Arriving on the Cliffs
We got up at 6 and drove to the park-and-ride lot south of the airport. My parents were picking up my car so we didn’t have to worry about it being towed in a snow emergency, but I didn’t want to make them get up so early. I emailed them the location, and we headed to the light rail. It was freezing, but there was no way we were bringing winter jackets to Jamaica… I had sandals with wool socks, a hoodie over a tshirt, and jeans that I could roll up when we arrived. Also, the all-important flipflops in the carry-on.
We took advantage of the Medallion bag drop-off, which was very fast. The airport was really busy already with all the cruise passengers heading to Florida. I had to check both bags in my name, because for some reason Delta doesn’t think Jamaica qualifies as an international flight. We went through security quickly, and then headed to meet Kris, Orsi, and the kids at French Meadow for breakfast. Since we were already on vacation, we celebrated with mimosas.
We headed to the gate after an hour or so. I changed into flipflops, rolled my jeans up, and boarded the plane. I was READY for Jamaica.
We had exit row seats, and Matt took the window (which meant I got it on the way back). I knitted, did sudoku, ate the sandwiches we’d prepared for lunch, and chatted with the guy next to us. It was his first time in Jamaica, and he seemed really wary of the whole idea. His wife insisted on it, though. He also couldn’t believe we were going for 11 days. He told me they were staying at the Grand Palladium, which was basically the opposite of what we were doing. It looked incredibly fancy, but I’m pretty sure there isn’t a whole lot of actual Jamaica there.
We landed in Montego Bay around 2:30, and went to stand in the gigantic line for customs and immigration. (Note: when Delta tells you to fill out one form per family, don’t believe them. Jamaica requires one per person, unlike the US.) Kris and Orsi got to go ahead with the kids, so we watched them wistfully as they headed to the front of the line. The room was way too warm, and I was dying for water.
We finally got past the crabby immigration lady, and went to pick up our bags. Customs was easy, and from there we headed into the room full of shuttle company booths. K&O had pre-arranged a shuttle, so we paid cash ($50 each roundtrip, which wasn’t bad at all) to get on the bus with them. Orsi and I boarded with the kids and the bags, and Kris and Matt headed to the open-air bar to buy beer for the journey – this is ESSENTIAL, don’t forget it! – as well as patties, a spice bun, and coco bread. The driver, Junior, was excited that Kris had picked up Dragon Stout instead of Red Stripe.
Our busmates were two girls who seemed a little too proper to be going to Negril (we talked to them a bit, and they were at least funny), and a bunch of Iowans in the back, including an old guy in a “co-ed naked tanning” tshirt. The Iowans were all pretty quiet, and also jealous of our beer. It was raining in MoBay, but quickly cleared up as we left town.
We made the usual stop halfway to Negril so that we could supply our every need (i.e. beer, snacks, and weed for those who wanted it). The Iowans stocked up on something like 300 beers. I got drinks for the four of us, and we all piled back on the bus. Junior pointed out a bunch of interesting things along the way, and had details about all the towns we were passing through. We saw a ton of Jamaican goats and roosters, but didn’t expect to see camels – apparently they’d added them as an attraction at the Dolphin Encounter. We also passed the Grand Palladium, a gigantic sprawling walled resort in the middle of nowhere.
The farther we got, the more beer bottles we heard rolling around in the back of the shuttle, and the more boisterous the Iowans got. We were pretty sure they managed to down all 300 of those beers on the hour-long ride. We got to Negril, and dropped the uptight girls at Riu Palace, one of the fancy all-inclusives at the far end of the beach. We were not at all surprised they were staying there. We then dropped the Iowans at their hotel on the beach, and helped Junior clean up all the beer bottles rolling around. (He had told the Iowans to leave them, since they’re returnable.) Next it was our turn, so we headed up the cliffs to Samsara.
K&O have stayed there on their anniversary every year for six years. We figured we’d stay with them for part of the trip, then go down to Samsara’s sister hotel on the beach. The idea of not staying on the beach at all didn’t sit that well with us, though we’d later learn that it wasn’t as big a problem as we suspected.
The doorman, Michael, greeted them excitedly as we arrived, and they introduced us to him. We checked in, and headed to our room. I instantly fell in love with the place; one side of it is a series of bungalows attached together in pairs, and there are four or five small bungalows on stilts facing the ocean. Each of them had a two-person swing underneath, and their own recliners. Matt and I had a bungalow in the back corner of the property, with two hammocks out front on the porch. It was a huge room with two beds, and octagon-shaped. The bathroom was also large, with a step-down shower stall. We were a little worried about the lack of A/C, but it turned out that the open windows and ceiling fan made it very comfortable at night.
We unpacked a bit, then headed to Kris and Orsi’s room to meet them. They had a room facing the pool (which did have A/C, so we’ll consider that next time). They had already greeted half the hotel (it’s the kind of place where the same people visit at the same time every year), so we left the property and headed down the road to Kris’ favorite bar on earth, No Limit. We’d tried to find it on our previous visit, but were unsuccessful.
They had also been going there every year, and had become friends with the owners, Byron and Nav. Nav is a teacher, and the kids love hanging out with her. They would often stay and hang out with Nav while the adults went to dinner or sat at the bar. Kris introduced us to them, and I ordered a Red Stripe from Byron. Matt asked for white rum, and ended up with Appleton and Pepsi instead. Americans don’t tend to drink the overproof, apparently.
The place was tiny… the bar sat maybe eight, with a couple of small tables in the corner. There were the traditional Jamaican icons framed all over the place, overproof ads with near-naked women, and also Tupac. That made us instantly love it.
There was a domino table out front with a group of locals playing, and it’s so close to the street that the person in the outside chair has to watch for traffic.
The bar back was fantastic, too. Also, Kris told Byron the place looked bigger, and he explained that he had built out EACH END of the bar by a few feet on either side. Byron apparently loves his construction projects.
No Limit is also home to Ziggy, the angriest parrot in Jamaica. He lives in a cage out behind the bar, and during the day hangs out in the tree near his home. Late in the afternoon, he climbs to the top branches and screeches his head off. Byron said there are some wild (well, released) parrots who live in Negril, so he’s just calling to his friends.
Kris went outside to see Tony, the guy with a resident oil-drum grill, and ordered fish and chicken. We went next door to the convenience store (Lance’s), and got plantain chips and a cheese bun for me. We sat around drinking and waiting for the jerk to be ready, because it took half an hour or so. Once it was ready, we gathered up our food and the kids and headed out. The menfolk stopped into Lance’s again for a bottle of rum, beer, and ice, and we all convened on the patio outside the bar at Samsara for dinner.
The kids put on a dance show after dinner, and then Kris went to put them to bed. It was starting to get too windy to play cards outside the bar, so we relocated inside the bar. I thought it was weird to walk in there with our own drinks, but they said they didn’t care.
We played hearts for a while, and finally got annoyed at the incredibly loud Canadian talking to people at the bar. Orsi headed to bed, so Kris and Matt and I walked back to No Limit. The bar was far more crowded that time of night. We got a couple Red Stripes, then wandered across the street to Pee Wee’s, a cute tiki hut of a bar overlooking the ocean. The bartender offered to sell us weed, and we politely declined. He then got out a huge stick of it and passed it around for everyone at the bar to smell. The other bartender was a Canadian woman who visited Negril the same time every year and apparently helped out around the place. She was pretty entertaining.
We went back to No Limit for one more drink, then headed back to the hotel to sleep. A huge storm blew up in the middle of the night, and it was so loud on our roof (which I’m pretty sure was metal) that I was convinced it was hailing. That wasn’t entirely feasible in Jamaica, however.