Sometimes I forget what it was that buried this place in my soul. Sometimes I forget how exactly Jamaica got under my skin. These days I attribute my desire to return again and again to the friends I’ve made there and the community that I love. These days that is why I return again and again. After I stepped off that plane for the first time in 1983 I knew – Jamaica would be a place I would be returning to again and again – but why?
From that moment in 1983 it was clear that this little West Indian Island had an essence that I could not shake. It was in her breathtaking beauty and it was in the soul of her people. Coming from New York in the winter just the palette of color that was available to me in Jamaica was tremendous. It is the most psychedelic place on earth.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – in Jamaica I can slow down to the island rhythms in a matter of days. Its really as simple as just paying attention. When you stop and do this you find that the island vibrates with the motion of the sea – if you listen to reggae music that rhythm is in the music. A gentle rocking to and fro, a backbeat that you feel deep in the pit of your stomach. Once you have that down you can open your eyes and take a good look at all God’s offerings all in one place.
Flowers of every imaginable color surround you – the hot pink Bouganvilla trailing across walls and fences; yellow, white, pink and purple Hibiscus as big as your head. Palms of all sizes – plants that I couldn’t identify but I could become friendly with in a heartbeat.
Walking through the bush, thick with greenery, climbing vines with dew still sticking to all the leaves only to end up on a deserted white sand beach – now, that’s so Robinson Crusoe, so primitive that it rocks my soul again and again and again. I leave the island aching for that feeling – again.
Years ago I’d come to Negril and feel as though I had stepped back in time. There were just a few simple wood buildings along the road and you’d see laundry hanging, outdoor water spigots and women singing while they did the wash. These days’ things are way more modern – Negril is far more built up, wood has been traded for concrete but the soul of the Jamaican people is the same.
They are simple, resourceful and gentle. They still sing while they walk and work. They move at a pace that we might consider slow but truly is just in keeping with the rhythm of the island. They live day-to-day enjoying a very “Zen” existence. And they are funny as all get-up, each with their own brand of humor but humor gets them through.
You can see it in their signs – simple, to the point they make me chuckle. Many suffer through poverty, harsh weather and hunger but all remain happy and optimistic. Ask any Jamaican any day of the week how they are and their response will be “Tankful dat I still ‘ave breat”.
When I was on island last year, in 2010, I noticed an abundance of Pepsi billboards. Not just selling cola, no – cleverly the Pepsi Corporation abducted famous Jamaican sayings such as “Walk Good” and “One Love” and planted them squarely on their billboards with their logo embedded into the “O’s” of the words. On the streets, in the gullies and on the beach you would find those same plastic Pepsi bottles littered about. In 1983 you could not buy a soft drink there in a platic bottle. They all came in glass bottles that you returned to the store for your deposit. No one would throw away a glass bottle – that was tantamount to throwing away money! These days you are hard pressed to find a soft drink in a glass bottle so the plastic ones end up littered on the ground, or worse yet, in a burn pile. While Pepsi littered the roads of Jamaica with their clever billboards they didn’t or wouldn’t come up with a solution as to how Jamaica could deal with their garbage. Progress.
Part of the feeling of stepping back in time is encountering animals on the road. Goats in particular and more so now further south on West End Road. The wildlife and animals in Jamaica are as stunning to watch as the sea, sand and flora combined.
I feel a skip in my heart each time I see the magestic Doctor Bird humming about the yard, his long streamer tail tucked neatly behind him. We have “our” Blue Heron there that comes by the pool just about every day. As you cross the Negril River and head towards the beach egrets nest in the trees by the hundreds. Then there are the cows – many, many cows lining the roads and into the bush. You encounter nature there every day from the hummingbirds in the trees to the assorted lizards on your porch.
Tourists flood to Negril for her beaches. Back in the 60’s some hippies hiked in from Montego Bay and found this tiny fishing village with extraordinary beach – seven miles from the center of town to the end of Bloody Bay. From there it grew but slowly – on island time. By the time I landed on Negril’s shores it was close to 20 years after those first folks built their homes and businesses opening up Western Jamaica to the tourist trade. I walked the “Seven Mile Beach” – white sand dotted with thick bush and greenery – then a building; a hotel, a small shop or restaurant or bar – then more sand, more bush, more greenery. The same applied to West End Road, then named Lighthouse Road. The roadside was dotted with small hotels and wooden buildings. On the cliffs you had unimpeded views of the Carribean Sea; the “bush side” of the road was more developed with guest houses, people’s homes or just open space. The further south you walked, the less development you saw until you arrived at Rick’s Café. The road was gravel. The pace was slow. You hardly saw a car.
When I returned ten years later what struck me, aside from the amount of development in those ten years was the absence of the wooden shack and the advent of the concrete building. Hurricane Gilbert had flattened Negril just five years prior. The community adapted as they could.
By then it was much harder to find a secluded spot on the “Seven Mile Beach”. We soon discovered first Bloody Bay, then a sweet little spot called Little Bloody Bay. Little Bloody Bay was a tiny beach, located just around the point from Bloody Bay. Secluded, it was not the easiest beach to reach – you needed to know where to enter from the road and which trail to take going in. The “trail” was never developed, it was more of a goat or animal trail that led you through dense bush and fallen trees until you spotted through the thick foliage the shimmer of crystal water and the white, untouched sand that lay at its shore.
For many years it stayed untouched and undiscovered by most. The reef that lay at the bay’s edge barred its access – motorized water vehicles could not pass through. It was my favorite place to spend a day, get away “from it all”, and pretend for a moment that we were the only people on earth.
After Hurricane Ivan a log washed up on Little Bloody’s shore and stayed. Through all subsequent storms, year to year that log didn’t budge. This was to me a true testament of tenacity, the log would not be moved! Until now, that is.
As with every best kept secret sooner or later someone is going to find out about it and exploit it. As of this spring a wall has been built barring road access to this sweet little spot and construction crews have begun breaking ground on a condominium complex that runs from Little Bloody Bay right up into Orange Bay along the coast. When at one time you could look at that wild and unspoiled shoreline from a boat in years to come that pristine coast will be dotted with buildings housing anyone who can afford to buy in at $300,000.00 or more.
Thus is the way of progress. Long Bay now resembles Las Vegas with sand – you cannot see the water from West End Road for all the walls and fences that block its view. That would send most running to other parts of the island where wild nature still exists, no, thrives – but for me, I adapt. I have memories and photos of what it used to look like but only in my heart do I hold what Negril still has – the vibrance of color, the rhythm of reggae – the soul of the people that cannot be paved over.
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