Jamaica Travel

Jamaica Travel

When I opened the bedroom door and peeped out to the bamboo table on the veranda, I saw our butler Reggie place something on the table.

Probably just setting two seats for Julie and me for our final breakfast at Knockando, I guessed. “Are you ready? I’m starving,” I told my wife. I knew Iva, the cook, had prepared fruit—freshly squeezed orange juice, bananas, pineapples and fall-apart-in-your-mouth papaya—just as she had the other mornings.

I looked again as we walked out the door. On the round table’s lazy susan in red, pipe-like flowers were the words Happy Anniversary.

In five days we’d spent huddled up at Knockando (pronounced NOK-un-do)—a private villa among the luxurious homes that cap Round Hill on the outskirts of Montego Bay, Jamaica—it was the little things that so endeared the villa’s six full-time employees to Julie and me. Little things like greeting us en masse when we first arrived; helping me climb out of the Toyota van that brought us from the airport; driving us to see the other villas around Montego Bay; and cooking and serving, without debate, the best 13 meals I have ever eaten in my life—jerk chicken, lobster, red snapper, shrimp, ackee and saltfish, cho cho, plantain and other succulent dishes. Little things like sharing their culture with us…and remembering our wedding anniversary.

Located 90 miles south of Cuba, the island of Jamaica is the largest English-speaking country in the Caribbean, approximately the size of Connecticut, with an estimated population of 2.7 million. The terrain is very mountainous, with much of the land rising above 1,000 feet. Complementing the mountains are valleys and plains that provide the backbone of the largely agricultural economy. A British colony until 1962, Jamaica chose to remain part of the British Commonwealth after gaining independence and still retains the queen of the United Kingdom as its constitutional monarch. The past 500 years have brought occupants from diverse cultures to Jamaica, however, and the country salutes its rich heritage through its national motto, Out of many, one people.

Living with cerebral palsy my whole life and walking with crutches for 20 years, I was unsure how a vacation in Jamaica would play out. For me, traveling through the Atlanta airport is a crapshoot, so I could only

imagine what the experience would be like in a developing country like Jamaica. Would I have to walk across the airport just to get out the door? Would I be able to get into the vehicle that would take me to my destination at Knockando? Would anybody care that I might need help maneuvering in a villa I had never seen before? Had the staff at the villa ever been around someone with a disability? Would I be able to take full advantage of staying in a luxurious place like Knockando, see all the rooms, move throughout the home without navigating stairs, and lounge by the private pool?

“No problem, Mon,” our driver assured me as he whisked us through the heart of Montego Bay (or Mo Bay, as the locals call it). To the right was the sky-blue ocean. To the left was greenery—lots of it, with banana trees, coconut trees and pimento trees.

We stopped at a gate bearing a sign with Round Hill written in script. “De visit de Knoc-n-du,” our driver told the guard in patois (PAT-wah), the rapid local dialect of English. The guard lifted the gate by hand and we scurried through on the one-lane road surrounded by stately houses. Around the final left turn were large, black iron gates with KNOCKANDO on a white and green sign.

We circled halfway around the drive and were greeted by the six people who would become our best friends over the next five days—the villa’s staff. Before I could get out of the van, they quickly introduced themselves: Iva, Reggie, Donald, Simon, Velma and Rosie.

Reggie and the driver grabbed my arms and helped me out of the white van. Little did I know, that would be the only step I would have to negotiate during my entire stay at Knockando.

Steps aren’t usually a big deal to me. I consider them exercise. But I’m honest with myself, too. Climbing a flight of steps regularly with crutches isn’t my ideal vacation. I breathed a sigh of relief as I toured the intimate but easy-to-navigate accommodations. “In a hotel, you have a lot of stairs or have to use the elevators,” said Shirley Russell, a housekeeper at Longview, one of the villas that neighbors Knockando. “Here at a villa, you get a lot of personal attention.”

Knockando is virtually staircase-free, except for one bedroom. Four other sleeping areas, three dining areas, a 1,300-square-foot veranda, lofted-ceiling living room and even the deck surrounding the 20x40-foot pool are entirely accessible for someone using a wheelchair. No bumps. No impossible inclines.

For people who prefer to leave their personal wheelchairs at home, Knockando comes equipped with a complimentary 1122 Jazzy electric wheelchair. A Rascal transportation cart is also available. I’d never used either, so I gave them a try. I didn’t think the ride across the half-brick, half-block veranda would be smooth, but it was.

Our butler Reggie quickly learned our preferences and catered to them through the rest of our stay—breakfast at 8:30 am, rum punch in the hottest part of the day, no avocados with the salad, reggae music continuously wafting from the home’s indoor-outdoor speaker system. He was on hand whenever we needed a ride or I needed assistance. Hearing Julie say just one time that she works for The Salvation Army in Atlanta, he went out of his way to drive us by the Montego Bay branch so she could snap a photo for her Atlanta coworkers. “A lot of people visit Jamaica, and many have been coming regularly for maybe 20 or 30 years,” he said. “They visit a nice place and want to come back. We want to make them feel welcome and happy.”

Reggie taught Julie and me a hint of the Jamaican language, patois. “We do fast English,” he said. “I’m slowing down now so you understand. To you I might say, ‘I’m going down the road.’ But to someone here I say, ‘I god’n th’road.’ It’s something you learn in school and part of the culture. It’s like in the states, where different areas have a different slang and you can tell where people are from by the way they talk.”

Bryan Langford, who runs Captain’s Watersports and Dive Centre at the beach club on Round Hill, conveniently came to see me after we arrived to find out what types of water sports I wanted to try. Later, he brought his dive instructor, Eugen Kumpfmüller, up to Knockando to give me an hour-long snorkeling lesson in the pool.....Continued in ABILITY Magazine

by Josh Pate

ABILITY Magazine
Other articles in the Paul Sorvino issue include Letter from the Editor — Alternative Medicine; Senator Grassley — A Good Deal for Seniors; Headlines — AFB, IBM and Technology Innovators; Humor — Why I’m Still Single; Media Access Awards — Disability in the Media; Employment — Your Boss is Not Your Mother; Asthma — What Everyone Should Know; Raisin’ the Roof! — ABILITY Build in Hawaii; Alternative Medicine — Laserpuncture; Recipes — Tasty Salads; The First Cut is the Deepest — Self-Injury; Events and Conferences... subscribe

More excerpts from the Paul Sorvino issue:

Paul Sorvino — Speaks About Goodfellas, Good Works and Good Breathing

Jamaica Travel — Accessible Travel

Policing the Justice System — A Call to Action

Aida Turturro — Tips for Diabetes

Employment — Your Boss is Not Your Mother

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