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5 Days in Jamaica

Posted on May 24, 2017 | 0 comments

jamaica

We (2 adults and 2 teens) visited Jamaica over Spring Break. This was our first visit so we had no idea what to expect.

Our impressions

  • Jamaicans, for the most part, are very friendly people. They are very laid back and operate on island time, so forget about doing anything in a hurry. Getting our car from Budget Car Rental took about 45 minutes after we landed – and it took close to 30 minutes to return it a week later!
  • While on the beach or walking around the tourist areas, vendors will approach you but they were never pushy with us, so we didn’t mind at all. One of the things you will be offered frequently is weed.
  • The driving is rather crazy. We decided that on a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being the worst in the world), Jamaica probably ranks round a 6. Horn honking is very popular. You do it to warn others about what you are going to do, to thank others and to tell someone you are annoyed. Or at least that is what we decided some of the uses were!

Where we stayed

As we were only going for 6 days we elected to stay in Montego Bay as we could fly in there and not have to travel further to our final destination.

We found a 3 bedroom apartment with access to a pool on Booking.com for $800 . It was less than 10 minutes drive from the beach and generally in a convenient location. If you are looking for budget accommodation this is the way to go. It also allows you to stay where the locals live and get a more authentic experience of Jamaica.

However, Jamaica – or at least the parts we saw – is geared to tourists who are staying in the large resorts. Most resorts include all meals and have their own beaches and offer many activities. This made it more challenging than we expected to find restaurants and affordable options for water-sports.

Where we ate

Most of the restaurants offer wifi. The ones near the beach areas are used to coping with lots of people and service is reasonable fast. However, the ones we went to in the suburban areas made your food to order, so expect a long wait. These are all the places we went to – you will notice some are US fast food chains. We really did struggle to find affordable lunch options so don’t judge us!

Note 1: if you look at Google maps you will see restaurants that are no longer around. Twice we drove around looking for a place that must have closed down or moved.

Note 2:: if you look at online menus before you visit a restaurant, take that as a very very general idea of what might be on the current menu. We discovered most of the online menus are years our-of-date.

  • Wendy’s
  • Pizza Hut (twice) – close to where were staying i.e. convenient
  • Scotchies (twice) – authentic local cuisine. Great prices and ambiance. Read full review here
  • Cafe Blue – both the food and the coffee was great. This is a good place for a lunch.
  • Facebaar – pictures of famous people adorn the walls. The food is pretty good but took a while as it is made to order. I know the place says it is a bar and nightclub, but at lunch time we didn’t see any of that.
  • Memorabilia Bar and Grill – see full review on TripAdvisor. Would not go back!
  • Sandbar Grill on Doctor’s Cave beach – very convenient if you are spending the day at the beach. Nothing amazing but prices are reasonable and the food wasn’t terrible.
  • Bigg’s BBQ Restaurant – on the Hip Strip near the Doctor’s Cave beach. Sit outside and watch the ocean. The food was nothing special buut not bad either.
  • Coffee n Creme Cafe– we enjoyed their food for lunch and also their coffee
  • Cosmo’s Seafood Restaurant (this was in Negril) – the location is great, literally right on the sand. We ate and then spent the afternoon on the beach and grabbed some drinks before driving back to Montego Bay.

What we did

The day we arrived it was raining heavily and we were all tired so all we did was find lunch and later supper. One other day we also had rain all day and so spend the day in the apartment playing cards and doing some work.

Twice we spent the day at Doctor’s Cave beach. From what we read online we had expected it to be very crowded, but it wasn’t that bad. The beach has quite a few shady trees which I really appreciated. I am not a beach person, but I really didn’t mind spending a few hours here while the teens enjoyed the water.

One day we drove to Seven Mile beach in Negril. The drive allowed us to see more of Jamaican life as you go through a number of small towns. It took us about 1 1/2 hours. There are some public access points but as I had read that they aren’t easy to find we opted for going to Cosmo’s Restaurant to eat first and then paid to use their beach (400 Jamaican $ each).

Getting ready to snorkel in Jamaica

On our final day, the sea was calm enough and clear enough for us to go snorkeling. I had been emailing Netty from Kelly Watersports since we arrived in Jamaica and she was keeping us informed about the conditions. I thoroughly recommend using them for water sports (they offer a lot more than just snorkeling). They operate out of a resort (Sunscape) but you just tell the security at the gate you are going to Kelly’s and they call them to escort you in. Netty is extremely nice, the prices are the best I found and their boats and equipment are in great condition. The boat captain who took us out was a lot of fun and he snorkeled with us. I would definitely recommend you use them.

Netty from Kelly Sports

Netty from Kelly Sports

5 Days in Jamaica

Reaching new heights – Clingman’s Dome

Posted on May 20, 2017 | 0 comments

Over 11 million people can’t be wrong! That’s how many people visited the Great Smokey National Park in 2016. Only the Blue Ridge Parkway (close by the Smokies) and the Golden Gate National Recreational Area receive a higher number of visitors. The Smokies cover a vast area of Tennessee and North Carolina, with a wide array of things to do and see.

Clingman’s Dome is the highest peak in Tennessee at 6,643 feet and only Mt. Mitchell in North Carolina tops it (by 41 feet) as the highest point east of the Mississippi.

The vistas from Clingman’s Dome are spectacular. On a clear day, you can see up to 100 miles across 7 states.

Known for amazing sunsets, Clingman’s Dome is also equally breathtaking at sunrise. The shot in this picture was taken at sunrise. Everyone was facing East looking into the beautiful sunrise. I happened to turn to the North and saw this amazing cloud formation, lit by the rising sun.

If you want a secure spot to view the sunrise or sunset from the viewing platform, prepare to come early. The walk from the parking lot, though not particularly far, does tax out of shape people. So give yourself time to make the hike. A great time to visit this area is during the Fall. At these higher elevations, Fall normally begins in early October, but generally, the peak Fall times in Tennessee are towards the end of October. There are plenty of places to stay nearby. From campsites within the Smokey Mountain National Park to nearby towns like Gatlinburg and Townsend (Tennessee), Cherokee and Maggie Valley (North Carolina).

While you are in the area, take some time to hike to many of the picturesque waterfalls in the Park. Go to this blog post to learn about the Top 9 Hiking Trails with Waterfalls in the Smokies. Or visit the famous Cades Cove. However, I recommend you avoid peak tourist season to navigate the loop through the cove. You will be caught in one of the most frustrating traffic jams. A unique way to visit Cades Cove is by bicycle. Twice a week the 11-mile loop is closed to vehicles until 10 am. For more information visit riding your bike through Cades Cove.

Clingman's Dome

This post was written for the 30 Places 30 Days Local Travel Challenge.

Fountain and Light Show, Dubai Mall

Posted on May 17, 2017 | 0 comments

Everything about Dubai is artificial. Apart from the sand in the desert areas. Like Las Vegas, everything is man-made and man-centric. That is not to say it’s bad. It is actuaFountain Show at the Burj Al Khalifa lly amazing what they have managed to create out of a desert in such a short space of time. Currently, the Burj Al Khalifa is the tallest building in the world. It literally towers above every other building in the city and is spectacular. It is the centerpiece of the Dubai Mall, a glitzy and expensive shopping mall complete with indoor ice rink, aquarium and more. Every evening, they put on this fountain and light show. It runs every half an hour for just under 5 minutes. The shows alternates between Arab music and Western music. The Western version is set to the theme song of Skyfall, sung by Adele.

Unusual to the picture is the cloud cover. Dubai, at this time of the year, doesn’t get a lot of clouds. In winter (if you can call it winter!) there is early morning fog occasionally. Anyway, it was fun to have the sunset with the clouds to accentuate the beauty of the scenery.

The Indonesian Archipelago

Posted on May 17, 2017 | 0 comments

I recently traveled to Indonesia for my work and went to a part that I had never been to before. Indonesia is made up of thousands of islands, the exact number of which depends on the definition and sources you use. But it is safe to say that there are more than 13000 islands that make up the Indonesian Archipelago. The islands in the drone video below, are really close to Singapore. To get there, I flew into Singapore and took a ferry to Batam. This is the largest city (and also an island in itself) in the Western part of Java, near Singapore.

Many of the islands have small villages on them, some are completely uninhabited.

The friends I was visiting are developing a sea cucumber business. Sea cucumbers are part of a group of animals called echinoderms. They are related to starfish and sea urchins. Apparently they are a delicacy in the Chinese culture and are also used for medicinal purposes. They are raised in shallow water pens as you will see in this video.

Phewa Lake at Pokhara, Nepal

Posted on Apr 17, 2017 | 0 comments

No, I haven’t been to Nepal recently. In fact, this photo dates back to 2012. Pretty crazy how time flies. What has happened is that I have decided to go back and “rework” some of my old images using the experience I have gained over the past couple of years. In particular, some of my older work was based on a technique called HDR, made popular by Trey Ratcliffe and others. I seldom, if ever, use HDR anymore. So I thought I would go back and see what impact my newfound experience has on my old images. This image was taken on a Nikon D700. While the camera is still good, it is incredible the strides that have been made in digital cameras of late.

This is a photo of boats on Lake Phewa in the central part of Nepal.  As you can tell, it’s an incredibly beautiful spot. To get there you can drive, take a bus or better still fly. Flying in is not for the fainthearted because the airport is surrounded by mountains and the pilot has to make a radical decent into Pokhara airport.

Taking a trip to Pokhara on the shore of Lake Phewa is special, not only because of the lake, but also because one can take a short excursion from the town to get a beautiful view of parts of the Himalayas. There are buses (or you can take a taxi) that will take you to see the sun rise over the mountains, but the weather plays a big role with respect to the experience. If it is overcast, you obviously won’t see the mountains.

Phewa Lake

Santa Maddalena in the Dolomite region of Italy

Posted on Apr 11, 2017 | 0 comments

On a recent trip to Europe I had to travel from Stuttgart to just north of Venice. I decided to take a day extra and explore an area of northern Italy that I have always wanted to see, the Dolomites. It turned out to be a bizarre experience for a fairly seasoned traveler.

Most of the trip from Stuttgart was uneventful. Finding my way to the area was pretty easy with all the modern technology available. There is motorway for all about 50km at the end. I chose a guest house in San Pietro which is the little village near to Santa Maddalena. Santa Maddalena is home of two famously picturesque churches. Santa Maddalena itself and St. Johann Church (really a chapel) pictured below.

StJohannwpress

Well, I arrived in San Pietro without much problem. However, I hit a dead end (due to major road works) to the road my GPS and Google Maps were telling me I had to go down. So I stuck the address in again and Google Maps sent me on a completely useless trip that definitely did not lead me to my destination. So I returned to where I was originally stuck because the road dead-ended.  I noticed there was a tourist info place nearby. Of course, it was closed, being lunch time. So I asked someone on the street.  He told me the guest house was just a little past the hotel with a similar name. Turns out this hotel was part of what was causing a blockage in the road. They were renovating the hotel and it was completely gutted. I parked my car, I’m sure completely illegally, and ventured out on foot to find the guest house. With a little, not-very-friendly help from locals, I eventually found it. Not promising. It had a strange, ragged Father Christmas dummy sitting on a bench outside (I was there in March)and the top floor of the house was also gutted for renovation. Nobody answered the door when I knocked. Eventually I decided to go scout the area for photographic locations and come back later.

After my scouting trip, I returned to the Tourist Info place. Fortunately there was a very helpful lady who phoned the owner of the guest house. She also told me the road would open up at 5pm every day. In the meantime, I walked again. When I got to the house I tried one of the many doors. There were no signs telling you which was the correct entrance. I was eventually met by a man, whether he was a member of the family I do not know, who was clearly doing the renovations to the property. His filthy handshake gave away this clue. With almost non-existent English (but better than my Italian), he showed me to my room and that it was it. No paper work, no instructions. Oh, he did give me the password to the Wi-Fi but that didn’t work, no matter what combination I tried. Well, I put my stuff down and went out to take photographs. But before I did, I had to clear up one thing.

Everything in this town was German. The people, the street names, the guesthouse names, everything.  So I went back to my tourist info lady to clarify this strange phenomenon. It turns out that this Southern Tyrol area was previously part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. It was annexed to Italy in 1919 after World War I.  For more on this fascinating subject, check this BBC page http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-20633126

So off I went to photograph.

I got back around 7:30 and passed what turned out to be the owner of the guesthouse. She was taking her dog for a walk, but said nothing to me. I then left to go have dinner – walking to find that the only restaurant I had seen was closed. So I went back to fetch the car and go look for another restaurant. San Pietro is tiny, so I headed for Santa Magdalena which is marginally bigger. The place was almost completely asleep at 8pm. The only signs of life I found was the fire station doing a drill for, what I guessed were, volunteers. Nothing to eat – nada. So I started heading back, resigning myself to the fact that I probably was not going to get supper. As I approached my turn-off,  I said to myself, ‘just go a mile or two further down the road and see if there is something’. To my delight, I found the only restaurant in the entire region, a few hundred yards down the road. And the restaurant had wi-fi!!

Despite my weird experiences in the area, the landscape was worth it. The bottom line is this is an incredibly beautiful part of the world, probably best visited a little later in spring, summer or in the Fall. There is probably more life then. I also think a lot of the guest houses offer food, certainly breakfast. So check it out before you go. It is worth a quick detour to go and see it.