Our travels back yesterday went as well as they could go.
It was still a long day- we left the villa at 8:15 a.m. and pulled up in our driveway at 6:30 p.m. Our plane was delayed in Jamaica (thank god for the VIP lounge with open bar, buffet, wifi, and kids' playroom behind soundproof glass). Customs in Dallas was long and full of lines. It took forever for a bus to arrive to take us to our offsite parking spot and then we live an hour from the airport. But the kids were troopers and there weren't any fits or tears or really anything I can complain about. And though we're sad to have to pay for 5 plane tickets for every trip in the future, we're also super happy to never have a "lap baby" again. Cora was great, but she really doesn't fit in our laps for a 4 hour plane ride.
She was skeptical from the beginning.
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It is now 8:30 p.m. and I'm finally getting to write again, proving that my home life does not involve enough nannies. Claire told Miss Tash she wanted to bring her home in her suitcase, but that didn't work out. The kids are as sad about this as we are. On the upside, one Bluefields amenity did come home with us- all of our clothes were washed and folded nightly throughout the trip, so I had all our bags unpacked about an hour after arriving home with only one small pile of laundry. Five people went on vacation for six days and I didn't even have enough for a small load. Bluefields is a place of magic.
Let's go back.
We stayed in Cottonwood Cottage. I can't think of any place more perfect. It's cozy, really just two bedrooms and two bathrooms, with a living room in the back connecting the two, and small kitchen of on the side, but the rooms were huge and both had spectacular views and 100% Cora-safe bars across the open windows.
They added a beautiful wood crib to the kids' room and all three fit perfectly in the space. They had their own bathroom and dressing room that they loved and we barely saw since we didn't bathe or dress them.
One of the best parts of Cottonwood is the tree house midway down a flight of steps to the beach where we ate our meals, lounged midday, and sometimes sat at night after the kids went to bed. In addition to the big table and casual seating area, it had a beautiful bar with more of my tea in the morning and champagne the rest of the day, plus a bathroom so you didn't have to trek up to the house from the beach.
If you took the steps the rest of the way down, you landed directly on our beach, complete with hammock, lounge chairs, and a beach attendant with towels, cooler of drinks, and blender for daiquiris. And kayaks and paddle boards and snorkels, masks, and fins. And that blender.
The pool was steps away, to the left of the house behind a little row of bushes. The view was spectacular. Cora loved it and I drank champagne on a float most afternoons. I miss all of those things.
We ate all of our meals in the tree house. Views all around, the ocean crashing, amazing food arriving over multiple courses that I did not prepare. Maybe I miss the tree house the most.
The food was really wonderful. Each night the head of house would go over the next day's menu with me. We don't have any allergies, but I have annoyingly long list of foods I don't like, including coconut, curry, anything spicy, and shrimp, all of which popped up on the suggested menu, but the staff was awesome at suggesting substitutions and alternatives. I loved how many local dishes and ingredients we got to try- ackee, salt fish, callalloo, chocho, breadfruit, and more, but there was always something familiar and approachable about each plate.
For example, in one day we had ackee and saltfish egg scramble with crepes and fruit (breakfast; probably my favorite one); spiced beef crepes, roasted vegetables, Jamaican fried rice (lunch); cream of zucchini soup, mango salad, roasted rack of lamb with a red wine sauce, scalloped potatoes, roasted vegetables (dinner); and always a dessert made from scratch like grilled mango topped cheesecake or pineapple crumble. Our chef Sheldon tweaked the menu for James once he learned how much he likes things spicy, saucy, and large in quantity; they would joke through the kitchen window as we walked in and out of the house throughout the afternoon and Sheldon would always promise, "oh am I making something for you Mr. James!" and he always did.
The kids had virgin daiquiris with always changing fruit combinations nearly hourly. Since breakfast wasn't served until after the house staff arrived at 8, the chef always left some muffins or breakfast bread on the bar in the living room to have first thing. And most importantly, the night butler brewed a giant pot of fresh black tea at some mysterious time, always right before I walked out in the morning.
6:30 a.m. on day 1; feet in sand, tea in hand
No one made me tea this morning.
It was so wonderful because it was so seamless. Easy, never stilted or formal, always with the waves crashing in the background and spectacular views beckoning from every direction. Within 24 hours we had a rhythm and general familiarity with the 8-10 people who worked in and around our villa and everything just worked. Like when you're at a high end resort, but without ever having to interact with other guests or wait for a certain schedule for anything.
We did a few extras- the glass bottom boat and coral reef snorkel trip on Monday and the Black River and YS Falls on Tuesday. On Wednesday we took advantage of the free "nature walk" up the "hill" behind the resort. The walk was more of a climb up a small mountain in a tropical jungle full of humidity and bugs, but I'm so glad we did it. One, because it was my only exercise of the trip and I'm still sore, but mostly because we got such an interesting look at "how Jamaica lives" (as our guide described it).
As we rambled through the woods, we saw ackee and breadfruit trees. Our guide climbed up one, cut down a breadfruit, and carried for a while before handing off to a man to deliver to his mother to use for lunch. We saw houses scattered haphazardly throughout the hill and even got a tour of one from a friend of the resort- our guide was chatty and we learned a lot about daily life. We saw goats, chickens, and even a pig roaming freely and we went from dark forest with caves to breathtaking views in mere steps.
3 miles, 90 minutes, a lot of vertical feet and mosquito bites later and we were back across the street from our villa and very ready for breakfast.
Wednesday was also my favorite night of the trip. After a day of snorkeling (as it turns out the coral right off our beach was just as amazing as the reef we boated to on Monday; we found a stingray, eel, a trio of lionfish, and a TON of big starfish; so fun), swimming, throwing Cora around in the pool, drinking beverages, and napping, we found the kids eating dinner in the living room at 6 p.m. This was new and the staff said they had a surprise for us for dinner. And oh did they.
We got ready and came down to the tree house at sunset to find a trail of balloons and candles leading all the way to the beach where a candlelight dinner for two was set up near the water for our anniversary.
It was amazing.
So sweet, SO good (chilled watercress soup, garlic toast, filet mignon and lobster, twice baked potatoes, and veggies). And then our chef brought down a chocolate cake he'd made and decorated that afternoon. We were so touched and invited him and our butler to share- extra plates were produced immediately and then we sent the rest of the cake back up to the house for everyone else. We lingered over our cake and champagne and the ocean and I just can't imagine a better way to celebrate 10 years of marriage with my love.
And then it was made even better by our nanny arriving by 6 the next morning to whisk the kids off for a walk on the beach before we even knew they were awake. Perhaps the biggest luxury of the trip was how often and easily we eased between making memories with our kids to not knowing where they were and not having to care.
A decade ago we were in Jamaica for our honeymoon.
And 10 years of changes with four moves, two graduate degrees, and three babies later, we were back with our whole party pack.
We'll never forget it.
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