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.
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?
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.
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.
Tuesday, we got up and donned our bathing suits right away. Walking to the beach, though, we noticed that the ocean looked extremely rough. There was nobody swimming at the time, so we decided not to risk it. We took up beach chairs (in the shade this time, because we were both already really sunburnt) and read. We also spent a fair amount of time wondering if coconuts would fall on our heads.
Behind us was a group of three fancier hotel rooms, with decks leading out onto the beach. These and several others were occupied by a group we knew as the North Dakotans. They were older than us, with a median age of around 45 (the age group most likely to appreciate being in a place where they freely have access to weed). They seemed to have a yearly date with Negril, and they were taking advantage to the fullest. The patios were stacked with pallets of Red Stripe; not just 24-packs, but the actual plastic crates that are delivered to businesses. They also had a full bar setup, which we were very aware of due to their incredible drunkenness by 10am (which lasted all day), and the fact that they were yelling drink orders from across the beach at each other. It was impressive. Those guys know how to party like we do back home.
After a while, we wandered over to 23/7 for lunch. I had the same exact sandwich I had the night before; it’s that good. Matt had jerk chicken with rice and peas. The bartender inquired about the show, and we told her what had happened. She was not in the least bit surprised.
After sitting around at lunch for a long time, we headed off down the beach toward Time Square. It’s actually on the road, but walking on the beach is more pleasant, even if it means you have to stop to chat with 50% more hustlers. They’re friendly, so it’s fine. Also, we wanted to see what Bourbon Beach looked like in the daytime, without the giant blue barriers.
We cut through a seemingly empty bar/hotel complex (which was apparently occupied, but like much of Negril, you never really know for sure) and walked out to the road to cross to Time Square. It has a giant Rolex on top, and it’s the place where you can have all your duty-free needs satisfied, particularly those related to expensive jewelry and perfume. We just wanted the ATM.
The Cool Cash machine was out of order, however. This was also not surprising, and not all that critical. We did a little shopping, and asked one of the guys in the store if he knew where another cash machine was. He said there was one at Risky Business, a hotel/bar nearby on the beach. We walked over there, and realized it was either closed or under construction or just in really rough shape; regardless, there was actually a guy standing behind the mostly-empty bar, so we asked him about the ATM. He looked confused. Nope, there’s no ATM at Risky Business.
As far as we were able to determine by the end of our stay, there was one in town dispensing Jamaican dollars, one at Time Square that works half the time and dispenses US dollars, one somewhere up at the north end in a fancy resort, and a few cambios that are hard to find. Just so you know: it’d be easier to get a ton of cash in Montego Bay before you leave for Negril.
The ocean seemed just as rough, but there were plenty of people swimming, so we decided to risk it. We went to the room and changed, to find this:
However, there were no bath towels. In fact, for most of our stay there, we never had 2 bath towels. We’d have one if we were lucky, and sometimes none. Even when I called housekeeping, they still never showed up. It wasn’t really that big a deal, though. The place was pretty great regardless.
We fought our way into the ocean, which was a challenge against the waves. Once you got past where they were breaking near the beach, though, it wasn’t terrible. We watched a couple guys bodysurfing for real, and gave that a try. It was awesome, but you end up with a lot of water in your mouth if you’re not careful. It reminded me of the few times I’ve swallowed water while snorkeling and almost puked in the ocean.
Having worn ourselves out bodysurfing, we went to sit on the beach near the lifeguard stand. We alternated reading and sitting there staring at the ocean or giggling about something undeniably awesome. And that’s when I started to realize was was so completely great about our trip to Jamaica: we were doing hardly anything, at least in the traditional sense. If we could spend three hours a day in the ocean, and several more just sitting around at fantastic bars, restaurants, or on the beach, watching the tourists and the sunset and the ocean, it just might be the greatest trip ever. That’s such a complete novelty to me, and it was amazing.
We slowed our roll like professionals. I even started telling Matt to walk slower on the beach, because it was easier to walk in the sand at an amble.
As the sun started to hint at setting, we went to shower and change. Matt had the most creative belly button sunburn I’d ever seen. I had sand all over everything I owned. We still didn’t have bath towels, so I used a hand towel and he used one he’d brought for the beach. I smelled funny from Jamaican deodorant, and probably overproof rum. My hair was always perfect with no effort. I think that’s why I need to live near the ocean.
We went out and sat on the wall facing the ocean to watch the sunset. With Red Stripes, of course. It’s a massive faux pas to be caught without a drink in Jamaica. Also, how great is it that watching the sun set over the ocean is an important daily event in Negril? It’s never disappointing. Somehow it was even more gorgeous than in Mexico.
We decided to go back to Margaritaville, because we were low on cash, and knew they took credit cards. On the beach, one of the many hustlers we’d begun to recognize shoved the blue stick under our noses: it was weed, but the stem was actually a very dark blue. I’m pretty sure he didn’t appreciate our vast interest in it, without making a purchase. We’d just never seen anything like it before.
The booze cruise was just dumping its load of stumbling North Dakotans as we arrived, and Margaritaville was packed. Instead of a table on the beach, they put us at one of the very few they had open, near the entrance. Apparently the shuttles full of resort-goers only come to places like that a few nights a week, and that was one of them. I was distraught over the number of kids who were very obviously under 18 at the bar, drinking from yard glasses, til I realized they were special kid-yards given to the resort folks, hopefully full of pop. Also, there were some alarmingly slutty 14-year-old girls there, hanging out with local boys. Holy crap.
The DJ that had been playing crappy dance music was replaced by a Jimmy Buffett cover band. And by ‘band’, I mean ‘one-man band named Orv’. We ordered yards, which they call bongs, a highly appropriate name for Jamaica. Matt exclaimed, “I’m drinking out of a giant pink dildo with an umbrella!” Orv launched into ‘All Summer Long’, and we died a little. Of awesome, I mean.
By time time we got our food, the restaurant had started to empty; apparently the resort people don’t stay out past 8pm. They all packed into already overfull buses and headed back to Sandals or Hedonism II or wherever they were going. (That ‘dinner at 6pm, back to the hotel at 8pm’ thing was completely foreign to our vacation sensibilities. I don’t really get it.) The food was surprisingly good, at least for drunk people. I know I had some kind of pizza that I ate with Gray’s Spicy Sauce.
We got our tab so we could move outside, then grabbed our yards, and tracked down Jimmy Buffet’s love seat on the beach. Then we got to some engineering projects with all our available materials, i.e. sand. I built an ottoman, and Matt built a yard-holder so he wouldn’t have to pick up his glass to drink.
We danced in the sand to a song I’m pretty sure neither of us remember, though I suspect it was ‘No Woman, No Cry’. Before we’d left for Jamaica, we’d place bets on how often we would hear that song while we were there. I picked 7, and Matt took the over. I’ve always liked it a lot, but it was kind of a joke. Until it wasn’t toward the end of the trip, and I started crying ever time I heard it. I still do. It kills me.
We went to the bar for reggae shots. We didn’t see what exactly was in them, but the green layer is minty (creme de menthe?) and the white layer is white rum, also known as overproof. They were delicious, and we got to keep the shotglasses. Of course.
At the bar, we met a couple on the verge of falling off their seats while watching Orv. We got talking to them about god-knows-what. The male half was extremely loud, wearing a Margaritaville wifebeater, and we ended up dancing with him to ‘Me and Bobby McGee’. I also requested ‘The Boys of Summer’ from Orv, with ‘Hotel California’ as an alternative (just to drive Matt crazy, because he hates the fucking Eagles, man), but he didn’t know them. Instead, played ‘Peaceful Easy Feelin’. Not the same at all, and yet.
I’m not sure what time we left, but we managed to close down the bar again. We were just starting to figure out the pattern in Negril, and why the hell most of the bars would be completely dead by 9pm. Granted, if you were sitting there at the bar, they’d serve you all night. But you’d be there by yourselves, and that’s nowhere near as interesting. Basically, there’s a reggae show happening somewhere every night (two places, actually: there’s one on 7 Mile Beach, and one up on the cliffs), and that’s where everyone goes around 10pm. The bars just shut down once they empty out. Strange, but kind of awesome. All you have to do is listen for the music and head that way.
So we did. Tuesday equals Alfred’s, which is a couple properties down from our hotel. Once we got near there, though, we decided to pass, because they had cover and we could hear the music from where we were: right by 23/7. Go figure! We climbed up on our bench, and even got to see one of the two guys there who knew the secret rum punch recipe and assembled it in the middle of the night. Matt got into an intense conversation with him about the week-long cricket match that was going on the whole time we were there. They seemed to be way more interested in that than futbol.
I have no idea what time we left there, but it must’ve been late. On the 250-foot walk back to our hotel, one of us fell down in the ocean. I’m not saying who, but you can probably guess.
We woke up very late on Wednesday, as expected. Then we spent three hours in the ocean, bobbing around and practicing our bodysurfing. At times, we actually got it right!
Once we decided it was time for lunch around 3 or so, we went down the beach to the patty place whose sign we could see from the ocean. They were out of veggie patties, though, so we decided to go elsewhere. We were intercepted by one of the hustlers on the beach, who convinced us to go over to ‘his’ bar, which was right next door. It’s called Arthur’s, and it bills itself as the oldest bar in Negril. I have no idea how to verify that, though.
There were a few extremely interesting locals sitting at the bar, and a guy from Sweden who had his own bottle of overproof rum sitting next to him (I love that that’s allowable at bars there). Everyone was listening very intently to the cricket match on the radio. We got rum punches and a Red Stripe from the awesome old bartender, and the vendors at the stalls next door came up to us a few times to ask us to visit them after we were done. I’d been asked a million times if I wanted my hair braided, though, and I still hadn’t been convinced. The same went for the aloe massage.
It was getting towards 4pm or so and we still hadn’t eaten. That didn’t really cross my mind, though, because I was fully in the state that seems to overtake me every time I spend a few days in the tropics: something about the combination of heat/humidity/different food/hangover/sunburn/dehydration makes me absolutely uninterested in food. Which sucks when you want to try everything there, but at least it means you can wait forever for a meal!
We walked over to Time Square to check on the status of the ATM. This time, it was actually working! We got out our American dollars, and decided what a couple of people in need of food and entertainment should do: we decided to get a cab up to Rick’s Cafe, the biggest tourist spot in Negril. It’s on the cliffs, and we knew we’d have to stop by and see it at some point.
Richard, our driver, had the most pimp cab ever. He drove us through town and up to the cliffs, dropping us right at the entrance to Rick’s, along with half the universe. That was to be expected, though: watching the sunset from Rick’s is one of the biggest traditions in Jamaica.
We wandered over to see the cliff divers first. There were a couple guys who jumped for tips, but tourists can also pay to jump off the low platform. It was highly entertaining. All the booze cruises pull up to watch, too.
I think my favorite thing was the tables in the pool. Is that the greatest idea anyone’s ever had, or what?
We wandered over to the bar, and managed to find seats on the far side. We must’ve arrived at the right time, because it filled up completely shortly after we arrived. We had quick access to the bartender and dinner (I had veggie pasta, the Jamaican default for vegetarian/rasta), and a good view of the ocean for sunset. Perfect!
The overhead system played such selections as Sexyback, the Roots (which always excites me a lot), and Morris Day and the Time (612 represent!). A reggae band started playing a bit later. Close to sunset, everybody wandered over to the west side of the patio to watch.
Shortly after sunset, the place began to empty quickly. I suppose all the resort people hopped back on their buses. It was still kind of mindblowing, though: good band and a bar overlooking the ocean in Jamaica… why would you want to leave that quickly?
In addition to the standards, the band played The Gambler. As a reggae song, of course. We almost died of awesome. We took our drinks and went to sit down by the band, because we discovered COUCHES.
Once the band wrapped up, we moved to a round booth facing the ocean, and ordered a couple of appetizers. I went to the bathroom, and on the way back, one of the security guards stopped me to talk. He asked who I was there with, and I told him ‘my boyfriend.’ He said, ‘Oh, well then I won’t be rude.’ Hahaha.
After a while, we realized that apart from the staff, we were the only people there. It was probably 9:30 or 10pm at the latest. We decided to go get another cab back down to the beach, and stop at the show. Wednesday meant Roots Bamboo.
Our driver told us all about hurricanes in Jamaica, which was pretty fascinating. He dropped us right at Roots, and we went in, paid our $10, and got hand stamps. As with the other show, the place was encircled by the giant blue barrier, which made it look completely different. We got a seat at the bar, and watched the show. A little ways into it, we realized that the guy playing the trumpet was the same one who’d been playing for the Indika Band at Bourbon Beach, the one who sold Matt the CD.
I got up to go to the bathroom, and was directed out back to where the little cottages are, behind the bar/restaurant. There were 5 doors, and all of them seemed to be occupied. There was no indication about male/female, but that was rare at the beach bars anyway. Finally, an old guy emerged from the last stall. I headed that direction, and he stopped me, saying that it was only a urinal. I asked if that was why some of the doors were red and some blue, if that was a girls-boys thing. He said no, and just then, another blue door opened. A policeman walked out as I headed toward that door. Suddenly, the policeman removed his hat and hairnet, saying, “I am a woman!” She wasn’t mad, just amused at my bathroom confusion. I sat in the bathroom, laughing.
It was Matt’s turn to brave the restrooms when I got back. Approximately 2 seconds after he walked away, the guy standing near me against a pole sidled up and started talking. He asked if I was there with anyone, and I said yes. I mean, there’s no way he could’ve have noticed Matt getting up. He told me that he just wanted to let me know that I looked crisp like a biscuit.
CRISP LIKE A BISCUIT. Seriously.
We left a while later, taking the beach back to our hotel nearby. As the music was still playing, we ended up dancing on the beach. A woman approached us and kept trying to wrap her arms around us; it took me a while to realize she was a prostitute, and wanted us to take her back to the room with us. Oh, Jamaica. You’re so awesome. We, however, declined.
Unlocking our door, we noticed the tiniest lizard in the universe hanging out in the next room’s windowsill. He hid as soon as we approached, but I could see him peeking out. After that, we saw him there every night. He was so cute!
Since we’re smart and know that one should drink a lot of water after drinking, we stayed up and watched the Lakers/Golden State game on ESPN. I think that was our first contact with the outside world up to that point. We weren’t missing much.
We slept late on Thursday, then headed to swim. For the first time since we arrived, it was slightly overcast. I’d heard from several people that it rains every day in Negril, just for a few minutes at a time, but this was the first hint of it we’d even seen.
We swam for a long time, watching the ‘reggae mariachis’ on the beach and a divebombing bird. The ocean was a little colder than usual without the sun. Around 3pm, we went to change and go find some lunch.
We got a table at Alfred’s, one of the spots that had live music a few nights before. I knew I was dehydrated, because I ended up with three beverages in front of me: water, pop, and Red Stripe. I had a grilled cheese (the European kind, open-faced and toasted), salad, and fries with Grey’s Spicy Sauce. That stuff goes well with anything.
While we sat there, it started raining a tiny bit, though not enough to really soak anything. The people who were sitting in the uncovered areas eating were unbothered by it.
On the way back up the beach, we met both Captain Eveready and Captain Moses, who offered to take us out in their glass-bottom boats. We fully intended to, but their boats were never on the beach when we were around.
We sat on the beach for a long time, reading, chillaxing, and drinking rum punch. We decided that we should run to the store for our own booze, so we could watch the sun set on the patio at our hotel. We wandered out to the street and down the block to Shamrock, the little convenience store we’d passed a few times without realizing it was there. We got a bottle of overproof rum, some Pepsi and Diet Pepsi (they’re not much on Coke there, apparently), Red Stripes, and I got a cheese bun. I was maybe a little obsessed with the concept of the cheese bun, even though I didn’t know exactly what it was.
We returned to our hotel, got a table on the patio, and got to playing cards, drinking, and watching the sunset. I probably don’t have to tell you again just how awesome Jamaica is:
We played cribbage, which involved Matt drawing a picture of a marmot for reasons I know but can’t possibly explain, then we played slappy, the preferred game of drinking people. Once the sun went down, a band started setting up on stage at our hotel. We had no clue they had live music there, so that was spectacular. As the show began, we learned that it was, in fact, their first gig at the hotel. They’d be doing music twice a week from then on, for free. Look out, Bourbon Beach!
The band was Ansel and the Foxtrots. Ansel was a guy in his 60s with one arm. He was a great performer. A few songs into the set, who should wander in but the roving trumpet player? He hopped on stage and started playing with the band. We loved it.
We watched their first set, then decided it was time for dinner. We wandered over to Roots Bamboo, and were promptly seated by a very enthusiastic server, the same one we’d had our first day. He told us his name was Billy Ray, but that people called him Slick. I’m pretty sure you can’t get by in Jamaica without an awesome nickname.
Speaking of awesome nicknames, we’d spend much of our time in the ocean every day speculating about the sign in front of Roots. It advertised Money Cologne’s big birthday bash on February 25, which happened to also be Matt’s birthday. We were sadly leaving a few days prior. We even recognized some of the names on the sign, so we knew it had to be a big deal. But the most exciting part, in general, was the name Money Cologne. Best nickname ever.
I had steamed vegetables and rice, which was way better than it sounds. Matt had oxtail and broad beans. While we ate, we noticed a couple laying on top of each other near the stage, making out.
We went back to the hotel after dinner to catch the rest of Ansel and the Foxtrots’ set. They played ‘No Woman, No Cry’; that was the 6th time we’d heard it, and by then it was actually making me choke up. Seriously, you try being in an amazingly gorgeous place with the person you’re madly in love with, and see if it doesn’t make you a little sentimental, too.
The North Dakotans were in full force for the show. They’d slowly emerged from their rooms and stumbled to the beach in front of the stage. They danced and yelled and became involved in incredibly deep conversations about things they wouldn’t remember the next day. And then at the end of the show, the band broke into ‘Hot Hot Hot’. The female bartenders came out and danced at the front of the stage, and all the old people formed a conga line. IT WAS HYSTERICAL.
Matt and I left them to the conga line, and headed over to the Jungle. My research had shown that Thursday was ladies’ night at the Jungle, and therefore the most crowded. Also, free admission for me!
There were lines of pimped-out cars parked along the road, and people piling out of taxis. We got in line and Matt paid admission. Inside, he got a hand stamp, and a guy wanded him to check for weapons. The wand beeped at both his pockets; he told the guy it was his wallet and lighter, when in reality he had a pocket knife in one of them. The guy didn’t seem to care much, and waved us past.
The downstairs of the Jungle reminded me a lot of the Gay 90s. Sort of cavernous, with bars shoved in various places, and platforms that seemed to not serve much purpose. There was an aquarium with a snake in it. It was also really strange being indoors: apart from the hotel room, we were always some degree of outside.
We followed the music to the right, and saw a bartender excitedly waving us over. We got drinks, and then went to check out the dance floor. It was the typical club floor: round, with a DJ booth above it, VIP rooms on either side, and areas for people to stand and watch. There was hardly anyone in there yet (it was good to know that Negril has the same dance schedule as Minneapolis, at least), so we decided to go check out the upstairs.
We climbed a flight of stairs that had a platform halfway up. It had three couches and a giant TV. A guy was lounging there, watching sports. The upstairs is a giant patio with a bar in the center. There’s a little food stand on the left serving typical Jamaican food, particularly of the fried variety (best idea ever!), and stage with another DJ booth. Matt and I grabbed what appeared to be the very last unoccupied table; the place wasn’t exactly crowded yet, but the rest would be standing room only.
The place filled up quickly, and the DJ started playing. It was mostly American pop/hiphop; we heard things like Hollaback Girl. It was entertaining, but nobody was really dancing at all. After a while, we decided to surrender our table and see what was going on downstairs. After a stop in the bathroom (where Matt talked to some dudes who were trying to figure out how many mushrooms one should take at a time), we made our way to the dance floor. And that was AWESOME.
They were playing much better hiphop downstairs (we called it the Annex, because of the 90s thing), stuff like 50 Cent and Walk it Out, which I only remember how to do when drunk, much like the Electric Slide. It was packed and unbelievably hot; we were drenched in sweat. I absolutely loved it. After a long time, the DJ started switching the music to more local stuff. He played a lot of dancehall, doing that thing where he’ll mix and swap stuff out every 30 seconds or so, talking over it a ton. He told us it was his birthday the next day approximately 50 times. We got kind of sick of the talking and spastic music changes, and decided to head out. We hadn’t noticed til we were walking out that it was mostly locals at that point. All the tourists had either headed out, or were still up on the patio with Gwen Stefani.
We got back to our hotel close to 3am, and settled into our routine: drinking a lot of water and watching ESPN.
Friday we slept in again, then headed straight to the ocean. The waves were fairly rough, and kept pushing us toward the south end of the beach. We drifted right past 23/7 several times.
Of course, having stared at it so often, we had to go there for lunch around 2:30. Have I mentioned how cute their little dogs are?
I had a tomato and mozzarella sandwich. I’m usually not a huge fan of tomatoes, but everything tastes different there. Mostly way more fresh. While we were sitting there, we finally got to see the owner of the bar, Jamaican John. He was from upstate New York, so that accent mixed with tinges of Jamaican was fascinating.
A group of guys came in with a bottle of Grey Goose and sat at the bar. We were pretty sure they were a band. They ordered cranberry juice, tonic, and Red Bull, and got to drinking. Some local ladies came by trying to pick them up, and eventually some of them wandered off with the girls. They were highly entertaining to watch.
After lunch, Matt and I went back over to Time Square to see if the ATM was broken. Of course it wasn’t, because it only worked every other day. We did a bunch of souvenir shopping for the people back home, and made sure to pick up some Grey’s Spicy Sauce. I knew we could find Pickapeppa at home, but I had no idea whether I’d be able to find Grey’s or not. It’s made down the road in Sav.
We ran into Junior on the side of the road. He hit us up for cash, but I don’t think he remembered us. We stopped at Shamrock again for pop and rum, and went to hang out on the patio again for sunset and drinkin’. We played cards and hung out overlooking the ocean.
Round about 7pm or so, we decided to wander back up to Margaritaville, because Matt wanted to get his parents’ souvenirs from their shop. Also: yards. You can’t go wrong.
It was fairly quiet; apparently Friday is not a resort night at Jimmy’s place. We had dinner and drinks at a table on the beach, and watched a group of guys trying to pick up a 17-year-old girl who was there with her mother. The worst part was that her mother didn’t care, and was maybe a little too slutty. After dinner, we paid our tab and went to shop for the folks. Then we grabbed seats at the bar, and commenced watching sports on their TVs, which led to the inevitable Kobe/Lebron debate. It’s our longstanding tradition.
We watched poker and British Sportscenter, while my phone updated me with hockey scores via text. It’s really difficult to get upset about your favorite Gophers getting destroyed back home while you’re sitting at a bar on the beach, drinking rum. Orsi texted plans for meeting the next day; their plane was arriving in the afternoon, and we planned to go up to the cliffs to meet them in the evening.
We headed out once the place was devoid of anyone but staff, and took off down the beach. It was surprisingly quiet for a Friday, but then it’s a place where day of the week doesn’t really matter much. We met up with a couple hustlers trying to sell weed; the old guy latched onto Matt, while the younger one managed to pull me back and ask, “who is he to you?” Man, those dudes are aggressive. It’s kind of hilarious.
Back at our room, we finally saw the tiny lizard in full view. He’s the cutest thing ever!!
One of the hotel cats also followed us back. She reminded me of my Chiva:
We decided to hang out on the patio, and do various things that resulted in a plantain-chip-throwing contest. There were roosters in the yard next door, so we were trying to give them food. This resulted in failure, of course; there were just plantain chips scattered all over the parking lot. We did prove, however, that Matt is way better at that sport than I am. We then had a long debate about what portion of cheese bun you can successfully throw, and arrived at 1/6th. It made far more sense at the time, even though I had no intention of throwing my cheese bun at all. I was saving that for later.
And the rest will be edited out for decency’s sake.
On Saturday, we got up and went to go do some bodysurfing. And finally, I took some pictures from the ocean!
After we showered, we fought off the denial and went to talk to the front desk about the shuttle back to the airport the next day. He told us it would be there at 9am. We hadn’t seen anything close to 9am in a week!
We walked down to Time Square and found the ATM operational: that meant we were 2 for 4. Afterwards, Matt stopped to buy some jerk chicken from chef Michael. His whole setup was amazing:
The meal came with extra sauce and two fat pieces of white bread on top. We asked Chef Michael if he had any Red Stripe, too; he said he’d get us some, and took off across the street. He bought two beers off the vendor over there, and dashed back with them. That’s some kind of service.
We stopped at Shamrock again for more beverages, and Matt also bought a Rock Bun just for the name. Then we stopped in at Miss Sonya’s, right across the street from our hotel, for a vegetable patty. Some people we’d met the first night told us that that place was one of the best. I got that in a to-go bag, and we headed back to our patio for lunch.
Everything was amazing. Yes, even the Red Bull. But mostly the patty and Matt’s jerk chicken. And the Pickapeppa, which I want to eat on everything.
After we finished eating, we stopped back at our hotel room to drop things off. I checked my phone, and there was a text from Orsi saying that their flight was delayed, and they were stuck in Atlanta for the night. They’d be arriving in Jamaica at the same time we were leaving! That changed our plans slightly, so we decided to run some errands and then decide what we wanted to do for the evening.
As we left the hotel and stepped onto the beach, we were approached by a guy who kind of reminded me of Rick Ross. He handed us a flyer (which I still have in my journal) and introducted himself as Money Cologne. He was having a big birthday bash on Wednesday at Roots Bamboo. I glanced at his giant bling necklace, which read ‘Trevor’.
It was all we could do to not die of awesome over meeting the fabled Money Cologne. We expressed our regrets that we would be leaving the next day, and wished him a happy birthday.
We went to the store behind 23/7 to get a souvenir for Wendy. I’d been staring at it for almost a week, so we knew it had to be hers: a beach towel in sunset colors, with a naked lady on it. PERFECT. I also had to get this gloriously tacky birdfeeder carved from a coconut, and Matt got a 23/7 tshirt. We brought our purchases to the room, and went to go get a cab up to the cliffs.
We had the driver drop us off at the Rock House, one of the places that was highly recommended. It was surprisingly empty for being a fancy resort; there were maybe five groups having dinner, and about a million servers clustered around the bar. We got a high table near the bar, and ordered cocktails. They were fantastic.
We had decided that while the cliffs were gorgeous and it was easy to go snorkeling there, we wouldn’t want to spend an entire week in that area. The beach was so easy; we spent almost three hours a day in the ocean. Also, you can walk to everything without fear of being run down by a taxi. It’s not that easy to get around on the cliffs. So maybe next time we’ll stay at the Rock House for a night or two (preferably in one of the cabanas with a whirlpool and private access to your own snorkeling area), then go down to 7 Mile Beach. It’s so appealing.
We decided to get some food, so I ordered a salad and Matt got conch. We also got plantains to share, though we did not have another throwing contest. They’d likely have frowned on that.
We watched the sunset, and then I went to get lost wandering around the place, looking for the bathroom. I’m glad I did, because I got to see some of the sea caves from above. That was amazing. I brought Matt to show him, too, and then we decided to go get our wander on.
We were in search of a bar called No Limits, which is apparently one of Kris and Orsi’s favorite spots in Negril. We were hoping we could go leave them a message or pre-order a drink for them, since they’d be there the next night. I asked one of the guys who worked at the Rock House, and he had no idea. He asked a few other guys, and none of them knew. Then he got on the phone with a friend, and that guy didn’t know. I love Jamaicans for stuff like that. They’re so awesome.
Finally, someone came up who thought he perhaps knew where it was. We’d have suspected it didn’t exist at all, were it not for Kris and the fact that a cab driver had pointed it out to us on the way back from Rick’s. We knew it was a tiny white building, and it was on the opposite side of the road from the cliffs. We were pretty sure it was to the left, as Rick’s was to the right, but the guy was convinced it was the other direction, though it was a ways from there. He directed us to walk on the other side of the street because there was approximately 1/4″ more space to move there, and so we set off.
We walked and walked and clung to the edge of the road or the grass as taxis sped past, honking. It was kind of harrying, since it was also getting dark and it was hard to see where we were going. We passed a million awesome bars and asked several people if they knew of its whereabouts, but no one was completely sure. Finally, we got to Rick’s, and we knew it had to be the other direction. Since we were tired and sweaty, though, we decided to stop at the place we’d previously noticed because of its very awesome name: the Stress-Free Beer Joint.
I have to confess that the Stress-Free Beer Joint was a little bit stressful. It was a tiny hut on the side of the road, though enthusiastically painted in Jamaican colors, with bead curtains in the entryway. The front room (in a manner of speaking, since nothing’s really indoors in Jamaica) was very dark, with a few tables and a very loud radio playing reggae. There were a couple shady-looking guys hanging out there, and we weren’t sure who actually worked at the place. A lady stood up and it became clear that we were supposed to go into the back room to order, where they had a counter set up with a vast array of beverages on display. We followed her, and asked for a couple of Red Stripes and a Lucozade.
We sat out at a table in the dark for a short time, but the creepy guys were… well, kind of creepy. We decided there was no way we were going to find No Limits, so we went out to the road to get a cab. Unlike an hour earlier when there were a million of them rushing by, it had quieted down (the crowd at Rick’s must have been long gone). We finally encountered one parked on the shoulder, and hopped in to ride back down to our hotel. The driver was awesome (his name was Mr. T!), and he told us all about the history of hurricanes in Jamaica. Basically, the really bad ones only come around once every 40 years or so, so people tend to forget about them even being an issue there. Good to know!
Ansel and the Foxtrots were playing again at our hotel, so we hung out and watched them for a while. Then, sadly, we decided to go over to 23/7 to say goodbye to our favorite bar and bartender (Kimmy, whose name we didn’t learn til that night). We watched hockey on TV at the bar, which was kind of mindblowing (re: the hockey bar we’d found in Puerto Vallarta, and the fact that Jamaica John was wearing a Canada hockey jersey). A big group of Minnesotans wandered in, obviously having just arrived (at that point, we recognized most of the tourists in the area). They had a bunch of snacks with them, including Target-brand trail mix and cheese in a can. They ordered about 10 giant pizzas, delaying our french fries order by almost an hour.
I ordered one last rum punch, and it ended up actually being the final rum punch of the night: she emptied the rest of the bottle into my glass. SIGH.
Walking back into the hotel, we saw the cat climbing out of the garbage can. We said bye to our tiny lizard, and went to hang out on the patio for a while longer. Fortunately for the hotel, we were out of plantains.
Getting up for a 9:00 bus ride in Jamaica is cruel and unusual. We hadn’t seen 9am the whole time we were there.
We finished packing, rolled our bags down to the office to check out, and waited for the shuttle. Surprisingly, it was right on time.
We made a couple stops at other resorts in Negril to pick people up, then were on our way to Montego Bay. We spend the time staring out the window, feeling slightly hungover. My cheese bun totally helped, though!
As on the way down, we saw a ton of little goats hanging out near houses that we passed. The novelty of the goats wore off very quickly, since the guy in front of us insisted on making goat noises at every single one we passed. It was funny three times, and really dumb the other hundred times.
On the way back to the airport, you don’t stop at the halfway point to use the bathroom and be hit up for weed. I guess that makes sense. I didn’t really even want a Red Stripe; it was way too early.
We arrived at the airport in Montego Bay around 10:30. There were long lines at check-in because people couldn’t figure out how to use the machines (they were the same as at home). Then there were even longer lines at immigration and security. We had plenty of time to kill, though.
The king and queen of Spain had just been there the previous day, dedicating a new portion of the airport. I wanted to take a photo of the sign, but we were too close to immigration for me to be comfortable with that. We spent most of the time eyeing people’s fashion. It was pretty spectacular people-watching.
Once we got through security, we made a bee-line for the duty-free store (I’d read several places that the shops there were cheapest, which made things very easy). We bought a couple bottles of Wray & Nephew overproof rum, some fancy Appleton, and a couple things for the folks back home. We then picked up some food at a shop (Matt got his last patty, sigh), and made a stop at the to-go counter at Margaritaville. Drinks in hand, we found chairs and had lunch.
Our flight was on time and everything! We boarded, and Matt ended up next to one of the moms we’d been ogling in the security line. She proceeded to get extremely drunk on white wine. It was pretty funny.
The flight was pretty uneventful, involving a lot of dozing and snickering at SkyMall.
We landed right on time in Minneapolis, and made it through customs without hassle (I’m always extremely paranoid about that). While waiting for Wendy to pick us up, I rolled down my convertible pants and switched from flipflops to regular shoes. Once that happens, you know vacation is over.
Dear Jamaica: we’ll be back. Count on it.