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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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The Recipe for a Perfect Getaway

Start with a fabulous resort

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Mix in one fancy New Year’s Eve party

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Add in a healthy (or unhealthy, depending on your perspective) dose of delicious food. And then add some more just for good measure.

Stir in a museum (because I’m a nerd and my boyfriend is awesome)

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Fold in some adventure

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Sprinkle in sparkly snow. Because sparkles.

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Add a few relaxing hours at a spa

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And don’t forget the most important ingredient of all – someone amazing with whom to enjoy the food and the fun and the adventure. And to kiss. A lot.

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Bake it all for about three days and enjoy the perfect weekend getaway.

Brandon and I decided to celebrate the beginning of 2016 in the way I pretty much want to celebrate everything – by traveling. This time, I got to explore the Bend area, an area of Oregon that was entirely new to me.

The Resort: We stayed at the lovely Sunriver Resort. The resort offers a bit of everything. Lodging options varied from my cozy, fireplace-warmed room with a snowy view to entire houses perfect for families. There were onsite restaurants, a spa, and access to everything you need to enjoy the outdoor recreation that the Bend area offers year round.

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The gorgeous, snowy view from the room

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Not only did I get to check out one of the lodge rooms, thanks to a frozen water pipe which led to a non-working shower, I spent the last night in one of the lodge suites. Termed a suite, the two-story room was more like a small condo.

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When I could manage to pull myself away from the fireplace, which let’s be honest was a bit of a challenge given that the temperature was barely above 0 degrees Saturday morning, I could not help but marvel at the beauty of the resort under layers of snow or squeal like a child because twinkle lights were everywhere.

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The Party: One reason we chose to stay at Sunriver was because of the New Year’s Eve party. The idea was that staying at the resort would be convenient and provide easy access to the party.

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What I had not considered was that, although, yes, the party was quite close to the room, that distance was primarily covered in snow. Snow which I had to traverse in 4-inch stilettos. The bruise on my knee from slipping and falling in the snow lasted at least 2 weeks. Thankfully, the memories – the photo booth, the silly party favors, the band, the champagne toast and kiss at midnight – will last much, much longer.

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I know, I know, a kissing picture. But it was midnight. On New Year’s Eve. And he’s handsome.

The Food: Fair warning. The below photos will both make you hungry and perhaps make you wonder how we had time to do anything except eat.

Stewart's 58 Drive-In was a great find in the small town of Oakridge.
Stewart’s 58 Drive-In was a great find in the small town of Oakridge as we were driving from Eugene.

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Salsa bar
Salsa bar
The housemade black bean burger was spicy and had the elusive (at least in the veggie burger world) perfect texture. Topped with pepper jack cheese and my chosen salsa - jalapeño corn - it was simultaneously delicious and messy
The housemade black bean burger was spicy and had the elusive (at least in the veggie burger world) perfect texture. Topped with pepper jack cheese and my chosen salsa – jalapeño corn – it was simultaneously delicious and messy
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Pre-party dinner at Sunriver Brewing Company

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Falafel wrap and sweet potato fries
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You can’t visit Bend without visiting Deschutes Brewery (or in this case the related pub downtown) at least once.

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Pre-dinner chili fries

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An embarrassingly short time later, we were enjoying cocktails and appetizers at Zydeco. Where we only managed to get a table because we were literally waiting outside when the restaurant opened at 5 pm.
An embarrassingly short time later, we were enjoying cocktails and appetizers at Zydeco. Where we only managed to get a table because we were literally waiting outside when the restaurant opened at 5 pm.
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Fried okra
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Corn and artichoke fritters
Barbecue ribs for Brandon, truffle mac n cheese for me. Everybody wins.
Barbecue ribs for Brandon, truffle mac n cheese for me. Everybody wins.
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Brunch at the resort’s Carson’s American Kitchen was so delicious it required a repeat the following morning.

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The view wasn’t too bad, either.
The next morning I branched out and tried this - an everything bagel, topped with hummus, arugula, radishes, cranberries, and granola. It was weirdly delicious.
The next morning I branched out and tried this – an everything bagel, topped with hummus, arugula, radishes, cranberries, and granola. It was weirdly delicious.
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At this point, it really does seem like we did nothing but eat. Which is kind of true. No judging.

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Checking out the wine list

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Sometimes I still have dreams about this seafood pasta
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Spanish coffee
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And when you can’t decide, don’t. Creme brûlée, lava cake, and blackberry cobbler. All great!

The Museum: We spent a cold afternoon perusing the High Desert Museum. The museum’s exhibits varied from regional art to the history of the Northwest Coast American Indians to animals found in the high desert. Amid all of this, we spent most of the afternoon looking for the porcupines. Brandon had told me about the giant porcupines that he remembered from his childhood. More than once, he shared how cool they were and how much I would like seeing them because they were, after all, giant porcupines. After making a full round of the museum, which included plenty of time outdoors in a place that was literally freezing, we wondered how we could have missed them. How does one miss giant porcupines? After asking the kind lady at the front desk, for the second time, where they were located, we again traipsed through the snow. To see this:

This was the most exciting part of the exhibit. That little tiny illustration of a porcupine was as good as it got. Needless to say, there were no giant porcupines. And the one not-so-giant porcupine in the exhibit was apparently hiding from the cold. Did I mention it was like, freezing, outside?
This was the most exciting part of the exhibit. That little tiny illustration of a porcupine was as good as it got. Needless to say, there were no giant porcupines. And the one not-so-giant porcupine in the exhibit was apparently hiding from the cold. Did I mention it was like, freezing, outside?

Fortunately, there were plenty of other things to see.

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Apparently I have the wingspan of a turkey vulture.

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The Adventure:

We took a caving tour with Wanderlust Tours. Boyd Cave is the only cave open in winter because it's the only lava cave in the area where bats do not hibernate. Which is apparently important because they eat trillions of mosquitoes per night. Yay bats.
On Saturday we took a caving tour with Wanderlust Tours. Boyd Cave is the only cave open in winter because it’s the only lava cave in the area where bats do not hibernate. Not disturbing hibernating bats is apparently important because it allows them to survive the winter months and they eat trillions of mosquitoes per night when they are not hibernating. Yay bats.

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This cave is undeveloped, which meant lots of scrambling over rocks and crawling through small spaces.
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Our guide was fantastic – funny and clearly passionate about his work. Although we could navigate the cave at will, he provided information on the easiest path (e.g., “If you go this way, you can crawl on your hands and knees. If you go this way, you will have to wiggle through on your belly with one arm over your head. Your choice.”) and provided information on the geology and history of the lava caves.

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I ice skated. After spending an afternoon climbing through a cave. The deal was I had to either go around the rink 3 times or fall at least twice before we could leave. I’ll let you guess which came first.

The Spa: Before braving the icy drive home, we stored up as much relaxation as possible with a morning at the spa. A massage, some time in the hot tub as the snow fell outside, and post-massage hot tea and chocolates was a pretty perfect end to a wonderful weekend.

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The Boyfriend: Also known as the guy who made the weekend perfect.

This pretty much captures our relationship - Brandon doing something silly (like licking my face when it's freezing outside) and me laughing.
This pretty much captures our relationship – Brandon doing something silly (like licking my face when it’s freezing outside) and me laughing.
Happiness
Happiness

Now that I think about it, three days was just not long enough.