A journey through time in Jamaica
For Lara Dunn, a Caribbean holiday was the chance to see her father for the first time in 30 years – and to revisit an island that was the scene of vivid childhood memories
Wednesday 19 December 2012
The last time I flew to Jamaica, I was just 10 years old. The reason for my visit then was to see my father. He and my mother had previously moved to Jamaica in the late 1960s on the promise of a good career and an exotic life. The career panned out well, and the "exotic life" was filled with decadent beach lunches with friends, weekend trips to hillside cabins and, eventually, a child. Me.
Sadly, that's where the story for them ended, with divorce and a return to a frigid, wintry UK for mum, while dad stayed in Jamaica. Time passed, I saw my father a few times over the years, the last being that final trip to Jamaica aged 10. Then somehow we lost contact. Eventually, after nearly three decades, the magic of the internet produced that most useful of things: an email address. Contact was nervously re-established.
A decision was made to visit the island of my birth and the adopted land of my father, this time with a husband of my own in tow. The plan was quite simple: to relive as many of the memories from my childhood as possible, build some new ones and meet my dad. It could be said I'd brought a fair bit of baggage with me on this trip. Several swimsuits, a snorkel, Branston Pickle for my dad and a host of half-remembered images of foods, sights, sounds, smells and emotions.
We'd arranged to meet at Boston Bay's roadside collection of jerk pork shacks. We'd both decided this would be a good location for our first meeting, somewhere neutral and relaxed, where we could get over any initial nervousness and start catching up on the last 30 years. With a paper-wrapped bundle of jerk pork and sausage each (and a cold Red Stripe) the ice didn't take much breaking and we were soon swapping news as if the intervening decades had been just weeks.
For my dad, Boston Bay is a good example of why he loves Jamaica so much; despite travelling the world, he has made it his home more than once over the years. Friendly and relaxed, the atmosphere is one of live and let live. A self-professed lover of solitude, he was still happy to chat to the local jewellery sellers and the guys on the meat stalls as if they'd been friends for years. I'd remembered the warmth of the Jamaican people, myself, but it was good to see that still in evidence.
The Port Antonio area is one that my parents visited often during their time in Jamaica, with Frenchman's Cove beach and the Blue Lagoon now quite fashionable destinations. From an impromptu boat ride at the Blue Lagoon and later, dining with my father at Mockingbird Hill, it was easy to see why the arty crowd have long loved the area. Cruising down the nearby Rio Grande on a bamboo raft, I could picture my mum and dad as newlyweds, doing exactly the same. The river may have fractionally changed its course in that time, but I'd bet little else had changed.
Another area that had been special to both my parents and one that my father in particular is still drawn to, is the Blue Mountains. He'd taken me here when I was 10, and it was a big part of what I considered to be "my" Jamaica. For him, the largely undiscovered beauty of the island's verdant interior is one of its greatest assets and one he feels more visitors should experience. A visit to Holywell National Recreation park, high above the military town of Newcastle went some way to reminding me of that lush forested countryside. At Holywell, a simple log cabin with views down over the mountainside brought to mind a photograph I'd seen many times of my mother leaning on the balustrade of one just like it. She must have been considerably younger then than I am now.
On the veranda of our room at Strawberry Hill, my excited inner child was greeted by a spectacular view of distant Kingston far below and the unique humming purr of doctor birds, swooping and hovering nearby. Jamaica's national bird is a wonderful sight, a big tick in my list of memories. The new "grown-up" experience list was a work in progress. A tour of nearby Craighton Coffee Estate left me with more knowledge about the world- famous beans than I had ever hoped to acquire – and delighted my coffee-loving husband.
Fresh experiences jostling with old, a visit to EITS (Europe in The Summer) Café, not far from Strawberry Hill, was a glimpse of how a new Jamaica is emerging. During our conversations, my dad spoke fondly of the way Jamaicans have a knack of taking ideas they've seen in action and adapting them quickly to form new ones. Serving traditional dishes with a twist, much of the delicious food at EITS is grown on site by the owners, who are seeking a more sustainable way of life and are doing a great job of helping to create a new form of tourism for the island.
My father had chosen to settle in Ocho Rios, an area of which he'd long been fond. Visiting here was always going to trigger plenty of reminiscing, as the scene of many childhood adventures with my dad.
I scrambled up through the cascading waters of the Dunn's River Falls, but they didn't look nearly as terrifying as I'd remembered. And I'm sure it had taken at least a whole day last time, rather than just 45 minutes.
After a night at the elegant Jamaica Inn, eager plans had been made to visit Prospect Plantation, a local tourist attraction that my father and I had enjoyed immensely the last time I was here. A scene that had stuck with both of us was of an intrepid teenage boy climbing a palm tree barefoot using just a rope slung around the trunk to fetch a coconut down for the waiting audience. Sadly, the approach of Hurricane Sandy meant that those plans had to change. Instead of touring a spice plantation, we found ourselves hunkered down at my father's house, armed with photo albums, candlelight and a few bottles of Red Stripe that weren't going to stay cold for long, as the electricity had gone off.
Common ground and similarities were discussed as the rain hammered down. I'd known I shared a love of cycling with my dad, but I was surprised to hear that my paternal grandfather had also been a keen cyclist, as old club log books were dug out, complete with improbably long distances meticulously recorded for posterity.
I don't think either of us was sure where things would go from here, but at least we have some new memories to build on now, as well as the old.
The writer travelled with British Airways (0844 4930 787; ba.com), which flies direct from Gatwick to Kingston four times weekly from £706.86 return. Virgin Atlantic (0844 874 7747; virgin-atlantic.com) offers an alternative from Gatwick to Montego Bay.
Come See Jamaica (001 876 369 4367; comeseejamaica.com) offer airport transfers from US$80 (£50).
Strawberry Hill, Blue Mountains (01895 422 476; islandoutpost.com). Doubles start at US$235 (£147), including breakfast.
Mockingbird Hill, Port Antonio (001 876 993 7134; hotelmockingbirdhill.com). Doubles start at US$190 (£119), room only.
Jamaica Inn, Ocho Rios (001 800 837 4608; jamaicainn.com). Doubles start at US$307 (£192), room only.
Craighton Coffee Estate, Blue Mountains (craightonestate.com). Entry US$15 (£9).
EITS Café, near Newcastle (001 876 944 8151; mountedge.com).
Jamaica Tourist Board (020-7225 9090; visitJamaica.com).
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