Negril, Jamaica, January 11-19 2000 (Blue Cave Castle)


Negril, Jamaica, January 11-19 2000

We’re back after nine glorious days (and P is out shoveling snow right now!) – where to start?

This was our first trip to Negril to stay – my 4th trip to JA – I went to Sandals MoBay on my first trip about 10 years ago, villas in Ironshore after that. My husband P has been going to villas in Ironshore with his family since he was a kid. So we weren’t Jamaica newbies but we were Negril newbies – our Negril experience to this point had been day trips: a stop on the beach, a stop at Mrs. Brown’s, a trip to Rick’s then back to Ironshore. This was also our first trip to JA without our kids (5 and 2) since we had them. The negril.com board was the source of most of our good info on where to stay and what to do, the rest came from people who saw me post on the negril.com board and took the time to e-mail me pivately. I had ongoing conversations with several people about Negril before we went – big thanks to the board, Jamaica Mike, Rasta John, Tanis, the Negril Sistas e-mail group, NegrilJeff and Dave from Jersey and I’m-sure-I-forgot-more for all their pre-trip help.

Flights all left on time, we arrived in MoBay right on time, about 1:45. (USAir)

Jamaica Mike and several others recommended Lee Weinstock of Back Roads Jamaica for our airport pickup. Had we been 4 people this would have been a dirt cheap shame, as we were only two it was just a really exceptional value :). Lee’s from Ohio originally, been living in JA for 7 years. What is really neat about this is that Lee knows Jamaica as a resident but has been a tourist there too – he can really appreciate what you’ll want to know and do and you can ask all your questions on the way and most often he’ll be able to answer with authority. He also introduced us to many of the people we hung out with the rest of the trip. We felt “hooked up” in every way. For us, it was especially neat to meet Lee as it turned out we knew several people in common, both in MoBay and in Ohio. We spend a lot of time here seeing a band called ekoostik Hookah (www.ekoostik.com – if you were a Deadhead you’ll love to check them out and you can listen to their Negril shows from last year online). Turns out Lee went to high school with the keyboard player and in fact arranged the huge trip down we’d just missed last year for about 150 people and the band for a week last June. If they go again this June we’ll DEFINITELY be there – a bunch of cool Hookah freaks running around Negril sounds like just too much fun to miss again! This “small world” thing happened repeatedly through the trip – we kept meeting people who knew people we knew both from the US and JA.

Lee’s pickup is *not* an airport transfer, it is a trip – your vacation starts when he picks you up. Lee picked us up right at the airport door. I’d asked Lee if we could take the back way (through Sav-la-Mar) since I’d never gone that way before and I’d heard the coast road was bad. Had we asked to travel directly to our hotel I think we would have made it in 1 1/2 hours. However, our trip was more like 6 🙂 Lee met us with cold red stripes in the cooler and we were off. The ride was beautiful. Since we opted not to do the coast road, we didn’t do his usual tour out – I’ll tell you about that later as we did do it for the return. First stop in Negril was Alfred’s. Had a drink or two, got into the beach feeling, met some people. We also stopped at Kuyaba. Then we headed up to Three Dives, next door to Xtabi on the cliffs. This was to become our Negril home away from home. Paula and Lloyd (everyone calls him “Lloydie”, pronounced “lidey”) are fantastic hosts. Nothing like sitting down for good conversation and a great meal with the owners of the place you’re in. We had some of Lloydie’s excellent jerk chicken (he’s a chicken farmer too so it’s REALLY fresh) that night and got loose. There’s a small bar and restaurant with tables by the road and a beach bar down by the cliff edge and there are, in fact, four dives, not three. P finally did the dive the last day we were there. If you can dive Rick’s you can dive here easily but there’s also a (long) ladder to the water if you just want to swim or snorkel.

 

We did sunset at 3 Dives most of the days we were there. Great view and VERY laid back atmosphere. Lloydie plans to add more hammocks soon but in the meantime there’s the one and we often sat near the restaurant just so we could chat with Llod and Paula. In addition to the great chicken, food and drink is cheap (I think we paid $60J for red stripe) and we had the BEST lobster there. Lee’d told us to order a few hours ahead so Lloydie could go get them (he doesn’t let lobsters lay around all day – these are FRESH). We did and for $14US each, we each had 1 1/2 grilled lobsters with garlic butter, callaloo, rice and peas (red beans)….it was the best meal we had and we had a lot of them. Paula said to say sometimes if the lobsters are really big they only give you one :). If you’ve never had Carribean lobster, it’s different from Maine lobster – all tail, really, and well suited to Jamaican spices.

We also met Tracy at 3 Dives that night, fretting over Rob trying to get a computer thing working in time for the sunset show at Mariner’s. Lloydie and Paula post lots of photos in the restaurant – I promised to send some of ours down too. Ask Paula to tell you about cooking for all those hookah-heads 🙂

After a few hours meeting (lots of) people and getting in the Negril frame of mind, Lee brought us to our hotel. We picked Blue Cave Castle for several reasons. First, it was recommended by both new-Negril people and old-timers alike and the price is right. RastaJohn also has done a very nice web site for them with dozens of pictures we pored over for hours before we left. Pictures sell this place – it IS gorgeous. We reserved the penthouse (the very tippy-top of the castle) for $20 more than a regular room for the first 4 nights. Rates vary but you can expect to pay what it says on the web site or perhaps a bit less) We planned to find a beach place for our last 4 nights since this was our first Negril trip we thought we should try both the cliffs and the beach. More on that later.

Blue Cave Castle is owned by a woman named Susan, from New York City (just like us until 5 years ago when we moved to Ohio). She got married two weeks ago to Patrick, a businessman in JA. Both live in the castle. Susan built the castle with (I think) her ex. She told me they bought the property in 1974 and built the castle gradually from then. She still has plans to expand certain areas – the penthouse where we stayed will grow, the restaurant may re-open, etc. More funny “small world” things with Susan – even my mom’s hairdresser in Ohio turned out to be a friend of hers!

There were so many things we liked about Blue Cave – the view from the grounds is gorgeous but when we climbed the (three flights of) stairs up to our room – the view became absolutely incredible. We had four deck/patios of our own (we wondered aloud often where the other 50 people we should be sharing the space with were!) and the one on top of our room offered awesome views of Negril beach, the cliffs, the sea and the hills – it’s a completely 360 degree panoramic view obstructed only by the hills to the east. We just walked around with our mouths open the first few days. The castle is the highest point around there and we stayed in the highest part…it’s also not so far up the cliffs that the view of the beach is lost (as it is further along) and we really enjoyed looking out at night – the lights on the beach were like a long necklace glittering on the white sand. That room is made for honeymooners – totally private up there. We had a kitchen but other than the fridge and sink, we didn’t really use it.

The room is not like any we’d stayed in here or in JA. It’s not fancy in the sense that the towels and sheets don’t always match and there’s a crack or two in the ceiling but everything says “castle” and it’s so over the top, it’s cool. The wooden bed and wardrobe and every other piece of furniture had castle touches – the top of the bed and the tops of most everything is cut like a castle top.

The bedspreads were castle-ey, the walls are castle-ey – to get the idea you almost have to go, or at least check out the pictures on the web site (links to everything are at the end of the report on the next page). The price was really cheap for what we got.

Susan puts out coffee every morning and we grew to love “coffee hour”. Everyone (“everyone” meant about 15 people when we were there – this is a relatively small place) comes down to the tables by the sea and has coffee and conversation – the other guests when we were there included a group of ten staying at Blue Cave for their 13th time and assorted friends of Susan and people like us. One couple was there with their two 20ish kids and they came up to one of our balconies to hang out for a little while after we got in. A very cool group of people.

There isn’t a restaurant at Blue Cave at the moment though there may be when you get there. No matter anyway, we grew to love our little neighborhood on the cliffs – lots of food and drink within an easy walk. We found a place called Just Natural early on and had breakfast there several times. It’s a little way up the cliffs, close to Xtabi and Three Dives, on the land side of the road. The few tables (6?) are in a beautiful garden that blocks the road and to an extent, the other tables. I never learned the waitress’ name and I’m sorry because she was so friendly – perfect attitude for first thing in the morning – always happy and smiling :). The Jamaica breakfast of ackee and saltfish was delicious and came with several different kinds of fresh fruit, a dumpling (like a heavy biscuit), callaloo – all for about $6. P enjoyed the french toast w/ fruit. We highly recommend a stop by.

Anyway…that first night. I knew that it was Rasta John’s 50th birthday (from e-mail with him before we left) and had posted on the negril.com board that we’d be at the Negril Yacht Club that night to celebrate. After we got settled in our room, we headed out for a night out. A word about transportation here. Just step out of your hotel and if you don’t see a cab, start walking. We never walked for more than a minute or two before one came along. We knew vaguely that cabs should cost $1 or $2 US to get most places in Negril, per person. We never had trouble getting good fares – occasionally a cab would ask for more (then come down) but very often they just OK’ed what we offered. A few ex-pats told me we could have gotten around for less. We usually offered a bit more than we knew it should be and most cabs just said OK – haggling over $0.50 is not what I like to do on vacation and we felt the cabbies needed that money more than we did. Do always settle the price before you get in the car and remember cabs you catch on the road almost always charge by the person – we’d say “$50J for both of us, OK?”. We didn’t take cabs in Negril for long though, as I’ll explain later. If you take gypsy cabs in New York like I did growing up, you know this routine.

We got to the NYC around 9 or 10 and met Rasta John. Another New Yorker! (this trip was really like that – RJ went to high school in Brooklyn right near my high school in Brooklyn…). Pretty soon, Blondie, Fred (ff), Cindy, Lucky Lady and quite a few other boardies showed up (I *knew* I should’ve written names down while I was still at the bar – I apologize to the folks I talked to and whose handles I still managed to forget!). For all of you going down for Feb 4th – you’ll appreciate this – every introduction was “Hi! My name is so-and-so and I post as so-and-so” followed by “Oh! YOU’RE so-and-so! How’s this thing or that thing?”. It was a hoot. Consider dual name tags for the board party or just go with the Negril flow and have fun figuring out who everyone is 🙂 We had a lot of fun that night. My husband’s not a net person but he thought it was really neat how we all “knew” each other when we met.
Back at Blue Cave by midnight we relaxed and enjoyed the view.

The next day we went to rent a motorcycle. I was glad P is very comfortable on a bike and used driving/riding in Jamaica. Lloydie from 3 Dives has a brother named Eddie. Eddie rented us a Honda Interceptor for $40US per day, deposit only $100US, cash or credit for the deposit, cash for the rental itself. The bike was great to have, it let us travel where and when we pleased and we took a couple of really nice rides into the hills. We called those rides to Sheffield and around the “wave rides” because of the one-hand wave greeting we shared with everyone we passed.

P popped the clutch cable the second day so we drove the bike to Three Dives and Lloydie took it. Eddie gave us a brand new dirt bike the next day and some extra time with it for our (very minimal) inconvenience. I highly recommend Eddie – good bikes, honest guy, he took care of us. Scooters should be much less there, I forgot to check. He’s on the beach road at Alfred’s right between the sign (on the beach side of the road) and the Cambio. He doesn’t have a sign yet but he’s NOT Taurus rentals, they’re next door.

We were going to rent a car instead originally but the high cost, the very high deposit ($1000US!) and assurances that we didn’t need it convinced us not to. It was the right decision. The bike was perfect and cabs were easy.

We passed through roadblocks on the west end road on several occasions. We never got stopped but there were plenty of worried-looking tourists getting their cars searched. Once the block is up it’s hard to see until you’re right there so TRAVEL LIGHT.

Some travel details:
Yes you can use credit cards but I don’t recommend it. All the places we liked only took cash and the places we did use the card were generally overpriced. Next time I’ll leave the card for emergencies and bring more cash. The ATM card worked fine but we had trouble doing a credit card cash advance.

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When I left off we were on day 2 and had just rented a motorcycle from Eddie. We had to take a little ride of course, but were also eager to get into the water – we never made it in that first day. Back at Blue Cave Castle, we grabbed our snorkel stuff and walked down the steps to the water. Blue Cave has several sundecks and steps down the cliffs. One is right in the middle of the garden – you walk down the steps and are inside a cave that you can swim out of into the water – very neat, there’s a shower down there too. The water was a bit rough so we opted for the steps OUTSIDE the cave. Water is beautiful there, about 15 feet deep and plenty of fish and stuff to look at. We saw some gars and other reef fish, some coral, some small underwater caves and ledges – all in all good snorkeling. One guy who was staying at the hotel (for the 13th time!) regularly snorkeled from Blue Cave over to Xtabi and the Pickled Parrot for sun and red stripes then snorkeled “home” – he was awfully fit though, we just snorkeled around our little cove and took plenty of lay-in-the-sun breaks 🙂

We had our lobster that night at Three Dives – that was delicious! So much food…we’d have gained 20 pounds if we didn’t swim and walk like we did! Sunset was also spent at Three Dives, watching the bonfire go up and chatting with Lloydie and Paula and Ricky (the bartender by the cliffs there) and a couple of Americans having trouble making it home – we saw several trips get extended indefinitely by those lucky ones who didn’t have to get back to kids and work! That night was a quiet one for us as we’d been out the night before – we chilled in our little home in the sky for the evening.

It’s only been a few days since we got back and already the days are blurring together…that third day, though, was Lee Weinstock’s birthday and he came out to Negril for the day. We met him, Rob, Tracy, and a couple of people Lee’d just dropped off for lunch at Kuyaba. Thoroughly enjoyed the company and the food – lunch was delicious and after that, a little beach time was in order. It was a bit chilly but I LOVE the water so we swam and worked on the tan a bit. Couldn’t get over how relaxed we were feeling! This day, I also e-mailed my mom who had our kids to let her know we’d gotten in OK and all. That was a relief but not as much as the next day when we spoke on the phone and they were absolutely loving being at Grandma’s – from then on I was one relaxed mommy, free to enjoy the trip! It was really different not having the kids with us – we could go where we wanted when we wanted – very Negril 🙂

That night, after dinner (we ate at Xtabi – very good service, food was good too, a bit pricey but we could use the credit card and the view of sunset was nice – we watched Dave from Cleveland dive from Three Dives from our table), we met Tracy and the three of us went out to Alfred’s for music that night – great but a bit hot. It was raining and no one on the beach wanted to be in the rain so there were like hundreds of people crowded under Alfred’s roof – made for a lively bar scene :). We went out in the rain. Headed up to PeeWee’s for a bit, played a few games at the bar. Enjoyed ourselves immensely. At that point, P was pretty tired so Tracy and I dropped him off at “home” and went on to MiYard. Again, met some great people and had a blast. Tracy dropped me off at Blue Cave around 4AM 🙂

We’d planned all along to stay only 4 nights at Blue Cave and look for a good beach place for the last 4 nights. So we had a mission. We got on the motorcycle the next day after a lovely breakfast at Just Natural – AGAIN. Their Jamaican breakfast was the best hangover food 🙂 I’d intended to stop by Chippewa, Beach Club Condos, Nirvana, Beach House Villas and Sea Gem. We’d already seen Sea Gem and thought it would be too loud in the middle of everything there. We drove by Chippewa and looked at the grounds but after a moment we didn’t see anyone so we left, planning to come back. Grounds looked lovely, little cabins scattered through. It’s across the street from the beach and the price is right. Negril Beach Club was a bit more than we wanted to pay. We stopped at Beach House Villas who showed us a really lovely room that was much more than we wanted to pay, the one that was cheaper we couldn’t see then. Again, nice grounds and the room we saw was amazing, step off the porch onto the beach kind of thing, with a kitchen and living room. We also stopped at Whistling Bird but they didn’t have a room to show us right then either. Again, lovely gardens.

Nirvana did have a lovely room and great gardens – there’s a fence between the hotel and beach which is a little weird but I could imagine it’d be nice with kids. The room we saw also had a kitchen and living room and was a much better price (Thanks Lonnie!) than the similar setup at Beach House.

We told Nirvana we’d let them know. As we left, we started thinking about missing morning coffee at Blue Cave, and our neat room and the view and the mosquitos on the beach and we decided right then we had to stay where we were. We’d already gotten too attached to our “neighborhood” and the people in it. Rasta John was helping Susan with some Blue Cave website stuff so he was around – we enjoyed breakfast together one morning and spent a couple of hours getting scandisk to run on his PC 🙂 We stayed on at Blue Cave but decided to switch to a less expensive room – one also with fewer stairs 🙂 Susan moved us into Room 8 which has a balcony with a great sunset view and a large bed, bathroom, fridge and again, that castle-ey mahogany furniture. This room had some southwestern stuff and African masks too – lots to look at, great atmosphere. Susan was told the masks were magic awhile back and had a nightmare about them that night so bought some South American masks to equal things out 🙂 We had staw mat rugs here vs. the oriental rug in the penthouse – every room we saw there is different, and nice.

One of our favorite little trips happened on the spur of the moment. We’d been at the beach, talking to Eddie at his motorcycle place and changing money at the cambio next door. Riding home, we saw thick black smoke billowing out over the water. We pulled over to let a large fire truck pass. Pretty soon, it was clear that two little seaside shacks (on the west end road, going out of town) were totally on fire. It was sad – luckily they were restaurants, not homes, so no one was hurt, but that was two businesses that had to start over completely. Everyone watching looked rather sad.

It was clear we were not going to pass through the road for some time so we turned around. Paula up at Three Dives is from Sheffield and had told us we should take a ride out past the lighthouse and around, through Orange Hill. We figured since we weren’t getting home on the cliffroad we could do Paula’s trip in reverse, going out the Sav road and returning by the lighthouse. We didn’t have a map but we knew the route vaguely and Paula had said to just ask people along the way. So that’s what we did.

We set out the Sav road and when we thought we might be near Sheffield, we asked a man by the road. Sure enough, we just had a minute or two more and we turned off the main road. The drive was beautiful – pretty, hilly country and small towns and farms. Everyone waved when we went by, just one hand up, so we started callng these rides the “wave rides” because we all waved at each other as we drove along:) It was funny how the waving stopped as soon as you got close to “big city” Negril…

Anyway, we rode along, asking here and there how to go, and around a bend I saw this sign – “Jamaica Jurassic Park”. I asked P if he’d seen it too and we decided this was one of those things that You Should Not Drive By. We turned around and pulled in. There’s a little restaurant/bar there and a man with glasses came out. Behind the restaurant, we could see large metal sculptures of – yes – dinosaurs – and huge flowers and ferns all made of metal and painted and worked into these amazing shapes. Turns out the man with the glasses is the artist. We grab a Ting and he gives us a little tour. He does his work down the road – I can’t imagine how he gets these things moved! My kids would have loved it – there was also a little playground but only 2 other people there when we were. It was a fun stop.

We made it back to Negril, though somehow through town and not by the lighthouse. We needed to ask directions more specifically I think – we were helpfully directed right back to town :). No problem, the fire was out. We did take the ride out past the lighthouse another time – out to Hog Heaven and beyond. That was a really beautiful ride too, and the roads are strangely smooth and wide – the best roads we encountered the whole trip! Seabirds were around a lot up there, often on the road. These little trips just wouldn’t be the same in a car, we were glad for the dirt bike.

We’d decided to stay in MoBay our last night in Jamaica because our flight was at 2:30 and even if we took the back way, we weren’t sure if there’d be traffic or not. That meant we’d have to leave pretty early and lose the half-day. So, we decided to have Lee pick us up around 11 the day before to go back the coast road way and stop by some falls, make a day of it. The falls Lee took us to is called “Five Fingers” and it’s somewhere up in the hills near Lucea. It’s a small family operation way up there and the road was something else! Curves on the side of the mountain…I’m glad I wasn’t driving but I was really glad to get to see it – really beautiful country. One of the things I love about Jamaica is it’s big enough to visit 100 times and never see the same things but you make friends you want to visit again and again too!

 

Anyway, for $10US (both of us) to the family, whose daughter acted as tour guide and escort, we hiked down to the falls. This is a pretty steep hike but there are steps cut all the way down and when you get to the bottom there’s this beautiful, deep, pool with a single set of falls cascading down. I’ll add pictures when I develop them 🙂 We had the place to ourselves and swam (refreshing – you do get used to it, really – it was not very hot the day we were there so the water was extra-cool), chatted with Lee and enjoyed ourselves immensely. We got a couple of red stripes from the family store before we went down.

We went on and stopped for late lunch at a restaurant by the water near Round Hill, where, incidentally, How Stella Got Her Groove Back was mostly filmed. We laughed a lot – the waitress was so bad (told us they were out of everything – Lee found the owner who informed us they DID have everything) we got the bartender reassigned to our table, it was very funny. I don’t remember the name of the place but it was right on the sea and the food was good.

 

We got to MoBay in the late afternoon needing a place to stay near the beach and town because we wanted to be able to walk places. I’d checked out a couple of hotels online before I left so we stopped first at Caribic House. It was cheap but kind of depressing. We also stopped at Doctor’s Cave Beach Hotel, too expensive. We wound up at El Greco, on Queen’s Drive on top of the hill. Mo Bay has a tourist strip (Gloucester Ave – the “Hip Strip”) and right behind it is a very steep cliff with a road on top. Our hotel was up top but there is a 16 story hotel/apt building on the beach road there and we just walked across a covered indoor overpass and took the elevator of that building down to the beach. Neat.

El Greco was very nice – new, lovely grounds, good security, we had a suite w/ kitchen and living room. We hated it. We were so bummed to NOT be in Negril. MoBay felt like a cold city to us (and this is where we usually go!) after that, and our nice hotel felt really sterile after Blue Cave’s kitschy rooms. We made the best of it – had a great Chinese dinner at Ghuangzhou, went to Doctor’s Cave Beach and snorkeled our last morning, had lunch with Lee at Margeuritaville before we went to the airport, but next time I’d do Lee’s excellent tour with the falls on the way down and take Air Negril at the last possible minute on the way back!

The thing that especially struck us about Negril is how comfortable everyone is. Most places had locals, tourists, ex-pats – all together hanging out. In MoBay things felt more segregated – tourists here, locals there. We met more non-tourists this trip than in all the others combined! We felt absolutely comfortable everywhere in Negril.

Notice how we’re already talking about what we’ll do next time…thinking maybe June if Hookah goes down….

Thoughts? Questions? I'd love to hear them!