Got up at 6.15 to get to the airport. Was going ok until we arrived in Kingston. There were 4 Russian guys, well behaved, but minimal English. At least one immigration officer walked off with each of them, leaving no one at the desks. The queue didn’t like this. I’ve never seen so much yelling and arguing going on at immigration before. After a delayed flight and a long queue, immigration wasn’t happy that I didn’t have an address to stay at. He sent me to the information office, who let me use their computer for half an hour to ‘find it’. I was worried immigration would give me a hard time and check my flights, quite the opposite, just waved me straight through.
It took me more than 1 hour and 4 ATM’s to get any cash out. Taxi hustlers were going crazy, especially when I said I wanted to go to Negril, the furthest point on the island, with a government set fare of $285! It was now 15.00, and the 4 or 5 buses I needed to catch would mean some travelling and transfers in the dark, which didn’t seem wise from what I had heard about the country. I accepted one drivers offer to stay at his house in Spanish town and catch the bus in the morning for $46. I couldn’t believe after this he was still trying to sell me various long distance trips in his taxi. By the time we met his wife, drove through peak hour traffic and got to his house, it was 20.00 – an entire day wasted. For dinner I ate a pie I had prepared in Barbados and customs hadn’t bothered to check.
I woke to some tragic news. This is not the sort of thing you need when you are travelling in a foreign country – one of my last 2 flip flops had been eaten by a dog. A Havaiana! I slowly tied my shoelaces in grieving and moped out of the house. The bus stop was chaos. Buses shouting and people honking, no signs and no whities. My instincts took over and I found the bus I needed straight away.
I got squeezed in the last seat on the minibus – 4 people wide and slammed in by the sliding door with my backpack almost in my face for 2 hours. Had to wait over an hour in Mandaville for the next bus to be ram packed and ready to leave. This got me to Savanna La Mar, where I jumped out with a girl and straight into a taxi which turned out to be a ‘route taxi’. These operate in place of buses, and of course get rammed with 4 in the back. That got me to Negril. Another short taxi ride, who tried to charge me more than the previous half hour ride, got me to Westport Cottages, at $25/night the cheapest in town. At first I wasn’t enjoying Negril. Every car tooting to sell you a ride, everyone on the beach selling you something, most often ganja, the beautiful sea and beach lined with hotels designed for Americans or other fat semi-retired people who think that money can buy everything – but then at some point, after having a massive meal for $4.50 and a few beers for $2-$3 each, I relaxed, looked out to the sea and thought, ‘I’m in Jamaica!’
I spent the next few days drinking beer, listening to live reggae, swimming, running on the beach, drinking beer, and not too much else. Made friends with Lara, from Sydney. We went to Ricks Cafe. There’s some natural cliffs, some tastefully constructed and paved terraces and a massive pub. The number 1 and 2 items on the itinerary are cliff diving and profit making – I’m not sure in which order. I jumped off the basic cliff, about 10m and scary enough, while others were doing backflips and somersaults.
Then there was a platform about 4m higher, where local kids would dive off for tips. But the real deal was the dead tree, which only the fittest, strongest (possibly most perfect male bodies in the world), local guys would attempt. It must have been 20m high, and they would still do dives. The dried up tree looked like it could snap at any point whilst they were monkeying around on it and showing off. Really cool place.
We wandered down the street about 50m, away from the 400 tourists and found a very quiet bar for dinner. So quiet in fact, that once the 3 domino players left, we were the only ones left. We took the table and invited the barman to join us… for the next 3 hours, resulting in a Nil all draw. Crazy rules. It’s amazing that a place like this can even afford to have the lights on, meanwhile there’s thousands of $$$ being spent across the road.
Not knowing what to do, on so many levels, I followed the light. The light happened to be a campfire on the beach. The main Rasta’s name was Culture. On a 7 mile beach, plastered with resorts designed for people that aren’t me, there was this little dot of a paradise that I was open enough to see. After 2 beers, I was fortunate enough to be dubbed a Rasta, and was invited to stay, sharing a room with the main man.
It doesn’t get more real than this. They live very simply and cheaply, praying to capture just one of the hundreds of tourists that pass by daily, eating cheap local grown produce, including herbs and spices. It honestly is a tough way to get by. Reading this, you probably haven’t reached the point of realising that this also means a high level of prostitution all of the way along the beach. It really caught me by surprise. For quite a few days, every girl I talked to was a prostitute. Very sad.
After a whole day on the beach here, hoping to help sell beer, massages, or some incredible 3D art, my biggest problem is the intensity of the sun off the water – “Irie Mon!”
I ended up staying with the Rastas for 5 nights, I think. I really lost track of time here. It’s not that it’s a super fun exciting place, I just made the best of what I had to deal with. During the day there is hundreds of people, not all old farts either, sunbathing and being generally lazy in front of their hotels. During the evenings, everybody hibernates. There’s normally about a handful of people in each bar. I found this quite surprising. People really go there with the attitude of doing absolutely nothing. My favourite bar was, actually, I don’t have a clue what the name was, but if you find a barman named Neil, you’re in the right place! He kept the bar open for me until 4.30 one morning. That was the end of a very big day. When I woke up, hungover and no doubt still some blood in my alcohol system, the Rastas handed me breakfast along with “Jennifer Brown” – JB overproof rum, 63%. That set the theme for the day. I met a couple from Sweden (again my memory is very loose) who were keen to check out Rick’s. I joined them for the journey and this time, with a little extra Dutch courage, I swam across to join the kids on the 14m rickety platform. They were more than happy to let me join them for a small donation. It was bloody scary, but I liked it so much I did it twice.
We called in at my little locals bar across the road. The barman was happy to see me again, which was cool. From there it was back to the beach for one at the campfire, then a wander in search of nightlife, which came in the form of my new favourite bar. As I said, there was only a few of us, but it was fun. There was a Russian couple and the girl loved dancing on the tables – reminded me of someone else I know.
It was nice staying with the Rastas, but at the end of the day, they were still hustlers, trying to push for every dollar they could, even to me and my friends that I took there for a beer by the campfire, which was a bit disappointing. I even found out 2 months after staying there that my Swedish friends were threatened with violence and forced to hand over $40 for an $8 loan they had taken less than an hour earlier from one of the guys. You really can’t trust people in this country. I also learnt that the phrase “No problem” means you can pay for it later. For example, “yeah, you’re alright mate, grab yourself a beer, no problem”. I gave one of the guys, Toto (who seemed genuine), my VB singlet, which he really seemed to appreciate. Hopefully it gets him a few laughs from passing Aussies, Kiwis and the like. I also bought the guys a sack of yam heads to plant, hoping that they can do a little more work and a little less complaining about not having money for food… time will tell. I think the happiest I saw them was the day I was leaving and handed over a heap of cash – the JB was flowing in no time. That put a very abrupt end to my alcohol free day, but after just a couple, I was on my way…