I have this idea about Negril, partly spawned in the aftermath of Dee and my Sandals Negril trip in 2002. We came to Negril, we had a blast, but I spent a fortune. All-Inclusives are nice, and they have their place, but their expense would make trips to Negril one in three or four year events. That wasn’t good enough for me, so a little over a year later I came back, off season, and I had the time of my life; mingling with Jamaicans, walking around Negril and partying with fellow travelers. Since that trip I’ve sworn off all-inclusives, my frequent trips have come to be about the place, the people, and the sea. Of course, like many things I really connect with, I’ve become a somewhat obsessed (link to ode here).
From my first suggestions to Dee about spending a few days in Negril with me, I told her all about my Negril ideas, my ideas on the place, my idea of a rustic vacation, the whole ex-pat for a week thing. I thought she was listening, she seemed thrilled, but I should have known better. I am the rare guy who can find conflict with a beautiful woman in while in paradise. Is it a gift? I think there’s another word for it, possibly there’s a diagnosis for it. But I digress.
Finally at the Castle and after settling a while, it was time to stock the fridge. Our earlier drunkenness was quickly becoming sluggishness, and the ganja was lubricating things just enough for me to think walking to the store would be a good idea. Boy was I wrong!
“Put on some comfortable shoes, and let’s go explore,” I said, rousing both of us for a small shopping adventure. I watched as she put these platform sandal things on.
” They’re comfortable? Don’t you have flip flops?” I said amazed.
“No these are all I brought.” She was immediately defensive, probably because of my shocked look of total disbelief and annoyance with her answer.
“AAAAALLLLLLRIHTY Then! Let’s just go.” I had no idea what she was thinking, as if that was surprising.
We hit the gate and were pon the narrow street in a few seconds. Until that moment I didn’t realize how buzzed I still was, my disorientation was noticed in seconds by the neighborhood locals mulling close by.
I was worrying about Dee, I was trying to find my bearings, and well, I started walking north, away from the little bodega only a hundred yards south. By the time we were across the street, Dee was complaining about the road and how unsafe it was and the locals were pointing the other way and trying to sell us a taxi ride and”¦ and”¦ My head was spinning, but being the stubborn Irish ass I can sometimes become, I pressed on north with Dee in tow, who was way more buzzed than I, and completely confused as to what we were doing.
“Where is this place? We need a taxi? Are we gonna walk everywhere?” Dee went on and on, all I heard was the Charlie Brown teacher (wahgh waaw waaa).
“We walk in Negril, the place is close, relax!” My “relax” wasn’t very relaxing.
“This is ridiculous!” She was pissed, “We’re gonna die out here!”
I laughed scornfully, “Don’t be so dramatic, try to be a little open to things, this isn’t all about you!”
Things were getting nasty. If this was on camera maybe we could laugh about it later, but before things got out of hand, I gave in. Partially because I realized I was walking the wrong way, and I also realized, some may call it a moment of Zen, that any chance of a few nice days with Dee would be evaporated by the time we got to Sue’s Easy Rock. So, I gave the next taxi a wave, he stopped, and sped us in a thick silence to Sunshine Village Shopping Center.
Everything was closed save a few small eateries, time to eat some crow Mr. Negril.
“Hungry?” I asked in a conciliatory way.
“Starved” She answered, ready to pounce.
It was about 4PM Easter Sunday, downtown Negril was more of a ghost town as I’d ever seen it. We walked up to Sunrise Pizza on the second floor of the center. We ordered a shrimp pizza and a few Red Stripe Lights. From the small cafe table the Easter quiet Negril spread out before us. With a gentle turn of the head you could see far up the beach one way and the beginnings of the west end the other. We sat in silence and enjoyed the cold beer and the cool breeze.
The cute teenage waitress sensed the steely vibe beneath our polite smiles as she delivered the pizza and a few fresh beers, retreating quickly.
“This is weird, but good” Dee offered, through a mouthful of pizza.
“It is. The cheese is good but different. It has a little tang to it.” I replied. Small talk is good.
“I don’t want to fight.” Dee said. I wasn’t sure how she meant it. Was it an “I give in?” Was it a, “Let’s do things your way and I’ll trust you to keep me safe, for you are the Negril guru and I surrender may fate to you my honorable friend and master?”
Um”¦ not likely, it was more a, “You better straighten your ass out right away or I’ll make this the most miserable four days, a lonely blue-balled paradise lost.”
“I have an idea!” I said cheerfully with new-found enthusiasm, mixed with the wisdom of “Yes Dear”.
“No more walking, I like taxis, taxis are good!” Trying to make my capitulation less humiliating, but what were my choices really? In that moment my plan to share my “ex-pat for a week” idea of Negril with my friend evaporated into the reality of four days of touristy fun and frolic.
“Taxis are good, I don’t want to be a jerk, but I didn’t think we’d be walking around on these roads like that.” She was meeting me in the middle.
“Yeah, I just thought since we walked all over last time, it wouldn’t be a big deal.”
“The road on the beach is like twice as wide.” She was right, I hadn’t thought of that. I’d forgotten she’d been here a few times herself. Am I an asshole? Naaaa, couldn’t be.
There were a few cabbies in the lot when we got downstairs, I saw a familiar face and we hopped in his clean white Toyota. I handed him $20US and asked for a little tour before taking us back to the Castle. He obliged and took us out towards Sheffield on the road to Savannah-La-Mar, past the Police station and Tedd’s Shroom Boom, then somehow coming to the far end of West End Road way down along the southern shoreline. I zoned out for much of the ride, burned out by travel and by the realization my vacation was turning out much different than planned, but I was ok with it. In Negril you go with the flow. It would actually take effort to have a bad time.
All told it was a good forty minutes before we were greeted by the Castle gates. It must have been obvious we had made-up; Robert was all smiles giving me a “you’re doing better now” wink.
We had managed to get some Red Stripe and some bottled water while on our tour, so I loaded the fridge and filled the ice trays. Dee stretched out on the bed. I went about un-packing and rolling a big sunset spliff. I attempted to wake her, but she slept through our first Negril sunset.
I found a quiet spot down near the water with pen and journal; stealing a precious moment as the sun slid into the sea.
Come Monday, It’ll be alright
Sunrise: so beautiful from Blue Cave Castle. I sat on a cliff-side wall thirty feet above the Caribbean, it was still dark as the lighter purples of morning start to glow like a crown around the Negril Hills, though from where I was sitting I couldn’t see the hills.
A workman, a maintenance guy or something, stopped by, he seemed surprised to see me. Island people are funny, they feel the need to stop and sit with you for a second, as if it would be rude to pass you by with a simple wave or hello.
No Fishermen yet, but the coffee was ready. The morning coffee ritual at the Castle is a key feature of Blue Cave accommodations. Every morning before sunrise there is a big urn hot and ready to go, its green ready light can be seen from all over the property. I silently padded across the yard fill my cup with the rich Blue Mountain brew.
The morning grew lighter, but the sun still hadn’t broken thru the morning’s purple haze. Suddenly to my left (beach & town) a fisherman gunned his 15ft red wooden boat, a second follows moving a bit faster. The racing engines cracked the egg of silence and all the other morning sounds oozed from it. The rooster, earlier just an echo, made his morning call with just a bit more gusto. Cars on the road, winds thru the trees and someone clanking around the coffee hut, Negril was coming to life.
The fishing boats were in front of me, the slower stopped far from shore, I could see the fisherman moving around but couldn’t tell what he was doing. The other boat was only a few hundred feet from my cliff-side perch, I waved as he passed. He waved back from his glass bottom boat. He was fishing for early morning anglers from the cliff resorts, in that moment I wished fishing wasn’t so damned boring.
Looking across the bay there were many fishermen working the reef. These people don’t live by clocks. Do you want to know what time it is? It’s dawn. It breaks through your window, the rooster crows, you get up, wash up, eat a likke something, and then it’s off to work. If you’re a fisherman that means out on the bay to eek out a living in this tough place. I wonder how free these guys are to work as they please. Do they need a government stamp or license? Is there a Negril mob boss you have to pay tribute to? Have I been in Philly too long?
Sitting with coffee in one hand and a big spliff in the other, the caffeine and ganja mix nicely. The ganja moved in like an old friend, I drop my pen for the moment and try to connect with this, my favorite place.
Dee woke up, said good morning and proceeded on her single-minded quest for a good deep tan. She barely stopped for coffee and a little taste of spliff.
The view was good, sitting at my shaded table the grayish-white limestone walls all around this place turn blazing white in the mid-morning sun. Dee’s beautiful form laying on her deck chair while just beyond her the sea erupted in a sparkle-fest of dancing colors. A few miles north clouds were threatening, but looked to be moving out to sea, leaving just enough residue to add promise to the sunset.
It was late morning when we decided to head to the beach. I wasn’t too thrilled about dealing with sand and sellers, but Dee wanted an au-natural bathing area, and who was I to deprive her. I was hungry and she wanted a snack, so we hit Selina’s for a late breakfast.
It was nice to see Selina; always a warm welcome, a spicy Bloody Mary, and those kids just keep getting bigger. We hit the place too late for breakfast, but we ordered it anyway making Selina have to send someone out for more fruit. Selina introduced us to Mr. Brown around town, a driver, an older gentleman who gave us a deal on a trip to Half Moon Bay, a private beach and bar about nine miles north of Negril in Orange Bay. Selina gave the place big props as a beautiful and more secluded beach. Mr. Brown drove cautiously, and we felt safe with him.
Half Moon Bay was a great find. I’d seen the sign before, a man-sized yellow sheet-metal fork, knife and spoon, but I never gave it a second thought. The driveway rolls into a grove of trees, a building fronted with a bar with the small bay just beyond. We walked around a bit trying to soak the whole place in. Mr. Brown said he’d be back in a few hours to get us and then took off. We went to the bar for bottled water and Red Stripe, I asked the bartender if they rent beach towels.
“We don’t rent them,” she said. She was a pretty Jamaican girl in her late teens or early twenties wearing the light blue smock with the navy blue knee-length skirt that was the Jamaican hospitality industry standard uniform. It’s very plain but she made it look good.
“OK, can I buy a two?” I asked. This made her laugh, I was a little confused.
“I’ll give you a couple, just bring them back when you’re done.”
“Cool!” I turned to Dee, “Free towels!”
We got our towels and hit the beach. It wasn’t crowded at all, Easter Monday is a holiday in Jamaica, so we found a few beach chairs and chilled. I dragged my chair to the shade leaving Dee a few feet away in the sun, it worked out well. The bay itself was like a travel poster, a small cove a hundred yards wide with a small island covered in mangrove trees about a quarter mile out. The island plugged the bay keeping the Caribbean at bay, so to speak.
Dee was disappointed that no one was sunning nude, and not wanting to be the first she went for a swim in the shallow coral bottomed bay. About a beer later I noticed she was swimming in the midst of some local kids splashing all around her, and I expected her to rejoin me on the beach at any minute.
I got distracted watching a dog fishing. One of the owner’s dogs was actually fishing for minnows in the shallows. I didn’t know dogs ate fish, and I really didn’t know they would fish for them. It made me laugh when I realized these were Jamaican dogs, and so noted another “only in Jamaica” moment.
I looked for Dee, and I spotted her playing swim coach. She organized the half dozen kids into a game of keep away. They were all yelling and screaming, causing a ruckus and having a great time, everyone on the beach was watching the action wearing big smiles. I was happy to see Dee letting loose and coming to terms with Jamaica.
After about an hour she came out of the water breathless with a childlike grin, I was whelmed over with affection. Even I, rarely get to see the totally unguarded Dee, seeing her beam like this was a treat, and reminded me of why I wanted to be with her in this place.
We returned our towels and were about to get a little snack at the bar when Mr. Brown arrived to take us back to Negril. I paid the very low tab, tipped the hotty bartender lavishly, and piled into Mr. Brown Around Town’s taxi. Leaving Half Moon Bay, I felt like we’d discovered a secret place, great beach, nice bar, no higglers, peace and quiet. I’ll be back!
More to come – Peace
Leave a Comment July 28, 2006