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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jerk & juice

Jerk is Jamaica’s claim to culinary fame. A fiery spice blend of allspice, cloves, garlic, and Scotch bonnet peppers, jerk spice, as it’s commonly called, is dry-rubbed into various meats before smoking over a slow-burning mix of hardwood and charcoal. Jamaicans boast of being able to jerk anything – yes, the ubiquity of jerk means it can function as both noun and verb – from pork and tofu to shellfish and sausage, each augmented in its own particular way by a healthy rub of jerk. Yet for me, nothing quite measures up to how the spice permeates - and in the process tenderizes – the meat of a chicken. The capsicum in the pepper breaks down the muscle fibers, turning even the toughest old bird into something sublime and juicy – with a satisfying spice kick, too.  Makeshift jerk shacks are found all over the country, but along an empty stretch of road between Ocho Rios and Port Antonio I came upon Buccaneers Jerk & Juice, a substantially less provisional establishment with both a garden and bar. Half a succulent chicken with a side of festival, lightly sweetened fried dumplings that are tailor-made for mopping up the addictive mix of drippings and hot sauce which puddles on the plate, set me back all of eight bucks. That’s what I call finger-lickin’ good.

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nailing the landing

The 200-foot water-slide perched on the edge of Mystic Mountain is the perfect cool down after the sweaty adrenaline rush of bobsleds and zip lines. And despite the speed, I somehow managed to nail the landing – even if I do say so myself.

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zip-a-dee-doo duh

The second stop atop Mystic Mountain is the zip line canopy tour, a guided series of tree-to-tree platforms that sends you flying through the coastal rainforest. Readers of this site have seen me harnessed up a number of times, so the opportunity to indulge again is a bit of a no-brainer. With only six relatively short lines it’s by far the shortest zip adventure I’ve encountered, yet it also includes two interesting features that spice things up a bit: a vertical rappel and a suspension walking bridge.  As for the zip line itself, well, watch the video and you’ll agree it’s so easy even your granny could do it.

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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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