Jamaica 2013 – Day one

The journey from home to Gatwick was uneventful, with no dark skies, crows, or other mystical signs foretelling of the adventure that lay ahead. The fact that our son Patrick was driving us gave me a chance to play with the innovative offline maps on my Nexus 7 tablet. I came to the conclusion that of several maps I had downloaded that a new one called Navigator was best for driving directions, pre-cached Google was best for just seeing where you are, Waze is best for finding out if there are traffic problems, and Locus looks interesting once I figure out what it does. There are all free, and there is no charge for this valuable information for my esteemed readers.

At Gatwick we used the self-service bag tag printer, and self-service bag drop-off, which Helen figured out more quickly than I did. It worked pretty well overall, although I can suggest a couple of usability tweaks if anyone’s interested.

Having done the obligatory tour of the shops, and bought Helen the usual cheap sunglasses, as the ones we’ve bought previously on every single holiday have all mysteriously dissolved – we made our way to the lounge. Half-way through an orange juice I looked at the flight board and realised that the gate was closing in less than 15 minutes, and it always takes us over 20 minutes to get there.

‘Time to go,” I said.

‘But I haven’t finished my pineapple juice.’

‘Time to go.’

‘Give me five minutes warning.’

‘Time to go.’

And so we went. To my relief the gate was a close one, and we made it in good time. Someone else didn’t though, and their bags were offloaded.

The flight itself was fine – we had the middle two seats in Club World (Longhaul business class with flat seats) that are couple-friendly. For some reason I recalled a coach trip I once did from Scotland to London sat next to a very friendly chap who couldn’t understand why I didn’t want to share his cider. I’m also put in mind of a friend who, on a flight, sat next to a large sailor, whose hand, as he dozed, kept ‘accidentally’ dropping onto my friend’s thigh. Those travelling companions would be the nightmare scenario for our couple-friendly seats for anyone travelling alone.

After clearing immigration at Kingston we waited for our bags. And waited. And then we waited a bit more. And then there weren’t any more bags. We’d had a bad experience with bags not turning up in Venice years ago, and the tension was rising. We then noticed a large roped-off area with a lot of bags in it. It seems that rather than let bags continually circulate on the carousel, they did one trip round and were then hauled off by the airport staff. We discovered our bags there. We weren’t the only ones caught out. So, an hour after arriving, with a bit more time for the queue for the green channel, we departed the airport to find our driver.

The driver was waiting for us, and took us to our vehicle. We had a minibus to ourselves, but this was no luxury outfit. The seats were sourced from second World War fighters, with spine-breaking metal bars across the back, each row offering less legroom than Ryanair, and, as we very soon found, it had a new type of suspension made of solid granite. It may have been a few written-off old Landrovers welded together, onto which someone had stuck a stolen Toyota badge. This may not have been the disaster it seemed, had we not had a two and a half hour drive over roads that would have been closed by Health and Safety in the UK, or had we simply been able to take the private helicopter that I had researched, but couldn’t afford, when I realised how bloody far the hotel is from the airport. Had we been flying Virgin it wouldn’t have been so bad, as Club Ambiance, where we are staying, is at Runaway Bay on the north side of Jamaica, and Virgin fly in to Montego Bay, whilst BA fly to Kingston, in the south.

The drive had been advertised as two hours and a half, and indeed it was, achieved through the simple technique of what would conventionally be called suicidal driving. The route took us over badly made mountain roads, overtaking not only at every opportunity, but also at many times when there didn’t seem to be an opportunity. Helen and I both had a good workout, due to the strength with which it was necessary to grip anything bolted down, and to clench the stomach muscles (yes I still have one) in an attempt to avoid being thrown not only around the the vehicle, but also quite possibly being catapulted some distance from it. It was an experience that I would not normally seek out, although there are probably similar ones to be had in theme parks. I have to say that there is some grudging admiration for the skill of the driver in wringing out every last ounce of feeble acceleration and nimbleness from this tin can, although I fear he may not be around for terribly long to hone those skills.

We just have the return journey to look forward to.

As we bounced along I did have a little further play with the maps, to the same conclusions as before, although it was rather depressing to see how much further we still had to go. I also tried out my latest toy – a mifi hotspot with a Jamaican sim card that I’d purchased online in the UK. To my surprise, I managed to get it to work well enough to find that Arsenal had lost to Spurs, which really didn’t help.

On arrival, a body and limb count came up with the required number, and it was some relief to find that I was still able to walk unaided, and we checked in. I had emailed in advance to ask for a quiet room, after reading reviews that some were quieter than others. I re-stated my request to the desk clerk, who said he would do what he could for us. He then said that he would upgrade us to the honeymoon suite – or at least, one of the honeymoon suites. This sounded great, and quite appropriate as of course with Helen and I it’s always honeymoon time.

The room itself turned out to be a relatively small, somewhat shabby if clean affair. It’s always a nervous moment in a new hotel room checking the mains sockets, as I need to be able to plug in my sleep-apnoea breathing machine. There was one plug in the bedroom and, somewhat unusually, another in the bathroom, that I’m sure would also attract the attention of Health and Safety in the UK. The sockets were sufficient though. Helen was flaked out from the journey, and ran her bath, finding that the hot water just about sputtered out of the tap. She remarked on the lack of toiletries, such as shampoo, but as far as I’m concerned a bar of soap is good enough.

Almost immediately then, the room started to vibrate as the disco started up.

“Bloody hell,” I exclaimed in a foul mood, “this is hardly quiet.”

“What?”

Having made myself heard, Helen said that she was too tired to move now, and we’d sort it out tomorrow. Fortunately I had brought some wax earplugs, but I find them uncomfortable to wear for a full night.

Then we heard the scrabbling noise. At first we weren’t sure where it was coming from, and wondered if it was mice. I quickly traced it to the ceiling. What was it? Birds? Sounded like bloody big birds. The ceiling was something like plasterboard, and there was something – or some things – on the other side.

I went down to the desk, and pointed out that an annexe to the disco with wildlife in the roof could hardly be considered a quiet room. They offered to sort it out – tomorrow. But they did tell me that noise in the roof was cats, and it was quite normal.

Having three cats of our own, we could now visualise what was happening a couple of feet above our heads, as loud thumps heralded the arrival of more furry friends, followed by scrabbling, mad running, items being batted around, and a cacophony of mews.

We fell asleep to the regular beat of Jamaican reggae, and thoughts of the ceiling falling in on us, followed by several generations of airborne cats seeking a safe landing with outstretched claws.

Day two >