Tropical Storm ^H^H^H^ Hurricane Sandy

This poor sod fared worse than us (c) Iain Purdie

We had to shift resorts for a couple of days due to an incoming storm which was upgraded to a hurricane (winds in excess of 74mph). The Decameron Club we’re staying at is a collection of wooden-roofed shacks right on the sea front, so was deemed a little unsafe with wind speeds expected. We were shuttled over to the nearby Decameron Fun which, as it transpires, used to be the Hedonism III resort before they moved further down the coast. Which would explain the mirrors over the beds and jacuzzis, then.

The Fun gave a good first impression with a huge restaurant and slightly higher standards (it’s a 4* compared to the Club’s three), but after an initial tirade from Gillian of “you’re paying to upgrade us to stay here for the rest of the trip”, we rapidly ended up gagging to be back at the Club.

Mainly, it was due to the noise and inconsideration of our co-refugees who insisted on yelling up and down the staircase at each other at all hours, waking up the kids and ourselves. Tossers.

The food wasn’t bad – in fact I thought the desserts just topped those from our “home” resort – and the pool was huge with a water slide and everything… but the rooms weren’t as great as first impressions had us believe and we couldn’t wait to be moved back to the Club.

Actually, one of the first things that happened at the Fun was when I spotted that our window leaked. Badly. I managed to get it shut tight and put towels all over the floor to soak it up. I then went into the ajoining room to check on Little Miss and Grandma who informed me that their window didn’t shut properly either. Armed with my new experience in pulling windows closed and bolting them I opened the curtains to find that the right half had blown backwards in the wind and was in danger of banging closed to hard it would shatter all the glass.

I grabbed it and pulled it shut… and then discovered that it was at a 10 degree angle due to the top hinge coming loose. While attempting to right it, the bottom hinge gave way completely, three panes of glass slid out, crashed to the poolside two floor below and left me holding onto the entire window assembly while leaning outside in the pouring rain.

Thankfully, maintenance came up quite quickly with a hefty chunk of wood and covered it all up before we got the “do not leave your room for any reason after 10:30” notice that everyone roundly ignored.

Food and drink was supplied in polystyrene containers to most people (my parents didn’t get a dinner and I know other people seemed to miss out on one meal or another), but in fairness I think the staff did a decent job given the situation and that they were short on numbers due to many of them being stranded at home.

The storm itself wasn’t that impressive, especially to a survivor of Hurricane Bawbag which had faster winds. It was just a bit of wind and some occasional rain, although far warmer than we’d have had back home. The south of the island definitely fared worse than us according to the reports we heard.

We had to cancel the Dunns River Falls trip as we’d booked to do it during the storm and the reschduled dates didn’t work for child care reasons. We also had to seek a refund on our diving as we never made it out! A shame, as the plane wreck nearby is from one of the early Bond films.

Overall, we treated it as a holiday from our holiday and Hans made it onto his delayed flight from there despite a complete lack of information about departures. Nobody’s fault with the phone lines being down and everyone just doing as best they could. Thankfully, due to the hard work of the staff and the comparitive lack of damage, we were able to move back to the Club after 2 nights away.

It was good to be home.

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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, for this you need to select the right car for this services and having the right knowledge is important for this, and sites as the Auto News and Reviews could really help with this. 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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