A group trip was planned this time, one of the couples going, in fact the couple that started this whole thing, was having their first anniversary. They invited some other couples, including us, to join them for the trip. We booked a lovely villa called Sparkling Waters in Treasure Beach and were ready to get there.
Two weeks before we left, Ivan the Terrible became a category 5 hurricane and slammed into Jamaica. Well it actually skirted along the south coast (which was very fortunate for most of Jamaica) but we had rented that villa on the south coast. After a few days we found that the villa was gone, taken by the sea. Uh-oh. We could not reschedule the trip, it was go now or never so we decided to go anyway.
I’d prefer to never look at a hurricane tracking web site again, I watched so many so intently during that storm.
We planned to spend the first 2 days in Negril and that was still the plan. But for the week after those days, we needed a place to stay – for 8. So I called upon 3 people I knew online, Sasha at jamaicaescapes.com, Rimma at sunnyvillaholidays.com and Reg at sunvillas.com. All of them were a big help and very quickly found us good options to choose from. Rimma wound up being the one to finally help us with our villa. Sasha had only another TB villa available and power/water were still iffy, and of the other two, Rimma was quickest to answer emails and phone calls, which is incredibly important to me.
The Saturday before we left, there was an ekoostik hookah show in Columbus. Hookah has traveled, with fans, to Jamaica twice before, so there is a connection many of the fans feel to Jamaica, especially Negril. We decided to collect donated goods at that show for us to bring down in our luggage and the Hookah Family came through with flying colors, bringing tarps, school supplies, candles, money, clothes, tools and all kinds of useful things to the show.
Most of our group (6 of the 8) gathered at our house the night before our flight as we live closest to the airport. Everyone helped us get packed and we managed to get everything in, with everyone traveling giving up the bulk of their own luggage allowance to carry supplies and much stomping on tarps and things to get them small enough to fit.
Day One (Monday): Travel and Negril
Does anyone really care about airport details? USAir was our carrier, was on time, good flights, easy change, no problems. In fact we met our friend Lee, who lives in JA but had been home visiting, in Charlotte and he rode down with us on our flight. Arriving in MoBay we had the jetway rather than the steps, as I guess all flights will eventually. Everything was air conditioned, and the singers were singing, this time closer to immigration than usual which was nice because we could listen to them on the rather long immigration line. Moving all the way to the left line didn’t really help this trip. But our bags were there when we got down, didn’t have any problems in the Nothing to Declare line (I was concerned about that, since we were carrying so many things to leave, but I was ready to raise a huge fuss if they tried to charge duty for tarps and school supplies after a freaking hurricane!).
We said goodbye to the anniversary couple who were spending the first two nights with Lee at the Ritz, we’d catch up with them later.
Our driver Delroy, who we have pick us up a lot, was right there. I love Delroy, he’s always on time, has the van AC’ed and ready to go and is always incredibly positive to talk with. I grab the front seat so we can talk the whole way to Negril.
Lee had met a couple on the plane heading to Couples Negril and had talked them out of taking the shuttle bus and into riding with us, we’re more fun he knows :). We were hungry so I asked Delroy if we could grab a box lunch or other cheap/fast/yummy thing and he took us to a stand where he usually gets his own lunch. It was delicious, $200J for a filling chicken, rice, veggie box. We grabbed a couple of drinks as well and were off.
In MoBay, I couldn’t even tell a hurricane had come. As we traveled to Negril, I saw some signs, a tree down here, a house without a roof there (but houses without roofs – in the process of being built – are so common in JA it’s hard to tell what was hurricane damage and what was a new addition or home!). Past Lucea I saw more trees that had obviously been brown but were now sprouting bright green new leaves. It was lovely actually, it looked like springtime in Ohio to me, what we call “the green glow” time when everything is new and bright and wet. The hurricane seemed to, in many cases, take old weak trees or limbs, leaving the stronger newer trees more sun and room to grow. Bushes and grass were already totally green, even right in Negril.
We dropped off the couple at Couples and headed onto Footeprints on the Sand hotel in Negril. We booked Footeprints because it was cheaper than free. When looking for our air tickets, we couldn’t find anything under $450 or so each. I checked with Solar Tours, who we’d used the year before, and they got us air + 2 nights at Footeprints for $375 each. So that was a no-brainer, if we didn’t like the hotel we’d just pay to stay elsewhere and still come out ahead.
The hotel was OK. It had clean rooms, air conditioning, a TV, and was probably really cool in 1980 or so. But it’s now a little run-down, thin doors and walls, and our rooms were just OK – they weren’t beachfront or even beach view (we had what I called the “yard view” – looking at and about 10 feet from the working area for the staff which was actually interesting and fun, though offered about zero privacy on the verandah because there were people working and walking in and out of that area all day and we were on the ground floor). But there was no reason to pay to stay elsewhere for only 2 nights so we settled in and headed to the beach, at this time a group of 4 in two rooms.
That night we’d planned to go to 3 Dives for dinner but Lloydie called and said he could not open that night and would meet us at our hotel instead. Lloydie, Paula and Womba (Lloydie’s friend the hard-working electrician) came to the hotel and hung out for awhile, then we all went to the beach bar to grab dinner. Though 3 Dives had power and was undamaged (more later), Lloydie and Paula’s home in Sheffield did not have power and so Lloydie was having to pay a lot of $$ to keep his generator running (he has a farm, with chickens and things) and he seemed pretty depressed about that.
In fact that day there had been a demonstration on the road between Negril and Sav. Most areas had power restored after the storm but here almost 3 weeks later, not Sheffield. The residents decided to make their unhappiness with the situation known by that ever-popular Jamaican form of protest – the roadblock. They blocked the road for awhile, I was told (it had been that morning while we were traveling from the US), and eventually the police broke it up. I was told there were no injuries or violence by several people I spoke to but who knows. The very next day though, power was restored to the part of Sheffield that runs along the main so I guess the protest worked.
Unfortunately, Lloydie and Paula’s farm did not have power even when we left 10 days later.
A side note: we had to drink bottled water this trip. We always drink tap water in Jamaica but after the hurricane we’d assumed, and were reminded, that this wasn’t a good idea. So we bought bottled water pretty regularly.
We had a good visit and arranged to meet the next evening when our friends and Lee would come from MoBay to 3 Dives for dinner.
We were pretty exhausted from traveling so called it a night early.
Day Two (Tuesday): Negril
A beach walk was in order today after our unremarkable and rather pricey breakfast, to see what Ivan had done, see what rebuilding was going on, and to visit some friends.
Footeprints is located way up the beach just south of Couples Swept Away. I don’t care for this part of the beach, never have, as it’s furthest from town and the beach bars and restaurants I know best and also seems to have a lot of lots either unoccupied or under construction. It’s also the part of the beach that is most eroded (or with businesses that built too close to the sea, depends how you look at it I guess), has been for years (though CSA looked fine, I’m sure they trucked sand in immediately). Hurricane Ivan didn’t help the situation. Our beach bar was a sea bar – water at least 2 feet deep came right to the steps of the bar, making for interesting fish-watching from the steps at night. The beach area is small and was VERY eroded, but it’s hard to tell if it was like that before the storm or not.
At our hotel, sandbags had been placed in the water as a base and each day many, many wheelbarrows, tarps and carpets full of sand were carried from a large pile by the road to the beach and a LOT of progress was made in just two days – by now it may well be walkable from there south without getting wet. For us, we wore water shoes and got our feet wet a couple of times getting from it to Margaritaville. I’d say after Margaritaville, the beach looked fairly normal, except in a spot or two. Some places lost beach but some gained it – Fun Holiday seems to have a wider beach now, Nirvana area got smaller but looked very fixable. We saw Marlene and Steve and Vernon at Fun Holiday, bought a drink and took a dip in their pool to cool off mid-walk.
The Boat Bar, which I’d heard was “gone”, was not gone, thank God. The boat itself that made the bar was destroyed but the kitchen, yard, cabins, restaurant etc were fine, though closed. I spoke with Pat who does massages there and some other people who were hanging out and they were waiting for concrete (and a new boat?) to be set so the restaurant/bar could reopen. Rondel looked normal, Lazy Dayz looked pretty mashed up – at least the deck and cabins, but the new 2-3 story house looked fine. Mariposa looked OK and the restaurant was open, thought they seem to have lost their picket fence.
Treehouse looked pretty good to me. I think their beach bar must be gone now, I don’t remember seeing it and it was well into the sea last year, but there’s plenty of sand between the sea and their restaurant and on back. Country Country had some work to do from the storm. Some of the large AIs looked like they were closed and dealing with cleanup-repairs as well.
I’d heard reports after Ivan that the water was full of floating debris and was unsafe for swimming…maybe right after the storm but on our arrival it looked perfectly normal to me, calm, clear, blue, very small waves, absolutely perfect for swimming and floating. Directly next door to Footeprints was a lovely swimming beach and we swam there quite a bit.
We walked down as far as Kuyaba then cut over to Time Square to grab a few things. I’d never been to Time Square, I’m not much of a shopper, but we found what we needed quickly. No hustle going on here, people just wait in their shops for you to come in and look around, everything is air conditioned. It’s kind of a sanitized shopping experience.
We decided to walk up the beach road going back and as we passed Selina’s we saw Lloydie there so we went in. He was visiting with her and Roy, the kids were there as well. We had a nice callaloo and cheese quesadilla-type thing and some cold drinks.
Lloydie gave us a ride up to our hotel and we agreed to meet at 3 Dives for sunset, our friends were coming from MoBay that night to meet us there as well. We freshened up and grabbed a cab up.
Lloydie and Paula and a new waitress were there getting food together, we grabbed some drinks and walked down by the cliff. Ahhh…my Negril home away from home. Some kind of miracle bubble must have been over 3 Dives when I van came because even the cliff bar was undamaged. The “sunset tree” as I call it, had lost leaves but they were coming back, the trees and foliage around the restaurant were as I remembered them. We chatted with Paula and Lloydie, played some music, talked with Chicken, the driver that would take us to MoBay and St. Mary the next day. Finally our friends arrived. We had a wonderful dinner of lobster and chicken and callaloo and rice and peas, a ridiculous amount of everything. A friend of Lloydie’s was tending the bonfire by the cliff so we sat by it for awhile, watching the stars and enjoying the fire. An evening at 3 Dives is something I really look forward to each visit.
Rob Graves (of realnegril.com) came by and caught up with us for a bit, funny as all of us in our group are from Ohio and so is he.
Rick’s is closed. I heard from Lloydie (but did not verify) that right now Pirate’s Cave is closed also. Lloydie said the catamaran booze cruises are now stopping at the Xtabi/3 Dives cove for snorkeling. He was thinking of putting his sea ladder back in (he’d lost it too many times from storms so gave it up a year or so ago). I thought it interesting that what business Ivan took from some (Rick’s, Pirate’s) it gave to others (Xtabi, 3 Dives).
We talked to almost everyone about Ivan…it was hard to talk of anything else. People lost a lot, some lost their homes and all belongings, others lost income from the disruption to tourism. Some places did great – hardware stores, electricians, carpenters. Though Negril the tourist town was well on the way to looking normal again, I know the areas just beyond sight, in the hills, were recovering a lot more slowly.
We were dead tired and tomorrow was another travel day so we hit bed early again. My Jamaica schedule – in bed by 9 and up by 7 has really kicked in now.