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Greetings! After the Belmont Stakes I flew back home to L.A. for a night. It was kind of out of the way for the direction I was headed in the following day but I really needed to check my mail, change my clothes, and pick up Amber Airplane for our "work" trip. The good news is I spent a couple of hours watching the AVP volleyball tournament in Manhattan Beach. This is always a great time. It’s beach volleyball’s Wimbledon, and it really epitomizes Southern California.
So did you guess where we went on our "work" trip? My clues were tough, but a few savvy readers guessed one of the two countries. (I always knew Johnny Jet readers were smart!) It would have been much easier if I said both places are in the Caribbean; one is known for its bobsled team, while the other hosts one of the most famous jazz festivals in the world. That’s right: we went to Jamaica and St. Lucia. Perhaps you’re wondering how those places fit the category of "work." Okay, it wasn’t technically work -- but it WAS a press trip. We were lucky enough to be invited on an all-expense-paid trip to check out the island of St. Lucia. Jamaica was an added bonus, when we made good use of a long layover.
These days I feel fortunate to get invited on all kinds of incredible trips. I turn many of them down, due to schedule conflicts or lack of interest, but when this one crossed my desk (er, laptop) I was like "yeah baby!" I know writers from some (though not all) of the major travel publications are not allowed to take press trips, for fear of being thought biased. I can see that logic, but here’s the other side: Johnny Jet doesn’t have a budget like theirs to burn, nor am I biased (well, not much -- everyone is a little biased, right?). But let’s make one thing clear: I always tell it the way it is, whether I am paying my own way or not.
I used to be on the other side of organized trips, so I know how to get the inside scoop. I always go off on my own, and ask other guests their impressions too. They’re always happy to tell me what they like AND dislike about the place. This trip was no different.
We flew Air Jamaica to Montego Bay (flight time: 5 hours, 40 minutes). Their daily flight departs L.A. at 10:45 p.m. As with all international flights we were supposed to arrive at LAX two hours before departure, but as usual Amber Airplane was running late – this time, REAL late. We almost got in a big fight because I told her to get a move on. She wigged out, and I bit my tongue. I didn’t want to start the trip off on a bad foot. (She will point out to you that we still made it to the airport in plenty of time ).
At check-in I gave almost every line in the book to try for an upgrade, but the agent kept laughing and saying, "I’m sorry, Johnny I can’t upgrade you." The agent told us we could have upgraded for $175 each. That’s a good deal, but there was no reason to spend the extra cash since we had my favorite economy seats: 6E & F (bulkhead window and middle) on an Airbus A320 .
Our 150-passenger plane was packed -- including a little girl sitting next to us who was flying for her very first time. (Her mother was across the aisle with her siblings). I love watching first-time flyers’ reactions, because they remind me how incredible flying really is, and how lucky we are to be able to travel the way we do. As we pushed back from the gate the girl asked, "Did we just take off?" How cute is that?
Air Jamaica not only has colorful planes (both interior and exterior) and flight attendant uniforms, but check out their in-flight magazine cover. Pretty risqué, eh? I like that. I was also very impressed with Air Jamaica’s service, food and safety measures. It was the first time I ever saw flight attendants do the safety briefing twice (the second one was just before landing). It was also the first time I heard passengers asked to remove their blankets from their legs for takeoff and landing. That would be very important, in case of a quick emergency evacuation.
We landed in Jamaica around 6 a.m. The only drawback for travelers continuing on to St. Lucia is that the connecting flight doesn’t leave until 12:10 p.m. We were happy, though, because we had a chance to check out a new country, and get another stamp on our passports. I recently renewed my passport, so I need to get that bad boy filled up!
Our press trip involved six writers (including Amber and me) – three each from New York and California. The other person from California was Andrew Winer, a really cool dude who also writes novels. His latest is "The Color Midnight Made."
We met Andrew for the first time in the Montego Bay airport, while waiting for our ride to the Coyaba resort. The drive took only 10 minutes.
There are three main vacation destinations in Jamaica. Montego Bay is the most cosmopolitan; Negril is the most hedonistic, and Ocho Rios is the most crowded. Montego Bay is supposed to be really nice, but unfortunately, the weather was bad. That’s not surprising: Amber Airplane and I always bring rain to tropical destinations. When we travel together, we have a rain cloud over our heads.
I’m sure you’ve heard the same horror stories I have that Jamaica is not the safest place, and the warnings that you should stay inside your resort property. Still, I was surprised to see huge gates and security guards at all the resorts. It wasn’t very comforting, but no one seemed bothered. Everyone I spoke to said they feel safe.
The folks at Coyaba were very hospitable. We had a great breakfast (my cinnamon French toast was particularly tasty!). They provided us with a day room for a nap and/or shower, but Amber Airplane and I chose to stroll around the hotel and hang out. The place was nice and small (50 rooms). I would give it 3 1/2 stars (out of 5). Coyaba Beach Resort, Mahoe Bay, Little River, Montego Bay; tel.: 876/953-9150.
Although we did not plan to use the room, we wanted to check it out in case we ever came back. Because Andrew said he was going to take a nap there, we waited until fvie minutes before what we thought was our departure to check it out. Unfortunately, we mixed up our time zones. We thought Jamaica was on Eastern Daylight (like St. Lucia), but it’s not; it’s on Central time. So when I knocked on the door and pretended to be room service, our new friend was none too happy. We laughed about it later, but we woke Andrew up in the middle of his jet-lagged sleep. The good news is we were able to take a nap ourselves for almost an hour, and then shower.
Hopefully, I will return to Jamaica for a week or so, and write about it at length. If you want more Jamaica information, click this Frommers.com link. If you are like me and prefer a hard copy of the Frommers Guide, scroll to the bottom of this newsletter to find direct links to Amazon.com. For your convenience, we have also linked the other Jamaica/Caribbean guidebooks.
Although our time in Jamaica was short, I was there long enough to learn they really do say "mon" all the time. The word is addicting. "How’s it going, mon? What’s up mon? Eh mon, you want to smoke some ganga mon?" For the rest of the day I kept saying "mon," which drove Amber Airplane and Andrew nuts. Right, mon?
Back at Sangster airport (code: MBJ), the first place Amber Airplane went was -- you guessed it: the duty-free shops. I went too; my favorite was the Jamaican Bobsled team store. You can use US dollars in the airport, but the place is expensive ($7 for a magnet, $2 for a cookie). Ouch!
The folks at Air Jamaica styled us this portion of the trip. Not only did they give us free access to their plush club room, but they upgraded us to first class. Yeah, baby! First class -- and for free!
The flight to St. Lucia took 2 hours and 40 minutes, on another AirBus 320. That was a relief. I hate small prop planes, and even some big carriers (ahem, American Airlines) use them for St. Lucia. The food service in first is called Top Class Meal Service, and it was good.
Landing in St. Lucia, we were greeted by incredible views of the Pitons. They are St. Lucia’s famous twin coastal peaks, towering 2,000 feet above sea level. Formed by the island’s volcano, they make St. Lucia feel more like a South Pacific island than a Caribbean one. In fact, for a second I felt like we were landing in Moorea face when she opened the door, I thought it would to be Africa-hot out, but it wasn’t bad. In fact, the island has year-round temperatures of 70°F to 90°F (21°C-32°C).
As I walked toward passport control, I was surprised to see two wide-body planes on the tarmac (Virgin Atlantic (800-862-8621) and BWIA (800-538-2942). It turns out these airlines: British Airways (800-247-9297) and Air Jamaica (800-523-5585) serve England as well. Some are connecting flights, but others are nonstop like Virgin (8 hours). What’s even cooler is that at the Body Holiday, the resort where we stayed, Virgin Atlantic maintains a check-in desk. Guests don’t have to stand in lines at the airport, or lug their bags around. How sweet is that?
The island has two airports: Hewanorra International (tel.: 758-454-6355) and Vigie (tel.: 758-452-2596). Most international long-distance flights land at Hewanorra, on the southern side of the island. If you land there you will most likely spend about an hour and a half traveling to your resort, because most hotels are on the northern end. The average taxi fare is around $70. Vigie Airport is much smaller and closer to the resorts, but the only flights that land there are from other parts of the Caribbean, and private jets.
To reach St. Lucia from North America you will probably change planes somewhere in the Caribbean. The exceptions are if fly from Atlanta (Delta -800-221-1212), Philadelphia (USAir -800-428-4322), San Juan (American -800-433-7300) or Toronto (Air Canada -800-776-3000). Continental (800-525-0280), LIAT (800-468-0482) and Caribbean Sun also serve the island.
We cleared passport control and customs quickly. Don’t worry about changing money in St. Lucia because most places on the island accept US dollars. Small vendors, like those at markets, might give you change in EC dollars. FYI: 1.00 East Caribbean Dollars = 0.374532 USD.
We landed at the main airport, so we drove 90 minutes along St. Lucia’s curvy, potholed roads. If you are prone to carsickness you should take a pill, wear a patch or sit in the front seat. These roads make your head and belly spin. In fact, I don’t recommend renting a car here. Not only are the roads all twisty and jacked up, but they drive on the British (left) side of the road, and there are very few street signs. Besides, you will most likely not want to leave your resort (especially if you stay where we did). If you do leave, it will likely be for a day tour of the island, and there are plenty of tour companies and taxis for that. Rent a car only if you plan on doing a lot of exploring.
We had a very cool driver named Benoit. He used to be a farmer, so on the way to the Body Holiday he not only showed us the tourist sites, but also taught us all about the island’s vegetation. St. Lucia and the surrounding area are famous for Windward bananas. They grow everywhere you look, are shipped to England, and are famous for being sweeter and tastier than bananas grown elsewhere. I had no idea it takes nine months to grow banana’s. Because these bananas are so sweet, they put blue plastic bags around them as soon as the fruit starts to bloom (that keeps the birds away). Once the bananas are picked they have to chop down the trees, till the land, and start the process all over again.
Besides bananas the island offers all the usual tropical fruits, like coconuts, mangos and papayas. I was happy to see they also have breadfruit. We learned about those on our trip to Fiji, remember?. They taste like potatoes. St. Lucia also has a fruit I have never seen or heard of before: soursop. It’s prickly on the outside, but soft and tasty on the inside. When cut it kind of looks like white pineapple with watermelon seeds. You might not like the texture -- it’s kind of snotty. Sorry, but it’s true.
At one point Benoit pulled over, stepped out of the car and whipped out his machete. We thought it was the end of the line for us. Just kidding -- we weren’t worried. He was showing us where cashews come from. Pretty cool, huh? I always thought they came from a can. I’m kidding. When he put that knife away I chuckled, "I guess no one tries to car jack you." He laughed. If you’re wondering about crime: Locals are very friendly, but the resorts do have guards (no big gates, though). As in most places in the world, you’ll be fine if you use common sense and take precautions.
St. Lucia is one of the Windward Islands of the Lesser Antilles. As you can see by that map, St. Lucia is located midway down the Eastern Caribbean chain, between Martinique and St. Vincent, and north of Barbados. For distances between islands click here.
St. Lucia is 238 square miles, 27 miles long and 14 miles wide. The Atlantic Ocean is on its eastern shore, the Caribbean Sea on the western shore (this is where the best beaches and calmest waters are). The population of St. Lucia is 165,000. Most are African descent (90%). 6 % are mixed, and 3% are East Indian. Only are 0.8% European. That number is surprising to me, because the island is a British colony. I thought it would be a bit higher.
St. Lucia was almost a French colony, however, which is why many natives speak French patois (English is the main language). Here’s a quick history lesson: The English first landed in 1605, and the French arrived 46 years later. The French and English were interested in this place because the English had their headquarters in Barbados, and the French were on Martinique. Both wanted St. Lucia for its sugar. The French and British fought for this island 14 times. Each won seven battles, but the Brits won the most important: the last one. On February 22, 1979 the island gained its independence. Though today it’s a fully independent nation, St. Lucia remains a member of the British Commonwealth.
Because this is getting long, I will save the rest of our trip for next week (when I’ll also show you tons of pictures of beautiful St. Lucia and our amazing resort). On June 28th I am going to do something historic. So I just might send an extra newsletter that night and tell you all about it. Any idea what it could be?
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Folk Remedy for hot-weather health challenges. They work wonders, even if we don't always know why. |
LEG CRAMPS WHILE SWIMMING
To relax the leg muscle, paddle in place and force the toes of the cramped leg up, toward the knee.
Pinch your philtrum, the skin between your nose and lip. Place your thumb below one nostril, your forefinger below the other, and gently squeeze the skin between for 20 seconds.
Bottom Line/Personal interviewed Joan Wilen and Lydia Wilen of New York City. The sisters are authors of Chicken Soup & Other Folk Remedies (Ballantine) and Folk Remedies That Work (Harper). They grew up in Brooklyn, where their mother and grandmother had folk remedies for almost everything.
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