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Rum, sweet boy and me by CHRISTINE RICHARD “Sweet Boy” is giving me trouble. My horse’s name, I now believe, is some inside joke among the Jamaican grooms. A group of us is in the White River Valley, near Ocho Rios, trotting on a stony path in the middle of a damp bamboo and guava forest. We’re getting what Grand Lido Braco Resort and Spa and Caribbean Travel and Life magazine have termed the “Best of Jamaica”: Five days of culinary and cultural demonstrations on property, combined with a little Jamaican adventure off property, i.e., me and the horse. Sweet Boy, who is almost as new to Jamaica as I am (my groom confirms that Sweet Boy’s got about a year on me), perks his ears at the spill of the river. He fumbles on uneven ground; he stops to sniff the bamboo. My horse, I decide, has ADD. That’s OK. I’m not at my best today, either. This horseback ride, which is to be followed by a tubing expedition, has been scheduled the morning after Grand Lido Braco’s rum mixology class – an “interactive” lesson. While the sun shone outside, we participants clinked glasses filled with amber-colored rum, in a meeting house shaped like a chapel. Appleton Estate’s Joy Spence, the world’s first female master rum blender, explained the different styles of rums and told us about the estate itself, located in Jamaica’s Nassau Valley by the Black River. There, she says, every day at 2 p.m., it rains, dutifully watering the 11,000 acres of lush sugarcane fields. Spence says you can set your watch by it. It may be the only thing in Jamaica you can set your watch by. Had the night ended there at the mixology seminar, maybe Sweet Boy and I would have managed. But it started there, and between the two activities I indulged in more rum, Jamaican specialties such as fried fish with ackee, small cassava cakes called bammies, lobster, and, because we were at an all-inclusive resort (Jamaica is the birthplace of this phenomenon), the limbo. The “tropical beverages,” as stated on our “Best of Jamaica” itinerary, fueled an evening of dancing barefoot to reggae. Yes, it was a successful night of enjoying the best of what Jamaica offers, I think, as Sweet Boy and I clumsily reach the banks of the White River. I dismount along with the others. Jamaica has many rivers, I realize, as I slide into the cool water, because there is no better elixir for overindulgence in tropical beverages than to float in Blue Mountain run-off and listen to the call of tropical birds. But this tubing adventure isn’t tailored for healing. I’m soon handed a paddle, a life vest and an inner tube. Then the lesson: how to manage rapids (face them with feet extended in front), how to turn (paddle on the right to go left, and vice versa), how to propel forward (both hands behind, moving in a sort of backstroke – I didn’t do well with this maneuver), what dead water is (this is when the water doesn’t move you forward; in one instance, I actually moved backward. Since I wasn’t paying attention to lesson No. 3, how to propel forward, I had to be saved by Dwight, who, in a short while, would spend a good part of his morning entangling this novice group from vines on the shores). As soon as we learn the basics, we set off, swirling in the White River like big marshmallows in a cup of hot cocoa, ready to digest what the “Best of Jamaica” might hand us next. Turns out, at the end of the line, it’s jerk chicken, rice and peas, and, back at Grand Lido, a Walkerswood cooking demonstration. •
The “Best of Jamaica” event will be held at Grand Lido Braco Resort and Spa Oct. 4-9. The sponsors bring the traditions and tastes of Jamaica to the resort. (800) 467-8737 or www.grandlido.com. Another taste of Jamaica is to bike the Blue Mountains, home to the celebrated coffee farms, as well as the second-largest butterfly in the world, the giant swallowtail (Papilio homerus). Blue Mountain Bicycle Tours has all-day excursions: Guides drive you up the mountain and you bike down 18 miles through tropical rainforests, (876) 974-7075. For those who want straight taste, no adventure, tour Walkerswood and Appleton Rum. Walkerswood is known for its seasonings (as seen at Whole Foods Market) and is located in the hills of St. Ann, not far from the White River Valley and Ocho Rios. Appleton is in Nassau Valley, and if you go at 2 p.m., it’ll rain. Hotels can arrange tours, or visit www.appletonrum.com or www.walkerswood.com.

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