I leave my house at 3:30 a.m. taking my old Chevy Caprice bound for the Logan Express lot in Braintree. I throw my heavy bag in the back seat; hope it’s not over weight at the airport. I have about 15 pairs of sandals (among other things), which I hope I don’t have to explain to customs because they are all different sizes, so they can’t all be mine. I crank up Gregory Isaac’s “One Man Against the World” cuz that’s how I’ve been feeling lately. My chronic exhaustion caused by being a single mom living in Babylon is magically lifted and I fly down the highway singing at the top of my lungs and happy to be free at last.
I reach the commuter lot and make the 5:00 a.m. Logan Express to the airport by ONE minute. Flight goes great to Philly. While we’re waiting there, I talk with a lovely woman from St. Thomas who is going to her daughter’s wedding to be held on a cruise ship. She has a life-size baby doll for her granddaughter and people think it’s a real baby. One of the interesting things was that when I told her where I was going, she said, “Oh, I don’t think I’d want to go THERE.” So I guess there is a little feeling of superiority among some of the VI folks, who naturally would think their islands are the best, but to each his own. We finally land in MoBay and the people in the seats in front of me are happy to be able to get away from the 11-year old boy travelling alone to visit his grandmother. He was funny in a very obnoxious way. He would say to the man, “Move your head, I can’t see out the window!” and ask them things like how old they were. The flight attendants tried to keep him amused, but he was more amused by harassing the poor people who were very patient, but glad to see him go. I’m sure his grandmother will put him right in check and the trip back will be easier on his fellow passengers!
I leap down the plane stairs and somehow end up in the middle of a huge group of teenagers who are part of a missionary type outing, so I walk along with them for a while observing their culture shock which has already begun. I hope they fall in love with this island and I hope they will be respectful of its culture. The singers are in their usual places, and I pause briefly to listen and tip them. Hopefully, this custom is catching on. I go to retrieve my bag and for a while I am watching the carousel wondering where it is? It is lying upside down on the ground, and I can tell it has been thoroughly ransacked on the US end. (Hint: don’t use all black luggage – put a sticker or buy one with colored trim because everyone has black luggage.) So I grab it and dash through the nothing to declare line. I hook up with the JUTA/Negril person, who does not have my reservation but I produce the emails I printed before I left, so I’m all set. I run outside to get a patty and some Ting, and now I’m really feeling at home.
A man takes my bag and leads me to the JUTA bus. While we wait for more passengers, I sit on a wall and watch the AI tour busses pulling out. Some of the passengers look like they are afraid for my safety and are wondering why am I sitting out there and not in their big bus with the tinted glass and AC and uniformed staff to keep people away from them? But some of the drivers wave at me and I grin and wave back. My driver loads up a family with small children and asks me if I want to ride up front? Absolutely! We’re on our way, and the family is a little overwhelmed by the higglers in the middle of the road selling everything you could imagine. We do a quick stop for gas, and I ask Lydon (driver) to put on the music. He looks at me like are you sure? I say whatever you have will be fine. First he warns the family, “I’m going to turn the music on alright?” I think he was afraid the children would hear some bad lyrics, but the chances of them understanding what the mc’s were saying would be slim to none in my opinion! The ride goes quickly, with good conversation about music and Jamaica and Lydon’s time in the U.S. We pass through Orange Bay, where he lives. Every half built home I see, I want to finish and live in. We pass the Rhodes Hall stables and the horses look like they are in pretty good shape, mostly tall chestnuts (red brown) with a lot of thoroughbred blood in them. There are at least 75 horses around, only about a dozen are saddled and tied in the shade ready to go. Personally, I wouldn’t leave them saddled like that, but hopefully they were going out soon on a trail ride.
So only two stops, one at Beaches Sandy Bay, which looked like a very nice place, (but way too formal and uptight for me) and then Bar B Barn, where I walked in having no reservation and told them I was a friend of ‘queenb’. Queenb later reminded me that she has never, ever stayed there before! She just was bestowed a bar stool and use of the beach because she is, as we all know, Royalty. The hotel is in a good location, right next to Bourbon Beach in the middle of the mix. So we’re bringing my bags to my room and a lovely woman screams, “There she is!” I’m like. “Yup here I am”, “Hi how are you? I am so excited to be here!” The lady says, “Oh I thought you were someone else!” I say, “You must be related to Diane.” Because the smiles are identical, just wide beaming queen of the universe smiles these women have! Sure enough, it’s Diane’s daughter. So we laugh and it turns out she thought I was her friend, and we do resem ble each other. So it was a nice greeting, I’m sorry I didn’t get to spend more time with her. Apparently she is one of the latest Negrilaholics so I’m sure we will meet again.
My room was number 5, just a basic clean room with a double bed, AC, room safe (never used cuz mi poor!), right on the walkway leading to the beach. The hotel’s water pressure in the mornings tended to be very low, and the toilet didn’t work right during those times. Once I caught on, I just got up a little earlier to beat the morning rush. That worked fine. Continental breakfast is included in the room price, but if you want a full breakfast, you pay the difference. I usually had a fruit plate and coffee. They played a good mix tape with a lot of Toots and Black Uhuru in the mornings.
The first morning I went out to the beach and started to order some breakfast, but then spotted the queen way out near the buoy so I headed out into the water. Our screams of greeting had to have woken up whomever was still sleeping! And we picked up right where we left off in Treasure Beach two years ago, just floating around and talking about life. Negril Beach is much nicer for floating, Treasure Beach has more surf and more seaweed but is still a nice beach. Sand in TB is a mix of volcanic material that makes it a little black, while Negril is pure white sand. Different, but both in Jamaica! Works for me.
Negril Beach is beautiful, clear water with a clean sandy bottom. Didn’t see any jellyfish, but the regular fish drove me crazy one day. They kept bumping into me, and when you look down you can’t see them. I am an Atlantic Ocean girl, and have lived on Cape Cod since I was five so I am used to creatures, but I like to be able to see them coming! The watersports operators will cruise right up to you to see if you want to ride/cruise, whatever. One guy pretended he ran out of gas to see if we would come push the boat. We just laughed and made some jokes and he finally laughed and started up the boat and took off. The businessmen on the beach are for the most part there to do business, so as long as you make yourself very clear about what you will and will not buy, you will have no problems. They are busily off to the next potential customer. I find them to be very creative entrepreneurs. I spent every day on the beach, ab out five or six hours per day and then an afternoon break to get ready for the evenings.
By day two, I had already comfortable settled into the routine of wandering out for breakfast, then swimming and chilling on the beach all day. I had my eye on a great sarong in tropical blues with palm trees on it, but queenb beat me in a race up the beach and she got to it first. So I waited a day to see if the lady had anymore hung out, but then I settled on a green one with palm trees and a purple one with dolphins. Many offers made to braid my hair, but I don’t have the patience to sit there so I braided my own as usual. Plus, I spend all day in the water, which can’t be good for keeping one’s braids fresh looking. We spend a lot of time watching the runnings on the beach, you can learn a lot just by observing. It’s a real life soap opera out there! You can choose to join in the drama, or you can just be entertained by it.
Some of the most hysterical things are watching men who can’t swim try to come out in the water to talk to the ladies; seeing how many screaming college kids can fit on a banana boat which then promptly takes off out to sea at about eighty miles an hour so everyone falls off and the ensuing panic and chaos trying to get everyone back on the banana so they get their money’s worth for a ride. Another interesting attraction is the “iceberg”, a floating rock wall in the water in front of Risky Business. You climb up the rockwall side and slide down the other side. Too much effort for me, I’d rather just swim and float.
Tonight is the JA.com get together at Villa LaCage. Sala & Sienna show up around 7:30ish in a raging downpour and we load up the van. Queenb, sista queenhbj, Seveen, Mrs. Gibbs, Bandanna, hiphopanthro, neutral, Magic and his friend Paul, and Shereth were all in attendance, and I apologize if I missed anyone! Villa LaCage is up in the cliffs, a nice size inn with a small bar and many different levels of verandahs and patios. It was a dark night and it was still pouring down rain so we didn’t tour the whole place. Sala & Sienna began what would come to be a ritual of hanging up the Jamaicans.com Official Bashment Banner. We had a cozy dining area to ourselves and were served some rum punch. Several entrees were available; I had the brown stew chicken but all the food looked great! We sat and drank, ate and chatted and generally got to know one another. It was a nice evening. Then it was off back to the hotel and be d.
Another day spent on the beach and then an afternoon siesta as queenb’s party is tonight, but queen and Marilyn have done reports on that night and forgive me but I was put in timeout and didn’t go! I’m sure what they reported is the whole truth and nothing like the truth. That is a big regret of mine, missing that party and another is I never got to Roaring River despite several attempts. Next time!
So tonight we are going to check out the Negril Yacht Club. Once again we try to coordinate everyone’s departure from Bar B Barn, and are getting a little better at it. We drive up to the West End, not as far as Villa LaCage, just up to the beginning of the cliffs. There is a large open-air bar area with a big stage off to the side where some drummers are just finishing their set, so I didn’t get to hear too much of them, and I was hoping they would come back on, but no luck. We mixed and mingled with some of the Yacht Club regulars, a very cool bunch. I logged on briefly to the board so Rasta John could post that he had a live audio link going. I think all the people on line must have heard was us cussin’ at the computer for the first 15 minutes or so! A lot of other board members arrived as well and we pulled tables together to fit about 20 people. Dinner was available, but I will have to let others fill you in on that , because I had a late lunch of curry chicken & rice n’ peas from Norm’s Yard Food (part of BarBBarn) that was excellent and left no room for dinner.
We were all talking, laughing and drinking, It was a nice vibe. Then the Karaoke started! The regulars seemed to have a great fondness for Patsy Kline, and the JA.com peeps stuck mostly to reggae classics like “Lively Up Yourself” and “Get Up Stand Up.” Ms. Lish stole the show with a Whitney Houston song, and won a T-shirt. Magic, Ochigal and Mrs. Gibbs……well, nuff said! The beginning of a lovely and talented threesome, much to the shock and awe of those present! As for me, there is not enuff liquor in the world for me to get up on stage like that, so I give props to everyone that did.
I must say I was terribly rude because I fell into a conversation with a guest at the Yacht Club and we talked for most of the evening, so I didn’t get to know the JA boardies all that well that night! My apologies to all of you delightfully mad people. Well, after a few more beverages we rolled out. Mrs. Gibbs and I asked Sala to stop for some jerk on the way back to the hotel. He pulled over at a drum stand on the roadside and we split a half chicken with bread, nice and spicy. Oh my Lord, it was the perfect midnight snack! Got back to BarBBarn and Bandanna was out on her verandah enjoying her last night in JA. So wished her safe travel and went in to bed. Another perfect day in the place I can’t wait to call home!
Breakfast at Selina’s was the Bashment get together on Sunday morning. Now, since I don’t wear a watch and there is no clock in the room, I was having a time trying to get places somewhere near the time I was supposed to. That, along with the time change….are we an hour ahead of EST or an hour behind? Made it nearly impossible for me to ever know what actual time it was. Fortunately, I didn’t really care. The tree frogs each evening let me know it was somewhere around 6:30… So anyway, I get up and get ready, wearing my new green sarong and walk about ¼ mile or so to Selina’s. Only half an hour late. There was little traffic, but one driver did stop and ask “Ya OK, Lady?” “Yes, man, thank you.” It was a nice little morning walk, one I could really get used to. Selina’s has a few open-air tables and our group took two or three. I had the Jamaican breakfast, which I couldn’t finish because there was too much. It was excelle nt. Others had the famous Big Roy’s Banana pancakes that looked awesome. The Overtakers entertained us with some classics and they are quite talented. Selina came out briefly to meet us and chat for a minute but she was pretty busy. The waitress, I think her name was Ingrid, was a hot ticket. She asked if I wanted a little vodka in my pineapple juice, I was like “Absolutely…..not!” I don’t drink except for a very, very occasional celebration type thing, and for me to have alcohol first thing in the morning in that heat would be a very entertaining experience for the rest of the group.
Monday morning, July 21…..What???? I have to LEAVE tomorrow??? Depression sets in, but I resolve to not think about it. Everyone seems to have to ask me when I’m leaving, to which I respond “I can’t talk about it right now.” It doesn’t help that most of the group is in the process of changing their flights to stay longer. (Ya think I like ya?? No, I don’t!!!) But I have kids and pets and mother to get back to, and as much as I would love to be totally irresponsible and become a beach ooman forever, I must go. But not today!
The last official function of the JA.com Bashment is a breakfast at Whistling Bird. We have brought school supplies and books to donate to local schools along with us. Queenb’s friend Tommy drove Seveen, Mrs. Gibbs and I up there because we didn’t want to hike the beach with all the books, and then went back for queen and queenhbj. Tommy stayed for breakfast with us, he seems like a very nice guy.
Whistling Bird is beautiful. It is a shady property down at the beginning (Bloody Bay end) of the Beach. It is right near Fun Holiday. The natural vegetation is mostly left intact, but perfectly groomed. There are large wood carvings about the property and small standpipes for water are everywhere. Very convenient for rinsing off your sandy toes. Small cabins are set about the property. Some are duplex style and interior doors can be opened so they can accommodate entire families of up to about eight people. I ask Jim (owner) to see a room and he opens a first floor level. The woodwork inside is meticulous and there is a nice mural with shells set in place in it. The rooms are spotless and the bathrooms are huge with walk-in showers. A charming spot that is now on my must stay list. We took a look at the small dining room and met the cook, who is delightful. Jim explained that basically guests pay their own grocery bill and food is shopped for and cooked to order, whenever and whatever you like.
They had a breakfast buffet set up for us with a white-jacketed chef to serve. There was ackee and saltfish, fried potatoes, boiled bananas, yams, plantains, callaloo, and I don’t remember what else for hot selections. There were large pitchers of juices and a fruit plate, along with a plate of assorted breads. It was the best breakfast I had in Negril, right on the beach in the company of great people. After we ate, I took a swim off of their beach. It is a less traveled area of the beach (at that time of day anyway) and it was gloriously peaceful. Whistling Bird is a very lovely and comfortable spot with plenty of nightlife and action within walking distance.
After a couple of hours, Mrs. Gibbs, Seveen and I walked back down the beach toward BarBBarn, checking out the various hotels we passed. A Rasta called out to us, “Are you ladies going to Heaven?” To which I responded, “I am already there.” We all smiled and knew it was true. I could spend the rest of my days just wandering up and down that beach. I would like to swim the seven miles someday, but I am scared of getting run over by a banana boat or something. I will definitely explore the entire beach next time. Speaking of banana boats, we had great fun watching people fall off and their panicked attempts to get back on the silly thing. Often the boat operators had to dive in to assist the passengers, but maybe that was their plan all along. People, the term “watersports” infers that you will probably get wet! So if you’re worried about your hair, don’t get on the things.
My friend from the Yacht Club came down to check me and we hung out for a while on the beach. His friend is a comedian and also carries the sign up and down the beach advertising the night’s entertainment at Bourbon Beach. So he stopped and chatted with us and gave us a preview performance of his routine, which was a hysterical news report about Queen Elizabeth coming to JA for a good time. He has a lovely voice and is a very talented guy. Then it was time for me to take a break, so we made plans to go to Bourbon Beach’s reggae show that evening.
Around 10:00 p.m. I was about ready to go out. One of my jams came on Reggae Entertainment TV, Beres’ “Sweet Lies,” so I crank up the volume and sing along. Apparently, my friend came and knocked on my door but I never heard him! So I head over next door to BB at about 10:30. No sign of my friend, so I walk along the temporary fence trying to find the entrance and stop to look at some bracelets a Rasta was selling near the gate. He had some nice stuff but I had purposely only brought enough money to get a couple of drinks. He told me my hair was powerful and not to cut it.
It was after 10:00 so I paid the 100J cover and walked over to a picnic table near the sound booth. At any show I go to, you can find me near the soundguys. One, I figure the mix will be good because I’m hearing what the soundguy is hearing and two, security is good because they are not going to let anyone mash up their equipment. Within seconds a guy was trying to buy me a drink, a fruit punch, a pack of cigarettes, anything. I told him I was waiting for someone. The guy’s name is Presley and queenb, he gave you as a reference so I could check if he was a good guy. He was very nice and respectful, but got a little upset that he couldn’t buy me anything. The waiter came over, and he is a great guy. He lurches around the place acting like he is drunk, and he is pretty convincing. He stumbles back up to me to bring my bottled water and I really thought he was going to end up falling on me. Then Presley says, “Look your fri end is here.” He’s looking through a hole in the fence and calling to me, but the music is so loud I can’t hear him. So I tell Presley, “Well, he better come in here, cuz I’m not going out there.” Presley laughs and is loving that reply. So my friend finally joins me and we listen to a great set of reggae, mostly roots.
There is an older gentleman who is dancing on stage and he is very lively! When the set ends, my friend says “Look!” and the older gentleman is taking a quick shower on stage in the corner! Not nude, but still pretty hilarious. The DJ throws on reggae gold from the 80’s, which is when I was coming up, so I know every tune he played. My friend was freaking out over that. Sugar Minott’s “Herb Man Hustling” came on, he says you know that? I said, “Know it? I lived it!” That freaks him out even more. He cannot believe a Swedish/English Yankee girl is so well educated in Jamaican music and culture. Hey, if I love something, I study it hard! Bob Marley comes over the speakers and my friend wants to dance, but I’m not sure I want to go there so he dances for me.
Then the older guy comes on stage and he is the fire-eater. He does the fire eating while he is getting into all kinds of like Chinese acrobatic positions. It looks like it takes tremendous control and a certain touch of madness. He does his act for about 30 minutes, no wonder he is in such good shape. He is about 120 pounds of muscle. When he is done, he comes out to work the crowd for tips. He must make pretty good money, because I was impressed enough to tip accordingly.
All too soon, the music ends and we sit and talk for a little while. Then we notice that almost everyone is gone and they are nearly finished taking the fence down, so we get up and wander onto the beach. It is a glorious night, and the lights are glowing down the strip. My friend suggests a walk on the beach but I need to get ready to (sob) leave in the morning, so I try to let him down gently.
Tuesday morning comes and I’m up and out early because I need my swim, leaving or not. Everyone in our group is up and out too and trying to get me to change my ticket. How I wish I could! My friend shows up and asks me if I am surprised to see him, because we didn’t make any plans. Well, yes but no. I had a feeling he would show up. So we go swimming and I spend my last two hours in Negril being carried around in the water and told all kinds of lovely & flattering things. I enjoyed every second of it, I’m not gonna lie.
Well I managed to miss the first JUTA driver that came looking for me! Good! Maybe I can just forget to leave. But the time has sadly come. I get out of the water to a chorus of “Don’t Go!” from the rest of the lucky ladies who are staying longer. I fling my wet suit into a backpack and into my big bag. The second JUTA driver comes down the walkway calling for me. Scotty grabs my bag and our sad little procession heads out to the bus. My last sight of my friend is of him directing the bus as it backs out onto the road and blowing kisses to me. I am praying that the traffic doesn’t run him down because I would hate to witness that! We proceed on to the other resorts and the bus is full but oddly quiet. Why is the road back to the airport so much shorter?
Well, I would say the Negril Bashment 2003 was a success. We got together whenever we chose to, yet we were free to do our own thing as well. I’ll leave it to the rest of the JA.com ladies and gentlemen who attended to add their bits and pieces as they see fit. I am leaving much lighter than I came, both in spirit and in luggage! My entire life goal at this point is getting back to Jamaica ASAP and for as long as possible! It is where I belong.