We woke at 10am to housekeeping knocking on the door. I’m pretty sure they learned after that, because they didn’t bother coming back before noon for the rest of our stay.
We decided to have breakfast at our hotel, overlooking the beach. The weather was unbelievably perfect: clear skies and calm ocean.
Having obtained rum punches on the way out, we went to change into bathing suits and headed to the beach to swim. We spent the next three or so hours bobbing around in the ocean, attempting to bodysurf on the occasional wave, and climbing on each other in inappropriate ways. We then took up beach chairs and read, until it became clear that no matter how many times we reapplied sunscreen, we were going to keep burning if we sat in the sun. We gave it one last shot and went back to swim in the ocean for a while longer.
After showering, we decided to walk towards town, in the direction of the one cash machine we knew dispensed Jamaican dollars.
It was maybe a mile or so from our hotel along the road (there’s only one road). Cabs honked constantly as they passed, which was mostly disconcerting just because they drive on the wrong side of the street. All along the way, there are jerk and other vendors, restaurants with beckoning cooks, and guys standing around offering to sell you whatever you want. The main offering is weed, but they made sure we know that they could get us anything we wanted. We politely declined.
The downtown area is just a few blocks radiating from a central roundabout. Past that area, the road heads up into the cliffs, where the other main resort area is. There’s a Burger King and a couple other Americanized places there, but nowhere near what can be found in Montego Bay (I think they even have a Wal-Mart. Yuck).
We spotted the ScotiaBank with the ATM, but decided to wander and look for the Hi-Lo supermarket first. As we rounded the curve, a dude introduced himself as Junior and started walking with us. I asked him where the Hi-Lo was, and he told us he’d take us there. He was, after all, a guy who shows people how to get around. I had flashbacks to Johnny in the Dominican Republic. So we started following him, and I made sure I had a few bucks in my pocket to give him when we got there.
He led us a few blocks further, which involved balancing on the sea wall, stopping traffic to cross, and staring at the ground to be sure we didn’t stumble on rocks or broken concrete. There were cars rushing past, and it was far more hectic than our area on the beach. He walked us through a shopping center with several souvenir shops, and stopped in front of one to point it out: that was his friend’s shop – wouldn’t we like to go in? We told him we’d prefer to stop there after the Hi-Lo, and continued to follow him.
For the moment, I was glad Junior had attached himself to us, because we’d have never found the store without a guide. He brought us inside and grabbed a basket, and at that moment it became clear that he intended to shop with us. I took the basket from him, thanked him for his help, and told him we’d be fine. I shoved $3 in his hand and walked away.
Junior was a little distraught by that. He followed us, telling me that that was a very small amount of money in Jamaica. We knew that he’d be able to buy a couple of Red Stripes with it; it’s not like he was giving us a cab ride or anything. I apologized and kept walking; he protested to Matt for a while, and finally gave up. We were very glad to be free of Junior, and did our shopping in peace.
We still didn’t have any Jamaican cash, figuring we’d be able to get it at the Hi-Lo. After circling the store and not finding an ATM, I handed Matt the basket and told him I’d go check around outside. I didn’t find one there, either, but I did find Junior hitting Matt up again when I returned. The best part is that he didn’t remember him til I showed up; he then looked perturbed and left. Oh, Junior.
We bought our collection of Jamaican beverages (and deodorant, since that was the item I chose to forget to pack) with American money, and got change in J$. That’s pretty much how it works there: you can pay pretty much anywhere with either form of currency, but you’ll get change in Jamaican. You’ll definitely be on the short end of the exchange rate, but it’s at least convenient.
By that point, we were starving, so we followed a sign for Sunshine Pizza and headed upstairs in the mall. We found a little shop there with tables outside, placed an order for a couple of pieces of pizza and two Red Stripes, and hung out, overlooking the ocean. Perfect.
After lunch, we stopped into Junior’s friend’s shop and picked up some souvenirs, which included a few small bottles of liquor. One of them was Rum Bar Rum, which the owner told us was the strongest overproof one could find. WIN. We shoved our purchases into my string bag and threaded our way back through the deathtrap that is downtown Negril. We stopped at the ATM (which apparently has extremely long lines some days; we only waited for a few minutes), got Jamaican dollars, and were way too excited that the receipt said I had $40,000 in my account. Jamaican, of course.
We headed back toward the beach, encountering many of the same hustlers along the way. Our new favorite was Kanye, thus named because of his sunglasses. We ran into him several times over the course of the week, and were never sure exactly what he did. He appeared to be a pot-dealing cab driver. Which is par for the course in Negril, of course.
We decided to stop at Yellow Bird, because it was on my list as having happy hour before sunset. It was a few hotels down the beach from ours, near Bourbon Beach.
There’s a sign hanging in every bar in Negril that reads:
It is my intention to apply for a spirit licence to sell rum, gin, brandy and other distill spirit at the next court session in Sav. (Signed by the owner.)
Sav refers to Savannah-La-Mar. I’m pretty sure these court sessions only happen once every 20 years, because there was only one place, Rick’s, that had actually obtained this license.
Also, there were Nebraska Cornhuskers flags strung all the way around the bar. No clue.
I asked the bartender if they had happy hour, and she seemed confused by my question. I rephrased; she said yes, and brought us each a rum punch. When we ordered a second round a bit later, we got two-for-ones. Again, no clue. Regardless: rum punch, bar on the beach, thatched roof, sunset over the ocean, watching the world go by. It doesn’t get much more awesome than that.
There was an American lady lounging nearby on one of the resort’s beach chairs, being attended-to by one (and sometimes two) of the locals. Matt named her Karen from HR. She was the first in a long series of women we saw in Jamaica who were seemingly there alone, and often seen picking up locals and smoking weed. They seem to all be in their 40s, and probably the opposite of players at home. That’s pretty entertaining. I’m sure their coworkers would die of shock if they knew.
We watched the sunset from the beach. As we were sitting there, the shrooms guy who had hassled us the previous afternoon rushed onto the property, trailing a group of Canadians in their 20s. He was haranguing one of them for payment, but the guy apparently had no cash. He ended up getting his handful of mushrooms for free, because one of the guys at the bar came out and booted the seller after yelling at him about being on the property. The whole time we were there, that was the only seriously unpleasant hustler we ran into. And he seemingly had a reputation as such.
We headed back up the beach. After some hotel-room-based entertainment, we went off in search of dinner. It was around 7pm or so.
We decided to go back to 23/7 again, as it was already our favorite bar. This time there was a woman serving, and we instantly loved her. She commented on my tattoo, because she knew Joyce (she’d even read Finnegan’s Wake). She also recommended the steamed fish to Matt, because she’d decided she wanted to marry it. (“If you could cook fish like that, you wouldn’t need a wife!”) I ordered the callaloo sandwich, which was basically the greatest fried egg sandwich ever invented, with cheese, tomato, and callaloo on top. (It would, in fact, change my life forever: I’ve ordered seeds to grow our own amaranth plant, the basis for callaloo.) I ordered a rum punch, and she poured an extra shot of overproof on top. Matt had a shot of overproof, and a Red Stripe.
A roaming band wandered up onto the beach and started playing reggae. They passed around the magic hat for donations, and we all put in. We told the bartender we were going to head down to Bourbon Beach for the show that night, because Gregory Isaacs was supposed to be playing. (All we knew of Gregory Isaacs was his name, because Mos Def mentions him in Ms Fat Booty. But still! We knew his name!) She looked very wary, as if she didn’t believe the show was actually happening.
Regardless, we headed down that way after a while. We found a giant blue barrier around the complex (it’s one of the larger bars), and a ticket-taker at the gate. It cost $1000J, a little more than $10 US. We got wristbands, then had to buy drink tickets for some reason; it was the only place we saw that week that did it that way. It was still fairly empty, so we grabbed seats at the bar and started working our way through the tickets. I tried to convince Matt to have a shot of Teachers (the ‘scotch’ made by Appleton) neat, with a water back. He was having none of it.
The music started around 10pm. We heard the Indika Band, and enjoyed them quite a bit. In between sets, the trumpet player took a seat near Matt, and they started talking. Matt ended up buying a CD from him, because the band was awesome. By 12:30, there was absolutely no sign of Gregory Isaacs, nor had there been any mention of him. We were exhausted from the previous long day, and decided to head out. It’s entirely possibly that our bartender was right, and he may not have been there at all. That’s not uncommon in Jamaica, apparently!
On the way out, one of the hustlers on the beach asked if he could have our wristbands. We said sure and started to pull them off, but he abruptly stopped us and did it himself, to minimize the damage to them. Jamaica rules.