I’m not one for the “getting there” story. You know those stories – an entire paragraph, sometimes two that describes the flight and the customs and immigration process down to the letter. I usually skip those parts of “trip reports” because when you put them all together, they are all the same. We flew, blew through and hit the road.
Mine is the same year to year as well:
1. Rent an SUV
2. Pack said SUV to the ceiling (this year, with the addition of one god-daughter who happens to be on our flight to New York)
3. Drive two hours to the airport – arrive and get dropped at the curb with the ten bags and suitcases while hubby returned the rented SUV.
4. Check in on the Priority Access line.
5. Go through security – our four carry-on bags are plunked on the belt, we kick off our shoes while simultaneously removing the laptop from its tray, removing coats, hats and all metal objects.
6. Hubby gets waived through the metal detector, Liz and I are “selected” for that obnoxious body scan. She does it, I “opt out” – wait for five minutes for a female to come feel me up in front of everyone else going through security. I’m clean.
7. Grab a bite, some magazines – time to board. We are sitting in first class and we are sitting in the first row. Settle in.
8. Eat their snack, sneak a snooze. Wake up at JFK
9. No time for a smoke – get on another plane and in three hours we are in MoBay.
Here’s where it gets unusual – we are in and out of immigration and customs in 20 minutes and Niah is actually in the gallery waving at us. We pack the silly bus with all our crap and off we go.
There – I’ve written the standard boring getting there story – but we are not there yet and here’s where the story becomes more colorful. My trip doesn’t start until we get on the bus, hug up Niah and hit the road.
We’ve all heard the stories of the “old road”. “I survived the road to Negril”. Well, it was a pretty crappy road on my first trip to the island and it got progressively worse in the following fifteen years. Then, and finally, the highway was built. The road no longer meandered through the tiny villages, inland, along the coast, pot-holes the size of Mono Lake…and it shaved a good half-hour off the trip. A lot of people “miss” the character of that road and its scenery but in the past ten years since the new highway was built it has developed its own character and its scenery has changed yet stayed the same. Its just the speed of the vehicle that makes it harder to pay attention to it at times.
Once out of Montego Bay the first town we pass through is Hopewell. This is a town that doesn’t change. Niah always stops at the local “China Man” store to get a beer and some cigs – Pepsi for Les and I if we want.
Hopewell is an older and established city that doesn’t really give a shit if the road to Negril passes through it or not. You don’t see Tourist Buses stopped there…people usually breeze on through and don’t stop in Hopewell.
Between Hopewell and Sandy Bay is where I first notice some change. Little restaurants and businesses have popped up along the road there, offering views of the sea, cold beer, Jelli Coconuts and fruit. We usually grab a bit of lunch in a small restaurant outside of Hopewell then continue to plow on through.
There are hundreds of school children milling about in their colorful uniforms, waiting on taxis or walking home, wrestling with each other, BFFs arm in arm.
From the main road you look down at the Marl paved roads that lead into other towns and villages inland. People congregate in the shade, getting out of the high noon sun. There is a sense of daily activity that is reassuring and peaceful – local and just regular. Its relaxing to me as I imagine myself sitting on the wall with my friends chatting about nothing and everything.
We pass a sign for a strip club –
– and not long after a church – their sign says a lot, mostly that we are all going to hell and that all us sinners must come in, flail around and beg the good lord for forgiveness for the end is near – “Repent before the Event”. Then, we are out of town again, hugging the coast, passing by the mouth of the Great River, passing by Mosquito Cove.
As we drive west, as if almost in a blur I see something that is alien, bizarre, just – not right. A twilight zone moment – I see a camel. Then I see a second one – and there is a line of tourists waiting to “board” the beast. Two camels, next to the sea in a tropical climate and where are they? The newest “Dolphin Cove” attraction. Niah confirms that yes, they give camel rides and that he’s taken tourists to the attraction. He seems grossed out that they actually “kiss” the dolphins – I’m grossed out by the whole scenario. I’ve never been a fan of this type of attraction but the Camel thing just blows me away.
This strange sight is the introduction to what I consider one of the strangest and most obnoxious sites on the road. Not far past Dolphin Cove we see it, glistening white in the horizon. A huge white complex of buildings sporting several restaurants, 1400 guest rooms – its the Grand Palladium Lady Hamilton absorbing miles of seafront acreage where there used to be an old port and sugar works just outside of Lucea.
Over the years in traveling this road we have born witness to its development. First – a huge fence, obscuring the views of the sea and old buildlings. Over two years there were work stoppages, cost over-runs but in two years time it was completed to the bloated hedonistic out in the middle of nowhere resort it is today. I thought at some point I’d get used to it being a part of the landscape but the thing is so big and out of place I don’t think I ever will. People enter and never come out – it is that remote. Sure, they’ll board a large bus and get driven to Negril – straight to Ricks for sunset, then back. It can be anywhere and it can be nowhere. It is an island of its own, surrounded by huge barbed-wire topped walls. At the western most part of the property sits an old “Scenic View” sign that points directly at that wall – and just a little ways after that a sign that says “Jamaica Heritage Trail Point”, its arrow pointing directly at a razor-wire topped chain link fence
After a bit of Google Research I come to what might be the mistaken conclusion that this “Heritage Point” marks the spot where Fort Charlotte is/used to be. Fort Charlotte was built in the mid-eighteenth century by the British for the defense of the north westerly section of the island. It was named for the mistress of King George III.
We are past the eyesore and in no time we are right in the heart of downtown Lucea. My heart always glows when we hit Lucea. It means we are within a half-hour of Negril and I just love the vibe and architecture of this city. It is the Parish Seat for Hanover Parish and no matter when we pass through its narrow streets are bustling. Old Spanish architecture can be seen everywhere. If we are lucky enough to pass through on a Saturday, the market next to the car park makes the street life more lively and interesting.
Once out of town, Niah punches it to 80kph and soon we are sailing past the landmarks of home – Cousins Cove, Green Island, Half Moon Beach. We get our first glimpse of the destruction of Little Bloody Bay and the wall surrounding it but not blocking out the devastation of this once wondrous natural coastline. We soon hit the “Beach Road” and get our first glimpse of “white” faces. We have arrived in Negril and there are several signs welcoming us there…but you can miss the signs and not miss Negril. Sunburned tourists walking the road, strolling to get some jerk chicken, a beer or a shell necklace from one of the ever present shops or vendors. Side by side are the resorts of the famous Seven Mile Beach – I try once again to try to memorize and place the locations of each of these resorts but they are out of my head as we approach the roundabout. Now we have entered the West End. As we pass the Lighthouse Les calls Ron and in five minutes the gates to our yard are magically opening –
We are home. Let the festivities begin.