Negril (2 of 3 from 2003)

Trip Report March/April 2003 – All Around Jamaica (2)

The road between MoBay and Negril is finished. Wow. It’s like a real highway with shoulders, bus stops (with signs!) and no potholes – yet. Once we got through downtown MoBay it was an hour, maybe less, to Negril. I miss passing through all the towns the old road went through but the speed is nice and probably good for Negril.

We dropped off Bill at the Negril Yacht Club (no, it’s not really a Yacht Club, it’s a restaurant/bar/live music/hotel place) and went straight up to 3 Dives to see Lloydie and Paula. This is always our first stop in Negril. We met L & P in ’99, with Lee, and they’ve been great friends to us ever since. They make Negril feel like a friendly place to me, the cliff there is like my home away from home. We catch up a bit and tell him we’ll all be back for sunset in a couple of hours, it’s time to find our friends and check in.

Woohoo, everyone is at the Reef House – the place is great – and we are all so happy to be together, and our friends are still in their first-day-excitement. Many of them hung out at 3 Dives last year with hookah so they’re psyched to go up too. We unpack, this time actually putting clothes away as we’ll be here a whole week, and they yell up (we are on the second floor) that we have a visitor. Solomon and Dave are here!

Before we left I’d arranged for Sala to pick up our friends at the airport and bring them to Negril and since there were 8 people, he decided he ought to bring two vans so everyone could spread out. Above and beyond the call of duty, that was. I’m sure it cut Sala’s pay for the trip but that’s the kind of guy Sala turns out to be, he really wanted them to have a great experience and they all said they did.

Sala and I had never met in person, though I’d met his wife Sienna several times over the years, but we hugged like old buddies and enjoyed an hour or so of excited chatter about the runnings. Sala’s uncle Dave (Tano, I believe Sienna calls him) was a sweetie too. They both do all kinds of tours and can be reached at .

We finally think to take a look at the beach. Oh my. The waves we’d seen on the north coast must have been hitting here first because I’d never seen Negril like this. The sea was coming up and over many of the beach bars and there was seaweed everywhere in the water and on the sand. Pretty dramatic. We’d been in Jamaica for days of course, but I hoped things would clear up soon for our friends who didn’t get that first-day swim in.

We were supposed to return the car today but called to keep it one more day, so we could grocery shop and whatnot. No problem. We get ready for dinner and drive up to 3 Dives where Sala and Dave and Sienna and Bill will join us for dinner.

We get there and the sea is crashing up over the cliff bar…Mace took some great photos of this but I gave my camera a break. It was really cool, though, we had to run from the cliff edge to avoid getting soaked. Luckily 3 Dives has tables by the road too, quite dry, so we ate up there. There are always new improvements at 3 Dives each time we visit. This time there was a new higher roof over the seating area, a roof leading to and over the grill (crucial in the rain, that). The storm knocked out the power up and down the west end at some point, so we had a little delay while Lloydie went to get his generator (yay for that!!). He hooked it up and we were back in business, well-lit and listening to tunes again.

This was March 31, last day for legal lobster, so that’s what we had. Delicious as usual, and enough for at least two people. We also hung out with JackSprat and Mr. Sprat – hadn’t seen them in a year or two so that was really nice. They always stay at Xtabi, within yelling distance of 3 Dives, so are easy to find if they are in town :). I thoroughly enjoyed hanging out with Sienna and Sala too (Sienna made it later, after work). Overall a great first night party.

This night the others were a little travel-tired but Philip and I hung out at DeBuss/Bourbon Beach for awhile and checked out a reggae cover band…nice night back in our old stomping grounds.

Day Seven (Tuesday) – Negril

Well I finally slept in…must be in Partyland aka Negril :). When I finally got up and walked out to the beach, I couldn’t believe it. The storm that was so fascinating to watch last night is gone but there is tons and tons of seaweed on the beach! This will not be a beach day, I don’t think…but I see some activity further up that suggests cleanup is under way.

We (there are 10 of us now) decide to walk up the road and visit old friends at Jah B’s. I’d actually never eaten there before but many in our group spent time there last year and I was game. “John Wayne” greeted us enthusiastically and set us up for breakfast as only he can. We had a great meal and took a walk back by the cottages there. Very nice, and if you walk all the way back, there is an amazing view of the morass and mountains that I could definitely get used to waking up to.

We decided to head over to Fun Holiday, where many in the group stayed last year. Wow, what a change. There’s now a new and bigger restaurant, a huge pool, a Jacuzzi, a swim-up bar and a whole other block of rooms. We all wished that had been there last year when the 300 of us were there…the Jacuzzi holds 15 easy. We decided to hang out here for awhile as the beach was already pretty clean here…I guess the seaweed washes DOWN the beach so the upper parts were already in pretty good shape. We enjoyed seeing Marlene behind the bar, she took great care of us last year, and Steve and everyone.

P and I had kept the car an extra day but it was time to return it now. This made us a little nervous as we had the tire thing to deal with. We found Vernon’s (in Valuemaster Plaza but all the way around back and upstairs) and did our paperwork. We showed them the tire and receipt for the new one we’d bought in Port Antonio and they actually gave us back the $ we’d spent on it! We were very happy with Vernon’s and said we’d be back for another car in 6 days when we were to leave Negril and head to Treasure Beach.

We spent a day just catching up with friends and hanging out at the villa and beach bar. That night we walked up to the Boat Bar to see Spencer. The food there is still excellent, as are the vibe, company and prices. I think I had fish but everyone was happy with their dinner. The Boat Bar got a little redo (all good….just nicer and bigger) but they still have the swings that my daughter loved so much.

Day Eight, Wednesday (Negril)

The Negril part of our trip is a bit of a blur. Due to the social occasion this part of the trip was, I took very few notes. I’ve written trip reports on Negril before and frankly, not much has changed. I had zero hassle from anyone this time…don’t know if they know me now or I have an attitude or people are just mellow, but even if someone called me over to look at whatever they were selling, they never got up from their chair to follow…I just waved them off if not interested and that was that.

We ate at Selina’s for breakfast…that was nice, the Overtakers (reggae hand-instruments band) played for us and we caught up with Selina and things that were going on.

Our friends had met a couple on their flight that were on their first JA trip and staying at Samsara. The couple came by our place a few times to hang out and told us that tonight at Samsara had a $10 dinner with unlimited rum punch…so we went up to meet them there. It was a good meal and we had a lot of fun. I’m not a huge drinker and rum punch goes right to my head so I had a short albeit fun night…we wound up at 3 Dives after dinner for awhile and ended the night there.

Day Nine, Thursday (Negril)

My notes say “Hung over. Sleep. Beach.”. Nuff said, I think.

Day Ten, Friday (Negril and a trip)

This was the day we’d arranged to go swim with the manatees at Alligator Hole. However, just the day before I’d learned that Nyabinghi drummers would be at Home Sweet Home tonight and we all really wanted to do that, it was at 6PM, so I called Carolyn Barrett (our guide for this trip) and we decided to do YS Falls instead. I hired Carolyn because she is the only guide I know that does the manatee trip, also I have spoken to her online for years and thought it would be nice to meet in person. Three of our group were to play golf at Negril Hills today, the rest of us plus that couple (so nine) hopped in Carolyn’s new van and headed southeast. Carolyn is very knowledgeable about Jamaica, especially history. I sat up front with her and learned a lot that I didn’t know.

Some of our group are smokers and Carolyn’s van is new so we planned to stop as people wanted to, we couldn’t smoke in the van. If you’re a non-smoker I’m sure this is a plus. We made our first stop at Bluefields Beach. A lot of sand was lost this winter and now the beach is made of rocks but the water is still amazingly clear and on a Friday, apparently empty. We spent a nice 15-20 minutes or so there and climbed back in the van. On the way through “pepper swim” (crayfish with HOT seasoning sold in the shell in little baggies) land we had to grab a few bags…everyone had one while we drove.

We arrived at YS much faster than I remember that trip taking, 1 1/2 hours, maybe less. As you approach YS from the coast the scenery gets quite pretty. You don’t really go far into the mountains but enough to get a different feel than in Negril and Bluefields. We pulled up to the gift shop/restaurant/bar/office at the parking area and hopped out. We were hot but we were hungrier so we ordered some chicken and patties and such at the restaurant and enjoyed the view. The food was not bad and considering they could, a la Disney, really overcharge for the food, very reasonably priced. I hadn’t been to YS for 4 years or so and even at the parking area, things have changed. Grass is cut, there is nice landscaping, a trolley stop with a shelter in case of rain. We hopped on the tractor-pulled jitney-trolley thing and took the 10 minute or so ride to the falls. The ride is very pretty, through the YS ranch…we saw cattle, but also racehorses. Seems they run a stud farm here in addition to raising the cattle.

When we pulled up to the “Big Tree” at the foot of the falls, everything looked different, and the same. There is now a lovely river-fed freshwater pool, complete with adirondack chairs set around it on a deck for lounging. I like pools but hate chlorine…this was very refreshing and nice for the older/younger crowd who aren’t quite up to falls climbing. There were still the large grassy areas I remembered picnicking on years ago, and the changing rooms, but the big tree has a building built around it’s feet and there is a small bar there.

We headed up to the main pool so the adventurous ones could swing off the rope swing into the water. I climbed around and swam a little, I’m not into ropes much 🙂 The water was nice, not too cold and fairly clear, though there had been a little rain. In fact the sky was getting a little cloudy now.

We walked back down after a bit to meet Carolyn who had arranged something for us at YS that’s very new, only a month or so at that time. She told me about it when I called to say we didn’t have time to do the manatees. YS Falls now has TUBING! I’d so wanted to go tubing on the White River near Ochi but we’d run out of time so I was thrilled to learn we could do it at YS. Everyone else was into it too. We put on lifevests, got paddles and were led to a launch by the pool where we were helped into our tubes (thoughtfully not open on the bottom but with vinyl lattice stuff to protect from the rocks in shallow spots 🙂 ). We had two guides with us, not that we needed to know where to go but they did help us with a couple of rapids on the way down.

This trip is mainly floating slowly, nothing big rapids-wise at all, but it was nice to be shown where to tube down one or two of the steeper ones, once or twice they had us get out and climb down a rock. Somewhere along the river (which feeds into the Black River, by the way), it started to rain. We were in jungly-tree cover and were in swimsuits and wet anyway so it was a great way to pass the rain time. The whole trip took about 40 minutes, before we knew it, we were out.

We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. We go tubing in the US sometimes and it’s very similar…except of course you’re in clear Jamaican water with Jamaican jungle around you…so it’s not at all the same experience.

We needed to head back to Negril and had one more stop so we cleaned up and hopped the trolley-thing again. At the parking area a few people shopped, I got my first Anthony Winkler book there – “Going Home to Teach” and I’ve since bought two more, they’re great. They have a nice shop there, again not too expensive.

Our stop along the way home was at the Peter Tosh Mausoleum/Monument. It’s in Belmont, across from a lovely bay, and is pretty easy to miss if you aren’t looking hard. There were a few people around, looked like family mainly. We walked into the mausoleum….when one of our group noticed the huge cement “box” in the room I realized I’d forgotten to tell my friends that he is actually buried here 🙂 . There is a small table with cds (I bought one) and t-shirts and similar stuff, and a table with photos and a little sign about the museum they hope to build here. No hassle or hustle at all. I spoke with one of the guys there as I’d brought down some live Peter Tosh cds from US shows and wanted to drop them off here but forgot them in Negril. I explained we’d stop back Monday on our way to Treasure Beach and we headed back.

This ought to end the day, it really should, because we were beat. But we’d come back early for a reason…we had Nyabinghi drummers to see tonight at 6 and it’s now about 4:30…..

Day Ten, Friday NIGHT (Negril)

We met up with the golfers – they’d had a great day, apparently, congrats to big winner Tommy – and took a rest and shower and swim and whatnot and finally grabbed a bus (yep, a whole bus) to Home Sweet Home on the cliffs. When we arrive I immediately spot Pirate. After maybe 5 years of speaking online, we finally meet. About time, he was very sweet. They found some tables from somewhere for us (it was crowded, all tables were full) and we ordered some drinks and food and enjoyed the drums. The group has maybe 4 drummers and a dancer. They sounded great and I listened, chatted a bit with Pirate and waved to the live internet videocam. Thanks, Pirate, for letting me e-mail my parents and kids to check in 🙂

HSH was great but there were some kids around at that time, and it seemed once I got into my Nyabinghi groove-mood, the drummers were finished playing.

Lloydie had come down to join us for a drink, he knew a couple of the drummers from school or somewhere. I got to thinking about the nice cozy cliff at 3 Dives. I don’t remember who had the idea but it was decided that since the drummers were finished here, we should ask them to come up to 3 Dives where we could have a bonfire and relax awhile. We elected Mace to offer them something to come and play up the road and they agreed.

We finished up at HSH and walked up. Lloydie started up his signature cliffside bonfire and pretty soon the drummers arrived. We settled in around the fire to listen. I was thoroughly enjoying myself and wished I had a couch or something….my body was tired from the day. Lloydie heard me say that and grabbed a chaise he keeps behind the bar and brought it down by the fire for me. Yessss…….this is living.

I’d brought a few copies of a Wailers show down from 1973 to give people, and we’d been playing it a lot at the villa. The first tune on it is Rastaman Chant, a song I love. Lloydie asked the drummers for a rasta chant and it so happened that’s the one they chose. I can’t really describe the feeling I had at that point. The stars were so bright that night…each star was not only visible but you know how the big dipper has this cloud-looking star stuff around it? ALL the stars had that cloud this night. I’ve never seen stars so bright and clear. A few people had wandered down to the cliff side…at one point I talked with a rasta that appeared from nowhere…he said he was walking on the road and heard the drums and had to come down. Quite a few people followed the drums to join our group down by the cliff that night. We stayed there for a long time, just enjoying the music, mood, fire, stars.

Ahhh….Heaven. It lasted about 20 minutes before my friend G grabbed me up out of the chair announcing that she had even gotten Paula down here to dance and why was I sitting down?? This is supposed to meditative drumming, I tell her, doesn’t she know that? NO, she says, she has just dragged Paula out of the kitchen and how often do we go to Jamaica together anyway? OK, OK, I’ll give up my cozy spot and dance just a MINUTE.

When the drummers finally stopped, we thanked them and Lloydie put some hookah on his stereo. I think I explained about ekoostik hookah before but they are a band we love and see a lot at home, and Lloydie and Paula love them too, saw their shows in ’99 and ’02 in Negril. We always bring them down some live hookah shows to listen to. The one Paula put on that night has a song on it by Ed McGee called “Pass the Cider, Pass the Rum”. It’s a song I always took to be about growing up, and wanting things to stay the same but knowing they can’t and maybe it’s ultimately OK. Our experience in Jamaica made me think of it and we all started playing with the lyrics to the song that night. I finished it in my head after I’d been home reflecting on the experience for a few days.

Here is that song, slightly rewritten (humor me, Ed):

Pass the kaya, pass the rum.
Stoke the fire, my mind’s getting numb,
but I’m gonna stay here all night long.
This spot on the clifftop’s as good as my home.
We sit ’round the bonfire and our circle’s so strong.
We’ll still be singing come the light, come the dawn.

I’m down in Jamaica again,
I’m out the cliff with drums and some friends.
But it’s all in my mind–
I’d like to go back, it’s been a long time,
But I think it’s better we stayed.
Those are songs that we’ve already played.
We’ll keep the memories pure as gold,
and let the stories always be told.

We used to climb the Beach House,
we could see for miles, we’d stay there for hours.
We could climb it again–
the view hasn’t changed, but it won’t be the same.
You know, I think it’s better we stayed.
Those are songs that we’ve already played.
We’ll keep the memories pure as gold,
and let the stories always be told.

We were high as the moon
and Paula was laughing with us, she says, “we needed the fire to come soon.”
But that was Lloydie and me,
and now we are gone. I guess it’s time to move on.
You know, I really wish we had stayed.
There are still a few songs we could play.
Maybe it’s all just as well,
but I’ve got so many stories to tell.
I’ve got so many stories to tell.

So pass the cider, pass the rum.
Stoke the fire, my fingers are numb,
but I’m gonna stay here all night long.
This field on this hilltop is really my home.
We sit ’round the bonfire and our circle’s so strong.
We’ll still be singing come the light, come the dawn.

That last verse is pretty much the way it was written. I left it because as much as I love Jamaica, my home is here, and I was glad in many ways to be back to our bonfires and our circles….life here is not bad, and thankfully the effects of Jamaican travel stay with me for months after I come home.

While I’m sharing my lyrical inspiration, this is Rastaman Chant. I later discovered that much of this song was read and played at Bob Marley’s funeral during his eulogy. Very fitting. You can listen to this song if you click here.

Rastaman Chant (Bob Marley and the Wailers)

I hear the words of the Rasta Man say
Babylon you throne gone down, gone down
Babylon you throne gone down

Said, I hear the words of the Higher Man say
Babylon you throne gone down, gone down
Babylon you throne gone down

And I hear the angel with the seven seals
Babylon your throne’s gone down, gone down
Babylon you throne gone down

I say fly away home to Zion
Fly away home
I say fly away to Zion
Fly away home

One bright morning when my work is over
Man will fly away home
One bright morning when my work is over
Man will fly away home
One bright morning when my work is over
Man will fly away home
One bright morning when my work is over
Man will fly away home
One bright morning when my work is over
Man will fly away home

I’ll end this night right here.

Day Eleven, Saturday (Negril)

After last night, we took it easy this day. Our beach was by now nice and free of seaweed so we stayed close to home for the most part, swimming, eating, chatting and relaxing.

If I haven’t mentioned the roof at Beach House Villas, I should now. No one was in the beach house unit and it’s 3 stories high and the entire roof is a deck. So in effect you are 4 stories up on Negril beach and can see really far up and down. It was great to hang out up there as our noise just floated away and we could stealthily watch passer-by taking their night walks on the beach. That’s the “Beach House” from the song I sort of rewrote.

We were hungry that night and somehow wound up at 3 Dives again that night. Lloydie’s brother Eddie was around at closing time, and we’d been telling him about the view from the Beach House roof. He seemed interested in it so we asked him if he’d like to come up, he agreed to ride his bike down and meet us in a bit.

Security walked him in (I’d told him we were expecting a friend, not a “new beach friend” but an old friend, one that owns a successful local business for pete’s sake, but I guess security gets paid to be a little paranoid). Our security guy actually hung out with us for a little while, getting a feel I guess. Everyone was friendly so it was all good.

After he left we headed up to the roof. Eddie said in all his years living near Negril, he’d never seen a view like that. I was glad it was special for him too. We spent quite awhile up there just reasoning, and awhile on our porch watching Eddie try to master that toy we’d bought at Reach Falls. Next time we go, I buy all the toys that rasta has, everyone loved that thing.

Day Twelve, Sunday (Negril)

This is our friends’ last full day in Negril, they leave tomorrow. They’ve been busy this trip (compared to the hookah trip last year). Some have scuba-dived a couple of times, we did the YS trip and they played golf (at Negril Hills…expensive compared to the $15 courses we have at home but awfully pretty), we’ve done everything but a boat ride.

We’ve run into a party boat rep a few times on the beach and the group decides they’d like to do that tonight. It’s an all-you-can-drink, snacks, 4 hours to the cliffs and back thing. The pontoon boat comes to take us to the big boat around 4. I’m a little hung over but I get on anyway. About a minute out, the engine quits. They mess with it. It looks suspiciously like rain. Though I did want to spend this last evening with my friends. I realize this is my chance to not add fish food to the west end waters. I don’t mind being a wussy so I hop off the boat, tell the others to enjoy the ride and head back to the room to read my Winkler book. I’ve cruised to the cliffs before, I’m surely not drinking “unlimited rum punch”, I’m glad to be in my room.

About 15 minutes later as I lay in bed reading, the sky opens up and it POURS. I can hear the rain on the roof, the patio, the concrete paths, it’s just torrential. 15 more minutes and everyone’s back. No cruise tonight, oh well. P and I take a nap, the others head to Kuyaba for dinner. We meant to join them but before we awoke, they were back. P and I went alone and had a not-bad meal. Seems kind of hit or miss there, always kind of expensive and service is good, but the food was just OK. I’ve been there before when the food has been fabulous so it’s worth trying, and as I said the atmosphere is very nice.

We did make a run up to 3 Dives with everyone (last night in Negril, gotta do it) and picked up our friends’ orders of granny sauce, and marinade (that stuff is GREAT – ask for it, he’ll bottle it, it seasons the chicken perfectly for the sauce and it’s not so spicy that kids can’t eat it). Lloydie ran out so we made plans to meet the next day on the way out of town to get our own sauces.

We had another great night hanging out…the place feels like my backyard by now, I am not as comfortable anywhere in Negril. This place, and the people here, have gradually become the best part of spending time in this town.

Continue reading this series:

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