Visit Jamaica for more than just sun, sand and sea

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From its distinctive sayings to its culinary treats, Jamaica is a destination able to offer far more than just sun, sea and sand. (Shutterstock)
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Negril is home to picture-perfect beaches.
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Ackee and salt fish is a popular breakfast dish.
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Jamaica is famous for its delicious jerk chicken.
Updated 18 November 2017
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Visit Jamaica for more than just sun, sand and sea

NEGRIL, Jamaica: “One love” — “respect” — “irie.” Heard across the island, these terms are Jamaica. That may sound superficial, but it is not until you spend time within Jamaican culture that you realize Bob Marley wailing about “One Love” was not a disposable line, it was him being genuinely Jamaican.
Picture yourself on a postcard-perfect Caribbean beach — white sands kissed by crystal clear waters, palm trees snoozing over sun loungers — and then turn to someone and, in your worst Jamaican accent, say: “One love.” That is something close to what it means. It is how you feel. It is peace; it is love; it is joy and it is a close relation to the other two sayings, with “respect” being obvious and “irie” being a positive term close “cool” or “good.” With sayings like these, how could you not fall in love with Jamaica?
However, there are downsides. Most visitors will arrive in either Kingston on the south coast — the capital — or Montego Bay on the north coast, Jamaica’s second city, and both are noted on numerous travel sites as having perilous, no-go areas. You need to aware, but not permanently wary. Just as you would avoid areas in London, New York or New Delhi, so you need to be aware of not straying into the wrong neighborhoods of Jamaica’s major towns and cities.
For most tourists, this advice is academic as the majority will power their way to the nearest sun lounger, but for those taking a short swing at Kingston, be sure to take a tour around Port Royal, a historic British settlement that was once known as the wickedest place on Earth. The original vice-laden, pirate-ridden town mostly disappeared beneath the sea following an earthquake in 1692 that killed around 2,000 people. Today, it is a fishing village toured by history buffs keen to see the impressive Fort Charles, a fortress that never saw battle, but did struggle to keep relevant, its guns originally pointing over the sea. Following centuries of earthquakes and sand deposits, however, they now point across scrubland, not able to see even a drop of water.
Most tourists do not want history tours, they want sun, sea and sand. Nowhere in Jamaica is better for such needs than Negril, a resort town on the west coast that boats a 11-kilometer beach of creaminess, dotted with beach bars and hotels. This is where Jamaica locks horns with beach offerings across the Caribbean, competing for travelers and package holiday makers, yet it is able to offer something unique: Jamaican culture. It is a lure that brings people back year after year, highlighted by an American couple I met who had been returning to Negril for 23 years running.
Your Jamaican beach holiday should start early. Rising at 6:30 a.m. is not normally associated with relaxation, but it is only with the dawn chorus that you will have the beach to yourself, devoid of daytime hawkers flogging cigarettes, T-shirts, carvings, music, wraps and patties. Rising early will also guarantee cooler temperatures and calmer seas and during hurricane season, it is most likely the weather will be best as daytime heat usually whips up short afternoon rains, forcing sunbathers to flee for shelter. As an added bonus, you will also be first in line for the breakfast buffet.
Being offered the choice between a full English breakfast and a Jamaican breakfast is a tough decision, but when in Rome — so a Jamaican breakfast was tried and devoured. Fried plantains, callaloo, ackee and salt fish, papyrus and fried dumplings. Nothing on the menu was familiar, but broken down, plantain is a cousin of the banana, served sliced and fried; callaloo is a West African dish of green leafy plants — you can use spinach or kale — chopped, steamed and spiced; ackee and saltfish is a yellow tree fruit diced up with salted white fish, resulting in a specialty not too dissimilar in appearance to scrambled eggs, yet far, far saltier and dumplings are akin to small scones, deep fried. The combination of these ingredients, alongside papyrus, results in a Jamaican treat, one that is sure to re-energize you after your early morning swim.
Another Caribbean dish served across the region is jerk chicken. The reason I mention it is not to fawn over its simplistic beauty, but to flag the number of businesses claiming to make Jamaica’s finest jerk chicken. Yet buyer beware, the street vendor may claim greatness, but your stomach will likely prefer the hotel’s version.
For those travelers to Negril able to tear themselves from a sun lounger, the highlight of the area is a visit to Rick’s Café. This bastion of entertainment perched on the West End Cliffs is wildly overpriced for the area, but it has been in business since 1974 and offers the chance to watch — or take part in — cliff jumping. The more risk-averse may wish to check their travel insurance, but the jump is easy — impressing the crowd is far harder. For those wishing to steer clear, there is live reggae music, with wafts of Bob Marley recreating a similar vibe to bars up and down the main beach.
The classic, stereotypical version of Jamaica, tinged with Bob Marley, is everywhere and while there is much more to Jamaica, there is no shame in relaxing with a cold drink, admiring the sunset and humming along to “One Love,” It is how the maestro himself would have wanted you to feel.
Respect.


First space tourist flights could come in 2019

Updated 13 July 2018
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First space tourist flights could come in 2019

WASHINGTON: The two companies leading the pack in the pursuit of space tourism say they are just months away from their first out-of-this-world passenger flights — though neither has set a firm date.
Virgin Galactic, founded by British billionaire Richard Branson, and Blue Origin, by Amazon creator Jeff Bezos, are racing to be the first to finish their tests — with both companies using radically different technology.
Neither Virgin nor Blue Origin’s passengers will find themselves orbiting the Earth: instead, their weightless experience will last just minutes. It’s an offering far different from the first space tourists, who paid tens of millions of dollars to travel to the International Space Station (ISS) in the 2000s.
Having paid for a much cheaper ticket — costing $250,000 with Virgin, as yet unknown with Blue Origin — the new round of space tourists will be propelled dozens of miles into the atmosphere, before coming back down to Earth. By comparison, the ISS is in orbit 250 miles (400 kilometers) from our planet.
The goal is to approach or pass through the imaginary line marking where space begins — either the Karman line, at 100 kilometers or 62 miles, or the 50-mile boundary recognized by the US Air Force.
At this altitude, the sky looks dark and the curvature of the earth can be seen clearly.
With Virgin Galactic, six passengers and two pilots are boarded onto SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity, which resembles a private jet.
The VSS Unity will be attached to a carrier spacecraft — the WhiteKnightTwo — from which it will then detach at around 49,000 feet (15,000 meters.) Once released, the spaceship will fire up its rocket, and head for the sky.
Then, the passengers will float in zero-gravity for several minutes, before coming back to Earth.
The descent is slowed down by a “feathering” system that sees the spacecraft’s tail pivot, as if arching, before returning to normal and gliding to land at Virgin’s “spaceport” in the New Mexico desert.
In total, the mission lasts between 90 minutes and two hours. During a May 29 test in California’s Mojave desert, the spaceship reached an altitude of 21 miles, heading for space.
In October 2014, the Virgin spaceship broke down in flight due to a piloting error, killing one of two pilots on board. The tests later resumed with a new craft.
The company has now also reached a deal to open a second “spaceport” at Italy’s Tarente-Grottaglie airport, in the south of the country.
Branson in May told BBC Radio 4 that he hoped to himself be one of the first passengers in the next 12 months. About 650 people make up the rest of the waiting list, Virgin said.
Blue Origin, meanwhile, has developed a system closer to the traditional rocket: the New Shepard.
On this journey, six passengers take their place in a “capsule” fixed to the top of a 60-foot-long rocket. After launching, it detaches and continues its trajectory several miles toward the sky. During an April 29 test, the capsule made it 66 miles.
After a few minutes of weightlessness, during which passengers can take in the view through large windows, the capsule gradually falls back to earth with three large parachutes and retrorockets used to slow the spacecraft.
From take-off to landing, the flight took 10 minutes during the latest test.
Until now, tests have only been carried out using dummies at Blue Origin’s West Texas site.
But one of its directors, Rob Meyerson, said in June the first human tests would come “soon.”
Meanwhile, another company official, Yu Matsutomi, said during a conference Wednesday that the first tests with passengers would take place “at the end of this year,” according to Space News.
SpaceX and Boeing are developing their own capsules to transport NASA astronauts, most likely in 2020, after delays — a significant investment that the companies will likely make up for by offering private passenger flights.
“If you’re looking to go to space, you’ll have quadruple the menu of options that you ever had before,” Phil Larson, assistant dean at the University of Colorado, Boulder’s College of Engineering and Applied Science, said.
Longer term, the Russian firm that manufactures Soyuz rockets is studying the possibility of taking tourists back to the ISS. And a US start-up called Orion Span announced earlier this year it hopes to place a luxury space hotel into orbit within a few years — but the project is still in its early stages.