jamaica-flag_web.jpgKINGSTON, JAMAICA – The holiday season is when we typically spend quality time with family and friends. So when a dear friend invited me and my mother (her first trip to the country) to join him and his mother in Jamaica for Christmas and New Year’s, the decision to head to the sunny, warm, lush and laid-back Caribbean island was not difficult.

Unlike many whose destinations are the resort areas of Ocho Rios, Negril and Montego Bay, we called the capital city of Kingston “home” for seven days of exploration, taking on the precarious mountain roads and sharing experiences of new friends and flavorful foods.

We took to the fresh fruit and vegetable stands scattered throughout the city and hillsides like kids to a candy store! What a treat sharing the experience with my mom of sipping milk directly from a freshly-cut coconut and munching on chunks of sugar cane. 

There is something almost decadent about eating a tangerine, a banana or my new favorite fruit, the june plum, while taking in the vibrant shades of green and yellow of the surrounding palm trees, the bright orange and red of tropical flowers, and gazing up to see the rolling hills of the blue mountains on the horizon. (Yes, the Blue Mountain coffee is “to die for.”)

During the week, I experienced ackee, callalloo, a variety of very, very hot peppers, and a host of other tropical fruits foreign to my tongue.

Bypassing the diving, snorkeling and beach frolicking offered by many oceanside resorts, we discovered amazing nuggets of history.  No trip to Kingston would be complete without a stop at what was known as the “richest and wickedest city in the world.”

Long before there was Las Vegas, there was Port Royal. According to the Jamaica National Heritage Trust, Port Royal was once the virtual capital of Jamaica. Founded in 1650, it is home to Fort Charles, which was captured by the English in 1655 and served as a strategic military and naval base. The community was destroyed in 1692 during a massive earthquake.

Visiting such a site with a new family friend has some benefits. It turns out that a long-time friend of my host was born and raised in Port Royal! When we arrived in the district, a “friend of a friend” allowed us to enter the past, stepping inside the ancient St. Peter’s Church, which is currently closed for renovations.

We learned of the history of Lewis Galdy, buried at the church; said to have been swallowed in the great quake of 1692, then spit back into the sea when the earth opened back up.  He lived to tell the tale.  And the next time you sip Capt. Morgan’s Rum, consider that Sir Henry Morgan was a buccaneer whose fleets were known for plunder and trade.  The famous pirate also served as a lieutenant governor of Jamaica. Our impromptu guide even showed us a set of silver that purportedly belonged to Morgan himself!

But like any holiday season, this trip was special not for the history, not for the Caribbean environment, but rather because it was spent with good friends; sharing food,  friendship and love and making my small family feel like part of their extended family.

Happy New Year, everyone!

Editor’s Note: Julia Yarbough, a former news anchor at NBC 6, writes periodically on her outdoor and other adventures. To read more of Julia’s columns, log onto SFLTimes.com.