Monday, October 20, 2008

Score One For Jesus !! - Tea Time Reading at The Blue House in Ocho Rios Jamaica

It's Tea Time at The Blue House in Ocho Rios Jamaica and I just read this news article in the Gleaner and was moved to share it :

In case the link isn't maintained, I've cut and pasted the story below.

Long read but really uplifting. Hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Standing in a narrow dirt lane bordered by rusting zinc fences, Norman Lewin doesn't seem to fit in. His shoes are black and shiny and his long-sleeved shirt looks like something you would wear to a wedding. But here in the politically segregated Spanish Town community called Rivoli, Lewin is a beloved figure. He is pastor of the local Kingdom Builders Open Bible Church and his unorthodox tactics have won him the hearts of the St Catherine community's residents, young and old.

I don't believe that you have to stay inside the confines of the church building in order to get people over to God. I believe in taking a more hands-on approach, he said, standing near the fence of a home next to the church.

Three years ago, crisis brewed in the community. Political tensions had reached never-before-seen levels and residents were being killed every day. Because of this, even ardent Christians were staying away from church.

Something had to be done. It could not continue this way. As a church, we could not just sit and watch this happening around us without trying to do something to help, said Lewin.

Football plan
So, the pastor devised a plan. He had to somehow win over the minds of the young males in Rivoli because they were the ones being killed and in most cases, were the ones doing the killing. His method of choice: football.

Football is very big in Rivoli and nearly all the young boys play the game at some level, he said.

Lewin said he got a vision from God while lying in bed one night and immediately summoned his congregation to church for an extraordinary meeting.

This was a stretch, because at nights people were scared even to leave their homes. They would have to come out risking being shot, because gunshots were being fired all around, he said.

At the meeting, the pastor told the congregation of his vision. The next day, he and a few members of the church went into the community.

We were going to tackle the problem head-on. We challenged the community to a football match. At first they laughed at us and thought we were just trying to be funny. But we were quite serious. We told them we wanted to take them on, anyone from the community, against men from the church, Lewin recounted.

Budding ballers
Like many inner-city communities, Rivoli is full of budding ballers and so the challenge seemed more like a joke, especially in light of the fact that most of the men in the church were well over 40, with expanding waistlines.

The catch was that if we won, they would all have to come to church for a month. They laughed at us and asked what would happen if we lost. I told them that they would only have to come to church for a week, Lewin joked.

The community members, at first not sure what to make of the pastors challenge, decided to go along with it, if for sheer entertainment value alone.

On the day of the match, when the church members arrived at the football field in the community, they were surprised by what they saw.

There were hundreds of people there. People from all over Spanish Town turned up. Apparently word had spread and the whole community turned up to, I guess, laugh at our defeat, said Lewin.

On one side of the field was an impressive team made up of members of Rivoli United, the community's National Premier League team and other fit and ready-to-go young men all decked out in spikes and branded jerseys. One the other side were the middle-age men of the church dressed in whatever they could find. One portly deacon was dressed in pink tights, making him the target of several jokes from spectators.

Soon, the whistle was blown and the game got off to a start.

Everyone was busy staring and laughing at the deacon in pink tights, so they were off-guard and so we managed to score first! Lewin said, with eyes wide.

This created some amount of excitement among the crowd and perhaps dampened the spirits of the other teams players. Before long though, they equalised, but soon, the team from the church was at it again.

We scored another one and the place went wild. Our choir got behind our goal post and started chanting Jesus! Jesus! They would do this every time the opposing team came close. Before long, the entire crowd was chanting the name of Jesus, Lewin said.

At the final whistle, the crowd was left dumbfounded. The ageing group of churchgoers had managed to pull off a 4-3 win over the team from the community.

They couldnt believe it, but we knew we had God on our side.

Shared food and drinks
Lewin said that after the match, the church members shared food and drinks with the spectators and members of the opposing team.

We told them that we were going to hold them all to the terms of our agreement and that we expected to see them in church for a month. We were somewhat surprised by this, but they all honoured their promise and since then, our membership has jumped from 30 to nearly 300. Most of the people who started attending services because of the events of that day have stayed on. The one month came and went and the residents kept coming. It is truly exceptional, Lewin said proudly.

According to him, among the group of new church members are former drug dealers, gang members and murderers.

God doesnt discriminate. We are just thankful that these people all decided to turn their lives around and they have become active Christians who travel across the country preaching the word of God.

Since that fateful football match, the police in Spanish Town have confirmed that crime in Rivoli has decreased significantly.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

"Auntie" Elise's "Secret" Jamaica Rum Punch Recipe - The Blue House Ocho Rios Jamaica

OK so I finally have a little time to pluck at my keyboard to pass on "Auntie" Elise's Jamaica Rum Punch recipe to all you guys and gals who are having withdrawal symptoms having gotten hooked on my "secret" recipe ! LOL !!

It is a slight variation on our traditional Jamaica 1-2-3-4 rum punch recipe.

I've modified it slightly here to include ingredients that I hope will be easily accessible for you all.

one part sour - one cup bottled lemon juice

two parts sweet - 2 cups plain syrup. Look in any generic cook book for a recipe for simple syrup or cheat a little :) and buy "bar syrup" at you local booze shop

three parts strong - 3 cups Appleton "Red Rum" ie Appleton Special. Not overproof, not VX.

four parts weak - 4 cups chaser - suggestion 1 cup canned Grace fruit punch if it's available in the ethnic isle of your local supermarket or the nearest Jamaican/Caribbean Food store or your favourite fruit juice as long as it's not overly sweet, plus 3 cups water.

4 dash Angostura Bitters

Grated nutmeg - as much as you like John Michel ! :)

Pour over ice and enjoy while you reminisce about chilling at The Blue House Luxury Bed And Breakfast Villa and your next vacation here ! :)

Thursday, June 19, 2008

First Published Online Article on The Blue House Luxury Bed and Breakfast Villa in Ocho Rios Jamaica!

Playing around on the computer tonight, I stumbled across what might be the first published online article written about enjoying a vacation at The Blue House Luxury Bed and Breakfast Villa in Ocho Rios Jamaica !

The author, Ben Thompson, has written many articles on Jamaica hotels and Jamaica vacation properties. Has he been a guest here ?


Regardless .......... Thanks Ben !! Come visit sometime.

26 Angels Came To Visit at The Blue House In Ocho Rios Jamaica

When potential visitors to our various tourist towns tell friends and family about their desire to vacation in Jamaica they, most times, find themselves bombarded with stories about the exploding violence here and how undesirable and unsafe Jamaica is.

If there are any die hard Jamaican fans reading this, you will no doubt feel the urge to quickly point out that the tourist towns are safe, it is Kingston you have to avoid, in particular Kingston ghettos. Places like Riverton City and Trench Town.

Surely you would agree with me then, that it would take a very Powerful Spirit to motivate a 26 strong, mission trip team to volunteer to come to Jamaica, walk thru Riverton City and set up and run a week long sport camp for kids from this Kingston ghetto. A very, very powerful Spirit ! Maybe, too, they were 26 angels in disguise. :)

It was a real treat having these 26 stalwart angels turn up on the doorstep of The Blue House 3 weeks ago. They travelled from Kingston for a day and night of fun and frolic with sleeping bags and pool floats that served as miniture air mattresses. I smile every time I remember in my mind's eye, these high school youth from McQuaid Jesuit, in Rochester New York, sleeping scattered around my poolside curled up on lounge chairs, a flattened float that leaked air during the night, sprawled out in gazebos, on the couch, and any other surface they could wiggle into :).

It was my pleasure to arrange a 'Real Jamaica' vacation experience of a chilly, early morning plunge into the neighbouring White River

followed by breakfast on the river banks

before we all had to scramble to attend the rousing 10:30 worship service at Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church in Ocho Rios.

Chris, JASY's Christian Service Director, popped me a thank you email on his return to the US saying, "We spent ten days in the beautiful island of Jamaica. We had catered meals, we ate out, and we ate in. By far the best meal we had in Jamaica was at the Blue House. The Blue House is a hidden treasure. The catered breakfast on the White River was a highlight of our trip. I give a huge endorsement to the the Blue House, and if anyone wants an inside testimony, please let me know."

My heart, my prayers, my thanks goes out to all 26 angels who, despite the numerous warnings and reports of violence, came to serve my fellow Jamaicans in Kingston. I am humbled by their willing spirit and eagerness to serve our less fortunate brothers and sister by providing sports training as a vehicle for 108 of Jamaica's disadvantaged youth. These angels worked hard, using sports to teach self-steem and improve physical well being and cross-cultural learning.

God Bless you all and the children you ministered to. May their lives be forever changed by the love you showered on them, the team spirit you instilled in them and the Christian values and beliefs you fostered.

May you all continue to run the good race, knowing what is important in life and keep on reaching out and touching souls.

Wishing you all God's Peace and Love !

Jamaica Vacation - VIP Encounter at Dolphin Cove Ocho Rios Jamaica

A few months back, guests from the UK and Germany who happened to be vacationing at the same time at The Blue House Luxury Bed and Breakfast Villa, were talking about the high cost of swimming with the dolphins, debating whether or not it was worth the $250 and whether or not they would be willing to pay that much. In the end they simply opted to pay the minimum entry fee of $50 and go have a "look see".

One of these guests reported in her Virtual Tourist review that the dolphin encounters were disappointingly brief saying "there seemed to be a conveyor belt of swimmers, and the dolphins made a series of circuits with a different person hanging on each time."

Another guest, Michael, even though he was equally disappointed with the two minute encounters he had witnessed, had a "life dream" of swimming with the dolphins so felt pulled to return there. He'd observed that 8 persons at a time swam with the dolphins in fixed time slots so he was considering purchasing an entire time slot for a once in a life time thrill and making his dream a reality. Not usually an extravagant person, Michael debated long and hard, agonizing about biting the bullet and bringing his dream to fruition. For me, life dream or not, the amount of money in question seemed way too extravagant, so I made a couple of phone calls, and arranged a "discounted life dream" :).

Paraphrasing from Michael's his Tripadvisor review:

"I had a "life dream" to swim with dolphins. At Dolphin Cove tourists can swim with the dolphins. I watched this and was really disappointed. Large groups of pleasure-seeking tourists line up in a row; two dolphins go past and pull each for just a few metres, then move on to the next one. It looked to me like queuing for a short ride on a jet ski. All this for US$250.

I told Elise of my impression and that I want more than this. Some days later she told me that she’d spoken with the owner of Dolphin Cove and had arranged something special for me. On a day when there was no cruise ship in town, Daryl took me to Dolphin Cove. THEN A DREAM CAME TRUE. With only the trainer as companion I could swim for 30 minutes with "Misty" and "Pepe" – touch, hold and play completely at ease with them. It was one of the most touching experiences of my life."

Michael now dreams of bringing his wife and his children to vacation at The Blue House so they too would be able to enjoy the same magical experience.

Photos furnished by Michael and published with his permission.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Ocho Rios Jamaica Bed and Breakfast Wins 2nd Place Best New Hotel International Award

The Blue House Luxury Bed and Breakfast in Ocho Rios Swoops Second Place Spot For Best New Hotel Worldwide Plus Best Of Jamaica Award and Best Of Ocho Rios

In the tradition of the Golden Globes and the Academy Awards, the International Restaurant and Hotel Awards™ (IRHA) is the world’s most comprehensive and prestigious awards program recognizing the best value, moderate and luxury travel establishments that go above and beyond industry standards. IRHA celebrates the world’s finest hotels and restaurants committed to the highest standards of quality service and promotes the global appreciation of travel, dining and cultural exploration.

To aid the selection process, IRHA conducts research annually in each category field by searching the web, magazines, travel guides and ratings directories, speaking with experts, attending industry expos and events, and coordinating travel and dining excursions. IRHA’s Jury reviewed submissions from 50 countries around the world from bed & breakfasts, top restaurants, chains, six-star luxury hotels, boutique hotels and independent restaurants and hotels in April & May 2008. Top chains and hotel groups that participated include The Ritz-Carlton, Marriott International, Accor Hotels, The Peninsula Hotels, Hilton Hotels, Kor Hotel Group, Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts, Starwood Hotels and a host of others.

The Blue House Luxury Bed and Breakfast Villa in Ocho Rios, Tripadvisor’s #1 Jamaica B&B Inn, received the second place award for The Best New Hotel Of The Year in the Moderate Priced Category from the jury of representatives from the Food Network, Travel Channel, UKTV, BBC Food, CBS Radio, Zagat Survey, Cool Restaurants, Cool Hotels, Citysearch, Fodor's Travel Guides, Hungry?, City Guides and more.

IRHA announced the Best of City and Best of Country recipients on June 18th. The Blue House Ocho Rios Jamaica was awarded both Best Of Ocho Rios and Best Of Jamaica Titles.

The Grand Award Nominees for the coveted titles of International Restaurant of the Year & International Hotel of the Year (value, moderate and luxury titles) will be announced in July, 2008. The Grand Award recipients and the 2008 IRHA Award Honorees will receive the coveted IRHA statue presented at the 2008 IRHA Gala Ceremony on November 25th, 2008 at the home of the Golden Globes, the Beverly Hilton, in Beverly Hills, California. The star-studded gala ceremony will be hosted by Mark DeCarlo of the Travel Channel and will include a Special Spotlight on New Orleans along with Grand Award presentations.

Info for this post was taken directly from the IRHA website.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Real Jamaica - Reach Out And Touch Someone Via Bread Basket Ministries In Ocho Rios Jamaica

My day to day world of Real Jamaica Vacations pretty much tends to revolve around The Blue House Luxury Bed and Breakfast Villa, our guests, their interests and their vacation experiences.

My day to day living also includes heading a Christian Non Profit Charity in Ocho Rios, Bread Basket Ministries. Volunteers at Bread Basket Ministries follow the lead of The Holy Spirit and reach out to help very destitute families in nearby villages who struggle each day to survive. Families who are faced with the choice, on almost a daily basis, of either eating or sending their children to school. Families who live in unimaginably hovels and deplorable, heartwrenching squalor with no sanitary conveniences. Elderly who struggle to survive on almost next to nothing.

The vast majority of visitors to Jamaica's sundrenched shores have no idea that as much as 17% of our population of 2.75 million people live below the poverty line, but quite a few of our guests at The Blue House have ventured out with me when I go Bread Basket-ing.

Through the support of these few generous Blue House guests, the support of a few very caring Spirit led individuals who find and support our non profit Christian charity thru online donations, the support of a couple of local and international businesses, a portion of the income from The Blue House, a recent donation from JASY volunteers (a wonderful group of 26 Christian youth and their leaders/chaperones who recently ran a summer camp for inner city children from a war-torn ghetto in Kingston) and the promised help of a couple of soon to arrive mission trip teams from the US, Bread Basket Ministries will be building their first house for a poor single mother who is in jeopardy of having her children taken away from her because of their extremely dire living conditions.

A Bible verse that speaks strongly to my heart is Isaiah 58:10-11

"If you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. The LORD will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail."

I pray that these words will penetrate your heart as they have mine.

God Bless.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Real Jamaica Vacation - Exploring The Nyabinghi Rasta Culture In Ocho Rios Jamaica

Fourteen years ago, a childhood fantasy "took root" and was lovingly nurtured in the heart of an incredibly sweet, young Argentinian boy, growing and growing until eventually it became, in the lad's own words, his lifelong dream.

Can you imagine how much pleasure it brought to the heart of this "Real Jamaica" innkeeper in Ocho Rios, when she was lucky enough to be instrumental in helping this now young gentleman bring his long, cherished dream to fulfilment ?

Lots and Lots and Lots !! A whole Heapa Lots !! :)

Since the first time 8 year old Juan Martin avidly watched a recorded performance of Bob Marley, he has longed to become a Rasta and play drums with the Nyahbinghi. With the surprisingly loving support of his Mamma and his Pappa, Juan Martin arrived in Jamaica this past March, at the ripe old age of 22, earnestly seeking the fulfilment of his dream.

Juan Martin's adventure started in Kingston and climaxed on the outskirts of Ocho Rios at the home of the reclusive Nyahbinghi Rastafari Elder, Prof-I.

During the first part of his journey through Kingston, Portland and The Blue Mountains, Juan Martin had a revelation without fully realising or understanding it. He encountered many with the dreadlocks that he had long associated with the Rastafari culture yet his intuition told him they were not the Rastas he was seeking. He would later understand that there are Rastas and then there are Dreads, and that there's a whole world of difference between the two.

On his arrival at The Blue House Luxury Bed and Breakfast in Ocho Rios where I am blest to be the innkeeper, I introduced Juan Martin to a Rastafari I have contact with on a day to day basis. Juan Martin instantly realised that he was finally face to face with a genuine Rasta, one who was more than willing to sit and chat with him about the various aspects of the Rastafari culture he had spent so many years eagerly researching in Argentina. I simply stood back and watched as happiness and joy glowed brightly in my young Argentinian friend's eyes.

Juan Martin had long dreamed of beating drums with the Nyahbinghi so the next morning we set out on an adventure to seek out a particular Rasta who is revered by many as an Elder of the Nyahbinghi. I had heard that, from time to time, this Rasta Elder would hold Binghi at his home where many of the Rastafari would gather to chant and drum.

I'll admit that I was more than a bit apprehensive about barging in, unannounced and uninvited, into the home of strangers, intruding in their very private space, especially having heard that the Rasta Elder we sought is a bit of a recluse. I can only say we were extremely blest that day. On later reflection, we all agreed that our initial meeting was like a harmonious intertwining of like spirits.

Prof-I later told me that when he stepped out to meet us, he immediately sensed our kindred spirits. He realised first off that we were not run of the mill, curiousity seeking tourists coming to invade their privacy and snap photos. He therefore welcomed us with the peaceful, loving, gentle, humble nature that is indicative of a genuine Rasta. We sat with him for hours while "I-Tin" (Juan Martin's new Rasta name) attempted to drink his fill of the culture he had dreamt about for so many years. Esctatic, I-Tin seemed to be floating a foot off the ground.

Prof-I openly shared with us the simple lifestyle he lives with his family on a few acres of land. They live off the land, eating whatever it provides. He regaled us with story after story of living a life of persecution because of his choice in living true to his chosen faith, starting at aged 9 when his own mother put him out of the house because he announced that he was going to become a Rasta. Many in our own Jamaican culture perceive the Rastafari as nothing more than "dutty ed and wutlis" (dirty head and worthless), never bothering to open their minds or their hearts to the true nature, culture and religious practices of the Rastafari. Despite all the trials he faced in life, Prof-I now seems very content in, and I quote, "living an ancient lifestyle in a modern world".

As the day progressed to evening, a family from Toronto, with 2 children, who were also guests at The Blue House, joined our gathering. Prof-I, who has thrived on a raw food diet (the latest health food rage) for the past 32 years, whipped us all up a delicious meal of "live food" which is the correct Rasta terminology for raw food.

With full bellies, we were then treated to the most amazing, most mesmerizing experience of my life to date.

Six of Prof-I 's fifteen children, ages 5-15, gathered around with drums and treated us to an impromptu and totally captivating "jam session". They chanted songs they had written themselves about the Rasta culture and their simple lifestyle, effortlessly and lyrically rolling out one song after another. We all simply sat in awe, entranced and filled with the joy, love and peace that resounds in this Rasta family's humble home.

Totally mesmerized as we all were, it was extremely difficult for each one of us to finally pull ourselves away for our return to The Blue House where a much delayed dinner awaited us.

I-Tin returned to Prof-I's home several more times before reluctantly heading off to Negril for the final lap and the winding down of his "dream" vacation.

Back home in Argentinia, Juan Martin now has a new dream, to return for an extended stay in Jamaica and to maybe one day produce a film about the Rasta culture he loves so much.

Sunsets Galore ! - Real Jamaica Vacation in Ocho Rios

Sunsets are such an awesome display of God's superb artistic ability.

Our neighbour directly across the street from us cut down his massive lychee tree last week, amidst much rejoicing and cheers from us at The Blue House.

The Blue House is once again blest with incredible sunsets, an ocean view, (or as we rightly say in Jamaica "sea view") and even a glimpse of Sandals Dunns River and the Riu Ocho Rios across the expanse of deep, blue waters. Lights twinkle at us from these hotels on clear nights and I fantasize that they're saying "Wha gwan, Blu Howse. Lang time mi nuh si yuh" in morse code. :)

My heart is singing and overflowing with joy at the return of these sights after being deprived of them for so many years!

At sunset most evenings my brother, Chef Darryl, laughs at me as I grab my camera and make a mad dash for the front balcony of our bed and breakfast, gleefully clicking away as I record umpteen versions of fiery sunsets like the one above.