A Travellerspoint blog

Jamaica

Living the HIGH life...

and other Jamaican observations

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We’re pretty spoilt in Dubai but it’s nothing like the holiday-makers at the resorts we’ve been staying in this week. All inclusive hotels dot the coast of Negril and feed the whims of mostly American tourists looking to taste Jamaica from a silver spoon. It’s a costly business but everyone gets their money’s worth. Free flowing drinks, endlessly available food, live entertainment in the evenings, massage classes, jewellery making… you name it, you can do it. Yesterday there was even a tarot card reader in the main restaurant area, dishing out relationship predictions by checking who was and who wasn’t wearing a wedding ring, probably.

I like her game though. At Couples Negril, an interesting pastime is watching the people wandering or lazing about, hand in hand, arm in arm, smooching in the pool, and guessing where they met, what they do for a living, what pisses one off about the other. You really do get some odd couples. Love is all around us here.

One of the most interesting themes that resonates around these resorts however, is how little most people are willing to explore outside them. We’ve hired a car and the man used to live here 15 years ago, so although some things have changed in light of time and commercialism, we’ve had the chance to drive about and he’s shown me the colourful characteristics that first made him fall in love with it. It’s really quite sad, having experienced the warmth of the local people, the spicy fire of fresh roadside jerk chicken, the twisty winding jungle paths en route to Bob Marley’s hometown high in the mountains, that the majority of people arriving by coach at their all-inclusive holiday spectacular are happy to say they’ve seen Jamaica, when they really haven’t.

We’ve heard people verbally expressing their fear about stepping outside the confines of their hotels. On our first stop in Ochi Rios a young couple told us they’d ventured out and been instantly surrounded by guys asking for money and drinks. They were escorted to a taxi stop by a concerned bar lady and once home, safe and sound, they swore never to leave again. The thing is, they ventured out at night on independence Day, when gaggles of drunken guys from Kingston, high on weed and life had been dancing in the streets all day – a fairly intimidating sight for the pasty white sight-seers and an interesting one for the party people too. Other people say it’s dangerous to leave the hotel in Negril. How do they know? Someone told them. Word spreads like wild fire and sadly many people leave this place with false impressions of the world outside their all-inclusive windows.

The night we went out in Negril, we met a couple, Nick and (mind draws blank) from Miami who’ve been coming here to party for 20 years. They’re friends with a gentle rasta guy called McKenzie who supplies them with all the weed they need and can always be found, without fail, at a bar called Alfred’s. We were offered some of their infamous good stuff but I refused. Apparently mind-draws-blank smoked a bit in their hotel room before coming out and had to lock herself in her bathroom for two hours, just to avoid the “bats”. Nick then spent half an hour looking for his dogs, convinced he was still at home and they needed a walk. Seeing as my imagination is pretty unstable at the best of times, I thought it best not to trouble a bar full of people enjoying a drink, so I sipped a rum and ting, which is dark rum and grape juice. Mmm. Tastes a bit like kool aid, but alcoholic, naturally! No odd imaginings on my part after that, just a bit of dancing on the sand to some live reggae beats. Actually… it was probably more painful to watch than a stoner’s freak-out, but at least I knew where I was and the bats kept away.

The resort does run certain trips to the outside world. Couples pile onto buses and “explore” set places with strict time limits and instructions. One such place is the awesome Rick’s Café, right at the end of the coast, where the towering cliffs form a perfect drop to the stunning aqua sea and pumped up cliff-divers pose and jump to the ooohs and aaaahs of camera snapping tourists. Fifteen years ago, Ricks was just a small cliff top bar. The divers were still doing tricks and the cocktails were still flowing before the very best sunsets mother nature’s got to offer, but now it’s twice the size. There’s a stage for a live band. There’s a swimming pool for people spending money on drinks and one minute after the sun sinks into that sparkling sea, 50% of its custom files out the door, eyes on their camera screens, happy with their obligatory photos, back onto their waiting buses with the engines running in anticipation. God forbid they stay out after dark.

Some organised trips are worth doing – the ones that feel slightly less touristy perhaps? We took part in a horse-riding trip up into the mountains and the guides sang songs and made well-rehearsed jokes the whole way. The scenery up there is stunning – we learned all about the local fruits and sugarcane plantations. You can explore the waters by glass bottomed boat, jet ski, kayak… the man even had a few wind-surfing lessons! And we took a catamaran out with a group to swim in some caves, which was gorgeous.

It’s definitely the high life, whichever way you look at it out here. Even the people living in apparent poverty, sitting outside their rainbow coloured shacks selling snappers, breadfruits and bananas always seem to have a sparkle in their eye. Simplicity is their life. Music their master. Don’t worry, be happy is of course, their motto. I think I could stay here for a lot longer if we didn’t have to move on. If only more people would kill their fear of the real Jamaica and experience life outside the resorts and organised tours. It seems like such a waste to sit sipping free cocktails all day on a snow white sandy beach. And there’s something I never thought I would say!

Posted by beckywicks 10:30 Archived in Jamaica Comments (0)

The day I became a diver…

and had my first shark encounter!!!

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Yesterday I became a certified PADI open water diver. Sounds pretty cool to type that! It was facing a fear as much as it was learning a new skill – at some point between the ages of 10 and 29 I developed a mysterious fear of putting my face under water – something I’m sure sprung from an early viewing of a drowning scene in some scary film I wasn’t supposed to be watching. Jaws, probably. But anyway, if you could see the sea here, you’d probably think the same thing I did. There’s something about the flat, calming Caribbean waters that make you want to get right to the bottom of what makes them so blue.

It’s a different blue to the Gulf in Dubai, probably because the sky above isn’t thick with sand. It stretches out to infinity and never shows a patch of murky grey or a reflection of a crane. The Caribbean is sparkling turquoise and mysterious navy, and each wave is soft, salty and refreshingly cool. You can see to the bottom from 20 feet above. Lying flat in the net of a catamaran two days ago, I saw giant starfish dotting the ocean floor, one after the after, like sunken Christmas tree decorations. Jet skis, kayaks and water skiers stir up the surface all around the coast where the resorts are, but further out the tides bash the cliffs and threaten colourful, carefully perched houses on stilts that were long ago claimed by creeping jungle vegetation, greener than the greenest greens you’ve ever seen. Nature is everywhere in Jamaica, still mostly unspoilt. I thought, if I’m really going to brave the depths of an ocean, I want it to be this one.

Our instructor is this awesome Jamaican guy called Sugar. He’s been here for 20 years certifying divers and hasn’t had an accident yet – always comforting to hear. We started in the swimming pool, naturally. The equipment is so heavy! I could barely lift it out of the water. It was kind of reassuring to be carrying so much air though. We spent a few hours learning basic skills; how to equalise, which is basically like you’d do on a plane by pinching your nose. We learnt how to use each other’s spare air under water in case ours ran out, and how…well, how not to panic and drown. I didn’t feel too great about taking off my mask, however. One of the skills you have to do to qualify is take off your mask under water, put it back on and blow the water out of it from your nose. Of course, at this point, all my fear came back to me. The mask was protection against my face-in-the-water phobia, but once it was off I was helpless, in a panic, drowning, being chased by a Great White, pushing for the surface! It took a while to master that in the pool, but I knew I had to do it, as the next day I’d be expected to perform the same act, 30 feet down in the sea, lying flat on the sand (gulp).

Even once you’ve got the swimming pool skills down, it’s a different story when you’re out on the boat, strapping on your BCD and fins and being told to jump straight into that infinite mass of thrashing blue that has always both fascinated and terrified you. I didn’t really have any words. I felt a bit like a zombie as I stumbled from safety and then gasped for too much air from my tank! But the surface is the worst part. It feels unnatural bobbing on the top of that sea, watching waves so different from the ones that lap the beach, coming right up over your head as the boat moves away! Once you’re under though, you forget what you were so afraid of. Once you’re under, you’re just another part of that crashing ocean, swimming in serenity, deeper and deeper, breathing your way out of every “squeeze” when you feel the pressure get to your head. It felt like no time at all until we were standing on the seabed amongst weirdly coloured coral, waving plants and inquisitive fish in some truly odd colours! I know everyone describes life under the sea as a completely different world, but how else do you describe a place so opposite to anything you’ve ever seen before? Sound travels faster. Light is bent and twisted, magnifying and morphing. Creatures look you in the eye and smile before flitting away faster than your poor human vision can follow. Looking up, the sun beats down from 30 feet above your head, lost occasionally in your own flow of bubbles.

We swam about for 10 minutes until we saw them – two giant nurse sharks hiding in a cave! Each was about eight foot long and sandy brown in colour – I could see their massive gills opening and closing as we glided above them and looked down. I felt my eyes bulge in my mask. That was probably one of the most amazing sights I’ve ever laid eyes on and so humbling when you realise that in spite of all the horror stories inspiring fear and dread, most of these creatures are as placid and fascinated when it comes to close encounters, as we are. Our instructor has stroked sharks in the past. While we were down there he even picked up an eel, which slithered off as gracefully under water as it appeared.

Coming back up again into the real world, I felt almost changed in some way. I guess it’s a bit like when you sample a mind altering drug and you can’t get what you’ve seen or experienced out of your head, and you can’t quite describe it either. When it came to finally taking my mask off on the seabed, I knew it was the key to entering this amazing world again. In a way, I craved the drug. So I did it. I felt the water rush over my face, sensed the endless darkness all around me, heard the slow robotic whoosh of air in my ears as I inhaled and breathed through my mouth, knowing I was 30 feet down and blind at the mercy of mother earth in her most awe-inspiring form. I sucked it up. Breathed all panic out with my last breath, did what I’d learnt until some five seconds later, my eyes were covered, dry and open again. When Sugar gave me the ok signal, I knew the ocean was and always will be mine!

The group who took a dive the day before us were lucky enough to swim with wild dolphins. Now I’ve got my PADI I hope I can do the same one day but I know for a fact I’ll never pay to do it at a theme park. What an amazing world I’ve always been so scared of. Makes me wonder what else I’m missing out on – what other fears I might conquer next!

Posted by beckywicks 10:26 Archived in Jamaica Comments (0)

Sickening Jamaican Couples

First stop. Just three days to go!

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It kind of makes me puke up a little bit in my mouth when I say it out loud, but the man and I are staying a Couple's only resort once we hit the Caribbean shores of Jamaica. ON WEDNESDAY (yay!) No screaming kids running round threatening to piss in the pool, no ancient grandmas knocking over the buffet with their bingo wings, and no fat chavvy pregger birds spilling rolls of doughy muffin top over badly fitting hot pants (we hope - people like that aren't in couples, and if they are... well, they wouldn't be in Jamaica, darling).

At first the images in my head, of lounging blondes sipping rum cocktails from coconut shells in front of a shimmering aqua sea made me feel a little giddy - could I actually be heading to a scene from a Sandal's brochure?!? I remember the ads on TV with their soft, lapping waves on snow white sand and cheesy love songs, coupled by images of... well... couples as they floated on inflatable lilos, gazing into one another's eyes - not a hair out of place, not a scrap of watery mascara running down the woman's face. Could that really be me? Let's forget that I had to throw away my mascara last week as it went all blotchy after I took it on a plane. Maybelline doesn't do flying any better than me, it would seem. I'm not glamourous enough even to have bought a new mascara yet, but still,... could that be me?!

This particular Couple's resort has just been re-opened after a 30 million dollar renovation, and promises us a place where: "scenes of natural beauty intermingle with exquisitely appointed rooms and endless amenities to transport you to a world that is equal parts Jamaican paradise and ’50s Hollywood hangout." OOOOOOOOH!!!

Better still, everything's freeeeeee! Well, it seems like it's free as you pay a whack up front, but once you're there you can go horse-riding, walk the Dunns River Falls, order 19 pina coladas to your bathtub, demand a lobster tale with chocolate syrup to your bed, and request a free re-stocking of liquer to your minibar. Wahey!!! 24 HOURS A DAY. If we're lucky, we'll manage to avoid the hordes of honeymooning Americans wanting to "buddy up" for dinner and remain true to the snobs we are - only venturing out when the mood suits.

We're thinking of it as a relaxing, wind-down period from the spoilt lifestyle we've been living in Dubai. Course, we deserve it. After this we have to go build houses and share a microwave with poor people in Costa Rica...

Posted by beckywicks 23:30 Archived in Jamaica Comments (0)

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