By Lisa Reynolds
It was the single woman traveler’s worst nightmare. I stood at the airport in Montego Bay, Jamaica melting in the humid, sticky 90-degree heat with only my sweat suit, running shoes, and a novel stashed away in the computer case slung over my shoulder. My luggage sat on the tarmac at LAX where my puddle-jumper commuter flight had landed briefly from San Diego. It was not a good way to start my first entrance into solo traveling.
I thought I was so brave for striking out on my own, booking a flight by myself to Negril, Jamaica for a week. No boyfriend to nag me out of my lawn chair. No friend to have to keep pace with (shopping or otherwise). I could get up when I wanted, go where I wanted and do absolutely nothing if I wanted. Sounded like heaven to me a couple of weeks earlier.
Now, here I was, wilting in the heat, waiting an hour for my shuttle bus to arrive with nobody to commiserate with, and all my “worldly possessions” thousands of miles away. I was on the verge of tears.
But sometimes, I found as the week progressed, your fondest memories and best adventures come in packages you don’t expect.
Like meeting Randi Tonoff, the brainchild behind tripsforwomen.com. This 47-year-old wife and mother with fiery red hair and a personality to match, has traveled to Jamaica for over 20 years and knows the ins and the outs of the area. Randi lives in Cherry Hill, NJ and developed a love for Jamaica after she spent her honeymoon there back in 1983. She now books tours to Negril exclusively for women, and took pity on me from the moment I stepped into the White Sands hotel office by myself baking in the noonday heat. Immediately, she whisked me away to the Hi Lo Supermarket and Sunshine Village shopping center to buy a bathing suit, sundress, sandals, a toothbrush and of course, Red Stripe (Jamaica’s tasty). That evening, dining on fresh fish with a Pina Colada in my hand, at Kuyaba a restaurant/hotel with superb dining and comfy hammocks to belly up to the bar in, she promised to “show me the ropes” of her island getaway.
Negril is arguably one of the most beautiful spots in Jamaica. Even islanders from as far away as Kingston travel more than 3 hours to enjoy the seven-mile expanse of white sugar sand beach.
If you’re an early riser, an inspiring early morning walk allows you to enjoy the beach in serenity before the bustle of the day begins. You can ask one of the local fishermen to gather you some fresh lobster or conch, as well as an excellent variety of fish that you or your hotel kitchen can prepare for you if you’d like.
For breakfast buy some fresh mango, pineapple or coconut from the fruit lady located on the beach in front of the Coco La Palm, a family friendly resort, or try the amazing banana pancakes at Selina’s or equally tantalizing French toast at the Charela Inn. One of my favorite choices for lunch was Niah’s Kitchen located next door to Nirvana, a rustic, relaxing retreat. Ask Niah for a chicken curry patty filled with fresh white meat chicken, carrots and an addicting curry sauce for just a $1.50!
If you are too busy basking in the afternoon sun to rise from your lawn chair to satiate your hunger – it usually happens about your third day in this tropical paradise – just wait a little while. One of the traveling food vendors will stop by to tempt you with fresh Coco Bread (just buy it and eat it while it’s hot!), fully-cooked lobsters with a slice of lime and a spicy dipping sauce, calaloo patties (taste like spiced spinach), or chocolate cake. For dinner, don’t miss the Peppa Pot, Negril’s famous jerk center or the Bar B Barn, where owner chef Norman will fix you a five-star meal at two-star prices. Rick’s Café is a famous hot spot for watching spectacular sunsets over the water high atop Negril’s stunning cliffs.
If water sports are your thing, there are plenty to play right outside of your hotel room. From sailing to wind surfing, parasailing to jet skiing, all you need to do is walk down the beach a few steps to find someone with the right equipment and away you go!
Check out Rhodes Hall, a plantation that offers horseback riding and horseback swimming, in its refreshing mix of cool spring and warm ocean water. Spend the day snorkeling on their private beach or rent out a cozy villa that is well off the beaten path. The family who owns the plantation are friendly and hospitable, and may even serve you a traditional Jamaican meal of salt fish and macaroni with rice, dumplings and cucumbers and tomatoes if you are lucky (and hungry!)
During my weeklong stay in Negril, I met a wide variety of colorful Islanders and travelers and visited magical places I would have never experienced if I had been stayed at an all-inclusive resort, thanks to my meeting of Randi Tonoff. As a seasoned traveler, she showed me where to go and what to do, as well as gave me a verbal history on just about everyone in Negril’s close-knit community.
Thank you, Randi!