Ocho Rios, St. Ann Parish, Jamaica, West Indies, Earth
Jamaica is an island located in the Caribbean Sea, east of the America's and south of Cuba, part of a group of islands call the West Indies. This name came about when Christopher Columbus stumbled across the lush shores of one of the islands while trying to find China (he wanted to take advantage of his unpopular belief (that the Earth is round) by sailing west to get to the east, and so thought that he had found India).
Jamaica itself is separated into districts known as parishes. The inhabitants are mostly of African descent, with some Europeans and Americans as well. The language is a dialect of English, and the favourite music style is reggae.
Ocho Rios is located on the north coast of the island. It covers about 4 kilometers along the shore, extending a kilometer inland. The primary industry is tourism - there is a cruise ship dock on the west shore of Ocho Rios Bay, and numerous hotels and resorts (including Sandals Jamaica) are located in and around the city. The houses are a mix, as seen all over the island, of white adobe homes and multi-coloured corrugated metal shacks.
The weather is tropical - warm all year round, with a rainy season from May to July or so. Don't avoid it because it's a bit damp, though - less tourists make the bars and hotels and beaches less crowded, but beware of sun burn, since as soon as the weather clears you may want to catch some rays after partying to paleness. Summer-time is generally warmer than 30 degrees Celsius, and winter rarely sees snow.
Take care if driving - roads are narrow, bus drivers are enthusiastic at their work, and accidents abound. One thing to note for those younger travellers - you can't rent a car unless you are 25 Earth years old (and have proof, worse luck). And remember to drive on the left hand side of the road.
The name Ocho Rios is often thought to come from Spanish settlers and to mean eight rivers, but this is not the true origin. It is named after the waterfalls that are present all over the area, and is corrupted from the Spanish for waterfall. The European settlers killed off the native Arawaks, so you can only learn about them through museums and such.
If you do any walking about, lots of people will try to sell you souvenirs of your trip, lots of people, every one you meet, tons of them, all over the place, very insistently... well, you get the idea - their main business is tourism, after all. The only person not related to me that just wanted to talk was a Rastafarian who walked with us for a while - he had the longest dread-locks that I have ever seen! You too can do funky things with your hair, since one of the souvenirs on offer is hair braiding.
I'm not sure if the national sport is cricket, but it sure does a good imitation of it. There are only a couple of television stations local to the island, so you will be sure not to miss any updates if you watch for any time at all.
Fun things to do in and around Ocho Rios include (of course) swimming. The Caribbean is beautiful, warm, and clean. Or if you like the safety and wavelessness of a pool, most places will also have one. Fern Gully is an amazing couple of kilometers of twisty road embedded deep within a plethora of ferns and other flora. Go drive through it, but not if you are prone to car sickness, since you would spoil everyone else's enjoyment of the experience. The Dunn River empties into the sea just west of the city. There are guided tours to climb the falls - they offer special shoes to rent to climb, but if you have a pair of sport sandals they will do. Catamarans and glass bottom boats offer rides from the docks on the beach, and river rafting on the White River is also available. There are also the Green Grotto Caves just outside the city - a nice place to cool off.
The currency is the Jamaican dollar (100 cents make up a dollar). In May 1994 the Jamaican dollar was roughly $33 to one dollar US, and $22 to one dollar Canadian. Most places will prefer to take US money, even though it is not officially allowed, but you will surely enjoy holding hundreds of dollars at a time! You are asked not to take any Jamaican money out of the country. Hotels are reasonable for a tourist area - $60US a night - and apartments and condos are available for rent on a weekly basis. Taxis are a fixed rate per mile, or you can engage one for the day. The more adventuresome can try the mini-busses - flag one down and ask the price to where you wish to go, then hop on for a wild ride.
To get there you can fly in to Kingston on the south east coast, or Montego Bay on the north west, and then take a bus or rent a car. Hotels usually arrange for bus service to the airports - Sangster International in Mo Bay and Norman Manely in Kingston.
The tourist offices have tons of flyers and maps to help you get around and find places to eat. For choosing a place to dine, you can sometimes (especially around supper time) find someone willing to give you a recommendation, but they would like something for it also.
What to bring: sunblock, swim suits, t-shirts and shorts, hat and sunglasses, a camera with lots of film, money (should be travellers cheques if you're relying on cash and not credit - they do take Visa, Mastercard, and AMEX), towels (lots of them). But if you forget something, someone will be more than glad to sell it to you (especially t-shirts!).
Best time to go: spring or fall so that you don't get the worst of the sun or rain. Oh, yes, that's northern hemisphere seasons by the way.
Best time to leave: in time to catch your plane, boat, space ship, ride...
Things you should try: snorkeling, scuba diving, climbing Dunn's River Falls.
Things you should avoid: walking on the side of the road, ganga (marijuana) - since the police are very unhappy about its use.
Things you mustn't lose: All those fun papers that they made you fill out at the airport/on the plane/at your hotel, travellers cheques, the film from your camera (don't know what could happen to those pictures if they didn't remain in your tender care!).
All in all, a fun place to visit, get a tan, eat some jerk goat, hear some reggae, and maybe stay a few years.