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| Ocho Rios
Excerpted from the book, Tour Jamaica, by Margaret Morris
OCHO RIOS, or "Ochee" as it is
known locally, has experienced such explosive growth over the last decade
that few people can recall the sleepy fishing village, bauxite port and
stream-laced nirvana that once existed. Today it is a high density town
of concrete hotels, condominium complexes, office blocks, multiple shopping
centres and extreme traffic congestion but still one of the favourite cruise
ship ports in the Caribbean. The economy of the town is based almost entirely
on tourism. The Urban Development Corporation, a government company responsible
for much of the development still plays a central role, assisted by the
St. Ann Development Company, directors of which include prominent local
citizens sympathetic to the incumbent government. The vigorous St. Ann Chamber
of Commerce, representing a wide cross section of business and tourism entities
attempts to monitor and guide development of the town. The government owns
3000 acres of land on the west of the town near Dunns River and an incomparable
beach at Laughing Waters. This area is slated for development and there
is talk of another resort town, a twin for Ocho Rios. Squatters on government
land, lured by the promise of tourism employment are one of several environmental
Ocho Rios and its environs offer a wide variety of visitor accommodation. Two adjacent multi-storey hotels on Ocho Rios bay were cleverly "married" to produce the Jamaica Grande: with 720 rooms it is the island's largest hotel, while extensive conference facilities, state of the art "Jamaica'n Me Crazy" disco, clover-shaped pool fed by a 26 foot artificial waterfall, etc. make it one of the most impressive.
The all-inclusive genre is represented by Sandals Dunns River, Couples
and Ciboney; small inns include Mantalent Inn and Almond Tree; Shaw Park
Beach Hotel is popular and versatile, and the range of self-catering condominiums
includes Turtle Towers, Fisherman's Point, Sandcastles, Sombra and Columbus
Heights. Two unique properties are Enchanted Gardens (with icy natural waterfalls
and steaming open air jacuzzis) and posh Jamaica Inn situated on what is
arguably the best beach on the north coast and so small and successful that
it does not need to advertise.
Ocho Rios welcomes over a thousand cruise ship passengers every week.
Most of these are whisked away to various attractions on pre-booked tours
or taken shopping at plazas like Soni or Taj Mahal, the last being an architectural
parody of Indiaís matchless tomb strategically placed opposite the
exit from the pier. Plaza owners pay bus and taxi drivers "a money"
for each tourist delivered inside one of these plazas - a fact that infuriates
shopkeepers in less affluent locations. There are four official craft markets
in Ocho Rios and an illegal one along Fern Gulley, which, by the time of
printing, may well have been displaced by The Ocho Rios Clean-up campaign
instigated in June 1995.
Ochee swings at night with discos and bars, live bands and floor shows
at most hotels. Top class artistes are frequently presented in concert at
showman Keith Foote's Little Pub on main street.
PLACES OF INTEREST
SHAW PARK GARDENS, high on the hill overlooking the town can be a beautiful and relaxing experience. Acres of lawns and terraces tumble down the hillside and are enhanced by an interesting variety of native and imported trees, decorative shrubs and roses (to Jamaicans garden flowers are "roses" and wild flowers are "bush"). There is a bar if you are thirsty, a cascading stream to splash in if you are hot, and even a tame hummingbird that enjoys hamming it up for photographers.
PROSPECT PLANTATION: Tour the estate of the
late Sir Harold Mitchell, British author, industrialist and politician for
an introduction to local flora and crops such as banana, cassava, pimento
(allspice), coconuts and limes. The tractor-drawn jitney will pause at spectacular
views like the White River gorge where Jamaica's first hydro-electric plant
was built, or Sir Harold's Viewpoint - from where, on a clear day you can
see 90 miles across the sea to Cuba. The tour is conducted by a cadet from
the Prospect Cadet Training Centre, a school founded by Sir Harold for the
sons of less privileged Jamaicans. The curriculum includes music, first
aid, riding, swimming and self-reliance skills along with academic subjects.
The tour ends at the beautiful Prospect Chapel, which is non-denominational
and built with stone and wood from the estate. In the grounds are trees
planted by many famous visitors: Charlie Chaplin, Winston Churchill, Pierre
Trudeau and Henry Kissinger to name a few. Also sited at Prospect is the
St John's Ambulance Brigade, a non-profit organization which provides ambulance
service. St Johnís able supervisor Mrs Audrey Whitehorne also organizes
First Aid and Home Nursing courses for schools and hotel staff.
HARMONY HALL originally the great house of a small pimento plantation was restored and embellished to provide a showcase for Jamaican art and craft. Catalyst for the project was Annabella Proudlock, assisted by a group of friends and friendly business firms. Works of internationally acclaimed artists can be seen here including pieces by Jamaican Primitives nowadays called Intuitives among them Albert Artwell, Brother Everald Brown and the late Kapo. There are shows every month during the tourist season and craft fairs at Easter and on Independence Day (August 1st). Laminated Annabella Boxes a popular gift item that originated here. A moderately priced pub-style restaurant and bar is an added attraction.
DUNNS RIVER is the island's premier attraction, visited by almost a million persons annually. It is a place of unique beauty where the river dances down a giant limestone staircase to a white sand beach and warm blue sea. Climbing the falls with a guide is easier than it looks but there are ordinary steps with hand rails and wooden observation decks for the non-athletic. Guides will offer to carry your cameras and take snaps as you frolic in the foam. In the river there are pools to swim in, caves behind falls, and mini-whirlpools. Colourful shrubs, ferns, palms and huge shade trees grow above, beside and even in the river. There are also a beach, changing rooms and lockers. In the sea, the mixture of icy river water and warm salt water makes for exhilarating swimming. On cruise ship days you may have to queue to climb the falls.
RAFTING ON THE WHITE RIVER: turn south into the hills at the White River Bridge and follow the signs to Calypso Rafting. The trip on a bam-boo raft takes about 45 minutes to the mouth of the river with the option of a dip at a swimming hole.
JAZZ FESTIVAL: For two weeks in June the Ocho Rios Jazz festival presents outstanding local and international jazz artist at different venues.
GOLF: At Sandals Golf & Country Club in the hills nearby - turn inland at the bridge over the White River. The 18 hole par 71 course and clubhouse have recently been revamped and a gourmet restaurant added. Sandals guests play free but other visitors are welcome and pay a green fee.
Super Clubs Golf Club at Runaway Bay is an 18 hole par 72 championship
course. Visitors welcome and pay a green fee. Driving range and practice
greens. Resident Pro Seymour Rose is considered one of the longest hitters
in the world.
OCHEE'S BAUXITE ROOTS
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