Negril AGAIN - by far the best trip to date.....
Trip Start Mar 15, 2003
6Trip End Ongoing
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To convince a city-slicking 12 year old boy that Disneyland is not the best vacation in the world. The tools I have to complete my mission: a tight budget, 2 tickets to Jamaica and a 12 year old boy with an attitude about going. He thinks that just because its my favorite place on earth, why should I have to inflict it upon others? What is there to do on a beach all day for 7 days straight? His biggest concern was staying up all night the night before departure packing his most fashionable clothing and burning CD's of songs that will remind him mostly of home while we're gone.
Saturday, after 6 hours of a rare direct flight from Calgary, Canada to Montego Bay, Jamaica, our plane begins its
to the bottom where all the coral reefs are, and he could distinctly see the different depths of the Caribbean Sea.
Finally the plane turned to an angle where we could see the island, although it doesn't look like much from the air, just a bunch of green hills dotted with a bunch of white houses. No concrete jungle in sight, and no theme parks. I know in my heart the joy of stepping off an airplane into this beauty, this climate, this culture, this natural wonderland....but does he? What will he think of the seemingly low-tech airport compared to the likes of the big cities we've been to? What will he think of the gong-show taxi ride to our cabins, an hour and a half away in Negril? What do I mean by gong-show you might ask? Pay close attention later, to any of the descriptions of our taxi rides!
Our plane touches down and anyone who is Jamaican on this flight applauds the landing, something I became accustomed to in past trips
In 2004 at Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay (MoBay), there were no boarding bridges from the plane to the airport yet, so when you land there you descend a flight of stairs onto the tarmac. While still in our seats the front and rear doors of the plane are opened up and immediately the warm, humid air rushes through the cabin, and instantly my pants are sticking to my legs. To me this is like "old faithful", the fresh smell in the air, the humidity, the heat. I find myself thinking "this is it...he'll either love it or hate me for subjecting him to this."
While we wait in the customs and immigration line, my mind wanders to whether or not our taxi man Lloyd will be waiting for us when we get through. In Jamaica, time is usually not of the essence, it's known as "Jamaican time" which means if there's a clock on the wall it usually doesn't work. Finally a distraction....the singing ladies! Aside from the fact that I'm actually in Jamaica, the singing ladies are my favorite part of arriving
work for the Jamaica Tourist Board and they greet every plane-load of tourists with a performance of random folk songs such as "Welcome to Jamaica". It's very apparent that the people of Jamaica know tourism is their #1 industry.
For me the excitement of having yet another Jamaican stamp in my passport is payoff enough, for Curtis it'll take a lot more convincing. The ride from MoBay to our cabins in Negril is an hour and a half of countryside and some not so nice scenery, which will serve as his first impression of this country.
As we step out into my beloved Jamaican sun, up rushes Lloyd, our taxi driver to whisk us away. We don't actually know him but I spoke with him on the phone 2 weeks earlier to book our ride. He was recommended by the lady who owns the cabins we are staying at. He shakes my son's hand as if to treat him like a man and asks if its his first time in Jamaica. Curtis says yes sheepishly, actually having to admit he's a tourist and not a regular. But they do the man thing and quickly get to know each other on the way to the taxi van. Curtis finds it amusing that the vehicles in Jamaica have a right-side driver's seat and drive on the opposite side of the road
Most of the highway between Mobay and Negril is full of potholes and lined with little wooden shacks in poor repair. Although, if you look up to the left you will see the odd white mansion on the hillside and wonder who actually lives there. After traveling a ways outside of Mobay, over to the right is the ocean which follows
you the rest of the way to Negril.
Curtis is very quiet in the back seat and it makes me wonder if he's already regretting this trip, since the majority of the scenery is small wooden shacks, children and old people seemingly riding their bicycles and walking to nowhere, and cook shops that look like somewhere you wouldn't eat if you were paid. I turn to ask Curtis if its too windy back there, as Lloyd prefers to have all the windows down rather than turn on air conditioning. This does wonders for my curly hair, considering that humidity + wind = messed up afro! To my surprise Curtis answers, "no, I'm just taking in the scenery".
Finally we reach pretty much the first civilization since leaving Mobay, a town called Lucea (pronounced Lucy). It's a bustling little place, the streets crowded with people, cars and buses carrying other tourists on their way to Negril. Our speed reduces from Mach 1 to a crawl, and I always marvel at the apparent "I've been driving in Jamaica my whole life" expertise of these taxi drivers inside town or city limits. There never appears to be any road rules. Pedestrians, cyclists and vehicles compete for right of way, yet no one gets hit. And when two cars pass in the street there is only a fraction of an inch between them
Lloyd stops behind another taxi van whose driver and Caucasian passengers are standing around the van. There's also a police officer talking to them. Lloyd gets out, runs into a store to get Curtis a beverage and then stands outside talking to the other driver. After a few minutes, Lloyd and the Caucasian couple approach our van and get in. The story was that the other taxi didn't have current JUTA stickers and is forbidden to carry passengers for money. Lloyd agrees to take on the 2 passengers as they're heading for Negril as well.
The two Americans sit in the back with Curtis, and after conversing for a couple minutes we learn they have come to Jamaica to get married and honeymoon at a large resort. They are quite disgusted with their experience so far since they had only been in Jamaica a few hours and it was a disaster. As if trying to impress Curtis isn't hard enough, he gets to hear first hand someone else's horror stories. I immediately jump in and assure them the rest of their trip will be unforgettable and that in a couple years they'd look back and laugh at the mishap. I hate when I hear tainted views of Jamaica, I sort of take it personally.
After driving another half hour, the familiarity of "my town" comes rushing back to me when I see the first of the major Negril resorts on the right side of the road
like to be mashed in with all the "other" tourists. I get to see enough North Americans when I'm at home. In my opinion, staying in an all-inclusive resort defeats the purpose of traveling to a country with a different culture.
Our van slows down as we approach this monstrosity of a resort, the Riu, on the right. I've heard and read a lot about it. I know it's beautiful, known worldwide and overpriced, but serves its purpose for people who want to come to Jamaica and not worry about organizing their own marriage and honeymoon. Lloyd pulls into the rounded driveway right in front of the main doors so we can see into the lobby. Wow. Impressive. We wish the couple well, congratulate them on their marriage and I sincerely hope the rest of their trip would be hassle free. I see them slip Lloyd some money that he tries to refuse, with no success.
Onward. 15 minutes or so up Norman Manly Blvd, where the hotels gradually got smaller and much less than MEGA, the van slows and stops. This is it, the moment of truth
The place we're staying this week, Lazy Dayz, is run by a fellow Canadian out of Ontario. In 2004 it was comprised of about 6 rustic cabins, a gazebo style loft, a 2 bedroom guest house, and a really nice beach house where the owner stays when she's in Jamaica, and gets rented out when she's not. There is also a really tiny wooden cabin where the cleaning and maintenance staff stays.
The two cabins I rented for the week are the smallest, but are built up on a really large wooden deck that has 2 picnic tables and 2 porch swings. In between the 2 little cabins is a smaller wood structure that houses 2 toilets and 2 sinks, separated by a wall. Behind that is an outdoor shower...one of the surprises not even I knew about! This shower area is only partially surrounded by a fence about my height, and the toilet building. To me, this seems charming. Who wouldn't want to shower outside surrounded by lush greenery and the sound of reggae music?
Although I have to admit, the first time I used it I kept my bathing suit on assuming someone's sole mission was to walk around the corner and catch me naked
Lloyd gave me his cell number in case we needed to get around during the week, and then he left. As he drove away we were presented with the keys to our 2 cabins by a staff member. She pointed towards the staff quarters and advised us that if we needed anything we should come there and ask. I also knew that the Canadian owner of the property would be arriving in a couple of days. I felt completely safe and secure here, although we hadn't actually opened the doors yet.
The grand opening....I felt like a married couple about to cross a threshold and I'm nervous. Remember, I'm in Jamaica facing a city boy who didn't want to be on this trip. This is day one, I don't want to go through 6 more full of misery from a child wondering when we're getting the hell out of here! I've done this trip before and stayed in
meager accommodations and I know I can handle it. In fact, it increases the pleasure I get from experiencing life. But the only places my son has been involve amusement rides and skateboard parks.
I insert the key, turn the knob, open the door and VOILA
I relax a little more about Curtis now because he's been to my uncle's cabin before and loves it there. There are definitely no frills here but I also know we won't be doing anything inside these cabins except sleeping. The purpose of our trip is not to hang out indoors and play cards. Once Curtis actually steps outside of these gated grounds he will finally see what I see and feel what I feel on this God-given island.
Curtis has a smile on his face so it seems that all is well and I can rest easier. I start making excuses for the lack of a fancy hotel but he seems to think "whatever". I think that means he likes it, he already has his shirt off and ball cap on, ready to hit the beach. Its very late in the afternoon now, the sun will be setting in a couple hours and I
realize we haven't eaten since before lunch time
The next challenge that I have in mind for him is food. Yes you can find burgers and fries in Jamaica, hell there's a KFC and a Burger King in Mobay. But the less expensive food is local food and it's really something that shouldn't be missed. If you don't eat local you really haven't experienced anything here. One of my favorite places to hang out in past trips is called Sun Beach Bar and that's where I figure we'll eat our first meal since its familiar and its close by. They have local and western food and lots of Red Stripe for moms.
Our cabins were set back on the moderately treed property a little ways, so we started walking towards the front of the property passing the staff cabin, the 2 bedroom house, the loft and the beach house. At the front of the property there is a large iron gate that's left open during the day. Beyond that I see the magnificent Caribbean Sea in its entire blue-green splendor. I can hear the rumble of the waves washing up on the sand, I can smell the salty air, and I can see the yellow-orange sky as sunset is approaching. I know Curtis has never seen anything quite like this before. Stepping through the gate, the full effect of 7 Mile Beach overcomes us. I've seen it before but each time is like the first. You actually have to know my son to know that when he says "whoa" he means it. I think the magnitude of the scenery is one of the few sacred things in my little world.
We turn to the right and walk up the beach. Sun Beach Bar is a few hotels down the beach. It's been a while since I've been there and as I walk up I'm shocked to see it's the same girl, Sophie, working there
During our ride from the airport to our cabins I used my cell phone to contact Piper, who was going to come meet us at some point during our stay. Using a foreign cell phone in Jamaica is not advisable since the roaming charges are astronomical but when compared to the cost of renting a cell phone for the week, it worked out to be the about same. As long as my calls were quick, to the point, "where are you? Okay see you there", I wasn't worried about the bill when I got home. Oddly enough I had found out that incoming calls were more expensive per minute than outgoing calls. Interesting. And I must explain the only reason I even insisted on having a cell phone there was because I have friends in Jamaica from previous trips. Life is better there when you can contact your local friends.
This first night we decided to take it easy since we had been up since 4AM to catch our flight
Somewhere we could sit and enjoy the sound of the ocean until we were tired enough to sleep. And we were also
waiting on Piper to come greet us.
Walking the opposite way from where we went to Sun Beach bar earlier we discover we don't have to go very far before a bartender is calling us over to 'his' bar for refreshment. Well that was easy, we didn't have to look for anything because it found us! Curtis thinks we should stop there so we walk up and each take a seat on a bar stool that is permanently fastened into the sand somehow.
This place is called Irie Beach bar and unbeknownst to us this first night, it would become our home and family
for the next 6 days. The bartender, Jerome, was young, very cute and had a great sense of humor. Immediately he starts asking questions about where we're from, when we got here, when we're leaving, if we're hungry, etc
My first mouthful of Red Stripe is heavenly, not because it tastes any better than other beer, but because I'm in Jamaica. Everything is better here, heck even a sunburn is better here. I divert myself from conversation with Jerome long enough to notice that Curtis is sitting down the beach close to the water and in the dark. Next to him is an old, scrappy looking Rasta man and they seem to be deep in conversation themselves. Jerome chuckles and tells me my son is very outgoing and brave and I occasionally keep turning to see that Curtis is okay. It is definitely night now so it's best to err on the side of caution.
At one point I turn around to look down the beach again and a very fine looking man catches my eye and seems to be heading towards the bar where I'm sitting. But as he walks closer my eyes light up as I realize its Piper! In my bewilderment of how he found us at this exact bar a big grin spans my face and I jump up and give him a hug
Its actually been 11 months since my last trip here so a big hug is warranted. He tells me that when he went
to our cabins and discovered we weren't there he decided the next logical step would be to search the beach in the dark. That theory is a bit iffy to me but I guess it worked.
Piper is a strapping young man, 6'4" and well built, whom I met by accident on my very first trip to Jamaica. He's a police officer and was doing security at the concert I came to see my first time here. We met, hit it off and the rest is history. On my second trip I stayed at his home, met his family and neighbors and was able to see the REAL Jamaica through local eyes. I will treasure that trip forever. Thankfully we have managed to keep in touch.
Piper sits down, orders a drink and I notice the look Jerome is giving off. I can tell he's wondering if this man is ruining his chances of becoming friendly with me. Its fun. A few moments later I call Curtis back up to the bar to meet Piper, they've spoken to each other by phone before so its time they meet. Curtis thinks its cool to meet a Jamaican police officer and starts asking him all kinds of questions about it, including why he's not wearing his uniform and where his gun is
I say goodnight to Jerome and he informs us that he's also working the morning shift tomorrow and that we should come by for breakfast. I agreed. As we're walking back to our cabins Piper offers to take Curtis up the road to pick up half a jerk chicken they could split. You never have to go far to find a random food vendor on the side of the road with his makeshift barbeque, cooking up plenty of jerk chicken. You pull up along side in your car, buy it by the quarter or the half, they wrap it up in foil and off you go. Their barbeques are actually a cut-in-half-lengthways metal barrel with coals burning inside and a grill over the coals. Away went the two of them while I organized my luggage a little more and changed for bed.
A short while later Curtis and Piper reappeared with a big foil package and a couple of drinks. Immediately I wonder if Curtis will actually enjoy and be able to handle jerk chicken in Jamaica. You can buy jerk sauces in North America too but somehow its nothing like authentic jerk. In a previous trip I ordered jerk chicken and the restaurant actually served the sauce on the side because not everyone can enjoy the full effect of the fireball going down their throats. But wonders never cease to amaze me, the child ate it without batting an eye, although I could practically watch the sweat beads pop out of his skin on his nose and upper lip.
The chicken seemed to suffice for the two of them and they finished their drinks
I saw Curtis to his cabin which was only about 30 feet away from mine. I was a little worried if he would mind sleeping by himself in his own cabin. They were literally just 4 wooden walls, 2 windows on the front and one window at the foot of the bed. All three windows were just screened with wooden, horizontal louvers that could open and close. Inside, the ceiling was similar to the inside of a garage, vaulted with the framing visible. Outside, the roof was topped with tin sheets. The front doors on each cabin were pretty much just regular wood doors with a knob that locked from the inside, nothing fancy or overly secure.
Curtis jumped into his bed, made up with plain white sheets and a bit of a heavier blanket on top. Not once did either of us use the heavier blankets, even with the cool sea breeze that blew at nights. I lay down beside him, we chatted a little about the day and I asked him if he liked it so far
It's the most amazing phenomenon in Jamaica, no matter what time I go to bed there, I always rise at the crack of dawn with the sun. I'm not sure if it's the heat that makes it impossible to sleep when the sun's up or if it's the reggae music that seems to start around 6:00am every day. It's just a happier place to wake up to. As I lie in my bed and see the sun peering through the louvers, the oddest sound I've ever heard comes out of nowhere. It's obviously a bird but I have never heard this one before. There's not even an accurate way to describe it unless you were standing in front of me listening to me imitate it. Comically enough this bird becomes the source of much laughter between me and Curtis throughout the trip. Even to this day, 4 years later, one of us will randomly just make the sound and we both burst out laughing
I open my louvers, put on something decent and step out my front door. It's ridiculously early yet as soon as I step outside the caretaker appears out of nowhere and waves a friendly "good morning" to me. It makes me smile and he carries on about his business. In between mine and Curtis's cabins is a picnic table which eventually becomes our swimsuit-drying table. I sit there for a minute wishing I had a cup of coffee, and knowing I'm not nearly beautiful enough yet to walk to the nearest restaurant and get one. I decide to peer into his cabin to see if there are any signs of life. Not yet. So now would be a great time to test out my first outdoor shower.
Since this is my first time using a shower that's outside and only partially surrounded by a four-foot fence, I decide to err on the side of caution and shower in my swimsuit. I'm not sure who I thought would come parading around the corner at this hour wanting to take a peek, but I wear it anyway. Well if it wasn't the most amazing feeling to be in a cool shower in the warm air, out in the open. When I put my head back under the showerhead and look up all I see are palm trees and blue sky above me. Does life actually get any better than this? Even thinking back on it right now it makes tears well up a little at the simplicity of it all
Shortly after I'm dressed and sitting at the picnic table Curtis emerges from his cabin in his boxers. He doesn't look how his usual groggy self looks at 7:30am. He's smiling, shirtless and ready for the day. He decides there's no point in showering until later since he'll be swimming in salt water. So towards the beach we head once again, to
keep our end of the breakfast bargain with Jerome. On the way up the beach I told Curtis about the awesome fruit shakes they could whip up in a hurry to go with his breakfast. They are pretty much made-to-order, any flavor, any tropical fruit you ask for. And for the grown-ups they'll actually put a shot or two of rum in there. My favorite is the Hummingbird. It has milk, banana, rum cream, Tia Maria and grenadine. It whips up into a nice frothy, pink shake.
We arrive at Irie beach bar, the same place we sat the night before with Piper. One of the things I love the most about Jamaica is everyone is up at the crack of dawn and happy. Just like Jerome, as soon as he sees us he gives us the same welcome as the night before
After breakfast the sun is already blazing so we shed our clothes and hit the water. We could pass so much time just laying on our backs floating in the water, watching the action on the beach; the odd tourist, vendors selling their wares, other people in the water. I'm pleasantly surprised at how quiet Negril is at this time of year, I would have thought otherwise. And I'm also pleasantly surprised that my son is satisfied with such little action. Everything was going to be alright.....and he still hasn't discovered Rick's.
**I just noticed this is 9 pages in a Word document
the interest of my readers I'll try and whittle this down a bit now. **
*Rick's Café - My son ends up being obsessed with it after one day. I had planned to take him there a few times over the week but he ended up spending 5 out of 6 days up there! After the first day my friend Scott the diver and his friends Hector and Cory started picking up Curtis in the afternoons and taking him up there, where I would come and meet them later on. It was also only by the 2nd time at Rick's that Hector started driving us back to our cabins every night after Rick's. Fabulous friends.
*Irie Beach Bar - We pretty much ate all our beach meals there since Jerome made us come back the first morning. At the end of 7 days we knew the entire staff and I was getting custom made meals to order! YAAY! My favorites, some of whom I still keep in touch with are Jerome, Lincoln, Allan, Peter and Sheldon. There was also a young guy who hung out at Irie every day named Fabian, who was a pretty fun guy too. Him and Curtis would joke around a lot together.
*Jungle nightclub - One of the nights, long after Curtis went to bed, I knew some of my friends would be at the Jungle so I decided to walk over there
*Walking day - Curtis and I spent one day just walking up the long Norman Manley Blvd to see what we could find. We talked to a vendor who burned reggae CD's to sell, we test drove some motor scooters and I considered renting one until I realized I'm not that great a scooter driver LOL. We found an internet café and decided to chill for an hour and each sit down to check and send emails to our friends and family back home. We stopped and took pictures of the Jungle nightclub, Roots Bamboo beach club, and various other things. We stopped walking way at the other end of the road at Selina's Café for a meal. I had found Selina's on the internet randomly before this trip and discovered that she is from my hometown of Calgary, Canada. She moved to Jamaica years ago and opened this restaurant. So when we arrived there I made sure to chat with her and tell her where we're from too. She was really nice and after our brunch she offered to drive us into town since we were heading that way anyways.
*Beach days - During the early part of every day we always hung out on 7-Mile beach, before going to Rick's up in the cliffs
Immediately he took out the camera and started snapping inconspicuously. He also took some other really cool pics on the beach which I've posted in this report.
*Shopping - I'm not a big shopper when I go to Jamaica. For me I'm there because I love the country, not to buy souvenirs. But one day Curtis and I did the shopping thing because I knew he wanted to buy for some friends
back home. I taught him the art of negotiating for better prices before sending him off on his own. We looked at beaded jewelry, wood carvings, towels, beach wraps, etc. Once Curtis got an idea of what was out there I gave him $1000 JD (about $20 CAD at that time), we picked a meeting spot and off he went. The funniest part was when he returned he had nothing but a bracelet and no money left
*Nights in the cabins - Our nights in those little cabins turned out to be some of my most cherished moments with my son ever. Remember I mentioned the bird we kept hearing that made us spontaneously erupt into laughter?
We heard that little guy every morning! Some nights we'd also lay in Curtis's cabin and listen to the "ping ping"
of almonds falling onto the tin roof, until one time the little pings were interrupted by a huge KABOOM! We laughed so hard speculating what that might have been. Our best guess was a coconut LOL! Sometimes we'd just lay there listening to the constant honking of car horns on the road. In Jamaica, honking is a friendly gesture like saying hi, so it goes on constantly, its not a sign of "get the hell out of my way"!! One night Curtis and I laid in his bed laughing and talking so late that I just fell asleep there and never ended up back in my own cabin.
*Saying goodbye - This is ALWAYS the hardest morning to face in Jamaica. We had our last breakfast at Irie on the beach and we remained pretty quiet through that. Most of the staff we grew to love was there that morning so it was nice to see them all one last time. Our drive to the airport was really quiet, as was our trip home.
To be continued...............