Jamaica Trip in Words

Thursday, December 5, 2002 – Negril

Woke up around 5:30 a.m. to get a cab to JFK. There was a snowstorm in the forecast, but supposedly not until later in the afternoon. By the time we checked in and went through security it was starting to snow lightly. We were held up a bit and then we had to be de-iced, so by the time we took off it was really sticking. (We would hear from our cabbie after coming home that right after our flight left around 9 or 10 a.m. they closed all the New York airports). We escaped in the nick of time.

 Uneventful flight, there was a lot of sick and miserable people on the plane. We flew over the Bahamas, which was beautiful. The textures and colors as seen from the air were unreal. Just when you thought you’d seen every shade of blue…. then we flew right over Cuba, which was interesting conceptually, but from 35,000 feet looks the same as anywhere else… and then circled in to Montego Bay. Even from the air you could make out the lush jungles and the aquamarine waters. It felt great to step off the plane into the warm humid air, the ocean in sight. Campy singers greeted us while we waited through customs. Found our driver, Kenny, who ushered us to our taxi bus along with two other girls from Atlanta. Some guy sold us some Red Stripes and we were on our way… through Montego Bay and along the coastline… no other way to go as the jungly mountains looked too rugged. Goats and cows everywhere, some sort of plant growing on every available surface. Flora and Fauna-wise, reminiscent of Mexico, but more lush.

The drive from Montego Bay to Negril was a little over an hour, but a sixty dollar trip (but I paid 40 since 60 seemed like too much, especially as we were sharing a shuttle with others). We drove past Negril beach, which has all the cheesy all-inclusive resorts with names like Sandals, Beaches, Swept Away, Footprints, etc. past Negril town which featured a modern Burger King as its main attraction, and out on the cliffs to the Rockhouse Hotel. We made a good choice. The Rockhouse is a small and quiet place built by some Australian guy, that has little cabana’s situated along the cliffs with beautiful views. There were caves and bridges and paths leading through landscaped gardens. Our first few nights we stayed at a modest “Studio”, right on the water on a jutting point. The layout of the rooms was not so practical since the buildings were round with cone-shaped thatched roofs. The shower had no ceiling so you could see the sun or stars while showering. The restaurant jutted out over the water and there were these two white cats that were always there waiting for scraps.

The first afternoon we ate there and then went swimming before it got dark. I jumped off the cliff right in front of our room into the salty warm water. To get back up you swim through this cave and then up these steps they built into the rock. Then we ventured out on the street and were instantly harassed by street vendors. Actually before we even got to the hotel, at least 5 people had tried to sell us Ganja. When Kenny stopped for some coconuts before we even got to our hotel, this rasta guy tried to sell me these huge buds. I bought finger bananas instead. Everyone is shocked that we don’t smoke pot. The vendors along the road were trying to sell us all sorts of crap we didn’t want, and every car that would drive by would stop and honk at you and want to give you a ride (even if it wasn’t a taxi). This one rasta guy, Raga, shook my hand and literally wouldn’t let go and just pulled me in to his shop. He had stinky breath and was stoned out of his gourd. He gave us a long and rambly spiel about Rastafarianism and then forgot that he was supposed to sell us something. He was an interesting character though, and the whole Rastafarian movement is definitely intriguing. When they heard Jessica’s name, all the Rasta’s freaked out and said she was some holy queen of Israel and thought she was Jewish which I guess they feel they share a common bond with (Zion, etc.). Raga’s shop was about as far as we got that night before we turned back.

Friday, Dec. 6

The next morning we woke up and jumped off more cliffs and then this guy Errol picked us up in his little glass bottom boat and took us out to “the reef”. Not much of a reef, but a nice ride out on the boat. Errol was kind of freaky looking with a pock-faced, not Rasta but smoked plenty of Ganja. The reef has been damaged, but there was still a lot to see. We snorkeled around, saw all sorts of fish and coral, and sea creatures. But the snorkeling off the cliffs of our hotel was just as good if not better. After we came back, I saw a turtle, some cuttlefish, lots of trumpet fish, a few baby moray eels, sea cucumbers, a ladybug cowry nudibranch, purple sea fans, clams, angel fish, wrasses, tangs, squirrel fish, etc… Jumped off some more cliffs, lounged by the pool, ate at the poolside grill and talked to the always friendly hotel personnel who reinforced all the usual “ya mon” and “no worries” clichés. That evening we went out to this place called Alfred’s, which everyone said was the place to be. We were early so we strolled along the beach by the stars. And then snacked and drank Red Stripe. Once the band came on it was quite the scene. The bar and “dance floor” are right on the beach, in the sand, fenced off and with a security check (complete with metal-detectors). We were quite amused just watching the clientele, who at first were mostly tourists, but as the night progressed, more and more locals arrived.

We had been noticing quite a lot of white woman with black Rasta guys, and had been reading about these “Rent-a-Rastas” or “Rent-a-dreads”. Woman would pay these Jamaican guys for companionship and who knows what else. It was weird, you would see it everywhere, and didn’t want to assume anything, but it was just way too prominent to be coincidence. The prostitution went both ways and was not always strictly for sex. We saw whole transactions take place before our eyes. Balding white guys getting propositioned by slutty Jamaican woman, counting their money, bartering for a price, and then leaving. I heard one guys complaining about the price, “just for a blowjob”, but later caved in and left with this girl who was actually kind of pretty and looked like Haile Berry. Other homely looking white men or women, were spending the evening with Jamaican whores or gigolos, and their fellow Jamaicans just looked the other way. It was sad, and by the end of the evening we were quite depressed. We went to see some live music, but were more preoccupied with witnessing this spectacle of sexual and cultural exploitation. The band was actually pretty decent and in between sets these comic relief guys would come out and do this goofy skits with outrageous costumes. 

Saturday, Dec. 7

Woked up. Jumped off a cliff. Ate ackee and saltfish for breakfast, along with bammy. Went snorkeling. Walked in to town. It was hard walking along the road. Every car would stop and want to give us ride. We pet some dog and he was our friend for life. We couldn’t shake him. Things got dicey when we were in town. Some guy wanted to charge me for taking a picture of a goat and got all belligerent. Another guy followed us around asking for change, and when we said we didn’t have any he said he would wait until we had some. So we grabbed a ride from some scarey looking rasta guy who ended up being really nice and fielded our many questions about Rastafarianism. He was telling us about these waterfalls so we arranged to have him come back and take us around for a day.

We walked down to Ric’s place for sunset. Quite the scene. No Rolling Stones and nude playboy bunnies like in the 70s, now it was just a bunch of margaritaville sunburnt tourists waiting to see these guys jump from these cliffs. They would charge you $10 or $15 to jump from certain spots in this tree, but of course no one wanted to pay, so they would just sit in the tree until somebody finally gave in, and then they would jump. Or they would dive and flex their muscles and ask money. The climbing of the trees and the ritualistic display they put on was more interesting. We were the only people that were even eating in the restaurant, the other cheap tourists were just loitering around. Ric’s actually had some of the better Jerk chicken that we had. And then of course once the sun set a reggae band came out and a Jamaican woman walked along the open-aired bar and poured shots down people’s throats. Woo-hoo, party on!

Sunday, Dec. 8

Cece picked us up on Sunday morning and took us out in to the mountains. He took the scenic route, driving really slow (intentionally). We started in the lowlands through sugarcane plantations. When we got in to the hills, Cece became more interested in finding some good mountain ganja because he was getting tired of Negril Ganja. So he started driving through all these neighborhoods and asking everyone where he could score. I should have brought a tape recorder to record what he was saying, it was hilarious. He called all the guys “king, raz, or sire” and would say “hi baby” to all the woman, slowing down almost to a halt. Even when he would pass another car, both cars would come to a complete stop and talk for a while in patois or pidgin English, which was very hard to understand. He stopped one guy and gave him a dollar for a spliff and the guy ran off never to be seen again. So then he stopped and asked everyone he saw, and finally stopped for an extended visit with some mountain rastas with no front teeth or shirts and wild mains of dreads. They showed him buds and he finally got his joint, which he proceeded to smoke while he was driving. We made it Mayfield falls, which weren’t really falls after all but a “river walk”. Kind of a tourist trap, we paid ten dollars to get a guide whose name was Elmore and was a comedian of sorts and into doing Jim Carey impersonations. He sat us in this hut in these manicured gardens (not sure why?) and we had to rent sneakers (we were both wearing flip-flops) so we could hike up this river. It was actually a beautiful river, aqua colored and full of minerals, surrounded by dense bamboo and jungle. Elmore had this assembly-line process he had us follow like something out of a dream. He would tell us exactly which rock to step on and then tell us to stop and dunk our heads under these certain waterfalls, or tell us to dive from certain spots. Once you gave in and just did what he said it was fun, like some sort of surreal adventure. And Elmore was a nice guy and he wasn’t rasta so it was cool to get a different perspective on Jamaica, although he was a bit of a bamboozler. He would do crazy dives and stunts like he was performing for us. We swam through some caves, went behind waterfalls, swung across bamboo, and clambered up the river a ways. Then we walked back along the banks and he showed us the native plants with somewhat rehearsed tales to go along with it.

The drive back with Cece was more mellow and we took a different route. We stopped at a roadside shack and had coconut “jelly” (after you drink it you scoop up the soft gooey meat), sugarcane, and ginger cookies. This woman that ran the store showed us her yard and house and we sat and chatted with them for a while. We took a different route back to negril through the Orange Hills (I guess a  notorious ganja-growing region). It was a beautiful drive with lots to see, probably the most enlightening part of our trip.

When we got back, there was this couple staying at our hotel from NY that were getting married. They had their ceremony on the cliff edge at sunset—nice except for the tourist cruise yacht that came by and everyone started yelling “kiss the bride” before they even got to that part. Jamaica has this whole element of campy partiness that is nauseating. Sailboats with people that come up and moon you, or better yet where they were all naked to begin with. Everyone smoking pot like it was going out of style and of course drinking. Even if you didn’t go to the bars, they would come raid us from the all-inclusive resorts and anchor the party vessels blaring music right off our shore.

Monday, Dec. 9

We switched to a “Villa” on our last night, which was even nicer and a lot bigger than our other room. We woke up and tried to order room service which was a big mistake (for the most part the service sucked in Jamaica). Jumped off a cliff. Snorkeled some more although it was a bit murky from a storm that hit the evening before (we just missed it coming back through the Orange Hills). We swam over to the cave bar… you swim into this deep alcove, and climb up and go through this cave until next thing you know you are in someone’s yard with a bar and a dog sleeping on his back. Crossed the road and back to the cliff edge. This one was the highest one, probably about 30-40 feet and seemed even deeper because the water so clear. After you jump the water is so salty that it percolates you back to the surface in a euphoric warmth (until you realize you got salt water up your nose). We swam around some more, lounged, stared at the surface of the water, soaked up the sun, etc. and then left around noon for the long ride to the airport. Our sunburns and mosquitoes bites felt weird when we got back to the bitter cold. There was still snow on the ground from the snowstorm when we left.


In pictures:

Along the Shore

Under the Water

In the Bush