can’t rate Jamaica highly enough, and in particular the Royal Decameron Club Caribbean where we were staying. Our wedding planner was just the most wonderful woman who put up with our chopping, changing, indecision, flexibility, inflexibility, plans, ideas, lack of planning, forgetfulness… Oh, and the weather.

d) Other Jamaican staff were pretty much along the same lines. Wonderful people.

e) Do listen to weather reports. Jamaica, along with many parts of the world, doesn’t do “a bit windy”. When they tell you to stay in your room, flipping do it.

f) You’ll struggle to get to certain areas without using public transport, taxis or rental cars. Mainly because they’re too damned dangerous. We couldn’t get a taxi to drive us to the outskirts of Kingston as the drivers we asked said that first we would be mugged and then they’d take the car.

Anyway, on with the posts…

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We Jammin’

The trip to Jamaica was eventful for it’s uneventfullness. We stayed at a hotel in Altrincham as it was near the airport and offered free car parking for the duration with a taxi ride to the airport in the morning. Our taxi driver was a great chap, pointing out all the footballers’ houses (he wouldn’t stop to let me urinate in Roy Keene’s letterbox) and making sure we knew the best way to get picked up when we returned. The trick, folks, is to get your taxi at T2 departures, not arrivals. It saves the taxi paying a parking charge that they’ll pass on to you, and it’s also far less busy.

The flight was fine with decent grub (airline food doesn’t deserve the bad reputation it’s gained) and the kids were amazing. Little Miss was a bit tearful, but she doesn’t like travel (at all – anything further than Nana’s is “abroad” in her eyes); Little Mister was incredible given the 10 hour flight duration; and Littler Miss was staggering. She barely slept and probably cried for something approaching 14 seconds during the entire journey.

If there was a downside, it was the Scouse couple behind Gillian who caused her to pass Littler Miss over to my folks (on the opposite bulkhead) a couple of times as it seemed they were going to come to blows. The “gentleman” of the couple was on a path to a hiding from both of us with his behaviour towards his wife, but in all honesty she wasn’t helping. Huge credit must go to the flight staff who calmed them down as best they could otherwise I’m sure someone within the surrounding few rows would have laid the wanker out, if for no other reason than to stop him yelling obscenities with children around.

The transfer at Montego Bay was pretty smooth with minimal immigration worries. The staff at the counters chatted to each other and with us, and the lady going through our stack of passports went from “why haven’t you signed this” officialness to “Oh my, she’s gorgeous!” as soon as it came to checking Littler Miss’s details.

A one-hour bus ride to our resort in Runaway Bay followed with good company from the driver and other staff, which of course required a tip. A point of note is that Jamaica is very much a “tipping” culture – the monetary sort, not the drunk mid-Western United States bovine-bothering college student type. Having saif that, they’re quite fair but we felt bad tipping in UK coinage as all of our travel money was still packed.

Our resort seems lovely though I’ve only seen it in the dark. We’re at the Royal Club Decameron on Runaway Bay. Due to the 6-hour time difference, it’s night on 3am as I write this having just sampled some rather excellent Mexican Rice and refried beans from the restaurant. That’s “real world” time. Here in “holiday world” it’s not even 9pm. The room is “functional” as we’ve opted for little wooden cottages. There is aircon, a fan, nice TV and comfy bedding. We’ll have to adapt how we bathe Littler Miss and it’s not The Ritz but it is lovely and about 30m from the beach.

My one quibble is that internet access is an additional extra so I’m not sure when I’ll get posts and photos up, but will do my best especially next Monday when we get married!

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Another dinky update

Co-national flag for use on sea and abroad. Fr...

Co-national flag for use on sea and abroad. From 1978 the sole national flag of Greece (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Just a reminder that after a lengthy stay in the UK, Gillian and I will be off to Jamaica in October for our wedding. I’ll try to keep things updated, but there’s no guarantee depending on affordable wi-fi access! If we’re really lucky, we might be able to visit one of the other nearby islands/countries but there are limits due to how long we have to remain in Jamaica before/after the wedding for legal reasons. Basically, if we’re not there for long enough then our marriage wouldn’t be valid!

We’ve also just booked our summer hols for 2013, and will be going to Crete. This will be my first time in Greece, and although it’s a package tour (no backpacking with three kids!), we’ll still be trying to cram in a lot of activities and excursions for me to report back on. The hotel claims to have free wi-fi, so with luck I’ll be able to keep the blog updated too.

The plan is to maybe have another break next year with the kids (looking like Center Parcs) and a long weekend somewhere just for Gillian and myself. I’m thinking Syria, but I don’t think she’ll be up for it somehow…

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