Last day in Ocho Rios

by Glen

Friday 6 Mar, Jamaica day 12: Road trip west to visit Green Grotto caves, and we find no other significant attractions.

We are off the boat and in the hire car by 8:15am. Sort of a record for us. Clearly we have to hit any attractions early if we are to avoid the tour buses and crowds from the hotels. Today, we first head west to The Green Grotto, near Runaway Bay. Why the name? Well, apparently slaves who ran away from their owners came to this place to live and hide in the massive network of caves.

As we drive along this part of the north coast road we can’t help but feel we are in a different country comparing to the scene around Port Antonio and Kingston. The road is excellent, the place is clean and road side businesses very modern. It’s clearly an affluent area due to the heavy tourist population and many fancy houses. The coast has several very large modern hotels, we see a beautiful looking golf course and several tourist activity centers.

We are the first tourists to arrive at the Grotto’s opening time of 9am. As with other tourist attractions, it’s very well but strictly run. We are a tad disappointed that we have to be with a tour guide and cannot go into the caves by ourselves. And despite no other tourists here, we are told to wait 15-20 minutes for the next tour. And Oana does not like people telling her what to do! But in fact we only wait 10 minutes then given our hair nets and hard hats, sign disclaimers and enter the cave with our rather jolly guide.
We’ve been in lots of caves but straight away this one looks quite special. The overall area of unsupported rock is huge. Only things apparently holding it up are occasional columns of stalactite/stalagmite pillars. And in the ceiling there are lots of bats hanging in clusters. Normally, bats give me the shivers, but these actually look quite cute. The whole tour is about a 1 mile walk including going down to see a lake at the lower level. Even right down here, roots from the Banyan trees above have found their way through the limestone to the water. Quite amazing.
The tour guide turns out to be excellent. Explaining the whole history of the caves from early use by the native Taino population, through to slave hideout, then modern times when the system was privately owned and run as a night club in the 1990s. Apparently things got out of hand: the caves were getting damaged, the bats left (likely due to the awful “music”!) and there were too many “cave babies” being conceived down here during the wild disco nights! So government stepped in and took it over. And they have done a wonderful job of presenting the cave system to the public. As we exit, we are still the only tourists in here and as such it was a very tranquil and pleasant tour for us.

From the caves we take a quick look at the nearby Discovery Bay. This is reputedly where Columbus first stepped foot and claimed the island for Spain in 1494. Hence it’s name. The east side has beaches and luxury homes and the west side is dominated by a bauxite ship loading terminal. Bauxite, the main ore for aluminum smelting, is a key export product from Jamaica.
We then head inland hoping to get a nice view down to the coast below. But the road is bad, we’ve had enough of pot holes and we cannot see any view. So we return to the smooth coast road, heading back east. We have a quick visit into the county town of St. Ann’s Bay but there is nothing really attractive about the place.

Before we get back to Ocho Rios we stop at a fancy looking supermarket hoping to stock up on long-life milk while we have the car to carry it. Now that we are making our own yogurt (using the brilliant EasyYo yogurt maker) we are getting through our supplies of milk. The supermarket doesn’t have any but we do find a real treasure: Cadburry’s chocolate, from Europe. OMG what a find! We buy about 10 big blocks of it and like kids we devour one block in the next 30 minutes! Usually, chocolate supplies in these islands are from USA, where it seems most of the cocoa is replaced by high fructose corn syrup (sweetener) and other poisons. Bleah!

We then pass through Ocho and head back to Oracabessa. We regretted not flying the drone when we were anchored there. So we have a quick flight over the bay where we were anchored and also over the Goldeneye Resort. Which from the air does look quite a unique little resort. No wonder it’s an attraction for some celebrities.

The rest of the day is rather bland. We do some proper food shopping in Ocho supermarket, take it all back to the boat, then return ashore to fly the drone over Ocho Rios. With the sun-shade on the boat it’s a bit difficult to take off from there. So we fly it from the marina. We then try to go to the Shaw Park Botanical Gardens, only to find they shut at 4pm.

Hm… where next? During our dinghy trip on the other side of the bay the other evenings, we spotted a terraced restaurant on top of the cliffs which looked somewhat appealing. So we drive there, hoping to find it. Our two landmarks to pin its location from the land side are a nicely looking Methodist church and an orange house perched on “Indian designed & built” stilts (as in just-about-to-crumble looking stilts). Eventually, we do find the place, as part of a hotel.
The Almond Tree bar & restaurant has a beautiful old almond tree in the middle of one of their terraces, hence the name. On another terrace there’s another interesting tree. The entire place is in an advanced state of dilapidation, and clearly has seen better days. Pitty, because it would make an extraordinary venue with a good facelift. Not a customer in sight, but we do stop at the bar to have some cool drinks, taking in the view out to the sea and our surroundings. All very tranquil.

By 6pm we return the hire car and head back to Cloudy for a late lunch. While Oana is preparing food, I remove the sunshade and prepare for our early departure tomorrow. We need to arrive to Montego Bay (50nm away) before mid afternoon when the next northerly front will hit Jamaica. And this looks like it’s a big one. Over 30kts of wind forecast.

In the evening there is a wedding on the beach in front of the nicest hotel. Everyone is very smarty dressed in white. To start with, the background music is very nice to listen to, a mix of jazzy and saxophone, and we feel like we are being serenaded. But then, just as the guests sit down for their wedding dinner at their decorated tables on the beach, the DJ comes on. And like all DJs we have heard in the Caribbean, he is very loud and clearly in love with himself. Shouting stupid things over the music every few seconds. And the music also goes downhill. On comes the usual bleary horrible, horrible black “music”. How on earth could anyone enjoy a wedding meal to that tortuous sound. It’s really beyond our understanding. And while we are getting blasted by the noise we also have pity on the paying hotel guests! Thankfully, the whole show wraps up at 11pm and peace is restored. And lucky for us, we were inside the boat with all hatches shut and the AC on, while we edit videos.

Ocho Rios has been an interesting stop for us. And we are surprised (and happy) to be anchored here with zero other cruising yachts. Likely, Montego Bay will be different.

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