When the Jamaica Tourist Board invites you to Jamaica for five days of culinary and cultural adventures, you don’t say no. You pack some sandals and swim gear, and you leave some extra space in your bag for local rum. Turns out there was very little beach time on the trip, but as this writer learned, Jamaica’s Blue Mountains may be even more alluring than the beach.
Blue Mountains and Black Coffee
The first full day started with a bus ride from our luxurious Spanish Court Hotel in Kingston into the mountains to visit the Clifton Mount Estate, producers of some of the world’s finest – and most expensive – coffee. Winding through the mountains by bus provided a scenic view of the surrounding landscape, flush with abundant greenery, vibrant flowers and colorful homes tucked into the foliage, plus automatic rifle-toting men in fatigues. Luckily for a blogger troupe armed with nothing but cameras and notebooks, they were friendly Jamaican military on a training trek.
Once at Clifton Mount Estate, our hosts offered a tour of the property, which sits nestled into the mountains 4,300 feet above sea level and offers expansive, majestic views of the Yallahs Valley. Not a bad place to go to work each day. We visited the production facility and received an overview on picking and processing coffee beans, plus some details on the coffee market. It seems the Japanese have acquired a taste for Jamaican coffee, and the country consumes nearly 80 percent of what Clifton Mount Estate produces. In you’re in the U.S. and want to score some of the good stuff, it can run upwards of $50 per pound.
Prospect Plantation and Bobsledding
Next up, Prospect Plantation, an Ochos Rio-located agricultural property where guides lead visitors on jitney tours through acres of indigenous trees, plants and foods. If you’ve ever wanted to see a grown man climb a coconut tree, without use of ropes, hooks or even shoes, this is the place. In addition to the impressive climbing feat, we sampled local fruits and rode camels. That’s right, you can ride camels in Jamaica. Also, bobsleds.
Bobsledding in a Jamaican jungle is one of those things you don’t realize is on your bucket list until you add it and check it off on the same day. Housed at Mystic Mountain – an Ocho Rios attraction that also includes chairlifts and zip line tours – the bobsled ride pays homage to the 1988 Olympic bobsled team, which was later popularized in the movie, Cool Runnings. The gravity-driven plunge includes sharp turns and narrow sprints through the tree-strewn hillside for a thrilling experience that left our group clamoring for more. So, tight schedule be damned, we rode it twice.
Food & Rum
Knowing very little about Jamaican cuisine besides staples like jerk chicken, I greedily consumed as much local food as possible, from the ubiquitous jerk chicken and fish to coconuts and June plums and the breakfast favorite, ackee and saltfish. Ackee is a fruit that, when opened and cooked, resembles scrambled eggs. When paired with saltfish, tomatoes and onions, it makes a delicious and hearty breakfast.
For jerk, it’s hard to beat Scotchies. The open-air restaurant features an exposed “kitchen,” which is more like a staging area for smoking meat, and the authentically seasoned chicken, fish and pork is served with a side of Scotch Bonnet pepper sauce. For comparison’s sake, Scotch Bonnet peppers score about 50 times hotter than jalapenos on the Scoville scale. As LA food blogger Eddie Lin and I found out, spoon enough pepper sauce onto your jerk chicken, and you soon become a red, sweaty mess, fueled by the painful-yet-delicious endorphin rush that leaves you wanting more.
And of course, a trip to Jamaica isn’t complete without rum, so naturally, I drank as many different brands as I could. Winners included Appleton Estate 12-year, Wray and Nephew Overproof and Coruba Dark. Other favorites included both the 12- and 15-year expressions from El Dorado, but it turns out that El Dorado hails from Guyana, not Jamaica.