January 2, 2019 – Montego Bay, Jamaica
We shared the port today with Carnival Vista. As such, we had to get a shuttle from the dock to the main part of the cruise terminal where we’d catch our tour. Alicia had arranged a tour of the city with a local tour company prior to our trip.
We met up with Howard, our tour guide, outside the terminal. It was hot in Montego Bay, often called “MoBay,” about 90 degrees. It felt odd to be so warm in the middle of winter. In addition to the heat, it was also pretty humid. Fortunately for us, Howard’s van had air conditioning. We loaded up and headed into town.
Montego Bay is one of only two incorporated cities in Jamaica, the other being Kingston. MoBay is home to more than 110,000 people and is the main point of entry for tourists to the island. MoBay is also the setting for many of the scenes in the 1973 James Bond film Live and Let Die.
As is common in many of the ports I’ve visited, there was a lot of traffic and the rules of the road were not even so much as a guideline. Howard told us people pretty much do what they want when driving. Little did I know we’d see it firsthand later.
Our first stop was Sam Sharpe Square. The square is the center of the city, and is home of the city’s first courthouse and jail. It’s named for Samuel Sharpe, Jamaica’s national hero. Sharpe was a slave who led the Baptist Rebellion in 1832, which ultimately led to the abolition of slavery in Jamaica in 1832.
In the center of the square was a 50-foot-tall Christmas tree. Around the periphery, vendors sell items ranging from fruits and vegetables, to jewelry, to clothing. The smell of freshly cooked sausages filled the air from one vendor near where Howard parked our van.
Howard introduced us to a friend, who told us the history of the square. He told us the story of Sharpe’s rebellion from in front of the Sam Sharpe memorial. The memorial depicts Sharpe, holding a Bible, preaching to slaves. The memorial sits in front of MoBay’s first jail, known as “The Cage.” The cage was the place where captured slaves were brought to return them to their owners, or where they were held prior to execution during the rebellion. The cage also was where vagrants, drunks, and runaways were held.
Today the cage is a souvenir shop.
We thanked Howard’s friend and tipped him and headed back into the narrow streets of MoBay. Our next destination was Richmond Hill Estate. The estate sits on a hill overlooking Montego Bay. Dating back to the 1700s, the property was once owned by Dewars, the family known for its Scottish whisky. Now it’s a hotel and wedding venue.
The boys and Alicia took the opportunity to cool off in the hotel’s pool with a panoramic view of Montego Bay. I relaxed and enjoyed a Red Stripe – Jamaica’s national beer. When in Rome, they say. I also got myself a bottle of Ting, a grapefruit-flavored soda that is popular in the Caribbean. I discovered it when I was in St. Kitt’s on a previous cruise. I liked it so much that Alicia once ordered me a case of it over the Internet.
Alicia and the boys dried off and we loaded back up for our next stop. We weaved our way through more narrow roads and dodged more crazy drivers, ending up at a bar and gift shop overlooking the airport. We went to the roof and watched a few planes take off. We took the opportunity to pick up a bag of delicious Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee.
We headed down the hill from the shop overlooking the airport to a shopping center called Whitter Village. The shopping center had no historical or cultural significance, but there was a souvenir shop (and the driver probably got a kickback for taking us there). There was also a KFC, and the scent of fried chicken smelled really, really good for some reason. We picked up a few things at the shop and started to walk around. In the courtyard of the shopping center there was a fountain with a few local kids playing in it. We were then approached by another taxi driver asking if one of us was Alex. It turns out Alex had dropped his ship card in the parking lot. Losing the card would have been a bad thing, as it is what allows you to get on and off the ship. Who knows what would have happened if he had lost it, and we would not have wanted to find out.
By now we were starting to get short on time and it would be time to head back to the ship. Howard took us to a beach by the airport, but they wanted $5 per person as an entry fee. We had already paid a tip to Howard’s friend at Sam Sharpe Square, and about $20 at Richmond Hill for entry. Why did nearly each stop cost money? We were not about to pay $25 for the five of us to go to a beach when there were public beaches we could have visited. Additionally, looking out on the water, it was really choppy and we could see a strong current. We passed on the beach, and Howard begrudgingly took us away from there.
Instead, we decided to seek out some jerk chicken. We couldn’t visit Jamaica and leave without it! We checked one restaurant down the street from the beach club, but they didn’t have any. Alicia had heard about a restaurant called Scotchies that was well-known for its chicken. Luckily, it was near by, so we asked Howard to take us there.
When we arrived, we could see the kitchen was open for all to see. Logs of pimento wood rested over a fire. The chicken was cooked on top of the logs, and sheets of corrugated metal were placed over the chicken to trap the heat. It looked questionable, but someone with a lot more culinary sense than me came up with this stuff, so I didn’t question it.
We ordered a pound of chicken, a half pound of chicken sausage, and drinks. All of the food was very good. The jerk chicken was full of flavor, with just enough of a kick. The sausage was very spicy, but not spicy simply for the sake of being spicy. The boys enjoyed some chicken and (non-alcoholic) strawberry daiquiris. We all left happy, and surprised that food for five and drinks was only about $40.
When we left Scotchies, we noticed we had about an hour before we had to be back on board the ship, so we started our way back. We figured an hour should be plenty of time.
Plenty of time …
Not long after leaving Scotchies we rand into heavy traffic. Apparently everyone on Montego Bay decided they were going to head the same direction as us at the same time. OK Howard, time to work some magic and earn your pay!
Howard turned off the main road for a possible shortcut, but that too was met with a long line of traffic. Didn’t I say to work some magic?! Howard made a cringe-worthy move, driving into the empty oncoming lane and making his way toward the front of our long line of cars, forcing his way back in line only when met with oncoming traffic. It still wasn’t enough, and Alicia was starting to worry as the deadline got closer and closer. Soon, we only had 30 minutes to get back, with no end in sight to the gridlock.
On the bright side, we did get to see a beautiful sunset and a dancing pot leaf.
Howard took more liberties to keep us moving, skipping the line a few more times, and maybe even running some traffic lights. I kept assuring Alicia that we would be OK, and even offered up that if we were stuck in traffic, so too might official excursions from the ship. The ship wasn’t going to leave without them.
I soon recognized where we were, and realized we were only a couple miles from the ship with about 20 minutes to go. Howard made some more daring moves, and I could finally see the traffic breaking. I knew we were going to make it. Howard got us to the terminal and we got onto the shuttle to the ship with about 15 minutes to spare. We were going to make it.
All in all, the tour of Montego Bay was good, if not slightly adventurous thanks to Howard’s navigation of the traffic.
We cleaned up and enjoyed formal night at the dining room, and even took a few family pictures.
The shower was still a challenge, and I often ended up with the shower curtain trying to wrap itself around me when I would turn around, but I figured out a system. It wasn’t a pretty system, but I found that rinsing, then turning the water off and opening the curtain allowed me to move around and soap up without getting trapped.
I will not let the shower defeat me.