Running toward me with outstretched arms she shouted with glee, “You are an answered prayer.” I thought to myself, “Wow that a wonderful (or snazzy) thing to be!”
Engulfing me in her embrace she began to tell me that she had been producing retreats for the internationally for the past10 years and decided recently she needed a production partner. Upon seeing me, she thought that I would be the perfect person. We exchanged numbers and that following week started the spirited game of phone tag.
After several well placed volleys we finally connected and during our phone conversation, she suggested that our first trip should be to Jamaica since she had successfully conducted at least 8 retreats there. When I told her that I was leaving for Jamaica the following day she was wowed and thought it was a good omen for our burgeoning venture. I agreed to check out her favorite retreat center upon on completion of my Jamaican soft adventure tour.
“What is soft adventure?” you ask. It’s an outdoor activity that is safe, fun and does not require extensive experience or excessive physical demands, such as camping, hiking and boating, in contrast to hard adventure, which has a higher risk factor and greater physical challenge, such as scuba diving, surfing and rock climbing.
If you would like to punctuate your relaxing vacation with splash of excitement then soft adventure travel may just fit the bill! By going beyond the typical tourist itinerary of swimming, eating, shopping and partying you can spice up your journey with a tame but tantalizing escapade or two.
Imagine the thrill of zooming through the rainforest on a zipline or bobsled. I got a chance to try both of them at Jamaica’s Mystic Mountain Resort Center and they were a blast. It almost felt as if I was time traveling through a lush verdant green tunnel into parallel universe or maybe through a scene in a “Harry Potter” movie. They also offer night time bobsled rides which I suspect would be thrilling, fun and a great way to have an action packed vacation evening.
Swimming with dolphins was another one of my encounters on the mildly wild side. Though my preference is to swim with them in open water, to do so is often physically demanding and its hard to know exactly when or if the dolphins will show up. At Dolphin Cove Park located in Treasure Reef, the dolphins swim and frolic in a 5 acre sequestered cove in the actual Caribbean Sea and they are kept in holding tanks like many resorts. It was truly wonderful to be reminded how smart, playful and responsive they are. The park also provides areas for guests to play, swim, feed and encounter stingrays as well as sharks. I ventured into both areas and had a sensational experience. Admittedly, swimming with the sharks was a wee bit daunting but fascinating. At one point the guide had me sit in a chair in the water and he put a 4 foot shark on my lap and let me pet it. Its skin was sleek, hard and cold…when he gave it a fish to eat the shark’s powerful jaws chomped down on it with such a super powerful explosion of energy that its whole body jolted, which sent shockwaves through my entire being as I squealed in utter amazement. I had never had an experience even remotely similar to that…perhaps it was akin to being struck by lightning w/o the pain.
Another soft adventure Jamaican jaunts that I enjoyed was tube rafting down the picturesque Martha Brea River. This outing was orchestrated by the Chukka Adventure Center, which also offers a wide variety of soft adventure options such as ziplining, dune buggy rides and kayaking at their Falmouth facility which is located on The Good Hope Estate, a 2,000 acre former plantation and their operation was smoothly run by smart and gracious staff members.
After our water tubing safari, we were loaded onto an open-air jitney and were driven up to the “Great House,” the palatial hillside home of the plantation’s former owner, John Tharpe, which was built in 1700’s and recently restored in its entirety, replete with paintings, period furniture and antiques. After our tour of the home and lush surrounding we were served scrumptious gourmet meal on one of the patios. How ironic, for the sons and daughters of former slaves to find ourselves dining in elegance, on the estate of a former slave owner and operator of Jamaica’s largest plantation.
Barreling down a sparsely used country road on a mountain bike through the Grand Rio Valley of Jamaica’ Blue Mountain range is my idea of a good time. The coordinator of our tour arranged for us to join a group organized by Blue Mountain Bike Tours. After serving us breakfast ,the trip leader assigned us to van and drove us into the Blue Mountains, unloaded and parceled out the bikes and helmets and away we went, coasting through lushly covered hillsides, past pristine streams, waterfalls, misty slopes, a wide variety of Jamaican birds and wildflowers, through local villages and the welcoming waves of the residents.
About half way through our 10 mile journey, we stopped at a coffee plantation where we got a primer on the cultivation and processing of the world renowned Blue Mountain coffee bean as well as a chance to check out their tasting bar. The trip was crowned with a river swim under and around a gorgeous pristine cascading waterfall. What a refreshing and invigorating conclusion to our hardy biking excursion.
One part of the trip that had been planned but time did not permit us to experience was the bareback horseback riding in the sea. That really looked like so much fun and its something I look forward to experience on my return trip.
Our myriad adventures took place in a variety of locales in Jamaica, i.e., Montego Bay, Ocho Rios, Port Antonio, Kingston, thereby giving us the perfect vehicle to explore different parts of the country, sample regional cuisines as well as array of lodging options, e.g., an all inclusive resort, a small hotel, a large chain hotel and even a staffed villa.
So if you want to go beyond the typical tourist itinerary of swimming, eating, shopping and partying to add a splash of adventure to your next journey consider adding some of Jamaica’s soft adventure attractions to your agenda.
I was having such a great time that I wanted to stay a few extra days after our tour was scheduled to end. So I asked the coordinator of our trip if he could recommend a place for me to stay. He suggested that I stay at his friend’s hotel in Montego Bay. I resisted the idea initially because I wanted to stay in Negril since our tour did not include a stop there and I was wanted to check out the retreat center that my colleague had told me about. As my fledgling Negril trip plan began to crumble, I reluctantly agreed to stay at his friend’s place.
When I got to the hotel, the clerk did not have info about my reservation. “HMMMMMMMM”, I thought to myself, this is not starting out well.” She said she would call the owner. A few minutes later this tall, handsome, trim, suave man appeared at the counter and after a few magisterial style gestures and brief chat with the reception, the matter was cleared up. He turned out to be, Ian, the owner of the hotel that the trip coordinator had told me about.
I took a several deep breaths to ground myself, as I made my way through the introductions. He asked me if I had plans for the day and if not he would be happy to give me a tour of MoBay and Negril. I tried to hide my glee and coolly accepted the offer. He said, “After you get settled, give me a call and we’ll take off.”
An hour or so later around noon, we launched our mini tour. Driving down the freeway in his SUV, we became fast friends. It turned out we were both into metaphysics, both business owners with creative cultural outlets and both happily single. With no shortage of subjects to explore, we launched into our nonstop yapp fest that lasted the entire day as we bopped our way through the sights and sounds of Mo Bay and Negril.
After a few stops, lunch and a chance to meet with some of his friends, I asked him if he wouldn’t mind taking me by Jackie’s by the Reef and he said he would be happy to. I told him of my tentative plan to assist a colleague in holding a retreat there. When we arrived he hopped out and rung the buzzer. Within moments, Jackie appeared and welcomed us in. I apologized profusely that I did not get a chance to call first but she said it was no problem since she had some free time and the center was not currently being rented out. She welcomed with open arms and yummy fresh fruit smoothies, one mango and one soursop. Slurping and giggling with delight we all down plopped down on the collection of couches on her ocean front terrace to launch into our getting to know you session. She and Ian finally remembered where they had met…at some local hotel owners’ event. Later, Ian suggested I take pictures just in case I might need them for a brochure or advertisement. So we traipsed around her spacious and serene compound in search of perfect Kodak moments and many were easily found in her beachside sculpture garden, saltwater pool, meditation center, octagon yurt and bee farm.
After an hour or so there, we bid fond farewells and resumed our mini tour.
On our way back to Mo Bay, I noticed that the ring on his baby finger had the same pattern as one of my tattoos. In the 10 years since I got my tat in Tahiti, I had never seen that pattern anywhere else. HMMMMMMMMM. Due to its private location, I couldn’t very well show it to him so I had to keep the revelation to myself.
When we got back to the hotel, he said he would be playing chess with one of his friends and that I was welcome to hang out on the patio with them, have dinner at their restaurant and/or take a swim in their pool. I did all three. The patio, restaurant and pool were located in the back of the hotel in a multitier outdoor setting replete with natural greenery, trees and huge art sculptures. The floor, steps and walls were constructed with slate which gave it an earthy yet hip vibe.
As we entered, he was warmly welcomed by a group of his friends who were relaxing on the patio. Shortly after a hardy round of introductions, I felt like I had dropped into the middle of a big happy family. It turns out that I hung out with them several of the evenings that I was there and it gave me a great sense of belonging, since I didn’t know a soul in Jamaica.
On my last day there, I called a friend of a friend to coordinate an outing but it turns out that she was too busy to meet so instead she arranged for me to get a pass to Secrets resort. I followed her lead and thoroughly enjoyed my time at this upscale all inclusive. During my tour of the grounds, I visited the spa and the host offered me a deep discount on a day pass. I respectfully declined because I just wanted to swim, lie on the beach and drink mint juleps. However, the best laid plan of mice and men often go awry…as soon as I got in the water I noticed the rain clouds heading our way and within minutes, a crack of thunder and a flash of lighting sent everyone scurrying out of the water and off the beach. Hmmmm, “now what,” I thought, “…aha, the spa. It would be the perfect place to ride out the storm. So I humbled myself, found the manager and accepted her offer to luxuriate at their facility, which had a huge beautiful porch that faced the sea where I could drink fresh watermelon juice and watch the lighting on parade. There were several hot tubs with every kind of jet stream imaginable, steam rooms, saunas as well as wide variety of massages services offered. I opted for the foot and hand massage. When I told the masseur that I was a writer, he immediately started working on my right thumb, which was really sore. I asked him why he started there and he said he works on a lot of writers and computer users who almost always need work on their hands particularly their right thumbs. He actually knew which fingers work the hardest when typing and started to recite the letters on the keyboard that were associated with each finger. He blew my mind and blissed out my hands at the same time.
After getting back to my hotel, I something told me to call my host to bid him farewell, to thank him for the great deal he gave me on my room, the community of friends that he plopped me into as well as the tour of mo bay and Negril. He answered the phone and told me he was 15 minutes from town on route from Kingston, where he had been for the past two days on business, unbeknownst to me.
He invited me to meet him at the hotel bar for a good bye drink. We had a lovely conversation and he offered to make arrangements for my transportation to the airport the following morning. We bid each other adieu and I thought to myself, “Wow what a wonderful, thoughtful and kind man…no “rent-a-dread” for me.
Upon arriving at the airport, I noticed the interminable line to the ticket counter. In front of me was cutest newlywed couple. She had on an adorable little shirt that said “I love my hubby” and I chuckled at their chatter and antics during our hour long wait. When we finally made our way to front of the line and happened to notice the words, Elaine, Madre on her right arm. I tapped her on the shoulder and splayed my passport in front of her. She looked in amazement and said her mother’s name was Elaine Ruth also!!! Go figure… not only have I never met an Elaine Ruth…I was surprised that I showed her my passport and I didn’t just say, “Guess what, my name is Elaine.” She told me her middle name was Elaine and asked me where I was from. I told her Michigan originally but that I have been in California for the past 30 years. Her husband said
“I’m from Michigan, Battle Creek actually…and I said, “So am I”…”I was born there and left as an infant” and he said so had he.
As luck would have it, his seat assignment was next to me and his wife got bumped up to first class! He and I had a wonderful conversation. He was amazingly handsome, kind, intelligent young man who had a good job, deep abiding love for his wife and their dog! He was even enthralled with their wedding and told me about it in detail! Yes, I met a man who was totally jazzed about his wedding. What a marvelous ending to my trip…I found a symbol of paradise.