After The Dubai Adventure, I thought a certain amount of caution might be in order for future visits from the standby fairy. My cunning plan, then, was to choose my destination only 24 hours ahead, once I could see seat availability, and to schedule a stay of only a couple of days, so any extension would be a bonus rather than a pain.

The downside of this approach was that I might fly quite a long way to spend only a couple of days at the destination. The upside was that I wouldn't accidentally emigrate.

I knew from business trips that you can experience a fair bit in a short time if you're organised. The majority of the trips in this blog were business trips, where my free time typically ranged from a couple of hours to a day, but I don't think you'd necessarily guess that from what I managed to see and do.

I was wary of destinations without daily flights, as a Dubai-style experience could see me stranded for several weeks, However, I was persuaded that if I was leaving it until the last minute and there was lots of availability on a return flight two or three days out, that ought to be safe. Ish.

Thursday rolled around, and Jamaica looked like a good bet. I'd be flying out on the Friday, arriving at 5pm local, and (probably) departing just over 48 hours later. Which left me with some rapid planning to do ...

Swimming with dolphins had long been on my bucket list, and this was my chance to do it. Some googling, email correspondence and a phone call later, it was all arranged for the Saturday afternoon, with a trip to Dunns Falls - apparently Jamaica's most popular natural attraction - thrown in.


There was no drama getting onto the outbound flight, online check-in reporting that the computer said yes. I was upgraded to Premium, and managed entry to the Clubhouse too.

It was a comfortable flight, and I enjoyed a few films. Twelve Years a Slave would be my top recommendation: not easy viewing, but a very powerful movie.

Nine hours later, this was my welcome to Jamaica:

I looked around for a refund kiosk without success, then checked the weather forecast.

Google's default weather supplier was rubbish.

I found a better deal at my usual purveyor of weather, and decided to give accuweather my business. Though their RealFeel product was taking things a bit far.

My hotel room was basic but clean, and had everything I needed: wifi and air-conditioning. They even threw in a bed and a bathroom, which was a nice touch.

Interestingly, while was my saviour for on-the-day bookings, it couldn't compete with even one day ahead. I did briefly consider just landing at Montego Bay and hitting the airport wifi to find a hotel on the spot, but decided not to push my luck too far!

The hotel receptionist was very friendly, and when I asked for a recommendation for a non-touristy bar/restaurant, suggested one just round the corner. This did indeed prove to be 100% tourist-free - well, until I arrived to clutter up the place. Curried goat was ordered, along with a red wine that was anonymous but perfectly drinkable.

The bar had a good sound system. The locals seemed to favour Rihanna, so some negotiations were held for a few Bob Marley tracks, just so I knew I'd arrived.

I managed to stay awake until 9.30pm local, which was 3.30am UK time.


My body-clock being on UK time worked out well in helping me get the most from my limited time there: I woke at 3.30am, so would be able to enjoy the sunrise at 5.30am.

There were no signs of life in my hotel at 5am, but the beach was a short walk away. However, I didn't get far before a chat with Rambo, a guy with a street stall selling water (and cigarettes and ganja, which he also attempted to sell me). He suggested that while the road I was on was ok, wandering down to the beach on my own in the dark was ill-advised.

I do have a certain record for ignoring such advice (cf. Jo'burg, Soweto, Sao Paolo, Delhi, et al), but it sounded like he meant it. Another local who stopped off to buy cigarettes agreed, so I opted to enjoy the sunrise from my hotel. The setting might be less picturescque than a beach, but I would get to retain possession of my camera ...

The sunrise, when it arrived, was unspectacular but it was very pleasant sitting outside in the warm watching it.

Then all I had to do was wait for the breakfast bar to open at 7am. This is not a familiar experience for me. When it did open, business at that hour was not overly brisk.

I don't usually do nature, but when in Rome and all that ...

Ok, that's enough green stuff.

I generally like to explore local transport, but figured efficiency trumped exploration on such a tight schedule, so took up the offer of a US$20 shuttle for the 50-mile trip to Dolphin Cove.

The trip to Dolphin Cove included a stop at Dunns Falls, with the opportunity to go for a rather soggy version of scrambling, clambering from the bottom of the falls to the top.

The falls are pretty steep, falling 600 feet vertically in 1000 feet horizontally; some of the pools you wade through are waist deep; and all of the rocks you're scrambling up are wet and slippery.

The obvious thing to do, then, was to go scrambling up it with almost £5k's worth of camera round my neck. Hey, I used to rock-climb, this is just scrambling, it'll be fine.

The rest of the group was looking at me like I was ... well, I guess like I was about to walk up a waterfall with an expensive camera round my neck. The guide, though, said most of it would probably be ok. So that was reassuring.

Which it was, despite one or two moments when I found myself wondering what Nikon's precise definition might be for the term 'weatherproof'.

Both the falls themselves and the surrounding green stuff is very impressive, so the camera was a welcome companion.

Some of the group were doing the wettest possible version of the climb ...

While I occasionally handed my camera to the guide for a more modest approach. (I know, me on the wrong side of the camera!)

Onwards and upwards.

Until the top was reached. No Nikon D3s were harmed in the making of this blog entry. I generally stay firmly behind the camera, but within the space of an hour found myself in front of it not just once but twice!

Climbing the falls is a hugely fun experience which I highly recommend to anyone visiting the island.

The main event

Dolphin Cove was a very short drive from the falls, and we arrived there with about 45 mins to spare before my swim with same. I took advantage of the time to go wading with a stingray, and was instructed on how to invite them to come and snuggle up to you. Was this information I wanted?

"Stay relaxed, they can sense fear." Thanks - that information greatly assisted me in relaxing ... They do feel as slimey as they look, by the way.

I also said hello to another local.

Then it was time to go meet the dolphins. There are 17 of them at the cove, and I had an appointment to meet two of them.

Mitch, the male dolphin, was a rescue. He was badly injured by a boat and needed to be nursed back to health. His girlfriend was born at the cove as part of a breeding programme.

They are incredible creatures. Mostly muscle, it was obvious that they could break you in two as soon as look at you, but such was their reputation for gentleness that I didn't ever experience a moment of apprehension.

Swimming and playing with (or perhaps more accurately, being played with by) the dolphins was, quite simply, one of the coolest experiences of my life. I'll let the photos do the talking.

I did try to persuade them to come home with me, but apparently they favour Carribean waters over the Thames.

Sitting down for a cold drink afterwards, a girl of about five* wandered over, pointed at my camera on the table and pointed at herself, with a smile. It appeared duty called. I carry cards with the address of my blog to hand out to people I meet, so I gave one to her mum.

[*I'm absolutely rubbish at guessing the age of children, so 'five' is shorthand for 'somewhere between two and ten, probably'.]

Last night's bar had great food, great company and decent wine, so I decided to make it my local. The food was again excellent, and they somehow found a really nice bottle of Pinot Noir that hadn't been there the previous night.

I'd chatted with 6 or 7 locals the night before, but now it seemed the whole bar knew my name. Since I'd only had a couple of glasses of wine, I was pretty sure I hadn't done anything to earn such notoriety, but on enquiring it turned out to be nothing more than the fact that most tourists in the area don't venture outside their hotels to eat at night.

I lasted until midnight, now being somewhere between time-zones.

I attempted online check-in for the following evening's flight, and was pleased to see the message You are now checked-in rather than We are unable to check you in at this time. You can try at the airport if you're feeling lucky, punk. (I may be paraphrasing slightly).

I also arranged with the hotel for a late check-out, so I could leave my things in the room and grab a shower at the end of the day before heading to the airport. I then fell asleep within about 30 seconds of my head hitting the pillow.


I woke at 5.30am, and again had the unusual experience of waiting for the breakfast bar to open.

I love to wander the backstreets when travelling, but with limited time available and several areas I wanted to visit, I hatched a cunning plan. I did a deal with a local taxi driver, Sammy, to book him for the day, so that he could drop me at the first place I wanted to visit, leave me to wander round for a while then pick me up and take me to the next place.

The deal was US$75, including the airport via my hotel. He did such a great job that I bumped it up to US$100. If you ever need a driver in Montego Bay, give Sammy a call on ##### - I can highly recommend him.

I'd had a couple of recommendations for Church Street. Sammy was puzzled by this, as he said it was a pretty ordinary street, but as soon as we turned into it I could see why it had been recommended.

It was a whole street full of the kind of faded glory I really enjoy. Buildings from the colonial days that had all seen better times but had a delightful shabby chic look.

What seemed an odd juxposition of charming wooden buildings with rough-looking corrugated iron roofs!

Jamaicans love coloured buildings!

Sammy thought I'd like the church after which the street was named. This seemed unlikely, but it was apparently quite the local attraction, so we popped in.

What is an unusual sight in Jamaica is as standard an English church as you could find - with one minor modification.

A better bet was a grand old house set atop a hill, with a view across the entire bay.

I wouldn't mind this as a holiday home ...

Unsurprisingly, it now earns its living as a wedding venue.

Next up was the fisherman's beach, where catches are landed, prepared and can even be cooked for you there and then.

I was filled with admiration for the efficiency of a popular local fishing method: stick some bait in a netted cage with a small opening, dump them on the sea bed and return to collect them a day or two later when they are full of fish.

I'd asked to visit the port, but there wasn't much to see at the time; it apparently gets pretty chaotic when a cruise liner arrives and you can have hundreds of passengers all wanting taxis at the same time. Personally, I can't imagine anything worse than a cruise: basically stuck in a hotel and told when and where you're allowed out.

These days, most cars in Jamaica are Japanese or American, but there are some reminders of the days when they were all British.

Sammy said that his first car was an Austin Cambridge, the same car my grandmother drove for many years.

After the port, Sammy took me on a tour of, well, pretty much the whole of Montego Bay, suburbs included. Most places, he left me to wander. A few places, I noticed he was shadowing me pretty closely in the car, and there were a couple of places where he said I should stay in the car as otherwise my camera would be grabbed within moments.

Interestingly, the love of bright colours was a common theme across the socioeconomic spectrum.

Jamaicans have a great approach to the property ladder. Land is cheap, so you buy a decent plot of land and build something small on it. When you have more money available, instead of selling up and buying something bigger, you simply extend your existing home. Upwards or outwards or both.

With several train geek friends, I thought it was my duty to find out whether there was anything remaining of the train station the town once had. The short answer was 'not a great deal.' One train carriage skeleton quietly rusting away - in one of the 'Don't get out of the car' areas.

The few pieces of track that escaped the scavangers were doing much the same.

Said train geek friends will probably cry at the sight.

Then it was time for a late lunch, before heading back to the hotel. I said I fancied one last jerk pork, and Sammy said he knew just the place.

He wasn't wrong, it was the best I've ever had.

Sammy dropped me back at my hotel and I arranged for him to return in an hour, giving me a chance to pack, have a shower and get changed. The airport was then a short drive.

A lounge visit provided an opportunity to use a business centre laptop to copy the DVD video and CD of photos to a USB key (my MacBook Pro has a second hard drive in place of the DVD recorder).

I was checked in as Economy but told to expect an upgrade to Premium at the gate, which did indeed materialise.

The flight home gave me a chance to process the day's photos and write the blog. Didn't get much sleep, but I rarely have problems with jet-lag when flying east - I just stay up until around 10pm and then end up more-or-less back on UK time by the following day.

And that was my brief but fantastic visit to Jamaica. I should have time for one final standby trip before the opportunity expires. Watch this space.