Arriving in Jamaica
You know what time you have to get up for a 7:30 flight? 4:30am. It hurts.
It was 7 degrees when we departed Minneapolis. Matt parked at the train station (Wendy was retrieving his car later; we weren’t cruel enough to make anyone drive us to the airport at that time of morning), and we left our coats in the trunk. I was wearing convertible pants and a thin hoodie, but I discovered that gloves help a lot. Also, the heat lamps at the train station.
There was a pretty substantial line at check-in, so I was glad to be there early. We got through security, and headed to the gate. My sister showed up, and hung out with us til it was time to go. She had a flight to Florida that was leaving a little later. We left on time, got to have the plane de-iced (it’s always exciting!) and were on our way to Jamaica.
We got in right on time, around 12:30pm. Customs took 20 minutes or so, and then we headed to go find our shuttle bus. There was supposed to be someone there waiting with a sign, but we managed to find the appropriate counter instead, and were instructed to go stand by a pole. After a while, a porter retrieved us from the pole, and led us to our bus.
They loaded our bags, and we asked if we had time to go to the bar. (It was a 1.5-hour ride, and we’d been told to make sure to get a couple Red Stripes before boarding.) The driver told us, ‘yah, mon!’ and led us over to the bar. You know what’s awesome? An airport with an outdoor bar!
We got our beers, fended off a lady who wanted to sell us a coupon book for $7, and headed back to the bus. We were intercepted by the driver of the bus parked adjacent to ours, who asked if we smoked. He proceeded to give us instruction on how to buy weed in Jamaica. At the stop we’d make on the way to Negril, there would be a man, and all we had to do was talk to him. It was kind of hilarious.
We boarded the bus, and headed off once it eventually filled up. There was a big group of people in their 50s in the back, who were clearly regulars there. They had coolers full of beer and liquor, and were already rowdy. It was awesome.
The bus headed off down the coast towards Negril. We went through the main part of Montego Bay, which reminded me of every cruise port everywhere, but then soon found ourselves in the country, interspersed with very small, ramshackle towns. There were goats everywhere, too!
As promised, we stopped about halfway through the drive, at a shop on the side of the road. One of the old guys on the bus kept asking the driver where the baño was, until his friends explained that people speak English in Jamaica. Ack. We all piled out and headed toward the bathroom, then the snack bar. I emerged from the bathroom to find Matt telling the guy with the weed that we weren’t interested. We bought a couple more bottles of Red Stripe.
real local Red Stripe on the left, imported stuff from the airport on the right.
roadside shop with creepy usain bolt picture
We arrived in Negril around 3pm, realizing that they’d timed the bus ride so we’d get there at check-in time. We stopped at a few resorts up the road from ours (most of the old party people were staying at all-inclusives at the north end of Seven Mile Beach), then arrived at our hotel, Rooms Negril.
There were some severely crabby people from our bus checking in. Matt and I couldn’t understand what the hell you could be mad about when you were in Jamaica. I’m pretty sure that’s impossible.
We unpacked our bags and were walking on the beach by 3:30. We needed lunch, so we headed to a nearby spot whose name I recognized: Roots Bamboo. We got a table, took off our flipflops, and waited for a server. There were only a few other tables occupied, and nobody was in much of a hurry to do anything. Which was totally fine with us, because this was our view:
Finally, someone asked us what we wanted to drink. Of course I had to have a rum punch. She brought it back a few minutes later, asking me to try it and see if it was good. It was, but she asked if I wanted more rum. How could I refuse?
first rum punch! nowhere near the last.
I was a little nervous about rum punch, since it’s made with juice, and I have blood sugar issues. However, there’s way more of the other stuff (mostly rum), so it was fine. They didn’t even make me sleepy. Holy crap, they’re delicious. And cheap at $150J (a little less than $2 US).
Much later, the server came back and asked if we wanted food. We ordered that and another round of beverages, and then sat there discussing our plans. We had absolutely nothing scheduled until Kris and Orsi arrived, which meant we had a date in 6 days. That’s kind of the perfect vacation.
As we sat there, a guy holding a small takeout box approached, and asked if we wanted to buy mushrooms. We didn’t, but that didn’t stop him from piling a handful on the table in front of Matt. He told us it was only $10 per person. We told him we preferred to just drink, but that just sent him into a long explanation about how drinks will get you drunk, but shrooms will keep you awake all night. He attempted to demonstrate by eating a tiny one himself. He became pushier every time we said no, and finally accused us of being mean.
During our entire trip, he was the only hustler on the beach who was like that. Everybody else was pretty awesome. I suspect he’d indulged in way too many mushrooms.
We headed back to our hotel after lunch, with drinks in hand, and watched the sunset from the beach.
We didn’t really have an idea of where we wanted to go hang out for the evening, so we decided to get our wander on, and take the street instead of the beach. As we headed out the gate of our hotel, the security guard asked where we were going (they liked to keep tabs on the guests). We told him we had no clue, but it was definitely that way, to the north.
Walking along the street, the traffic freaks you out a lot, because they drive on the left. Crossing is confusing. Also, there are guys lined up selling things: jerk, beer, weed, taxis, ‘anything you want’. A lot of them will want you to stop and talk to them, but most of them will take a ‘no thanks’. Regardless, they were all pretty entertaining to talk to.
We ended up at Margaritaville for a few reasons: 1) it’s funny, 2) we’d been to the original one in Key West, so it was now like a vacation tradition, 3) they had yards, and 4) we didn’t have local currency yet, and knew they took credit cards.
It was surprisingly empty! We learned later why that was, but we didn’t know the system yet. We ordered margaritas, then headed to a couple of beach chairs. We watched a group of drunk girls running around in the surf, and I spent a lot of time staring at the stars. After a while, we returned to the bar, and the bartender told us she thought we’d left without Matt’s credit card, because that happens all the time. I can imagine!
We sat there for a long time, and finally ordered some nachos. I’m not sure if they were actually that great or not, but I know I was very excited about the delicious jalapenos. We watched a show on the crappy TV over the bar called ‘Dancing Dynamos’. It was clearly local, possibly from Kingston. It involved a lot of people doing late-90s-style hiphop dancing, and it was amazing, particularly with the sound off.
Once they began shutting down the beach bar (it wasn’t that late, maybe 10pm or so?), we decided to head back down the beach with our drinks. Along the way, we met a guy selling bracelets. Matt said no to him, but I actually liked the bead bracelet a lot, so we bought it. He taught us a new handshake, which I will probably have to demonstrate to you sometime, involving respect, love, peace, and irie.
We could hear thumping bass coming from somewhere near the other end of the beach, so we just kept heading that direction. We hadn’t quite gotten the very slow beach amble down yet, so we were tired from walking quickly. A bunch of hustlers approached us, and we asked them all where the music was coming from. They just kept pointing down toward the south end of the beach, so we kept going. By the time we got to our hotel, we were worn out and gave up; instead, we decided to stop at 23/7, the bar just to the south of our hotel. That moment probably changed our lives forever. At least, that’s what I’d like to believe.
The bar was just a giant tiki hut on the beach, with very high benches around it. You had to use a stepstool to climb up to them. There was a creepy, quiet couple on the next bench over who kept eyeing us, but didn’t seem to want to talk. We ordered rum punch, and watched the NBA game on the TV up in the corner. Then we decided we probably needed a shot of overproof rum, since that’s what the locals drank (we hadn’t realized yet that pretty much everyone was already mixing their rum punch with overproof). I expected something on the order of 151, but it was nowhere near that bad. We eventually got our tab, for a grand total of $13. Awesome.
We went back to our hotel, and it was still only about 11pm. However, we’d gotten up at 4:30 that morning, and we were about ready to crash.