Today is your day.
You’re off to great places
You’re off and away!
Renting a motorbike of some sort has been something we’ve done many times over the years during our stays in Jamaica. For the past few years we’ve graduated from simple dirt-bikes to a shiny red Honda Shadow. We’ve graduated from short rides in and around Negril to hitting the highway and riding out, reaching new and delightful places, starting to really explore the island.
This season we had the Shadow for most of our stay. In the past I’d never seen the need to keep a vehicle for an entire season. Negril is the kind of place where you can easily get from point A to point B by foot or inexpensive taxi. This time I have to say I got quite spoiled jumping on the bike to go out into town for errands, to visit friends at the beach or to be able to jump on it when I was ready to leave a party but no other drivers were – New Years Eve it saved some serious “walk of shame” action. Having the bike truly opened us up to get out of the yard and to get out-of-town whether to re-visit the familiar or explore the brand new.
Aside from jaunts around town we found ourselves taking a “ride” just about every week for a change-up of vibe. After a week of setting up the house and settling in we were ready and took the bike as we traditionally do for a few days around Les’ birthday.
Our first ride was more about getting our sea legs rather than getting away. Les and I headed out by ourselves taking the back roads towards town. As the gate opened and we rolled out, turning right and I immediately felt that rush that I love so much riding on the back of a motorcycle. On the slower and more rural route we could both enjoy the surrounding breeze and sun on our shoulders while casually riding by the day-to-day life in southern Negril. We headed up the hill and through Mt. Airy and eventually found ourselves in Redground.
The hilly community of Redground is named for its bright orange clay-like dirt, evident as soon as you get there on the sides of the road. The vistas as we drove through the rapidly growing area are fantastic; 360 degrees overseeing the famous beach below. The first downhill track for the Negril Fat Tyre Festival began on the stop of one of these steep hills, continuing down the unevenly paved roadways at that time. As we descended down one of those hills I spotted a long time favorite bar of mine, the Red Dragon. We were going to stop but alas, it was a Monday so the crowd and scene there did not appeal to either one of us – we’d return on a less busy and more “local” day of the week for pork and a beer. A little further down the road though I urged Les to stop at the small community cemetery.
I’ve grown to appreciate memorials to the dead and their cultural significance. In Jamaica the ritual around death is called a nine-night. Family and friends from all over descend upon the yard of the deceased. It’s over a week of food, drink and life celebration which includes the communal preparation of the grave, the all night wake and a lengthy funeral service. Once the grave has been dug and prepared the inside is painted. While the life of the deceased is celebrated the living take great care to make sure that the spirit moves on and doesn’t hang around to haunt anyone. The paintings inside the grave serves as kind of “duppy insurance” with images to soothe the new spirit and encourage it to move off the earthly plane.
Upon entering the cemetery I pulled out my camera and gathered a few stones in my palm. My goal was to photograph several of the grave sites for my collection and as per my own Jewish traditions, for this privilege I would place a stone on each grave site as a tribute or physical marker that someone had visited.
What caught my eye immediately were the grave markers. Not their shape, no sculptures or statuettes of the Blessed Mother, rather, the bright paint that adorned most of them. Each site bore the artwork of friends and family, bright colors and images as well as inspiration and/or telling words in addition to the deceased’s name, birth and death dates, at times noted as “sunrise” and “sunset”.
In Jamaica the tradition has been to bury one’s family in the family yard, yet cemeteries large and small do exist. This cemetery in Redground was different from the others I’d seen so far in Jamaica. There’s no money for grave marker engraving thus the families make tribute with brightly painted imagery. There’s no such thing as perpetual care so it is up to the families to visit, weed and retouch those paintings when needed.
A few days later we hit the road again, our sights aimed a bit further south. We turned right again from the gate but this time instead of going toward Mt. Airy we headed up towards Orange Hill and points south.
This is a ride I’ve done by car, dirt-bike and motorcycle many times over the decades and is one I’m very familiar with. While the face of Negril has changed year to year over the past ten or more years, Orange Hill, Revival and Brighton remain mostly the same. The biggest change came several years ago when the once nearly un-driveable road was re-paved. Yet that road is still narrow and climbs, drops and winds through the countryside passing homes that are simple to homes that are more elegant, yet humble. All have beautifully kept yards and many have views to die for. In the past we’d breeze right through the town of Brighton towards our once regular destination of Little Bay. For the past few years though Brighton is our destination, more specifically, Blue Hole in Brighton.
An enterprising American teamed up with an equally enterprising Jamaican to turn the natural phenomenon below this property into what has become a popular attraction. After turning off the main road we navigated the rocky and uneven unpaved road for about 1/4 mile until we reached. Blue Hole is simple and laid back, the once rocky terrain paved with nice concrete work. There’s a nice bar, a new hotel, a large pool fed from the underground spring and of course, the Blue Hole itself. It is there that you’ll find the crowd, each waiting their turn to jump in and climb up the extremely long ladder – only to jump back into the cool and refreshing water below.
For us Blue Hole is a destination, plain and simple. It’s a nice ride to a nice place to enjoy a drink, maybe something to eat and play a game of dominoes.
After our first visit to Blue Hole this season we continued on to our destination of years past – Little Bay. Since Uncle Sam’s disappearance five years ago time has made each ride through this pretty little fishing village less difficult but always bittersweet. We ride through usually keeping our heads looking forward with local folks more or less indifferent to our presence. Passing days-gone-by landmarks such as the lane where Uncle Sam’s used to be or the property where Humble Boy once sat my heart still broke a little. On this day however we were finally going to pay a visit to Mike and see for ourselves what he’d created in the much talked about Little Bay Cabins.
Little Bay’s location is set off from the “main” part of the village on a quarter-mile stretch of beach on the bay. As luck would have it, Mike was not on property but we were invited to take a self-guided tour.
The cabins, though small, are sweet in a rustic-groovy way. Each is named something cute, like “Wailer House” or a name of a Bob Marley tune and are brightly painted and surrounded by beautiful garden-like landscaping. The insides are spotless appointed with all the necessary furnishings and nothing more – the bathrooms are updated and lovely. I counted about eight cabins that faced the raked white sand beach. The rest were set around the property with the same sweet landscaping of green, green grass and lovely flowering bushes.
There looked to be about three restaurants on the property and even a little store selling beach toys, clothing and sundries. Since Little Bay itself is not a tourist-geared town there are very few restaurants or bars to visit, hardly any water-sports types of activities to take part in. At Little Bay Cabins the place is well self-contained as an All Inclusive would be but with more of a bungalow colony feel. Note that this resort is not an all-inclusive per se, but you can buy their meal plans very inexpensively in addition to your per night room rate. I could actually see myself staying there and staying put for a few days.
Having a vehicle comes in really handy when you can decide at the last-minute to visit a friend who lives outside of Negril. That in mind, the day after we visited Little Bay Cabins we decided to head towards Little London and visit Mark at Zimbali Retreats.
Over the years we’ve watched as Mark’s vision for this place take form and turn into a reality. The ride up New Caanan road takes us through acres of cane fields and over rough, steep and windy roads until we see the new stone sign announcing the entrance to Zimbali Retreats.
Since our last visit, more rooms have been added as has a restaurant with an open kitchen. At the time Mark was planning a great new concept for the property. Visitors would come and tour the farm, along the way choosing and harvesting from its seasonal bounty for their dinner. Upon their return the group would gather at the bar facing the kitchen and watch as the chefs prepare their dinner over a glass of wine. I did not have the opportunity to enjoy this experience this season but you can bet your bottom dollar it will be one of the first things I do when I return!
Zimbali is an intoxicating place but more than even the physical beauty is the passion of its owners and hosts Mark and Alecia. Sitting with Mark that day, listening to his plans his enthusiasm was contagious. When I left I felt like dancing.
A motorcycle ride will always present an unexpected experience and the ride home from Zimbali did just that. On the section of road where all you can see for miles are cane fields there is one little shop where we usually stop to get a drink and have a smoke. On this day though the store and general area was surrounded by about fifty school children waiting for their motorcycle taxis home and collecting their sweeties and juice bags for their afternoon snack. We pulled over in the middle of this youthful chaos, children surrounding us, fascinated with the machines we rode in on. We chatted and laughed with them, buying some goodies for them to take home when out of nowhere Les took the stage on the front step of the store and began to do a magic show. Needless to say, he instantly had an eager audience.
You could hear a pin drop as Les performed each illusion with a gust of laughter and gasps and squeals of delight at each reveal. Eyes and mouths were wide open as the children examined the seemingly benign handkerchiefs and ropes.
As the crowd dispersed, five to seven kids piling on one motorcycle taxi they were all still grinning from the unexpected show they just saw. As we rode along side one of these human sculptures and waved good-bye a thought passed through my head as I hugged my husband tight around his waist…
Magic. Don’t leave home without it.