blue mountain bike ride

Port Antonio is nestled between twin harbors on Jamaica’s northeast curve, where mist-shrouded mountains drop down to the sea and tourists are few and far between. Orchids, bananas and palm trees grow in profusion here. Waterfalls drop into fern-edged pools. And some of the island’s most elegant villas are tucked along hillsides overlooking secluded coves. Life moves at a slower pace here than it does elsewhere on the island – not that anybody anywhere in Jamaica is ever in any kind of rush – lending a vibe of authenticity which both Mobay and Ocho Rios sorely lack. There seems to be more time: to take advantage of swimming and snorkeling in the shimmering Blue Lagoon, which is fed by freshwater springs and said to reach a depth of almost 200 feet; to worship a little sun on the sand at Frenchman’s Cove, a favorite spot among shell collectors and sunbathers; to do, in fact, nothing. Eschewing more leisurely pursuits, however, I’ve opted to go cycling through the Blue Mountains, home of Jamaica’s eponymous – and very expensive – coffee, as well as its tallest peaks. Excited about traveling on two wheels, I’m nevertheless feeling a conflicted sense of both freedom and foreboding.

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video: cool runnings

Head due East out of Mobay and after a while you find yourself in Ocho Rios - Jamaica’s adventure capital. There’s no shortage of tours and attractions catering to the massive cruise ships that dock off the coast but Mystic Mountain is the only place where you can make like you’re a part of Jamaica’s most famous team of Olympic hopefuls. On the Rainforest Bobsled ride, custom-designed individual sleds coast along stainless steel rails in a 3,000 foot gravity-driven whoosh through the forest. It’s sort of like a roller coaster – except for the scary fact that you’re on a sled hurtling between trees and limestone cliffs. You can control the speed with a handy hand break, however; or let go, if you dare, and allow the full force of gravity to propel you downhill. Fast or slow, you’re in for a thrill – with a soft landing at the bottom and a scenic ride back to the top.

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better a half moon than none at all

 

Touching down in Montego Bay, I am reminded vaguely of Cancun, Mexico’s sunny, all-inclusive answer to Tijuana. The hotels in Jamaica aren’t as monstrously immoderate yet the enfilade of one over-developed beachfront property after another radiates the same unsettling heat of population density. It appears as though MoBay, as the touristic area is called, has been developed in hopeful homage to the success story just across the Caribbean. More to the point, that means catering to the specific needs of an all-inclusive American tourist: cheap food, cheaper liquor, and cheap building. And while I certainly can’t begrudge anyone their right to a value-for-money vacation, I often question why anyone would choose a foreign holiday when their destination of choice seems purposefully built to shut out anything and everything that might qualify as foreign. Gated resorts, anodyne surroundings, food and drink in excessive quantity, if not quality – wouldn’t it be more economical to go to Florida? So you can imagine the smile that turned my frown upside down when my car turned into Half Moon, a 400-acre antidote to the rash of Cancunitis. Tucked away in the Rose Hall enclave of Montego Bay, the 56-year-old resort features two miles of empty, white-sand beach set against a lush and lengthy jungle landscape. In addition to spacious villa-style accommodations – and a dolphin lagoon – there’s Fern Tree, the spa at Half Moon, with signature beachfront spa suites and its very own Spa Elder. Plus, despite being booked to capacity it doesn’t feel remotely crowded. In fact, outside of the restaurant I don’t see a blessed soul, let alone a wristband reveler – or machete-wielding homophobe.

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