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Central America & Caribbean

Jamaica, Up, Up And Away

Jonathan van Bilsen



January 1, 2012

Jamaica, Up, Up And Away

What is 29 degrees, sunny and a great destination in the middle of winter? In a word: Jamaica!

I normally write these articles a few days after returning from a trip In order to reflect on events, people and atmosphere. In this case, however, I decided to take pen in hand (actually two fingers on IPad) while sitting in a comfortable lounge chair, listening to the waves gently caress the pure white sand of seven mile beach. I know it sounds like a cliché, but there is no other way to describe a visit to Jamaica's famous Negril.

It has been exactly thirty years since my first visit to this wonderful island and I found it more enjoyable today then amid the political turbulence of the early eighties. I have never been fond of all-inclusive resorts, but in Negril I make the exception. Normally, I do not want to feel obligated to eat every meal in one location, only do the attractions offered by the resort or drink a small selection of inexpensive beverages, but in the case of Negril the resorts are amazing and they really know how to cater to tourists.

Seven mile beach is especially wonderful. The sand is white, the water an azure blue and the puffy white clouds gently float by as one sits and contemplates the whereabouts of the rest of civilization. From beach massages to catamaran rides (all included, of course) there is no shortage of things to do or to simply not do anything (and no one to make you feel guilty). The downside? Every time you glance at your watch it is time to eat. And I do not mean a snack, although the intent to eat little is there. Once you sit in the luxury of one of several restaurants the food (or in my case the dessert) loudly calls out to you.

I went for a swim, which was actually more of a walk into the water, for the sandy beach easily extends 200 meters from shore before the water reaches your neck. I had forgotten how buoyant the salt water makes you and before you know it you find yourself drifting into a trans-like state. The noise of a boat motor startled me and when I looked up there were two men trying to get my attention. I soon realized they were selling parasailing adventures. My initial reacts was to decline, but after a moment of thought I decided it would be a fun idea.

Not having fully made my decision I found myself on their boat heading for another craft, one with a large, yellow parachute. I transferred boats in mid-ocean and understood how Errol Flynn felt when he boarded a neighboring pirate ship. After a shaky transfer I was there and not a minute too soon, for the captain opened the throttle and we headed out to sea. 

One of the crew helped me into a harness and clasped the two ends to a series of ropes, fastened to the large yellow parasail. As the boat picked up speed I watched a massive yellow chute (complete with 'happy face') open up directly above me. "Have a good time," the man yelled, with a big grin on his face and without warning I was swooshed off the boat, floating higher and higher with each second.

The view was spectacular, but I was afraid to let go of the two straps attached to the chute for fear of falling backward, something which could easily occur. As moments passed I felt more at ease and managed to snap a few photos, but never letting go of the straps. The wind picked up as I neared the 200 meter mark and the boat had become a small dot far below. I was swaying back and forth and up and down and wondered if the two men on the boat were doing something to intentionally scare me.

I watched the beach below and the beautiful mountains in the distance and was truly glad I had made the decision to take this adventure. Birds hovered below me and the water beneath was like an artist’s palette of blues and greens. Just as I was coming to grip with my fear I felt myself beginning to descend, but was not too disappointed, for the strap supporting me was digging into me and my hands were sore, still clasping the straps.

The landing was smooth and directly onto the boat and my adventure, now checked off my bucket list, was a cherished memory. Having discovered a new level of bravery I tackled swimming with dolphins, another awesome attraction, holding a stingray (until the trainer explained this was the same type which killed the Crocodile Hunter) and a trip to world famous Rick's cafe to watch the cliff divers jump from extreme heights into the blue Caribbean below. Spectators were encouraged to participate, but that was one adventure I would pass on.

Jamaica is only four hours from Toronto and Air Canada and WestJet fly direct. It was intact, my first experience with WestJet and I only had two issues: the $10 charge for pre-seat assignments (which I know more and more airlines are leaning to), but it was presented in a way that caused me to fear I might be sitting in the last row of the plane if I did not take advantage of the offer. Second was the satellite television. Watching a movie required a $6.50 charge and regular TV, although free was intermittent and non-existent for the last hour, an extremely frustrating format as I watched an hour and a half of a mystery only to never find out who dunnit. Other than that (and of course a $6+ charge for food to which I am now accustomed and a $10 headset purchase option) the flight was good.

If you are looking to go south this winter consider Jamaica as a destination. It is hot, friendly, safe and a great place to de-stress after the anxiety of a hectic holiday season.

Jonathan van Bilsen’s photosNtravel TV show can be watched on RogersTV and YouTube. To follow Jonathan’s travel adventures visit

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