Lively, hilarious Jamaica, where even the bamboo moves to a reggae beat
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I was there the weekend of a Jaycee beach party. Under a palm tree, two five-foot speakers hooked up to a ''disco van'' whopped out reggae that must have set the seaweed jumping. Everyone danced. Bystanders absent-mindedly stirred themselves to the music, the way you'd tap a foot. Young boys showed off. Couples did neat steps at night, and by day toddlers shook chubby raised fists and nodded curly heads in rhythm. When a children's dance contest was announced from within the van, there was such a thick, intense crowd of onlookers, you'd have thought they were watching a prize fight.Skip to next paragraph
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But at nearby Dunn's River Falls, all you hear is water. The 65-foot waterfall is so full of freshets, cascades, frothing pools, natural slides, and splashes of sunlight, it could be a set for a Walt Disney movie.
Guides hired at the bottom escort you to the top, showing you where to play. ''Sit down. Bubble bath, no problem,'' said Lenny seriously. I followed directions and found myself neck deep in foam. It was like being a child with a very competent baby sitter. Looking up the falls, I saw I was not alone. Little groups of people were ducking behind falls, rolling off ledges, and sliding down chutes under the supervision of wise locals. ''Relax,'' they all seemed to be saying. A nursery school for tourists.
Port Antonio, to the east of Ocho Rios, is quieter, less developed, and more expensive. There are plenty of hotels here, but they're older, low-lying, posh places that don't interfere with the landscape. They are so self-sufficient, guests may only see the view on the way to and from the beach and don't turn up in town. Jamaica Hill is one of them. White bungalows rest on a pillow of perfect lawn in the hills - with a restaurant built around a tree, a nut cup of a pool, and a forested stairway to the beach. A week here costs $930 single, $ 703-$930 double. Manager Allan Gotting says, if you make under $65,000 a year, Port Antonio's not for you.
Maybe the Port Antonio of quiet hillside hideaways and private beaches is not for you. But stay in the De Montevin Lodge, a bed-and-breakfast that looks as if it had been hijacked from Edinburgh and plopped in a shabby genteel neighborhood , and downtown Port Antonio is all yours. Right now it is a real, unvarnished country town: dogs, pigs, and goats trot among human pedestrians, palm trees shade little cement houses in odd pastels, and the place gets purposeful on Friday and Saturday, market days. People from the country sell breadfruit, coconuts, gineps (a gooseberry-like fruit), and handmade brooms to shoppers from town. There's a move afoot to restore the gingerbread on the older houses, ban cars from the square, and paint the place up, but now it's an unretouched view of Jamaican country life, with public beaches up the coast.
The De Montevin Lodge's comfy, lace-bedecked dining room may look as if it's intended for off-duty shop assistants, bank tellers, and middle-management types , but Mrs. Mullings, who owns and runs it with her husband, cooks bountiful, traditional Jamaican food that lures all Port Antonio to her tables. She caters local weddings, and the town's parsons and teachers have their Christmas parties here. Even Jamaica Hill's resting executives come out of hiding for her dinners, and cruise ships send parties for lunch.
It must be quite a scene in high season, when tycoons, preachers, tourists, and traveling salesmen stop in to put away mounds of ackee with salt fish (the national dish, a starchy fruit that looks like scrambled eggs), pumpkin soup, rice dotted with kidney beans, chicken, curried goat, fried plantains, and plum pudding for dessert.
''Jamaicans like to have a good time,'' my guide says. When in Jamaica, do as the Jamaicans do, with the Jamaicans. Practical information
The De Montevin Lodge's 15 rooms are sparse but clean, with childhood photos of Prince Charles and Princess Ann on the brightly painted walls. Rates are $14 for a single, $25 for a double with bath, $12 and $20 without. Rates include meals. Lunch alone is $4.50 and up. Make a reservation if you are coming for a meal, and stick to it. Mrs. Mullings is as strict as she is talented. De Montevin Lodge, 12 Fort George Street, Port Antonio, Jamaica. Telephone: 993- 2604.
The Nonsuch Cave sits in a ridge above Port Antonio. With interesting limestone formations and oceanic fossils, the cave will delight geology fans. But its situation, on a ridge with a view of the Blue Mountains and the little bays of Port Antonio, a fresh breeze, and a brilliant botanic garden, makes it a worthwhile trip for non-spelunkers, too.