I once lived in Montego Bay, Jamaica almost forty plus years ago and I had made a promise to return to Montego Bay to see friends.  Montego Bay, the capital of St. James Parish on Jamaica’s north coast, is a major cruise ship port with numerous beach resorts and golf courses outside its commercial core at popular beaches include Doctor’s Cave Beach and Walter Fletcher Beach.  There’s snorkeling and diving at coral reefs in the protected waters of Montego Bay Marine Park.

You will definitely want to egress the ship and pay a visit to Montego Bay, a lively city famous for its gorgeous beaches, historic plantations and friendly island charm and the Montego Bay City Centre. Here, you can find a wide range of duty-free shops, where you can buy everything from premium liquor to brand-name jewelry and watches.

It’s a small port and most of the cruise lines make it a day stop due to a lack of piers to disembark.  They used to do it with small cutters.  We only had eight hours and then had to return to the ship. Think of it as only one parking space  for a ship as big as we were.

Two attractions near Montego Bay serve it’s agricultural history. At the Rose Hall Great House, you can take a tour of an authentic sugar plantation dating back to the eighteenth century,  the sugar-growing process as well as Annie Palmer, the fabled “White Witch” that lived there.

I lived in Montego Bay for two years in the early eighties as part of a rental car program we initiated for most of the islands featuring custom made dune buggy’s from California.  They were way ahead of their time, Jamaica was just starting to develop and we could only rent to the cruise ship customers and the airline passengers.

After two years and a lot of problems for growth, the rental business was tough.  Especially Dune Buggies, they were loved but Jamaica had a few problems.

Like driving on the wrong side of the road crashes.   Meeting a thirty ton aluminum ore truck on small two lane roads and losing the battle.  Also, Jamaica did not allow money to leave the country, there were no VW parts in Jamaica. Insurance in a country with the highest death rate per accident in the world.  Add the worst roads and problems with higher than kite drivers.   

In other words, if you went off the cliff, hit another car or met a hauler, most likely you went to the morgue instead of the hospital.   Again, left side cars as in England, takes getting used to, really poor single lane roads, with no markings, high tonnage Aluminum haulers, driving way too fast and not being familiar with the vehicle.  

The corporation decided to pull out of Jamaica and a few other islands, the program had set it sights on. Today, it’s different, the cruise lines have money and influence and  the ships tours take care of rentals but forty years ago it was too big a risk till the big boys at the cruise lines took over. 

Money makes things happy and cruise ships are the income in Jamaica for many.  Their main export is bauxite, that stuff that is raw aluminum.  Next is sugar then tourism and finally rum.   Drilling down to Jamaica’s most valuable exported goods are aluminum oxide and hydroxide ($517.7 million), refined petroleum oils ($231.5 million), aluminum ores and concentrates ($92.5 million), liquor including liqueurs ($48.1 million), yams/sweet potatoes and artichokes ($35 million), beer ($34.8 million) and coffee ($22.9 million).

But I lived at the Casa Blanca a lovely hotel, and met some really nice friends, locals I became close with and spent some time diving with and really seeing the cockpit country whom I went back to see on this trip after close to forty years.  When I returned to the states, and I made a promise to my friends whom I spent enjoyable times with during my tenure running our car rental business.

Two of my friends, Shackat Dalley a very good scuba diver and gracious friend, owns a dive service in Montego and his mother the Honorable Hazel Dally, a store keeper, owner of a bed and a small hotel, knew me back in the early eighties when I first arrived there.  I knew no one other than my employees, all Jamaican, most from Montego Bay.   In weeks I had a lot of friends and got to see a lot more than most tourists.  

My guys were incredibly talented,  learning how to do all repairs like body work and engines, better than our US guys.  The shop lift was not exactly hydraulic or electric, it was four guys lifting a dune buggy and placing it on four crates.  

Shackat’s mother,  the Hon Hazel Dalley had a unique gift shop right on the main drag in Montego bay.  Many Presidents stopped say hello, so did Fidel Castro.  She was a gracious and lovely lady and totally wrapped in the tourism for her island.   And when I learned there was a cruise that had a stop in Montego Bay.   We booked it quick.  I had made a promise one day I would come back to see them.

When I walked through her door, after close to forty years, she recognized me, even remembered my name like I was there yesterday…and we spent a pleasant hour together before the call to board the ship came.  

The pictures were taken on this cruise.   It was April, we spoke on the phone and then she passed on in December.  She was a Philanthropist and businesswoman.   The 89-year-old woman, affectionately known as ‘ Aunt Hazel’, died peacefully at her Sunset Boulevard home in Montego Bay, St James today.  I was so happy to see her before she died  as I had fulfilled a promise I made…

Her niece, Lorna Cheong, said Dalley “ Went out like an angel", after being ill for the last three months, showing signs of recuperating, then deteriorating last week.  Her death has been described as a deep loss by several members of the Jamaica Constabulary Force, who had accepted her as a member of their family. She was a Justice of the Peace and just about everyone in Montego bay knew her.  She will be missed dearly.

The Order of Justice of the Peace, who was conferred with the Order of Distinction for her work in tourism, was tagged a comprehensive lover of every policeman and woman by Superintendent of Police Paul Stanton, who knew her for more than 20 years.

"It’s a deep loss. She was the cream of the crop, when you talk about good corporate citizen, she epitomized that, and she boasted the highest level of integrity,” said Stanton, adding that Dalley gave unconditionally.  The businesswoman operated the Dalley’s Variety Store on Gloucester Avenue for more than 50 years.

She did much for the people of Montego Bay and Jamaica and will be remembered... I’m sorry I could not get back sooner,  I did keep my promise to her. She was a great lady…