Trip Report March/April 2003 – All Around Jamaica (3)
Day Thirteen, Monday (Negril to Treasure Beach)
We had a slow morning on the beach, eating at our own restaurant, packing here and there, getting in those last swims. When Sala and Dave came to pick up our friends, I was glad to see him, sad to see them go. We’d had a great week together…but at least I know I’ll see them all again soon, at Hookahville if not before 🙂
Here’s where I’m really glad WE aren’t leaving Jamaica just yet. I knew we’d want a couple of days after everyone left to get “back to Jamaica” and wind down. Accordingly, we’d chosen to spend the last couple of days in Treasure Beach on the south coast. I’ve been wanting to go there for several trips now but we just got sucked into the black hole that is Negril and never made it out. This trip I’d booked a room and everything, so we couldn’t back out.
We picked up another car from Vernon’s, a Suzuki Something with AC and power locks and whatnot, it was fine. We checked out of BHV and thanked them for a nice week and headed up to 3 Dives one last time to get our stuff and see Lloydie. Paula was not there, she was auditing a computer class somewhere so we’d said our goodbyes to her last night.
Lloydie needed to go to Sav, and we wanted to check out Eddie’s bar in Orange Hill, so we followed him out of town. Eddie’s bar is just down the road from Jamaica Jurassic Park, a really cool place where the resident artist makes huge metal sculptures of dinosaurs and plants, as well as most of the fancier gates and grilles around Westmoreland. Stop by anytime, it’s a sight to see and the owner is really nice.
Eddie’s bar is a friendly open place. A group of guys played something like checkers (but they had another name for it, I forget what) under a tree, we sat at the bar and got a couple of cold drinks while we chatted with Eddie and Lloydie. The bar is right in front of the house Eddie, Lloydie and his brothers and sisters grew up in..and everyone that passes by honks and waves at these two, I feel like we’re sitting with the mayor or something :). It was very hard to leave but we wanted to get to Treasure Beach in time to have some light so we reluctantly said goodbye to Eddie and left. In Sav, Lloydie stopped at his turnoff and we hugged goodbye there. He and Paula are good friends to us. I hated to leave, next time seems too far away.
We drove along the lovely south coast again (again for me as I’d been to YS, first time this trip for P) to the Peter Tosh Memorial so I could drop off my cds. P hadn’t been before so we hung around a little while and I gave my shows to the guy I’d promised last Friday.
With map in hand, we continued west, coming to Black River and looking for our turn south. After a mis-turn or two (we just pulled over and asked whenever we weren’t sure…if we were wrong we turned around, I don’t think we went more than a kilometer out of our way, just had to ask a couple of times). Again, this trip was faster than I thought, before I realized where we were we’d pulled up to Calabash Bay. Not sure if we should go left or right we went right (turned out to be left but as we discover, nothing in TB is a big deal, there’s basically one road that hugs the bays along the coast) we wound up taking a little tour of TB. When we saw Billy’s Bay and Irie Rest, I knew we’d come too far so we turned around and shortly pulled into Mar Blue, our home for the next two nights.
We knew we could stay in TB for $35 or so if we wanted, but as this was the end of our trip, I’d decided we should have a pool (in case the beach swimming wasn’t great…we didn’t know), a nice sea view, AC, TV, the whole bit. This we got, and much much more, for $99 a night. There were even robes for us to use. The hotel, it’s not really…I guess it’s a guest house, or a B&B, has 4 rooms with private entrances in addition to the owner’s home. Each room has a balcony, Satellite TV, AC, fan, bathroom with hot water and shower, the most comfortable bed I’ve ever slept on and I don’t only mean hotels, I mean ever…down comforters even. The structure was designed by the owner and has a unique layout that allows air to flow through a breezeway in between the two room units. The breezeway has the kitchen, with a nice large bar with bar stools, and a large dinner table with chairs, cushions here and there. You can sit and stare at the sea , sunset, and never get hot….the breeze was constant. In fact they lowered a canvas curtain on the road side during dinner, it was almost too breezy.
The owners are German, they moved to TB about a year ago and built this place. Axel and Andrea are very kind, we wanted for nothing at all, ever. Andrea’s sister was visiting that week, as were a couple from Florida. They were a nice group and we enjoyed our time with them. We were asked if we wanted to stay for dinner this first night and gladly accepted.
(Now here is where I should say P had never stayed at a B&B before, in fact I don’t think I had either, and we weren’t quite sure of the protocol. There were drinks and snacks in the mini-fridge in our room, with a price list we checked off if we took anything, so I knew dinner should cost something, but I just didn’t care enough at this point to go ask. P stressed a little but didn’t want to ask….so we just went with the flow. It turned out breakfast was free, dinner was $15 a person and they kept a bar bill for us behind the bar, announcing when they were buying us a drink (which they did about as often as we bought ourselves one). It was all good, just thought I’d mention that in case anyone else isn’t familiar with a B&B sort of setup. It was a bargain in the end.)
In the meantime, we took a walk on the beach. Absolutely no one else around, it’s great. There are places with big waves, and calm spots, tidal pools, cliffs…lots of variety and you can walk a long way without having to go to the street (which is very quiet in any case). Mar Blue is right on the beach, you just walk past the swimming pool through a little gate and you’re there.
After our little exploration, it was sunset cocktail hour back at Mar Blue. It’s really a lovely place to watch the sun go from. Shortly, Dennis Abrahams arrived, who A&A had invited to join us for dinner. He’s a fisherman/tour guide and a really nice guy. We thoroughly enjoyed our dinner with everyone, the group was very laid back but the conversation never stopped :). The food was AMAZING. Axel is a chef, a real one, and he made the best lobster bisque I’ve ever had….I tasted some kind of brandy or something in there, even P was impressed (and he doesn’t impress easy). After the soup came a beautiful salad with homemade dressing. The main course turned out to be a kingfish Axel had caught. It was grilled and tasted good just like that but then two sauces came out…a peppercorn sort of cream sauce and a tomato-based salsa kind of sauce. They were both delicious.
After coffee we went back to cocktails and everyone sat under the stars facing the sea for several hours, just chatting and enjoying. We arranged to go boating with Dennis the next day, to Black River and up…I was really excited, I’ve been wanting to do this for a long time. Dennis told us to just walk over to the fisherman’s beach (less than a minute away) around 9 and we’d go.
We fell into that very comfortable bed, already wishing we had more time in Treasure Beach….
Day Fourteen, Tuesday (Treasure Beach/Black River)
We were supposed to get to Dennis at the fisherman’s beach at nine but we overslept a little. When we saw Dennis cruise by Mar Blue on his boat waving, we figured it was time to head over :). We walked over, hopped in his boat and headed out to sea. The boat is locally called a canoe because it has that sort of shape I guess, but Dennis has a powerful motor and seat cushions, life vests for kids and non-swimmers, lots of extras – it was very comfortable.
We passed all of TB, then Fort Charles, where Dennis pointed out new electric lines that are allowing development there. Fortunately (Dennis’ words) the development is taking the form of private homes and villas, not mega-resorts. Mega-resorts in TB…that will be a sad day indeed, but luckily one that most residents will fight tooth and nail. They like their peaceful, drug-dealer and crime-free paradise and have seen what has happened to the north coast and do not want a repeat in their part of Jamaica. Bravo.
We were about 10 minutes into our trip when we saw our first dolphins. There were 2 that we could see and they swam along with the boat for quite awhile. I was really impressed to be so close to them. This has to blow away the captive-dolphin experience at Dolphin Cove in Ochi, even if we didn’t jump in and swim with them…at least they’re free and happy.
Dennis, like most Jamaicans seem to, has a cell phone. It rang. Seems another couple was heading to the river but their boatman’s motor quit and they were stuck. We offered to share our trip, no problem. We turned and headed back to the Calabash fishing co-op and rested there awhile as yet another phone call came in, this from Jason Henzell, owner of Jake’s and cheerleader-in-charge for community tourism in Treasure Beach. He had another couple that hoped to go up the river today. “The more the merrier”, we told Dennis, so waited a few more minutes for the other couple.
Now with 6 of us plus Dennis and his helper, we head back out on the open sea towards Black River. The other couples are very nice, one quite young and one a bit older. Everyone is cool, though, and we laugh as we bump up and down on the waves. Occasionally Dennis slows down to point out a sight or explain something about what we are passing but pretty soon Black River’s bay comes into view and the water calms noticeably. We chug in and head up the river. At the mouth of the river there are a lot of boats at the docks, loading tourists. Most get on pontoon boats – nice party sort of boat that holds maybe 20 people. A few get on fishing boats like ours. The difference between the two will be apparent in a bit.
As we head up, the river gives way to open morass (swamp or wetland, in the US) and the views are stunning. There is absolutely no way to see this without getting on a boat, we are surrounded by water, reeds, mangroves and far off, mountains. We see some sea birds nesting along the edge of the water and before too long, Dennis slows down and pulls over to an edge of the river. There, relaxing in the sun, is Jamaican crocodile number 1. This is the “safari” aspect of the trip, what most people head up the river to see. It was pretty cool, we were able to get quite close.
We saw several more and pretty soon, we came to a low bridge. This is where the pontoon boats have to turn around, they can’t go any further as they don’t fit under the bridge. Our group, however, merely duck our heads and we’re heading up into the country, with a lot less boat traffic now. “See ya suckers”, I recall saying to myself with an evil smile :). I have friends who have been here before and so knew to get a fishing boat and not a pontoon tour boat. (If you book a Black River trip through a tour company or hotel, you will almost certainly be on a pontoon boat so beware).
After a bit, Dennis pulls over to a dock on the river and we hop out for a drink at a little hut. We haven’t seen a croc lately and Dennis says in 20 years he’s never seen one in this area, this is a swim stop. Okaaaayyyy….I’m pretty hot by now and ready to swim and when I see a couple of area residents swimming, I say to heck with it and go in too. The Black River is called what it is because there is peat at the bottom that makes the water appear black. The water itself is beautiful – cool, crystal clear, refreshing. Some of the others on the boat aren’t too sure about a swim but once Dennis, P and I are all in, a few people swing off a rope swing set up on a tree and after a few minutes, we’re all in the water splashing, laughing, making crocodile jokes. And getting hungry.
Dennis asked us earlier if we’d like to eat crab on the river or at Pelican Bar on the way back…we opted for the crab and a drink at Pelican. So pretty soon we head downriver a bit and pull off at a crab shack. We settle ourselves and order – crab is what’s on the menu, and drinks. The crabs are fairly small but the restaurant cleans then, adds spices and stuffs the crabmeat back in the shell so it’s very easy to eat, fresh and delicious. An order is two crabs ($100J – $2US) and we eat a couple of orders each. Luckily P’s dislike of fish doesn’t extend to those that have shells so we’re all happy.
Full and cooled off, we head back towards the sea. Coming out of the river we turn towards our next stop, Pelican Bar. This place is amazing, less than a year old when we were there. There is a sandbar out in the bay at Black River where the water is only a foot or so deep. On this sandbar an enterprising businessman has built a bar on stilts – the whole thing made of bamboo. You cannot get here by land, you must arrive by boat. Dennis had called ahead on that handy cell phone so we were met by the owner and he had plenty of cold drinks for us. He could have cooked too but since we’d had the crab we were full. Some of the group snorkeled a little, some sunbathed, others headed for the shade of the bar and relaxed inside. I wish I could have spent longer there, what a setting.
Finally we are ready to head back. Returning to TB from Black River puts us against the current, or wind or something, because the ride back is BOUNCY. I love riding waves in boats so thought it was a lot of fun, older people might not enjoy the bouncing as much. Still, compared to ocean water on the US east coast, this was nothing. We bounced and smiled and laughed for about 20 minutes and Dennis began dropping us all off at one of the 4 fishing beaches in TB. We got off at Calabash and walked the 30 feet or so to Mar Blue and jumped in the pool. I love having a pool for just this sort of occasion.
It’s about 3PM now, naptime, we decide. It’s hard to take a nap today since it’s our last day but I haven’t looked at a watch or calendar for 2 weeks and I’m not about to start now when I really don’t want to know what either one says. So we nap.
We intended to go to Jake’s for sunset, this is a ritual of sorts in TB, but we were tired enough to sleep until about 8. At 8 we did head over to Jake’s to eat. The meal was fine – nothing like what we’d had at Mar Blue the night before though, we’re spoiled now. The rain let up after dinner so we could walk around and get an idea of what Jake’s looks like (in the dark). It’s set on cliffs, not unlike the west end of Negril, and everything is very artsy and funky. I’d not stay there, I don’t think, as the cottages are pretty pricey for the amenities provided, but it’s a fun place to hang out for awhile. The people there seemed to be a mix of US tourists, locals, and Europeans, interesting people to sit at a bar with for sure.
Heading back to Mar Blue, we enjoy a couple of glasses of wine with Axel, Andrea and Andrea’s sister (who is also leaving tomorrow), then collapse into that really cozy bed in our room. Next time we come to TB we will stay a LOT longer, there was so much more to see that we didn’t get to.
Day Fifteen, Wednesday (Treasure Beach – MoBay – US)
The last day. The day we leave, not even the last full day. I always hate it but this year, it’s not so bad, we’ve had over 2 weeks and I feel I’ve gotten a good dose of Jamaica this time. I also miss my kids :).
…and it’s my birthday! I didn’t mean to schedule our trip home on my birthday – yuk – but that was how it worked out, unless we wanted a much shorter trip. So I’ll take it.
We come downstairs at Mar Blue to breakfast. Breakfast is included in the rate at Mar Blue and I really appreciate coming down to a set table, coffee and fruit already out. As he did yesterday, Axel asks if I’d like an egg, some bacon, anything – he’s ready to cook. He’s always ready to cook, it seems…this is the perfect combination of breakfast without waiting and a hot fresh meal, best of both worlds. The table in the breezeway is as cool as ever, and I plunk down to start the caffeine flowing and chat with Andrea and her sister and the older couple that is also here. P makes his way down. I wish we could explore TB a little more but we’re supposed to be at the airport by 12:30 and though the ride is 2 hours, we feel we should leave a little time to get lost, hit traffic and check the car back in. We take a quick swim in the pool, check out the beach one more time, shower and head out at 10AM. We say goodbye to everyone, collect our carving (Mar Blue gives a little wood carving to all guests, different ones if you are a repeat visitor. Very cute idea and a nice way to support local carvers) and pack up the car. We talk about when we might return, that we’d like to bring our kids…Andrea says she knows several villas she can help arrange if we do (I think this is her very kind way of saying they don’t really do kids at Mar Blue, though it would be very nice for a family there, it’s probably not so nice for any other grownup guests I suppose…maybe we could take the whole place sometime).
We hit the road, and don’t get lost at all this time. We stop for a drink and photo op at a guesthouse just before Black River. There are a bunch of guesthouses and small hotels along this strip (which is the strip on the 11 mile beach we passed by boat yesterday) and I’ve not heard of one of them. This area needs a little recognition, the beach here is beautiful and the feel is very relaxed.
Back on the road, P gets a coco bread craving. This has happened probably 4-5 times this trip, P suddenly feels the urge for coco bread with cheese and we must go searching. I’ve been calling it the “quest for coco bread”, we’ve laughed about it all trip long. Another craving P gets is for cheese puffs. Every little shack by the road has cheese puffs and P points out early in the trip that you rarely see a Jamaican kid after school without a bag of cheese puffs in his hand. This earns P the nickname “Puffy” for the whole trip, and makes us look at every kid we pass to see if it’s true….if you aren’t looking, cheese puffs may not seem like much to you but watch for them next time, they’re everywhere :).
Normally finding coco bread is not difficult, most any bakery or shop has it, but we stop at 3 in Black River before he finds a place that hasn’t sold out. He really wants it for the plane this time so with a full bag of coco and patties, we turn towards Sav-la-Mar. Just before Sav is Ferris Cross where we will turn north and cut through the mountains to MoBay. We do all this without any difficulty.
The ride over the mountains is beautiful. Since the coast road to Negril has been finished, we have not gone this way, and I missed it. We pass through many little towns and wind up and around mountain curves as I make every effort to finish up the batteries in my digital camera.
At one point, we drive through a literal flock of dragonflies. I’ve never seen so many. I am wearing a dragonfly necklace that a friend made for me, she is a beader and it has red, yellow and green for rasta and a dragonfly for a hookah song by that name. I felt like I was channeling these dragonflies or something, like they came just to say goodbye to us. The only time I’ve ever seen that much of anything was in Oregon a few years back, we passed through literally thousands of monarch butterflies heading south….again, a cloud of them, they were everywhere. I’ve never seen dragonflies like this though. (wish you could have been there Ed).
As I read my notes now, I see my handwriting is pretty messy on this part, that’s because we were driving when I wrote. Which brings me to an interesting fact: the longest straight road in Jamaica is in Sav-la-Mar and it’s a mile long. So….if the longest straight road is a mile long and this is remarkable enough that I, a tourist, have learned this, then you can imagine that roads in Jamaica are generally not at all straight. In fact they all push the boundaries of your likely idea of “curvy”. Hence the bad handwriting.
We’re making great time and I tell Puffy so, but right after Anchovy our luck changes. Not sure why, if it was an accident or what, but we sat in traffic for close to a half hour, miraculously maintaining the zen of vacation and not worrying too much about missing planes and things. We happen to be in traffic right next to some old train tracks…these must be the ones that used to run from MoBay to, I think, Kingston, but service ended in the 80’s or thereabouts. I snap a few pics of the traffic jam. After awhile, as mysteriously as it came, the jam eases and we’re on our way again, in plenty of time. We give back the car (Vernon’s rep is waiting right where we park to go into the terminal), thank him and check in.
I won’t bore you with the airport details, mainly I shopped for all the stuff I didn’t feel like shopping for while we were freely roaming. I always shop at the airport because I hate to shop and there isn’t much else to do in the two hours they want you to get there before the flight.
We get on our plane and go home, full of ideas for the next trip, which will include our kids. I think we’ll split our time between the east coast and Treasure Beach with them, doing 2 weeks if we can, and maybe spend 2 nights in Negril….or if we bring relatives with us, P and I will go to Negril solo for a night or two :).
I feel like each trip I take scratches the surface of Jamaican life. Each trip goes a little deeper. This trip was a good deep one. I’ve seen parts of the island I’d never seen before, visited people who are quite different from people I know, gotten to know acquaintances and friends a lot better. Found some ways to save money, found out we like having a car.
My knowledge of patois is a lot better now too. I rarely speak it, I feel like an “eediat” when I do, but I understand a lot now. I’ve heard people say that Americans can understand Jamaicans speak “when they want us to understand”. While this may be true, I had an insight this trip about that. Sitting around listening to Jamaicans speak to other Jamaicans, I could understand some of what they said but not a lot…it’s fast, lazy speech, and full of slang and shortcuts. Was this intentional? I doubt it, from what I picked up….it was just talk about what was going on.
Sitting at 3 Dives one night with our friends from the US, I listened to *us* talk for a bit, and watched Lloydie and Eddie not understand what we were saying. Why? Certainly not because we were talking about them or didn’t want them to understand. Because we use the same slang, shortcuts, lazy speech and references to people and places we know that they do! This is completely unintentional, but it’s just natural. I made an effort to slow down and be clear from then on…and it helped tremendously when we traveled.
Often Jamaicans will, I found, “yes” me. Meaning they have no idea what I just said to them but say “yes, mon” anyway. Often this works out fine, occasionally it leads to great confusion and misunderstanding, as you might imagine. This trip I made sure I was understood. Jamaicans may learn English in school, and listen to the radio and TV in English, but I know none – not one – that speaks it when talking to another Jamaican, family or stranger.
English truly is a second language for Jamaicans I have met, especially as you leave the cities and go into the country. I have learned now to respect that and either speak English slowly and clearly or use the patois I know. I’ve traveled in Europe and elsewhere and I never speak English if I can help it out of courtesy, I make a real effort to learn the language of the place I’m in. Now I see that I should be doing the same in Jamaica if I want to communicate with any depth. This is a tip I hope some first timers take with them….Jamaicans are very friendly but you have to meet them halfway if you want to really talk.
The standard Jamaican greeting is not “hello”. It is some form of “yes”. As in “Yesss….”. Or “Okaaay”. Or “Alllll Riight”. I mean you walk up to someone you know or don’t, and just say “yes” and nod, and you get that right back. Pretty fun once we got used to it, P started using it on me when he felt I was talking too much in the car :).
I may have more reflections on this trip as time goes on, but I’ll end the trip report now, exactly one month after our return. Thanks for listening…
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Remembering a lesson learned