Thursday, February 28, 2013

A Jamaican Hummingbird Heaven


You can't visit a tropical paradise without diving into the natural landscape and Jamaica offers lots of options.  In Ocho Rios, I explored Mystic Mountain which features a lush hummingbird garden in a rain forest. In the photo above, you can spot a hummingbird hovering over the feeder on the left.


I love the delicate beauty of these winged creatures but I discovered that they are really hard to capture on camera. There were literally dozens of birds flitting around but I only managed to snap one.


The green feathers and red beaks blend in with the scenery so well  and they fly so fast that I had to strain to see them. Look at the bird melting into the leaves to the left in the photo above.


I learned that Ecuador claims the most species of hummingbirds and that the world's smallest bird does not migrate from the Western Hemisphere. It was fun being surrounded by these tin birds in the Jamaican rain forest but they did make me dizzy.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Ackee and Me


Ackee is the Jamaican national fruit and I love it so much that I ate it everyday while I was on the island. An exotic fruit that's cooked as a vegetable, ackee is indigenous to West Africa and has been a staple in the Jamaican diet since the 18th century. The trees bear clusters of red fruit that burst open when ripe.


The ackee fruit features soft yellow flesh that resembles scrambled eggs and shiny black seeds. By itself, ackee has a rather bland flavor but when it is paired with saltfish, it's transformed into the Jamaican national dish, full of savory deliciousness.


Ackee and saltfish is traditionally served as breakfast but it can also appear as an entree anytime of the day. I started my day with a heaping plate of ackee and saltfish, accompanied by festival, fried dough that soaks up the flavor and makes the meal that much more tasty. Every morning, I sat on the veranda of my villa, gorging on ackee and saltfish and sipping fresh Jamaican ginger tea. I savored the experience because in the U.S., you can only buy canned ackee and it's not even close to the freshness of the just-picked fruit.


I felt compelled to stop and grab a close up view whenever I spotted an ackee tree in Jamaica. I would have picked the fruit but ackee is toxic until it's fully ripe. Instead, I cozied up to the tree, like the old friend that it is.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Montego Bay's Doctors Cave Beach


Jamaica is noted for an unending supply of pretty beaches and Doctor's Cave Beach certainly qualifies. That's not why I visited this soothing strip 20 minutes after my plane landed, however. Located smack dab in the middle of downtown Montego Bay's Gloucester Avenue or "hip strip", it's one of the island's most famous beaches.



Over 100- years- old and full of history, I came to investigate the beach's legendary curative water. Legend has it that several centuries ago, when slavery still plagued Jamaica, runaways would dip into the spring waters of the cave leading to the beach and their sores and bruises from whips and beatings would quickly heal.


A beach club was founded on the location in 1906 by a Dr. McCatty, which is how the beach acquired its name. By the 1920s, a British doctor published research on the healing waters of Doctor's Cave Beach. Celebrities and wealthy travelers flocked to the beach, prompting hotels to spring up all around the beach. The cave was wiped out by a hurricane in 1932 but the beach retains its allure. The water is warm and crystalline and the sand is soft and pearly. But is the water magical and healing? Nope. Apparently, those special curative abilities left when the cave was demolished. That didn't stop me from lounging and splashing in the water as streams of dancehall music played at the Groovy Grouper beach bar. I didn't leave until Doctor's Cave Beach literally closed, at a shocking (for Jamaican time) 5PM.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

The First Thing To Do in Jamaica


Jamaica is a beautiful country on many levels. The landscape is gorgeous, the people are warm and the culture is rich. That's a lot to take in so you need to be fortified. As soon as my plane landed in Montego Bay, I headed to the little thatched roof bar right outside the airport. Lots of visitors figure that a rum drink is in order but that's only if you don't know any better. Knowledgeable travelers are aware of the requirements and that is that you must eat a patty as soon as you enter Jamaica. Patties are baked pastries filled with spicy beef, chicken or vegetables and they are the official Jamaican snack. You must sink your teeth into one of these crusty delights before you'll even begin to be prepared for the experience called Jamaica. Washing it down with cool June plum juice or jelly coconut water is also a good idea but not a necessity. I savored the last crumbs of my patty as classic rock steady tunes played in the background and I felt a connection to the island. Now I was ready.