Thursday, January 9, 2014

Jamaica's Blue Hole and Jerk Lunch

What to do with one day on a cruise stop in Jamaica?
My advice is to check out things to do on Tripadvisor before you check to see what the cruise offers in shore excursions. We’ve had very good luck with hiring a local tour company for the day and to have a car and driver to take you around to the sites.  It’s amazing how much more you can see when you aren’t on a bus with 30 of your cruise “closest friends”; it’s faster and more nimble to get to the hard to reach places in a short amount of time.  Last year, we used guides in Turkey, Greece and Italy that all rated 5 stars on Tripadvisor, each one exceeding our expectations.

Multiple 5 Star ratings means these guides are at the top of the list, and frankly, these people want to stay there for obvious good business reasons. This luxury is often so much cheaper than the cruise excursions and you got a more cultural experience. We choose Marvyn's Paradise Tours. Our driver also met us with a cold Red Stripe beer… not bad on an 85 degree day. Ya Man!

I wondered why the “Blue Hole” of Jamaica was the #1 natural attraction and the cruise tours didn’t go there? Well, we found out.  The Blue Hole is an unlicensed “enter at your own risk” kind of attraction that is run by locals. The lumpy, bumpy one lane road was our first clue that this wasn’t something our fellow cruisers would be on.  As we approached the turn off to Blue Hole, there was a small group of teen boys gathered at the bottom of the road. The driver, Delton, stopped to speak in the local patois, which like British cockney, if you listen really hard, you might be able to understand. Unfortunately, I couldn't.  Before the conversation was totally over, we saw two of the boys dart for a trail on the right that snaked out of sight.  Hmmm… now what was that all about?
As we carefully ascended the hill, our driver carefully maneuvering to avoid huge pot holes, the two boys emerged on the side of the van.  “How on earth did they get up here so fast” I asked Delton.  He laughed and said there was a short cut through the fern and vine tangled hillside.  You see, these were “our” guides for the day at the Blue Hole.  The boys wait and “dibs” their people to help at the park, taking turns so everyone get to work for tourist tips that day.  It was $15 each to enter the Blue Hole grounds, and with our driver’s advice, we gave the boys $20 to share. Best $20 I spent on my vacation for sure. Everyone… everyone needs their help, and their showmanship and photography skills, not to mention their steady hand and care of some old broads like us helped a bunch.
Your first view of the first blue hole is from a 50 ft cliff and a thin rickety feeling railing. No one has to tell you to keep back from the edge, you just want to.  There is a 35 ft tall waterfall cascading into the pool.  Your gaze takes in the people standing on the top and inching their ways seemingly miraculously down the stone face, gushing with water.  Unseen is the stone steps cut into the rock, covered by pulsing water.  First thing I said?  “No way, I am not jumping off that!” Have I mentioned that cautious is my middle name???
The guides start you at a “gateway” jump about 15 ft up from the falls, where you can safely jump into the 36 feet deep pristine blue pool. My friend, brave and wonderful, volunteers to go first.  She hesitates, taking it all in, asking all the questions that I intended to ask.  Off she goes…. I approach the edge and jump quickly, before I can change my mind.  Woo hoo!  Cool, refreshing and fantastic… but still a little nerve wracking.  
Brendan, our adventurous guide, points the way to a small hole in the rock, where we squeeze our chubby bums backwards in a dark hole, not knowing what’s really on the other side.  Inside, you are in a small underground pool in a stone walled room, with a small opening showing the waterfall coming down.  Only way out?  Through the waterfall. Still, I am hooked. 

The guides beckon, and have us follow, up we go to some small trails to the top of the waterfall, all the while, me saying “I’m not doing it, but I will look”. 
As you get to the top there are more, and more, deep pools and smaller waterfalls. We jump into more pools, and sit in small “back massager” waterfalls.
Below the first Blue Hole, there is yet another big blue hole, with a rope swing and another cliff jump into the pool.  Oh yeah... by now, we’re into it!

As we wrap up our hour or so at the Blue Hole, we gather for one group picture with our guides, Dillon and Brendan.

Now it’s off to some other sites, Fern Gully, some shopping in Ochos Rios (8 Rivers) for some Jerk spice mixture (recipe below) and some Blue Mountain Jamaican Coffee and then off for some food at a famous site for food in Jamaica, Scotchies Jerk.
Having a guide was key at Scotchies Jerk, Delton had been talking up the local foods and produce during our tour (Breadfruit, Ackee, Jerk, Festivale Corn fritters).  He suggested what we should order as we approached, and even said he’d see what he could do to rush our order as we were running short of time, as the lines as Scotchies are usually long.   
This place is famous with locals, and tourists alike, and the grounds are beautiful with outdoor huts with tables of people enjoying themselves. We agreed on a half jerk chicken to share with each of the couples in our group, and then got one half order of the pork.  It was all delicious, but next time, we would have order a full order of the Jerk Pork. OMG, it was all so fantastic.  I’m going to see what I can do to come up with some ideas on how to recreate at home… but I’m not sure I’m going to be able to capture all that deliciousness.  

We ate in the van, as we jetted back to the cruise ship in time for the sailing.
What a great way to spend the day in Jamaica.Here's a recipe for Jerk seasoning, I intend to try as soon as I use up all the jerk spice I bought in Jamaica!

Jerk Seasoning
Makes a 1/2 cup

1 tablespoon onion flakes
2 teaspoons ground thyme
1 teaspoon dried parsley
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon hot pepper flakes
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon garlic powder
2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 teaspoons sugar
2 teaspoons dried chives

Mix together all the ingredients.
Store leftovers in a tightly closed glass jar.
It will keep its strength for over a month.
1- 1 1/2 tablespoon of seasoning for each pound of meat and grill as usual

*** If you have a smoker like a Traeger, I'd use that.



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