> Destinations > Jamaica > Trip Reports > Trip Report
From December 27, 2001 to January 2, 2002, I spent a week in paradise at the new RIU Tropical Bay in Bloody Bay, Negril, Jamaica. It was the single greatest journey of my life, and a birthday/Christmas present for my girlfriend and I from my parents. The greatest gift ever for myself, save their raising me. There were many adventures contained within that week, and here are notes lifted from the extensive journal I kept, as well as added details to fill in extra definition to this voyage. This objective report I hope will be a guide for future Negril and RIU Tropical Bay visitors. Note I have never been to the Caribbean prior to this trip, though felt a tight bond with Bob Marley and his music, and the inherent agricultural connection. Jamaica seemed a must-do destination.
We flew out of Boston on a 7:20am flight #048, that actually left at 8:30am, with AirJamaica.
Sitting w/CNN and winding down at 9:15pm. The day began at 3:15am, when we finalized all our bags, documents, etc. We were stoked to be shipping out for a week to Negril. Our taxi was there on the money at 4am. We arrived at the beleaguered Logan Airport to very few personnel on, but a massive swelling mob in the Delta C Terminal, with many confused passengers having to ask each other which line was which, what airline or flight, etc. We were rudely cut in line twice by families who lied and went up saying they had first class to board early, and each check in took about twenty minutes with an unfriendly AirJamaica employee. So each person cutting in front of us sucked, as they cut way ahead to the front of the line and it really showed no class whatsoever. A sign of much, much more to come.
One couple, a black couple with two adorable kids, were very nice and the only smiling, friendly people in the area. Nor did they use their family-size to advance in line. We later found out during the flight that this father with the best behaved and most precious kids on the plane was a colonel in the army, clearly explaining his well disciplined twin boys, identically dressed in little yellow fleeces and matching pants. This family was by far the most pleasant among those gathered at the AirJamaica check-in counter, and on the flight itself. (Maximum respect to these respectable Americans!)
Jamaica seemed, by just the flight we were on, to attract a weird cross-section of people. There was a bit of everything headed on this flight. And the lone check-in guy moved like he was in a comatose haze. It was a tedious process. Finally, a phalanx of unfriendly and attitudinal female AirJamaica employees arrived, and we were speedily, if coldly, processed, without so much of a hint of a smile. None whatsoever.
The security checkpoint was a new company, don't recall the name, replacing another firm widely and publicly criticized for lax security. They looked very intimidating, were very interactive, and friendly… but none of my bags was gone through at all. I didn't beep myself, and quickly grabbed my stuff and got down to the gate. No touching of my belongings or me… (No check of my shoes, multiple cameras, including a video camera, or inspection of my bag filled with metallic objects like batteries, flashlights, etc.)
We hopped around the seating at the gate for a while, trying to avoid the hordes of obnoxious people with screaming, badly misbehaving and totally out of control children. Basically pods of audio terrorists, going undeterred and undefended against. A groan and bear it situation for sure. Finally, mercifully, the boarding began and we were an hour late into the air, with an average take off. As for the passengers on board, I will sum it up this way: Sad as it is, most were pure human garbage. Trash. Noisy, belligerent, demanding, ungrateful, classless, uncouth, maximum rude. All appropriate descriptions of many passengers on this flight. It was a sort of hell. (How can so many loud, totally offensive people be gathered together, crossing all generational, economic, racial, and social lines? It was a pitiful display, and thankfully, nothing like Jamaica or my trip. I was embarrassed to be American, and embarrassed for my country and humanity in general that this sinister gaggle of representatives from the USA would be landing and distorting many people's perceptions of us all. It was a very sad display of ill-mannered generic trash taking its disruptive chaos abroad. I loathed all but the couple with the twins behind us, and the people behind them, silent, aghast as we were at the quality, or lack of, relating to our fellow passengers.) I came up with an idea. Pack all the families with loud kids into one section, wall it off, and allow the rest of the passengers some peace and quiet. Then see how happy all those families are when they realize how much personal space of others they and their uncontrolled, abrasive, demented spawn invade without so much as a care. If you can give it, you better be ready to take it, baby.
After the painful extra hour on the tarmac, and an average take off and boarding, we learned that the two most vile specimens on this hell haul were seated directly in front of us: Liv and Izabella they were gratuitously referred to as, loudly and with annoying frequency. Liv and Izabella, who littered the floor with food and broken drink cups, shouted and screamed at top volume, interrupted other guests views of the movie, and carried on like they were tackling Guinness Book of World Records' rudest two brats in an airplane challenge. Call the Special Forces if you find them anywhere near you in the future. Good riddance.
We flew over many cool islands in the first part of the flight. As this was happening, champagne, Red Stripe, and a meal of scrambled eggs with broccoli, tater tots, and a cherry tomato, along with OJ, were the offerings. I did not drink the alcohol. Too early for that, or I'd be asleep by 8 that night! Many drank on the early morning flight however.
We spotted lots of islands, with my first glimpse of that blue and green water. Little sand bar looking things, alone in the ocean, looking very inviting. Super cool view from the plane. I was transfixed by the sights of the many tiny pieces of land surrounded by ocean. A guy next to us, who had come from Maine on this trip, said that it was the Bahamas we were going over. Than we were going over a bunch of land, and when it ended… saw Cuba's inviting south coast. Very sick to see that light, surreal, blue water and the view from the air. Major turbulence, however, kept the rest of the flight rocky, right to the landing itself. It was super cloudy, raining sort of, and we could barely see Montego Bay until the plane was a few hundred feet above the ground. It looked out, but the stinky weather hid the true visuals I am sure normally would be present. We were there safely.
Check in at Mobay was tedious, but no problem, mon. We went through the line that said 'not declaring anything', and faced no inspection of my bags or person whatsoever, nor were any dogs or soldiers visible. Armed guards were seen later, toting M-16 looking machine guns, during the bus ride to Negril, but not at the airport.
THE BUS RIDE
So we get thru the immigration no problem, mon. But no smiles either. Then we go to the second "Not declaring anything" station, and that final dude was nice. We go to the carousel. Our bags are off it to the side, as we'd been upstairs a long time waiting in line. No problem, mon. We grab 'em and go to exit, and a guard immediately asks us if we need help, do we have our ride set up, etc. We say AirJamaica Vacations, and are pointed to two smiling women who are happy to see us. They have the little "Air Jamaica Vacations" signs. Much respect upon arrival. Yeah, mon. They are bubbly, and walk us to their counter. Their people at the desk take over. Our ride to the RIU Tropical Bay is arranged all set up through them. RIU is not an acronym. It is "ree-ewh", to my surprise. What the hell do I know? For the past two weeks, I am walking around in Boston telling people "Hey, my parents are sending me to Jamaica for a week over New Years to the R-I-U in Negril" - duh. I am learning a new thing every few instants down here.
So we are set for the ree-ewh, as they cheerfully call it, and these female agents send us with a male dude who takes us outside to the bus area. This dude is really friendly, basically says you need to tip him toward the end of his little spiel, gets a two-dollar tip, and also asks us if we "like to party hard." That is one of the codes for "do you need drugs?" I tell him we actually don't want to party at all, and more just get away from it all, since I have worked in the music biz and done the party for a living bit, so to speak, and so no, we are not going to be partying hard… however, if you mean, would I be interested in sampling some of the local agriculture, well, then a resounding yes is in order… He thought I was quite amusing, and so when he sets us up with our awesome bus driver Danny he happily points out that in addition to his fine job driving tourists in his VW minivan-size bus to and from MoBay to Negril, he also is in fact a bona fide representative of the Agro Ministry (we later find out nearly all Jamaicans have this same always on duty side gig, a hat all but a handful of Jamaicans we met wore). This dude sets us up with our driver and we waited twenty minutes standing there with Danny before departing for Negril with several other Americans, a bunch of black folks from Dallas I believe, or somewhere in Texas, all headed to the Tree House in Negril. Two doctors and an ad exec. Not from our flight, and much more cool to be around. We enjoyed our ride with them. They were real people and not stuck up tourists like the cargo we were shuttled down with from Boston. One dude who used a cane was hysterical and ripping into the roads, sitting in the front seat giving Danny shit. The whole ride was very comfortable due to these relaxed, easy to be around people, and we realized there were Americans down here that were nice.
Our driver Danny was courteous, friendly, kind, unassuming, semi toothless, probably mid to late 30's and wore his seat belt while practicing fantastic driving skills. More than anything he was about the kindness in every way, and it was appreciated. He was the man. It was a great introduction to the country.
He deftly wound through the maze of people and cars in Montego Bay. Some KFCs, Texacos, Burger Kings, and very strange to see the logos here amidst this third world street scene, mostly poverty and ramshackle incomplete buildings. The hard realities of life for Jamaicans began to hit me, as I expected it to. It was madness. Shantytown basically, mixed in with a level up from that, to a level maybe a step higher, but it was hard to see. Many shacks abut gated estates, though half of these unoccupied, owners long gone and the properties left to waste. Cows wandered through half-standing fences onto former estates, covered in overgrown weeds, and leaving your imagination running wild.
Companies like Jockey have two sites along the road out of Montego Bay toward Negril. I shudder to think what those people are getting paid. Big plants, with barbed wire ringing them. The sites were not unlike, to my eyes, concentration camps in terms of a visual from the outside. Foreboding locked compounds, and outside, sprawling humanity, asking why. Cows, goats, chickens, sheep, donkeys, dogs… all ran loose on the road and roadside. They dominated the landscape, with a critter of some kind everywhere along the way, mixed in with the poorly built structures of corrugated steel and random wood beams, many up on cinder blocks off the ground. You go by a big Red Stripe plant, and also a cemetery, I believe an old Jewish cemetery, next to it. Cows and other animals peeking out from behind gravestones, families with shoeless children rummaging around the side of the road, lots of half-built structures of all kinds. It was a humbling, sobering, quite visceral experience. Danny made it all the more real with a stop in Lucea, halfway there, at a roadside restaurant. I did not go in, but the owner, a woman, came out to greet Danny after the other guests were taken care of, and I met her as well, as Danny and I stood outside by the road, talking about Colin Powell (he's Jamaican born and a real inspiration down there to many news savvy Jamaicans), discretion at the hotel, and just general chatter. Danny was the man. I loved him and he set the whole tone for my trip of bonding with Jamaicans, who I can honestly say I found among the most pleasant people I have had the pleasure of interacting with.
After 20 min. or so, we split, and continued on to Negril. Saw many pot holes, traversed dirt roads, unfinished thruways, went around dead ends and boulders in the road, bulldozers scrapping away the earth and backing up traffic on the tiny road in both directions. It is a seemingly endless series of rag tag construction crews, working away at… something. A new overpass here, one out of commission next, with a road you drive a mile on before coming to a complete dead end and turning around, backtracking to a passable spot. Crews every couple of miles, busy, with bulldozers, digging, toiling away… I guess at the road, but it was just so much chaos you couldn't tell sometimes. Where did it start or end? Some sections had the two outer pieces paved for cars - one lane per direction - and the middle of the road was just dirt. Sometimes it was all dirt. Potholes were at times big enough to be large backyard fishponds you could stock with super-size coy. Boulders in the road were of Flintstones proportion. You half expected to see Barney Rubble come walking around the side of one. All of this in the most rural of settings, with hardly any buildings that resembled American standards of living that you commonly would see. Hills with single shacks way up high, huddles of young men with foot long ganja buds raising them up toward the bus windows, gathered around the sides of the winding road, waiting for tourists to pass. Dilapidated leaning wooden structures that looked to be without electricity or plumbing… it was something I will never, ever forget. I hear the Americans bitch and moan about this road. Seems like a lot of folks are missing the point. It is total bullshit that all these hotels and resorts exist and rape Negril for their own benefit and a little for the locals, while their roads are so poor. Something should be done. The real Jamaicans deserve to be able to travel more safely, considering how much money travels that path. We Americans should figure out a commercial way to get them a road. They need it, and it would help us all. I feel very strongly about this. (It is just not fair, and many Jamaicans told us they take a cab to work, because they fear for their cars and safety on the road from Negril to Mobay (and vice versa). It is a harrowing journey.)
We went around through Orange Bay, a bustling community, and then a bit further, nothing, just forest, and thick wilderness really. Our hotel looked like an illusion, a massive staggering oasis jutting out from this poor jungle landscape. Disney in Jamaica, was it's outer appearance. Tacky and overwhelming, yet at the same time it was surreal, welcoming tropical oasis. The gigantic, uniformly pink painted buildings - ultra modern compared to anything else in sight - are something unusual to see after all the discontinuity of the structures along the road. Danny deposited our bags, and we said farewell to the folks going on to the Tree House. They were oohing and ahhing at the RIU, asking Danny tons of questions about it as they departed. The spacious open-air lobby is a hell of a greeting area. High ceilings, open on both sides - the one side opens toward the large drive up area and the road beyond, the other direction opens toward their grounds, the pool below, a wall of immense palm and other trees, and the ocean behind that. It knocked my senses out. We were eager to check into what appeared to truly be Paradise.
Dorraine and Gina were the check in staff, greeting us like the Air Jamaica Vacations people at the airport, with big smiles, lots of 'no problem, mon', and a tasty fruit drink right there at the desk. Super nice, super easy, super fast check in. On go the bracelets (it is all inclusive at the RIU), a few forms signed, about five minutes at the front desk. This is like 2:30pm or so. We declined to have the little bellhop guy take our bags - not only am I thankfully capable of carrying them, I really don't make enough to have someone carry my bags, it just feels strange, and demeaning - so I blew that off - and we were on our way to 3307. (Just writing that down gives me pleasant chills). 3307. That was to be our base of operations for the next week. The WX, by the way, had been cloudy since arrival, and they had rain in the am. As we walked to our room on the gorgeous RIU property, a big dark cloud hung above, with a little sun. The lush landscaping is meticulous. Palms, tropical plants, everything well maintained. Very new looking. Quite spread out too. Nearly all employees encountered on the way were very pleasant. The walk to the room is slow with all our stuff, and the green everywhere is intoxicating. We follow the little signs that say what numbered rooms are in which block of buildings. We are to be facing the sea, and we are guided right to the room by the signs. It is the greatest feeling in the world to be approaching this room, with all our stuff, ready to be here, checking in for a week. I can barely contain myself, as the entire experience is so intense. The warm temperature, the sound of the ocean, the super upscale digs that are way out of my league, the way the room numbers are out by the hall, then you go back through a smaller hallway, two rooms to the hallway, and at the end of it, two rooms. 3306 is on the left, 3307 on the right.
The room: spectacular. Oceanfront, in the second to last building to the north side of the property, third floor, private balcony. Directly in front of us, was a big tree. To either side, however, ocean and views of the bay's north and south points. Stunning. I had to just sit down and take it all in. Bloody Bay stretched out in front of us, and it was overwhelming. We quickly cracked Red Stripes from the fully stocked and included mini-bar. It came with a six of Stripe, several Pepsis and diet Pepsis, Ting, tonic and soda water, 7up, orange soda, and three 1.5-liter spring water bottles. We sat there for a moment on the balcony and just were blown away. Warm, humid air relaxed you, and the sound of the ocean gently lapped the shore. It was heaven on earth. Please freeze me in that moment forever.
We took a stroll to the beach and stood in the water. Magical. Warm, gentle water. Then we went to the pool. No towels, but we were sweet to the dude, and he kicked us one anyway, without us using the two towel cards the hotel issued. We never used them all week. I kicked him back a single and he was very pleased. We enjoyed the pool. It is big, and has a swim up bar and big poolwater-temperature Jacuzzi. We went out to the beach for sunset, and were approached by a dealer wearing a bright yellow shirt. He paced the beach back and forth, never really stopping, but quietly offering his stuff. We said we were cool, and he remarked "you got it at the airport, didn't you?" Yeah, mon. Very funny how perceptive some of the dudes down there are. He just shook his head laughing and kept on walking.
(It cannot be overemphasized how often I was offered drugs on a daily basis. Nearly every single Jamaican person - nearly every one - would say "Is there anything you need?", or "Do you have everything you need?", or "Do you guys like to party hard?" The supply was unlike anything I have ever seen, short of the Dead shows of yesteryear, and the same for the frequency that it was offered. If you don't like pot, and cannot deal with the relentless offering to buy it, Jamaica is not for you. I found it amusing, amazing, delightful, helpful, useful, and all around a very cool facet to the culture there. It is the central theme, bar none. Its presence was utterly fascinating and all encompassing. You really have to experience it to believe it. No amount of advance research prepared me for ganja's omnipresence.)
We went upstairs, changed for dinner, and had a nice meal at the Negril. Ian is the host, and Dining Room Manager, I believe. Super cool, very together, receptive, one of the best dudes there, though again, nearly all the staff were exemplary. (Your first night, you show up at the time you want, 6:30 or 8:30. Then, you are assigned a table. If you want to stay with that seating and table, just keep showing up there night after night. Or, if you want to sit somewhere else, or come to a different time, you can arrange it with Ian, who likely will come find you during dinner just to check on how everything is. We had rain outside, and a hungry Nancy the first night, so we took the early dinner, and changed to the 8:30 for the next night. And we didn't move outside till that night during dinner, when the rain ended, we asked to be moved a second time to be outside. Ian took care of it. We lost out on our good waiter, Orville, and picked up a tip hungry monster, one of the only bad apples in the place, Leroy.. Yikes!) But, as for the rest of the staff, just the best, nicest, sweetest folks. Rarely you felt it was to get a tip. Most of the time it came from people who were not in line to get your tips, and yet they were warm, friendly, open, caring…
The food itself was excellent. Varying salads of fruit, pasta, and veggies. Meats, guys cooking stuff, desserts, every drink you could want… Just an orgy of sustenance. More than enough variety, and quality very high. The meal staff is, simply put, exceptional. (That was our experience).
After dinner, we retired to the room, and kicked back on the balcony listening to tree frogs, or whatever makes that nice natural racket all night. Very soothing sounds. We popped on CNN, and relaxed.
It's midnight, day 1. We went down to the pizza place at 11 for a look-see, and a delicious pizza. Perfect for two, plus fresh salads and other foods available too. Non-greasy pizza, very tasty in every way, made to order… Plus pasta to order, and salad bar. Very nice. Open every night till midnight, so anyone who says you can't get late night food at the RIU was not looking too hard.
I write this sitting on the balcony. Scoober is asleep. Waves are crashing. Rain is showering lightly. Tree frogs are chirping. Rain dripping from the roof, onto the ground three stories below. Full, well fed. A resounding wave just crashed and another sequence of thundering waves follows. It is rough at sea. Who said Bloody Bay is always calm? Not tonight! Enjoying a Desnoes and Geddes Orange soda from our minibar thing. That's the Red Stripe Company, who also oversees restoration of a historic Jewish cemetery adjacent to some of their property, I am reading. We may have passed that cemetery in MoBay. Writing by candlelight. CNN is quietly on in there. I can watch from the balcony, and then glance out into the Bay. What a moment. Everything is kind. Scoober is asleep with the lights on (as usual), in our big room. I am finally getting sleepy. Have 9am 'orientation' with AirJamaica Vacations, and hope to see the sun for our kayaking adventure we plan tomorrow. Being on the ground only a few hours so far, I am in love with Jamaica, and completely at home. Many employees, after first meeting us, would end the exchanges with "welcome home." We truly felt it.
We were up early. Romance and love were in the air from the get go… Yes sir. Much respect. I am writing this the next, day, the third day, the 29th, at 719pm, hanging by candlelight on the balcony, as Bloody Bay unfurls around me. For breakfast on that second day, we had omelets, at the made to order omelet station run by the king Kelvin. (This guy, who I had read about in other people's reports, is one of the very nicest, kindest, gentlest people I have ever had the honor of interacting with. Just a person whose energy and smile are so warm and inviting. Maximum respect to he and his family. If visiting tell him Dave, the guy from Boston who gave him the Marley '73 Paul's Mall, Boston, CD says hi.)
We ate outdoors looking at the ocean, and Sanette was our wait staff person. Buffet, but they take care of you for drinks, and removing dishes. Super sweet woman. (She and I bonded from the first morning. A few days later Nancy grinned and remarked that Sanette really liked me. She was salt of the earth, and always sporting an award-winning smile.) Very scenic outdoor patio, facing the ocean, surrounded by palms, and the pool to one side in the foreground. Or part of the pool. The selection was huge: every kind of bread, fruit, smoothies, veggie juice, coffee/tea station, pastries, all the American standards - every kind of egg, meat, potatoes… just more than enough of everything. I had tasty tomato juice every day, plus a cappuccino, iced tea, some spinach like stuff, yum yum… and the omelets, from the omelet king Kelvin.
Then we went kayaking, and out to the north side of the bay. They have small open sea kayaks, and never was there a wait or time limit to use them. No back support on these dogs, so you have to get used to that. But they are plentiful, and again, no limits or restrictions on use. We approached Bosco, Mudslide, Seaweed, and the other dudes at Water Sports with the news that we were semi-experienced kayakers, and there on vaca to do just that. Never once did we have even the slightest problem getting a kayak.
We went to the north side of Bloody Bay, the undeveloped side. When in Bloody Bay, the RIU is in the middle, and next to it to the left, or south, is Couples, and then the Grand Lido. That is it for the entire bay. (Sadly, we did learn a new resort begins construction soon next door to the right, or north, of the RIU. But right when we were there, just the two resorts to the south, and then to the north the beach next door was for the Negril Cabins, whose actual property was on the other side of 'the road'. Beyond this was the Office of Nature, which we will be covering extensively, as I spent some memorable times there.)
We kayaked along the entire shore, headed north, right to the point and Bird Island, a rock island that has pelicans and really tropical birds hanging around it. We saw the entire undeveloped shore on this trip. Not much beach left after the last hurricane apparently, so the rap goes. There are a few small ones above the water line, and the beach itself is there, just under a few feet of very shallow water, extending hundreds of feet off the shore. Basically, that first kayaking trip covered the northern half of Bloody Bay, and an up close look at the Zein, the yacht the Lido owns. We scoped Boobey Caye, the uninhabited island off the southern tip of the bay for our next kayak trip.
After lunch of pizza and delicious salad at the pizza place, we spent some time on the beach. Nancy wanted to paint down there, so she set up to paint, and I swam and waded in the warm, gorgeous water. Some foresight had me bring our little cooler with Red Stripes, water, and Pepsi on ice, and I parked myself under a palm tree. We did all this at the southern end of the RIU property, near Couples. Very secluded then, not many people anywhere on the beach, especially where we were. The water is so shallow. You can walk probably 200' straight out off the beach in spots, till the water is up to your mouth. No joke. Just slow as hell, gradually getting deeper. Crystal clear to the bottom. White sand, occasional piece of seaweed or similar stuff, but mainly pure white sand. A large roped off area is in the middle of two equally as large non-roped off areas, and we never swam in the roped off area much. Maybe once. The RIU has the largest beachfront in Negril, and we are told the nicest in Jamaica. (It is very long, a bit longer of actual beach than the Lido, which has a long beach and the property doesn't look bad either. But f-it. I would do the RIU for the location alone, not to mention the service and people.)
We befriended a security guard, Devon, whom we brought drinks to throughout the afternoon. Later he was the only guy to… shall we say, misrepresent the Agricultural Ministry. He also stole our nice bottle opener, after we brought him four Red Stripes on ice to his guard station. (He was one of the only people to do us wrong. And sadly and confusingly after being so nice, and us getting him a total of about eight or nine Stripes and five or six Pina Coladas, of which I drank about 200 or so during the week. We just blew it off and hoped other folks along the way would do us right. That was the case, and he was the only weak link to really speak of, aside from Leroy, our dinner waiter, whose story we'll get to later.)
We did sunset there on the beach, on beach chairs, with Stripes. Nice, mon. Then we got to the 8:30 dinner seating. As you may know, at the RIU you choose 6:30 or 8:30, and are assigned a table/time for the week. We had done 6:30 night one 'cause Scoober was hungry, and so night two we switched to the 8:30 seating. Nice. Ian there to help facilitate all that. Excellent waiter we were leaving, though, as we wanted 8:30… and outside. So for day three, the next day, we'd move from the inside table to outside, table 213 I remember. 16 was the 8:30 indoor table for day 2, though. Great waiter, Orville. Nice guy and just whom you'd want to be around. This dinner was more crowded than the day before. (The 8:30 tended to be more crowded each night.)
Who was at the RIU? The very rich. Rich Americans, who demanded a lot of the staff, at least that is what we saw. Rich Brits, Italians… a handful of people being very nice to the guests… The young, 6-12 kids loved the staff, and vice versa, and clung to each other. The teenagers were arrogant pricks and princesses and talked down to the hotel staff in front of us often. Very rude, disgusting people. Until the last two days there, we spoke to virtually no guests, just the staff and each other. The guests were horrible, and the kind of people of the most vile, spoiled nature. We were shocked to see and hear our new found Jamaican friends be so rudely treated, and went out of the way to make up for it and not be lumped in as another a-hole American. We were embarrassed by these people, and I hope and pray the Jamaican people who treated us so well know all Americans are not like that. I could have cried as I sat there on the balcony reliving the way these rich guests acted. It was another aspect to the humbling nature of this trip. I felt so close to the Jamaican people. I was always getting the fist or handshake, and the hotel staff, nearly all not in a position to get tips from you, just the day to day random people not even serving you directly - were totally cool and the best folks. I was BLOWN AWAY. Much nicer than most people I run into daily in the U.S. I love my country so much, but I don't like to see our people abroad acting so obnoxious and ungrateful. It perpetuates so many stereotypes. We cringed often on this trip, due to this behavior. I was constantly rewarded by the quality of my interactions with these open, touching, soulful people.
For dinner I had a potpourri of salads. This meat eater was more than taken care of! At night we were mellow, and slept in, planning for an early start to the next day. Booby Caye, the island just off the coast, was calling our names. (Little did I know, I would spend a good chunk of three days there, in this magical land, seemingly untouched by man. Booby Caye is a nature lovers dream come true. Much more later). We went to sleep that night, and every night, with our door open, listening to the waves crash, and the quiet sounds of whatever station I could tune in on the little radio we brought, and used daily. I'd put it on very softly, and put the screen door open. Yeah, Mon. Every night, mon. And the 'yeah, mon'…. it is literally said by every person there every few moments. No exaggeration. It is infectious and along with the 'maximum respect (in every way/everyday/everytime)' becomes a mantra. What can you do but go along with it?
DAY 3 - Sat. Dec. 29th
So we got up separately today. Booger got up and invited me to walk on the beach, but I was sleepy and stayed in. She did a walk down to the Lido and back. I did a nice balcony session and shot some video, using my parent's loaned video-recorder. Bringing it down to the beach led to my next adventure, and first of the day. As I walked the beach, looking for Nancy, around 9am, I ran into a hotel employee working one of the various jobs - (they have many kind employees doing everything from gardening to security, to drink cup removing detail, and they are all out and about dressed in uniforms, like the staff who do the minibar refills, the linen and towel guys, the housekeepers… the maintenance dudes… They are all there, in their own uniforms, everywhere on the grounds.) And I am rolling tape, doing a narration for my parents, with their video, getting people to say hi, and talk about themselves, and so I am 'interviewing' this guy, (very nice guy, whose name and identity at the hotel I will not reveal, as he should be safe from any wrongdoers. I will call him Dominic.) Very clean cut, working one of the hotel gigs… So I am interviewing him, and he's looking sharp with his clean outfit, and smiling and talking about himself, when suddenly he blurts out some rap about do I want to buy his primo ganja or whatever. This is like the third or fourth dude that morning who does this, while I am rolling the tape, and I don't want to freak my parents out, because, at first, it is quite overwhelming, the whole ganja thing. And so I have to again stop the tape and be like, 'Bro, be cool with that… I'm making a movie for my parents here!' I'm just goofing with him, not really giving him shit, just like, jokingly letting him know, like I did the other cats, to be cool with the dope on the tape here. So Dominic and I have a little rap. He is very nice, and wearing a sharp outfit, well groomed, and really commanding. He says he's got the stuff - wet sticky gold. Really nasty, wants to show it to me, let me look at it up close, smoke it, try it, whatever. He is not pushy but sounds like he knows what he's saying. He says he'll bring it to my room so I can check it out.
(I am on vacation here, folks, so what the fuck? Everyone from AirJamaica Vacations to many on the hotel staff said anyone working at the hotel was totally safe to buy anything from, and they all valued the business down there of tourists. Only plainclothes police who roam the beach looking for Jamaicans selling drugs were to be worried about, and they only were threatening to the Jamaicans. No Americans, according to every single account we heard, from either hotel employees, various police and security personnel, and laymen Jamaicans, were busted to for petty use, possession, or purchase of ganja. Maybe some guy with his little plane buying bails of dope - sure. But the tourists on the beach with the plastic bracelets were off limits to the cops. That bracelet said you had paid a small fortune to be there, and unless you did something brazen or stupid, you were to be left alone. End of story. I witnessed nothing to ever suggest anything different than that. No open use of drugs in public, where people were around, no sale under the same conditions. Other than that, it was all looked the other way. The smell permeated every area - indoor and outdoor - everywhere I went save the water itself and Booby Caye. Plentiful is an understatement. More common than cash is not inaccurate. The going rate for this stuff is really super low dough - 10 to 20 American per transaction - and…)
So I say, sure, I'll meet you in my room. He comes up there minutes later, and is very cool, quiet, and just adorable as he is all excited like a little kid…."ok, mon. This is the really good, sticky, wet, skunky ganja we call the Columbian (something)… It is the very sticky rastaman (something), up in the hills ganja (something something)…." A rap like that… I asked if it was from Columbia; he says no, it's the style, that's what they call it… He has a black plastic sack made by wrapping the ends in knots. Baggies and bags in general of any kind are hard to find down here. In it is aluminum foil. Inside that is this enormous seven or eight inch compressed wet sticky stalk of pot. Brownish green, mostly brown, and so wet and sticky that it glistened like it was coated with rubber cement or something. He said he had to wrap it that way to keep it from stinking everything up. So he is like this. "Ok, mon. I like you. I'm going to do you a really big favor. I'm gonna take care of you for the rest of your trip ok, mon? I take care of you so you won't have to do this again." He can tell the whole thing bewilders me. So he wants forty dollars for it, and I get him to twenty and five packs of rolling papers that cost a buck twenty a piece. Pure hemp rolling papers in five different color packs. Hempires. He smiled widely when he saw their colors. "These are cool, mon. Yeah, mon." Big smile. So he left, and I put that away and went and met Nancy who was out still walking on the beach. It is 9:19am, according to the clock radio, and this just happened, is over with, I am back on the beach with Nancy, and going to get breakfast. All way before ten in Jamaica.
After breakfast, we grab a kayak, and try to also get snorkeling gear to take with us, but you can only sign out one thing at a time.
(A major thing to keep in mind. Bring your own snorkeling gear, or you will be stuck at the hotel with theirs, or forced to shell out $15pp for few minutes dive in deep waters, or $20pp or more for a trip out in a boat loaded with other people. I say bring your own, and pack it in a bag so it looks like towels and beach stuff. Then get a kayak and off you go. Just don't dive from the kayaks - won't work, you'll tip, and if you are in the wrong place it could be very bad. Be smart. Kayak somewhere, land the boat, and swim out.)
We loaded our kayak with water and Pepsi on ice in a mini collapsible cooler I brought down. (Very, very handy. Highy recommend one of those, maybe two. Used every day. Ice in it till we returned. Can't beat it far from shore/hotel.) So we headed kayaking again and out to Booby Caye! The way over goes past Point Village, the condo/resort complex on the southern point of Bloody Bay. It looks inviting, for a primarily cliff experience. The waters off their shore are perfect for snorkeling, but you have to be very careful, as they are filled with boats zooming to and fro, mostly motorized. Jet Skis are everywhere, and could kill you if you were unsighted snorkeling in the water off that point.
(The kayak trip out to Booby Caye seems longer than it is. It is work, no doubt about it. But a good twenty-five minute work out gets you both there. Many points of very shallow water along the way, others perilously deep. You've got lifejackets for sure, and should wear them unless an expert swimmer, as many vehicles are whizzing around this area, and also, some coral and rocks are dangerously lurking just below the waterline, and could quickly cause you to dump as you slam into gear to avoid them, unseen until literally two or three feet away. Just be careful. No biggie. Not a bad trip to get there, and some breathtaking views down along the way.)
Booby Caye is a small island, and has two main beaches. As you sail to it from Bloody Bay, the longest, sandbar beach is to your left, or the southeast. The smaller, but very interesting beach/cove on the other side is to your right, or northwest. For day one, we sailed directly to that sandbar side. As you approach, you realize this strip of sand is jutting off the island some hundred feet or so above the surface, and extending on one side very, very gradually, the other more steeply and rocky. The water is crystal clear, and when you reach it, after you pass the rocks, it is all pure, white sand. Fantastic! And, that day, for my first time, nude sunbathing! When we got out to the little island, there were two or three British guys with a young Jamaican boat driver. He warned me to watch out for sea urchins and I will remember that. No one else is there. They leave about fifteen minutes later. Off go the swim trunks. Nancy is laughing at me. She thinks this is hysterical. Yeah, mon. Maximum nude sunbathing. Fifteen minutes of total privacy. No boats whizzing nearby, no sailboats offshore, no other people, boats, anything anywhere. Our own private beach, and I am naked, 100' off the shore, in chin-deep water, I can see my feet on the white sand below, the kayak and Nancy are in the distance back on that island. Yeah, I'd have to say it was one of the all time greatest moments of my entire life. Could I have spent the entire day like that? Yes.
The privacy at Booby Caye is unreal, but short lived often. Some other curious people come along, and you either stay, or off you go, exploring more. We hit the road when folks came, and as they beached, we shoved off toward the other side of the island, after cooling down with some ice cold Pepsis (They don't have Coke that I saw in Jamaica. For caffeine by day, that is your bottled boy, included for free at the RIU).
We kayaked around the far side of Booby Caye, over rocks, coral, reef looking stuff. I couldn't properly name it all. Vegetation, rocks, colors, no fish, but very picturesque. Just inches at times below the kayak. We landed at a very small beach. Very tiny, and covered by a few trees that hang into the water. Like a desert island scene. There we are nude sunbathing, and on the beach we discover all around us hermit crabs are walking and crawling about. So cool to see up close, wild, and free. This is totally uninfected by man here, at least to the eye. We continued to the other beach/cove of the island, and observed many people who appeared to be camped up top in the brush. Deciding not to intrude, we did not beach, but continued on, completing the circle, and heading back for the RIU. It was exhilarating. Upon arrival back at the hotel, we are careful not to say we'd been to Booby Caye, unless asked, which we weren't. I see the Jerk House on the beach is smoking, and head there. (It is infrequently running, and only once in seven days there was chicken.) I get there, and Ricardo is the dude on duty. He is cool, and who should walk up, but 'Dominic' as I'm calling him (not his real name), and he is tight with Ricardo the Jerk Chef. And I can tell Dominic likes me. We had bonded in the morning with that episode. He tells the Chef to really take care of me. So he says what do I want. I say breast meat. My plate is full of Jamaican Jerk Chicken, white breast meat, topped with that sauce. Oh, boy. Don't get me started. (Serious viddles right there, folks. Worth scouting this homeboy out to see when he's open and armed with the bird.) I had the jerk chicken orgasm I needed. Right there, still wet from our kayak trip, hungry from the heavy rowing to get there and back. I ate the chicken sitting in the sun there near the Jerk House, then up in the room as Nancy drank P.C.'s. After freshening up in the room, we grabbed the video camera, and headed off the RIU property, on foot this time, on the beach, down toward the legendary Office of Nature restaurant/domino parlor/vending area.
We went down with the video camera. It is a tarp, some tables, a domino game, some fishing, some vending… It is what you call low impact. Binge wasn't there, they said, but Robert, the other main star of the RastaRich video, was, and we immediately bonded. A great guy he was. I gave him some rolling papers and some ice cold Red Stripes I brought down too. Some of the dudes there were trying hard to sell us stuff, and he spoke in Patois and backed them off. Pretty cool. Like, no mon, they are with us, leave them be. The footage we shot of this, some half-hour or so in all, must be something. It was a real slice of Jamaica. A major dominos game, too, that I caught on film, and a good time had by all. Mostly rasta like dudes, smoking dope, fishing, selling fish and lobster meals, cooked right there on the beach. I don't eat lobster, or fish of any kind, and to be honest, when you've got a five star all-inclusive feeding you, you are all set. But we hung for a while. Everyone was respectful of Nancy and I after Robert and another dude made clear, due to the video of them I brought from Rasta Rich, and the fact that I knew Robert and who Binge was by name from the video, that we were to not be f-ed with. Derrick the drug dealer was there, and he wanted to take us on a ride up into the hills to see the ganja fields. With him, I don't think so. He had every drug for sale it seemed. Tete, I think, was the dreaded, and kind dude, with the shells. Very kind. Didn't want to buy a shell. I was getting my own out of the water. And a Jamaican dude named David. And Seymour, too. All very cool dudes, and we got along really good. Many guys there liked me, and I gave out Hempire pure hemp rolling paper packs to the nicest dudes. After a while we split and said we'd be back tomorrow, looking for Binge, the main dude there, to hand-deliver these videos shot by an American named RastaRich, who had been there the month before, and made contact with me online to deliver this great video, edited and pro-put together, all about the Office. This is like… 4:30, 5 or so, Saturday night. So we get back to the property, and who do we run into - again - but 'Dominic'. He is very friendly, and Nancy had wanted to do a trip to see a show at night, and after all I've read, going with a dude who works at your resort is a great, safe way to do it. So he tells us there is a roots reggae show we can go to - on the beach. It is not in Negril, but in Lucea. That is the town 25 miles away, back toward Montego Bay. Tourists don't go to Lucea. Not many of them anyway, except for the people who stop there along the way just to get beer or chicken during the day, stopping with their driver, right on the main road at a roadside stand. This would be a show attended, he said, by Jamaicans only. He would get us there and back, safely, protected, for fifty bucks. We'd see the real Jamaica, hear reggae with other Jamaicans, and most importantly, get to spend that crucial time off the property of the resort, immersed in the real culture. We were a bit nervous,
DAY 4 Sunday, December 30 6pm or so?
Out on the calm balcony, with my candlelight, radio playing, CNN in the room muted with the closed captioning on, cool drink and reading material on the little table, and trying not to forget any of the details of the last twenty four hours. At 11pm the night before, prior to leaving the resort, we take our passports out of the in-room safe, put them in the bedside table, with a note saying where we went, when, and with whom. We take our US drivers licenses with us. At 11:15 we go to the front of the resort, on the property, at the end, where the parking lot is. Dominic shows up, along with his driver for the excursion, Peter (real name). We speed off into the night toward Lucea, back on the same road we came from to get here out of MoBay. It is 25 miles of treacherous road. Mostly unlit, many parts unpaved. The same general obstacles, except much less traffic. Very much quicker pace than during the day time. We are listening to a cassette with cheesy r'n'b/jungle/trip hop/who knows what. Guys from America it sounds like, singing perverted lyrics about driving around in limousines, with jewelry and women, and extravagant clothes. Being loaded down with cash, and treating these items like they were nothing. As I write this, it sounds like not the lyrics to this third world techno ghetto rap/drone but to the old Kiss song "Do you love me?", which features many references to the same material ironically, although, to my ears, much more musically. To say the four songs played at least four times each on the short, repeating cassette were a form of audio hell was right on the money. But we endured. Had I thought ahead, I would have loaded some live Bob onto a cassette for these sorts of situations. One 110minute puppy would have cleared up the whole ride. But these days, many Jamaicans seem to look at that music as grandpa's generation… Like I guess how an old band like Kiss would be in America, though the roots reggae is widely respected. Some employees were very into it. But on the airwaves, or in cars, it was a disaster, what was being listened to, in my opinion. Violent dancehall, with scary lyrics. But we got there safely, albeit tuneless, subjected to this porno hip hop trip hop drum machine nightmare, with the four cuts on 4x apiece. At 11 on the volume. Yikes! But we made it…
The Watson Taylor Beach Club was our destination. Try and find that one in your 'Pocket Jamaica' book, or Fodor's Guide… This is called off the beaten path. All Jamaicans, outdoors, inside a big fenced off area, with many nations flags flying in a row on the top. The club was on the other side of this fence, with an undeveloped beach/harbor. Scenic as hell. Totally gorgeous. Full moon overhead. Sound system blaring dancehall top volume. Roots Reggae party? Maybe the grooves they sampled and stole, but I think this stuff is crap. I could care less for it. Give me a 2cd set of Marley in Santa Cruz in '79… Or The Wailers at Leeds, UK, 1973… But this drum machine horseshit… No thanks. And hey, I can say what I think. People always put down bands, and I have heard my people take crap. I can give it. My opinion. I just don't like being shouted at like dancehall and rap. And as a drummer, anything with a drum machine just sounds like garbage to me. I am old fashioned. But I didn't let it keep me from enjoying being there, catching the vibe, and just mellowing out. Conrad was Dominic's friend there, and he reassured us, we were welcome and would not be hassled there. Nor were we, though people seemed very removed, as if they knew, if they didn't have something nice to say, don't come near us. We had Peter and Dominic just two feet away until we got comfortable. The four of us burned one right on the beach there, in the bush, on the sand, the full moon above. Then we had beers being sold from under a tarp kinda thing. They had Guinness there, which was not on the resort. Also Heineken, not on the resort. The little bay or whatever you call it was totally, completely undeveloped. Beyond pristine looking in the full moon and no overhead lights. It was a show itself, with glistening pure sand, that was perfect naturally, to the eye, in every way. Never will I forget it.
A couple people try to talk to Nancy. Peter stands inches away and the men slowly back off. Three guys approach a while later, and I see Dominic wave his index finger a couple times, like, uh-uh… they are with me. Don't even think about it. There is a pretty girl there, dancing with another girl on the beach. She is the only person in the whole place dancing. Dominic is trying to pick her up. To no avail. No one speaks to each other, for the most part at this place. Eventually he says he's ready whenever we are. We leave, and he says he has to stop by some club and 'deliver a message.' We get to this place, the name of which escapes me. Some bit of innuendo. We are in a very depressed, run down area, densely urban, but essentially shantytown. Dominic says he will only he a minute, we can wait in the car or come in. Peter rolls up the windows. There are scary looking packs of young men sitting around idly. It is approximately 2am. We say we want to stay with them. We all leave the car and enter the dingy club. Inside the hazy room, large hand painted signs on the wall say "NO NUDE MAN", and "NO DRUGS ALLOWED", and "NO GANJA SMOKING." I point them out, and Dominic says it is just show for the police. People openly smoke pot in the room, as they did at the Watson Taylor Beach Club. On stage, two overweight and unsightly women, dressed in thongs only, slowly gyrate to the slow throbbing dancehall beat. It is dimly lit. Jamaican men hungrily eye these women onstage. I look around. It is almost all men, some women, who Nancy later says are prostitutes. I cannot verify that was my impression at the time. No one really says anything to us, nor are we that heavily scoped out, considering how small this place was. Though we are the only white people in there, this casual acceptable seems to loosely suggest other folks like us have passed through here. No guarantees on that. Nor on visitors to the Beach Club.
I would not be exaggerating if I said this hellhole was on the way to Dante's Inferno. It was perhaps the seediest and most vile place I have ever willfully ventured into, or entered in virtually any mode. This was really not something I would put on the national registry down here. Certainly, without a doubt, this stop is on the way to hell. Seriously. I don't go in strip bars in the US, but this place… whew… We're talking adventure, with all caps, and italicized. No joke. I was pretty scared.
We mercifully left a few painful minutes later (that felt like an eternity. The only bright spot being Dominic's friend Conrad from the Beach Club was there, and he was a sharp dresser, in a little suit. Very well dressed, really. He again tried to say this was just a way to relax at the end of the day, nothing to be concerned about. And we were invited to his home, with his family, to ring in the New Year. Looking back, I sort of wish we had done that, but at the time, no way. I was so eager at that moment to get back on the property, each second in there felt like ten minutes in a horror movie you wish would safely end.) After we left, we ended up sitting in the car with just Peter, waiting another fifteen minutes or so, while Dominic finished "delivering a message". The scene out there was just dimly lit ramshackle huts, poorly built structures of all kinds, and young Jamaican men, sitting with nothing to do at 2am staring at us. Peter, who kept the music off, and at one point locked all the doors, said he was going to go get Dominic, and see what was up. I said not unless you think we will be safe out there alone, and he says "I will stay here in the car with you." Soon he is sitting with one hand on the gearshift, the other on the ignition key. He re-checks all the doors are locked. He checks his cellphone. None of this is lost on Nancy and I, whether or not it was an intended show.
Finally, after stressing off a year or two of my life, Dominic emerges, and gets in the car. Remember, everything is opposite, driver on the right. As he does this, a dude comes up the window, which Dominic rolls down. I am on the opposite side in the backseat, Nancy on the side with Dominic and this angry looking guy. They start an exchange in Patois. The guy is shouting at Dominic. Clearly, he wants money. Occasionally the words are obvious, and he wants to shake us down, referring to us as "the British motherfuckers in the car". We have known this could happen, and only have US drivers licenses, and a total of $7 US on us, so as to prevent a loss of dough. We remain silent and unflinching, instinct taking over. We knew what he was trying to do, this guy, and Dominic keep very quiet and relaxed, as if everything was ok. Peter slowly slid his hand onto the gearshift, and put the car in first, other hand on the key. After a few minutes of shouting, and my life flashing before my eyes, the guy walked away, Peter fired the engine, and we quickly left. The whole ride back, we feared the car would be stopped on one of these long stretches of unlit no mans land. It never happened. We got back and were dropped off safely. We did feel lucky to be back unscathed, though. It was nice to get to do, but an adventure to be cautious about taking. I sit here writing about it, just after sunset, which we watched on the beach. I'm on the balcony. We are tuned to Jamaica Radio One, at approx. 98 on the FM dial. Last night, they had non-stop ska and tons of 50's and 60's, and 70's ska, Caribbean music, and reggae. Now, it is fat old early seventies jazz grooves. The DJ says he played Stan Getz, and some Jerry Mulligan. This is a balcony session to be remembered, as I recall last nights adventure to Lucea, Jamaica. Now, the details about today itself.
We ate indoors at 9:30am, a late start after being out till nearly 3am traipsing around Jamaica in the middle of the night. Another of Kelvin's omelets. Later we were relaxing in the room, and Shion, the minibar guy came. We had a fat tip for him, five bucks, and he started madly stocking that fridge and top of it for us. We also offered to fire him up, which he quickly accepted. Then we cracked some Stripe and kicked back. Shion is from Lucea, we find out, and he is very impressed we went there the night before. We tell him about it. "You smoked ganja at the Watson Taylor Club?" That fact seems to really impress him. He lives in Lucea with his four brothers, one of whom is going to school. They live with their mother, and his father lives in Britain, and he rarely hears from him. His life is tough. We enjoyed the hour or more we spent with him. We asked if he could get us a bottle opener to use, since ours was stolen the day before. He hooked us up, and now we had a bottle opener again for drinks which was nice. I also gave him a t-shirt.
Then it was down to watersports, and again we disappeared with a kayak, and out to Booby Caye. Unlike the first trip out there, we went to the smaller, beach/cove on the right first. We pulled in and threw the kayak on the beach, careful to avoid the plentiful hermit crabs we saw further up on shore. There had been a couple snorkeling off of this beach, over the rocks a ways from shore. They were not based off of this beach, as there was no vehicle there, and they drifted away and out of view around to the other side of the island, toward the other beach. So there we were, alone, no boats anywhere, no people, no anything. I discovered that if you stood still in the shallow water waist high, after a while little fish would swim up and be comfortable with us. It was awesome. First really tiny fluorescent looking ones, than slightly larger black ones, than even larger yellow and black striped ones, followed by even larger silver fish. It was an incredible half-hour or so. We shared a Pepsi from our well-stocked little cooler, and puffed, standing in waist deep water surrounded by fish. In many spots, this super small, rapidly descending beach was mostly clear, and we stood in between rocks in these pure sand spots. Only feet away it became much deeper, and rockier. There was only this small spot to stand in on sand, but it was really nice. The fish would swim through our legs, around our feet. They'd pause in spots, and then gracefully slip away. We waded out into water neck deep, over pure white sand, and just stood there, soaking in the moment. Little aquarium looking fish surrounding us, bigger ones still at the ocean floor, clearly visible as if through a liquid pane of glass. Just paradise at the time.
Then we packed up and headed for the next side. We stopped a lot to get time looking at the reef along the way. Very sweet, saw a few fish, including this little brown, quill covered bugger that swam only in this shallow water over these plants. He was scary looking. Sea urchins were everywhere. Then we pulled into the cove next to the sand bar/larger beach. People left as we got there, leaving two kayaks unattended on shore, their users clearly somewhere off on the interior of the island, nowhere in sight. So other than these two kayaks, Scoober and I were alone for the second time on this big ass sand bar. I for the second time shed the swim trunks, and went au natural. We had more drinks there on the beach, and together waded out and found our own little spot to hang out in the crystal clear water and white sand off of Booby Caye. This time, with the shallow grade of the sand bar, we were able to venture out quite far into the warm water. Incredibly picturesque. The ultimate water experience of my life. There we are, floating free, no clothes, fifty or sixty feet from the exposed edge of the sand bar, out on that amazing sand, water up to our chins… It was all too much. I was practically in shock. We had this entire beach to ourselves even longer than the first. For a good hour or so we were there, owning the place. Finally, Nancy succumbed, and removed her swimsuit too. We were simply so out there, so far from anyone, and no boats of any kind in sight. After a while, we could see people headed in to Booby Caye, and now coming from all angles, so we moved into the crock of the cove there, on the far side, and there is this little spot with trees hanging over the water. We refreshed and watched little fish swimming around there, and as we waded out in the foot deep water, a crab crawled by my foot, and we bolted back onto land. Here, too, hermit crabs called home.
We went back to the bay on rough seas. The water was stinking up, tossing us around. We got in. When we returned we went down to the Office of Nature and gave Gritty, Binges brother, the videos from Rasta Rich, plus some papers, and we brought more Red Stripes for everyone. That dude Robert smoked me up, and rolled me a splief for myself, and I hung with them for a while. Robert even made me up a little Agro gift pack, just because he's such a righteous guy. Scoober was sleepy, so I did this alone while she napped. For dinner we did the place you need to make a reservation, and then they take your order, Sir Anthonys. The staff there are awesome, but it is a very limited menu, with the identical foods offered at the buffet main dinner, maybe slightly altered, and a very limited drink selection. Avoid this dinner. Or, do it, early or late, juxtaposed to the regular dinner you have, and that way if it blows bad, you go to the main dining room. We ate there at 9pm, so we couldn't do that. But we went up to the pizza place and had a late night pie to take care of the munchies. That is my take on the Sir Anthony bit. Great staff, good food, but way more variety & almost identical service at the main room. As I sit here the DJ just said he played Rosemary Clooney, and Bing Crosby. This is the nicest end of day routine for me. Relaxing on this oceanfront balcony, my candlelight, the little radio, something to read - we brought It is so amazing here; I could just melt into this hotel room for the rest of my life.
DAY 5 - 12/31/01
Sitting on the tarmac @ MBJ. Appr. 8pm. Waiting for our 655pm flight #049 to take off. Trying to remember the last day or two. Let's see. Dec. 31st…
That morning we decided we would try the windsailers, windsurfers, whatever they are called. Those Hobie Craft things. We were told it was not windy enough to use one of those yet, and so instead we took out a novelty paddleboat until the wind picked up. The boat was designed like a big car, with a steering wheel, and big tires. It had a waterslide on it, and we loaded the thing with our cooler and a bag filled with ice and water and went out to the north side of the bay. I got nude again, and we were the only ones down there. I also recall feeling very kind there as well. It is hundreds of yards of beach, none really above ground, all below water line. But very shallow, and you can walk for like a mile in the water. Super nice, crystal clear, pure white sand with nothing else. Just me and the water. Scoober floated along in the paddleboat, sunning herself. We diddled around for a while and then returned for a windsailer thing. That was a lot of fun. No work, you just aim the little rutter, and pull on the rope, and off you go. Like a little catamaran, and we stayed in the bay and were only out for forty five minutes with the thing. We really were only just learning, as it was Nancy's desire to try one out. I can see us doing that a lot in the future. Very relaxing and peaceful to ride. We of course had no idea what we were doing, but you can learn those pretty easily. We took it in, had a quick lunch, re-upped on supplies, and then hit the watersports area for a kayak, and our third trip to the mighty Booby Caye.
For this third trip, we began with a stop at the big sandbar beach. It was wild to see how much the beach had changed overnight, with the sand and rocks really moved around quite a bit, reconfigured drastically since the previous days visit. It was difficult to find the same comfortable spot to hang, as it was also a different time of day, and different tide or whatever. But we did hang there, and then shoved off for the opposite side of the island. Arriving there, some nudists quickly gathered their stuff and split. We took over this beach for a little while, observing the multitude of hermit crabs that wandered around it. After hanging briefly in the water with the little yellow and black striped fish, we kayaked back to the RIU and spent the late afternoon swimming in front of the hotel. Scoober was away from me, and I was standing there, pretty still checking out the water, and a fish swims right thru my legs. I turned around so fast I fell over trying to compose myself. I may have even shouted or something. This thing really startled me. So I then got on this trip where if I stood still, about six of these things would swim around me. It was amazing. About 8 inches long, maybe six high… Silver, with black on the edges of their fins. A bunch of silver dollar looking fish, and it was really enjoyable. It was at this time I spoke with the first other RIU guest after being there five days, and some guy from… ironically Philly (I grew up in that area) starts talking to me about the fish swimming around us. Chris his name was. So we got along right away, and that was it basically. Scoober went up, then that dude, and I went last after the sun had totally set. This was New Years Eve…
The fish were incredible. Never will forget that.
We ate an average dinner that night, except the resort was now full, and the place was a zoo. Our waiter, Leroy, was expecting a tip every night, and somehow got off on the wrong foot with us. He was very over the top trying to get that tip, and it was too bad. Sorry it never worked out with him. One of the only less than ok experiences. Oh well.
We spent some time at the bar near the stage, which had my favorite bartenders, Daley and Grant, then around 11 we did the beach for about half an hour, than CNN for half an hour, than the beach for an hour. We retired around 1am, and I watched CNN and listened to the radio till I was sleepy. The U.S. was safe.
We watched fireworks from Boston and Philly on the TV… and Baltimore and DC and New York. It was my kind of coverage. Saw Guiliani bring in Bloomberg live on TV… very cool. Being in radio/entertainment, we have spent many NYEs doing concerts in 20,000 seat arenas like Madison Square Garden and the Fleet Center, and brought in the New Year with the biggest parties in the country. So this year, we made it more simple. Some folks want to be around tons of loud people they don't know drinking heavily. It is not my thing. And the guests at the RIU didn't make you want to hang with them. I really didn't go on vacation to socialize, either. I do that every day at work, all day long. Travel reviews that feature a massive contingent of Americans gathered in some social clique thousands of miles from home is the last thing I can relate to. Sorry. I guess Hedonism is for that. Privacy and anonymity were much more my desire. Culture did play in Negril, and that would have been cool, but really, I have seen it, done it, etc. Not in Negril, but a crowded bar full of people is a crowded bar full of people. The sort of folks I had seen so far on this vacation did not make me want to spend cash to cab it to a club, and be packed in with a bunch of cigarette smoking, drunk tourists. What can I say? When you're job is doing that, going to loud, crowded, smoky places with yelling, whahoowing, amped up party people, interacting with them, watching bands night after night, being at these places, the superficial realities of it all are too much sometimes, so this year, I retreat; for NYE, I didn't want that chaos around me. From my comfy corner chair in our room, with a head turned to see the Bloody Bay view off our balcony, it was a nice New Years ring in. My style. We'll do NYC sometime again, or be at a big arena show, it will happen. This year, I just wanted to be away from it all. Scoober would have liked more party. There was that couple from Philly we met earlier in the day, but it felt invasive to suggest we spend our NYE together after just meeting. That could have been cool. I am more 'been there, done that' after some of the big time things we've done for New Years, and liked the by ourselves aspect. We toted the champagne down to the beach and were swigging it out of the bottle down there. Our own classless display perhaps, but at least I wasn't being mean, and we kept to ourselves. We had tipped Ian a fiver and he boxed up a bottle and two glasses for us on the 30th. That night the 31st we scored another bottle from bartender Grant. What a cool dude. He had me so buzzed that New Years night. We sat in there with him for a while, and got very high on the strong Pina Coladas he'd make us. We saved that extra champagne bottle. Earlier Winston the vender had something pleasant, to spice up our New Years Eve…7 bucks got that and a bracelet. It worked out well. Fresh and different just for New Years Eve… We slept with the radio on, and the screen door open as usual. Every night, it felt like that day had both flown by, and als
DAY 6 - Jan. 1, 2002
(Journal notes - cont.)
Another fine breakfast from Kelvin, whipping up the kind omelets. Today, after breakfast, I gave him one of the three CDs I burned to give to folks down here - Bob Marley, Paul's Mall, Boston, MA 1973. He got that one because he was always mentioning Peter Tosh, and Peter is on that Paul's Mall show. It's so vintage, and Kelvin really has the historic context to appreciate that one. Then I gave my morning waitress Sanette the Bob Marley show from Harvard Stadium, Brighton, MA 1979. She was so cool, and said she'd like to have it, so she got that one. And our host Ian, who was a great guy, very accommodating, and super well-spoken and kind, he got the Music Hall, Boston, MA 1976. He was very appreciative, and acknowledged that, plus said it was a recording you could unlikely find in Jamaica. (We also gave him our glass from NaturalGlass.com the next day - he had never ever seen glass like that and loved it!)
After breakfast, we knew from the get-go that we had to make the most of this last full day in paradise. So we charged down to watersports, and grabbed a little stationwagon looking paddleboat and took it to the far end of the bay, the northern side. We went past the Negril Cabins beach, and a little further past some local people swimming, and had our own stretch of several hundred yards of shallow beach, no real above-water beach, but our own in-water beach, that you could walk in the water on pure sand, uninterrupted. We were totally alone, so again we went skinny dipping. I put the paddleboat in a calm spot and Scoober laid on it for a while sunbathing, while I walked in the water, looking for fish and collecting shells. After a while, we noticed another couple show up on the shore not too far away, and they were also naked. The wife was floating around on a raft, and the dude was puffing on the shore. Eventually our paths crossed, and there we were, about a hundred or so feet from shore, in waist-deep water, with this other naked couple, talking about Negril, the bay, and that sort of thing. They were from Chicago. Very cool folks. Eventually, I hear Nancy gabbing away, and wouldn't you know it, some little round dude from Scotland has floated along. He too is nude, so I guess we're drawing a crowd. All this around our paddleboat, out in the middle of the water, far, far from shore, and we're standing around, the five of us who only met moments ago, puffing this Chicago guy's fat skunky joint, and listening to hysterical stories and one-liners from this Scottish guy, who has a bunch of tattoos, is short, bald, kind of fat, and extremely humorous. He's like mid 50's. The Chicago folks are like mid 40's. The Scottish dude was a riot. He was a good time to talk with there. I think from Inverness or something. Who knows? Then I recall the Chicago couple were like hey, come here, there's a big fish in the water. And sure enough, at their feet, this big black slow moving bottom feeder fish… Huge. Like a foot and a half or so… Huge, I guess, compared to anything else we swam with, and it's just slowly swimming along. We saw little silver ones that day too. It was all a very new experience for us. That day we also ironically learned from two separate sources that a new resort would soon break ground down there, essentially bringing that undeveloped bit of paradise to an end.
After nuding it all a.m., we came back and I had some jerk sausage at the Jerk House. The bird never resurfaced there, I was bummed. But the sausage was tasty with that seasoning. Yum. In the early afternoon we finally grabbed snorkel gear, which requires $30 American for a deposit. We had never done it before, and so we just went out into the water in front of the RIU and began to dick around with the gear. It took awhile before I could get the breathing part together, but the visuals were great. We took them and went and saw the little silver fish in big packs/schools, just off the beach. We did that for a while out there, mostly not breathing, just diving with the mask to see what was on the bottom up close. Went out to about 8 feet of water, and pulled up starfish a few times for Nancy. I always returned them properly to the bottom. It was very relaxing, and then our new friends from Philly Rhonda and Chris showed up, and they were interested in going for a sunset cruise. Earlier in the day Nancy and I had begun negotiations with Mudslide the watersports dude for a boat ride to Rick's Café, the cliff diving place. So we got them together with us, and we loaded up on the Red Stripe, using all our coolers and some big bags filled with ice, and also took the champagne we had saved. It was awesome. At 4:30 or so, we all loaded into a 15' or so, along with another couple we didn't know, and Mudslides' girlfriend, and we went down to Rick's. Mudslide and his old lady both have that Jamaican bit of opening bottles with their teeth. It is a trip, every Jamaican seems to never need a bottle opener. I would yank out my jaw if I did that… Even the women can pull it off. It's something to see.
Very cool ride, saw all the 7 Mile Beach area, the other resorts (Hedo, Beaches, Sandals, etc.). Saw the public beach stretches… We really did stay in the best spot, I thought, after seeing how close together everything is down on 7 Mile Beach. I prefer the bay, with total seclusion if you want it, but nearby everything else, too.
At Rick's, it was a chaotic scene. Dozen boats all trying to get their people into the cliffs. Kids and people jumping dangerously close to whirring outboard motors. Oh boy. This is not too organized. So we all get off, and Nancy and that dude Chris from Philly go up and dive off the cliff. F-that. No chance in hell would you get me doing that! Same goes with Chris' old lady Rhonda, who looks at the cliff jumpers like they were out of their minds. So the two of them jump, we watch the last seconds of the red sun slip into the ocean, and we then even more chaotically re-board our boat, and it is a zoo getting out of there. Other people climbing across our boat to get to the next boat behind us, kids diving in the water, boats all around hovering with engines on, Jamaicans yelling for people to stop jumping in the water, guys trying to load their boats up with their drunk passengers, some guy shouting in Patois, some Italian tourist trying to find their group, people with handfuls of frozen drinks spilling everywhere, American college kids tanned and stoned, hanging out on every conceivable rock, little kids whose parents are off the hook to let them cavort around this place seemingly unattended, other boats crowding to get their passengers in, boats are smacking into each other, the propeller from the outboard is nicking the rocks now, Jamaicans are yelling in every direction, trying to get boats moving and kids to stop jumping into the water five feet away from the propellers on the motors… what a madhouse! Chaos defined. But we made it out of there, and back up toward the 7 Mile Beach. Along the way we stopped at the Pickled Parrot, and the same two daring ones from our group got off and did the waterslide from the rocks into the ocean. Crazy! Nancy has bigger balls than me, that's for sure, at least with that stuff. So Mudslide took us back slowly, we all swigged off the champagne, and then got a mini boat tour of all the bars and resorts along the beach there. Debuss, Alfred's, other places I can't remember. Risky Business. We had a great hour and a half ride. Very scenic, a cool hang with the man Mudslide, who FYI is from Lucea, and we got back in the dark to mellow out. Had a final dinner at the RIU Negril restaurant, and noticed that many folks had checked out, and it felt great, like we had the whole place to ourselves. All the rooms were dark it seemed. Nice. Dinner half full. It was very pleasant. No special activities that last night. We packed, made sure all the no no's were out of our possessions, and wrapped the breakables. More FM local flavor, and off to sleep we went. Calling it an early night, we planned on getting up first thing and snorkeling. We kept the gear overnight, and planned to sneak it out on a kayak for the final morning there. We were to leave on the 2nd at 2pm.
DAY 7 - Jan. 2, 2002
We got up early at 7 am, and went to breakfast first thing. We said goodbye to Sanette, and she said that last night she and her two brothers, 22 and 25, listened to the Marley CD and really liked it. She had handwritten in advance her address and gave it to me. I gave her, like many of my favorite people there, my card. I also had my last omelet from Kelvin, and we made our way up to our room, and grabbed the gear. This morning we got the breathing part down, and really got into the snorkeling. We started about 8:15am, out near the watersports area, and into the part in between that and the roped off swimming area, and out to about 8 or 10' of water. There, we found pockets of hundreds of those little silver fish. Super cool. Two or three inches long, just off the shore of the RIU, and swimming on the bottom in schools. Then watersports showed up, and we had a bag packed with the snorkel gear, with towels on top, and took a kayak down to the undeveloped side of Bloody Bay. There we were able to again spot little pockets of fish. We found a chunk of the sea grass, and next to it, a huge gathering of little fish. Several browner ones, and then a ton of the silver ones. We hovered above them, and they fed just below us, on the bottom, next to this sea grass stuff in only 5' or so of water. You could even stand right there and watch these fish. Aside from occasional little silver ones much closer to shore, that was the extent of the sightings of fish down there. We didn't spend a ton of time there, knowing we had to be back for a 1pm check out, and 2pm pick up for the airport. We gathered all our stuff up, returned the gear at the RIU, and mobilized for our departure. The Jerk House was going, with no bird, but I was there as the first customer and waited patiently, and had some delicious pork and sausage, jerk style. A nice send off.
This was the day we found Ian and gave him my cool color-changing glass pipe, a gift for my trip from Kevin at Natural Glass dot com. I gave it to Ian, who really appreciated it, and said he had never seen anything like it. I explained it could be cleaned like new, and was durable. He was the man. I handed out the remaining rolling papers I brought with me, including some to Winston, the toothless vendor who did the bracelet and goodness for 7 bucks the other night. A good guy, who was going to give me some of that on New Years Eve, and I saw it was fine, and said give me the bracelet and a bit more, and I will give you 7 bucks for it… He was a good guy. I brought him several whiskey and 7ups during our final days there.
We had an easy check out with Gina who checked us in, and we were waiting out front for our ride to the airport, and saw Kelvin making his way across the street, where the employee areas of the hotel are. He spotted me and waved. I walked to where I could yell down to him, and we had a brief goodbye again. He did the fist on the heart thing, and said he hoped to see me again there sometime. I sure hope so too.
Our driver was old and drove very fast. He provided some commentary on various types of trees and foliage, and took us south, through Negril, then out to Sav la Mar, Little London, Ferris Crossing, that way, through the mountains, and across to MoBay. Almost wrecked several times. Shared ride with Brady Bunch-like family from Boston. Three happy teenagers, perfect Mom and Dad… it was nauseating. Hard to believe people have it that good. Three kids go to Jamaica, and act like no big deal on the ride back to the airport. Must be nice. Again, this is one rich persons place. Still fun to be in, but the RIU attracts very successful people financially, I guess, one of which I am not! Kids bragging about themselves, Mom bragging how they can go to any college they want, salons in high school or something… It's like, just shut up! It was a long ride.
AirJamaica Vacations have some weird new policy of bringing their people to a lounge across the street from the airport. Then you are held hostage to buy the shit they have for sale there, but also not get hassled either. They should have real food at this thing, instead of the crap being sold. And cheesy gold jewelry? Who buys that at an airport? Whatever. To each his own.
We were delayed forty minutes, then were taken with about a half hour to spare to the airport. We had an uneventful, wait-filled period, then boarded the packed plane, albeit with much less in the way of noisy kids, although most of the people were obnoxious again. What can I say? Just calling it as I see it. Rush Hour II was the return flight film. I have to admit that Chris dude is pretty funny. It was something to keep you busy anyway.
Tips for going back: Sometimes, some of the people we'd run into in the halls were nice to us, especially the British people. A couple times British dudes were very pleasant in passing, giving you a strange, bonding look, like they knew, and you knew, that we alone shared in a common theme, or challenge, going on far away, that was sort of unspeakable here. Hard to explain, but there was an unspoken acknowledgement of this a few times, like, we are on the same team, or whatever. But this was passing folks in the hall, not hanging out or chatting during dinner. Just wanted to point that out, that a few times other guests, all British really, in real passing mode, were nice.
The AC rocked. Just need to shut balcony door firmly to get it to click on. Bet many people thought the AC sucked at RIU cause they didn't properly shut their balcony doors. Once it is really shut, you can hear the AC kick back on. Our room was perfectly cooled when we made sure to hear the AC click. If it doesn't, open and re-shut balcony door to trip the sensor. Perfect AC, perfect private balcony. Nude sunbathing was not seen on property, just extensive topless, and right in front of our room at that! Whoever tells you there is no topless bathing at RIU is smoking crack. Same for anyone whose AC wasn't working. I can tell you almost for sure, the balcony door bit was causing the AC problem anyone had. Cause at first I was like, hmm, it isn't back on. Then I figured out that sometimes when you shut the balcony door, it wouldn't kick back on, like I had shut the door too softly or something, and the little sensor thingie didn't pick it up. Once I discovered this, the room was always chilly. But if you don't figure this out, surely the AC will stay off and you'll think it's busted. Also, the power at the resort went off several afternoons. But the AC is on a separate generator, so it and your minibar never shut off. Nice. You hardly notice the lack of power, as it is so sunny, and the bars and public areas of the hotel seem to also be on a back-up generator, FYI. Tip your maid and drink guy right off the bat with a fiver each, and leave a note or tell them specifics of what you want. EX: We wanted just Pepsi, soda water, spring water, and Red Stripe, so Shion brought mostly that. We wanted extra towels - you go thru them quickly. The housecleaner will then bring you piles of them. Cash goes very far. And is not often needed either. But start off on the good foot, and each of those people should get five just to keep them with you for the week. You will not be disappointed if you start things off like that, being generous. Only one more tip when you leave, and you are set with stuff all week. So figure 20 American just to stroke the maid and room drink guy for the week. Another 5 for the waiter at dinner, and your call who else you set up. All optional after that. All optional anyway, but advisable to do. Champagne bottles easy to get for 2 bucks or a small gift. Please note marijuana, while everywhere, is illegal. It is technically illegal for anyone to have, use, or possess. Some folks have told me in the US that they saw Couples and RIU guests arrested in Jamaica. I do not doubt this. What they were doing, exactly, is another issue. But keep that in mind. I cannot emphasize this enough. It is illegal, and could theoretically get you in jail. Massive, relentless discretion and judgment are a 24/7 must down there regarding that. Many more details and tips are available upon request.
If you like it quiet, like us, request a room far from the disco/outdoor stage. We did not, and luckily were far enough from all that with 3307. But there is another building in the 1000 series, further away, north, and then a building as far away on the Couples side. That could be nice. The night time entertainment there is pure cheese. Kids on vaca pulled out of the crowd, skits, cover bands, etc. Really low budget, and quite dumb. I am a bit biased with entertainment, but hey, it's my opinion. The staff tried hard. I am very picky with that kind of thing. Rather have silence than cheese. So perhaps a cab to Negril would work if you want to party with people not so rich, and see some other bands covering reggae, as unless a rare national act is nearby, it will be a cover band. I detest dancehall, and would not subject myself to Bounty Killa, Beenie Man, or others like that who were gigging around. Culture did play on NYE, though. To each his own. For roots, other than Culture, there was no show nearby.. Bunny had played on the 26th or something, and was playing again in January. But there are a ton of bars in Negril, with cover bands, tons of Americans ready to drink alcohol and stand around and watch, so if you are bored at the RIU at night, there is 'action', if you call it that. Bring your wallet, though. The same alcohol that is free at the AI will cost a bunch at night off property. And Ziggy or Damien you will not find. More like several daytime hotel or local employees pulled together to rip off covers. Such is the real world. Plus, though the staff sing Marley lyrics while working around the RIU, and several cover bands play a few of his popular songs, that roots vibe was hard to find on my trip. The young Jamaican folks we met and loved there, were into dancehall. My tastes in their music were considered antiquated. I want to tune in the all-night 50's/60's/70's ska/roots show, and they want the Jamaican rap music, basically, with lyrics about cruising in cadillacs, 'macking' chicks, toting guns, robbing and beating people up, and generally being a criminal. Being in radio for 12 years, and starting in college radio with reggae, I know all about where reggae went since Bob left us. It is not a pretty place, my opinion. The radio there usually has this dancehall, or very cheesy US r'n'b on. The Heathen is about as common to hear there on the radio in Jamaica as the song Black Sabbath is to hear in the states. It just doesn't exist. So be aware of that. Bring your own cd player or cassette deck if you need roots all the time. There are nights of non-stop roots on the radio, though. Not Bob, really, but other old reggae acts, plus that ska show - really something that time. I was into hearing the real Jamaican radio, and was prepared to not get what I like. It was important to me to hear what they heard, and understand what music they wanted to hear, as opposed to my needs. So hence, the radio we brought. In the future, I will supplement it with a cd player, too. And re-introduce the catalog of Marleys.
Finally, US customs in Boston. Slow and thorough, but they did not fuck with my coral. No doggies anywhere, but I was no fool, and had nothing but the shells and coral. The dude, when he was done rifling through my stuff, was very cool. He was all decked out in that black military garb, trying to do his individual part to keep America safe. I am more than happy he was there. He B-Sed with me a bit - when you work at a radio station, walls come tumbling down a lot. He casually inspected our Tylenol tablets, gently prodded a bit through my backpack, and after he pushed around just a little in my suitcase, he smiled, and as my eyes glanced at the red, white and blue flag on his arm, he warmly said "Welcome home".
Thanks to Dave for this trip report ...