Our first trip was to swim with the dolphins; something that I have wanted to do for years but never had the opportunity to do (it’s not a big thing in Asia). Dolphin Cove is an attraction created for this purpose alone. We got to swim with Skye, a gorgeous female dolphin who was friendly and I was more scared of her than she was of me. We go to hold on to her fin and swim about a meter and she also came around to ‘dance’ with us. Initially I was scared to get anywhere near her, but she did a great job of making me comfortable. She was super cute and I don’t think I’ve ever been so close to an animal before. Along with swimming with dolphins we also got to snorkel with sting rays in a shallow pool area. The sting rays were stinger free and we also got to hold them (which was difficult with their slimy skin).
EDIT: regarding Dolphin Cove’s ethical treatment of their animals – the dolphins are flown in and taken from their natural habitat, however the dolphins are treated well and left on their own for most of the day. They have a 3 meter fence which the dolphins can jump over to escape however since they are fed and played with daily, most of the dolphins here ‘seem’ content. I do not endorse Dolphin Cove as being 100% ethical, however in Jamaica this is the closest one can find.
Our second trip was to the infamous Dunn River Falls. We were taken to the falls on a boat and we hiked up the falls as the water came gushing down at us. We were led by a guide and accompanied by 500 other tourists. It wasn’t the ideal way to see the falls at all, but being a major touristic destination it was the only way to do it. Our guide also rushed us all the way through, making us all quite irritable. There are also guides with cameras trying to video tape your every move so they can sell it to you once you reach the top. The overly eager touristic approach is quite annoying and ruins the entire experience. There were even women wanting to braid our hair at the top of the falls!
Thankfully our excursion ended with a booze cruise on top a catamaran blasting reggae and soca music. They came fully equipped with Red Stipe beer and boat dancers who jumped with the waves. It felt like we were in a music video! This was a definite highlight of my trip.
Our final trip was to Nine Mile, the resting place of Bob Marley and his childhood home. Nine Mile is also the only place in Jamaica where you are legally allowed to smoke marijuana. Once inside the gates, there are people selling and rolling the green for those interested. Our guide was a Rastafarian who explained the life of Marley and claimed he personally knew Bob’s mother (who is also resting next door to Bob). To be honest, I’m not sure how much of Nine Mile is authentic. Bob had lived in this house as a child, before he moved to Kingston to become part of the Wailers. However his mother and grandparents continued to live there. The furniture inside the one room house also belonged to Bob, but I guess we will never know how much of it is all true. It was a magical experience however to see Bob Marley’s mausoleum since he is one of my favourite artists of all time. Nine Mile is also a drive away into the countryside amidst mountains. The scenery and the locals we encountered finally gave us an authentic feel for the country.
The town of Ocho Rios is safe to venture out on your own. On one side of the main road is a local market; all the stalls sell the exact same odds and ends. Opposite the market are plazas with shops which sell the SAME odds and ends but with less buying pressure, hence the prices are a bit increased. Bargaining skills are essential for the market. I lasted about five whole minutes before rushing right out of there!
Jamaicans are friendly and helpful, but can also be a bit overwhelming with the sales tactic. I especially enjoyed my daily dose of beef patties and jerk chicken! But a return trip to Jamaica doesn’t seem to be on the horizon although all my travel buddies seem to disagree. I’m sure it has something to do with their obsession with Patois and reggae music.