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Serendipitous Jamaica

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Trading the beach for the rainforest.

It is stupid cold and there is snow on the ground in Connecticut so I thought why not grab a cup of tea and close out 2017 by writing this long overdue post about one of the best things I did this year: I went to Jamaica!

Let me set the mood. It was July and I was tired. My soul was weary.

Between the national foolishness that by then was seven months young and a spring spent doing the absolute most in the best way possible,  my spirit was parched. And to top it all off, I was physically coming down with some type of bug.

But Jamaica.

My wonderful friend, hairstylist, and favorite Jamaican Karaine “Kay” Holness had let

Kay

Kay makes friends everywhere.

me and another friend and client know months prior that she was planning her annual trip home.She has made the pilgrimage every year since 1999 with a travel group she founded called Sistahs Jammin’. She told us that this year’s trip would be different from any previous one —  no turn-up, no structured days. Then she showed us the small boutique resort high up in the Jamaican Blue Mountains where we would be staying. We jumped at the chance to go.

It wouldn’t be my first trip to Jamaica. I had the pleasure of spending some time in Negril several years ago. But this was going to be different

I’d known I needed a retreat — unplug back when I said yes. So you can imagine how much I needed it by July. I was more than ready to lay my burdens down and pick up my carry-on bag.

And for seven days and six nights, we did just that.

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Best travel squad.

I must confess, the idea of group travel kind of makes my ass itch. I knew two of the women on the trip would be cool. But the other two? I didn’t know them.

Would they want to do a thousand things together? Would they be incessantly picky about everything? Would we all grow to hate each other and fall out? All possibilities. All wasted energy. Nothing close to my concerns ever happened. Because serendipity.

Serendipity is defined as “the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way.” It also is the name of the resort where we stayed. And it is where we each reconnected with Markeshia, Babz, Karaine, Jackie, and Sharon.

At home in Connecticut, we are mothers, daughters, sisters, citizens, employees, business owners, lovers, and friends. We are all the things we do for others but don’t do for ourselves. We were all our secret anxieties and fears.

And we were a tired lot when we touched down in Kingston. But as soon as the heat and humidity of a Jamaican morning hit us, instantly creating a light dew on our skin, we began to unfurl like flowers greeting the sun.

It takes a harrowing ride from Kingston up into the Blue Mountains to get to Serendipity Holistic Resort. And this ride is not for the faint of heart honey. But when I tell you it is worth it, I mean it.

IMG_5500.jpgI don’t think anyone of us realized that our resort would be literally carved into a lush rainforest teeming with the sounds of animals, birds and the occasional falling mango.

We had the whole place to ourselves for the most part and we hadn’t counted on that. But serendipity.

We also hadn’t counted on every day that we would rise to the sound of the rushing water that flowed through the small waterfalls on the property. And the rooster. Never forget the rooster.

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I never thought that every night we’d want to come together and have amazing Jamaican dinners and laugh over the day’s adventures before tucking into the most comfortable beds at 9 p.m. or earlier.

Or that we’d rise early, for a first breakfast of the most delicious fruit our mouths had stopped to enjoy in a long time, with the juice dripping down our arms. And that at second breakfast, we’d linger over Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee so good that we’d often plot how to save the world one cup at a time.

There was time for hiking, swimming naked in a very cold waterfall, getting sunburned and being covered in the healing love of sisterhood and aloe. There was time for reading, coloring, sleeping, and yoga. There was time to think without all the responsibilities drowning out that still small voice.

And more importantly, there was time to discover the sound of our own laughter, the refreshing freedom of tears, and to listen to those hopes and dreams that we’d tucked away for someday.

The resort’s owner, who we serendipitously discovered was someone that our friend Kay knew from their younger years in Jamaica, would open her beautiful home on the property to us. And then she would teach us many things.

IMG_5550.jpgTwo things she said have stuck with me since we’ve returned home. My paraphrase of what she said is this: Guard your peace dangerously and do not leave this earth without knowing you are loved.

We would realize that everything about the resort — all of its natural beauty, the way that all of the cabins are designed, and the amenities offered — was designed with teaching these two principles to all those who want to learn such powerful things.

As I told Kay after the trip, Jamaica owes me nothing. I arrived nearly empty and left so incredibly full. Jamaica taught me the way. It’s up to me to keep up the practice.

Click below to hear what the sistahs of Sistahs Jammin 2017 had to say about the trip in this episode of LoveBabz LoveTalk on WNHH radio.

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Tidbit Tuesday: Thrifty Travels to Toronto

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We’re back from Toronto, and can we just say we absolutely loved Caribana and the city?! The Caribbean pride coupled with beautiful architecture, walkable streets, and good food captured our hearts.

We arrived on Thursday evening, checked into our hotel and decided to stay in. Our 8 hour drive stretched into 12 hours due to construction and traffic, so we were pooped. Friday, we set out early to have breakfast at Sunset Grill (yummy local option), walked around downtown a bit, then settled into an evening of festivities as we enjoyed the music at a day party and then the live steelpan band performances at Panalive. Saturday  we  spent the majority of the day at the Caribana parade and spent the evening walking and resting. Sunday, we stopped at Niagara Falls before heading home.

20130803_125835We planned to travel with two other friends, but each had to bow out of the trip for different reasons. Of course having two other people share the cost would have saved money, but even photo (15)with the two of us we made the trip happen for $547 per person, which included hotel, gas, food, hotel parking (which was ridiculously expensive), tickets to the day party, tickets to Panalive steel drum competition, a little shopping, and souvenirs. We wish you could have seen the 15 second dance party we had when we realized we stayed UNDER budget! Woop Woop!

Costs add up quickly, and sometimes it may feel like you have little control over how much you spend…but don’t fret! Before you plan your next trip, consider these tips to keep you under budget.

  1. Use Hotwire to find hotels:  If you’re not familiar with Hotwire, you should be! The way it works is you search for hotels in a particular area. Hotwire will show you rates for anonymous hotels with different star ratings, and you pick one. Once you pay, they reveal the hotel. Yes, we know that’s scary for some folks, but have the thrifty chicks ever steered you wrong? So far, we have a 100% success rate with Hotwire.  We stayed at the Eaton Chelsea on Gerrard Street, which is right downtown. Total hotel cost with travel insurance: $298 for three nights.
  2.  If you’re close, drive: Full disclosure: driving can be a pain, and when we go back to Toronto, we’ll likely fly. With that 20130802_164826being said, however, it was a cheap way to get there and aside from annoying construction and a little traffic, it was relatively uneventful.  The good: driving gave us the flexibility to leave when we wanted to, which was a godsend because Ricks was sick the night before. The bad: driving takes a LOT out of you. Once we got to Toronto, we didn’t have the energy to do much the first evening.  But it was cheap…we drove to Toronto and back to Virginia for $180.
  3. Try walking before taking a cab: We probably walked about 20 miles while we were in Toronto. Besides the streets being walkable, we did our research and learned that Toronto is a really safe city, with crime rates lower than where we live. Because we were staying downtown, we were able to walk to nearly every place we wanted to be and only took a cab twice. Cabs in Toronto were really expensive, so we opted to walk instead, which gave us an opportunity to see more of the city, get some exercise, and save money.
  4. 20130803_195819When in doubt, ask about portion sizes: We didn’t spend a ton on food over the weekend, but there were definitely times when we wasted food because we ordered too much. For example, at Panalive, we each bought curry chicken and rice for $10 at the stadium, but ended up eating only half of it because it was so much. We definitely could have split it.  Consider ordering less and sharing. Worst case scenario? You’re still hungry and you order more food.
  5. Plan to splurge: The thrifty chicks love sushi, and we give mad side eye to sketchy looking sushi places. While in Toronto, we realized we have sushi on nearly every trip we take. This is our thing. We might eat fairly inexpensive meals for most of the trip, but we give ourselves room to splurge on a really nice sushi meal.
  6. If the forecast says rain, believe it: So, we knew there was a chance of rain. We also knew Toronto has a milder temperature than D.C. Ask us did we pack umbrellas or jackets….go ahead. ask. hmm? No, we did not. We packed cardigans, which worked well against the chilliness, but our trusty denim jackets would have been better. It rained during the day party, and with no umbrellas, we got a little wet. Wishing for sunshine might work, but you should be prepared if it doesn’t.

20130804_115317We’re going back to Caribana next year with umbrellas, rain jackets, and a crew of our sister-friends! We had a great time in the city and looking forward to even better times on the next trip.

Do you have thrifty traveling tips? Share with us!

Until next time,

R&R