Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Sun, Rum and Drums

It's back! After way too long, the LoveLand & Sea Travel Blog returns with a special guest blogger, Sara Gentry.

Sun, Rum and Drums

“We’re doing this!” My sister Beth and travel agent extraordinaire exclaimed. We had toyed with the idea of taking a trip together and we decided this Summer was the perfect opportunity to get away and reconnect.

Arriving at Sangster International Airport for the first time could have been overwhelming as it seemed like everyone who would be visiting the small island that week arrived at the same time. Tourists walked through the winding airport in unified patterns like schools of fish eagerly looking for customs only to be met with a 2-hour line. Lucky for me, I was with my travel guru sister who knew to book the Club Mobay VIP arrival. We were greeted by a personal guide who whisked us past the schools of fish to a private VIP line; to our elation, there were only five or six people in line ahead of us. Once through the gates we were ushered to the Mobay VIP Club where tea sandwiches, rum punches and a private bathroom awaited us.

Our luggage was collected and we followed it outside to the line of buses waiting to take us to our respective resorts. I was warned ahead of time that the bus ride would be a little nerve racking and looking back, I think that is why you are greeted with complimentary alcohol before boarding the shuttle. Long story short, the bus ride was a bonding experience between all aboard. Goats on the side of the road became mere blurs as we flew down the highway. I found myself strategically sipping my Red Stripe in-between swerves and break checks to try and calm my nerves.

We arrived to Couples Tower Isle to the sound of drums greeting us from the open and breezy lobby. The rum punch was flowing as couples checked in and Beth explained to the inquisitive staff our relationship.  As its name might suggest, Couples Tower Isle or CTI as it is known, is a couples only resort and we were bending the rules in the name of research so Beth could share her personal experiences with her clients.

It took me a couple of days to understand what all-Inclusive really meant. And since our trip I’ve learned it means different things to different people. To my sister it meant a fully stocked mini bar and room service every morning. Beth went through the list of alcohol we would be requesting for our stay. “Do we really need an entire bottle of Appleton Rum?” I asked her with worried eyes as she continued to check off more boxes. Red wine-check. White wine-check. Champagne-check. My more experienced travel buddy looked up from the form and said. “The point of an all-inclusive is to indulge.” And with that, I decided to try it her way for the week.

Beth introduced me to her morning routine which consisted of a first and second breakfast. Each morning room service brought fresh fruit, pastries, coffee, and mimosas. Around 9am we donned our swimsuits and cover ups and headed to second breakfast held at the buffet next to the hotel lobby.  I’ve never been a big breakfast person, lunch is more my speed, so in addition to two breakfasts we were also going to need to fit in two lunches for my sake. One of the best features of CTI is that food is always available, if not at the buffet, at the resort grille which is open all night (second dinner.) A healthy alternative to the grille is a vegetarian café tucked away near one of the two pools. I can still taste the lightly salted seaweed chips and dip. Some of my favorite first lunch snacks came from that café and It was there I was able to achieve my life-long dream of drinking coconut milk straight from the coconut.  I was a true tourist after that and would have no more qualms about over indulging.

 Every day we had a few hours until second lunch so we filled it with drinking at the swim up pool bar, complimentary snorkeling, paddle boarding and my favorite excursion, a catamaran trip around the island. The boat ride itself was memorable but once they dropped the anchor, life vests were distributed and we were able to jump into the ocean and swim while inflatable trays of rum punches made their way around the group. My sisters made me watch Jaws with them at a very young age and because of that I still have a strong inclination to stay out of the ocean, however, this was one of those moments where I would have to indulge, and this time, in adventure. To my surprise and great relief, I was not eaten by a shark after all and would be able to enjoy the dance party on deck all the way back to the hotel.

I was also a fan of laying out on the private beach under the white canopy shade and reading while nearby couples held hands in the sun. Local tents overflowing with souvenirs lined the beach.  “No pressure, no pressure,” they would say, as I looked at tiny wooden cat trinkets and beaded jewelry.  I had my eye on a red coral necklace and would visit it every day after laying out. After heated negotiations the vendor and I decided on a price we were both unhappy with, which is a sign of successful negotiations I’m told. It broke in my luggage on the way home, but I did get to wear it one evening to dinner.

Most evenings began with a quick selfie photoshoot in our ocean view room followed by cocktail hour and dinner. Up until this point in the day, the fact that my sister and I were not a couple was not at all awkward. However, once the sun set and the candles were lit, the intentions of the Island shift and the romance is palpable. Never the less, we always had the amazing cuisine to look forward to.  Walking into Eight Rivers I felt like we were celebrating a special occasion. I couldn’t believe this dinner was included in our vacation package. We each wore the most formal dress we packed and sat down for our romantic dinner; the object of our affection, our entrees. For a seafood lover in Jamaica, the world is your oyster (pun completely intended) and in a true all-inclusive fashion I ate the equivalent of shrimp Forrest Gump and Lieutenant Dan catch after the storm.

I left Jamaica with a tan and a new appreciation for Island life. Although the tan will eventually fade, the memories I made act as a reminder to indulge in life once and while.

Sara Gentry

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