This afternoon the hot, sunny day quickly changed into a heavy, tropical downpour, which lasted about an hour. Afterwards we took a steamy walk, past the giant puddles and flooding. Reflections a-plenty….
Here’s a few favourite Jamaican oddballs for Cee’s challenge this week. I have an abandoned clothing theme going on:
Next month we are heading back to Negril for our sixth and final visit. The small resort town has checked all the right boxes for us, more so than anywhere else on the island. Old school fans of Negril say that it has grown beyond recognition and that its former laid back, hippie style has been replaced with large, modern resorts that suck all the charm out of the place. Although I never knew it in the old days, I can see evidence of both Negrils. Hippie Negril is still there in West End with cute little cook shops, tourists shacks and bakeries selling hash brownies. It is looking a little run down now, and the cars roar past on the sidewalk-less road, making it hard to stop and look around. But there are some pretty nice cliff-top hotels too, where we’ve considered staying. The new Negril, situated on a long stretch of its famous beach, has expensive, high-end resorts with butler service, tropical cabanas, lounge chairs and destination wedding facilities. But for us the attraction has been neither.
The Negril we discovered was a resort village with 200+ small, individually-owned units on the north end of seven mile beach, just past the luxury resorts. The development is private and over twenty years old, and clearly had maintenance issues going on. We liked it immediately, even though it was a little frayed around the edges. But in the last year the management association has really worked to fix up the swimming pool, paint were its needed, and tear down the old buildings. It just a short time, it has smartened it up quite a bit.
Point Village has three, small sandy beaches that are clean and quiet. There are no vendors to bug you. The water is pretty and the swimming is easy. We like the coastline very much.
The units there are also priced reasonably. For about $125/night you can find a 1-bedroom or studio unit. They all have small kitchens were we can reheat food we have brought from Kingston and not spend a fortune eating out three times a day. As they are individually owned, they vary a great deal in quality. We’ve been a few times to the same one now, which has become a favourite with its sliding glass doors, shaded balcony, and views straight out to sea. Opposite is Booby Island, where we watch the little boats chugging back and forth with a handful of tourists on a visit. Most special of all is the spectacular sunsets every evening, right from our balcony:
A short walk away is the beginning of seven mile beach. Getting there involves walking through the nudist resort of Hedonism II, where everyone is letting it all hang out — most literally, I’m afraid! You get used to it though, and we just head through with sunglasses and a purpose, and you end up at the north end of Sandals resort and the beginning of miles of sandy walking. Unusually, Negril doesn’t allow the hotels to section off the beach to non-residents, so its possible to walk the entire length if you wish. This is an enormous bonus. Most large resorts take the best beaches and then stop public access. I’m so glad that the Negril township had the good sense to realize that open access to the long expanse of their beautiful beach is an important reason why people come.
Then its nice to walk back in time to capture the evening sunset from your balcony or watch the crabs on their evening walkabout down by the rock pool. I know many think we live a glamorous life because we access to places like this, but this is not everyday life. The more challenges present where you live, the more you need to get away once in a while. I wish it was closer, as its a four hour drive each way, but I’m so glad we found this place and could continue to visit regularly during our stay in Jamaica. This is probably the place that I will miss the most.
Mangrove swamps are probably not the first thing that comes to mind when people think about the Jamaican coastline, which is famous for its long stretches of idyllic sandy beaches and swaying palm trees. But, they are very much part of the Caribbean. In Jamaica, mangroves swamps or forests are present all over the island, with the highest concentration on the South coast, probably because it is the least developed.
Swirling with bugs, the murky waters of mangroves aren’t always the most attractive places for tourists to visit, but they are extremely important to local ecosystems in so many ways. Mangroves protect the coastline from erosion, provide habitats and nurseries for wildlife, and food sources for birds and fish. If sustainably managed, there’s plenty to go around, and they provide a livelihood for fishermen too. I personally love visiting them just to see the wildlife. (Though the thought of crocodiles lurking somewhere does freak me out a bit.)
Yet, as in many other places, Jamaican mangroves are under peril from a plethora of threats. Most commonly, they are cleared for construction projects including housing and hotels; I have personally seen dredgers in action, pulling up the mangrove roots in preparation for the expansion of a new upscale resort near Montego Bay. In poor areas the trees are harvested as a source of charcoal production. Near Kingston particularly, pollutants from factories and farming create a toxic environment that kills the resident wildlife and oil pollution kills the mangrove’s roots. As mangroves deteriorate, remaining coastlines become more vulnerable to other threats such as hurricanes. The knock-on impact of all of this is devastating to the mangrove’s delicate ecostructure and, unfortunately, their fate reminds me in so many ways of coral reefs.
Some of my favourite days here have been watching the birds and fish surprise me, and trying to capture them with my camera. Here are a few favourites:
I often like to walk around our neighbourhood. “Up the hill and down the hill”, I call it, as reference to a way of getting my walking time done. When I first arrived, I tried to find a route to do my usual loop configuration and it failed miserably, as the traffic after work made walking unsafe on busy streets without sidewalks. Once I figured out that a simple “there and back” walk on quieter roads would be more successful, the evening walks took shape. I am constantly warned that walking anywhere in this city, at any time, is a danger, yet I continue to do so because I feel largely safe walking where I do.
I see other regular exercisers too: the friendly rasta guy, the group of chatty moms, and solo joggers who come and go. They say good evening, I smile back and–with some basic awareness and precautions– things feel pretty safe.
The streets near our home have some beautiful houses with gardeners, guards and housekeepers who take care of them. In the evening when I am usually walking uphill, its the time when the household staff and construction workers are heading downhill to the bus. Most of them are smoking a little ganja on their way down to relax and change focus, I’m sure. Its a very subtle thing. Often I don’t see anything in their hands, but the joint is there, cupped away from the breeze. Its only when they pass by that my nose follows the drift of smoke and I head up into their trails which can take minutes to disperse. On one guy’s tail is another and the next ganja cloud. Some days its like Woodstock heading up that hill! I don’t mind the smell and it does leave a chill vibe in the air. At the end of the day we all need to do a little chilling out, right?!
Yes, K has to be for Kingston.
I have no clear memory of what I expected of the city before I moved here. Arriving in a new place, knowing its going to be home from now on, I look around with fresh eyes and wonder when I will ever start thinking of all the sights as normal? The people, the streets, the noise, the traffic….figuring out where you are. Processing it all takes a while and there is no defining moment when the new becomes normal, it just sort of sneaks up on you.
As our time here comes to an end, and by way of reflection, I asked myself some questions. Mainly I was looking for something new to say that I haven’t already covered earlier.
What were my first impressions? This one’s easy. I did a post on it earlier. I remember thinking how calm and clean Kingston was after Kathmandu. I also didn’t expect it to be so green. Looking down on the city from high up, buildings are nestled between trees and it all looks quite charming. The northern suburbs especially, where the birds and flowers make the city look pretty attractive. I enjoy looking out to the mountains also, which are mostly visible with dramatic clouds. Compared to the chaos of Manila and Kathmandu, the roads seem relatively orderly, there are traffic lights and drains that work.
What did I like most about living here? From my first few months to my last few, my favourite things haven’t really changed. I love the greenery and the mountains, walking around Mona, and sitting in my screen porch writing and listening to the wind blow through the palm leaves. I can add that I have made friends with Jamaican colleagues, who have been some of the kindest people with a great sense of humour. Jamaicans know how to laugh! I’ve also read and learnt about the Caribbean and its history, and –wow– does it have some history, although there is little left to see these days.
What did I dislike most about living here? I have felt trapped and dependent on others my whole stay. The dangers of crime, vulnerability of being a foreigner, health issues, lack of realistic transportation options and not being able to go out at night have made exploring the city close to impossible for me. And there just isn’t that much to do for the unconnected in Kingston. Colleagues with small children have loved it here, as its a great outdoor city and there are nice beaches less than an hour away. But I’m so ready for a safer city with a public transportation system and urban events that will make it easier to meet people. I’m looking at you Belgrade!
What do you think you’ll take away from your time here? In each new place we have lived, each comes with its own challenges and benefits. And I’ve always believed its up to me to figure how to make the best of it. We chose this life to experience the change and learn from each new place and, perhaps, leave it a little better (however small) than when we arrived. This time, its got me. I don’t truly know what my takeaway from Kingston will be. Right now it just feels like its an acceptance of “you can’t win them all.” Hopefully time will teach me there’s something more.
So, I’ll just end with a few random photos of Kingston not covered elsewhere:
Here in Kingston, home security is a big deal. For some it comes from bars on windows, alarms, and security guards, for others that’s not an option. Corrugated tin sheets are the de facto security source for those that can’t afford them, but they’re sometimes a work of art in themselves:
This week’s entry for the WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge: https://dailypost.wordpress.com/photo-challenges/security/
Rick’s Cafe and Bar is a pretty famous attraction in Negril. They’ve been around since 1974, when I suspect that they were once truly a local, kicked-back kind of place. Now it is a large affair with a big bar/restaurant, a swimming pool, indoor and outdoor tables, and cabanas for rent. There’s a retail store with “Thanks for Making it Rick’s” t-shirts and various paraphernalia for sale. It’s really quite the slick operation.
Its attraction is the beautiful cliff-side location with sweeping big-sky views out to the wide, blue Caribbean. 35 feet below its cliff top locale, the rocks form a deep, protective pool that has become a favourite place for cliff jumpers. Catamarans leave daily from nearby tourist resorts with onboard bars and pulsing music, arriving at Rick’s before sundown. Everyone can watch the divers and the brave can try it themselves. Its a big party with live music, drinks and a spectacular sunset. However, we have never seen it, as we are not fans of crowds and loud music, but when we discovered that they opened at 12pm for lunch, we decided to go take a look. It was very hot and quiet, but its easy to hang out in the large, shaded bar area with a red stripe and watch. A small group of lunch time guests paced below us, as they worked on steeling their nerves for the jump.
Some got to the edge of the higher jump and make the leap before they’ve had too much time to think about it. Others stared down at the water for endless minutes before they turned back and decided to take the safer jump from the lower platform. With an audience casually sitting around watching you fight your fears, it takes some nerve either way. I took plenty of photos and enjoyed watching the show.
The first time we went, I have to admit it was an entertaining visit and and we have since taken friends and family on subsequent trips. I can imagine its lots of fun if you are young and love a party scene. However, I did wonder about the safety of having alcohol and cliff jumping going on in the same place. I know there have been quite a few serious incidents in recent years. Yes, there are signs warning that cliff jumping is dangerous, warning that divers do so at their own risk, and absolving Rick’s of any responsibility. However, I can’t imagine that signs like that would hold water in US courts. Although they say there are trained life guards and security people watching, there aren’t many safety rails and I can’t imagine that every drunk who is suddenly emboldened to do something crazy will be spotted in time. As the mother of a young adult of similar age, its all a bit scary really.
We haven’t been on a lot of day trips in Jamaica. I’ve missed getting out for a few hours to find new places and get to know the island better. But we did take a trip a couple of weeks ago to Frenchman’s Cove, one of Jamaica’s better known local beaches.
Frenchman’s Cove is located on the North-east coast near Port Antonio, away from the North-west’s string of international, all-inclusive resort hotels. Back in the day, the North-east was once an exclusive Winter getaway for the rich and famous, and Port Antonio was the hub. Errol Flynn, Ian Fleming and Noel Coward all had homes there. It was as charming, as it was undeveloped. Nowadays it has still has some of the charm left, but of the very faded variety. Unlike Montego Bay and Ocho Rios, there has been little development of new resorts and no attempt at preserving the character of its older houses or churches. I enjoyed driving through the town, but there was nothing really there to make you stay a while. Its a shame, as I think it deserved better.
Frenchman’s Creek is a pay beach, not a public one. At about $7/head it’s not cheap for many Jamaican families for a day trip, but it does mean that there a no vendors to bug you. There’s also a small hotel right on the beach, but it badly neglected and Trip Advisor photographs tell a terrible story of bad mildew and disastrous plumbing experiences, which is too bad as the beach is lovely and it would have been great to stay there the night and make a weekend of it.
We arrived on Ash Wednesday, a big Jamaican holiday, and the beach was pretty busy. There were lots of Jamaican families and singles and , to my knowledge, we were the only foreigners.
The sea was a pretty rough — unusually so, I’m told — and a bit too much for me to want to tackle. But the kids loved it and threw themselves into the breaking white horses, trying to body surf.
More kids swung from the rope swings and Tarzan ladders that hung from trees by the river that terminated right on the beach, pouring clean, cold fresh water into the sea. With a calmer tide, it might have been fun to swim through the mixing currents.
It is a really nice spot. Although is was a bit too busy for me and the restaurant service was really slow, it didn’t really matter too much. There was no loud music, which made me happy, and it was just fun and peaceful to watch others enjoy the beach.
I’m not sure if its fair to say that life in Jamaica has been the only reason that my blog has been so neglected the last six months. But it has certainly been a significant factor. The city is small and much of it is off limits to me, and I feel the fish bowl effect often. My initial curiosity about the place has not been replaced, as it so many other countries, with a growing appreciation and knowledge of where I am. The reason why is not a simple explanation, but the subject of a longer blog post for another day, perhaps. For now, let’s just say I just haven’t made the usual connection with the place.
Glancing back at posts from other places we have lived, I’m amazed how many memories come flooding back from the smallest things and I think that in future years I will regret adding such a small Jamaican chapter here. To break the silence I’m going to try a vehicle used by others: A-Z. Its a way to cover small things that remind me of Jamaica with the alphabet as my guide. I’ll start tomorrow with A for Ackee…but in the meantime…some news…
The Foreign Service bidding season has kept us busy and we finally know where we are going next. The news is good and we are very excited to give the following clue on where we will be living next summer: