A couple of weeks before the cruise, we contacted the Jamaican tour company 'JuJu tours' which is highly praised on the Internet. It was a tour desk, consisting of a guide Angi and a driver. Maybe now they have expanded, but back then there was only two of them.
Angie is an American from New York, she often came to
as a student on vacation, and one day decided that she didn't need NY, and she stayed on the island to live and work. With her savings, she bought a small house and started a tour office. We liked Angie a lot: small and energetic, in her 30s she has traveled probably half of the world. She's been in Russia, and far beyond the two capitals, somewhere in Siberia. She admired Moscow, told us funny stories of how she'd attempted to travel by train to the Red Square.
The second member of the tour desk was a local boy George who was the driver - he was a very polite young man, pleasant to talk to.
Actually, we didn't want to buy any tours and intended to rent a car and explore the island independently like on Grand Cayman. But a closer look revealed that car rentals on Jamaica are expensive. Hiring a driver will cost you just about the same. So we met with the guys from JuJu.
They have different tours, to much-publicized attractions of the island and to less visited destinations. We had made our own route, so it was kind of a 'custom made tour'. For $50 per a person (according to the latest rumors they've raised the prices recently) guys spent the whole day with us that began in the port of
. In early 2011 the construction of the new port was completed in Falmouth which cost $180 million. It allows the mooring of the largest and most modern cruise ships of the 'Oasis' class.
Angie and George met us ashore, and after getting in their minivan, we went to explore the island with the local ginger beer in our hands (a gift from the office - portable fridge!).
With my certain inclination to photograph birds, we just couldn't miss the Rockland's bird sanctuary reserve. I'd heard that Hummingbirds eat from human hands there. We hardly believed it, especially remembering hunting Hummingbirds in the jungle of Costa Rica a few years ago which was very stressful.
Left-handed traffic was not too annoying, at least from the passenger seat. Roadsides had posters with Usain Bolt - the pride of the country. People were very friendly, constantly smiling whether thanks to the good weather, or to a good “herb of wisdom.” According to local legend, hemp was the first plant to grow on the grave of king Solomon.
Jamaicans are the descendants of slaves who were transported here from Africa for work soon after the discovery of the island by Columbus. However, the Spaniards weren't too active in colonizing the island, sugarcane was of much less interest than gold which there was none in Jamaica.
But the English people who conquered the island in 1655 began to explore it. Jamaica became not only the pirate capital of the region but also the largest center of the sugar cane production. It is not surprising that in the eighteenth-century slaves were already the vast majority of the local population - almost a million of them settled on the island.
After passing through Montego Bay, the road made a quick turn into the mountains, towards the small village of Anchovy. In almost 2 miles before the reserve, we started to see road signs, but our driver George seemed to know the way without them, as he deftly maneuvered between some pits in the pavement covered with gravel. Finally, we see a colorful poster 'Welcome to Rockland's Bird Sanctuary!'
Usually, you have to pay some fee for the entrance, but Angie said that she had already thought about everything, so we just had to go see the birds.
White-chinned Thrush (Turdus aurantius)
In fact, this reserve is a ranch with the house, plantation style. For many years the building and surrounding area had been owned by Lisa Simon named by locals 'the bird lady'. After Lisa's death at a very old age in 2000, the house was inherited by her nephew Fritz, who has run the household with his brother since that times. Of course, he tries to find a common language with the birds. Especially with Hummingbirds. Especially with Trochilus polytmus or 'Doctor bird' - the endemic of Jamaica.
With a body length of only 2-3 inches (7-8 cm), the tail of this species reaches almost 7 inches (17 cm) ending with two long feathers which emit quite a strong sound while in flight - like vibrations of the strings. Jamaican Hummingbirds live throughout the island, especially preferring the bright region at an altitude above the sea level. They are very territorial, defending their area with sharp beaks from any bird that tries to enter their territory. Red-billed Streamertail can save energy by getting into a stationary state (torpor) adjusting their body temperature to the environment. It causes a slowdown of vital functions of the bird's body.
Red-billed Streamertail (Trochilus polytmus)
Hummingbirds mainly feed on the nectar from flowers сorolla. At the same time they can't sit on flowers since those are often so gentle and delicate that they would immediately break; so birds have to feed while in the air.
However, 'the bird lady' Lisa Samon invented a way to water Hummingbirds with sugar syrup, right from the bottle in hands. Later, Fritz and his brother continued the tradition. They seated us in rocking chairs on the patio, gave everyone a transparent bottle with a hole in the cap and told us to pull forward the forefinger of the other hand and wait a bit, without making any sudden movements.
It took about three minutes. And then we hear - something is buzzing like a big bumblebee close to us. BAM! - a Hummingbird is already sitting on the finger! Moreover, not just sitting but having lunch. It was drinking nectar for about a minute, then promptly vanished into the trees after it tickled the finger with its tiny claws.
We were sitting absolutely stunned, not believing our own eyes, and Hummingbirds flew to the bottle one by one. Fritz put a few grains on my knee, and one bird immediately dived there and began to click seeds with appetite.
Black-faced Grassquit (Tiaris bicolor)
Soon we saw another endemic of the island - Jamaican mango, Hummingbird. Its tail wasn't as impressive, but it shimmered in different shades from yellow to dark brown in the sun. Oh, how the other one got mad! The fight for territory began right in the air, Doctor bird did not want to share the bottles and ousted the other one out. Bird guide didn't lie, Streamertail has a really martial nature indeed.
Jamaican Mango (Anthracothorax mango)
One brother wanted to show us the surroundings, and we happily agreed. The hummingbird flew after him like a puppy on the leash.
- How long does it take to teach a Hummingbird?, - we asked the guide.
- About six years - he replied. - They also teach each other by copying the behavior. We even recognize many of them.
In the midst of the forest, just above the ground, he pointed out a Hummingbird nest. Not more than 4 inches (10 cm) in diameter, the nest is built only by a female, collecting yarn, cotton, hair, wool of the animals, ferns and sticky web. She lays 2 white oblong eggs in it and hatches them for about three weeks. Newborn baby birds are very well fed by their mother that also cleans the nest from the litter. Baby birds remain 'suspended' for 3 to 4 weeks, and then they become independent and leave the nest. In general - you gotta build the house on your own, give birth to children, and raise them, and feed, and clean. Who else wants to complain about how tough a woman's life is? :)
Jamaican Woodpecker (Melanerpes radiolatus)
There were a lot of bird sounds in the forest. Along with the usual blackbirds, an endemic species jumped over the brunches - Jamaican woodpecker that you won't find anywhere else in the world, and Orangequit feeding with you can guess what.
Orangequit (Euneornis campestris)
In the garden near the house, the brothers plant a variety of medicinal and culinary herbs and shrubs: Bay leaf, lemon grass Cymbopogon, mint, curry, and funny decorative Pachystachys - 'shrimp bush'.
For some time we were just wandering around the garden, taking photos of the birds and feeding the Hummingbirds, then said goodbye to hospitable brothers, and went further. After coming back to the center of Montego Bay, we asked Angie to drop us off at some souvenir street and to let us go wander for an hour. Without any hesitation, they brought us to this place, with the hats with attached dreadlocks, smoking pipes a la 'goat's foot', and t-shirts in national green and yellow tones.
After hustle and bustle, we really wanted peace and quiet, and just water, without tourists, screaming children, and beach peddlers. And oddly enough, there was such a place not far from Falmouth, on the shore of White Bay. As was written in one of the reviews: “This is not a 5-star place. It's more than that”.
If you want well-trained servers, sterile atmosphere, and water sports - forget about “Time n’ Place”. This place is like outside of space and time, in a sort of magical parallel universe. Seems there's nothing special and unique about it: a beach, a restaurant, a few houses for rent, but the feelings there are indescribable, in complete isolation from the rest of the world.
'If you've got the time, we've got the place'. This place is not very known to the general public, even our experienced guides who have lived in Jamaica for many years, heard about it for the first time. We asked them to take us to the beach and return in a couple of hours.
For 20 years this place has been run by Tony Moncrieffe - a charismatic and cheerful friend who can be in several places simultaneously. You can find him in the kitchen cooking shrimps in coconut milk, and at the bar mixing excellent local rum and Bailey's, and among the guests, pleasing them with his life stories and anecdotes.
Time really flew by and we realized that it was time to come back only when Angie came to take us to the ship. So here is Jamaica, not like what we'd read in the guidebooks. Unfortunately, it's hard to find time for everything during a short cruise mooring, so you try to choose the most interesting places you haven't seen before.
After saying goodbye to Angie and George in the port, we bought another couple bottles of rum on the way, which were immediately taken away at the entrance to the ship. We wanted to get away to some secluded area on one of the decks and to breathe the night sea air.
From Jamaica, 'Mariner of the Seas' went in the opposite direction, and in two days was supposed to reach the Texas coast. Days 'at sea' were lazy: late mornings, slow breakfast, pool, nursery, a show or a movie, dinner, walk around the ship, cocktails at the bar. There was also an ice rink (not on all ships have it), where we were happy to remember forgotten from childhood pirouettes.
On the eve of the arrival in port, we received envelopes for tips in our cabin. Also, passengers were notified where to gather in the morning before going ashore (in the theater, at the rink, in the lobby, etc.), depending on the number of the cabin. This evening we were also told to put the suitcases out the door (they carry them out at night) to not delay the landing in the morning.
Around 9 am passengers began to unload in Galveston by sections that seemed very convenient and without extra hustle.
I can't say we were impressed with this type of vacation, we were annoyed by the fact that we had to come back to the ship at a certain time. However, taking into account the fact that we traveled with a little child, we found certain advantages in cruising. In the end, everyone has their own interests and needs, and you should definitely try it once.