A Visit to Strawberry Fields, St. Mary (part one) (April 2010)

If you’ve read my blog before, you know I usually do trip reports in a diary format, day 1, day 2 etc. Well I am not feeling that for this past trip, April 2010. I’ve already shared my “woe is me” posts from it (which I wrote while there, just to torture some friends who were not there), and my lengthy description of driving (written because I thought about it a lot while there, it being my first time doing it alone, and because I get asked about it a lot), and now I feel like sharing about my time in Strawberry Fields, St. Mary.  So I’m going to do that, even though it was near the end of my trip.

I have a thing about my Jamaica trips…something old, something new. I like to return to cool places but I also like to check out new ones.   If you have ever looked at a map of Jamaica, you have to look at Robins Bay/Strawberry Fields and wonder what is there. The main coast road goes way inland here, from Port Maria to Annotto Bay, and there is this vast GREEN area between the road and the sea…hardly any roads or towns, it looks completely undeveloped.  I expect to see seemingly uninhabited green expanses in the mountains, but not by the sea, that’s kind of unusual for the north coast.  I have wondered what was back there ever since I stayed in Port Maria back in 2003.

Plus, you know, the whole hippie thing. I’ve read about Strawberry Fields, how there was a commune of sorts there back in the 70s, a camping place, all that.  I heard a lot more about that than I did about the Jamaican people who lived there, actually. In any case, I was curious.

I usually choose a new part of Jamaica to visit based on the recommendation of a friend and this time was no different. I know someone through the band that goes to Negril each year (ekoostik hookah) who has been going to Strawberry Fields for many, many years, his name is Michael. It is his home away from home, where his heart is, where he will never go to Jamaica and not stay, if only for a day or two after he is done doing the work he comes to Jamaica to do (which is putting on rock n roll shows).  I had also spoken to a couple of folks on the internet who had spent time in the area, and all of those conversations and photos and my long-time curiosity convinced me to try it out.

At this point in the two week+ trip I’ve driven the south coast solo, spent a few days in Treasure Beach, spent a week in Negril with the band and a ton of friends, and am back in my rental car heading east, with my brave and wonderful friend Nene, who decided she didn’t want to read about all the stuff I do after ekoostik hookah’s trips to Jamaica, she wanted to be part of them.

I had a phone number for a close friend of Michael’s, and tried to call it several times earlier in the trip but was never able to reach anyone. So we decided to just go and see what we could see. (One great thing about having one’s own wheels is that freedom and flexibility). We had rough directions – what town to pass and then look for a turn, basically,  and we followed them as best we could. I still turned off too early a couple of times but each time we were helpfully directed back to the highway and told what to look for at OUR road. Here’s the sign to look for:

Once we turned off, we traveled probably about a half hour or so on a pretty rough road, asking as we went along.  Truthfully we didn’t pass many people, or buildings, or anything really, until we reached the coast. There we passed the very large Robins Bay Resort (of the sign), which appeared to be deserted. I learned later it wasn’t, but we sure didn’t see anyone around.

We were heading for a shop near the entrance to Strawberry Fields resort (which was too pricey for me to consider for this trip, I’m sure it is lovely), in the vicinity of River Lodge, which we are going to check out for a possible stay, tonight or another time.

The road only gets worse, really. At times it is more pothole than road, but at least it is flat and dry. I’ve become a bit of a pro at the bad roads after my time driving around Treasure Beach so I’m good with it, we just have to go slowly.

This was before it got really potholey….but I’ll dodge potholes all day for a view like this!

We finally come to the entrance of Strawberry Fields Resort and soon after, a shop.

 

We pull over and ask if anyone can point us to Sata’s place. Of course someone can – Peter is who we find and he offers to walk us down. Sata lives on the sea, and this involves hiking from the road, behind the shop and down a rather narrow path through some yards and then bush….

Walk down with us…it’s daylight, and dry today 🙂

Peter does find Sata for us, in his yard by the sea.   I tell him Michael has sent me and that’s good for him, we all sit down and chat for a bit.  The place is incredible. A grassy yard on a cliff over the sea, with an open air kitchen and several small cottages, a couple on stilts.

Here is the kitchen.

Pretty sweet dining room 🙂

A view from the kitchen table on a day with rough seas and lots to drink. (photos courtesy of Sata’s Cottages facebook page’s guest photos album)
A bench facing the sea.
What you are looking at from that bench:
Some of the cottages (again thanks to the FB page):

A beach is far below, but a short walk on the road.

I had an idea of what I wanted to do here..Michael told me about a hike through the jungle to a hidden black sand beach and waterfall with a pool to swim in. This is right up my alley, I love hiking and swimming and beaches and hidden things.  I also like boats, and at this relatively late hour in the day, taking a boat to the black sand beach and then hiking in to the falls was the way to do this in less than 4-5 hours. Sata headed down to the beach to find Lion (who has the boat), but before he made it out of the yard we all watched Lion’s boat speeding out to go fishing. So it was not to be, today.

Further along the coast towards the black sand beach…

I’m undeterred. I have a couple of days to play with here and don’t mind spending tomorrow in this area, so Nene and I set off to take a look at River Lodge. If we dig it, we’ll stay over night and do the trip tomorrow.

River Lodge is just down the road, as it turns out.  it’s an old Spanish fort that has been converted into a small hotel, complete with round stone walls with ivy and outdoor steps going around, and neat grounds. We can’t find the owner but do find a really nice guy who shows us the rooms and grounds.

Neat tower room:

I should say at this point that it was HOT – unseasonably so for Jamaica in April, and also unusually buggy.  I wasn’t really into not having air conditioning or screens, as cool looking at this place was.We were both kind of hot and sweaty from hiking and traveling.

It DID have a pool…one of the nicest ones I’ve seen. The guy who showed us the room was kind enough to take us down to it and let us have a swim.

We decided to save staying there for another time.  Nene had never been outside Negril except on day trips, and we are much closer to Port Antonio than I thought we’d be – we are almost to Annotto Bay once we get back on the main road.  So we decide to head to Porty for the night, perhaps find some dinner, a drink, some air conditioning. I have an idea in that regard and suddenly feel that I HAVE to get to Port Antonio since I am this close.  I want to see Fern Hill again.

I talk to Sata and Peter and we arrange to call them when we are on the road from Porty the next day, the plan is to have a late lunch with them and then do our trip.

So we are back on the road, heading east once again….

(continued)

Continue reading this series:

6 Replies to “A Visit to Strawberry Fields, St. Mary (part one) (April 2010)”

  1. We stayed at River Lodge for a couple of nights in 2009. Lovely natural scenery but the sea and beaches were looking a bit shabby due to a recent storm. The road to get there is something else – potholes galore! The fort part is where the restaurant was and is very attractive. We however stayed further down the road at some seperate and very spacious cottages on the same land as the owner (a lovely lady called Brigitta). The grounds were lovely but the lack of lighting made the walk back to the cottages quite frightening – very, very dark with only the flash on my mobile to guide us there! We then had to attempt to get safely to our cottage without disturbing the owner's quite aggressive dogs – we weren't bitten or anything like that but the dogs were hardly what you'd call friendly! Breakfast was fantastic – eggs however you wanted them and an abundance of fruits, toast, pancakes etc. Evening meals were mediocre at best though – no menu choice, you just got whatever was being cooked that night. We decided to move back to Negril after a couple of days – being chased and barked at by dogs, combined with the lack of meal choice and being literally miles from anywhere (admittedly that is part of the appeal for some) was too much to take (we were on our honeymoon and wanted a few more luxuries). Glad we went though – a piece of the island we hadn't seen before and very, very undeveloped compared to the rest of Jamaica's north coastline. The owner was very helpful and pleasant – helped to arrange trips for us and didn't kick up a fuss when we left earlier than planned. It was just a bit too far away from anything, especially without our own transport.

  2. Thanks for writing. I can see it feeling remote, of course it is. I had my own car and that makes a huge difference.

    I'd return and do River lodge, or check out the cottages next door to Sata's place….I need lights too though 🙂

  3. No problem Liz! Thanks for sharing your experiences (I got the link from a reply you posted on Trip Advisor). Your blogs are an excellent and informative read – its nice to be reading about someone's real experiences of traveling in Jamaica.

    We like remote'ish locations! Whenever we go to Negril we always stay at Half Moon Beach as we love the peace and quiet and a chance to escape the hustle of Negril (we've previously stayed at a variety of hotels in the West End) but River Lodge was just a bit too isolated for our tastes. Stunning scenery though and I'd definitely recommend staying a couple of nights there to relax and unwind or do some hikes in the countryside.

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