Friday, October 24, 2014

{GETAWAY GIRL} #SOLOATSANDALS, EXPLAINED...


When I arrived back from Jamaica late one Sunday evening not long ago, I was greeted by my roommates with the usual, "How was it?" array of questions—and something more. As I unpacked my trusty Panama Jack straw hat and new favorite muscle tee from Paige, they began to tell me about all the strange questions they'd gotten about why I was at Sandals, a couples resort, by myself. "People think you had a mid-life crisis," Tully said.

That comment made me laugh out loud, or LOL, if you will. I certainly didn't have a mid-life crisis, but I did have a little too much fun coming up with a hashtag for my work-related press trip that I found hilarious. I also took advantage of posting as many pictures of me doing romantic things by myself on Instagram as I could. I was #soloatsandals, and it was pretty awesome.

CLICK THROUGH FOR TROPICAL PHOTOS AND  ROMANTIC MOMENTS...



Okay. So. This is Sandals Whitehouse Resort, about an hour and a half from where we flew in, the city of Montego Bay. The drive across the island was incredible—I had never been to the Caribbean and had never seen such lush, dense rain forests in my life. Myself and the other journalists (and their significant others, naturally) rode from the airport taking in the scenery, sipping on Red Stripe beers (did you know they're Jamaican? I didn't...) and getting to know each other as we bumped along the winding roads over mountains and along pristine beaches. 

The resort is huge, and boasts a handful of villages that are each themed to a European region. Myself and the PR representative, Ana, each had rooms in the Dutch village—which seems fitting as it is perhaps the least romantic-feeling culture, amongst Italian and French. 



My room on the third floor included a private balcony (actually all the rooms have balconies, and they all face the ocean). This is where I took to donning my robe and slippers, having my evening half a bottle of white wine, and watching couples take a sandy, sunset stroll hand-in-hand. 


On our first full day in Jamaica, we met at the dock early in the morning to take a catamaran cruise to Pelican Bar—explained to me as "a bar in the middle of the ocean." I didn't know how that was possible, but I was excited. Along with myself, Ana and the other journalist couples, we were joined by a handful of hotel guests, also couples, of course. The ride out was exhilarating as we bobbed over large waves farther and farther out into the Caribbean Sea. The sweet sounds of Bob Marley played (What did you expect?) and rum punch was served. After about an hour and a half we slowed, and the Pelican Bar came into view. 



The story goes that Floyd, the owner, built the bar on a sandbar about a mile out to sea to avoid his ex-wife, but also as a respite during a day of fishing. The whole thing rests atop stilts dug into the soft sand, and Floyd and his buddies are on hand most days to prepare a lunch (lobster caught on site) for visiting tourists. Do note that if Floyd or his friends ask you if you want to see the puffer fish, they aren't talking about aquatic life. But, if someone tells you to watch out for the stingray, that's real.


As I've mentioned in travel posts before, I really like to get in the spirit of the destination when I go to exotic places. For a day at sea in the tropics, I figured a vintage Pucci scarf and Ray-Ban aviators to protect me from the scorching sun were just the thing—striking sort of a 1970s jet-set vibe. My linen coverup was just about the only apparel I could wear all weekend besides a bikini—as it was on average about 95 degrees and humid.



Far and away my favorite feature of Whitehouse is the beach. It's one of the only resorts on the island that has a private beach; one that includes a nature preserve on either side. (And, as you might know, Sandals is a kid-free place.) On our second morning, I woke up early and took myself (who else?) for a stroll past the edge of the property, out along the preserve. I was the only person out there—with a pristine beach all to myself.

The vultures circling nearby gave me pause ("Is this a sign I'm going to die alone?" I thought—but only once), but for the better part of an hour there were only fish darting in the waves and my feet in the sand. It's pretty amazing how quickly everything else can melt away in a place like that. 


Later that morning, a group of the willing boarded a bus for an excursion to YS Falls, about an hour from the resort. (Having recently returned from a waterfall-centric trip, I was obviously game.) This is a very tourist-centric attraction, but that doesn't diminish the jaw-dropping natural beauty of the area. Exotic flowers bloom freely and vines dangle from nearly every tree branch. I thought to myself that the Garden of Eden might have looked something like this. We learned that the falls were perfect for activities at the moment because of the daily rainstorms raising the water level, but that they also caused the water to appear a bit more green, rather than the usual sparkling blue. I couldn't have cared less.

After stripping down to our swimsuits and trustingly handing the guides our beloved phones and cameras, we were lead up gravel paths along the edge of the falls to jump, swing and swim around. We traversed the edge of the rushing waters holding hands like kids in a museum to jump into a bubbling pool below, and donned gardening gloves to grip a rope swing that flung you into yet another pool. Clearly experts, our guides flawlessly took photos and videos for everyone without dropping or damaging a thing. (You can see my Jane of the Jungle moment here.) 


{ Who wore it better: Me or TLC? }


After playing in the falls, we hung out in the natural spring pools—hands down the coolest and most refreshing water I had been in since arriving in Jamaica. (At this time of year, the ocean is so warm when you're close to shore that it's hardly refreshing.) I got to know two of the other couples on the trip a bit better over yet another round of Red Stripes as we waded and splashed in the pools before trekking back to Whitehouse. 


That afternoon we returned to the resort for some down time. First, I ate some really tasty jerk chicken in a hammock by myself. Then went paddle boarding, also by myself. Then I laid in the hammock some more (as one does in Jamaica), while listening to my semi-thematic #soloatsandals playlist


Later I met up with Ana to get some sun by one of the pools, but one of the daily thunderstorms rolled in rather ferociously and put an end to that pretty quickly. Rather than head in, we took shelter under a huge umbrella and had my butler Davian (oh yes, you can have a personal butler at Sandals) bring us some of Jamaica's famous (and crazy delicious) Blue Mountain coffee


As you might expect, the nights are when things got very #soloatsandals. After a group dinner (either planned or spontaneous—we linked up with a group of British and Canadian writers who were also mostly traveling alone, believe it or not), I'd head back to my room. Though the resort has bars and nightlife a-plenty, the idea of hitting the dance floor with honeymooners and lovers of all kinds was not all that appealing to me.

Instead, I'd take in the romantic display on my king size bed (towel swan, rose petals, tea lights) and then dig into the wine once more before falling asleep to Friends reruns. On our last night, I came home to see that my butler had drawn me a pretty elaborate bubble bath with roses and candles galore. Who would I be to resist such a spread? So I turned the lights down low, fixed myself a generous pour of red and took a soak with My Best Friend's Wedding playing loudly from the bedroom, as part of a Julia Roberts movie marathon. Did I tear up during the part when I knew Julia and Dermot Mulroney were on the river boat and going under the bridge? I'll let you guess.


All-in-all I had a pretty fabulous time with me, myself and I (and sort of everyone else). However, I do think it's very important to note that in our journeys to and from the resort, we got a fairly eye-opening glimpse at the real Jamaica. It is a very poor country, second only to Haiti in the Caribbean. With tourism ranking as one of the largest industries, it's interesting to note the dichotomy of how out of place you can feel here, but how vital all of these luxury resorts (that employ locals by the thousands) are to the economy. Given all that, the Jamaicans I met were some of the most welcoming, joyful, proud—and yes, laid back—people you could imagine. Against the odds, they made my stay feel authentic and special. Solo at Sandals? It ain't so bad.

3 comments:

  1. I know that you're being tongue in cheek, but it truly takes a secure person to travel alone (especially to a notoriously couples-y locale such as Sandals)! I think it speaks volumes about your confidence.

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  2. These pictures are amazing!! Alone or not looks like a fabulous time!
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