Is it cold where you are? We are under yet another winter storm advisory here. I feel a need to escape t some place Hot! So with this Valentine’s holiday coming up had me reminiscing over past holiday trips, since we can’t actually go on one this year. Its been fun looking at pictures and reliving past experiences. It helps take the chill off! Thinking back, the trip that is the most memorable was the year we spent Valentines in Negril, Jamaica. So if you have a few minutes, can I tell you a funny story? Funny, now, that is.
First I have a few disclaimers! A) This vacation trip was a good five years ago. Any resemblances to this blogger in the pictures is merely coincidental. B) All the rumors you have ever heard about Jamaica are true….It is a beautiful tropical island, yes, there is a ganja drug problem there, and tourists do actually disappear there. C) There are many, many beautiful resorts there, most by the big chains from Breezes to Sandals and more. We unfortunately didn’t stay at one of them.
Arrival: We flew into Montego Bay airport. Now for a third world air port Jamaica’s was pretty nice, with no hassles upon arrival, once they staffed the Passport arrival area. In fact, it may be one of my favorite air ports because it is small and there is a Jimmy Buffett Margaritaville right on premises. This is particularly cool for when you are waiting for your flight to arrive on the way home. Margaritaville has a great menu and a gift shop that is sure to leave you cashless, in case you had any funds left at the end of your vacation.
As with any trip when leaving the country, always do your research first! One very valuable tidbit we found was find yourself a taxi driver in Jamaica before you arrive. I can’t under estimate this enough, given what we heard about some. We actually found a few advertised on the Internet with references. Stepping out of the air port, on to the curb with your luggage, this piece of research paid off from the beginning.
The cab drivers were thick as thieves, trying to get you to ride in their cab. I immediately pulled out my sheet and asked for “Juan, our cab driver”. They all quieted down in an instant and one said he is over there. We went over to his cab stand, introduced ourselves, and boarded his cab. Once inside this rustic 4 door sedan, he turns around points to a small cooler on the back seat and asks, “ Would either of you care for a Red Stripe? I brought one for each of you.” Score one for Jamaica! (It took almost 7 hours to get a Guinness in Ireland) Double score, since my wife doesn’t drink beer!
It takes about a good two hours to travel to Negril from Montego Bay. So our cabby asked if we were hungry. We said yes. So before we left Montego Bay he pulls off to a quaint road side café; a locals only type of joint. He asked if we ever had Jerk Chicken before? We shook our heads no. So he said, “come on…”
We had our first taste of Jerk Chicken by some locals that knew how to prepare it. It was great! It was served on paper plates with a big helping of dirty rice. I stumbled upon another Red Stripe. So far so good. The rest of our trip to the resort was very bi-polar. Very beautiful scenery coupled with views of poverty ridden towns, that we have grown accustomed to seeing in the Caribbean. It always leaves you wondering what happens to all the tourist money, taxes and jobs that come into a tiny country like this.
The Resort: We arrived at our resort, Merrills III. It was only our third all-inclusive we had been to and easily the least glamorous. But it was what we could afford at the time, and given what we just drove through, very adequate. We unpacked, cased the joint for amenities and waited for dinner…..Jerk chicken and rice. 😦
We ate. We explored. We went to bed. Hmmmm? I can see through the roof. The ceiling above us was very much a thatched roof. We could literally see some stars. Trying to be positive, we thought very appropriate for a beach side resort…as long as it doesn’t rain.
On the other hand, if the property directly beside you happens to be an outside, midnight beach bar, with absolutely no walls, right on the beach, catering to late night beachcombers because the volume is so loud it draws them in from two miles away, then we have a problem. (Sigh) And, yes we were in Jamaica. And, yes every song was reggae but there are some songs that should not be covered in a reggae motif. The Captain and Tennile’s “Muskrat Love” is one for instance. Even after days of hearing this it still made no sense. Live bands playing top 40 hits to a reggae beat just don’t sound good. Reggae songs sound good. The Bee-Gees do not. This bar started around 12 midnight. It was very loud, like our beds were stage front. And the party lasted until the sun came up. Pretty cool if you were 20 or so. I guess.
The beach and ocean was beautiful though. Our room opened up to the pool area (beside the beach bar!) on one side and above the kitchen on the other We had either Jerk Chicken or Jerk Pork everyday for lunch and dinner. And regardless of which entrée we were having that night, the kitchen side always smelled like pot. When in Rome we thought!
Beach: The beach was nice; coarse white sand and clear blue Caribbean waters. Gorgeous! We were there to tan and snorkel and just relax and figured to spend most of our time there. Considering how much sleep we weren’t getting at night (from the outdoor bar silly person!) It was the place to be. Relax with a Red Stripe and soak up some vacation I thought. My foot had to be wrapped in tape every day from a running injury so the idea of walking far in the sand or shallow surf was really out of the question any way.
But what is with the armed guards on each side of the resort? The resort had rental police at each side of the beach along the property’s borders. We soon deduced it was from keeping unwanted locals off the property and harassing the guests. A few hours later we found out they were on the beach to keep unwanted locals from harassing the guest….on the beach.
You see the beach front was open to anybody walking by and the best way to describe the traffic along the beach was think about your last professional baseball game you went to. How many vendors marched by you there, selling a wide variety of goodies?
Negril’s beaches were very similar. You had all kinds of locals parading down the beach, trying to sell you their goodies. They tried to sell relaxing tourists everything from aloe plants, baby bananas, jewelry, bandanas, people-who-knew-people that sold the local crop, souvenirs, and even a Valentines Day dinner and snorkeling cruise aboard a sailboat. They all sounded just like those barkers at the ball parks. If you made eye contact they closed in. If you said no, they tried harder. If you got frustrated and asked them to leave, and they figured out you were an American, they called you a racist (we all must be racists in America evidently). This is when the policemen on the beach stepped in. Now this didn’t happen all the time but you did learn not to make eye contact. It is with this type of mentality, of a local beach peddler, that we were advised not walk very far on the beach at night. ..very unfortunate on a Valentine’s getaway!
Now the beach wasn’t all bad. We walked up to a locals craft market and found some nice things to bring home. We found another Margaritaville beach bar about a mile in the other direction down the beach. This was very nice; like a mini resort. We spent half of our souvenir money there it seems. It turns out half of Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville’s are located in Jamaica, which is another story (summed up in the video at the end). But if you are a fan, it was a pretty cool place to be on in barefoot, sun burned, half-naked on vacation.
We met other nice people. Ate at some nice beach side bistros we found while beach combing (you can only eat Jerk Chicken so many times!). We were actually enjoying ourselves on the beach, as we should. Did I mention all-inclusive and Red Stripe? We actually had everything we wanted except…. snorkeling. So on Thursday, when the lady selling the Valentine’s Dinner Cruise and snorkel trip passed by we hopped at the chance.
St. Valentine’s Dinner Cruise: Our vacation getaway to some place warm had been OK so far. A little sleep deprived, but OK. But it was Valentine’s Day coming up and we hadn’t had a chance to swim with the fishes yet. We thought this was just what we needed to make our trip …memorable!
The plan was to sail on this large sail boat, sail down to a snorkeling spot, swim for a while, and then be served a dinner on the boat on the way back while the sun set. It sounded like fun!
We boarded the boat with the other 20 or so passengers. Everything was included , including a bar downstairs in the cabin. We proceeded to sail down to the snorkel spot. Then we heard a voice from the captain’s chair, “Oh no! Pirates!”
A chuckle in his voice kept me from terror. I turned around and here, speeding up to us, was a motorized canoe with two freaky dread lock males aboard. Now, I don’t know Jamaican pirates from Somalian but I didn’t like this. They came on board, went down below for a few minutes, then left the same way they arrived. We were spared!
It wasn’t long after I noticed, couple by couple going downstairs, two at a time, then coming back up. It wasn’t long after that we got wind of that familiar cash crop of Jamaica’s rising from the cabin below. Modern day pirates in deed! Watch out Tubbs and Crocket! (sorry 1980’s refereance) I smiled to myself…no escape!
We reached our snorkel location. It was at the foot of what was called one of the 10 most famous bars in the world, Ricks!
Here was a bar, on the west side of Negril, with perfect sunsets, where the apparent draw is cliff diving! Can you imagine? Getting all Red Striped, feeling invincible (or invisible) and jumping two stories into the famed Caribbean Sea? With no apparent way to get back up to the bar…unless you can climb the cliff wall. Have you ever been THAT drunk? Not me. I’ve done some crazy things
We grabbed our snorkel gear and hopped in the water. The water was nice and clear. Their were enough fish swimming to keep it from being a wasted dive. We explored the caves and tried to stay clear of the drop site from above. Not too bad really. We enjoyed it.
We finished and climbed back in the boat, toweled off and prepared for our Valentine’s Dinner Cruise dinner. You guessed it, Jerk Chicken and rice of course 😦
We ate our modest meal, happy to have finally been able to snorkel. We watched the coastline as we motored back home. Not a bad day all in all. Even met some pirates!
We soaked in the scenery along the coast. Oddly, I noticed we were slowly being left alone. Did I smell? Whassup? It seems everyone had migrated over to the ocean side of the boat. I stood up and looked over and then grabbed my wife by her hand. As we were cruising home without a doubt the most beautiful sun was slowly setting on the horizon. Nobody talked (they were all stoned…..just kidding). We just watched as something beautiful was happening before our eyes. Then someone pointed to a solitary sailboat was on a collision course with the sun on the horizon. The timing could not have been better scripted. As the sun slowly dipped halfway into the sea the silhouette of the sailboat cut across the orange ball, sailing directly in front of it before our eyes. It was like it was a scheduled perk of the V-Day cruise. It was a Valentine’s Day gift to us.
With apologies to myself, my family and all future readers, I was not going to spoil this moment by whipping out a camera. I decided to take a picture early, tuck the camera away, put my arm around my wife and just enjoy this moment unfolding at sea. The camera doesn’t come close to capturing the moment anyway. It was a special moment, at least to me and few future Valentine’s moments could ever stack up to it.
We got back to our beach, walked hand-in-hand back to our resort. Resolved to be forced fed yet another midnight version of Muskrat Love, and remember that day for a long time. Pirates for crissake!
Jamaica left us with some wonderful memories of a beautiful island yet inhabited by hundreds of panhandlers. We resolved never to go back because of that. Many of the locals were just too nasty if you ventured off the property. And we like to walk on the beach at night. There are too many other Caribbean islands out there, just as beautiful, we thought.
And we resolved to explore every one of them for some more memories.
“What do you mean you lost the camera?!”
Jimmy Buffett’s Jamaica Mistaica: