I’m trying to remember the first time I visited Little Bay…was it on a full moon ride/cave celebration? Or was it when my friend decided to “lease” an acre of land from a dubious elder? In either case I do remember being taken with this little south coast village, untouched by tourism and cut off from the beaten path due to washed out and bad roads. I imagined that this was what Negril might have looked like way back in the day.
Little Bay became a constant day trip during our stays in Jamaica. We’d head out there pretty often, Les even more by bike – off-road of course. We usually rented dirt bikes and we even took a boat there in 2004.
Our jaunts to Little Bay always included a stop at Humble Boy, a small bar and Inn located right on the beach by the bay. It was run by Sue, Smitty and Zeke. They had cold beer, a great local clientage and a comfortable place to sit a spell. From there it was off to see our Uncle Sam. Sam’s place was located up a private lane off the main road just before you got to Little Bay itself. It was a large piece of property with a jagged cliff right on the sea.
Usually Uncle Sam would be right there to greet us with his big toothless smile. We’d catch him working on some part of the land, perhaps cooking up his famous fried chicken and conch soup and sometimes we’d wake him from a nap he was taking in the shade. Whatever it was it was like falling into the arms of your warm and welcoming Uncle. There were times of course that we’d arrive and Sam was not there, but soon enough he’d come rolling back on his bicycle – a broom stick for a handle-bar, squatted over the seat post, the seat long gone, peddling with his bare feet and carry bags of chicken or a huge tree branch.
We loved spending the day at Uncle Sam’s. We’d walk out on to the rocky cliff and contemplate the shore. We’d grab drinks from the small eclectic bar Sam’s father built. Small as it was it was cozy and unique – photos everywhere, colorful decorations and old canoes used as seating by the wobbly tables.
Sammy was a marvelous cook and he made the BEST fried chicken I’ve ever eaten. He also made a terrific conch soup. There were afternoons when Les would call Sam, order up some chicken then pedal the fourteen miles into Little Bay to return back home with chicken to go. We’d sit at Sams and noisily eat every bite, slurp up every drop and then plop into the few hammocks scattered around to digest and talk. Sam had great stories of the time he’d spent in the US and his car – wow, the stories that involved that car. He was so easy to be around, always upbeat, never a complaint. He’d often share with us the memories of his childhood, growing up right in that spot, playing with is favorite sister Hermine who is another dear friend of ours in Negril.
Our day trips to Little Bay included walks through town, checking out the Bob Marley house and hiking into the cave. The “Rat Bat” cave as it was known locally, was tucked deep into the bush, next to the school. We knew our way in – barely, even after so many years. That’s what was so great about going there during the day – you could actually see where you were going and the hint of the trail leading to its opening.
Day visits to the cave revealed wonders one would miss at night, deep hidden crevasses filled with bat guano aside. Inside that cave you’d be surrounded by the hundreds of bats as they slept, waiting for night to fall so that they could do their “bat thing”. From the various holes at the top tree limbs would hang down and the children that often accompanied us on these treks would play Tarzan, climbing and swinging from those things. With the sunlight peeking through you could really climb about and explore the many caverns and formations inside. It’s an unusual cave this way as it is so accessible. One of the last times we saw Uncle Sam he came with us into the cave and immediately transformed into the child he was, climbing those tree roots while telling story after story of adventures and games played in this cathedral.
The largest and most exciting community event was held at Uncle Sams every year for six years. This was the famous Little Bay Donkey Races. The entire community would show up, it was a fun family event. Busloads of folks from Negril and surrounding areas would descend upon the little town as well – it was a huge party. There was energetic and sometimes pretty loud gambling of course; but there was also tons of fried chicken and beer to go along with that. The races started at Noon but the first race never took off until 4:00pm. The course was short and straight – from the entrance to the property to the other end by the sea. Lots of laughter, tons of energy – this was the place to be the first Sunday of February.
While we always loved our visits to Little Bay we also were aware of a darkness that shrouded the village. Many of our Jamaican friends had told us of this darkness many times and many of them would not go with us there for any occasion, much less a casual visit. Little Bay, along with many other small south coast towns, were meccas for drug exportation. Even Butch Stewart flew over the town as a possible site for his latest and greatest resort but passed on it…”too hot”, is what he felt. In all the years we spent time there other ugliness had cropped up: Shady land deals such as the leasing of parcels of someone’s private property under the guise of a government grant, nasty property disputes that ended up in people being burned out of their homes and getting murdered. As long as we had our refuge with our Uncle Sam we managed to overlook the town’s troubles despite the exodus of other long-term residents, literally lifting their homes off the ground and moving them elsewhere. Humble Boy shutting its doors was just the writing on the wall for things to come.
In August of 2008 we received word that Uncle Sam had gone missing. His dear sister Hermine had tried to reach him by phone for a couple of days and was becoming very worried. When someone finally went to check the property all they found was a pot of burnt rice on the wood fire. Uncle Sam and his girlfriend Sonya had vanished into thin air.
Three years later, Sam and Sonya are still “missing” and are presumed dead. There are theories and suspicions, legends in the making. The town as a whole clammed up immediately offering no information to the police or the family. Anything anyone might have known about this incident will most certainly go to the grave with them. Three years later, like so many other crimes in Jamaica – this one goes unsolved.
Our posse no longer spends any time or money in Little Bay. We hold a great sadness combined with a great anger towards a community where no one has come forward with any information that could help Hermine and her family give her brother the proper burial and funeral service he so deserves.
On most of our motorcycle adventures however, we still travel the southwestern coast heading home. There is a beauty and outward serenity to the area that draws us. We ride through Little Bay, not stopping at all yet taking in the sites that evoke the memories of all the good times there. Still, that town is a ghost town to us and I always feel a chill as we are riding out-of-town and pass that private lane that once led up to our grinning friend’s home and business.
When we stop these days it is at Homers Cove. Homers Cove is a small bay located right next to Little Bay. We get off the bikes and take in the beautiful beach, the clear and untouched bay, watching the fishermen and catching up with a few friends we still have in that area. Once in a while we look in the distance towards Little Bay but mostly we’ll have our smoke, our conversation and then head back home, West End Negril bound.