In case you have somehow missed these two facts, Oregon has amazing wineries and LeChon is our favorite restaurant. Combine the two and you basically have the most perfect date night. Since moving to Oregon, I have been interested in attending one of the various Guest Chef or Wine Dinners that bring the state’s best chefs to local wineries. However, when a friend shared an upcoming Guest Chef Dinner at Abacela with me on Facebook, I quickly dismissed it because, you know, wedding stuff. When I took a second look, though, it was a matter of seconds before I was telling Brandon that we were going. As in, he did not have a choice. I sort of justified it by saying it could be a belated birthday dinner. The reason we could not possibly miss the dinner? That was because the chef from our favorite restaurant was coming to little ole’ Roseburg (well, technically to Winston, or somewhere outside of Winston). It was just meant to be.
We were greeted with a glass of Albarino and burrata on toast. Oh, and we took an Uber in Roseburg for the first time (which has sadly been stopped). And we got carded. I think we may have been the youngest folks at the dinner.
After a bit of mingling, we were seated for dinner. Over the course of the next couple of hours, we were served a five course feast created by Chef Jaco Smith from LeChon. Each delicious course was paired with one of Abacela’s fantastic wines.
We first enjoyed tapas of shrimp ceviche and avocado and smoked trout toast (one of my favorite dishes from the last time I had been at the restaurant) paired with Tinta Amarela.
Our next course was an out of this world salad with quinoa, goat cheese (yum!!), and pumpkin seeds with coal roasted kabocha squash (which was perfectly sweet and nutty) all covered in a light coating of a miso-honey dressing. It was paired with a 50/50 Tempranillo-Malbec.
Our third course was a sort of pork kebab in a soy sesame BBQ sauce with a sweet potato puree on the side. It was perfectly accompanied by Abacela’s amazing barrel select Tempranillo.
There had been so much delicious food by the time we got to the entree that it may be difficult to imagine that we still wanted to eat food. But that would be false. This course included beef short ribs and smoked chorizo paired with an equally amazing Reserve Malbec, which was probably my favorite wine of the entire evening.
The meal ended with lemon cheesecake with a caramel and gingersnap topping served with a sweet blanco dulce that balanced the tart taste of lemon.
We enjoyed every single bite. It was one of the best meals I have ever had. But my favorite part was not even the food. It was Brandon geeking out at meeting the Chef.
Of course, he creates amazing food that we love. But we were both impressed by his passion for what he does so well. Over the course of the evening, he shared more about his history as a chef and how a life lived all over the world has impacted his cooking. Originally from South Africa, he even provided restaurant recommendations for our upcoming honeymoon to SA, which was the icing the cake of a perfect date night.
I’ll be honest, at $95 per person, this evening was a splurge. But it was one we do not regret as we savored a delectable meal prepared by the chef from our favorite restaurant, sipped wine, belatedly celebrated another year of my favorite person’s life, and took time out of the craziness of wedding planning to simply be. That, my friends, is priceless.
I do this thing, this thing where I get restless if I go too long without some type of adventure, whether it be a weekend getaway or a day trip to a new place or, if I’m lucky, a vacation to somewhere interesting and beautiful. Since returning from Jamaica in September, with time and finances rather tied up with wedding planning, the opportunities to get away, although not quite nonexistent, had been few and far between. As the end of the year approached I could feel myself getting antsy. The feeling built until the last weekend of the year when I had an extra long weekend thanks to the New Year.
I woke up Saturday morning not having any plans, but really, really, really wanting to have plans. So, like a normal person, I suggested that we go camping. In a tent. The obvious choice for a weekend in December. One spot I had been wanting to explore since moving to Oregon was Cape Perpetua along the coast. Shockingly, we had no difficulty making last minute campgroup reservations at Jessie M. Honeyman State Park. Less than 2 hours after I initially suggested camping and Brandon agreed (after spending a few minutes reconsidering my sanity), we were packed up and ready to go.
Heading toward the coast seemed like the perfect excuse to stop by the Lighthouse Cafe. Not that I need an excuse.
After lunch, we enjoyed the scenic route to the coast and then arrived and settled into our campsite. I’m fairly certain that we were the only people in the entire park crazy enough to tent camp in the middle of winter, but we ensured we got a site with electricity in order to make a few, ummm, adjustments to our typical camping arrangement.
After setting up our campsite, we spent the rest of the afternoon doing the best kinds of things – walking along the beach holding hands, watching Sydney play tag with the waves, finding whole sand dollars (not easy to do), and enjoying the beauty that is the Oregon coast.
After a long walk on the beach and taking approximately 1 million pictures, give or take, we had worked up an appetite. We decided to return to Homegrown Public House, a spot we had especially liked during a previous trip to Florence.
It was just as great as we remembered. The literary themed seasonal cocktails were a fun touch. With options such as A Walk in the Woods, My Precious, Lizzie Bennet, and A Song of Ice & Fire it was hard to decide.
The real highlight continued to be the locally sourced, made from scratch food.
Bellies full, we soaked in the warmth of the restaurant before heading back to camp for what we correctly anticipated would be a chilly night.
Although the space heater and many blankets kept us reasonably warm, there is only so much you can do to make camping in a tent, an activity that is not particularly comfortable under ideal conditions, cozy in the middle of winter. Needless to say, we got an early start the next morning, desperately needing another campfire, lots of hot coffee, and the chance to move and stretch our aching backs.
Despite a mediocre night of sleep, we were excited to begin our day at Cape Perpetua. This was another spot on my Oregon bucket list, Thor’s Well and the tide pools both being among the spots I wanted to see.
With no real plan in mind, we walked the trails, explored the tide pools, and marveled at the incredible ways water and rock and wind and time have shaped the coast.
And just when we thought the views couldn’t get any more amazing, we headed to the top. From the highest point on the coast, we could see miles down the coast and out to sea. There is an immensity that overwhelms in places such as this one, an immensity that washes over and through and leaves a feeling that is simultaneously humbling and expansive.
To finish up our quick weekend away, we enjoyed a late lunch at 1285 Restobar, a favorite because of the pistachio drink, the ingredients of which we have repeatedly tried to determine. Well, it must have been our lucky day because with minimal prompting our waitress revealed the unexpected secret ingredients. I won’t reveal them (mostly because if I did you probably would not try it), but I’ll make you one of these cocktails anytime!
We savored our lunch and began the drive home, reviewing the year, both the wonderful and difficult parts. It had been a year full of amazing things, but also a year that presented some challenges. As we reflected on this year, our thoughts turned to the next year with anticipation. The next year, the one where we would get married and start our life together. As we looked backward and looked forward, I felt grateful for the man beside me with whom I made so many of the wonderful memories of the past year and with whom I would soon be starting the next chapter. Whether we spend the weekend having adventures, recovering from a crazy week, or simply moving through the mundane tasks of life, I am thankful that he is the one by my side. Later that night, exhausted, we sat around the fire pit in the backyard and toasted the new year with friends, welcoming and wondering what 2018 will bring.
When I was in college there was this show, I think it was on TLC, called The Perfect Proposal. The premise of the show was helping someone, usually a man, plan an elaborate marriage proposal for the person he loved. Sure, it was a little over the top, but it was fun to watch. There were hot air balloons and sky writers, surprise visits from far away family members, and I even recall a marching band or two. But beyond all of the cute animals and spa days and bespoke productions, beyond the scenic locations and giant diamond rings, there was always this moment. This moment of fear and hope, of expectation. In that beautiful, vulnerable moment, one person asked a question full of hope and promises, a question that imagined a future and nervously took the first steps toward it. And then the next moment when another person joyfully said yes to a life full of unknowns, to both the sorrow and happiness of all the years to come. That moment is the magic of life. It’s terrifying and brilliant to have so much wrapped up into one tiny, humongous question and an even tinier, momentous answer to that question. It was that moment that would be the sweetest, most wonderful memory I would take from Jamaica.
I’ll be honest, the morning before the proposal I was kind of pouting. I suspected and hoped that Brandon was going to propose sometime during the trip because, really, how could there be a better place to propose than Jamaica? But we were nearing the end of our weeklong trip and it had not happened. So, like I said, I may have spent portions of Thursday pouting and pretending not to. However, like an adult I reminded myself that I was in a gorgeous place having a fantastic time with my favorite person. I was not going to let the lack of a piece of jewelry take away from that. We had a fun day snorkeling, relaxing at our hotel, and swimming in the pool. We had decided that we would go out that night for a fancy dinner at Ivan’s, which was just down the road from our hotel. We got dressed up, which meant that Brandon actually put on pants instead of the shorts he had been wearing the rest of the week. He suggested that before going to dinner we stop by the bar and get a couple drinks and then find a spot to watch the sunset. He did not exactly have to twist my arm.
There was this little cabana right on the edge of the cliff that was just the spot. We sat and I sipped my drink, choosing to simply enjoy the moment. I did notice that Brandon seemed a little nervous and distracted. Despite this, we soaked in the moment and savored the beauty and the company. We took a few pictures and then right at sunset (6:15 on Thursday September 14 to be exact), he suggested we get up and take some pictures together. He maneuvered us to the edge of the cabana and then dropped down on one knee. He had something in his hand, but I could only look at his face as he asked “Will you be my Mrs. Hart?” I could not speak. I could not even say yes, so I just nodded my head and leaned over to kiss him. I eventually looked at the ring. He had even found a ring box that was shaped like a shell. After a few blissful moments of cherishing the newness of being engaged, of privately celebrating suddenly being more than boyfriend and girlfriend, Brandon set off to find a random person to come take pictures. We recreated the sweet moments of our engagement for the patient man behind the camera.
It was sincere. It was joyful. It was perfect.
That evening, we had a celebratory dinner at Ivan’s.
The food may have been delicious, but even more amazing was sharing my first meal with my fiancé.
This man. I love him beyond words and cannot imagine someone loving me better than he does. This sunset proposal in Jamaica will be a memory I will treasure for the rest of my life. On the days when life is hard or when love is hard, I will recall the love that came easily and the happy tears shed in one of life’s perfect moments and remind myself of the all the many reasons I said yes to the unknowns of forever.
And, if you are wondering, I spent the rest of our vacation telling every.single.person. who we met that we had just gotten engaged.
So I’ve been holding out on you. I’ve talked all about the gorgeous beaches, the stunning sunsets, the adventures, the chill vibe. But what I haven’t mentioned, at least not in much detail, is the marvelous food – spicy and flavorful, the food we had in Jamaica was a true highlight of the week. And did I mention there was lobster? Lobster for days.
Rockhouse has three restaurants. The Rockhouse Restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and offers room service for the resort. This is also where the Juice Bar is located. The Pool Bar & Grill is all about the tropical poolside drinks and small, casual meals. And finally, there is Pushcart, an upscale interpretation of local Jamaican jerk centres. We had the chance to enjoy all of these options during our week in Jamaica.
Slightly jet lagged, desiring a tropical beverage and our first Jamaican meal, we made our way to Pushcart after settling into our room and briefly exploring the property. As we looked out over the ocean, the salty breeze mingling with the scent of rum and grilling meats, it was impossible not to feel happy.
But enough about that. What did we actually eat?
Well, we of course had to start with a cocktail or two. We were in Jamaica, after all.
We really struggled to narrow down what to order and eventually settled on a platter that included curried goat, braised oxtail, curried chicken, and bushman stew – a hearty and flavorful stew of lentils, red peas, black beans, and vegetables, this vegetarian dish was a take on Rasta fare. These were served with variations of rice, including callaloo rice, which is made with a leafy green such as amaranth.
We tried each dish and tried them again, doing our best to decide on a favorite. I think we eventually decided that the bushman stew was the best, but just barely. By the end of the meal, our mouths were on fire and our bellies were full.
We would return to Pushcart a couple more times that week for dinner and we did our best to try every dish on the menu.
We would find ourselves at Pushcart one last time the night before going home. It was a bittersweet night, as we listened to live Reggae music and reminisced over the loveliness of the previous week, while the sadness of leaving began to sink in. Thankfully we could take comfort in more amazing Jamaican food.
As I mentioned above, the main restaurant at the resort, Rockhouse Restaurant, was open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Dinner at Rockhouse was more of a fine dining affair than at Pushcart. This was also the restaurant that provided room service, which we ordered for breakfast once or twice. Like Pushcart, there was an emphasis on local foods with much of the produce sourced directly from the Rockhouse’s organic garden. And like Pushcart, all the food was delicious. Seriously, I don’t think I had a bad dish the entire week.
Other mornings, we chose to have breakfast in the restaurant. It was wonderful to wake up and drink coffee overlooking the stunning blue ocean, enjoying the still cool air as the day began to warm. We would make our plans for the day while we marveled at the beauty and perfection of it all.
One of the most unique breakfasts I tried was the Jamaican Special. Included with the breakfast was the iconic Blue Mountain Coffee, which some consider to be the best coffee in the world. Served alongside the coffee was the national dish of Ackee and Saltfish. Ackee is a much-loved fruit that, to me, seemed somewhat similar in taste and texture to an avocado. Salt cod and ackee are sautéed with spices to create this iconic dish. The Rockhouse breakfast also included other Jamaican foods, such as callaloo, fried dumplings, plantains, and, because that was not enough, even banana bread.
I enjoyed trying the different traditional foods, although I think ackee and saltfish may be a bit of an acquired taste.
Lunch at the Rockhouse Restaurant was also good. We were typically out and about during lunch, but on the day I went to the spa, we decided to check it out. Maybe because we had the coconut chicken at a pool party the day before and couldn’t stop thinking about it.
We also had dinner at Rockhouse once during our stay.
The food may have been amazing, but the real highlight of the evening was this:
There are no words.
I think it is pretty obvious that the food at Rockhouse was stellar. But our favorite restaurant was just down the road, within a short walk of the resort. We first ended up at 3 Dives Jerk Centre after a somewhat disappointing experience at Rick’s. I am so glad we did.
This place was a quintessential dive, in the best way possible. At first I was a little leery. We arrived as very last of the sun set, walking up to the dimly lit building. After a moment, we realized that we would place our order at the counter. We perused the daily chalkboard menu, getting a glimpse of the large stew pots bubbling in the small kitchen. We initially ordered jerk chicken. When we expressed some uncertainty about the lobster, we were pointed toward a table located by the water. It was laden with the freshly caught crustaceans. After that, how could we not order lobster?
We found a table and drank Red Stripe as we waited for our food. The smells, man, they were incredible. The scents wafting from the kitchen made us more and more hungry. This is not a place where food was hurried. The jerk chicken and lobster were prepared after we ordered it, which meant plenty of time to take in the scene. Someone by the water was playing reggae music, which drifted underneath the conversations of locals and tourists alike.
Every bite was worth the wait.
The sides that night were rice and peas and callaloo. We also ordered some plantains because obviously this was not enough food. The immensity of the portions did nothing to diminish our determination to eat every single bite. It was one of the best meals of my life. No exaggeration.
This place was so good we had to go back again before we left. It was just was good the second time. This time we ordered curry goat. And more lobster.
I actually feel sad as I write this because I’m not there right now eating this food. Just looking at the pictures makes me want to hop on a plane to Jamaica just for dinner. But since I can’t do that, I will content myself with staring at this rather attractive picture of my man.
If you’ve somehow missed this point, Jamaican food is kind of awesome. I think you should go to Negril and eat jerk chicken and grilled lobster and curry and plantains. I promise your life will be better for it.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.