Underneath the mango tree: 60th anniversary adventure to Jamaica

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Jamaica was a destination that as a lifelong Bond fan I had to visit

Philip Dewhurst – President

Roger and Sean are my joint favorite actors for James Bond, Dr No. and Live & Let Die are my two top Bond movies. So it will come as very little surprise that Jamaica was a destination that as a lifelong Bond fan I had to visit. What better time to do it than the 60th anniversary!

Winter months in the UK are shall we say rather miserable; it’s not that it is as cold as say Canada but the rain, the drizzle…it can seem endless. Perfect time to jet off to the Caribbean. Jamaica is not only a setting for the Bond films, it’s also the place Ian Fleming chose to have a home – Goldeneye (more on that later). Jamaica is beautiful, peaceful and the people are so welcoming and friendly, and in the trips I’ve taken there I felt at peace.

Having thoroughly enjoyed playing ‘make believe’ in a few other Bond locations such as the Bahamas, San Francisco and Corfu, my son and I would be in a Bond inspired wardrobe for the locations, with a special guest my dear friend and our man on the island, Captain Tony. 

After a champagne filled flight over from the UK with British Airways, we were greeted at Norman Manley airport as James and Felix by the arrivals service team (a little joke I had set up for my son). We were then driven to the Spanish Court hotel for our first night. I had picked this hotel due to its central location and because they had a Dr No Sunbeam Alpine onsite. On route I received a call welcoming us to the island from the Aide-de-Camp to The Governor-General and confirming details of our visit the following day. In the weeks before travel I had sought permission from His Excellency to be able to visit King’s House (styled as Government House in Dr No.).

We arrived at the hotel exhausted, took a few pictures with the Sunbeam, had a quick swim and nearly fell asleep into our steak dinners…hastened probably by the Singapore Sling cocktails being consumed by the pool after an already busy day.

At 9am on the dot the following morning, Captain Tony my friend and guide for the trip was there ready to greet us at the airport and take us throughout the Bond locations of Kingston and the surrounding areas. Kingston is a comparatively bustling metropolis when contrasted against the backdrop of this luscious green Caribbean island. After a few pictures in the Sunbeam we headed off to King’s House.

The grounds of King’s House are impressive and well maintained and as soon as you drive through you can see the shots from Dr No, the exteriors where Bond pulls up with the ‘tired’ chauffeur. This is such a great location and we are very grateful for the permission granted by His Excellency The Governor-General to visit. Major Hill met us on arrival and we were kindly escorted us around the property by Senior Executive Assistants to His Excellency. To all at King’s House I extend our gratitude for the experience.

The rest of the day was filled with locations such as ‘the Queens Club’ the road up to Miss Taro’s ‘Magenta drive’ and a recreation of the fight with the chauffeur by the roadside. How lucky am I that my son loves Bond enough to be thrown around in such heat.

The last location of the day was the Excelsior Port Royal Hotel which was undergoing a renovation under new ownership. Ian Moore had purchased the property because he is a Bond fan; he is definitely the right person to make this a destination hotel again. He couldn’t have been more hospitable! We arrived unarranged and with no hotel reservation to simply walk in, take some photos and move onto the next location. I had never met Ian before and didn’t even know that the hotel was under new ownership. Captain Tony, Phil Jr and I walked into the hotel lobby and through to ‘Pussfella’s Bar’ as Bond, Felix and Quarrel. As I approached the bar and ordered three red stripe beers, a man sat on the opposite side said “wait are you Bond fans?” having recognized the outfits we were trying to emulate. This man turned out to be Ian, the new owner. Now this was an advantageous moment because he knew every location, every shot from Dr No at the hotel. Ian spent the next nearly two hours showing us the room where Connery stayed whilst filming, the bar, the back room, Quarrel & Bond meeting for the first time etc. Not only that, he was so welcoming and friendly; as I have found all the people of the island to be. Thoroughly nice chap and we enjoyed a few rum & tings, a good chat and then alas it was time to go. As we left, Ian wouldn’t even let me pay for any of the bar tab; what a gent!

One thing about having a local as a guide is the speed at which you can visit locations. Our biggest location day (6 places) started with a 7am pickup.  We were driven into Tony’s local fishing village for an authentic breakfast. Then we jumped aboard his boat to sail out to ‘Crab Key’. Laughing Waters was so serene until the Captain pulls up and shouts “jump out here quickly Phil, we’re on a tight schedule” Next up was Dunn’s River Falls, my son and I climbed the falls with the aid of wet water shoes (highly recommended). This was a gorgeous location and we opted to self-guide our way through the tourists and took refreshing dips along the route. Once back aboard we sailed to the bauxite mine ‘Dr No’s facility’ and I opted to stay aboard rather than try to dive off the dock as Sean did back in 1962.

Then it was a stop at Sans Souci resort to see the many locations from Live & Let Die there. Easiest to find is the now hotel business room but in the film the gift shop where Bond procures the Tarot cards for his gentle persuasion trick on Solitaire in order to progress the consummation of their relationship, Oh James!

We weren’t staying at the resort and almost weren’t allowed entry, my gentle persuasiveness however won through on the day. Whilst we were in the LALD mood we then drove over to the Green Grotto caves, the location of Dr. Kananga’s underground lair. A quick outfit change into something appropriate and we were ready for “Trouble”. The caves are vast and you could easily spend a few hours there.  However after posing for photographs and taking in the location as much as desired, it was imperative we made haste to our next location before it closed – The Swamp Safari. Upon arrival and having changed again in the vehicle with Captain Tony professing he would never see the like of me again, “mad, bad and dangerous?” I asked “no” he replied…”certifiable, fun and crazy”, as I was currently hoisting a pair of brown wool trousers after removing black flares in the back of his vehicle…I could see his point. The things I do for England!

We arrived at the Crocodile farm to find they had closed just minutes earlier (an hour sooner than advertised!) I was dejected, despondent but not deterred! Fortunately the hut bar they had was still open with two women behind the bar and one patron sat enjoying a beer. I asked the barmaid if anyone was still here to show us round the place, to my delight she said check in the side office. As the three of us (Tony, Jr. & myself) approached the side office, Tony suggested I get a wad of cash out ready. We knocked on the door, it swung open and a man with shorts, few teeth and a machete on his hip presented himself. Tony negotiated with him to show us around and if it had not been for the fact I was dressed as Roger Moore I think we may have come up short. A hearty cash filled handshake and we were being given the full tour. Two of the crocodiles from Live and let Die are still alive and it was great to see them, albeit from our preferred distance. I wanted to get on to what remains of the island where Roger ran atop the snappy critters. There isn’t much left but with a little more handshaking I found myself able to stand in this really cool location (with my new machete armed friend beside me). Later at the Hilton Rose Hall I would recreate the crocodile jump, but in the pool and with inflatable crocs! The golf course at this hotel has a filming location from Live and Let Die so it’s worth checking out (15th Green).

For rest and relaxation we chose the Goldeneye resort and immediately upon entry we were blown away. You take an almost hidden dirt track up from the main road through a private gate and then, as you pull up in a mirage of jungle, you are greeted and taken down to a beautiful reception area with the history and vibe of the place hitting you in the face immediately… welcoming, delicious and exotic. 

We opted for a tall beach hut and we weren’t disappointed, with a secluded retreat yet near to the beach. We could unwind on the balcony and smoke a few cigars with some signature Blackwell rum and chat about Bond. There’s refreshing pools, multiple beaches and entry points to the ocean and the resort is over such a large area for a low capacity of guests that you almost feel you have the place to yourself. Everything about Goldeneye we loved: it is luxury but with Jamaican authenticity. 

For a Bond fan a major draw of the resort is the fact that the Fleming Villa is here and you can book this for up to 10 people to stay in. I had contacted the resort well in advance to have a chance to view the villa. However this isn’t really something they are set up to do and if there are other guests staying there then it’s not going to happen. Upon arrival it was occupied! Later in our stay there after possibly having spoken to every member of staff at the property and my powers of persuasion had gone into overdrive I was informed there was a small window between two parties taking the villa and their head of guest relations would give us a tour. We were fortunate. If you rent the villa or are part of a organised event then you are going to see it. If you are a guest of the Goldeneye resort then it is highly unlikely. However, we made the most of our good fortune in outfits appropriate to Fleming and Bond, this was a dream come true for me and I will never forget it.

On our last day after checking out from Goldeneye, knowing we had done practically every Bond location bar the ones from No Time To Die we decided it was worth going to Port Antonio as there are many locations from the aerodrome, the streets, the pork shop and it’s a beautiful part of Jamaica. We were under a time constraint but we went for it. As the afternoon was drawing to a close it was time to drive back to Kingston and to the airport, having realized the flight was 4 hours from take off! Captain Tony has an excellent driver (a former stunt driver) so what should have taken nearly 3 hours took, well, shall we say LESS. This was one of the most exhilarating, picturesque and frankly scary car journeys of my life!

My son and I sat in the airport lounge feeling pretty accomplished at having ticked off Jamaica from a Bond location perspective, having maximized our time but also having time to relax at one of the best and most unique resorts in the world.  Dare I say it, we found a new place where we might one day call a home away from home.

Phil Dewhurst WILL return

Last modified: 3 January 2024