Archives – January, 2007

The Jamaican “Leaping” Slug: Myth or Menace?

Deep in the hoary depths of Negril Jamaica, lives a mysterious and fabled creature. A creature that has defied definite detection, yet the locals know well the curious scent and the slimy trail of this jumping Jamaican juggernaut.

Yes, it’s the Jamaican “Leaping” Slug.

The first whispered accounts of this mythic creature date back to the earliest Spanish explorers like Columbus, and Juan Valdez. After the Spanish came the Russians, and then the Crusaders, and finally the Brits. They were all so busy raping the land for the Queen and Country that sightings were relegated to either a lack of sex, or of Vitamin C.

The first substantiated sighting came in 1791 when escaped Irish indentured servant Phinneas McBogan became the first white man to see the, and I quote, “Slimy Leaping Bastard.”

The Jamaican Leaping Slug

McBogan came to Negril fleeing his British oppressors. He befriended a small band of Jamaicans where he shared in their ceremonial mushroom tea. Later that night while wandering along the cliffs he wrote this in his journal:

“I was lying at the base of a fine palm tree. Suddenly the entire jungle began to dance a fecking jig. I had the feeling I was being watched, and then I saw it! From one grand leaf to another I watched this slimy bastard, like a bleedin’ tree frog, leaping with a mighty gusto. Brilliant!”

I came across this amazing account while excavating a humble Irish hovel high in the hills of Donegal, Ireland. You see, McBogan was my Great Great Grandfather’s next door neighbor’s daughter’s schoolmaster’s great great uncle twice removed. I became obsessed.

Many of my colleagues have been searching for more mainstream creatures like The Yeti, Bigfoot and Nessie, but since I was a boy I felt the need to be different. All my friends say I’m quite different, and I relish that clear compliment.

So, after years of careful study, I came to Negril to meet this amazing creature for myself. Limax Negrillius, as it is known to amateur crypto-gastropodologists like me, is not very different from his cousins the Spotted Leopard Slug or the GGGS (Great Grey Garden Slug). The Jamaican “Leaping” Slug is a beautiful grey color and feeds on tiny mites which inhabit banana and pimento leaves. Yes, he is a carnivore!

In my dozen or so trips to Negril, I have seen many beautiful slimy slugs, but the Leaping Slug eludes me. I promise to come back again and again, drink copious amounts of the magical mushroom tea, and I vow not to rest till I find, film and photograph my silent slippery nemesis.

Stay Tuned :)

Vinny

5 Comments January 29, 2007

Published on Negril.com

Negril.com is Negril’s Official website, and they will be publishing some of my articles and reviews. The first one is featured on today’s home page, and is a review of The Appleton Estates Rum Tour.

You can find the article here: Negril.com – http://www.negril.com

You can read the full article here: Appleton Estates Rum Tour

Thanks Negril.com!

Vinny :)

Leave a Comment January 26, 2007

Appleton Estates Rum Tour – Review

Appleton Estates is one of Jamaica’s oldest rum distilleries producing quality rums since 1749. Located in the foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains and straddling the Black River, its a scenic seventy five mile drive from Negril, and almost the same distance from Montego Bay.

Of all the things I’ve done in my travels to Jamaica, by far the most touristy was the Appleton Estates Rum Tour. Don’t get me wrong, the Rum Tour was a blast, but it was almost comical. It was the stereotypical corporate or government tour, like one you would get visiting the Hoover Dam or The Crayola Crayon Factory. 

Appleton Estates

Getting There:

The Appleton Estates Rum Tour is a popular day trip from most tourist areas in Jamaica. You begin seeing brochures as soon as you get off your plane. We hired a driver and made Appleton a part of a day trip. We began in late morning at Black River, a lunch of curried goat and jelly coconuts along Bamboo Alley, and then onto Appleton Estates by mid-afternoon.

The Tour:

“We’re walking; we’re walking; we’re stopping. Here is the cane press, in years past we had many such presses… yada, yada, yada… We’re walking; we’re walking…”

The guide was a good-looking Jamaican gent with that harmless cruise ship Jamaican accent, you know the one that doesn’t freak out white folks from Des Moines. His Appleton Estate Logo shirt was well starched, and there was a meticulous crease in his khaki slacks. I joke, but I have to give it to our guide, he was enthusiastic, informative and he hit his zingers with perfect comic timing, even the donkey played along.

Donkey

We saw sugarcane being juiced, walked past the distilling tanks, and stood in a massive warehouse holding thousands of aging rum barrels. We didn’t get to see the bottling line or anything like that. The tour was more a history of rum making in Jamaica. 

The Rum:

We had to wait a while for our tour to begin, so we wasted no time hitting the Rum Punch. You’d expect it to be all juice with a bit of rum in a place like this, well not in Jamaica, the stuff was easily sixty percent rum. I’m not much of a rum guy, after a night with a bottle of 151 when I was seventeen, but I indulged and it definitely added to the fun.

Rum Aging

A key enticement in the Appleton Estates Brochure is “A Complimentary Bottle of Rum,” and at the end of the tour everyone is given a 50ml airline bottle of “Appleton Special Jamaican Rum.” It was almost a punch line that everyone was expecting, and we all laughed as they ushered us into the gift shop. I bought a fancy bottle of 21 year old rum as a Christmas gift for my brother-in-law, and it was a great deal cheaper than other places in Jamaica.

Rum Factory

Notes:

If you do a daytrip in the area, it would be a shame to miss the Rum Tour, it’s a lot of fun, and you’ll get caught up in the moment. I wouldn’t say its a “must see,” and I doubt I’ll go there again, unless I wind up in Negril with my Dad, (He’d love this place) but I do recommend it.

Peace :)

Vinny

4 Comments January 25, 2007

Black River Safari – Review

Info:

The Black River Safari is located in the town of Black River which is about 50 miles east of Negril on highway A-2. The Black River empties into the Caribbean Sea at the town of Black River. Once a thriving sugar port, Black River is now a mecca of environmental tourism in Jamaica.

There are several ways to safari up the river, this article discusses a private tour with a local guide.

Rasta George

Getting There:

The people at your resort will be happy to arrange a driver for the day. A Black River Safari is usually paired with a tour of the south coast, a trip to one of the waterfalls, or to The Appleton Rum factory. This should cost you approximately $150US, and a decent tip. Make sure your driver knows you want a private tour on a small fishing boat.

A more adventurous mode of travel is the Route Taxi system, a low budget, but awesomely efficient system Jamaicans use to get around.

Here’s how you do it: Get to the Car Park next to the Negril Police Station and find a route taxi to Savanna-La-Mar. There will be a lot of guys trying to sell you a ride, but a true route taxi to Sav will cost about 100J. The first leg of your journey will take you to the Car Park in Sav where you will hop another taxi to Black River. This second leg will cost about 350J per person. Figuring the currency exchange; the trip to Black River equals $8-$9US each way.

From the Car Park in Black River, its a few minutes walk to the docks. Cross the bridge and look for a guide, usually a guide will find you. I ask around for a guy named Rasta George. Rasta George is a colorful character who knows the Black River Morass like I know Philly. He’s well known, so seek him out, you won’t be disappointed. Tell him Vinny sent you.

Fauna

The Safari:

Rasta George will have you wait at a restaurant right on the river where you can grab a beer or maybe an order of fries while he scares up a boat and pilot. In a few minutes Rasta George appears at the dock in a small fishing boat that seats about four travelers.

As soon as you’re off, you find yourself in a mangrove lined river, strewn with crocodiles and graceful water fowl. You get the feeling of being in a National Geographic documentary, the air is clean and clear, mountains ring the background, and an authentic Rastafarian narrates the program.

Occasionally you will see the big, covered, comfy and of course boring pontoon tourist boats lumbering up or down the river, each tourist cloaked in a green cloud of envy as they look at you’re intimate private tour.

Note the looks of envy

You’ll come up close and personal with real crocodiles, though they seem pretty mellow the first one will get your attention. Take a lot of pictures, if you’re not careful you may get back to civilization sans photos.

Croc

The Bar:

Ask your tour guide to take you up the the little thatch roofed bar way up past “the bridge.” You pull up to a small rickety dock, near a clearing in the mangrove. In that clearing is a little bar, a wonderful place to relax for a while. Lie out on the rocks, take a swim in the croc laden river, or just chill with the locals.

Black River Dock

It feels like your own secret little spot, like you’ve found something special, and you have. I was crushed when I found photos from others folks on the web showing the exact same place.

The Bar

The boat ride back to town is done at high speed, and is exhilarating. I always tip the boat pilot who doesn’t say much during the trip. Then its back to Negril or on to another adventure. For a few bucks more Rasta George will take you to the Pelican Bar, a cool ramshackle bar out in the Caribbean on a sand bar. Another unique experience.

Peace :)

Vinny

1 Comment January 25, 2007

Tedd’s Shroom Boom – Review

Tedd's Shroom Boom

Info:

The road to Savannah-La-Mar
Left hand side just before Mrs. Brown’s

The Experience:

Tedd’s Shroom Boom is a unique experience to say the least. I don’t know what kind of reputation ‘ol Tedd has around town, but you’ll get a double take from your cab driver when you say, “Tedd’s Shroom Boom, please.”

Arriving at the small house with the mushrooms painted on the front, it looks like there’s no one home. Then you walk up the steps onto the porch, knock on the door, and depending on the time of day, Garland or his son answers the door with a quiet smile.

“Um, we’d like to buy some mushroom tea?” You ask with some trepidation. He answers, “Yes Yes, how many?”

Make sure you ask for double strength, you’re there anyway why not just go for it.

It takes a while for him to boil and brew his famous tea, you can wait on the porch, mill around the yard, or sit in the shade of several large seagrape trees. While the tea is working Garland will often engage you in conversation, he is a warm gentleman who loves to tell his story.

Garland? You ask. Yes, I had a hard time figuring out why his place is called Tedd’s.

I asked him once, “So Garland, your place is called Tedd’s, but your name is Garland?”

He replied. “Yes, this is my place.” I tried this a few times, I continued to get the same answer. I gave up.

The Tea:

Hot tea, an herbal tea, a powerful mushroom flavor with a hint of honey and cow patty. It’s absolutely horrible! Horrid even. Now, I don’t want to take anything away from Garland, he’s a wonderful fellow, and I’m sure his tea tastes as good as anything that grows in shit can taste.

But of course that’s not why we go there and drink the tea, is it?

The Aftermath:

Make sure you tip well, hug Garland and his son goodbye, and get back to a controlled environment, because you’re mind is about to get a workout.

Here are a few good places to enjoy your post-tea time:

  • Whoopie’s Hammock Park – Just past the Lighthouse on Lighthouse/West End Road. Whoopie’s is a bar in a grove with hammocks everywhere. Very cool.
  • The Hammock Hut at Negril Yoga Center. (Getting the picture?)
  • A quiet bar like Peewees, Barry’s, Roots Bamboo or the Boat Bar. Any place where you can put 1000J on the bar, only having to grunt to keep the beers flowing. These places often have clientele who enjoy wavy, incoherent conversations.
  • Better yet, on your patio or veranda, especially if you’re staying on the cliffs.

Recommendation:

Go! It’s nice clean fun, just go.

Peace :)

Vinny

3 Comments January 24, 2007

Reviews Page Updated!

This past weekend I updated the “Reviews Page” on this site. I’d been trying to come up with a format, a ratings system, a color scheme, yada, yada, yada… But it was just not getting done, so I decided to read over my notes, and to write the damn things once and for all.

From the early days of this blog, way back in 2004, people have been asking me to put my opinions on record. As I wrote them I posted them on the Negril.com Message Board. I was happy with people’s reactions. My opinions caused quite a stir, and engendered a lively, even rowdy conversation, with thousands of page views and hundreds of responses.

I like to be positive, and I’m pretty easy to please, so you may notice most of these reviews are raves. I just found it easier to start with the places I’ve stayed, and with some of my favorite restaurants. Moving forward I will expand the field, I promise honest opinions, and I will pull no punches.

So, click the Reviews button on the top of this page, any feedback is welcomed and appreciated.

Peace :)

Vinny

Leave a Comment January 15, 2007

Fly Eagles, Fly…

Fly Eagles Fly, on the road to … ?

2006 Divisional Playoff – New Orleans, LA – 1/13/07
Saints 27 – Eagles 24

What did I do the morning after? I watched Rocky, the original one. I needed a dose of pure Philly heart, beacuse in the final anaysis that what my Eagles showed me last night, and these past eight weeks.

The team started out hot this season, but we were all suspect as to how good the team really was. After a few heartbreaking losses the team, and even the town seemed to lose focus.

The McNabb went down, and in came Garcia. I was one of the loud voices wanting A.J. Feeley to lead the team, win or lose, through the rest of the season, and yeah, I was cheering when Garcia too a big hit in the Colts game, and booed when he came back in after only one play. To say the least I was in a negative frame of mind.

Then week after week the team really showed me something. They were out, they had no shot, but they managed to win. Garcia managed the offense well. Everyone began to remember his time with the 49ers, we started to remember his three Pro Bowls. The guy was a gamer, I ate a lot of crow.

Brian Westbrook began to take over the offense, but best of all he took over the locker room. He became a team leader both on, and off the field. He showed a lot of heart.

Guys like Brian Dawkins and Jeramiah Trotter did the same for the defense. The whole team began to believe. It took a few weeks but the town began to come along.

Andy Reid, the coach, didn’t change his outward demeanor, but he deferred to his Offensive Coordinator, who was Garcia’s coach back in San Francisco, to call the plays. He took a step back to take a step forward, and he led the team to a Cinderella season winning the last five games. He captured the NFC East title, the respect of the NFL, and the imagination of the city.

Entering the playoffs, we all talked a big game, but in our hear of hearts we feared The Saints. We remembered how well they had our number earlier in the season, and that they had only gotten better since.

But in true Philly form our team, ravaged by injuries, tired from a short week, fought like warriors that game. The showed a lot of heart, they left it all on the field, they battled to the end, but just couldn’t punch it through in those last fifteen minutes.

All things considered, it was a good season. It was fun to dream about the Superbowl for a couple of weeks.

And like most of the nation’s football fans, I’ll start thinking about or chances in ’07.

Go Eagles!

Vinny :)

Leave a Comment January 14, 2007

Smokey Joe’s – Review

Smokey Joe’s is a classic Jamaican Roadside Jerk Stand.

Smokey Joe's

Info:

Norman Manley Blvd
Opposite Kuyaba give or take a few yards.

Food:

I’ve only had the Jerk Chicken, served with a thick chunk of white bread wrapped in tin foil. Excellent! This is as simple as it gets, but please, don’t mistake simple with ordinary.

Character:

A Roadside Jerk Stand lunch is an experience, savor more than just the food. Don’t just order and wait. Engage the Jerkmaster in conversation, you won’t be disappointed. I get an education every time I go to a place like this. This is more than what he does, this is who he is, and he likes to tell his story.

Be hungry and not afraid to eat with your fingers. It’s all a part of the experience, go for it!

Value:

Jerk Dinner from 300J – 800J, this is roadside and haggling might be necessary. You never pay the quoted price for anything else on the street, be it a necklace or a rented scooter. He usually has a Red Stripe for 100J

Notes:

I love street food. You can really get to know a place in a visceral way by eating its street food. Cheesesteaks in Philly, dirty water hot dogs in NYC and Jerk Chicken in Jamaica. There are many great Jerk stands, they come and go. Don’t miss this treat!

4 Angels

Vinny :)

2 Comments January 14, 2007

Ozzie’s Jerk Center – Review

Info:

Location: Norman Manley Blvd
Opposite: Native Son Villas and Seasplash Resort

Food:

Jerk Pork is the house special here. The jerk smoke and spices infuse the tender juicy pork parts with what can only be described as a culinary orgasm. My date had the Jerk Chicken. I tasted a piece of her’s and it was excellent, but when I gave her a piece of mine, her eyes narrowed into green slits of envy. I wouldn’t give her another piece.

Character:

I didn’t meet Ozzie, but the service was quick and friendly. The place itself is a small building near the road with a nice breeze blowing through the hurricane shuttered windows.

Value:

Jerk Chicken w/ Rice & Peas 350J – Jerk Pork w/ Rice @ Peas 350J – Bottled Water 100J – Red Stripe is 150J

Notes:

I’ve been to Ozzie’s twice, once heading back from Half Moon Beach and once heading to the airport. The place is clean, the service is very quick by Negril standards, the food is good, and the beer is icy cold. What more can you ask for?

3 Angels

Vinny :)

4 Comments January 14, 2007

Best Of The West – Review

Best Of The West lives up to it’s name. The Jerk Chicken here is prepared “Boston Beach” style. Boston Beach located on the eastern tip of Jamaica near Port Antonio and is considered the birthplace of Jerk. The Jerk Stands at Boston Beach are the best in the east, hence, Best Of The West.

Best Of The West has won my “Best Jerk Chicken Of The Trip” award three times. Unfortunately I missed it on my pre-Christmas trip in ’06.

Best of the West

Info:

Location: Norman Manley Blvd (aka Beach Road)
Opposite Coco La Palm and Charela Inn.

Food:

The Jerk Chicken is done to perfection here. Spicy, succulent, sensational, savory, and super-yummy! Best Of The West is more than just a roadside jerk stand, they have a menu that will tempt you from mid-morning till late at night.

Character:

Best of the West is also a bar, you can relax before your meal, or you can eat it right there. I usually enjoy a Red Stripe, and some good conversation while I wait for my food, I’ve always gone the take-out route.

There is always an interesting mix of folks milling about from road walking tourists, to scantily clad local girls who are very friendly. I guess it’s just my charm :)

Value:

Red Stripe is 100J – Jerk Lunch/Dinner $400J – Pina Colada 250J

Notes:

This is usually a “Don’t Miss” for me, though I missed it last time. Driving to the airport we passed by and I kicked myself for missing it. The food is great, no doubt, but walk up there after sunset on an early-to-bed night and enjoy the Negril-ness of this delicious spot.

4 Angels

Vinny :)

4 Comments January 14, 2007

Rick’s Cafe – Review

Info:

West End Road – Just before the Lighthouse
(876) 957-0380
Website

Food:

The food is actually better than it gets credit for, but it’s not great, and only mildly Jamaican. It is what it is, a tourist trap with a lot of history and charm.

Drinks:

It’s all about the bar. The bartenders are flashy, the beer is cold, and it has the biggest selection of frozen drinks in town. One new feature are cocktail tables on a patio right off the pool in two feet of water. Way cool!

Ambiance:

Tourist trap? Maybe, but very chic. The place, since it’s been redone is awesome. The Cliff Diving is as exhilarating as ever. Tourists line up to jump, and we all cheer when they do it. Buff Jamaican guys still jump from the trees fifty feet above the cove, and little kids jump from lower perches for tips.

The Pool/Cabana area is very cool. You can rent a Cabana a few feet from the pool, which is like a VIP room for you and your friends.

There are two floors now, and watching the sunset from the second floor with lots of booze and new friends is always a highlight of my trips.

Service:

I guess the service is okay. I always go to the bar for drinks, and usually I only eat appetizers.

Value:

Rick’s is short on value by Negril standards, but on any other scale it’s quite reasonable.

Notes:

Some magazine called Rick’s “One of the Ten Best Bars in the World,” and they quote that statement on everything they can. But Rick’s has history, it’s been there since 1974, and no one can deny it’s role in the early growth and lure of Negril. Hey, The Rolling Stones played there!

Rick’s gets a bad rap from us Negrilheads, but I secretly love the place. It’s a guilty pleasure. I go there on almost every trip, and it’s always a great time. It’s fun to immerse yourself in the bus loads of all-inclusive types for a few hours.

Either on a big catamaran like the Wild Thing, or on one of the dozens of glass bottom boats who work the bay, a great way to get to Rick’s is by sea. Riding back alone the cliff resorts just after sunset is a wonderful experience.

4 Angels

Vinny :)

2 Comments January 14, 2007

Kuyaba Restaurant – Review

Info:

Norman Manley Blvd – Mid-Beach
Between Legends and Beach House Villas
(876) 957-4318
Website

Food:

The food at Kuyaba is very tasty and well prepared. The menu is more varied than most in Negril, classic Jamaican dishes mixed with Jamaican variations of American, Italian and Asian favorites. I’ve eaten at Kuyaba half a dozen times. I love the Chicken Kabobs over rice pilaf. Pasta Carbonara and Lobster Thermador are both well done.

On my latest trip we enjoyed Dessert at the bar. I had warm Rum Cake with Ice Cream, wow. My friends shared a creamy cheese cake, which they enjoyed with moans of happiness.

Drinks:

After dinner hour, most of the restaurant turns into a luxurious lounge. The bar is one of the nicest in Negril, it has an almost Polynesian feel, and the most unique hanging hammock bar stools I’ve ever seen.

There is a decent wine list with about twenty selections. It’s nice to order a bottle, for $20-$50US, to add some real elegance to your dining experience.

I’m a cold beer guy, but when I go to Kuyaba I find myself ordering rum filled foo-foo drinks complete with umbrellas and big fruit garnishes.

Ambiance:

Kuyaba’s has an ambiance that changes from day into night. During the day, it’s a wide open place with a big bar in the center with a clear view of the beach. If you want some sun, grab a beach chair and go lay out, or just sit at the bar and enjoy the view. In the evening the moonlit sea is within earshot, while the darkness seems to enclose the place making it a quiet, even intimate experience.

My first time at Kuyaba was in February 2002, it was nice then, but it gets nicer every season. The owners continually upgrade, adding new rooms, new landscaping, beautiful stone patios, and walkways.

Looking for something special, something romantic? Try white tablecloth dining on the beach. I’ve never done it, but if I was trying to impress, this would be the ticket.

Service:

Service is very good at Kuyaba. It’s casual for breakfast and lunch, but for dinner they really turn it on. Candle lit tables with white tablecloths, and well trained experienced waiters. Kuyaba is one of the top five restaurants in town.

Value:

Breakfast and Lunch are very reasonable for such a nice place. You’re going to pay more than the Jerk Cart out in front, but here you really get what you pay for. Dinner is pricey by Negril standards, but by the time the check arrives you have no qualms about paying the freight. They accept all major credit cards.

Notes:

When my friend asked for a romantic place where he could propose to his girlfriend, I told him to go to Kuyaba on the beach, or Rockhouse in the cliffs, depending on his preference.

Kuyaba is beautiful, and just keeps getting better. It’s great for a nice lunch or a dress-up dinner, but is casual enough to get drunk with your friends at the bar. I highly recommend it, four and a half angels out of five.

4.5 Angels

Vinny :)

Leave a Comment January 14, 2007

Brown Sugar – Review

Info:

West End Road – Opposite Home Sweet Home Resort
Website

Brown Sugar

Food:

Brown Sugar has good food at a great price. I order breakfast most days, and I have it delivered. It arrives hot and quick. American Breakfast of eggs, bacon and toast with fresh squeezed juice hits the spot. I also order a tasty Callaloo and Saltfish with Johnny Cakes. I’ve ordered lunches of Jerk Chicken or Curried Chicken, and the food always arrives hot and fresh.

On this most recent trip my friends and I had an early dinner at the restaurant. Simple, yummy, big portions and ice cold beer, what more can you ask? I had the Brown Stew Chicken, and I cleaned my plate.

Ambiance:

The ambiance is a nice meal on your balcony or patio, I repeat, they deliver! Rustic roadside food shack, it is very small but quaint. It’s like you’re coming to their house for dinner.

It’s a great little find you can take your friends to on their first trip to Negril, and they will swear you’re really plugged in to the town.

Service:

Everything is made to order, so it may take a while, but it was worth the wait. Delivery speed is better than you would expect, breakfast arrives in half an hour, and a nice tip seems to make subsequent orders come faster.

Value:

You can’t beat the prices. American Breakfast with orange mango juice for 300J. 300J also gets you a Jerk Chicken lunch.

Notes:

Brown Sugar may never win any awards, and it will be missed by most Negril travelers, but it’s a solid bet for a good meal at a good price delivered to your room. My most recent eight day visit I ordered five times. They are open for breakfast at 7:30AM.

4 Angels

Vinny :)

Leave a Comment January 14, 2007

Xtabi Restaurant – Review

Info:

Elegant cliff side dining
West End Road – Between Samsara and 3Dives
(876) 957-0121
Website

Food:

Xtabi won the “Best Meal of the Trip” Award for my April ’06 trip. I recommend the Grilled Red Snapper. They do a great job with it. They don’t over grill, they marinate with butter, so it’s almost half broiled and quite tender.

For dessert I had some fantastic rum-raisin ice cream over coconut cream pie. Everything was excellent, well prepared and attractively plated.

Drinks:

Xtabi has a great bar, one of the few in Negril where you feel comfortable ordering a martini, or a bottle of Champagne. Since my friends were staying at Xtabi, I had several chances to enjoy frozen drinks, including a Dirty Banana that hits the spot on a warm afternoon.

Ambiance:

Caribbean Elegant. Cliff-Side Dining at it’s best. I’ll put it up against any restaurant in town. Romantic candle lit tables for two on the edge of the cliff, were very nice. The foliage mixed with tiny white Christmas lights all around makes for intimacy in the evening and a wide open view during the day.

As good as it is, and it’s very good, there’s no pretension. It’s as casual as 3Dives or Roots Bamboo.

Reserve a table for at least one of your sunsets.

Service:

The service at Xtabi is more “White Tablecloth” style than most places in Negril. Put on some of your nicer clothes, walk through the bar, give the hostess your name, have a cocktail, relax. Your uniformed waiter is well trained and knows the menu well. He’ll even scrape the crumbs from the table.

Value:

As good as the food is, how beautiful the property is, and how excellent the service is, the prices are very reasonable. In April ’06 we had frozen drinks, a bottle of decent Champagne, an appetizer, Grilled Lobster and Grilled Red Snapper, I don’t think I spent, including a good tip, $100US.

Notes:

This is a Negril don’t miss. Four and a half angels out of five on my “Heaven On a Plate” scale. For a nice date in the cliffs, its where I go. It’s just as nice as Rockhouse, with better prices, and in my experience, better service.

4 Angels

Vinny :)

5 Comments January 14, 2007

3Dives Jerk Centre – Review

Info:

West End Road – Just past Samsara & Xtabi
876-782-9990
Website

Food:

Jerk Chicken with Rice & Peas is a mainstay of Jamaican Cuisine, and Lydie does it better than most. The food is fresh and made to order. Lobster (in season) is done well at 3Dives, cut in half lenthwise, Jamaican style. I’ve had the Fish of the Day too, but watch out for them bones!

Drinks:

I don’t think I’ve ever had anything other than Red Stripe or Ting, but they are cold. I always order one from the bar, the waitresses sometimes take a while to get to you.

Ambiance:

Rustic Roadside Negril Style Dining. Covered wooden tables on the main patio. There’s a thatch bar out near the water, 3Dives is right in the cliff. I guess there are three places to dive from, but I always stay on land. There is lots of room to roam around and watch the sunset, or just relax.

Service:

The food is made to order. It’s best to go on busy nights, the waitresses can be a bit aloof on slower nights.

Value:

The food is so reasonable. 1/2 Jerk Chicken 500J – Curries Chicken 400J – Grilled Lobster 1500J – Red Stripe 150J

Notes:

I never miss 3Dives. The food is consistantly fantastic, and the ambiance is exactly what you dream up when you think about a Jamaican Jerk Joint. Not fancy, but perfect. It’s become world famous since The Amazing Race featured it in one of their episodes, Lydie was the guy giving the clue to the next destination.

4 Angels

Vinny :)

Leave a Comment January 14, 2007

Selina’s Coffee Bar and Eatery – Review

Info:

Norman Manley Blvd.
Opposite Merrils III and Yellowbird (876) 957-9519
Website

Food:

I’ve eaten many meals at Selina’s, Jamaican Breakfast, American Breakfast, Big Roy’s Banana Pancakes, all the favorites, and I’ve never had a bad meal. Always made to order, fresh and hot.

On my most recent trip I met Petra the night time chef. I realized I never had dinner at Selina’s, so later that week a few friends and I tried it out. I was completely blown away by Petra’s Vegetable Lasagna. It was hands down the best meal of the trip, I later found out it was Selina’s recipe.

Drinks:

Selina’s Secret Recipe Bloody Mary is quite yummy. She has this jar of spicy pickled veggies she uses for garnish. Order yours extra spicy!

Selina and Big Roy also sell Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee by the pound. Forget that burlap bag crap, go see Selina.

Ambiance:

Rustic Roadside Negril Style Dining.

Service:

Made to order, good conversation, worth the wait.

Value:

Red Stripe is 150J – Breakfast with coffee 300-600J

Notes:

I’ve been going to Selina’s for years. Selina and Big Roy are great hosts. I never miss the RealNegril.com Sunday Brunch Webcast with great local entertainment, it’s how I found the place. I usually stop by another few times to eat and buy coffee. This is a Negril don’t miss!

4 Angels

Vinny :)

9 Comments January 14, 2007

Blue Cave Castle – Review

The Castle rises majestically from the Negril cliffs. Once close up you realize this place was not built by Pirate Calico Jack, but maybe by Dr. Seuss! No stuffy historic feel of a historic castle, it’s more like a grown-up’s fantasy land.

The Blue Cave Castle refers to itself as “The best kept secret in the Caribbean,” and I’m trying to get the word out.

The Castle doesn’t have all the bells and whistles of other resorts, there’s no pool, no tennis courts, but what it does have it has in such abundance that I never have time to focus on what’s not there. The value is unmistakable, low season or high, the prices are so reasonable, you think, “There’s gotta be a typo on this website.”

The view is wide open, the rooms are spotless, the nights are peaceful and the staff is wonderful. You can’t go wrong.

Location:

The Castle is located about a mile out on West End Road within walking distance of just about everything. Right in the neighborhood there is a mini-market, a beer shack, some great craft stands, and restaurants like Brown Sugar and Choices who both deliver.

Accommodations:

The rooms at The Castle are big and well kept. Though there are rooms with A/C and TVs, I’ve never stayed in one. I rely on the thick stone walls and the ceiling fan to keep me cool, and I bring a netbook to take advantage of the free wireless internet. Each room has a good sized fridge, a fat water shower, plenty of storage, and some outdoor private space.

Within the last few seasons, the restaurant is open! Delivering fantastic home-cooked meals to your room, or al fresco at one of the many picnic tables in the yard. The prices are, dare I say, cheap! The service is prompt, and the quality excellent. A few mornings I staggered to the edge of my balcony, and called to the room service attendant, “Callaloo Omlet please.”

But one of the best Castle perks is in a little hutch on the far side of the yard. By about 5AM every morning there is an urn of hot fresh coffee, and for we early risers it is much appreciated.

People:

I feel like I’m coming home when I enter The Castle gates. Petrona, the Manager, and Susan, the on-site owner, have created a warm friendly atmosphere, and a well run resort. Fuzzy and Santo the security and yard guys are cool, they look out for you.

Whatever you need, just ask. Want to go snorkeling? They have a guy. A trip to the falls? They have a guy. Need to rent a phone? They have a guy. And on, and on.

Property:

For a small resort The Castle has a lot to offer. There are ample places to get sun, patios everywhere with thick wooden deck chairs, lush plants and flowers, and two sets of concrete stairs down to the sea.

The swimming is great; the calm Caribbean waters are easy to negotiate. There are several platforms with ladders, perches to dive from, and good snorkeling is just a short swim out to the reef.

Then there’s the cave itself. In the center of the yard there is a stairway down into the cave with a thick iron chain keeping you from falling in when your drunk. The coral walls echo into the small enclosed space, and if you’re daring you can swim out through the mouth of the cave into the swimming area.

There’s a BBQ pit big enough for a huge party, and plenty tables and chairs all around. There is also a pond with many turtles large and small, and a bunch of those giant goldfish.

Even if you decide to stay elsewhere, stop by and look around, and you’ll wish you picked The Castle.

Vinny :)

http://bluecavecastle.com/

1 Comment January 13, 2007

White Sands – Review

I stayed at White Sands in August 2005, I spent the first few days of that trip at Blue Cave Castle, and then I went to White Sands mainly because I was afraid of the August heat. White Sands had air conditioning. I’m trying to be positive, but I really didn’t like White Sands. If Blue Cave is my castle by the sea, then White Sands was my Motel 6 by the road.

Location:

White Sands has a great location straddling Beach Road on the north of the beach resorts before you get to all the big all-inclusives. It is also close to everything. Selina’s is ten walking minutes south and Best of the West is five minutes north.

Accommodations:

I saw really nice rooms all around me, big, airy, well lit, great patios and nice grounds. My room, on the other hand, was like a cave. I have a friend who swears by White Sands, but my experience was poor. My room was on a small strip of land between the driveway and the northern fence. The view out my door was a trash filled vacant lot, and my patio had the feel of a prison cell. It was six feet wide and three feet deep, and right on the driveway that everyone uses for beach access. There was a stockade-style fence, but it was easy to see through, so much so I had to keep the curtains drawn the whole time. The A/C kept the room cool, but wasn’t strong enough to handle the humidity. Mix that with closed curtains and you can see where I got my cave analogy.

People:

Maybe it was because it was a very slow time, but the only friendly employee was the PM bartender at the beach bar, everyone else treated me like I was wearing a Jamaica Sucks t-shirt. It didn’t help that most of my fellow guests were rude Italians who obviously forgot we saved their asses in WW2.

Property:

White Sands is a nice well kept property except for the general area of my room. The pool was very nice, many topless Italian women, but their significant others, unfortunately, were all in speedos. The beach access was a nice touch, and there were very few beach hustlers.

One great feature is a raised sun tanning patio where one could do so au natural with out people like me ogling them.

So, if you go to White Sands stay on the garden side and don’t book in August.

Vinny :)

3 Comments January 13, 2007

Guardsman Guardsmen Guarding

When Im in Negril I try to travel light money-wise. I know me, the more I have, the more Ill spend. Filling up also forces me to get off my butt, and to get out of the resort.

This particular money run took place on Wednesday, though it may have been Thursday, after paying for breakfast I was down to four hundred fifty dollars, Jamaican dollars, about six bucks US, so I needed some cash. I hopped into a route taxi and headed into town.

You want me to wait for you. Bring you back? the driver asked.

Sure how much? I knew this would cost me.

500J he came back.

Three hundred, I haggled. Id paid the standard 50J into town, but I didnt mind over paying as long as he knew, that I knew I was overpaying. His nod was all I needed, and we pulled into Sunshine Plaza where my preferred ATM at the NCB, was located.

I hopped out of the taxi as two armored cars aggressively pulled into the parking lot. Their deliberate actions got everyones attention. Everything paused.

The first red and black armored car parked directly in front of the bank, while its counterpart circled menacingly through the lot, the sun bouncing off its dark tinted windows, the name GUARDSMAN emblazoned on its side in tough bold letters. After two laps the second car pulled up to the first, parking nose to nose blocking the egress lane.

The armored cars looked just like they do in the US, but the reaction of the Jamaicans in the parking lot took me by surprise. The lot holds about fifty cars, and it was just more than half full, mostly taxis. You can say a lot about Jamaican taxi drivers, shrinking violets they are not, but they all seemed to pause. No one walked though the imaginary line the trucks made in the lot.

I was half expecting a muscle bound guy in a tight black t-shirt, with studded army boots and a snarling Pit Bull to jump out of the armored car.

Suddenly the passenger doors of both armored cars opened simultaneously, and out of each came a man wearing black trousers, red polo styled golf shirts, Guardsman baseball caps, and extremely large pump-action shotguns. They were holding them not like props, but like they were ready to shoot someone as they scanned the crowd. 

I felt like such a white bread tourist geek, as I stood agog at the scene before me. Ive come to Jamaica so many times, I like to think I’ve passed beyond mere tourist. Ive been on the back streets of Montego Bay, and Sav-La-Mar, up in the ganja fields, and even spent a few wild late nights at the now defunct Close Encounters. I thought Id seen the Real Jamaica hustlers are always trying to sell, but I was experiencing something real here.

The shotgun guys must have given a sign to their armored security counterparts, the back doors opened, and a team of three emerged from each car. First was a manager type with a white shirt and tie, and two uniformed guards, their hands on holstered semi-automatic pistols. One team went into the Hi-Lo supermarket, while the other went into the ATM booth. One shotgun guy followed each team stopping to guard the respective doors.

A collective sigh seemed to come over the crowd. The people in the parking lot stayed in the parking lot, and as shoppers came out of the store, they waited, not wanting to cross the line. I was already closer to the ATM than my cab so I walked up and stood near the ATM as if I was the next in line.

The shotgun guy looked me over, Morning, he said his finger still looped within the trigger guard, Just a few more minutes.

Take your time, I said with a nervous smile. Im on vacation, I have all day. I immediately thought I was talking too much.

Minutes went by. I looked over to my taxi. The driver was looking impatient sitting on the hood of the car. I shrugged in a Hey what can I do? gesture knowing me his tip was increasing with each passing minute. I turned back to the guy with the big gun and saw I was now second in line.

In front of me was a fidgety white guy, dressed in all-inclusive chic, starched Hawaiian shirt, khaki slacks, dock-siders and a Yankees cap.

Hey Pal, the line forms behind me, I said as un-aggressively as I could.

What the hell is going on here? I need to get some cash! He almost shouted to me and the large man with the large gun.

Just a few more minutes sir, the guard said firmly.

Yeah Skippy, right after Im done, I said getting annoyed, buoyed by the idea the guy with the shotgun was now my buddy.

This is bullshit! What, do you people think you can just waste my time! Bullshit! This guy was nuts, here he was, ranting at an armed no nonsense guy, not to mention pissing me off.

Worst of all he was a fellow American, from his accent I figured Connecticut or Upstate New York, I wish he would have stayed there. Im proud to be an American, but this ugly American looked so very ugly from this vantage point. I looked at the faces of the Jamaicans across the way, they seemed amused. I wondered if they differentiate between him and me.

For a moment I wondered what the shotgun guy would do if I slapped the shit out of Skippy, you know, for America, but before I could find out Skippy stormed off.

Fucking Americans, I muttered eliciting a smile from the big guy with the gun.

A couple of minutes later a knock came from inside the ATM booth and the big guy with the gun moved about ten feet closer to the armored car.

The Manager Guy came out flanked by the other two guards, one holding his pistol and the other carrying bags of what I assumed was money.

“Go right a head sir,” the Manager Guy said to me while holding the door open. “Would you like us to wait for you to finish?”

“No, I’m fine.” I responded wondering if he thought I was the yelling asshole ugly American Guy.

I made eye contact with the big guy with the gun, “Thanks,” I said. He nodded in reply.

I went in and withdrew 15,000J, it sounds like a lot more than it is, and by the time I got out the armored cars were starting their motors. 

I headed back to The Blue Cave Castle to meet up with my friends for lunch. I paid the driver his 500J.
Vinny :)

10 Comments January 12, 2007

Why do the windows have to be broken?

The answer comes back, “they have to be.”

I always notice this same building, next to the train tracks, abandoned, a five story walk up close to the “bad” part of town. Just past the Temple Train Station heading into Center City, a block from a beautiful gold domed church, or maybe its a mosque. A well built brick structure, old, but not ancient. Wood framed broken windows, flat roof intact, no apparent fire damage, standing like a bored centurion at the edge of blighted North Philly.

I noticed how I always ask the same curious question, “Why do the windows have to be broken?”

Why not, “Why are the windows broken?” or even, “Who broke them windows?”

I wonder if the question stems from residual institutional racism, abandoned broken windowed buildings are usually on the wrong side of the tracks.” I pondered that for a moment.

Maybe it was some self window breaking guilt. I was raised Catholic, guilt is a part of the doctrine (I even feel guilty writing that).

I grew up in rural suburban New Jersey, as a kid my friends and I would break windows in abandoned houses, we never asked why. Did those windows have to be broken? I guess so. They just had to be, and it fell upon us to break them, though usually by the time we discovered the house the windows were already broken.

Someone should board them up.You can learn more at Toolerant

Vinny :)Â

Leave a Comment January 9, 2007


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