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  • Ocho Rios, Jamaica: the other side of the island

    Our trips to Jamaica are always magical. I just cannot get enough of the island, the people who live there, the culture, the sunshine, and the food. Last March, we branched out from our usual visit to Couples Negril (CN) resort, risking an experience we know we would love for the possibility of a new adventure. I, of course, researched our new destination, Couples Sans Souci (CSS), thoroughly and arrived with a list of things we had to try (see Ocho Rios, Jamaica: 100 Memories.)

    (photo: just past the spa, there are some wonderful hidden seats overlooking the ocean)

    (photos, clockwise from top left: gorgeous tropical flowers at the entrance to the resort; one of the many palm trees; my standard rum and Ting at the beach grill for lunch; breadfruit!; view of one of the resort sailboats from the spa elevator; stairs into the mineral pool; so, so many stairs!; detail of the coral tile by the entrance to the resort)

    Overall we loved the understated elegance, the special hidden places we discovered all over the resort, the slightly more sophisticated demographic of our fellow travelers, the tropical foliage, waterfalls, and beautiful surroundings here. The staff here is remarkable and made us feel right at home, many of them joking with us that we would never return to Couples Negril after our week there. The food is also outstanding and, although I usually have a million photos of what we ate, I was clearly too busy stuffing it all in my mouth to bother with pictures.

    (photo: view of the mineral pool, spa, and hidden beach as well as G block where we stayed in suite G16)

    (photos, clockwise from top left: celebration decorations; the gorgeous light green water; Crackers, the parrot; the entryway to the hidden beach by the spa; Palazzina, where we ate breakfast and several dinners; us at the Starlight Gala; one of many banana banshees I drank by the main pool)

    This resort was built in the 60s and has that old-school Hollywood-on-vacation glam vibe. The mineral pool used to be the main pool and I could just envision how stylish the place must have been then. If they served alcohol there, we wouldn't have moved from that spot. They do however serve delicious cassava chips with pumpkin jalapeño and roasted artichoke dips at the veggie bar. SO good!

    (photo: view from Casanova restaurant)

    (photo: view of the main beach)

    Our room was enormous and had the most amazing view! In the morning, since I'm an early riser, I would watch the white egrets fly towards wherever their feeding grounds were for the day and then again at night, watch them fly back. (Quick note: The Chikungunya virus, spread by mosquitos, was pretty prevalent when we were there. Just make sure you use heavy duty insect repellent before you throw open those slider doors on the balcony. I forgot on day one and promptly got bit.)

    (photos, clockwise from top: the are-you-kidding-me view from our suite G16; view of the main beach; the Mr. in the mineral pool; a fabulous lamp in the main lobby; the floor tiles in the spa)

    On my birthday, I got a hot stone massage in one of the many massage huts on the cliffs overlooking the ocean. I could hear the waves crashing below and felt such gratitude for my life and the opportunity to be in Jamaica again to celebrate.

    (photos, clockwise from top: there are SO MANY steps at this resort and we found walking down to the spa and taking the elevator up to our building was easiest path (or the laziest); us at dinner at Casanova, we had a table outside and could listen to the nighttime entertainment below; the gorgeous blue steps at Palazzina -- no longer blue after their recent renovations; couples can paint rocks to leave at the resort -- many repeaters just add their latest dates to their rock; the view from my massage hut)

    When we are in Jamaica, we try to get off the resort to experience some of the real Jamaica. We hired a driver, Orville, to escort us to Scotchie's, rumored to have the best jerk on the island. The place is filled with tourists and clearly isn't "real Jamaica" but it serves up some really good food! I love breadfruit and ordered a side with my jerk chicken and a Red Stripe (of course!). We bought lunch for Orville and enjoyed sitting with him and talking over our delicious meal.

    (photos, clockwise from top: Scotchie's; jerk chicken, roasted breadfruit, and Red Stripe; birthday jerk photo at Scotchie's)

    One of the best things we experienced was on our last night. Couples rewards people who visit their resorts multiple times (we're called "repeaters"), and we learned that we had quite a bit of resort credit left to spend so we booked a private sunset tour on their speedboat, Dolce Vita. Somehow we managed to not spill a drop of champagne even though we were bumping all over the place at high speeds. The Mr. got to drive and we had a nice tour of Dunn's River Falls, Lobster Dave's and the cruise port, and some of the nearby resorts, like the iconic Jamaica Inn.

    (photos, clockwise from top left: one of my favorite photos of the Mr. -- totally relaxed and loving life; Lobster Dave's; us as the sun went down and the Mr. took the wheel; Dunn's River Falls; sunset; us in front of the Jamaica Inn; and the end of the champagne.)

    So, I'm guessing many of you may be wondering which resort or which side of the island we liked best. As far as the resorts themselves go, if they could move the older part of CSS with it's old school glamour, tropical foliage, and gorgeous views next to Couples Negril; add a floating dock to the CN beach, and get someone to carry my up the stairs, it would be the perfect resort. Both are amazing places to visit, have wonderful people, and fantastic food.

    (photo: view from G block looking over the hidden seats past the spa)

    (photos, clockwise from top left: the Mr. at the main pool where we spent most of our time; gorgeous foliage we saw on our nature walk with a member of the staff; awesome tile; a local boat on the beach; us at the Beach Party our first night there (BIG smiles); and some of the straw items for sale by local vendors.)

    But this is where my heart is clear: Ocho Rios made me feel a little like I was playing dress up. Negril -- with its long sandy beach, cliffs, super casual vibe, and easy mingling of tourists and locals -- makes me feel like I'm 20 years old, wearing cut off jean shorts and flip flops. It's more me than I am.

    While we don't have a trip booked for Jamaica just yet (GASP!), I'm certain we will return soon. I'm curious about other parts of the island like Port Antonio, but I won't be able to resist the pull of Negril for too much longer. 

    For more details, feel free to read my review on Trip Advisor.

  • Ocho Rios, Jamaica: 100 Memories

    We vacationed in Jamaica again this past March. After four years in our beloved Negril, we decided we wanted to explore a different part of the country. Because we've loved our time with the Couples Resorts, we chose Couples Sans Souci in Ocho Rios as our home for a week.

    "The details are not the details. They make the design."   - Charles Eames

    Last year I started keeping a list of the tiny things I wanted to remember from our annual trip to this special island. It's those moments that make the experience so wonderful. Here's the 2015 list:

    1. getting a red "TSA expedited" stamp on my boarding pass and not having to take off my shoes
    2. seeing a gorgeous sunrise outside the windows at Logan as we waited for our flight
    3. having a direct flight this year (yay! no stress!)
    4. watching and enjoying Big Hero 6 on the way there
    5. only spilling a tiny bit of Red Stripe on my shirt this time on the bus to the resort (baby steps!)
    6. getting to see a whole new part of Jamaica on our bus ride, especially the beautiful coastal vistas
    7. the Mr. and I letting out a simultaneous sigh after we stepped out of the bus and saw the orchids and lush greenery at the entrance to the resort
    8. seeing our room and the amazing balcony view for the first time 
    9. drinking my first dirty banana of the trip and enjoying a grilled red snapper sandwich while seated at a table right on the beach
    10. discovering I didn't have to jump up to get on the perfect-height-for-me swim up bar seats
    11. feeling sad yet intrigued by a tiny dead tree frog floating in pool
    12. getting a special delivery of Ting to our room
    13. enjoying cheese and crackers on our balcony before dinner
    14. seeing my first little lizard
    15. watching the white egrets fly past our balcony at the end of the day
    16. enjoying the beach party with some of my favorite Jamaican foods: escovitch fish, fried bammy, and rice and peas plus a very yummy sweet potato tart for dessert
    17. getting a seat just inches from the ocean
    18. listening to our favorite steel drum band, The Silverbirds
    19. sipping a rum cream at the Balloon Bar before turning in for the night
    20. watching the egrets fly back the other direction in the morning
    21. witnessing a giant piece of fruit falling off a tree, just missing our heads
    22. diving in to our first breakfast at Palazzina -- fresh papaya, sour sop, guava, salt fish and ackee, pineapple French toast, and fried dumplings
    23. walking on the beach and finding tiny pink shells and a huge crab
    24. finding an awesome seat at the pool with a view of the ocean
    25. trying a few new-to-me drinks -- Banana Banshee, Peach on the Beach, and a Jamaica Delight
    26. winning second place in trivia and getting a bottle of rum cream for my morning coffee (and discovering that it was Miss Jamaica Universe who beat us)
    27. enjoying a jerk burger and a rum and Ting for lunch by the beach
    28. discovering how much better a piña colada tastes with a rum cream float
    29. spending the last few hours of the day on the beach
    30. finding a giant crab and a giant spider in its giant web on the way back to the room
    31. having a lychee martini at the Martini Bar
    32. The Mr. saving that martini (and me) after a rat almost jumped on my shoulder 
    33. savoring an incredible dinner at Palazzina: Caesar salad with crunchy proscuitto bits, charred tomato soup, lobster, and passion meringue pie
    34. feeding lobster bits to the kitties
    35. plotting to empty the bowl of anchovies into my purse so we could lure the kitties back to protect us from those rats
    36. starting the day on the balcony with a little rum cream in my coffee and a chocolate croissant with some banana bread
    37. wandering around the spa paths and checking out each massage hut
    38. finding the hidden beach
    39. walking on the main beach with my honey
    40. eating a beef patty with extra jerk sauce and a chocolate ice cream cone for dessert
    41. walking around the pond and seeing pelicans divebomb the fish in the pond, and seeing egrets, herons, and turtles
    42. meeting the green parrot, Crackers, and having her whistle at me
    43. taking our first dip in the mineral pool 
    44. soaking in the hidden jacuzzi and then relaxing by the mineral pool
    45. enjoying dinner -- beef tenderloin with jerk sauce and ackee rice -- at a beachside table for two at Bella Vista 
    46. eating fried bammy and fresh papaya for breakfast
    47. getting a hot stone massage in a hut overlooking the ocean, waves crashing below, on my birthday 
    48. having some quiet time on the balcony afterwards
    49. discovering the cookies in the lobby!
    50. taking a trip to Scotchie's to enjoy jerk chicken, roasted breadfruit, and a Red Stripe with our gracious driver, Orville
    51. finding Anita, the blue macaw
    52. being addressed as "m'lady" for a week
    53. being completely overwhelmed by the wonderful Starlight Gala -- and especially enjoying the red snapper with lime buerre sauce, tomato soup, and banana dessert
    54. watching Milton and Co. dance and listening to the fantastic singer, Tammy T (and little bro Clive with his awesome dreadlocks)
    55. enjoying my morning coffee with rum cream and croissants on the balcony
    56. experiencing a quiet early morning by the pool
    57. listening to the birds squabble in the trees
    58. discovering the popcorn machine at the beach grill
    59. dozing underneath the pool umbrella as the rain poured all around us for about 20 minutes
    60. loving the cassava chips with pumpkin jalapeño and roasted artichoke dips at the mineral pool
    61. following it with a chaser afterwards -- a snapper sandwich
    62. finally feeling like we knew our way around the paths of the resort
    63. savoring dinner at Casanova: shrimp and salmon kebab with the awesomest risotto, tomato and crab soup (with vodka), and beef tenderloin
    64. listening to the reggae show, playing on the terrace below, during our dinner 
    65. sipping Blue Mountain coffee after dinner
    66. being awake for that early morning moment when the tree frogs are still chirping and the birds begin to sing 
    67. despite inertia, getting up and going on the morning nature walk
    68. seeing a doctor bird 
    69. seeing my childhood hero, Rikki Tikki Tavi, aka a mongoose darting across the lawn
    70. eating almonds fresh off the tree
    71. appreciating the magnificent rubber tree
    72. eating fresh papaya and muesli for breakfast
    73. sitting in the jacuzzi during a rain shower
    74. seeing a little black lizard inflate his throat 
    75. watching the talented Brian at the Balloon Bar do his cocktail tricks
    76. enjoying Blue Mountain coffee after dinner (again!)
    77. listening to the jazz entertainment back in the room while falling asleep
    78. waking up to sunshine after a cloudy, rainy day
    79. getting our favorite poolside seat for the last day
    80. realizing we still have a ton of resort credit left and booking a private sunset boat tour for our last evening
    81. walking along the beach and finding a cool shell and the remnants of a palm leaf arch used for a wedding next door the night before
    82. swimming out to the floating dock and dangling my toes in the Caribbean while watching the boats go by (and laughing when the Mr.'s shorts almost fell off when he climbed the ladder)
    83. enjoying my morning Banana Banshee
    84. eating my last beef patty with extra spicy sauce and a rum and Ting
    85. buying a few photos of ourselves that we actually liked
    86. taking time to explore the hidden beach
    87. finding the hidden mineral grotto
    88. taking a photo walk on my own
    89. sadly taking our last dip in the pool
    90. enjoying everything about our private sunset cruise on the Dolce Vita
    91. going really, really fast and managing to barely spill our champagne
    92. discovering there was a cheese plate to enjoy on the boat
    93. seeing Dunn's River Falls and Lobster Dave's from the water
    94. finding Mick Jagger's house on the top of the mountain
    95. sipping champagne while watching the sunset
    96. ordering room service on our last night and enjoying my favorite, grilled snapper with lime butter sauce 
    97. one last room service breakfast of Blue Mountain coffee and buttery croissants, and dumping the rest of the rum cream in my cup
    98. sitting outside on the balcony in my underwear until the very last minute when I had to put my pants on to get on the sad bus home
    99. taking in everything on the final ride home and seeing slices of Jamaican life (and Usain Bolt's school and track)
    100. eating our traditional cheeseburger before our direct(!) flight home
  • Our Early Winter Getaway to Punta Cana, DR

    Towards the end of hurricane season and right before all the resort prices sky rocket for the winter, the Mr. and I take a trip to the Caribbean. We call it a short trip since it's less than seven days (although six isn't really all that short, is it?). We've gone some place different every time and use different criteria than we do for trips of seven nights or more:

    1. Traveling there takes no more than half a day. We like to be poolside by early to mid-afternoon and we don't like spending our entire last day in the airport. We take a look at flight time, as well as travel time from the airport to the resort.
    2. Affordable value. We don't spend our big bucks on this trip and save our pennies for our longer trips. This means we have to really scour the information out there to find just the right deal. We make compromises (like no view from the room or no swim-up bar.)
    3. Adults only. This is true of all of our trips. We prefer the quiet that these resorts usually offer. However if  we can't find an entire resort, we'll at least find an option with a separate adults section.
    4. All inclusive. We have gone the regular route before and are always amazed at how much those drinks and poolside snacks add up. If we can find an AI we like, we'll always choose it.
    5. Food is above average. We went to an incredible resort one year that had just meh food. Everything about it was awesome but we're unlikely to return. It's a make or break issue for us.

    After putting all of that into our research process, the winner this year was the Barcelo Bavaro Beach Resorts for adults only in the Bavaro area of Punta Cana, Dominican Republic. One of the things we learned our first time in the DR, is that "Punta Cana" is a really big area and your resort can be an hour and a half drive after you arrive. This resort is less than 30 minutes from the airport.

    It's a fantastic place to go if you have travelers who want a lot of options. The adult resort is connected to a much bigger family-friendly resort. We were able to go there and enjoy all their amenities (casino, more restaurants, lots of shopping), but they could not come and enjoy ours. We also found the crowd to be much more international (Russians, Canadians, Brits) with only a handful of Americans, which translates into a much more peaceful experience around the pool. No "Woo Girls" or loud hollering after a round or two of drinks. 

    A few highlights from our trip ...

    Clockwise (from top left): a mojito and my favorite drink of the trip, a chechee kapapuka (which tastes like an orange creamsicle); the path to our room (garden view with an extremely comfortable bed); one of several sculptures in the common area near the pool; there is plenty of shade and lounge chairs around the pool

    Top to bottom: a view of one of the unique features of the pool -- it also had a jacuzzi in the center and pool beds in the water; the resort is next to a public area on the beach that has shops and options for various tours

    Clockwise from top left: one of the cool things about Punta Cana is that they have left many of the palm trees directly on the beach; La Pina -- bar at the far end of the resort where you could get tropical drinks in a pineapple or a coconut; the view of the beach to the right of the resort towards the family-friendly section; lots of beds for lounging; and interesting seating sprinkled through the resort

    Clockwise from top left: pool beds, which were quite comfortable (note that the pool is pretty deep so it can be hard to drink your fruity pina colada while wading); the lighting in La Brisa where we had lunch every day (the grilled fish with lime was my favorite!); no swim-up bar at this pool but they did have chair service; the Mr. at the bar at La Pina

    The beach to the far left of the resort near La Pina is pretty empty and a great place to sit if you need some peace and quiet.

    If you are curious about more specifics of this resort, feel free to read my TripAdvisor review here.

  • Jamaica: 100 Memories

    (originally published on March 25, 2014)

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    Oh, friends, we've been back from Jamaica for over a week. That beautiful island of sunshine, smiling people, lush greenery, and the bluest of blue shades is just the faintest of memories now.

    However, while we were there, I kept a simple running list of wonderful things that happened each day. Last summer when I was on the Cape for two weeks, I kept a similar list and found it to be such a great way to capture the feelings, thoughts, and special moments of my vacation. Turns out I wrote down 100 memories from our nine days in paradise. Here's the entire list:

    1. handling both the flight to Orlando and the flight to Montego Bay with confidence and ease (see my posts on my fear of flying journey)
    2. watching Frozen on the plane and loving Olaf's summer song
    3. feeling my heart soar when I saw the Caribbean blue of the ocean when we landed in Montego Bay
    4. thanking the awesome resort message board for alerting us to the glory of the new arrival escorts through Club Mobay -- 20 minutes from plane to lounge, bypassing a two-hour wait in immigration!
    5. drinking my first Red Stripe in the resort lounge and then spilling it all over me -- as usual -- before we got out of Montego Bay and not caring one bit
    6. enjoying the 90 minute drive to Negril 
    7. after checking in, heading right to the bar for my first Dirty Banana and seeing the giant pile of fresh bananas waiting for me (last year they used MIX)
    8. having my disappointment at being housed in building 1 instead of building 2 replaced with joy when I saw our view (half ocean and half our beloved garden)
    9. enjoying our first sunset of the vacation, drinks in hand, and feeling the stress just leaving my soul
    10. eating a wonderful lesiurely meal at Heliconia on lobster night
    11. having both papaya and sour sop juice -- two of my favorite things! -- for breakfast
    12. establishing my drink rotation for the trip on the first full day (Dirty Banana, Piña Colada with rum float, Miami Vice, Hummingbird, Purple Rain, Jamaica Smile, with a Dark and Stormy thrown in where needed. Repeat.)
    13. trying a new-to-me drink, a Jamaica Smile, (layered: strawberry daiquiri then piña colada then topped with a rum cream float)
    14. seeing a hummingbird while drinking a Hummingbird (seriously!)
    15. sharing jerk chicken and a jerk burger with the Mr. at lunch
    16. decorating my pool float with flowers I found
    17. wearing the first of many (!) caftans
    18. picking the theme song for the vacation (The Good Good by Snoop Lion)
    19. eating three desserts ... at lunch
    20. taking the snorkel gear out and seeing eight starfish and a school of fish right before sunset
    21. wearing a carefully curated delicate Caribbean bracelet stack
    22. enjoying a delicious cup of espresso at the bar after dinner with the Mr.
    23. seeing a grey heron on my morning walk
    24. discovering Rick's Cafe retweeted my sunset photo
    25. being selfish and take three giant, super ripe pieces of papaya for breakfast
    26. finding more sour sop juice waiting for me
    27. scoring the perfect piece of crispy bacon
    28. watching a butterfly land on my knee ... twice!
    29. seeing a huge white egret fly over my head, but no one else seeing him
    30. seeing a large hummingbird  -- another one!
    31. enjoying my first grilled snapper sandwich at lunch while staring out at the ocean
    32. trying another new drink, Ellie Smile, which is a dirty banana with apricot liquor
    33. inhaling the amazing coconut chicken soup and green papaya salad at Lychee
    34. sitting on the tree swing with the Mr. while watching a movie on the beach
    35. loading up on guava juice, fresh papaya, coconut French toast, and sugar cane for breakfast
    36. walking the full length of the beach (and, sadly, discovering that my beloved Office of Nature is no longer there)
    37. seeing a crab scurry on the beach
    38. being completely taken aback by the Mr. spotting one of our least favorite people from previous trips on the beach and laughing afterwards by how funny it was that I shouted "Holy shit!" a little too loudly when I figured out what he wanted me to look at
    39. sipping pineapple orange water
    40. adding some spicy oil to my fried snook at lunch (and then looking up snook on the interwebs to figure out what I just ate)
    41. slowly eating my sour sop SORBET
    42. hearing and then seeing a Jamaican woodpecker
    43. enjoying a less crazy than usual catamaran cruise to the cliffs and singing along to Sean Paul on the way home
    44. being amazed by how close the giant white egret allowed me to get on my morning bird stalk
    45. spotting the turtle in the pond -- my only sighting of this trip
    46. discovering that Edge of Water, the next book in Elizabeth George's YA series, was automatically delivered to my Kindle
    47. enjoying the delicious combination of a juicy papaya, boiled banana, and passion fruit juice
    48. spending a gorgeous clear and quiet morning reading by the pool
    49. cheese fries!
    50. floating around the pool on floaties with the Mr. while calling out  "Rose!" and "Jack!" anytime we floated away from each other
    51. being followed around the ocean by a school of fish (I could do that forever!)
    52. seeing 20 starfish during our daily pre-sunset snorkel  (The Mr. is THE best starfish hunter!)
    53. enjoying our dinner at the fancy restaurant, Otaheite -- especially the salmon and artichoke mousse, rum drenched shrimp, mango sorbet, and the coffee press of Blue Mountain coffee
    54. grabbing a coconut and enjoying really fresh coconut water
    55. scoring a front row seat at the pool with an umbrella
    56. cheering on the Mr. while he saved a drowning bee in the pool -- we named him Beejesus
    57. soaking in the hot tub
    58. discovering there were hard tacos and grilled snapper for lunch
    59. enjoying the glass bottom boat ride over the coral reef
    60. seeing the Sargent fish and a stingray
    61. during our daily snorkel, seeing some sort of creature before he buried himself in the sand
    62. taking a wonderful nap before dinner
    63. devouring grilled snapper with lime. butter. sauce.
    64. spending my fourth birthday in a row in Jamaica and thinking how really, really lucky I am
    65. before leaving the balcony for the day, watching a white egret fly over my head, seeing a Jamaican woodpecker land on the tree in front of me, watching two little yellow bananaquits build a nest, and watching a cat play with a lizard
    66. getting my favorite seat by the pool on my birthday
    67. discovering that they had boiled dumplings for breakfast on my birthday (the ONLY day they served them)
    68. indulging in jerk chicken, cheese fries, and cocoa bread for my birthday lunch
    69. finally learning I could get a fresh papaya daiquiri (!!)
    70. eating an ice cream cone in the hot tub
    71. heading to Rick's to watch the cliff jumpers and the sunset
    72. getting a coveted table IN the pool at Rick's 
    73. watching a really cool and fiery sunset while drinking Red Stripes
    74. meeting other people from Boston as we watched it and learning they lived in the town over from us and were staying at the other Couples resort in Negril (clearly, our Bizarro friends)
    75. enjoying my birthday dinner at a table by the beach with tiki torches
    76. indulging again in the sour sop sorbet
    77. drinking as much guava juice as possible
    78. eating fried plantains for breakfast
    79. sitting on the other side of the pool for a change and being able to stare at the Caribbean blue ocean all day
    80. listening to a lovely quartet playing mellow music at breakfast
    81. really savoring the last Dirty Banana of the trip
    82. spending our last day just chilling by the pool, listening to tunes, floating on the pool floaties, and watching the palm trees sway in the breeze
    83. spending our resort credit on coffee, coffee, and more coffee
    84. also getting a cute clutch from the resort store and a blue and white polka dotted frog, which I named Jerk
    85. finding a banana flower (!!) and bananas on the other side of the resort 
    86. discovering a staircase I never knew was there and getting an awesome photo for my lighting series
    87. enjoying a chocolate ice cream cone
    88. finishing our trip the way we started it: with a lovely dinner at Heliconia, this time with beachside seating
    89. enjoying one more Caesar salad with shrimps (yes, shrimps!)
    90. getting lobster tails that were so easy to remove from the shells this time and enjoying every last bite of them
    91. experiencing a really good night's sleep
    92. getting first dibs on the fresh papaya (the upside of having to get up early to leave the resort for the airport)
    93. trying callaloo at our last meal
    94. seeing new things on the Ride of Great Sadness to the airport
    95. bypassing the giant security lines at the airport with our Club Mobay departure escort
    96. seeing and quickly buying my favorite brand of rum cream to take home with us (Sangster's!)
    97. getting seated at a private table in the quiet room at Club Mobay
    98. being surprised by how good the last drink in Jamaica was, a guava daiquiri at the Jamaican Bobsled Cafe
    99. messing around with the bobsled on display next door
    100. starting the planning for our return trip next year!

    I have lots of photos, too, friends. Of course I do. Stay tuned for the visual companion to these memories. Irie!

     

  • Sun, Sun, and Sun in the Dominican Republic

    (originally published on January 6, 2014)

    I know it's taken me a while to get around to putting this post together. You'll see why at the end.

    The Mr. and I started a winter survival strategy last year by adding an additional trip to warmer climates right before the snow usually starts falling. With our annual Jamaica trip at the other end, we've created symbolic parentheses to our least favorite season. 

    We took the first flight out of Boston on a mid-November morning. So early that I had this little space all to myself. Even though we were up at 3:30 am, I was psyched for our trip! See face below.

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    It was the first time we were able to keep our electronic devices on during takeoff so I popped in some Bob Marley and relaxed the 45 minutes to NYC and then the few hours to Punta Cana. And once there, we had an experience that made my heart soar! We disembarked out of the BACK of the plane, on to the tarmac, and into the palaba-style airport. SO AWESOME!

    However, the experience inside the airport was the antithesis of Jamaica's no-worries-mon arrival. I was STRESSED. People pushing, grabbing bags, luggage carts digging into the back of my legs, elbows jabbing. And then our transportation to the resort fell through and we had to rely on the kindness of one of the luggage guys to get us where we needed to go. I will admit it, I was rude to him. So rude. Luckily, the Mr. is much more trusting than I am and the guy totally saved our vacation. Despite how rude I was. Lesson learned.

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    After about an hour's drive, much of it on a disappointing stretch of highway (no water views), we arrived on the most beautiful beach with amazing resort grounds to match.

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    The beach was so wide and the surf really intense. The first day we were there, I decided to take a walk on the beach while the Mr. snoozed by the pool. As soon as I set foot on the sand, I noticed people running and hotel employees with walkie-talkies rushing past me. And then I realized there was someone in the water and he was in serious trouble. I mean serious trouble. No one could get to him and he kept getting pulled out further and further. They had to launch a boat (that barely made it over the waves intact) to rescue him. I honestly thought we were watching someone lose their life. Needless to say, I did not venture past my ankles the rest of the trip. (And, people, use your brains! That red flag is there for a reason. Don't you watch Dateline?)

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    Luckily, the pool at the resort was incredible. It seemed to go on for miles! There were plenty of chairs and beds (yep! we took a very nice nap on one). Some had palabas, some did not. We also got in the habit of walking from one end to the other to cool off. There was also a separate quieter pool (bottom left hand corner below) that we never got around to visiting.

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    The swim-up bar was in the middle of the pool, never too far away.

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    And the rest of the resort was equally as amazing and had all sorts of activities like squash courts, pool tables, tennis and basketball courts, a giant chess set, archery, miniature golf, a casino, on and on. There were games and activities (like a pineapple throwing contest which the Mr. participated in and meringue lessons.) If you were bored here, it was your own fault!

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    We may have had a few cocktails while we were there. The Coco Loco was my favorite -- they would chop off the top of the coconut with a machete, pour the contents in the blender, add rum, add coconut milk, blend with ice and pour it back in the coconut. It tasted nutty and not so sickly sweet as some of my usual fruity favorites.

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    There were 10 restaurants on the resort, one of them was right on the beach, Las Olas, which was just the perfect beach lunch place.

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    They made pizzas there in a wood fire oven. They were quite popular! We also tried the Dominican rice (upper right hand corner below.) I will say the food overall here was hit or miss. Some of the meals we had were really good and some were just ok. I will say I very much appreciated the waiter at The Grill going next door to The Lobster House to get me some lobster to go with my steak. Service here was really good and everyone was very friendly.

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    The resort also had a botanical garden that I went to visit every morning on my walk around the grounds. There was a small flamenco of flamingos, some beautiful and friendly parrots, and some of those gorgeous white egrets.

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    I just love this photo and how you can see his feathers flying in the breeze. Beautiful, beautiful birds!

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    One more look at that beach, the palm trees, and the surf!

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    One observation I would like to share: I'm a pretty laid back person and I like to just chill most of the time. I found there to be a slightly elevated energy level here. I'd like to see more of the island to see if it's the culture of the place. It may have been the high-energy salsa music and the energetic staff (quite different from the reggae music and no-worries-mon vibe of Jamaica.) 

    So, why I've been dragging my feet on this post: I don't support the Dominican Republic's recent ruling to strip citizenship rights from people born in that country to parents who were there without documentation (read Haitians.) If you have no idea what I am talking about, please read this. While we had a wonderful time and would like to see more of the island, we've decided not to return until the government changes this policy.

     

     

  • Jamaica: One Love Bus Bar Crawl

    (originally published on March 29, 2013)

    So far, I've spent every birthday of my 40s in Jamaica. Its become a goal now to keep this tradition going -- although I've widened the circle to include any warm, Caribbean island. 

    This year, we celebrated on the awesome, word-of-mouth tour of Negril bars, the One Love Bus Bar Crawl. The tour is free and you make reservations by emailing the driver, Lenbert, directly. (NOTE: Make sure you tip the man well when the tour ends!) He picked us up at the designated time at our resort in this super fun rasta-colored bus. We then picked up about 35 like-minded and fun-loving people, most having to stand in the aisles, as seating is limited. No one cared though. We were all there to have fun!

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    Our first stop was Sunset After Dark.

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    Inside was great open space, friendly people ...

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     ... the most awesome Bob Marley mural in all of Jamaica ...

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    ... and a deck with an incredible view! We watched pelicans diving for their food as we enjoyed our first Red Stripes of the afternoon.

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    Our next stop was a short distance down the road, Mi Yard.

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    The people here were so gracious! They brought out trays of Jamaican specialties for us to try. I, of course, gobbled up everything -- the fried festival (Jamaican fried dough) and escovitch (fish) were delicious! 

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    Mi Yard is right across the street from the ocean and the Love Boat bar.

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    When it was time to scramble back on the bus for our next destination, the Mr. and I sat in the front. Lenbert was blaring Fly Robin Fly, which is now in heavy rotation on my playlist and, is on right now as I write this.

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    The Mr. took the first position shotgun and I sat behind him. I have the whole thing on video and can't wait to get that together for you all to see. At this point, I was thinking, "this is the best birthday ever!" 

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    Our third stop was On the Rocks.

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    Let me take a moment here to share a travel tip about the tour. Bathrooms. Not always available and when they are, not always fully equipped. So, use one when you see it (a little mantra my mom taught me) and bring along a packet or two of Kleenex and a small bottle of hand sanitizer. Toilet paper and a working sink were rare.

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    The DJ booth here was really fun. And although you can't see it in these photos, the bar is right on the water and there is a tiny beach there that was filled with sea glass. And a dead puffer fish. If you've been following Juniper Disco closely, you know how fascinated I am by things that wash up from the sea.

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    There appeared to be some rules here at On the Rocks. The "at the bar" part cracks me up.

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    Most of us tried to finish up our drinks before we got on the bus until Lenbert said, "You can drink on the bus. This is Jamaica." So funny how conditioned we are to follow the rules from back home. Notice how quickly I acclimated.

    Our next stop was the No Limit Bar. 

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    Again there seemed to be a rule here, but it was a little more generalized than the last bar.

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    In the back there is a small outdoor space. And a PARROT. Lenbert told us that farmers shoot these birds because they like to eat the ganja seeds. I bet they do.

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    After this we went to a restaurant/bar, called Choices, where a huge spread of Jamaican food was waiting for us (for $5). Sadly, I only took video of this place and no still shots. 

    Our sixth bar was a place I had long been curious about, having seen it from both the road and the water side. Xtabi is right on the cliffs and had some really fun things to explore -- gorgeous views and caves right on the ocean. 

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    I have some great video of this as well -- including our descent into the caves and the amazing things we found there!

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    By this time, it was getting rather close to sunset so we headed to a bar just past the oh-so-famous Rick's Cafe (of cliff-jumping activities from last year) to a much more rustic, agriculturally enhanced bar, Sir D's Lookout.

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    Nothing more really than a few wooden boards on a cliff!

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    The farther point with the three trees on it is where Rick's is. 

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    If so inclined, you could climb down to the water.

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    And the views of the sunset were really spectacular!

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    We were told that we should expect to visit six or seven bars during our trip and that the roster changes every time. Lenbert was quite generous that night and took us to one last bar, Bella Donna's, where we were each greeted with a warm hug. 

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    We enjoyed one more Red Stripe and a slice each of some awesome pizza!

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    And, since I can't really end a post on Jamaica with a photo of pizza, here's one of Bob Marley instead.

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    The drive back to the resort was pretty fun, with all of us singing at the top of our lungs and feeling pretty good about our afternoon together. Remember, tip Lenbert well when you leave the bus! 

    To reserve your spot on the One Love Bus, email Lenbert Williams at bananaznegril@hotmail.com.

  • Jamaica: Breakfast! and Other Meals

    (originally published on March 27, 2013)

    One of the things I look forward to the most on our trips to Jamaica is the overwhelmingly fresh, isn't-it-gorgeous fruit offerings at breakfast. We've also developed a bit of a habit of taking our first meal of the day out on to the deck, overlooking the beach. 

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    I tried absolutely everything they put out: (clockwise from top) fresh papaya, watermelon, Jamaican apple (which has very little flavor and more of a consistency like a pear), and naseberry (looks and tastes something like a fig. So good!).

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    More fruit, with pineapple this time and mango juice. They also had WARM banana bread and some pretty tasty hash. Corned beef hash, that is.

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    Clockwise from top: cheese (please! I had a slice every morning), more papaya, sour sop (with the watermelon like seed -- the juice is my absolute FAVORITE but the fruit itself has a mushy texture), a boiled banana (which tasted like a potato), more naseberry, and a stick of sugar cane.

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    One of the days we sat by the pool instead. I had papaya juice and the white thing on the right is a boiled dumpling. The Mr. thinks its odd that I love these so much. I blame my Pennsylvania Dutch heritage. We love dough.

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    Muesli  ... in a COCONUT shell!

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    I even participated in a Jamaican fruit tasting while I was there. From the top: coconut, sugar cane, sour sop, star fruit, Jamaican star apple fruit (purple), Jamaican apple, naseberry. When I was at the spa, they taught me how to eat the purple fruit correctly -- you fold it over and squeeze out the mushy stuff. It stains, so watch your super cute coverup when you eat these!

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    And this is the national fruit of Jamaica, ackee.

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    Which is served in a traditional Jamaican dish, ackee and salt fish. I tried some with breakfast and it tasted like scrambled eggs and salty fish. I liked it!

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    Although breakfast was my favorite, we ate excellent food pretty much all day. This was an amazing lunch I had: clockwise from top, cocobread (Jamaican bread made with coconut milk), rice and peas (as Jamaicans call it), some sort of pork, fried plantains, and breadfruit (which tasted like BREAD. Seriously! And totally appealed to my dough-loving tastebuds.)

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    Jerk chicken, of course!

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    Fried snapper. On cocobread. Yummy!

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    Friday nights are lobster nights at Couples Negril. I have to admit, it can be hit or miss but these lobster tails at Heliconia were cooked just right and were served with a wonderful buttery sauce.

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    In years past, I have posted photo after photo of their amazing desserts. I tried to keep it a bit more under control this year but you really do just need to look at how beautiful these are!

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    And the carved watermelons were everywhere! This one is my favorite.

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    This year they had a champagne toast on the beach at sunset. You could get a shot of flavoring in your champagne, and we opted for raspberry.

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    So ... here's where things were not perfect. (Gosh! Life is so hard!) My favorite drink in Jamaica is the Dirty Banana, which is made with real bananas. Up to this point. This year, they made it with mix. MIX. Only one day did they have real bananas and those ran out quickly. I read on the message board that there was some issue with the banana crop this year, but who knows? Anyway, I got a "proper Dirty Banana," as the Mr. called it, at Xtabi.

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    I also enjoyed an ice-up papaya (fresh papaya, rum cream, dark rum, & house-made pineapple-ginger syrup) at Pushcart.

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    And because we enjoyed them so much last year, we ordered the jerk chicken skewers.

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    And the jerk sausage.

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    A few Red Stripes were had, of course!

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    On the last full day that our new friends were at the resort, we all took a walk down the beach to the Office of Nature, where we enjoyed some fresh grilled lobster. So tasty!

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    Our last gasp tradition before we leave Jamaica is to have a cocktail and a snack at Margaritaville in the Montego Bay airport (after we procure our rum and rum cream to take home with us!) It was only 10am but who cares?

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    This jerk chicken pizza with pineapple wasn't bad either. And you can bet I took that little Jamaican flag home with me where it now sits on my Juniper Disco Lounge desk!

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    If you missed Monday's post, the first in my Jamaica 2013 series, you can catch it here. And for more food photos, see last year's Jamaican food post: Jamaica: Foodstuffs + Drinkscapes

  • Jamaica: Too Soon Gone

    (originally published on March 25, 2013)

    There is a difference between vacation and travel. Vacation is focused on getting away from something, from home, from work, from life. Travel is about going towards some place, about being immersed in wherever you are going. Our latest trip to Jamaica was more about being there than about being away from our lives. I tried to explain that to people when we returned home, but most people just wanted to talk about the weather. Bostonians are obsessed with weather.

    So, Juniper Disco readers, I am counting on you to get it. To get that I didn't just go on vacation. That I traveled to a place I love deeply. That fascinates me to no end. And that fills my heart with joy.

    The water and beaches in West Jamaica are just gorgeous. That color is like nothing else in the world. You know how regimented I need to be when I fly so I don't freak out (including not looking outside)? I was craning my neck to see out the window during our entire leg from Orlando to Jamaica because this color was everywhere below us (That and Cuba. Cuba!) I had entered the magical zone where all my anxieties and hang-ups disappeared.

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    We are decidedly pool people. I know that seems at odds with my love of the ocean. I can walk up and down the beach all day long but I really like to relax by the pool. This is our view of the swim-up bar.

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    And what came to be our spot for most of the week plus.

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    This was our third trip to Couples Negril and a number of people -- both fellow resorters and staff members -- recognized us from our past trips. One person even told me they saw my video! Here we are with some of the new friends we made this time around. Such great people!

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    We also took a couple of trips to the cliffs to enjoy the sunset. At some point in my life, we will stay in one of those huts at the Rockhouse Hotel. The sound of the ocean lapping right outside, jumping off the cliffs into the water, and watching the sunset every night seems like heaven!

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    This papaya drink disappeared in about 30 seconds. 

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    There's that color again (at Xtabi)! 

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    We chilled in the beach chairs at our resort with champagne, listening to a live saxophonist while the sun set over Bloody Bay. They really do treat you like royalty at Couples!

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    They also feed you like kings and queens! The beach party is one of my favorite nights. And they do this every week. Incredible. (Look at that sky!)

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    We also made friends with the locals. There is something about Jamaicans that just puts me completely at ease. I think it's their energy. The Mr. thinks it's the thin film of smoke that is present all over the island. Either way, I find myself syncing with their completely relaxed vibe. Yeah, mon.

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    We now have an annual tradition of visiting the original Office of Nature for the freshest and tastiest lobster ever! 

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    The grounds of our resort are lush and tropical. Birds are singing all day long. It is what I miss most when we leave here and return to the city.

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    That and these birds.

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    We spa'd this time (the Mr.'s first spa experience ever.) The spa is enclosed but open enough that I could hear the birds singing and the ocean lapping at the shore while I laid in my peppermint sea twist wrap.

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    And we listened to the Silver Birds play three times while we were there. So fun and energetic -- it is amazing what they do!

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    And then all too soon, it was time to leave. I had to put closed-toe shoes back on. Which matched the chairs. Sigh.

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    Soon come ... my annual feasting Jamaican-style post. And a play-by-play ride along with the One Love Bus Bar Crawl on my birthday! Irie, friends!

  • Jamaica: What the Photos Won't Show

    (originally published on March 18, 2013)

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    I'm BACK! Still pouting and edging quickly toward grumpy but here, nonetheless.

    We had an awesome time and I'm slowly working my way through all my photos and videos. There is a lot to share! Including a very fun birthday celebration on the One Love Bus bar crawl through the West End of Negril with Fly Robin Fly blaring out the windows. (That video is 70s-fabulous, by the way. Note: not for kids.)

    While the photos will show you a lot about our trip, they won't show you everything. When my brain has time to slow down, it's amazing what pops up. Here's what else happened ...

    Made some awesome new friends. Read two books. Thought about life. Walked around in a swimsuit for eleven days and decided it would be a good idea to start exercising more regularly. Wore some hardcore Australian 30+ sunscreen and still got a tan. Totally overpacked. Learned a new phrase: "piss on it!" Committed to FINALLY changing my last name. Discovered wearing white jeans for the flight home was not such a great idea. But stashing a Tide to Go pen in my tote was.

    Ate papaya every day and in some cases, every meal of every day. Realized I need to work on my posture. Tried a bunch of new foods. Admitted to the Mr. that I need to see an eye doctor. After swearing off shots years ago, did two in one day. Learned some Jamaican Patois and finally figured out what Pitbull is saying in the remix of Sean Paul's "She Doesn't Mind" ("Wha Gwan, Jamaica"). Chased a hummingbird around the garden. Tried to figure out a way to wear caftans to work back home.

    Did not have one bit of anxiety during our three flights. Even completely forgot I was on a plane at one point when I was engrossed in Breaking Dawn, Part 2 and silently chanting "Get that Dakota! Get HER!!"  Arrived with dark brown hair. Left with blonde streaks. Had a teeny, tiny terrifying panic attack while wrapped in peppermint, seaweed, ACE bandages, and saran wrap. Slept, and slept, and slept. Discovered the reggae channel. Realized I look like Sheldon Cooper when doing a fist bump no matter how hard I try to look natural.

    Discovered a new motto, which I will be posting on my office door:

    "Oh, please don't you rock my boat (don't rock my boat) 
    'Cause I don't want my boat to be rockin' (don't rock my boat)" 
    -Bob Marley

    Learned quickly that I was the only one at the resort, not counting the staff, who knew the words to all the Sean Paul songs. Vowed never to move to the Midwest or Canada. Ate lobster three times. Had someone tell me I look 32 (I do, too! Shut up.) Reconfirmed I do not like loud people. Reminded myself a hundred times to just go with it. Except when asked to play volleyball. Decided to plan trips to Charleston, Ft. Lauderdale, the DR, and Barbados. Tried water aerobics with cocktail in hand. Confirmed I really, really need a new camera. Missed writing this blog. A lot.

    Give me some time to get my photos in order. I'll have some great posts for you later this week! (60 days until the boat starts running to Ptown! Summer is coming, people!)