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An Eco-Foodie Paradise at Mockingbird Hill

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By The Gremotraveler

 
This is why Hotel Mockingbird Hill works to protect their natural surroundings.

Hotel Mockingbird Hill, located in Portland Parish in Jamaica, is a special eco-friendly inn where the principles of “slow eating” are put to use every day.  Here, guests can experience more than local food that is fresh and flavorful.  They can also experience an eco-responsible paradise designed to shower guests with luxurious relaxation and valuable life lessons to help make the world a greener place.

In Germany, Barbara Walker and Shireen Aga had been social activists for many years, fighting for human rights and standing up for women and minorities in the country.  Barbara, a native of Jamaica, had a long-standing love for her home country and both she and Shireen had a vision to change the world through leading by example.  That vision started to take form in 1992 when they both moved to Portland Parish and opened Hotel Mockingbird Hill, a 10-room inn overlooking the Caribbean Sea.

The trip to Mockingbird Hill was long, but well worth it.  Our driver met us in Kingston and we travelled the winding road up and over the Blue Mountains to Port Antonio, the largest town in Portland Parish.  We arrived at sundown, just in time for a complimentary “sundowner” cocktail.  As we listened to the tree frogs chirp, we sipped our cocktails and felt the warm Caribbean breezes kiss our cheeks.  It was the beginning of any typical resort holiday in the Caribbean, or so it appeared.

 
The eco-friendly pool where surplus water is used in the gardens.

The next morning, as we toured the grounds, it became clear what all the fuss was about internationally over this little slice of paradise.  Mockingbird Hill was one of the first hotels in the world to be certified as environmentally friendly.  When we first learned of this, visions of camping in the bush and yearning for a hot shower came to mind.  Not the case here.  Barbara and Shireen’s goal was to demonstrate to the world you can still enjoy all the luxuries of a top Caribbean resort without leaving a massive footprint on mother earth.

It all starts in the rooms.  The signs on the bathrooms explain the shower system and the amount of water one wastes brushing their teeth, showering, or preparing for bed.  They don’t want you to stop showering, just be sensitive to the amount of water needed.  The water on the property is collected from the sky in massive bins and purified for guest use.  The fresh flowers in the bathroom come from the extensive lower garden where herbs and other vegetables are grown for use in the restaurant, Mille Fleurs.  There are NO plastics among the room amenities.  The drinking water is on-site purified and “bottled” in reusable thermos flasks.  The guest stationery is made from recycled paper by a women’s cooperative in a nearby village while the environmentally friendly shampoos and soaps, as well as the evening goodnight gift are all produced locally. 

 
Hotel's go through lots of bottles - here, they are used to line the walkways.

As you tour the grounds, more examples become apparent.  Empty wine bottles have been re-used to line the garden paths as borders.  Hidden behind the lovely palms are the solar panels used to power a large percentage of the property including the energy-efficient kitchen.   While the pool is certainly a lovely way to spend an afternoon, few guests notice that the excess water is naturally de-chlorinated in the sun and used to water the gardens.   Every opportunity to reduce, re-use and recycle has been undertaken here.  This was all very impressive, but what we came for was the food.

When Barbara and Shireen arrived 15 years ago, they had a pioneering vision for food and drink.  Today, everyone claims to be a “locavore” and pride themselves on their illustrious careers of eating and promoting local food.  These two ladies were ahead of the curve and today, offer one of the most “slow food” experiences on the planet.  We could not believe it.  Even after spending an afternoon in the kitchen with Melvin Laidlaw, the hotel’s Executive Chef, we were stumped to find anything that was not local, artisan, and delivered within the past few days.

At breakfast, the jams and preserves (if not made in-house) come from local entrepreneurial women in the nearby villages and are delicious with the in-house made breads, loafs, and scones.  Many of the fruits and vegetables come from the nearby Port Antonio Market or from the property itself.  The bacon comes from Robert the Swiss bacon man, who came to the area in the 1960s and provides the locally smoked bacon, pork, and fresh lamb.   Another farmer grows micro-greens just on the other side of the mountain.  Milk comes from the local community College where the cows are happy spending their days eating fresh grass in pasture then milked by hand - making the milk far more expensive than carton Tetra Pak but worth it given the local support it provides the school. 

The milk comes from the same college where Joanna, the island’s only artisan cheese maker sources her cow's milk to make her Mozzarella.  At Joanna’s farm, a short 15 minute drive away, she raises goats from which she harvests milk to make Kefir, cheeses, and yogurt – all of which is available at Mockingbird Hill.  The eggs come from a farmer in the nearby village.  Once again, happy chickens eating grass and the occasional bug.  The result is some of the most beautiful sunny side up eggs you have ever seen.  Golden orange yolks on glossy pure white - and their flavors are perfection with yolks that are not too runny, not too hard.

 
Tucked behind the palms, solar panels provide "free" electricty to the property.

Each evening, the dinner menu changes to reflect the “catch of the day” – literally meaning what showed up that day.  Was it lamb?  Some fresh fish caught in the nearby bay?  For the seven nights we visited with Barbara and Shireen, we never saw an item repeat itself - a challenge given that each evening offers up to 10 different dishes to roughly 30 dinner guests.   To help, guests are encouraged to place their order a few hours in advance when they reserve their seat for dinner.  When they return to the dining patio after their sundowner cocktail, their table is waiting for them including a small satchel in the European tradition with their room number and personal linens.  Yes, even the napkins are re-used and only laundered when requested by the guests – another example of waste not, want not.

The experience at Mockingbird Hill is a bit overwhelming.  There are no televisions, radios, nightly entertainment or night clubs.  It is a place for relaxation and reflection.  Bird-watchers come here from around the world to simply sit with a cup of chocolate tea, their camera, and wait for an elusive winged creature to appear.  Hikers come here to explore the rainforest of Jamaica’s Blue Mountains.  Culinary tourists come here to participate in the hotel’s culinary experiences program where they can learn about jerk cooking, visit local artisan producers, and master Caribbean cookery with the hotel’s chef.  What they don’t notice is the difference between this hotel versus others when it comes to protecting and respecting the natural landscape.

 
What better way to end a day than a slice of homemade Passionfruit Cheesecake.

This is what we found to be so inspirational about this place – you don’t go without.  While the property does everything in its power to protect the environment and support the local community, guests are never inconvenienced.  This is the lesson Barbara and Shireen wanted to share with the world.  As guests make their way home along the winding road back towards Kingston, a little piece of Mockingbird Hill travels with them.  One may learn a new cuisine and cooking skills to bring home while another realizes how much water they waste each morning.  Another couple may choose to support local farmers in their home town while another may decide to install solar panels on their own roof to reduce their energy costs.  The key is that they returned home satisfied and relaxed as well – proving that being responsible does not mean you cannot be decadent.

To see some of the images of the property and the beautiful gardens, check out our image library on Gremolata’s Facebook Fan Page.



Comments


Agreed--so nice to hear about a resort showcasing what is local and seasonal on the island. The big all inclusives spend so much time trying to please everyone that all you get is pretty bland food and you don't really get a taste of the local cuisine. Hopefully more resorts/hotels follow their lead.....: )
Post Reply By Kathleen in TORONTO on 3/23/2018 11:35:55 AM

Lovely story. When we went to Jamaica we stayed at an all-inclusive resort. I noticed the waste everywhere. So much food, nothing local, all designed to satisfy everyone. As a result, besides being warm, I did not find it to be a very special place. We never saw the real Jamaica I guess. This place sounds like a great example for everyone!
Post Reply By Indira in KINGSTON on 3/21/2018 10:38:09 PM

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