Northeast Coast (1 of 3 from 2003)

Trip Report March/April 2003 – All Around Jamaica

I must say ahead of time, that I can’t tell everything. Some stories must not be told, and some need to be told over a beer, in person. But I think there are enough stories here to make this worth reading anyway….

Day One, Wednesday (Airport-St. Mary)

We were so ready for this trip. Two weeks in Jamaica…a first, that, and no kids this time. We’d planned some of the trip ahead but left many of the first few days open to whims. This was the trip I’d wanted to do for a long time…almost all the way around the island, in a car.

We arrived in MoBay on time, blah blah blah, and immediately found our rep from Vernon’s Rental Cars who met us at the airport in MoBay. We signed a few papers (OmiGod, how much do we owe you if we mash this car up???) and we were on our way. Now I was leery about renting a car but it was all my husband P wanted for the trip so I arranged it. After much research we chose Vernon’s/Fun Holiday. Good recommendations and they gave us a nice internet discount on a new Toyota Corolla with AC and the works. About 5 minutes out of the airport I turned to P and thanked him for making me do it…I felt so free! Heading east from the airport we stopped at Ironshore to grab some gas and a road map, and stopped again for some coco bread (oh yummy….) and drink at a roadside stand somewhere before Falmouth. From a guy in the shop, we got the first run of the question we’d get asked a lot this trip – “what do you think about the war?”. Seems to me most Jamaicans I meet love to talk and so do I so it works well, we had a nice chat and were on our way.

P was driving like a champ. He’s driven in Jamaica before but not for years. 10 minutes in the car and he’s waving the route taxis over to pass him, beeping like a Jamaican and handling the left-side driving thing remarkably well. As Carolyn Barrett would say, he’s earning his PhD (pothole dodger). The windows are down, Irie FM is blasting from the radio, we’re in Jamaica and all is well.

Until Falmouth.

P heads to the left to avoid a pothole and catches a different one hidden in the vegetation at the roadside. Flump, flump, flump….you know the sound of a tire going flat, don’t you? We pull over and P surveys the situation, opens the trunk and has the spare on in about 5 minutes. I watch and wonder why I’m so happy to be having a flat. We’re back on the road feeling very broken in. But we do think we ought to get the tire fixed soon because we could hit another pothole and now we have no spare. So we drive on until Runaway Bay, there’s a light rain now. We see a “TYRE REPAIR” shop and pull in. The very friendly guys there agree to fix it for $500J (just under $10US) and so they pop off the tire and we see it has already been patched 2-3 times. Hmm. OK, one more patch. While he works on the tire, we hang out in the “office”, actually a very large shipping crate, you know, like 2 rooms big. It’s raining and we have some more nice chats while we wait. Finally it’s done and we head off….we want to get to our first stop, Castle Garden in St. Mary (about 40 minutes east of Ochi, between Port Maria and Oracabessa), before dark as we have never been there before.

By the time we hit Ochi, it’s dark (except for the many lights of Ochi itself, of course….that’s a big bright town for sure, high rises and everything) so we just resign ourselves to finding the place at night.

I saw my first real sidewalk in Jamaica in Ochi, it runs along the road from Dolphin Cove and Dunn’s River Falls into town. Turns out it’s not really a sidewalk, it’s the “One Love Trail” meant for people to use to walk/bike whatever between those attractions and downtown. Only one small section was washed away, pretty nice.

Libby, a friend who lives in Castle Garden and had booked us in the cottage we stayed in, had given excellent directions and we found the right road off the main. The main road thus far has been great…only a little construction before Ochi and otherwise smooth (well except for that pothole). This road to the cottage though, is a different story. What Libby refers to as “the nice flat part” is only a slightly less washed out, pothole-marl mess than the rest of the “villa road”. We do about a mile an hour, looking for the gates to the home we are staying at, dodging potholes we can only see with our headlights. It is quiet around here, no lights, only a few people back at the main. Now here is where I have a story that you need to ask me about should we ever meet over a beer 🙂 .

We do arrive at (as Libby wrote in her directions) “the large iron gates” finally and head up. We meet the owner of the “big house”, Richard Sinclair (Hurry! Hurry!). He’s very sweet and shows us our cottage. The house the Sinclairs live in was built by Bob and Rita Marley. It’s huge and very modern, tons of verandahs and a pool, on 11 lush, jungly, sea-view, rolling acres. The property is beautiful….gorgeous views from many points and paths thoughtfully cut through the jungle for walking. There is also a huge recording studio with a killer rooftop deck, a house for the staff, a few storage buildings, and our cottage. Richard plans to add 4 or so cottages to rent, that’s it. Our villa/cottage/house was originally built for the studio musicians to use. It has 4 bedrooms, a kitchen and living/dining area, a back patio with orchids hanging down off a trellis overhead, and a wonderful verandah that runs the length of the cottage on the sea-facing side. We had booked only one room ($75 including breakfast at this time) but no one else was staying there so we had the whole cottage to ourselves. The cottage is called Dream River Villa, by the way, and Libby and Chef (Libby’s husband Chef is an excellent driver and guide as well as a super-nice guy, more on them later…) have a web page about it (and take reservations for it) on their web site at www.sealawncoralbeach.com.

We were pretty beat by now, but hungry and eager to see what was around, so we went towards Oracabessa, to Dor’s. It is probably a beautiful place, we could hear waves crashing on the cliffs Negril west-end style, but it was too dark to see. We had steamed fish with okra and veggies which was all they had at that hour. It was great for me but P isn’t a huge fish fan (a huge PHISH fan, yes, but not in love with sea critters unless they have shells). We laughed about that “final icing on the cake of the day (so we thought at the time) and headed back.

The whole Sinclair family was home now and we enjoyed meeting everyone. Intelligent and outgoing children and Mrs. Sinclair was very sweet. We went up to the cottage ready to fall into bed, we were exhausted. Key in first lock, no problem. Key in second lock……uh oh. It seems I have accidentally locked a lock on the bedroom door that we don’t have a key for. Down to the main house we go and explain. Richard returns with a bag of keys he found in an attic that the Marley estate had given them with the house…maybe 50-60 dusty keys in all. One by one he, P and Mrs. S try each one while the kids and I play marbles on the floor. All keys now tried and failed, P suggests and implements a somewhat cruder method of entry and with no damage to the door, and we’re in at last.

The cottage does not have A/C but being high on a hill overlooking the sea has great breezes and a powerful ceiling fan and we were more than comfortable with a light blanket. Richard believes A/C is unhealthy so it won’t be added. Screens were being added but frankly, even with me being the mosquito magnet that I am, I was not bothered by bugs at all there. It had been dry for awhile and the same breezes that cooled us apparently kept the bugs away too. We collapsed on the bed, listening to the sounds of the country…a dog here and there, the odd time-of-day-confused rooster. I don’t think I was awake for 5 minutes.

Hopefully tomorrow won’t have quite the drama and excitement that today had….we were planning to head to Port Antonio tomorrow but we’re starting to like it around here….

 

Day Two, Thursday (St. Mary)

I woke up before sunrise, realized it was dark and went back to sleep…for maybe an hour. Our cottage faced east so I just knew there was a spectacular day starting out there and since it was dark when we arrived, I was eager to see what things looked like. So I got up. After a short time, the family became aware that we were up and we met Marcia who would cook our breakfast and take care of the cottage. First order of business was coffee on the verandah while the sun did it’s thing…nice. The Sinclairs had asked us what we’d like to eat and we said everything sounded great, surprise us. Marcia got busy on calalloo, some cakes, fresh fruit and these awesome coconut/banana milkshakes that are her morning specialty. While we were having coffee, Libby came by. She is exactly as friendly as she appears in her photos and online, I felt comfy with her right away.

We had a nice long chat and caught up on things, had some good belly laughs, got scolded for not calling when we arrived the night before and generally got ready to enjoy a day in St. Mary. We decided pretty quickly not to head on to Port Antonio today and just hang out here and have a relaxing first full day. We promised to come down to the beach later on and Libby went back.

After our most healthy breakfast (the Sinclairs are mainly vegetarian and organic and use all local produce, in most cases form their own land. Everything was delicious), Mr. S went down to the beach and we took a swim in the pool and explored the property. Wow…it’s hard to describe how pretty the place is, I’m glad I have pictures. One of the children acted as tour guide for us and we checked out the recording studio, outbuildings and got a tour of the jungle, complete with stream, paths for walking and a BBQ area.

When we were ready, we hopped in the car to the beach, 2 minutes away. The S family also owns some beachfront property nearly adjacent to Libby and Chef and Mr S has a crew of 10 guys or so down there working on a retaining wall for the hill and a new beach bar sort of structure. Eventually (maybe this winter) sand will be brought in to make a beach…right now there is a nice somewhat narrow beach with clear, calm water and a reef for snorkeling right offshore, plenty of shade trees. We snorkeled happily for an hour or two, saw lots of small fish (no jetskis or parasailing anything around here, thus a healthier reef), staghorn coral, brain coral, and fans. There is a great view back to the mountains and towards Port Maria and Monkey Island from the water there.

Libby and Chef run the aforementioned Sea Lawn Coral Beach, a lovely property down by the beach with two rooms for rent (hot water, private bath, $35…I’d do that anytime, great vibe down there) camping space on a grassy flat lawn and a little beach bar. It’s just down the villa road and off the main a bit, maybe a 15 minute walk (but 2 minute drive.). You can look at the sea right from their porch…it’s maybe 15 steps down a hill/cliff to the sandy beach but the bit of height offers great sea views and a constant breeze. The youth club is building some little fishponds and such down there and they also keep things clean…it was really nice.

When we arrived, Lib pointed out a surprise (to me) guest…Bill Evans (aka Accompong)! I had no idea he was there and it was a great treat to meet and talk with him for awhile. He’d be around for a few days.

One thing about this beach, and Castle Garden in general…we met several people that morning and not one asked us for anything but a conversation. Being a Negril regular and rather used to the “no thanks we’re all good” routine, this was a very welcome chance to just talk with people. And we did. (or rather I did…P is quieter than I am, friendly but not the most talkative guy…we’re a good pair that way). Tim (the Youth Club president, he proudly told us) was an especially nice kid.

We were getting hungry so headed back down to the beach to investigate Mr S’s claims of lunch on the sand. Sure enough, the construction guys were on a break…one was frying up some freshly caught fish over a fire on the beach, escoveitch-style (I LOVE that stuff…scotchbonnet peppers, onions, vinegar and spices make that fish like nothing else). P doesn’t love fish, as I said yesterday, so a box lunch of chicken and rice was picked up for him from somewhere…I think we paid $2 each for these lunches and they were both delicious. In fact, everything was cheaper here…no such thing as tourist price and local price since there are so few tourists. We finished lunch, ran a few errands in Port Maria and headed up to the house for a pool swim and a nap.

After a rest, we went back down to hang out with Lib and Chef and Bill some more and decided to go to dinner in Ochi – the Big City, as it were. It’s only about 30-40 minutes away and we went to Bi Bi Bips for seafood on the water…very nice meal, not cheap but very good and P was able to have something other than fish :). The meal knocked us out completely and upon arriving home and NOT having locked any doors that we shouldn’t, we collapsed into bed around 9.

Tomorrow, we really are going to head to Portland but we’ve already thought about spending a night here again on the way back. We are liking the people, being near friends, the lovely scenery and our little cottage.

 

Day Three, Friday (St. Mary to Portland)

We woke up really early again….it’s the air, the sunrise, the eagerness to get out and explore, the coffee, the verandah…or maybe it’s just that we’ve been falling into bed before 9 each night….probably all of the above. I took many of my photos that morning, not sure if we’d be back or not. Again had a great breakfast of fruit and toast and banana/coconut shakes from Marcia. Chatted with Mrs S for awhile, she’s very nice and we had some good talks.

There are several guard dogs on the property, maybe 6. There is Twinkle, the mother of the others, and Cogi their dad. A great dane was brought over to visit from friends at Evita’s restaurant in Ochi to mate with Twinkle, the hope being these puppies will be somewhat larger than the current dogs. Twinkle was pregnant when we arrived but nowhere to be found this morning. Before too long Mrs S came and found us….Twinkle was having her puppies! She’d curled up in the vines and brush at the base of this HUGE tree (I have pictures of it with the others) and at that time, there were 4 little guys, one already nursing. The nursing one didn’t look like a great dane at all, in fact….it looked just like Cogi, small dog, yellow color! Way to go Cogi, he snuck one in the Ochi dog’s litter (actually 2…later Twinkle had 2 more puppies for 6 total). It was so sweet. Work had begun on a dog house for her earlier and this morning the project suddenly became more urgent. We watched awhile then gave the new mommy her space.

We checked out and said we’d probably come back in a couple of days and would call. High-fived the kids and headed down the road to say goodbye to Lib and Chef and Bill. After a little time there, we turned the car east towards Portland.

The drive from Port Maria to Port Antonio is awesome. Around every curve there is a bright blue-green bay, banana plantation or mountain view. I was excited to be going this far….Ochi is as far east as I’d ever been in Jamaica. Those mountains were getting bigger and closer with every mile. On the way we saw and stopped at several places, one was for a cast iron pot. P loves to cook and he loves good cookware. We bought a great rice pot w/lid, handmade, for $7. There’s a photo of the place in the pictures, it’s pink and the rasta that runs it was very nice to talk with. I think I told P a few more times how glad I was that he’d talked me into renting a car…we just couldn’t have done all this stopping where we like and going when we want without one. The east coast towns are fairly spread out too, taxis would be do-able but time consuming or expensive, one or the other, and I was really thrilled to have the freedom the car gave us.

We had not booked a hotel for this part of the trip but I had a few ideas. We decided to settle that first. We went past Port Antonio (wow what a beautiful and different town…on a steep hill set on twin bays, gingerbread Victorian looking stuff everywhere) and on to Fairy Hill to check out Goblin Hill Villas. We made our way up another steep potholed road and arrived. We saw a nice suite with a great view but it was $185…don’t think so. The restaurant was closed (they offer cook service in your villa only now) and the grounds were very well-kept but quiet. Nice views but this is the first place and way too much $ so we move on. We drive to the next stop, Frenchman’s Cove. Now I’d heard the rooms here were rather rustic but the beach is supposed to be great and the walk-in rate was maybe only $50, someone had said, so I really wanted to like it. Once we finally found it, which took a few passes and “is that it?”s, we pulled in. There were a few tour buses that had carried people to the beach parked there, otherwise it was pretty quiet. (So far all of PA is pretty quiet.) We saw a room in the “Great House”…..oh my. It looked more like a rundown shopping center to me…no landscaping, two story concrete block building with older furniture and kind of moldy carpets. The area around it was empty, but for a falling down shed of some sort, and things looked suspiciously swampy and mosquito-ey. P was definite about not staying even before we found out that the room would be $90! No thanks, we say, and head back to the car. We never did see Frenchman’s Beach, maybe next time. Back at the car, there appears to be a little bubble of some sort on the tire we’d had fixed. Not good, especially as we’re kind of hungry and have no home yet. We decide to keep an eye on it and press on. At this point P is saying if we don’t find a place we like soon, we should just go back to St. Mary and stay there.

We decide to try one more hotel, my last lead, Fern Hill Club. Again with the not-great and steep road up the mountain but we turn off and….wow. This is the place, we know it before we pull in. We see a standard room first ($77, great view, nice size room with AC, phone, etc.). Then we see the suite ($99) and we are sold. There are photos with my pictures…it has A/C, cable TV, a huge balcony with an unbelievable view of the mountains and San San Bay. There’s a living room, bedroom, huge bathroom, tons of storage space and so far everyone here is really nice. We walk back to the office to check in.

The front desk is in the main building which houses a restaurant (there’s a panoramic shot of it in the pics, even better view than our balcony), bar with pool table and ping pong and lots of sitting around space, the office and the standard rooms. The office is open-air, near a parking area and I stand maybe 10 feet from our car doing the registration paperwork. It’s really quiet up here…there are a few people staying but they are far from full. We hear birds chirping, the breeze rustling the trees…..and……then…..BANG!!!!! I cannot tell you how loud this sound was, it was more like a cannon than a gunshot. Everyone jumped and a couple of people ran out to see what happened.

It was our tire that had happened. The little bump we’d seen earlier had rather swiftly turned into a large bubble and the tire had apparently exploded sitting there in the sun. Once we were breathing normally again, we could only laugh at our good luck – could this have happened at a better time? We’d found the hotel we wanted to stay in, we weren’t driving…..good fortune was with us on this trip. P wearily walks over to get our good friend the spare out once again and changes the tire. A crowd has now gathered, hotel staff and a couple of taxi drivers are pointing and saying how they knew that tire was going to burst, a couple of kids gave P advice as he sweated in the sun. But he’s good at this now, and in under 5 minutes he has the spare on and the exploded tire in the trunk.

We are hot and starving so after a quick swim in one of FH’s 4 pools, we eat a very nice meal at the restaurant (P had very good beef stew J’can style and I had fish) and admire the view. I can still clearly see the steep lush mountains and changing colors of the water in the bay two weeks later (without a photo), I guess because I stared at it so much while we were there.

After another nap (you know how it is down there…) we decided to head down to the Blue Lagoon. It was 6PM and light would be gone soon and we hadn’t explored at all, other than hotels. Turns out BL is about 5 minutes from Fern Hill. At that hour it was free to swim (there is a charge during the day) so we ordered a snack and jumped into the bluest – and what an odd shade of blue, almost unnatural – water. Whoa – it’s freezing!! Wait, no it’s not…it’s only cold on the very top couple of inches, below that it’s warm. It’s salty from the sea (which is right there) and fresh from a spring that comes up some 180 feet below us. Eerie. One thing I didn’t expect was to be so buoyant. It’s nearly impossible to get down in this water, you just float in pretty much any position. I’m not sure why…pressure from the spring or something, but it was a lot of fun. There’s a dock to lay on and the restaurant is right over the water. I have pics of BL with the others. We had a great hour or two, some overpriced but tasty jerk, and headed back to FH.

We hung out at the bar for awhile, wishing for the energy to play pool or ping pong but only found we had enough to chat with the bartender and waiter for awhile. We made our way along the path to our room (one of the paths…this place is huge and riddled with little concrete paths through the gardens and lawns that take you to a nice view or swimming pool or library or villa) and fall into bed exhausted again. I give thanks for our luck so far and to be here and fall into a deep sleep.

 

Day Four, Saturday (Portland)

We wake up quite early again, though this time sleep in a little bit because the AC and the shades make it dark and cave-like in our room…but all of Portland is out there and we are still up by 7 and head to breakfast at the FH restaurant. Had a great breakfast – my first ackee and salt fish of the trip, it’s been out of season and difficult to find. P has pancakes or something, it’s all great. Meals aren’t cheap at FH, b’fast and coffee and all were about $10 each, but that view…

Today is our only full day in Portland and there’s a lot we want to see. First though, we need to head back west to Port Antonio and buy a new tire. The exploded one is not fixable. We head into town and change money ($54J to $1US pretty much the whole trip, except the airport was 46, what a ripoff) and shop a little, then stop at, oh, 4-5 tire shops. No one has our size. After about an hour, one place has one that isn’t the right size but will fit on the rim and we tell him he’s got a deal. $25US plus $2 to the guy who puts it on for us and the spare is back in the truck and we’re ready to roll once again. I actually enjoyed running these little errands around town, it made me feel normal, not like a tourist.

So we’re off, once again loving that freedom of having a car. We can carry drinks and swim stuff easily, and it’s like having a little private home wherever we go…having lived out in the country in the US for a few years, we’ve become quite attached to our little homes on wheels, I guess, and it’s nice to have one in Jamaica.

We point the car east once again. This drive is the best yet, truly spectacular scenery…windy cliffs, mountains always on the right, cattle, bananas, wide open spaces and tiny little coves with little deserted sandy beaches. We pass Boston Beach but it’s still early and we’ll check back later.

On a bit, we come to Long Bay. As we catch glimpses through the trees, I tell P we must stop…I’d heard this was like “Old Negril”, meaning before all the hotels were built, but it’s supposed to also have huge waves. P is a surfer and is very interested in renting a surfboard here. There is a place to rent them but alas, the water is unusually calm this day and the surf is too small.

But what a beach. Just a couple of cottages and a bar or two on a mile-long stretch of pinkish sand lined with palm trees. I spotted one or two people enjoying the beach here, that was it. A big night was coming though, Mutabaraka and a bunch of other artists were to play that night at Cool Runnings beach bar and there were bonfire stacks ready and people furiously cleaning and stocking up for the show. I know we won’t make that show…it’s supposed to start around 10 but you regulars know nothing starts then, it’ll be 3 AM if we’re lucky and that’s become closer to when we wake up than when we go to bed so far! So we walk the beach a bit, stick our toes in the surf and take a few photos. Lloydie and Paula and Selina and Roy and their kids had just been out here for a few days’ vacation so we observed the cottages they stayed in and wished, again, that we had more time to stick around.

But it was time to head on to Reich Falls. Right before the turnoff, at Manchioneal, is probably the nicest vista in Jamaica…and there we turn inland, into the Blue Mountains and up a mile or two to the falls. Have I mentioned how beautiful it is here yet?

I’ve always wanted to visit Reich Falls, more so after talking to Libby about the place. It’s run by an older man (though the JTB is apparently interested in taking it back to run…grrr, they’ll Disney-fy it for sure) who takes excellent care of it. There are some little stands near the parking lot where you can buy refreshments and things – absolutely zero tourist hassle here, there is even a sign warning people not to bug anyone. The falls cost us – get this – $100J apiece. That’s right, $2. I am getting used to these east coast prices, we’ll spend a lot more in Negril I have a feeling.

The walk down to the actual falls is short, just a few dozen steps and we’re there. Older or physically challenged folks will not have a hard time here…I’d put it at just a tiny bit more challenging than walking up YS and way easier than Mayfield.

We come down and wow. This is the absolute clearest water I have ever seen. There are a few guides down there who offer to take us up the falls and to some caves – P gives one $100J to just show him where to jump off the falls from and we’ll guide ourselves. That’s cool with them and we settle in and enjoy. The water is so clear, I’m told, because it comes from an underground spring so does not get topsoil and leaves and such in it at all like Mayfield and YS can, they can both get a little brown if it has rained recently. It actually didn’t rain once while we were on the east coast, they’d been dry for two weeks. Unusual but I guess March is a good time to be there. Sun, sun, sun and more sun.

P dived into the water and promptly lost his glasses. Oops. The water is clear enough that he can sort of see them but there is a current and losing them would not do….a kid has a mask P borrows (the kid really wanted to get the glasses himself, for a tip I guess, but we tipped him about $50J for the use of the mask anyway…it took about 30 seconds for P to locate them). Whew. We climbed and swam and generally hung out enjoying the water for a couple of hours and headed up the hill to the parking area.

One rasta has a stand up there with some homemade toys. We bought one that I’d never seen before – as it turned out no one in Jamaica had seen one either and everyone loved it. I should have bought all he had, it was a $3 toy. It’s a piece of hollow bamboo with another little piece on top, sort of like a pipe. In the “bowl”, if you will, there is a needle with a little piece of styrofoam on it and a hook on top. Attached to the end of the “pipe” is a piece of wire, like coat hanger thickness, with a sort of basketball hoop maybe 4 inches above the “bowl”. What you do is blow into the bamboo and it makes the styrofoam rise up and you hang the hook on to the hoop. That only took a few tries to get. But then you have to blow and put it back in the “bowl”…we still haven’t mastered that move! The guy we bought it from says smoke is optional 🙂 Those of you coming to Hookahville, ask me about it, I’ll bring it.

Back in the car we head down the road. Another car is heading up and though we pull over to let him pass, he scrapes our car as he passes. After a few choice patois curses on P’s part (he does catch on fast), we all stop and get out of the car but what can you do? The driver goes and we’ll figure it out later.

I’m a little nervous because I’ve heard these horror stories about rental companies taking your deposit (which was $1000 US, by the way) for that stuff but we’ll be back in St. Mary and will talk with Chef (he’s a driver) about what to do then. For now, we are just too mellow and in-a-Jamaican-frame-of-mind to worry about it. We turn back west and head for Boston Beach because we are now starving.

Boston Beach (or Boston Bay as it is sometimes called) is, they say, the home of jerk cooking in Jamaica. There is a “Boston Style”, you see it on signs all over the island, but this is the original place. We pull into the parking lot by a lovely cove with clear aquamarine water (see pics). Again , usually the waves are big here and you can surf but not today, wind is blowing the wrong way. P resigns himself to surfing next year.

As we pull into the lot, we are immediately approached by a guy to take our order. I’m a little leery..somewhere I read that people here aren’t that crazy about US visitors but everything was cool…he really did work there and really did take our order and when he sat down to chat with us while we ate, we had a great conversation. Everyone we met there was very sweet, and interested to talk to us about the war and things. I guess I needed a reminder to remain friendly and open-minded, works every time for us in Jamaica, pretty much. Gotta trust those instincts and stay open.

The beach here is public and there were maybe 20 people are around, a few tourists, some locals, some day-trippers from elsewhere in Jamaica…it’s a nice vibe with great food on a nice sandy clean beach. Only one guy, towards the end, approached P for $. He said he cleans the beach and people give him a donation for it. P is not having this – he asks if everyone pays. It finally comes out that only the “white people” pay him, not the day trippers or Jamaican tourists. Well, we aren’t that white, we tell him, and he gives up. That right there was the one and only hustle we encountered on the east coast in 6 days, and it was easily dealt with. I have no idea if he really cleaned the beach or not – I didn’t see him at it – but we’d bought food, drinks and a couple of pieces of jewelry there and felt we’d contributed enough. If he’d approached us in a nice way, we probably would have given him money but he basically came with his hand out and was annoyed we didn’t pay him…that turns me off every time. The bay is beautiful, the water was great for swimming, the beach is free and there are showers and all the amenities there. I highly recommend a visit. The food was surprisingly cheap too.

Turns out we are only 10 minutes from our hotel. Another day in PA and we’d have definitely come back to Boston Beach. Instead we rested in our suite a short while and decided to go back to Blue Lagoon for another swim in that weird water. This time we had to pay – $400J for 2 at 5PM – and there were tons of kids running around (from the BL villas, I assume) so we didn’t stay too long. I have kids, I love kids, but this was our no-kids vacation.

We decided to chill back at the hotel and just eat dinner there…the food was not quite the same, there was a different chef, but it was still good and the sea/mountain view remained stunning. Once again, we fell into bed…tomorrow we stay here one more night or go back to St. Mary and this is NOT an easy decision to make.

Day Five, Sunday (Portland to Castle Garden)

We woke early…again. I am NOT a morning person at all but here I can’t help it…there’s just too much fun to be had, people to see, sights to take in. We decide to eat breakfast at FH and go ahead to Castle Garden because we don’t want to be on the road to Negril ALL day tomorrow. We swam in the one pool at FH we hadn’t checked out yet…this one is on top of the hill and has an incredible – you know what I’m going to say – view. Looking down at San San Beach, which we have free passes for from the hotel, we decide to take a quick ocean dip and get ready.

We drove down – could have walked but it’s hot already – and gave the woman at the gate our passes. The beach is lovely. Calm clear water, sand goes out quite a ways. There’s a little beach/snack bar, showers, trees to lounge under, but at this hour we’re pretty much alone. The beach is used by 3 hotels and a few private villas, otherwise it’s $10US per person or something like that. We enjoy it for an hour or so and head back up the hill to pack up and check out. We’ll be back, Fern Hill!

One thing we wanted to do was really get into the Blue Mountains for a day. P wanted to check out a coffee plantation he’d visited as a child but it being Sunday, we weren’t sure it would be open and it was a good 2 hours over the Blue Mountains towards Kingston. So regretfully we put that on the “next time” list and headed west.

This time we went straight to Chef and Lib’s, missed them already. Bill is still there and we hang out for awhile on their porch.

After, it was again time for a nap and a pool swim at the Sinclairs. The kids were in school, it was quiet. The first day we were there the kids hung out with us a lot but after that their mom made a point of taking them to the beach or just out, sensitive as they were to us being on vacation without our own kids. Truly though, they were great kids and we enjoyed talking with them.

For dinner we decided to head back to Ochi and Chef suggested a place he’d passed many times that has grown tremendously over the years – Spring Café. It’s a really nice place with great food and we enjoyed it. It was very crowded so I guess a lot of people do too. We paid about $50US for two dinners and drinks. Castle Garden really has the best of all worlds…quiet country life but with Ochi’s restaurants, movies and nightlife just 30-40 minutes away.

We stopped back by Lib and Chef’s and finally met George…busy guy, very polite and well on his way to being as good-looking as his dad.

Bill was planning to go to Negril the next day too, using route taxis and buses, so we decided to offer him a ride. He accepted and we made plans to meet the next morning. We’d thought of going tubing the next day on the White River – that sounded like fun and Mrs. S had suggested it, but we put that on the ever-growing next-time list and went to bed.

Day Six, Monday (Castle Garden to Negril)

Up for sunrise as usual and Marcia has found ackee! Woohoo, ackee and salt fish for breakfast again! (P, my non-fish-lover eats toast and fruit and callalloo). While we wait for breakfast I chat with Mrs. S and after our goodbyes and promises to return with the kids, we head down to pick up Bill.

Chef is home now and I remember to ask him about the car scrape we got at Reich Falls. He says definitely fix it ourselves if we can so we plan to do that on the way. Chef would be my pick for a driver/guide anywhere from MoBay east, he’s very knowledgeable and friendly and great to talk with. He has a page on tours on the Sea Lawn web site at http://www.sealawncoralbeach.20megsfree.com/ .

Bill hops in, we stop in Ochi for supplies and JA$ and whatnot and head out. Somewhere around Runaway Bay (again), we locate a body shop and pull in.

The guys take a look and say they can fix it, no problem. P asks how much? They get a little offended and tell us that “not all Jamaicans are tief!” but P won’t let them move the car until he knows if we can afford it so with Bill soothing egos all around, we get a price of $500J ($10US) and let them at it. Turns out the damage that looked so bad is mainly blue paint from the other car (figures we get licked by the only blue car in Jamaica…ours is white) on our bumper. It took about 10 minutes for them to get some gook and take off the paint….good as new. Major relief, that, now we can return the car without worrying about losing our firstborn.

That episode made me realize a few things. First, in a resort area as this place is, probably many tourists DO think all Jamaicans are “tief” and I doubt they are very polite about that. We didn’t, we just didn’t have that much cash and needed to know the price. Bill says Jamaicans usually discuss price AFTER the service is rendered, that’s normal. Interesting sociology lesson and with handshakes and smiles all around, we’re back on the road again, refreshed from a cool drink at the auto shop’s bar to boot.

We had only one planned stop, at the new Ritz Carlton to see our friend Lee Weinstock who is the VIP tour manager or something like that there. He was our driver/guide the first time P and I went to Negril solo, turns out he is a friend of many of our friends in Ohio, and we always try to see him when we come down (or he comes up). He introduced us to our best friends in Negril at 3 Dives and is a lot of the reason we returned to Negril again and again. It would be a 10 minute visit this time as he was working and we didn’t get to see him again. The Ritz is an awfully fancy resort. Not my kind of place at all (and certainly not my price tag), but if you’re into fancy and pretentious and really need a little flag on your beach chair to raise when you want something, this would be a great place.

The waves on their beach were really big, unusually so for the north coast, and this would be our first taste of what was waiting for us in Negril. We drove through a little rain (first time this trip except for the little shower the first day). I was kind of sorry to be going to Negril as we’d enjoyed “the other side” so much, and I knew Negril would be back to the hustle of a tourist town.

BUT, and this is a big but, we had friends coming in that day to join us for the Negril week and we were excited to see them. ekoostik hookah, a band we go see at home all the time, camp with, party with and from whose show scene many of our friends come, had been to Negril twice before, in 1999 and 2002. They’d planned to come for 2003 but alas, everyone was still broke from last year so not enough people had signed up and they had to cancel. A few diehards – 10 of us – decided to go anyway and we’d rented a villa at Beach House Villas for the week. Some of us had been before, a couple hadn’t. In any case, we were ready to change gears and party at night and sleep in for awhile.

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