Thursday, September 1, 2011

Jamaica - Retro Diary (Part Two)

For those of you catching up with my recent blog posts, this is Part Two of my Jamaica Retro-Diary. If you have not yet read Part One, click here!

So where were we....?

Our awesome balcony!

So after standing far too long gawking at the awesome view from our balcony, we finally decided to get some food and explore the resort a bit while it was still light out. So we left our room and walked down to the main beach (which our room overlooked) and promptly found "The Sand Trap", a small outdoor bungalow that was open for lunch. I ordered Jamaican Jerk chicken, because I had already had a Red Stripe and needed to immediately immerse myself in the Jamaican culture! The chicken was excellent (for sake of my readers' time, I will not detail every piece of food I ate on this can imagine what the two of us took down in seven days).

First meal in Jamaica - Jamaican Jerk Chicken!

We then made our way to one of two resort pools, both of which feature a swim-up pool bar. We quickly jumped in the water and swam up and met my two new favorite bartenders, Brian and Martin. For the entire trip, I'm not sure I ever actually ordered a drink. I just went up to them and said "Surprise me" or "Give me something I've never had before"...sound logic, I know. Within ten minutes of being in the pool, we heard someone yell "Pool Shots", and before we knew it, we were taking a shot of some sweet liquor while Brian the Bartender sung "Ain't no party like a pool bar party, cuz a pool bar party never stop!" Suffice to say this would not be the last time we heard this song, nor was it the last "pool shot" of the trip...not by a long shot.

Pool Bar!

By far, the toughest part about the trip was choosing where we wanted to eat, as the resort boasted an impressive eleven restaurants. But we decided to pace ourselves and have faith that we would, by the end of the trip, have tried them all. I'm not sure if I'm ready to dedicate an entire blog post to the different restaurants of Sandals Grande Riviera (or if my readers can stomach more Jamaica-blabber), so for now I will tell you that we ate a TON, and seeing that it was an all-inclusive resort, we certainly did not skimp on our choices!

Julie at Neptune's, our first dinner stop.

After dinner on our first night, Julie and I ventured out to the pier surrounding the property and found a fire-pit with a huge sofa lounge. We quickly sunk into the couch and were set in a trance from a combination of the cool evening air, a solid meal, the lapping of the water on the rocks, and a long day (and night) of travel. Before I knew it, I found myself opening my eyes after a 30-minute siesta and looking at Julie with a "Where am I look?" Yep, it was official...Marc was on vacation!

Julie at the fire-pit sofa where I crashed the first night.

Every night the entertainment team at Sandals, known as "PlayMakers" (not Playmates, which Julie frequently mistook them), had some sort of entertainment planned for their guests, and we took advantage of it. Over the seven nights we saw a steel drum band, talent show, a reggae band, swimsuit fashion show, two dance-parties, a reggae-style Jamboree, and a beach party. We befriended one of the PlayMakers and hung out with her a few nights, which made for some entertaining evenings when she was teaching Kelly (our friend from Toronto) how to shake her booty, while I shamelessly took notes in the corner.

Steel Drum band at the amphitheater.

We spent the next day, our first full day at the resort, exploring all the different beaches, pools, bars, views, cabanas and restaurants of the hotel. We settled at one of the far beaches and got working on our tans. And of course, no beach day was complete without the hotel staff checking on the level of our cocktails every 15 minutes! After a couple days of straight drinking and sun, Julie and I realized we were going to have to tone down both, as we were on pace to start looking like leather-skinned drunks by the end of the trip.

One of the pierside cabanas.

View of the far beach.

As I mentioned before, we started to run into Ryan and Kelly everywhere at the resort. Whether it be at one of the pool bars, the beach, the action sport center or dinner, we couldn't seem to shake them (I still think they were still just trying to figure out if I was actually Ben Stiller). Finally we gave into our stalkers and started meeting up with them every day for a meal or an activity. It was definitely great to actually meet another couple at this couples-only resort who wasn't a) on their honeymoon, b) engaged, or c) celebrating an anniversary (not to mention the fact that Julie would have probably gone nuts spending eight straight days with me, with no human interference).

Julie and Kelly at the Jamboree.

When we made our way to the second pool bar, we met Bishop, the crazy bartender whose favorite saying was "WHY WHY WHY WHY WHY WHY....WHY NOT?!", a saying that had an eerie resemblance to to the birds in Finding Nemo that say "Mine, mine, mine!" Whether we liked it or not, this line would stick with us for the rest of the trip (much to our own chagrin).

Now, no trip would be complete without me taking 18,000,000 photos, right? Well, not only did we bring my camera, we brought two more (a point-and-shoot and Julie's nice one) to ensure that every square inch of the resort would be digitally remembered. I definitely made Julie pose for more than her fair share of photos, but I figured, "Hey, I'm in Jamaica and it's pretty. My girlfriend is in a bathing suit. Need I say more?" It's just simple math, people. I know this blog post has some select photos featured to help show what I'm referring to, but if you'd like to see can click here for my full Jamaica album.

*NOTE - These are just the ones from my camera. If you start to notice photos of only Julie, there is a reason. I managed to steer clear of most photos. If you want the ones with my goofy mug in them, you have to contact my lawyer (Julie).

Me and Kelly learning some new moves.

About midway through our trip we decided to take advantage of a very unique activity covered in the "all-inclusive" umbrella - GOLF! For those of you who have been to an all-inclusive resort, you know that it includes food and drink and some activities, but it almost never includes golf. But Sandals Ocho Rios allows you to play any of its courses for free (although you do have to pay for a caddy). So Julie and I knew this in advance, so we brought our clubs along with us on the plane and prepared for a day of golf in the tropical Jamaican heat!

Smidge and me on the last hole.

The night before we golfed, we met a caddy named Rudolph (who told us he went by "Rudy", but when he wrote his name down as a referral for the next day, he spelled it R-U-D-D-Y). So when we got to the course, we asked for Ruddy Rudy and he caddied for our 9-hole extravaganza. The course was in average shape, with lots of slopes and hills and relatively solid greens. Julie was able to get some great tips from Ruddy Rudy, and by the end of the round, she was starting to hit and putt lights out! Golf was one of the best parts of the trip, as we were able to get off the resort, see some more sights, had a great guide in Ruddy Rudy, and just enjoy our wonderful vacation. Taking our clubs and playing golf was the best decision we made, by far.

Julie and our caddy, Ruddy Rudy.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention one of the dinner restaurants we tried. A few nights into the trip we made our way to Kimono's - a Japanese-style restaurant where the chef stands in front of you as he cooks your food. As if that weren't enough entertainment, the chefs coerced their guests to bang their chopsticks on their plated to whatever beat he had in his mind at the given moment. After drumming to Johnny B. Good, Billie Jean and other songs, we all had certainly worked up an appetite. After all the food had been eaten, our chef had one last game he wanted to play. He placed a shrimp on his spatula and wanted to toss it to us and catch it in our mouths, no hands. And who was the first to volunteer? JULIE!!! Not only was she the first to try it, she caught it first try and triumphantly thrust her arms in the air as if she had just won the Boston Marathon. Epic highlight.

Shrimp tossing at Kimono's.

*FUNNY SIDE STORY* - Our chef at Kimono's started the evening by asking the four couples at the table where they were from and what they were celebrating. Julie and I were last in the line. The first couple said they were on their honeymoon. Then the second couple said they were on their honeymoon. Then the couple seated next to us said they were on guessed it....honeymoon. Then he came to us and asked "And what are you celebrating?", and before I even had time to answer, my trusty sidekick pipes up next to me and yells, "LIFE!" Yep, that's my girl...proudly celebrating life amongst honeymooners.

The resort offered all sorts of amenities, bars and activities on a daily basis, including random things like darts, life-size chess, a sports bar and a piano bar. And yes, we hit them all. In addition to those activities, the resort also offered complimentary water sports, including sailing, wind surfing, snorkeling, scuba diving, paddle-boarding, aqua-tricycles, and glass-bottom boat tours. During our stay, Julie and I opted for the aqua tricycle, paddle-boarding and snorkeling off the glass-bottom boat.

Julie before she got KILLED in giant chess.

Cruising on the aqua-trike!

During our one hour snorkel, I kind of separated from the group and started diving down low into the reef to look at some of the bright fish. All of a sudden, I heard another person yelling underwater (you know, that underwater "MMM! MMM!" sound) trying to get my attention. I turned to see Julie frantically waving at me, so I went to the surface and she said "There is a stingray over here!" My little adventurer had ventured away from the group as well, and sure enough she had found a huge ray. I swam to her and then dove down deep to glide over the top of it. It had a four foot wingspan and was about three feet long (minus the tail), and it was actually spotted! I asked our guide later and he said that was actually an Eagle Ray. Definitely one of the highlights of the trip. Point for Julie.

One of the nights of the trip we went to the "Hot White Chocolate" night, which was basically a giant chocolate bar with tables covered in different types of chocolate. And the kicker? We all had to wear white! Who thought of that idea?! Anyone that knows me knows that I have a major problem with eating without spilling, and now they are combining chocolate and white clothes?! I am happy to report that I did not spill a single ounce of chocolate on myself, although I must admit I curbed the amount of chocolate I ate for fear of inevitably staining my awesome white linen pants.

White Night!

Toward the end of the trip, we signed up for one of many off-site excursions offered by the resort - a catamaran cruise to the Dunn's River Falls. The cruise included an hour of snorkeling, then a hike up 800 feet of cascading waterfalls (hiking in the water), then an hour-long booze cruise back to the resort. The snorkeling was so-so (not nearly as good as the eagle ray sighting the day before), but one of our guides was really cool and dove down to the bottom and gave Julie and I an abandoned sand dollar that we got to take home. You can imagine how customs suspiciously eyed that piece in my luggage on the way home! The guide also picked up a spiny sea urchin and cracked it open and fed all the fish with the insides! The fish swarmed his hand like bees on a hive. It was unreal.

The hike up the Falls was spectacular. The water was much cooler than it was at the beaches, and it was actually quite refreshing as we started our trek up each set of waterfalls. There were tour guides who held your camera for you and took photos along the way, and they made sure we knew they were doing us a favor, as they hovered next to our catamaran yelling "We took care of you," obviously waiting for their tip. They deserved a tip, but man, did they hound us!

Dunn's River Falls

The booze cruise back was one of the most bizarre experiences in my life. After serving some appetizers, they busted out the Red Stripe kegs and opened the bar and people made their way out to the deck where they played music and started dancing. The crew was extremely lively and did their best to make sure everyone was having a good time, had a full drink and was ready to party. About thirty minutes into the cruise, they announced they wanted to play a game, and needed "a brave man" to participate. I looked around to see who would volunteer, and before I knew it, there were quite a few hands pointing at me (the effort no doubt led by my not-so-awesome girlfriend). So they called me up, had me sit down and asked me to hold a plastic water cup between my legs. Odd, right? Well, then they called up four female participants, including Julie, and gave them a full water bottle with a hole poked in the cap. Then they were instructed to place the bottle between their thighs, and when the whistle was blown, they walked toward me and tried to squeeze the bottle with their thighs and spray as much water as possible in the cup between my legs in 30 seconds. If you're not sure you are understanding this correctly, let me remove all doubts...yes, the basic goal was to pee on me as much as possible. So the four girls took their turns aiming at the cup, except for Julie, who took it upon herself to just spray it all over my face and chest, giggling the whole time. Suffice to say Julie did not win (she got second), and after four girls taking their turns spraying me, the game ended. Anybody else find this to be the weirdest game ever?

...the game...

One thing I failed to mention earlier is that we were in Jamaica during thunderstorm season, and there were predictions of rain and isolated storms every day. We were incredibly lucky, and had absolutely picturesque weather until the final day, where we encountered a three hour thunderstorm that had bright lightning and equally loud thunder. The clouds that rolled in looked like the spaceship in Independence Day that covers the entire sky. It was very eerie and pretty cool to watch develop. We got rained on a bit on our way back to shelter, and ate some lunch as we watched the staff clear all the soaked towels off the chaise-lounges. We walked back to our room, and before I could even put my stuff down, Julie raced out to the balcony, opened the doors, and started dancing in the rain in her clothes. You could tell the girl was on vacation and had just let go of everything and was enjoying life. Needless to say, for anyone that knows Julie and her grueling job, it was refreshing to see.

Independence Day storm.

That night, we met up with Ryan and Kelly for drinks and dinner, and as they came into the bar, Kelly had a larger-than-normal smile on her face. Before we could even ask, she held up her hand to show off the new ring she was wearing! Damnit Ryan! We were the only two couples on the whole damn resort that weren't engaged or married, and then you propose on the final day?! His first question to Kelly after he had popped the question was "Do you think Focker is going to be mad?" We were very excited for our new friends, and we laughed about it the rest of the night, as Julie and I enjoyed every minute of being the only two soldiers still standing amidst the litany of engaged and married troops around us. As Julie says "We = Awesome."

This is our idea of a "not engaged" photo.

Our final night at the resort was perfect. After dinner with Ryan and Kelly at a big beach party, we made our way to the beach-side nightclub at the resort and ordered drinks from the shore. We kicked off our sandals and talked and danced in the sand and reminisced about the trip and how much fun the week had been. Ryan and Kelly finally left Julie and I on the beach around midnight, and Julie and I just started dancing on the beach, just the two of us. There were people all around on the pier, but we were the only two on the beach, and we just let loose. We didn't care about anything. We had no shame, no embarrassment, no inhibitions. We just danced and laughed. It couldn't have been any more awesome. And besides, I wasn't about to leave Jamaica without busting out all my crazy-good moves.

Chillin on the shore outside the nightclub.

Our trip back to the states was not without incident. To shorten the story, let's just say we waited two hours in customs in Charlotte, then another thirty minutes in security, and then ran as fast as we could (well, as fast as I could to keep up with my runner-girlfriend), and got to our boarding gate in time for the flight attendant to tell us they had held the plane for us. We caught it by three minutes. After another lengthy delay on the runway, we began our trip back to San Diego. They lost our golf clubs on the transfer, and after waiting for two hours at the airport in San Diego at 10pm, we left with the assurance they would be delivered the next day to our house (which they were).

All the airport/airplane mistakes in the world weren't going to ruin this trip for us. It's the best trip I've ever been on, and I wish I was still there. Julie and I laughed every second of every day, we met some great new friends, ate tons of food, got tons of sun, drank tons of booze, and relaxed for seven straight days. It was, as they say, just what the doctor ordered.