Category Archives: Trip Report

On a Rock, In a Bay, On an Island, In Jamaica: Booby Cay

As they say, all good things must come to an end. Apparently this includes Jamaican vacations. It was Saturday morning, the day that would be the last of a series of sunshine and fun-filled days that had been spent relaxing in paradise. The week had been everything and more than everything and I, for one, was not ready for it to end. As our final day began, we decided to return to the beach one last time. We had no real plan in mind, but asked Nelson to again take us to Seven Mile Beach. We found a spot for a quick breakfast while we pondered our options. Afterward, we stopped by a nearby watersports shop and asked about trips to Booby Cay.

Located within view of the beach, Booby Cay is a small island off the coast of Negril. We were able to arrange a day trip to the island and then waited on ocean front loungers for our glass bottom boat to arrive. I imagine that in busier times, the boat is closer to full and it could be more difficult to just walk up and book a tour, but on this particular day, we had the boat all to ourselves.

Even after days in Jamaica, the clear blue water was still a stunning sight.

Although Booby Cay was our ultimate destination, Brandon could not resist another opportunity to snorkel on the reef. We had as much time as we wanted to snorkel and explore, with freedom to branch out while still having a guide to show us around.

But snorkeling was only the beginning. After one last chance to take in the colorful sight of the reef, we hopped back on the boat (I mean that literally), and headed toward the island.

We dropped an anchor near the island and jumped into the warm, shallow water to walk to shore. Salty and barefoot, we walked through the sand toward the scent of smoke and garlic.

You see, this small, uninhabited island is also known as the place to get lobster. We made our selections out of a faded orange drink dispenser and waited with anticipation while our lobster was grilled.

As we waited, we wandered down the beach, buying a couple of overpriced Red Stripes from a lady selling them out of a cooler.

And then, the lobster was ready. Grilled over charcoal, topped with a garlic butter sauce, and served alongside grilled toast, this was the best lobster I have ever had.

I am not exaggerating when I say that we had lobster pretty much every day while in Jamaica (tough life, I know). And it is also no exaggeration to say this was the absolute best. It was perfectly grilled, the sweetness of the lobster wonderfully balanced by the richness of the garlic and butter. I used the grilled toast to soak up every last drop of the sauce. Food doesn’t get better than this. I was glad we had each had our own lobster, rather than sharing one as we initially discussed. I wanted every last bite. And more.

After a lovely day, we reluctantly made our way back to the boat and back to Negril.

The day may have been simple, but it was the perfect way to end our week. But just because Booby Cay was the last place we went while in Jamaica, doesn’t mean I’m done writing about Jamaica. After all, I have yet to really talk about all of the delicious food we ate. Which was, almost, the best part of the vacation.

 

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On a Rock, In a Bay, On an Island, In Jamaica: Zimbali Retreat

If you’ve been paying attention at all, you will know that our trip to Jamaica was amazing. It was a week full of adventure and love in a spectacularly beautiful place. Amid all of this though, one day manages to stand out. Of course, it could have been because it was the first day I was in Jamaica with my fiancé (I promise to share more), but I think our visit to Zimbali Retreats would have been incredible under any circumstances.

A labor of love where life is lived in harmony with nature, Zimbali is a one of a kind place. We were not quite sure what to expect, but had heard that we should go there if we could. So we did. We booked the lunch culinary tour, so our driver picked us up from the Rockhouse around 9 am. After picking up one other couple, we made our way toward the retreat. I may have gotten a little carried away with letting everyone know that Brandon was my fiancé and that he had proposed only the evening before. Maybe. At a certain point, the road became rather bumpy. Honestly, being from Oregon and having a fiancé who likes “exploring” it was nothing worse than we have experienced on a logging road here and there, but it certainly felt like we were heading into the Jamaican wilderness. At times, sugarcane towered over the car, our driver noting that it would grow much taller before it would be harvested later in the year.

And then we arrived at Zimbali.

We were greeted at the gates and led through a lush paradise to a deck overlooking some of the gardens. As we waited, we were given fresh juice (starfruit and guava, maybe, I don’t really remember but whatever it was, it was delicious) to enjoy as we marveled at the tranquility surrounding us. Zimbali is a retreat from the world among the mountains. With lodging, gardens, and all organic meals, it is a place to escape and relax. If we ever make it back to Jamaica, we want to spend more time here. This time, though, we contented ourselves with the farm tour and freshly prepared lunch.

Brandon couldn’t resist the cute puppy

These avocados were HUGE. We would get a chance to try them with our lunch.

 

After a few more minutes of relaxation, we began our tour of the organic farm. There was so much to see. We hardly noticed the heat of the day as we were led throughout the farm, marveling at the variety of the produce being grown.

Our tour guide, Clifford, also works at the farm

Tropical paradise
Brandon ate this hot pepper. Because he’s weird.

A baby pineapple
The farm had many different varieties of bananas. We got to try several kinds, although I stopped after one because I don’t really like bananas, which happens to be one of the few food things I’m picky about. Brandon shared that each variety had a noticeably distinct taste from the others.

The scent of the lemongrass was amazing
The is called a peanut fruit. It tastes exactly like peanut butter. Brandon may or may not be growing one in the living room now, although the details of that should probably remain fuzzy.
Bamboo forest
Serenity and beauty were found in each moment and around every bend in the path

This is a lemon…

After the farm tour was the highlight of the day, lunch. We made our way back to the kitchen where we would enjoy lunch created with fresh ingredients straight from the farm. Everything served was either sourced directly from Zimbali or from a nearby farm. Or the ocean. Yay seafood. We had made our selections for the main course prior to beginning the farm tour.

All of this, even the honey, is grown or made at Zimbali

We had a choice of wine with our meal as we watched the first course being prepared.

The first course was a refreshing and tart salad with those giant avocados and a citrusy dressing.

The second course was an Indian inspired samosa. Only my impeccable, raised in the South manners kept me from licking that sauce off the plate. And asking for seconds.

And then came the main course. I had chosen jerk shrimp, which was served alongside a green plantain fritter. The shrimp was flavorful and perfectly spicy. My only regret was not being there long enough to try some of the other dishes that were offered.

And of course, no meal is complete without dessert. We were served rum cake with a banana and honey sauce. It was so good not even the bananas could bring me down.

Our day at Zimbali was incredible. Despite the rain that began to pour as we left, I wished we could have stayed longer. I already want to go back and spend a few days further exploring the mountain, relaxing in a hammock on a patio amid the lush gardens, eating more delicious food, and taking the Rasta culture and food tour offered at the retreat. If you are planning a trip to Negril, I highly recommend that you make Zimbali a part of it, preferably for more than a meal. I know we will be staying a few nights next time we are in Jamaica.

We ended our first day as an engaged couple back at the Rockhouse, relaxing by the pool (well, Brandon snorkeled) and counting our blessings. As we watched another dazzling sunset, we reflected on what had been a day of happiness – the joy of being engaged combined with a truly lovely day at Zimbali wrapped up in the felt gratitude of being in one of the most beautiful places.

This day was one of the perfect ones.

 

 

 

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On a Rock, In a Bay, On an Island, In Jamaica: Rick’s Cafe

If you’ve seen any picture of Negril, it is probably this: levels of white stone balconies connected by stairs, a crowd of people with brightly colored drinks in hand, all against the backdrop of an unbelievable Jamaican sunset. It just looks like a good time, the place to be. And really, it is. On any list of things to do in Negril, sunset at Rick’s Cafe is near the top. There are countless tours and booze cruises that make a stop at Rick’s, leading to a revolving door of buzzed, swimsuit clad tourists, dancing along to the live reggae music and taking a dip in the pool, some of whom gather the courage to jump off of the 10 to 35-foot cliffs into the ocean. First opened when Negril was still a sleepy fishing village, Rick’s has become an icon of the west coast.

So, one evening in Jamaica, we made our way to Rick’s. You know, because it’s the thing to do. We opted for the fully clothed, take a taxi from our hotel, no cliff jumping experience. One of the benefits of wearing clothes was that we could enjoy the sunset from the upper deck of the restaurant, providing not only a great view, but also a slightly less chaotic experience.

I’ll be honest, this was probably my least favorite thing that we did in Jamaica. I mean it was fine and I can see how it would be fun for some, but it was really not my thing. It’s the kind of place designed to be experienced while intoxicated, and that’s just not what I do.

Despite that, we found things to enjoy.

Like the reggae music

And Brandon singing along to all the reggae music

And of course the sunset

And the obligatory sunset shots, if primarily for the photo opportunity. I’m pretty sure drinks shouldn’t be this color.

But most of all, the time spent with this guy. With him, even an ordinary night becomes extraordinary.

What’s not to love about that?

 

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On a Rock, In a Bay, On an Island, In Jamaica: South Coast

After a day relaxing on the beach, we were looking for a bit more excitement as our vacation continued. Neither one of us is so great at doing nothing for more than a day. Plus, I knew if Brandon got bored, he would start annoying me. In that super fun, 5-year-old, pestering kind of way. We needed to add some adventure to our lives. For both our sakes.

We decided to explore the south part of the island, so we hired Fabian as our driver for the day. There was more to see than we could possibly fit in a single day and it was a bit of a drive to get there, so we settled on YS Falls and Pelican Bar as our stops for the day. We also wanted to stop by the Appleton Rum Estate, but we learned it was closed for renovations.

Although, as with Appleton, there were instances when things were not open because it was the off-season, we actually loved being in Jamaica when things were a little slower. We could decide to do something a day or two before, or even last minute, and be able to make arrangements. During the high season, we would have had to do much more pre-booking to ensure that we would be able to do all of our desired tours and activities. That’s not really our style. Our preference is to research (okay, for me to research) all of the things we might like to do, perhaps prebook one or two especially important activities, and then take a relaxed, day-by-day approach once we are on vacation. Jamaica in the off-season was ideal for this. Having a private driver for the day also added to our go with the flow approach – we could choose exactly where we wanted to go and stay there for as long as we wanted. Although there were more affordable day tours to the spots we visited, our day would have been much more structured and, at times, rushed. As it was, we could take our time and create a day that was perfect for us.

One thing that cannot be denied, Jamaica is gorgeous. Like constantly-being-in-awe-can’t-believe-your-eyes gorgeous. Even sitting in the car for a couple of hours is a pleasant experience. That being said, we were pretty excited to get to YS Falls.

Honestly, we did not really know what to expect. We had sort of randomly picked this spot from our list of things to do that we had put together before the trip, but had not looked much beyond that into the specifics. We knew there was a waterfall. And we knew that we would probably get wet.

What we learned is that this property is a farm that has been owned by the same family for several generations. In 1992, the property, and its seven-tiered waterfall, was opened to the public. Although there is still some farm activity related to cattle, the farm no longer produces sugar cane and timber. When we arrived, we paid $19 a person to access the falls and the other attractions. From the main building, we took a short and scenic ride in the tractor-pulled, open-air cart to the site of the falls.

Once at the falls, we had a moment to look around before the guided portion of the tour began.

Pre-waterfall

And then the part we were really not expecting: at the falls, small groups (in our case, our “group” was just the two of us) were led up the falls by a guide who also took photos throughout the climb. I don’t know why I had not considered this given that walking up waterfalls while someone periodically takes pictures of you, specifically at Dunn’s River Falls, is one of Jamaica’s most well-known and popular attractions. Thankfully, I had thought to wear clothes that could easily be slipped on and off over my swimsuit and to bring towels (my favorite beach towels, still holding up after lots of use). I was also glad to be wearing shoes that could get wet, as well (thank you, Chacos). It made climbing up the waterfall a bit more comfortable than it would have been in bare feet.

The walk started off nice and easy, literally just getting our feet wet with the gently cascading falls creating the perfect photo backdrop. Soon, however, we were getting into the first pool. After we posed for pictures at each stop, we had time to enjoy the pleasantly cold water before moving on.

To be honest, the water was shockingly cold at first, but wonderful after we acclimated and as the day got warmer. Although Brandon would have loved to explore on his own, the nice thing about having a guide (other than the pictures, obviously), was that the guide knew where to swim, where to jump, and any areas to avoid.

If you need a laugh, take a good look at the intensely worried look on my face in this moment. I am wonderfully skilled at having fun while also being simultaneously anxious.

There were also two rope swings. Brandon, of course, did the “big” swing. I, on the other hand, was pretty darn proud that I did any swing at all.

Due to safety issues, they do not allow people to go the very top of the falls, but we had as much time as we wanted at the final pool. We could have climbed up the falls again, as well.

Promise there won’t be too many kissing pictures

After tipping our guide, we took some time to explore the rest of the property. And to discuss whether we wanted to do the zipline. This was one reason YS Falls had been on my radar. Brandon enjoys ziplining, but it was something I had never done before. This seemed like the perfect place to do something fun and adventurous together. However, when it came down to it, the anxiety started to creep up. But you only live once, so we paid our $70 and got ready to go. Although the ziplining is on the YS Falls property, it is operated by a separate company and is an additional fee. Also know that the credit card system may or may not be working. Or at least you may be told that it is not working. Point is, bring cash just in case.

Brandon looking cool, calm, and collected. Me trying to look cool, calm, and collected.

In the interest of full disclosure, I was A-N-X-I-O-U-S. Like heart racing, palms sweating, jittery, slightly lightheaded, anxious. And I think the guys working the zipline could tell. They did their best to help me calm down before the first line, but ultimately the only thing that made a difference was taking that first step out into open air.

It was equal parts fun and terrifying! But the second one was a little less scary. And I think I actually managed to stop clinging to the harness line at some point.

I look like I might be having a good time

But just when I thought I was getting the hang of it, there was this:

The long line all the way down the falls. It was invigorating to fly over the falls, but there were also complicated directions for steering given the length of this line. My mind went something like this: “This is fun, look at the beaut…oh goodness, left! left!…okay, feet are forward…look at that water…weeee!!…oh my, right! no left! okay, I’m good…I can do this…this is amazing!…and here’s the end…feet first, feet first, feet first…I made it!! That was incredible!!!”

The rest was a breeze and I even managed to look (almost) relaxed by the end, if a little shaky.

Would I do it again? Absolutely!!

Even so, I needed to calm my autonomic nervous a bit, so we spent the rest of our time at YS Falls leisurely checking out the lush gardens and floating in the natural spring pool.

When we finally pulled ourselves away from the water, we were ready for our next stop, Pelican Bar.

This isn’t just any tropical bar. To get there, you have to take a boat about a mile out to a sand bar, where Pelican Bar is located.

We negotiated a price for the charter. And by negotiate, the boat owner said a price and I said yes. There are some things I am really not good at. Don’t be like me and (probably) significantly overpay for a short boat ride to a hut seemingly made of driftwood and discarded Red Stripe bottles.

If there is a cooler way to arrive at a bar, I really do not know what it is.

Traveler’s tip: when you are dropped off at a bar in the middle of the ocean, try to remember where the boat you were on was from. That way when it is time to leave, you know who to ask the people at the bar to call, instead of pointing and rambling about yellow buildings and blue roofs and places that possibly start with a B, or a D…

We ordered some Red Stripe and a lobster plate to share (because when you’re in Jamaica you can eat lobster all day every day and it is glorious) before finding a spot to settle in.

The bar was colorful and quirky and oh-so-laid-back, the perfect place to waste away a sunny afternoon doing nothing. And everything.

Slightly sunburned and perfectly content, we made our way back to Negril and the Rockhouse.

I spent the rest of the afternoon alternating relaxing by the pool with relaxing by the ocean.

Brandon spent the rest of the afternoon jumping off of cliffs into the ocean and snorkeling.

And that, my friends, pretty much sums us up.

Remembering Jamaica has been so fun and I haven’t even gotten to the best part yet. As I write this, I am sitting on my couch cuddled up in blankets while drinking hot apple cider because it is cold and cloudy outside. I am thankful for memories of warm, tropical days filled with sunshine and adventure and love. And perhaps a touch of adrenaline.

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On a Rock, In a Bay, On an Island, In Jamaica: Seven Mile Beach

Seven Mile Beach is said to be one of the most beautiful beaches in the world and is one of the “must do” spots if you find yourself in Negril. At least that’s what I read. What I also read was that should one find oneself on Seven Mile Beach, one should be prepared to be approached by people selling jewelry, shells, and, well, other things… Knowing that this was a spot we definitely wanted to visit and because we were desperately in need of beach time after our long days of travel, we set off for the beach on our first full day in Jamaica.

But first, we had to get there. Seven Mile Beach is a few miles from Rockhouse, so we were able to get a taxi there for about $10 (including tip; make sure to bring cash). Rick’s Taxi usually has drivers waiting at the Rockhouse front desk that can take you wherever you want to go. That is how we met Nelson, who, in addition to Fabian, was the other taxi driver we got to know during our vacation.

As the name implies, Seven Mile Beach is several miles long (although according to some sources, not actually 7 miles). We asked to be taken to the beach and then got a blank stare as Nelson waited for us to tell him where on the beach. After some back and forth, we settled on Margaritaville. I know, I know. That is probably just about as touristy as you can get. But many of the other beach clubs were closed for renovation or because it was the (s)low season and it was an easy spot at which to be dropped off. Depending on where on the beach you want to go, there are beach clubs and restaurants and even one beach park toward the quieter end. There are also many, many resorts at which beach access above the tidal line is for guests only. And yet somehow we ended up at Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville.

On a quiet Monday morning, it was not a bad place to start. In the “don’t knock it before you try it” category, we actually enjoyed sitting in lounge chairs and having someone bring us overpriced daiquiris and pina coladas for a bit. We alternated staring out at the gorgeous ocean with getting into the perfectly warm ocean to play in the waves, which were actually a bit unusual and due to the hurricane elsewhere in the Caribbean.

It was beautiful and lovely and quiet. As I sat there sipping a mango daiquiri and enjoying the view, I felt so much gratitude for the moment, for the opportunity to take a vacation, and for time with Brandon.

We actually ended up back at Margaritaville later in the week after we spent a morning doing another activity that left from the beach. It was a Saturday afternoon and a completely different atmosphere – there was a DJ playing dance music and, even during the low season, a beach full of people having a good time. There were also some rather attractive young men dancing and dancing well, although I don’t think Brandon was too impressed. In fact, he was so unimpressed, he kept taking my attention away from the dancers, who I thought were quite talented. 😉

One of the the other benefits of settling in this spot was that there were employees at the edge of the property that kept hustlers away, which was a nice respite. And there was a nice guy that did a pretty darn cool magic show, too.

Speaking of hustlers. Yes, it is true. When on Seven Mile Beach, you will constantly be approached be people selling something. The funniest interaction I had:

Me: (walking along the beach hand in hand with my love, feeling the ocean breeze in my hair)

Hustler: Respect, man, respect. Want some ganja? It’s good stuff, man, good stuff.

Me: No thank you, we don’t want any.

Hustler: Okay, okay. I’ve got the good stuff; I’ve got some cocaine…

Me, In My Head: Ummmm, what on earth makes you think that if I don’t want marijuana I’m going to be all about some cocaine?

Yeah, I’ve never been offered so many drugs in my life. Side note, although marijuana is widely and openly used and sold, it is not legal in Jamaica.

The frequent approaches from individuals trying to sell stuff, marijuana or other products, was interesting. And consistent. Just about any time we were not on the property of a restaurant or resort, someone would come up to us. Everyone was friendly and no one got aggressive when we said no, but they could be persistent. And it did have a tendency to make us a little paranoid anytime anyone wanted to have a conversation.

For instance, this guy just wanted to say hello and take a picture, but we both kept waiting for him to try to sell us something

Although it was a little uncomfortable at times, I realize that these were people just trying to make a living. And like I said, I never felt unsafe. Nonetheless, knowing that there was a spot we could go (aka Margaritaville) where we would be left alone for a bit was nice. If you go (and really you should), just be prepared for this to happen and it will be fine. Also, there was a guy selling shells for $1, which would make a great and cheap souvenir if your boyfriend didn’t insist that it would be a more fun and authentic souvenir to only bring back the shells you found yourself. Not that I know anyone like that…

I loved our day at Seven Mile Beach. We had a great day doing nothing. We relaxed, we played in the ocean, we walked up and down the beach, we found shells, and we kept pinching ourselves that we were lucky enough to be on a sunny beach in Jamaica.

And when we got hungry, we found a little spot on the beach for jerk chicken and Red Stripe.

Jerk chicken, with rice and peas, of course

It was one of those days, one of those perfect days in a beautiful place with my favorite person. Although there would be more adventure later in the week, a day spent in utter relaxation at the beach was the ideal way to begin an amazing week in paradise. Seven Mile Beach did not disappoint.

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On a Rock, In a Bay, On an Island, In Jamaica: Rockhouse

I cannot remember exactly when or where I first learned of Rockhouse. I am sure it was in one of the many travel blogs or articles that I find myself reading on a regular basis. What I do remember is that from the first moment I saw the clear blue water and thatched huts nestled among the tropical trees, I knew I had to go there. If you’ve ever heard me talk about my list of places I want to travel, you know it is quite (probably impossibly) long. Despite that, I added not just Jamaica, but specifically Rockhouse to that list.

This brings me to last February. As I often do, I was sending Brandon several travel deals and ideas. And then came the moment when he said, “Sure! Let’s do it.” This is not a moment that happens often, for if it did we would be broke and homeless. Someone has got to put the brakes on my travel addiction. At the time, I had put together a plan to go to Singapore with some frequent flyer miles I had earned through two credit card signup bonuses. Although that particular plan did not end up working out, because I had gotten Brandon to agree to take a trip, I kept researching what our other options might be.

Enter Jamaica. This is where the stars aligned and everything came together.

First, Jamaica itself. Although I had heard mixed things about it (some people loved it, some did not), I had a feeling it would be the kind of place we would love. This would also be Brandon’s first international trip. Although I am not opposed to the challenges of international travel because I have also experienced the life-changingness of it, I wanted to minimize the chance of difficulties (I’ve had some humdingers in recent years) and go to a place that would be relatively easy (e.g., fewer language barriers, a place frequented by tourists where the customs process wouldn’t be overwhelming, etc.) where we could also get off the beaten and experience the unfamiliar. Plus, Brandon loves reggae music and I knew the food would be great and the beaches would be beautiful. I wanted to find a place that would get Brandon as hooked as I am on traveling outside of the US. Jamaica seemed to be juuuust right.

Second, availability. Rockhouse books out months, sometimes up to a year, in advance. Reward flight availability is sometimes tricky to find. Put those things together and finding a time that worked was a small miracle. But find a time I did and it just happened to be around our two year dating anniversary in September. This meant going during the low season, but by the end of the trip, we felt that we actually preferred that; it also meant that Rockhouse was affordable for us during that time. Even better, going to Jamaica instead of Singapore meant I would have more airline miles available for another trip down the line (those points may or may not already be used now, but you’ll just have to wait and see…).

I love it when a plan comes together.

Then we just had to wait the 6 1/2 months from the time we booked the trip until we left. Thankfully, we had a busy spring and summer to keep us distracted, but we both spent the months leading up to the trip anticipating our week in Jamaica. We talked about what we wanted to do and reminded each other, in those moments when we were feeling stressed or overwhelmed, about how amazing it would be. And I love that part. A week’s vacation is so short and I love stretching the enjoyment of it with the anticipation and planning. And I love getting to blog about the trip and relive it once I return. But there’s always the risk that a long awaited trip won’t quite live up to the expectations and excitement.

So it was with much excitement and a hint of trepidation that we set out on our Jamaican adventure.

Because I had used reward points, our routing was a bit circuitous, but it actually worked out. Although Jamaica was not significantly impacted by hurricanes over the summer, much of the Caribbean was, as were the airports we would have been most likely to fly through if we had taken a more typical route. For instance, the Miami airport was closed on the days of our flights to Jamaica. But, we were far from Miami as we flew from Eugene to San Francisco to Panama to Jamaica. (Side note here, make sure that you familiarize yourself with all entry requirements before going to a country. Because we flew through Panama, we had to have yellow fever vaccines to enter Jamaica. If I had not read the small print about this requirement being applied even to those who transited through affected countries, we would have been denied entry to Jamaica. Vacation ruined). We also had some super long layovers, so I used all my tricks to make the flights as painless as possible.

I brought some good books that did not require the use of technology. I had audiobooks on my phone as backup, but I prefer to read the old fashioned way on vacation.
We used our long layover in SFO to catch up with family and friends before our technology connections would be limited to wifi.
I dressed for comfort (yes, I may have bought an entirely new outfit just for this purpose)
Best of all, I used the two United Club day passes I had to get entry into the lounge in the international terminal. It is not the best lounge ever, but it was better than waiting in the terminal and the free food and drinks helped a long layover pass more quickly.
Lounge snacks

And I made sure this guy had a good meal before getting on our overnight flight to Panama. You never know how airplane food is going to be, especially because we were flying an airline – Copa Airlines – that I had never flown before. We had dinner at 1300 on Fillmore, which is at the end of the international terminal.
A French 75 and a Fillmore Kiss – Jim Beam, raspberry liqueur, peach schnapps, and sour mix
Some fried okra
Smoked mac n cheese (mine is still better)
And a delicious fried chicken sandwich

Feeling relaxed with full bellies, we both managed to get a bit of sleep on our overnight flight, but we were feeling rather bedraggled by the time we arrived in Panama. Thankfully, we had plenty of time to get coffee before our (relatively) short flight to Jamaica. There was a great moment when Brandon went to pay for the coffee, pulled out a (US) $20, and then realized that $20 bill definitely wouldn’t pay for the coffee (although, to be fair, I had told him that US money is widely accepted in Jamaica; between the cash we had on hand and the use of credit cards, we never had to visit an ATM in Jamaica).

I’ll be honest, by this point we were both pretty done with traveling. We had left Oregon the previous afternoon, spent 6 hours in the San Francisco airport, flown another 8 – 9 hours to Panama and arrived early in the morning. We were ready to be in Jamaica!

Thankfully, the two hour flight to paradise was short and sweet. We could feel the excitement mounting as we peeked out the window to get our first glance of the island.

Let’s get off this plane!!!

Of course, even as we landed, we knew the hassle was not yet done. We still had to get through customs, which was a little slow and at times chaotic. But we made it! Thankfully, I had pre-booked our transportation from the airport with Gary’s Jamaican Taxi, a company out of Negril. Our driver, Fabian, was wonderful and we would end up calling him again for transportation during the week. We flew into Montego Bay, so it was an hour and a half drive from the airport to Negril on the west coast. But the car was comfortable, the scenic drive along the coast was incredible, and the reggae music playing on the radio helped us settle into our vacation. Fabian made sure to point out the two most common buildings in Jamaica – churches and bars, usually right next to one another.

And then we arrived. We arrived at a place I had been dreaming about, literally for years. It was almost like a dream as we pulled up to the open air front desk and were greeted with rum punches and friendly smiles. From that moment, all of the stress and fatigue of traveling became unequivocally worthwhile.

We were personally shown to our room and given a brief overview of the property. Sadly, even in low season we could not afford one of the villas. Not so sadly, our studio room with an ocean view balcony was absolutely perfect.

There was even an outdoor shower with lovely local bath products and the best smelling aloe vera I’ve ever used.

It was immediately apparent that this was a special place well beyond the average Jamaican resort. Obviously, the room was wonderful. Created to reflect a genuine sense of place, the building materials were locally sourced and the design was uniquely Jamaican. But it was so much more than that. There was a clear commitment to making sure guests had an incredible experience. Staff got to know us by name, which is possible when there are only 36 rooms and villas. Moreover, it was a company committed to the community around it. The employees were clearly valued and seemed to enjoy working at the resort. The Rockhouse Foundation has built or transformed schools throughout the area and while we were there, a fifth school, the first school in the region devoted entirely to children with special needs, was soon to be opened. They do all of this while being committed to green environmental practices. A stay at Rockhouse is a special experience and well worth the $125 per night that we paid for our studio room.

And it was not just a beautiful room. The entire property was a tropical garden. Located in the area of Negril known as The Cliffs, there was no beach. However, the water was easily accessible by the bright red ladders placed throughout the property and the tradeoff was a greater sense of solitude than could be found at the large beach resorts. We spent our first afternoon in Jamaica simply exploring, finding all the little nooks and crannies hidden throughout the resort. Little did I know that Brandon had another purpose for all of the exploring…

My handsome man taking in the view

Because of the hurricane, the waves were too high to get into the water and the pool was closed that first afternoon, but there would be plenty of time for that later. For the moment, we enjoyed being in a beautiful place and being together. We took in the views and slowly recovered from our long flights. Rockhouse was everything I hoped it would be and so much more.

 

 

 

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Love and Arkansas

Love is setting multiple alarms so I wouldn’t miss an early morning flight home. Actually, love is being willing to wake up this early for anyone, ever.

Love is Brandon braving his fears of tornados and water moccasins to fly halfway across the country with me in order to spend a mere 5 days meeting pretty much every person I’ve ever known. And doing it all with a smile on his handsome face.

Love is friends who are willing to drive through Dallas traffic to meet for a late lunch so that I could share the deliciousness that is Torchy’s queso with my boyfriend while introducing him to great friends and the first of many, many new people he would meet within a few short days.

Love is a favorite meal shared with friends, a meal not only of food, but of laughter and reminiscence.

Love is a friend who is willing to share her home and stay up way too late on a work night simply for the chance to catch up. 

Love is a meal of Whole Hog BBQ, another stop on the mission to eat all the Southern food.

Love is revisiting the campus where so many wonderful memories were made and trying to explain Harding to my favorite Oregonian.

Love is fried chicken and staying up late playing games and breakfast with enough food to feed an army.

Love is Midnight Oil granitas and best friends who are willing to create the time and drive hours just to meet the man in my life.

Love is a weekend spent in my little hometown. It is my dad’s blueberry pancakes. It is seeing the beautiful place I grew up through the eyes of someone to whom it was all new.

Love is time spent with family – in the car, over Easter dinner, and while drinking tea and laughing so hard that I couldn’t breathe.

One of my favorite pictures from the entire trip – my people being my people.

Love is the people and places that I call home. Especially the people. People who were so excited to meet Brandon and who welcomed him with open arms and open hearts. Love is, for the first time, visiting the home of my past with the one with whom I am building a future.

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California Dreamin’: Trees of Mystery

Although we may have managed to miss this roadside attraction on the way to California, we planned our trip home so that we could stop at the Trees of Mystery on the way back. Apparently the second time was the charm (perhaps, may I add, because we had a plan…). Of course there are many places and ways to see the redwoods. They are one of the world’s magical places and however one sees them, what is unquestionable is that they should be seen.

The redwoods, once seen, leave a mark or create a vision that stays with you always. No one has ever successfully painted or photographed a redwood tree. The feeling they produce is not transferable. From them comes silence and awe. It’s not only their unbelievable stature, nor the color which seems to shift and vary under your eyes, no, they are not like any trees we know, they are ambassadors from another time. – John Steinbeck

But if you’re in the mood for a slightly kitschy attraction reminiscent of 1950’s roadside attractions that bring to mind family road trips taken in (now) classic cars, this is the place to go. Despite the clearly tourist centered stop, the trees are no less magnificent. There are three general attractions (other than the giant Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox, of course): the walking trails, the Skytrail, and the Wilderness Trail. Adult tickets to access the trails are $16.

The trees along the trail are labeled in various ways, a catchy way to highlight their uniqueness.

The real highlight, though, is the Skytrail. Skytrail is enclosed gondolas that take you high above the redwoods with views that stretch all the way to the ocean.

It is possible to hike back to the bottom using the Wilderness Trail, but on this particular day we lacked the time and the appropriate footwear. Once back on the (non wilderness) trail, there was more to see, including a series of Paul Bunyan themed wood carvings.

We also spent a few minutes in the museum and gift shop at the end. Which gave me my favorite picture of the day:

Trees of Mystery, while an obvious tourist attraction, was a fun stop, worth both the money and time spent.

We made one more quick stop that day, technically before the Trees of Mystery. We wanted to drive through one of the several drive-through trees scattered throughout California. The one that happened to be along our path was the Chandelier Tree. Five dollars and a short drive off Highway 101 was this:

That wraps up our super short, super fun, super packed trip to California. I love that even when we do not have much time, we can fit so much doing into our long weekends and short trips away. I am thankful for our adventures and getaways from the everyday and so glad that we get to make those memories together.

California Dreamin’: Santa Rosa

So all that spontaneity and stress from the drive to California was not pointless. We were going to California for a wedding, a very fun wedding. Although much of the weekend was spent in wedding related activities, we did manage to fit in a few extra activities. It was fun for me to get to see a place where Brandon had lived. And I think it was fun for him to show me around.

But, before I get into all that, this one picture from the wedding must be shared. Because he just looked so darn handsome.

For the weekend, we stayed at a VRBO on a small farm. It was quaint and comfortable and there were alpacas and big fluffy dogs that Brandon may or may not have considered stealing.

We also ate a lot of really good food. When the friends getting married are both professional chefs, you’re in good company. Everything, from the wedding catering (there was an entire pig), to the post-wedding brunch, to simple dinners out, was fantastic.

One of the great challenges for me about living in Oregon is the scarcity of good Mexican food. I couldn’t go to California without getting my fix. We began Saturday morning with breakfast burritos from what had been Brandon’s favorite spot for breakfast burritos when living in Santa Rosa. My veggie burrito did not disappoint. Too often vegetarian breakfast burritos are bland with an overabundance of eggs or under seasoned potatoes to other flavors. This one was perfect, with an ideal balance of eggs, rice, beans, cheese, salsa, onions, and bell peppers. No lack of flavor here!

Crab stuffed deviled eggs should be a thing everywhere. Imagine the best deviled egg you’ve ever had and then multiply that by 100.
Burrata has been a slight obsession of mine recently.
Smoked bacon omellete
A fancy Monte Cristo – I loved all the pickles on the side

The day after a wedding is as good an excuse as any for brunch. We were treated to a delicious brunch at Monti’s. Despite staying out a bit to late the night before and having to drag ourselves to the 11 am brunch, we quite enjoyed it. Everything was delicious.

Our last night in California, we went out for an excellent dinner with friends at Jackson’s in downtown Santa Rosa.

When you have to wait 45 minutes for a table, a pre dinner cocktail is a good idea. I tried the Shredder – Humboldt rum, orange amer, lemon juice, and pear puree.

And then there was the food, starting with way too many appetizers – chicken wings, more burrata (because obsessed), roasted cauliflower, and truffle fries.

And then somehow we ate more. I managed to eat about one shrimp taco and I think Brandon ate about half of his turkey sandwich. Nothing like the post-wedding happiness haze to contribute to rash food over-ordering.

We also fit in just a bit of sight seeing on Sunday. I think I mentioned that we had stayed out way too late after the wedding on Saturday. On Sunday, for every second of the entire day, we were struggling. Just imagine in all of the smiling pictures you will see below that behind the smiles, there are pounding headaches and profound fatigue.

When in Sonoma County, one must go wine tasting. Although the thought of alcohol may have been unpleasant at that moment in time, we somehow forced ourselves to go to exactly one tasting room. Our choice was Seghesio Family Vineyards. Although I certainly want to return to the area at a time when wine tasting is more, ummm, palatable, this was a great choice. I loved see how the vineyard was so different from the much smaller operations in the Umpqua Valley and I enjoyed the wines that are not grown in Oregon. We may have come home with multiple bottles of Zinfandel.

After rallying through wine tasting, Brandon wanted to show me downtown Santa Rosa. Specifically, he wanted to show me the Peanuts. Charles M. Schultz, the creator of the Peanuts cartoon, moved to the area with his family in 1958. They eventually moved to Santa Rosa, where he lived until his death. There are tributes to Mr. Schultz and the Peanuts throughout the city, including a museum. We were not really museum material that day, but we did enjoy walking around downtown and posing with the various statues. After stopping for coffee at the impressive Aroma Roasters.

All in all, not too shabby for two people who could barely walk.

The wedding was certainly the highlight of the trip. Even so, we had a great time fitting in some more fun things while we were in Santa Rosa. I can’t wait to go back!

Brandon’s Birthday Break, 30th Bday Ed., finale

There are a lot of things I love about traveling. One of my favorite things is the food, something that was readily apparent from the number of food centric activities that we enjoyed during a single day in Seattle. I love trying new foods, exploring the culinary culture that is unique to a place. For Brandon’s 30th birthday trip, this meant eating some form of seafood pretty much every day. I was totally okay with that. This trip we ate at a mix of favorite spots and places recommended by others. Not a single meal, not a single bite of a single meal, disappointed. The following are some places you should definitely check out if you find yourself on Bainbridge Island or in Portland.

Harbour Public House was our first true vacation meal. Within walking distance of our VRBO, we had a nice stroll through downtown Winslow and along the water to the pub, which serves what I would best describe as gourmet pub food. Although with dishes like fried calamari and seafood and mussel curry, calling it pub food is a bit of an understatement.

Two thumbs up from the most discriminating seafood eater I have ever met. The beer-battered fresh Pacific cod made for fantastic fish and chips, even by Brandon’s almost impossible standards.

My seafood curry was the perfect mix of sweet and spicy

Mora Iced Creamery is a “can’t miss” stop, even when it’s 40 degrees outside. With flavors ranging from the familiar to the more creative, there is certain to be something for any taste. And if you just can’t make up your mind, sample to your heart’s content until you find that perfect flavor, or combination of flavors. Or, hypothetically, if two of you want to order the same flavor, you can keep trying the various options until someone gives in and decides that the other person  can have the chocolate peanut butter. Because you can’t order the same thing. Obviously.

It is hard to feel like you’ve “lost” when the consolation prize is more Mora’s ice cream. And I may have agreed to share a few bites of the chocolate peanut butter.

J’aime Les Crepes is a small creperie that was recommended by a friend. With options from sweet to savory, the authentic  French crepes made for a delicious and not-too-heavy breakfast. The thin, subtly sweet crepe was the perfect counterpart for veggies, cheese, and a hint of pesto sauce.

Manor House is the on site restaurant at the Inn at Pleasant Beach. It was the ideal spot for Brandon’s birthday dinner and probably the biggest splurge of the trip. The setting was intimate and romantic, just where I wanted to be on a cool, rainy night.

After perusing the menu, we started with cocktails and the out of this world manila clams. Despite the fact that we were in a super fancy restaurant, I was sorely tempted to lick the bowl clean.

We each went with the 3-course Chef’s Tasting Menu with wine pairings. The tasting menu had multiple options for each course, so we had a selection of dishes to share. Although really I think I could have eaten more of the clams and been perfectly content.

Calamari sauteed in a white wine and tomato sauce
Truffled mushroom flatbread
Linguine with prawn scampi
Cassoulet with a white bean ragout
And for dessert we shared the vanilla ice cream with berries and a dulce de leche bread pudding. Or at least, we tried. Honestly, we were so full and satisfied by this point that we couldn’t take more than a few bites of each.
Happy birthday, my love

Our last food stop before leaving Bainbridge Island was Doc’s Marina Grill. Because we needed to get one more seafood fix before leaving the island.

Lunch with a view
More manila clams, this time in a garlic and white wine sauce with andouille sausage thrown in for good measure
Clam chowder (are you sensing a theme?)
And a warm, cheesy, Dungeness crab risotto

Back in Portland, we had a second birthday dinner at our favorite, favorite spot, Le Chon. I have written about this restaurant before because it is, after all, our favorite. But I really can’t get enough of this place. And one birthday dinner really isn’t enough.

“Our” table by the fish tank
My usual, the mediterraneo – a twist on a pisco sour
I can’t remember what Brandon ordered, but it came in a super cool mug
Burrata topped with grilled green onion pistou, golden raisins, and marconas served with griddled bread
Grilled steak
Truffle fries, of course. I’m pretty sure we ordered empanadas, as well. But we probably started eating them too quickly to get a picture. You should always order the empanadas.
One of our favorite dishes is the grilled octopus with chorizo and fried potatoes

On the last morning of our trip, we managed to check another spot off my Oregon bucket list while eating delicious donuts at Blue Star. These are considered by many to be the best donuts in Portland. Blue Star utilizes a brioche dough that takes almost 20 hours to make, which is done with only the best ingredients. And then they top the donuts with creative and delicious flavor combinations, like blueberry bourbon basil and orange olive oil. These are donuts gone upscale.

We shared an apple cider fritter and a peanut chocolate covered donut. Both yummy!

And with that, our days of eating dessert for breakfast and clams every other meal were sadly over. At least for this trip! I loved planning Brandon’s 30th Birthday Break. Even more, I loved getting to spend a week celebrating a new decade of his life. I can’t wait to see what’s next!