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Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Climb to Mystic Mountain

The view from Mystic Mountain
A few months ago I went on a trip to the North Coast of Jamaica and I finally got to make a stop at Mystic Mountain, located just outside of the resort town of Ocho Rios. As I drove into the parking area I immediately wondered where was the driveway up to the top of Mystic Mountain, but my answer was soon to come. The only way to get to Mystic Mountain was via the Mystic Mountain Sky Explorer, which is a cable driven chair lift that continuously shuttle patrons from the base of the property to the very top. So with that only option available I hopped on to the lift, literally, and I was on my way! But what would I expect?

The starting point of the Sky Explorer lift
The canopy view of the Sky Explorer
If you are afraid of heights this ride will certainly prove to be a challenge as it takes you several feet above the ground above the canopy formed by very tall trees, some of which tower to the height of the chairs and even taller. This is not a brief ride so closing your eyes and hoping to arrive to the top in a few minutes will not work as the ride is fifteen minutes above ground. However, closing your eyes would only cause you to miss out on the lovely view of the town of Ocho Rios down below and the serenity of being way above the trees being serenaded by the chirps of tropical birds. There is also a point in the ride where you can have your photo taken with an option to purchase at the end of the ride. My description of the Mystic Mountain Sky Explorer is just a bit to wet your appetite, now here is the main course, a video clip of my ride to Mystic Mountain!

The Sky Explorer ride to the top of Mystic Mountain was certainly worth the trip as the location offered a breathtaking view of the the blue Caribbean Sea and the resort town of Ocho Rios nestled below. The view expands along the coastline heading to the neighbouring parish of St. Mary and gives testament to why Jamaica is called aa land of wood and water as lush greenery extends as far as the eyes can see.

View from one of the windows at the Mystic Mountain restaurant
Coffee served at Mystic Mountain restaurant
After making my way up to the to of Mystic Mountain via the Sky Explorer I had certainly worked up an appetite and headed straight for the restaurant to see what they had to delight the palate while I enjoyed the brilliant view. I decided to start off with some Blue Mountain coffee since I hadn't eaten in a while but I was utterly and extremely disappointed when I was told that they only had instant coffee! Now this is a big minus for Mystic Mountain as anyone who knows me knows I love my freshly brewed Blue Mountain coffee! I certainly did not expect such a disappointment at a famous attraction such as Mystic Mountain but I hope they have repented of their err and are now serving real brewed coffee.

Lamb Burger served with Sweet Potato Fries
After combing through the menu I decided to try the lamb burger, the sweet potato fries that comes along with it and a cold Red Stripe Beer. The lamb burger was certainly different from the regular burger that I am accustomed to as it had a really gamey taste, must have been a ram! However, the sweet potato fries were delicious and definitely something I would recommend as a must have at Mystic Mountain. I finished off with dessert, a colourful combination of vanilla ice cream and diced fruits served in a stylish glass.

Red Stripe Beer served cold
The dessert I had at the Mystic Mountain restaurant
There are other features of Mystic Mountain that I did not explore such as the Bobsled, Canopy Zip Lining, Infinity Edge Pool and the Mystic Water Slide. Hopefully I will get to return to experience these other attractions at Mystic Mountain so I will get the full Mystic experience.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Green Grotto Caves Explored

Green Grotto Caves
Located on the north coast of Jamaica near to the town of Discovery Bay is a limestone cave system called Green Grotto Caves. Greet Grotto Caves is one of many limestone cave systems that are scattered across Jamaica, a island best known for it's brilliant sunshine and wonderful white sand beaches. The Green Grotto Caves is also called by several names including Rum Caves as it was used to store barrels of rum due to the cool temperature inside the cave and the Runaway Caves as it was used by Spanish to escape from the British and also by the slaves in a bid to escape. The cave is made up of two major cave systems which are collectively called by the name most Jamaicans are familiar with, the Geen Grotto Caves. I have always heard about these caves, diven past it on several occasions, but had never visited the caves before until a few months ago. But what would I expect and what did the caves have hidden inside?

"Cave Explorers" photographing the cave with hard hats on
Escape rout used by Spanish settlers and later by slaves
After a short safety briefing and putting on my hard hat to protect my head from making flesh to rock connections with the cave ceiling the group was ready to embark on a journey to the inside of Jamaica... Literally! As we entered the cave we could feel the heavy humid cave atmosphere and the characteristic cave features of stalactite, stalagmites and pillars revealed themselves without hesitation. The cave, being a tourist attraction, has well lit pathways and corridors for easy trekking by the curious explorer. However, the many dark areas and shadows casted by the light on the many cave formations gives that mysterious and eerie feeling to the cave experience.

A large stalactite protruding from the cave ceiling 
The cave system boasts large ballroom cavities with ceilings several feet high but those are quickly contrasted by low section that forces the curious visitor to get low. There are even very narrow tunnels that one has to crawl through one at a time to access other large openings below the surface of the earth, giving further testament to the dynamics of the Green Grotto cave system. As we explored the caves it didn't not take long for us to realize we were not along in this large cave system! There were others lurking in the dark, nestled in the tiny indentations and crevices of the ceiling and walls of the caves! What could this be?

A view of one of the larger sections of the cave, home to many bat species
The Green Grotto Caves is certainly not a barren cave as it is home to some nine of the 21 species of bats found in Jamaica. The bats range from small insect eating bats to larger fruit eating bats and in high numbers due to the availability of prime bat real estate in the cave system. The tour is not for those who are extremely scared of bats as these tiny mammals do fly around and pretty close when disturbed. However, they are harmless and rarely if ever make contact with people during the flight and are usually nested in the darker regions of the caves. Guano is very much evident on the floors, walls and ceilings of the caves, a further testament to the vibrant occupation of the many bat species found in Jamaica.

Pond in the Green Grotto Caves
Another feature of the Green Gratto caves is the is crystal clear pond located several feet down in the cave system. The water is so clear that the basin floors can be clearly seen at the shallower ends and the deep end is only obscured by the reflection of the roof that is mirrored by the surface of the water. This beautiful crystal cave pond was used in the original James Bond film "Live and Let Die", staring Roger Moore. This inviting seemingly clean water has lured many to take a refreshing cold dip, but the practice has been prohibited due to the high levels of bacteria from the abundance of Guano. There are several other features of the caves, some named from their perceived similarity to objects such as Market Place and Map of Jamaica, and Limbo Hole due to the tight space one has to maneuver.

Map of Jamaica

Market Place
Limbo Hole
The Green Grotto Caves is certainly one aspect of the Jamaican landscape that is worth exploring and it definitely will give a different view of this lovely island that is famous for sun, sand and sea.

For more photos of Green Grotto Caves VISIT HERE.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Strawberry Hill Explored

The View of Kingston from the Poolside at Strawberry Hill
If someone should ask me to tell them of a place with lush beauty and a breathtaking view of the mountains and of a distant city, only one place would come to mind, Strawberry Hill Hotel and Spa. Strawberry Hill Hotel and Spa is nestled in the beautiful and lush mountain range called the Blue Mountains, dubbed by that name due to it's blue appearance when viewed from a distance. This unique location offers a breathtaking view of the majestic blue mountains on one side but also a splendid view of the the entire city of Kingston and St. Andrew below. This wonderful view that Strawberry Hill offers, gives a gentle reminder of the modern city life that rests below it's feet yet it shows how far removed you are in the mountains experiencing peace and tranquility.

Breathtaking view of the Blue Mountains
An amazing view is not all that Strawberry Hill Hotel and Spa has to offer. The hotel boasts a rustic, yet refined appeal with its nicely constructed wooden buildings. The old Georgian architecture complements the remote and scenic location an both blend well to create the atmosphere of Strawberry hill. It's the kind of environment that takes you back in time and gives you that real sense of being tucked away in a rural cabin far away from the anxieties of the modern world. Each cabin and even the main building are all build with balconies that boast views that are nothing short of wonderful and relaxing. But Strawberry Hill is by no means cut off from the conveniences of modern life as it offers visitors the means to stay connected to the outside world with cable television and wifi high speed internet for those who just have to stay connected. Another amenity that this hotel offeres, is one of its trademarks, the gorgeous infinity pool that overlooks the entire city of Kingston and St. Andrew that sits below the edge of the pool. Now apart from getting a massage to calming music and  relaxing aromatic scents in a relaxing atmosphere, chilling in an infinity pool in the mountains overlooking the city way below is the next best thing!

Famous Strawberry Hill infinity pool overlooking Kingston
No hotel or resort would be complete without what all of us crave, delicious and appealing meals that tantalize our tastebuds. Strawberry Hill Hotel and Spa offers a variety of such tastebud seducers that are a mix of local, international and dishes fused from the two. From chef prepared and appealingly plated meals to mouth watering morsels fresh from the smoke on the grill, the hotel offers a range of dishes to supply the hungry guests with tasty meals to satisfy their cravings.

Culinary delights served at Strawberry Hill
The view of Kingston from Strawberry Hill at dusk
Old Georgian architecture of the buildings on the property
The relaxing view from one of the many balconies at Strawberry Hill
Strawberry Hill is just what the doctor ordered if you are in need of rest and relaxation in a calming, peaceful atmosphere or if you are looking for that wonderful serene location to celebrate your nuptials with your family and friends. Scenic views, an old time Jamaica charm, relaxing atmosphere and good food, all that is needed to make you appreciate life a little more.

For more photos of Strawberry Hill please visit the album HERE and remember to "Like" my page!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Digital Jam 2.0 Launched

Attendees at Digital Jam 2.0
I was invited to the press launch of Digital Jam 2.0 which was held on Tuesday May 8, 2012 at the Office of the Prime Minister. Digital Jam 2.0 is an initiative of the Jamaican government, the World Bank and several private sector companies to promote employment in the virtual economy of Jamaica. The letter I received with the invitation explains a bit more about what Digital Jam 2.0:


The Government of Jamaica, in collaboration with The World Bank, Jamaican private sector companies and international development partners, will stage Digital Jam 2.0 – “The Future of Work is Online”, a programme of activities that will include a 24hr Sports Hackathon, Mobile Apps Contest, apps development workshops, Tech Camps, Seminars and a Market place and Job Fair. It will culminate in Kingston, June 28-30, 2012 at the Jamaica Conference Centre.

The mission of this pivotal programme is to promote youth employment in the virtual economy in Jamaica, by showcasing their talent and big ideas; introducing them to trends, training and success stories and connecting them to jobs and entrepreneurial opportunities. 

In helping to take Jamaica a step further and in alignment with Jamaica’s technology trajectory, Digital Jam 2.0 will focus our youth on the world’s transition to technology related industries and opportunities. The event represents an initial step of a broader strategy to facilitate youth employment in the virtual global economy."

Ede Jorge ljjász Vásquez Director for Sustainable Development Latin America & Caribbean Region World Bank
Several persons from the media, as well as representatives from the private sector sponsors of the initiative, were in attendance at the Digital Jam 2.0 launch. The audience was addressed by Giorgio Valentini World Bank Representative to Jamaica, Ede Jorge ijjász Vásquez and Fabio Pittaluga also of the World Bank, Michelle English President and COO of Flow Jamaica and Columbus Business Solutions, Hon. Lisa Hanna Minister of Youth & Culture and a local participant Matthew Budram.

Hon Lisa Hanna Minister of Youth & Culture
This is a very good step by the stakeholders involved as technology is definitely one of the ways forward in building a stronger economy. We do have a lot of talented youths in our country, but they are being stifled by the lack of opportunity to help their ideas and skills flourish. Hopefully Digital Jam 2.0 will make the needed impact on the economy by providing the employment it promises for our young technologically savvy and showcase the creativity and ingenuity of  our Jamaican people.

As usual, being a photographer I cannot help but to walk with my camera and take a few photos. I have uploaded an album of the photos I took of the launch of Digital Jam 2.0 to my facebook page. You may take a look at my coverage by clicking here.