Friday, July 17, 2009

Jamaica, Mon!!!

I don't have the photos yet (Brian is making a disk of all our shots) but I think I will post my journal entry for our Jamaica trip. I know it will be long and the kids have already read it but this is for those who haven't had the 'pleasure' of knowing what we did. Happy reading. I will add pictures as soon as I get them. OK, the pictures are in the little slideshow over to the left of this entry. Can't figure out how to get it in this blog post but at least they are on the page. Hope you enjoy.

July 3, 2009—July 11, 2009

Since we are on vacation in Jamaica, I thought it would be wise to keep a brief record of the things we experience as we travel and enjoy the new environment. I am actually a day late so I will recap the method and happenings of our arrival in this paradise.

Our family (minus Melissa and Josh DeMoux+5 3/4 ) departed Salt Lake City airport approximately 4:30 MDT for the great metropolis of Dallas. Just before we left there was a cloudburst that had the streets running in water and overpowering the storm drains. We were a little concerned our trip might be delayed but the weather passed and we were able to meet the assigned schedule.

Our itinerary required a stopover in DFW for the night so we had made arrangements to stay in a Quality Inn near the airport. Upon our arrival, we called the motel for a ride in their shuttle. This is where things got a little hinky; we found the driver (finally) outside the baggage claim area and informed him we had 13 people and luggage for them all waiting for his service. Instead of seeing this as an opportunity to receive a pretty sizeable tip (I was prepared to fork over $20 for his service) he immediately began to complain that we were too large a group and would need to hire another shuttle or something. It took some doing, but we eventually convinced him to do what was necessary to get us and our bags to the motel. Then the real fun began.

Our reservations were for two two-bedroom suites with air conditioning and a fold out couch. What we found was two two-bedroom rooms (not suites) with air in the main and one bedroom but nothing in the second room. Now, mind you, the temperature in Dallas was 97 degrees with a substantial humidity index so the heat was exacerbated considerably. Despite the inconvenience, we were able to finagle things so we all could get a good nights sleep. Then the second round of excitement began.

The scheduled shuttle was reserved for two trips; one at 7:30 am and the other at 8:00 am (our plane was leaving at 10:30). When I had most of the luggage for the first group down in the lobby I was confronted by the same driver (doesn't this guy ever take time off?) who demanded that we pay $10 per room as an over-baggage charge for his efforts. "What is an over-baggage charge" I exclaimed. "It is a charge I have asked the manager to apply to your group because you have too many bags." When I explained that we were not going to pay something so silly, he called the manager and we shared a few pleasant words, ending with my resolution to not only pay nothing for extra bags (actually we had fewer bags than we were allowed by the airlines) but to never use the services (???) of Quality Inn again. We did finally get our things to the airport (Josh, that smooth talker, was able to get the driver to take him to the check-in place while we were left in the basement by the baggage claim carousels) and had enough time to get some breakfast before we took off for Jamaica.

After a few delays (security check on the plane…that makes one nervous) we continued on our way to our paradisiacal destination. The flight was long and the kids were restless but with trips up and down the aisle and many games of peek-a-boo and bounce on grandpa/grandma /daddy/momma's knee, we made the trip virtually unscathed. The landing was uneventful and the trip through customs and immigration was much easier than we had anticipated. Of course, we hadn't considered that it would take one group of porters to get us through customs and another to get us out of the building.

You see, there are two kinds of luggage dollies in Jamaica. One is much like the baggage carts you can rent in most American airports. They hold many bags but apparently they are not compatible with the outside part of the Jamaican environment. Because, if you try to take them outside to your rental car, you are scolded by a whole group of men in white shirts and red caps. The second kind of cart is more like a dolly we use when we move large appliances except they have a longer place to carry bags. THIS is the "outside approved" version of a baggage hauler and only certain porters are qualified to operate them. The sad thing for us is that each of these groups requires a separate tip to help get our goods to their destination. I guess that is just the price of having a vacation in a "foreign" country.

One area where Josh and I have had some concerns is in driving in this land with the steering wheel on the right side of the car. Neither of us has done it (I should have tried in England but chickened out) so a lot of thought and consideration has gone into preparing ourselves for the backwardness of our travels. Thankfully, the rental people were kind enough to help us get our baggage (which could not fit in the two "vans" we had rented) to the resort. So our first wrong-sided driving was really following someone who had a lifetime of experience…and we made it just fine. (I think the definition of a van is much different in Jamaica than in Utah as you might expect with our larger than normal families so while we could accommodate 7 bodies in the vehicle, there was room for only two or three bags.)

So we are here now, and things are really green and lush and beautiful. The weather is hot and humid but the people are so nice that it takes away some of the misery we might have felt. It is only the first day but we feel like we are going to have a wonderful time as we frolic and play on the Island of Jamaica. Everyone is tired so our day has ended and we are going to sleep in tomorrow and then just play on the beach. At least that is what we are planning right now. I will keep you informed as we go along.

Day three of vacation (second day in Jamaica) began slowly for me. I was so tired that breakfast almost came and went before I was able to open my eyes. My lovely sweetheart was kind enough to wake me and FORCE me to get down to eat before the kitchen closed. It is important that we have breakfast because that is the only meal that is included in our resort plan. You have two choices here; all-inclusive or breakfast only and since we don't drink alcohol the all-inclusive plan is a real waste of money. It means we have to find a way to get our meals for lunch and dinner but so far we have fared pretty well.

There was apparently a large, noisy thunderstorm last night but some of us (well, just me) heard nothing of consequence. Kevin went out to take some pictures of the rain (I'm not sure how many pictures you can get at midnight) and was almost knocked off his feet by a thunderclap. Some of it even woke kids but I heard and felt nothing…ahhhh the power of old age. It has been fairly clear and comfortable today so I suspect we will not have a recurrence tonight.

Most of us spent the better portion of the day at the beach, wading, canoeing, snorkeling and relaxing. Here's one negative about this resort; they don't have a very good beach. There are lots of rocks and because the beach is blocked by a reef (safer for kids) the water doesn't keep the bottom very uniform and smooth. Wading can be a little tricky if you don't pay attention and without any fresh seawater coming in regularly there is little flora and fauna in the water. We see the occasional fry (baby fish) and sometimes there are slightly larger versions but nothing that we couldn't see in an aquarium back home. Joel and Gabe spent the better part of 4 hours snorkeling around the whole area and didn't find much of interest.

We learned an important lesson today: you have to get out to the beach early and stake out your place or there won't be anything when you want to relax. Some people even went so far as put the little floaty pads (lilos) on their beach chair so those were reserved (that didn't seem right to us but maybe they have more experience). All of this effort is so people can lay out in the sun and get browner than they already are. And there some who have become almost leather like in their appearance from the over exposure. Not a pretty sight!!!

The kids all went on a 'romantic' cruise in the late afternoon so Teresa and I were left to babysit. Their trip went along the coastline and took them out to an island where there was a bird refuge. Some guy took a conch shell and made a blast and there was eruption of birds from the island that was quite a sight to behold. After the obligatory sunset experience they all came back and we had dinner at the resort.

Tonight was Jamaica night on the menu so we sampled several different kinds of native foods. Everything here seems to be cooked in a different kind of oil than we use. I think it might be coconut oil because it sort of has that flavor. It really changes the taste of things but mostly it is OK. My favorite food (so far) is the 'jerked' meats (pork, chicken, sausage) that have quite a spicy punch. Not sure why they call it jerked (our jerked meat is dried and this is definitely not dry) but it is delightful. We also had some of their desserts and found most to be more bland than what we usually eat. Oh, and breadfruit, which I thought would be sweet, tastes much like our potatoes and is used in a similar manner. The meal was pretty good and the entertainment (steel drums, etc) was enjoyable.

One more thing before we go. There are people all around the resort who are intent on getting us to buy some of their wares. Joel and Gabe were talked into buying necklaces and carved art and even Teresa bought some trinkets. They will be fun to have when we get home to remind us of our excursion. I am holding out until we get somewhere we might find a little better prices.

Ok, another item before I close for the day. Our experience with the staff at the resort has been very pleasant. They are always smiling and willing to help with whatever we need. I remember reading a few reviews of this place and there were a couple of people who thought the staff was rude and not very attentive. I know this is only day two but there are people all over the grounds, willing to help and very pleasant to associate with. I just wish I could understand what they were saying. See you tomorrow.

Today was the Sabbath and we were committed to attending church somewhere in this little island. Our first efforts were unsuccessful but when we put Brian on the project, we found a happy conclusion. The branch we attended was in a little town called Falmouth and was about 25 kilometers west of where we were. When Brian called, the folks he talked to said the meetings started at 10 am so we figured sacrament service would be around noon. Our plan was to get there at 11 and then enjoy the time with the locals. This was also to be our first driving (wrong-side, remember) of any great consequence. The day was going to be great.

Falmouth is much smaller than Montego Bay and considerably more dilapidated but we were able to find the little building the branch used for services. We discovered that the members only meet for a two hour block so we were really arriving just at the end of testimony meeting. As we entered, Teresa whispered "I wonder if we will double the size of their meeting". Little did she know how prophetic that would be. I counted twelve members in the branch and there were 14 of us (counting babies). The Branch President was ecstatic because his numbers were better than expected. And we had the privilege to listen to some sweet testimonies from a small little piece of the Kingdom.

Before the meeting could close, the Branch President stood and suggested that some of us might want to share our testimonies of the Gospel. Gabe started things off and was followed by Brian, Josh, Joel and ended with my efforts. None of our sisters chose to share but it was nice to have such a pleasant experience. Afterwards we were able to visit with some of the members, the missionaries and receive the sacrament from the priesthood. It was a really nice way to start off our Sabbath.

Our original intent for the day was to go to a lagoon where some algae made a glowing phenomenon but as we looked ahead, we realized we needed to change that to another day. Instead, we decided to go to Doctor's Cave Bathing Club (sounds ominous doesn't it?) which is a private beach in Montego Bay. It is in an older part of town where some of the original resorts were built many years ago. Not much has changed since those days including the need for parking, so there were some difficulties getting situated. After driving around for some time, we were blessed to find a place where a man said we could park without any payment. It was quite a ways from where the rest of the group was but we felt lucky and took what we could find.

The Bathing Club was a nice place, with TONS of people. Heather says the crowds weren't really that bad compared to some places she has been but for us it was pretty packed. All of us found things we could enjoy doing: many went snorkeling, some played volleyball, others read books and the little ones had a blast getting sand all over and inside their bodies. It was a very relaxing afternoon in a little foreign country.

Dinner was had at a little place right there on the beach and then we decided to head back to Coyaba. There was a little light left to the day as we began our journey but it soon subsided to the darkness that strikes fear into the hearts of those who are riding as passengers with a novice left-side driver. And, sadly, there was cause for fear on this particular trek. Someone was trying to make a right turn onto a busy street and was focused on the wrong lane (and wrong direction) and almost got everyone killed!! Well, maybe that is a bit of exaggeration but the screaming and moaning in the car indicated that many figured their lives were over. Not to be diverted from the goal in sight, we moved forward and found our way to the resort with no other trouble (except for that traffic circle thing that almost took us to the airport…but we fixed it quick and it was of no nevermind at all).

And so our Sabbath is mostly completed except for the "Killer Bunnies" game that is going on in the foyer of our building. I suspect that will break up in about an hour and then we will all head for bed in preparation for the new day. Tomorrow will be the first day of the BIG events so we are all pretty excited. I think we are going to Ochos Rios and Dunn's River Falls so I will report on them manana.

The day started out earlier than usual and began with a drive from Montego Bay to Ochos Rios (about 75 km). While the distance doesn't seem much, the trip still took nearly two hours to complete. No one in Jamaica is really in a hurry so even though the roads are in great shape, the drivers tend to go at a moderate (meaning slow) pace. Although, there are some who do test the mettle of other drivers with their kamikaze passing techniques. If there is an open spot with no oncoming traffic, some drivers will begin the passing (called overtaking) action in earnest. Should another car approach while this event is taking place, the 'overtaking' driver just signals to those coming on (with his turn signal) that he needs room and the approaching vehicles (sometimes buses or trucks) move as far to their left as possible. There were no accidents on our trip but some of the maneuvers were pretty exciting. (Josh tried one on the way home and was very successful but I didn't have the nerve or the passenger support to give it a try).

Jamaica is a very beautiful country!!! Trees and bushes grow up spontaneously and animals thrive in the environment. But amidst all the beauty there is a touch of poverty that causes a feeling of concern for our brothers and sisters of God. It's not like Mexico where the barrenness of the landscape accentuates the poor conditions of the villagers; more, it's like the people have just accepted the way of life they have been given and are trying to get by until they leave this life. That is not all bad but sometimes you get the feeling that they have no hope for any future with joy or goodness. They really need the message of the gospel but it seems they are so inured to progress that you can't break through to get them excited. Mostly they seem to focus on rum and cell phones and parties. Of course, that is the image received by an outside observer.

Ok, back to our day! Our activity for the day was to go to Dunn's River Falls and walk up the water falls. Sounds easy and I guess it was…mostly! But there was an obstacle the nearly prevented a happy memory of our trip.

The day was hot and muggy and we were accosted as soon as we entered the Falls area by a gaggle of vendors, trying to hawk their wares and separate us from our money. One big tactic was to offer a necklace for sale and then change and give it to you because you 'are so nice'. Then they would remind you how nice they had been and ask you to 'tip' them for their service. Another way they tried to get us was to ask what your name was and then engrave it on an item and offer it to you for sale. The idea was to make you feel guilty because they couldn't sell it to anyone else now that it had your name on it. Teresa and I got through pretty much unscathed but most of the rest of the clan ended up buying one or two items. Joel and Gabe got the most and I think Kevin and Jenny were right up there. Not sure just how much Josh and Heather got but it seems they resisted a little bit. All Teresa got was the free necklace and I don't think Brian and Paula ended up with anything.

When we finally got to the falls, we decided to do the walk in two groups so Josh, Heather, Paula, Brian, Joel and Gabe all went while Teresa, I, Kevin and Jenny watched the little ones. Did I mention that it was very hot and muggy this day? Well, it was and it made the kids a little more sensitive. But we endured and had a mostly pleasant time with them. When the others had finished their trek, we asked Joel and Gabe to serve as our guides instead of one of the park guys. They took us to the bottom of the falls and carefully directed us up to the top with great success. It was cool and wet and we had a really fun time walking in the water and fighting the current. All in all, it was a pretty fun experience…and we didn't even fall down once.

Lunch was from a little place that was mostly used to feed the workers but offered services to some tourists. The food was………not good!!! We have decided that you don't come to Jamaica to eat the food because if that is your task, you will be disappointed. The resort has adequate food but it is all fried or 'jerked' and none of it has a taste that we really enjoy (even the 'jerked' stuff starts to get old after a while). Now that we know this (after only three full days in country) we will not be unhappy if our food is not up to the fare we are used to at home. But it will be nice to get back to some normal stuff that isn't quite so greasy or full of strange spices.

Just a note: jerked meat does originate from the same process we use to dry and ‘jerk’ meat at home. Instead of just using juices and spices like salt and pepper, the Jamaicans add other things like allspice and bonnie peppers (very hot, like habaneros).

The end of our trip to Dunn's River Falls required a trip through the maze of stands where the 'businessmen' were plying their wares. Everyone was worried about how to get through so I said "just tell them NO." And as I went through they would ask me to buy something and I replied "NO." One guy kept after me and I finally said "I am too cheap to buy anything so don't ask." He asked where I was from and I told him "Utah." "Are all the people in Utah cheap like you?" Of course I responded with a great big "YES." Thankfully everyone made it through the gauntlet and no more money was spent (except Josh and Heather paid $2 for a 'free' necklace). And we loaded up and made our way back home.

Dinner was at the Polo Lounge (Coyaba Restaurant) and then Brian and Paula got milkshakes for all of us. They were Burger King brand but they tasted good after a long day in Jamaica.

Tomorrow the adventure continues with an early rising for scuba diving. It is raining right now (10 pm) but should be clear in the morning. Teresa and I have put on our seasick patch and are hoping for some success in not puking our guts all over the ocean. It looks like everyone but Jenny and Heather are going out on the boat so we should have a blast. I am looking forward to the dive (though I will probably only use one tank because of my knee). After Sunday's snorkeling I decided that I can probably do one dive but I worry about the second one. I'll let you know all the details tomorrow.

What an exciting Tuesday we had!! Our big outing for the day was to go scuba diving. The boat was late and we had to wait while Gabe got a quick training in how to dive but by 9:30 we were on our way. But the way wasn't very far from our hotel beach. I think it was only about 10 minutes out to the dive location and we could still see our resort from the boat. There seem to be some permanent anchors moored in the deep for dive companies to use. They just hook up their boat and send us all down to see what we can find. The dive was nice but the upper water was pretty choppy because of all the wind so the clarity wasn't very good. We saw several rays, lots of pretty colored fish and a lion fish resting on the bottom of the floor. It was a pretty good dive but nothing special.

Teresa did take her first (and also second) dives but they kept her and Gabe with a separate dive-master so I didn't get to see how she did. I think she had fun but she said that after here 2nd dive she got seasick and fed the fishes (Paula did this also). This in spite of the fact that they both had used the seasick patch the night before.

Gabe and I only had one dive (he cause he wasn't feeling well and me because my knee hurt and it wasn't worth the effort to see so little) and they dropped us off before they went out again. I hurried back to our room and was blessed to watch Becca and Katie till their parents came back. They both (girls) got a little antsy after a while but I just played with them and rocked them until I was relieved.

Most of us were so tired from the dive that we just hung around for the rest of the day and did nothing. A few went to a little 'flea market' type place and got some trinkets and such as souvenirs for friends and family at home. Teresa and I will have to go take care of some of that tomorrow or the next day. We are planning to go to Negril tomorrow so maybe we can find some things there. That will be our only activity for the day (going to Negril) so I don't expect there will be many exciting events. Wow, it really was a pretty dull day today. We shall see how the rest of the week progresses. We do have to take Gabe to the airport on Thursday a.m. so he can get back home. I think that is also the day we are going deep sea fishing so maybe there will be more to report by then.

Oh, I forgot to mention the tonight was seafood night at the resort so the restaurant was offering several seafood options. I enjoyed their seafood chowder and the fresh shellfish in the pasta I had was pretty good but the pasta was very oily and sticky. Again, we aren't here for the food, are we? Now to bed and preparation for another glorious day in Jamaica, mon!!!

Early this morning I awoke to find myself alone in the room. Fearing that the others were trying to get rid of me and prevent me from driving, I hurried down to the breakfast area and discovered that all was not lost. In fact, Teresa was out with Joel and Gabe having a ride on a parasail (Teresa was there just to take pictures). It was fun to watch them from the dock and see the boys going up and down out there in the water. That was an event they won't forget very soon.

When we had all finished breakfast we piled into the cars for our trip to Negril. The day was windy and we feared it might make a shambles of our plans but by the time we got there things were much calmer. It was our road trip that was the exciting part of the day. It is only 70 km from Montego Bay to Negril but it took us the better part of two hours to get there because of all the traffic and construction we encountered. The roads aren't very wide as it is but with extra traffic and people trying to pass at every opportunity AND then adding in construction where they narrowed the road some, it was a real test of our driving abilities. But we made it and things were good.

Lunch was at the Burger King and then it was off to find the wonderful beaches we had been told were in this part of Jamaica. Our first effort was fruitless as we wandered to the part of the island where the shore was rocky and full of interesting caves. Time wasn't taken to explore but we did get some shots of the lighthouse and Josh jumped off a cliff into the ocean (probably 40-50 ft. high). We also had a short lesson in botany from a local who followed us around telling us about the place we were viewing.

Everyone seems so nice and helpful when we are going from place to place. BUT, there is always a catch to their helpfulness…they constantly remind us that we need to show gratitude for their services. They are never shy about what the gratitude should be and will harangue and follow you until you finally give in. And it doesn't really matter if they have done something significant. A fellow at the beach corralled me and said I needed to give him a few dollars because 'my boys' had used his little blow up floating pads for a few seconds. He felt it was his right to have some remuneration because he left the pads out and someone sat on them (actually, none of us used them because we thought they belonged to one of the resorts). Anyway, this whole island seems to have their hand out, looking for something from us. I suppose they consider that we are all rich because we are here on a vacation and compared to many of their lives, they are probably correct. But the constant harassment is frustrating and leads me to be less than generous when approached. We have made some effort to bless those who have been helpful and have even gone out of our way to provide for some who seemed particularly destitute (tonight Kevin paid for someone's KFC dinner cause they looked a little down). For now, I need to be careful not to become too jaded and ignore real need when I see it.

Back to our Negril trip. When we escaped the guys at the lighthouse, we headed to a public beach. The beach we chose to use was unique because it was between the roped off beaches of the major resorts. In order to provide places for all their clients, each beach has designated a portion of the beach as a place for their customers to be able to sit in peace and with the appropriate accoutrements. All the beach chairs and umbrellas are for their customers only and they will not share or rent to people not at their resort. It was a HOT day for all of us, but especially for the babies. Hayden and Matt were OK because they could get into the water but Katie and Becca really needed to have a place where they could get out of the sun. Teresa approached a man who was supervising the beach for one of the resorts and asked if we could use an area behind an old shack but under a large, shady tree as a place of refuge. He indicated that we could but added that we would have to 'help him because he might get in trouble with his boss.' (Just another way of saying we had to pay him something.)

The beach was great and the water was excellent. There was a gradual deepening of the water as you walked out but after more than 100 yards I was still able to stand up and not have the water over my head. And the bottom was this soft sand that made it easy to walk and play. The kids loved it and so did the parents.

Joel and Gabe wanted to do some snorkeling but because of the nature of the beach they would have had to swim out several hundred yards before they could see anything substantial. The danger was that that far out there were jet-skis and boats zipping along, not paying any attention to who might be in the water. So Teresa made arrangements with a boat guy to take them out to a reef (probably a mile or so out) and let them snorkel for a couple of yours. They were really excited because they saw lots of great wildlife (can't remember what they saw except swordfish) and were away from mom and dad for a while.

After several hours on the beach we decided it was time to head back to Montego Bay. After witnessing the way the beaches are set up in Negril, I am thankful we booked a resort where we did. What we lose in 'quality' we gain in comfort and ambiance.

Our drive home was pretty uneventful. We stopped in one town and took a few pictures of housing and kids playing and made it through the construction areas in pretty good time. The only blip in the whole day was as we were coming into Montego Bay. There is a lot of construction going on here also and the people had set up portable concrete barriers to keep traffic out of the construction zone. It was dark and I suppose we had all gotten a little lax when suddenly Teresa hollered "watch out." As you might guess, I didn't see what she was 'watching out' for until it was too late and I hit one of the barriers. It was lying on its side so we just went over the top of it but it blew out the tire (or tyre if you are from Jamaica) and left us with a flat on the side of the road (thankfully these barriers are much smaller than the ones we use in America or there would have been substantial damage to the body of the car). And guess what? At least 5 different persons stopped to ask if we needed help getting the tire changed. I can't say they all were looking to make a buck but after today's events I have to think at least some of them weren't there just as Good Samaritans.

The tire was changed (Josh and crew came back because they finally saw we weren't with them) and we went along our merry way to the KFC. The lines were awful (Wednesday must be some special day here because everyone was out and about) and we were exceedingly tired but we finally got through. Josh decided to go ahead without us and found himself lost, finally arriving at the airport. We also got lost but ended up in downtown Montego Bay where we were a little nervous. Let's just say that things were a little rowdy and scary and we got out as quickly as we could.

Now we are back at the hotel and are preparing for a new day. Gabe goes home in the morning so Teresa and Brian will have to take him to the airport. It has been good for Joel to have Gabe with us. They have played that Killer Bunnies game non-stop and have had a good time being together this week. We are so grateful Gabe's parents let him come 'babysit' Joel.

While Gabe is leaving, a few of us will be going out on a boat and attempting to catch some fish. They tell us that most of what is being caught is Marlin, Tuna and ??? can't remember the other. I will let you know how things go and what we actually catch in the next chapter of this adventure.

This is the last day for a journal entry before we head back to civilization. That is a facetious statement because the people here are very civilized and the amenities that surround us are all pretty good. It's just that there is so much that reeks of poverty and need that it makes things seem a little uncivilized. But enough pontificating! Back to the real purpose of this record.

This was our deep sea fishing day and we all (Josh, Heather, Joel and I) left at 7:30 for a half day fishing expedition. A driver picked us up and took us… Doctor's Cave Beach Club to wait for our boat. Funny how things keep coming back to the same places as we search out each activity. Well, a little after that we were greeted by our boat and three native Jamaican's. Two were easily discernible but the third came as somewhat a surprise. The two who set up the gear were very much Jamaican looking but the captain/driver of the boat was a redhead, chubby guy that looked nothing like what you would expect from a native. But when he talked it was with the hard, throaty accent that makes many words very difficult to understand. I don't think any of us got used to hearing that tongue of a native from that lily white face.

Turns out that today wasn't the best day to be out fishing in the ocean. We had a full moon last night and the fish were feeding a lot more than usual so they weren't really interested in what we had to offer. It was a little frustrating that the boat people didn't seem to make much effort to change lures and try different techniques but maybe they were doing the best they could. The end result was that Heather was able to land a barracuda and the rest of us got squat. And to top it off, we were told that the barracuda is not a good fish to eat so we left it with the fishermen. Heather wanted to take the head as a souvenir but they didn't cooperate and we didn't push it. And again, we were confronted with people holding out their hands, looking for extra money after we had paid for both the boat and the ride to the boat. Not being world travelers, we have to put this into our memory banks for future consideration.

After we got home and I rested for a few minutes, I decided it was time to try and get our tire fixed. With that in mind, I began to hunt down a place where we could get some service. The first place I went said they didn't do tires but I should check the Shell station down the road. There was a little shop behind the station that serviced cars and put on tires so I went there to see if they could help. My luck is that they couldn't get a tire until late Friday afternoon (after we would be on the plane to Dallas) so I decided we would just let the rental people take care of it. As I was leaving, I walked all the way around the car and opened the 'drivers' door (not theirs, ours). There was an older man watching me and he just started to giggle because I looked so silly getting in on the wrong side of the car. I have to admit that I also chuckled a bit.

While some of us rested or swam, Teresa, Joel, Brian and Paula went on a fancy zip-line thing that they all really enjoyed. It wasn't just one big line but a series of descending lines that also included two rappels. Teresa said it was scary but exhilarating. Kevin and Jenny took a ride on some ATV's and also seemed to have a good time.

Our last dinner was at the resort restaurant. They don't have the best food but we are learning what will work for us and what won't. Everyone splurged and had virgin drinks (pina colada and strawberry daiquiris) and then we all got ready to go out to the luminous lagoon (also called Glistening Waters). I have to admit that this was not one of the things I was particularly interested in doing but it was our last big thing so I didn't make a fuss.

The drive to the lagoon wasn't bad except we were behind the slowest moving people in all Jamaica. In hindsight, I think that was a blessing we had prayed for because the slowness saved wear and tear on the 'donut' tire we used as a spare. Heavenly Father is always looking out for us when we ask to be helped.

I am not sure of all the science as to why this lagoon is luminous, but it truly is an interesting phenomenon. The area is totally dark and if you disturb the water in any way, a glowing appears for a brief moment and then settles back to darkness. We practiced a little from the dock but were really interested when we got out in the lagoon and were able to dive in and swim around. Each splash and stroke from swimming created an ethereal glow that followed you wherever you went. You could even see a trail of luminescence when fish swam by. It was a truly amazing occurrence and we all had a good time playing there.

It seems everyone is tired and ready to go home so I suppose it is good that we leave tomorrow. Teresa has been counting up the cost for the trip and has found that she is pretty close to the amount we budgeted. That is a pleasant surprise because we were both sure we were going to go over. Of course, we are going shopping tomorrow morning, before we leave, so our fears may be realized and we might go home just as poor as we feared. I will fill you in with my last entry.

I'm a little late making this entry because….well, I just am! The whole vacation was fun and exciting and we did lots of stuff but the going home part got a little hectic so I didn't make the entry at the end of the day. So here is what happened Friday and Saturday of our marvelous adventure.

Though we had packed a lot on Thursday, there was still a little to do Friday morning. Josh and Heather invited Joel to go to a beach with them before breakfast and Brian and Paula decided to go snorkeling one last time so when I got up Teresa was watching babies. Not really being interested in breakfast, I went down to see what was happening and found everyone getting ready to take some pictures on the beach. I changed my mind and went ahead and had breakfast for the last time in Coyaba.

Our family pictures were taken in a nice secluded place where they sometimes hold weddings. Josh was using his camera and we were trying to get some shots of families and couples for our memory books. There were some good shots taken (I hope to have some for reproduction) and we finally finished and got ready to go on our last shopping trip.

Before we left, we took all our bags down to the lobby and stored them in a room so the cleaning people could have our rooms. Just a word about the staff at Coyaba; we were really impressed with their diligence, kindness and attention to detail. Though we weren't the easiest group to deal with (lots of babies and lots of opinions) they were patient and workable with all our needs. Our cleaning lady, Hyacinth, was really sweet and made it a point to interact with all of us. She especially seemed to take a shine to Hayden (of course, we felt like he had his own harem with all the little and big girls following him around) but she was very nice to the other children also. And whatever we needed, she was able to find or help us with throughout the stay. People like that are easy to tip and treat with great respect. But it was not just Hyacinth that did her job well. All the waiters were excellent and the people at the front desk were so helpful. We were very pleased with the whole experience at Coyaba.

Our shopping trip was a reminder of how much the people of Jamaica depend on tourism and how desperate they are to separate a tourist from their money. The little 'strip mall' we went to had a number of stores with souvenirs and clothing for us foreigners. But again, we were 'attacked' as soon as we entered most of the stores and pestered to purchase and try-on things until we became frustrated and gave up. Not before we purchased a few things, but well before we would have finished had we not been harassed so much. I guess it is like piranhas in the water with fresh meat: you better get it while you can cause you may not see another piece for a while. The whole attitude sure put a negative flavor on that part of our trip.

To make our trip to the airport more workable, we determined to take all the people and then go back for the bulk of the luggage. It was a good plan and we followed it to the letter…BUT it had a major flaw that we did not foresee. When we first printed out our itinerary, the flight from Montego Bay to Dallas was scheduled for 3:30 pm. Our plans focused around that time pattern so Josh and I turned our cars in at about 2:30, thinking we had plenty of time to make our flight. We were delayed a bit because of the tire situation (turns out both left side tires were bad and we had to haggle on the amount to pay) and finally got into the terminal at 2:45. What we found was a frantic pair of wives (Teresa and Heather) waiting and telling us we were on last call for our flight. It seems that the departure time for our flight was changed to 3:05 and we hadn't checked to know this. And, we still had to clear immigration and security in order to board our flight.

The immigration part wasn't too bad, but the security people seemed to be exceptionally slow in their efforts. And we were now being paged ("Last call for passengers 'Whitmeer;, flight 1233 to Dallas") incessantly. Did that make any difference to anyone? No!!! I finally cleared security, while Heather was having her stroller checked and Josh and Teresa were still waiting, so I decided to run ahead and let them know we were coming. Of course, the gate was the farthest from security (gate 14) and I had to run through two different concourses to finally arrive at the departure lounge. As I ran down the hallway there were people up by the gate hollering, "are you Whitmeer (didn't take time to correct their pronunciation)?" With what little breath I had I squeaked "yes and the others are right behind me".

I guess, since they could see that I wasn't frazzled enough, the gate people decided I was a good candidate for a random check of carry-on luggage. So in addition to listening to the American Airlines personnel berate me for not planning my arrival properly, I also had to open up all my carry-on bags and let them look at my computer. And still there was no Josh, Heather or Teresa.

Finally, I could see them coming and let the gate people know. It seems that when they cleared security, another airport security person pointed toward the gates and said "you are at gate 4." Josh and Heather took off on a run and Teresa went as friskily as she could. But when Josh got to gate 4, the agent there said, "No, you are leaving from gate 14." So they turned and ran the right direction, picking up Teresa on the way, and finally arrived at the proper location.

Now, here is the kicker to the whole situation. The flight was supposed to leave at 3:05 pm and despite our 'lack of planning', we were all on the plane at 2:58 pm. I know that in airline scheduling, that is cutting it close but we were not late and the flight was buttoned up and away from the terminal with plenty of time to spare. So what happens? We left the gate and sat on the runway for 30 minutes, waiting for clearance to take-off. Thankfully, the flight was without incident and we arrived safely in Dallas.

Customs and immigration coming into the U.S. was really easy. No one asked to look in our bags and we were through the whole process in less than 30 minutes. But now the moment of truth had arrived!! (I don't think I mentioned that we changed our hotel reservations for the layover on the way home so we wouldn't have a recurrence of the Quality Inn fiasco.) It was time to contact our hotel and get a ride. Josh found a courtesy phone that connected us to the Comfort Inn Suites and he let them know we were at the terminal. Nervously, we waited for the arrival of our shuttle and wondered if we would have to argue with the driver or hire another means of transportation. Thankfully, when the shuttle arrived we found a very polite gentleman driving and he loaded up all our bags, found room in the van for three of us and called for another van (which came just a few minutes after we left) to come get the balance of our group. At the hotel, the receptionist was pleasant, checked us in with efficiency and helped us arrange things for our departure the next morning. What a totally pleasant experience we had with this second hotel. It did cost us a little more but it was well worth the expense because we were treated with respect and helped on our way home.

Saturday morning our flight left at 9:30 a.m. so we hustled down for the shuttle about 7:30. Arrival at the airport and check in for our flight was quick and easy and we were soon on our way home. I can't tell you how nice it was to look out the window of our plane (and around the wing) to see the Wasatch mountains as we entered the Salt Lake Valley. Jamaica was beautiful but there is nothing like seeing home and knowing you have come back to the place you really love. After more than 8 days away, it was nice to be home.

So ends the latest vacation experience for the Whitmer family. I don't know if we will ever have another 'whole family' vacation but this one was very enjoyable for all of us (though we did miss Josh and Melissa and their kids). I have to say that in the past years, there has always been something that has made things a little difficult for me to enjoy a trip like this, but this time I was just happy to be with our family and enjoy some special time together. As we were reviewing things on Sunday, Teresa asked me what I didn't like about this trip. Thinking for a while, I had to reply that there wasn't really any part that I didn't enjoy (except maybe the vendors and even that was educational). Even the fruitless fishing trip (which bothered Josh and Joel some) was still and adventure for me. Things were just fun and pleasant and relaxing. Maybe that's the key; we didn't become too over-programmed and were able to have fun. Whatever it was, this will be one of the more memorable times we have had together as a family (vacation-wise).

Let me close this little log with a tribute to the real founder and finisher of our trip. Teresa has been so dedicated to getting us together and helping us to have experiences that widen our horizons. It all started with little trips to Crystal Lake, Calf Creek Falls, Yellowstone and Cedar City and progressed to Catalina, Portugal, Florida and now Jamaica. We haven't always cooperated with her as we should in these endeavors but we have all been the recipients of the work and effort she has exerted to help us stay close as a family. My hope is that over the rest of our lives we might find opportunities to further our experiences and make some new and lasting memories. And I pray that all of our clan will pay homage to the person who has been instrumental in keeping us connected through these little voyages. Only through Teresa's efforts can we look back and view the memories of our times together as a family. I know all this sounds weird from me because I am usually the one who fights these big vacations. But the truth is that, without exception, the aftermath of these trips has been an increase of love and caring in our family. Thank you, Teresa for being so faithful to your children, grandchildren and to me. We love you and honor your goodness and strength in the face of much difficulty. God Bless your soul for who you are.

My hope now is that those who participated in this vacation will take time to write some of their own memories and share them with the rest of us. This report is one-sided and really needs some balance from some of you. Please take time to help us all have better remembrances by offering your thoughts. Thanks for coming and look forward to our next great adventure.

Love, Dad