A Look Back: Howling at the Moon

Nearly fifteen years ago a group of friends of ours in Negril had an idea…what if, by the light of the full moon, a group of folks would hop on their mountain bikes and pedal the seven miles into Little Bay?  What if this group, armed with drums and candles would then transform a bat cave deep in the bush into a cathedral and celebrate that monthly event, tribal style deep in the belly of the earth?

Initially this event was a tie-in event for the Negril Fat Tyre Festival which used to be held the first week of February.  If a full moon occurred in that week this celebration would take place.  After the first one, the event took on a life of its own and became one of our most favored events that we looked forward to each trip.

Each celebration was different for many reasons.  There was always different types of music as well as  different types and numbers of people attending the event, but the planning (or lack thereof) was always the same.

When the Fat Tyre Festival was in its prime we’d have as many as thirty riders on the trail.  The planning back then was routine – we knew when the moon would be full and we’d make the advance calls to Humble Boy and Uncle Sam to tell them of the upcoming influx so that they could stock up on beer and chicken as well as spread the word to the Little Bay community at large that a party was about to happen.  We’d then buy every candle in Negril.

Years passed, the festival waned by the moon still became full each month.  We were getting older and peddling seven miles in the bush became less appealing…but still, the cave beckoned.  In those later years the planning became a bit more loose.  We wouldn’t decide whether we wanted to do this until usually the morning of but then we’d go into high gear with phone calls around Negril to gather the faithful, phone calls to Uncle Sam to gather the chicken and beer as well as the faithful in Little Bay.  Vans would be arranged.  Bikers gathered.  Every store in Negril would be liberated of their candle stock.

No doubt this was a late night activity.  The moon needed to be high and bright to light the trail for the riders.  Many of us would gather first at LTU – it was the perfect meeting spot to have a drink and load up the vans, a perfect spot from which the riders could start, usually a half-hour before the vans left.

The first stop was at Uncle Sam’s where we’d meet up with the folks in Little Bay and the other vans from Negril.  Chicken and conch soup would be ordered, beers popped and we’d spend some time there enjoying each other.  Meantime, a small group from the posse would head off into the bush to prepare.  After about twenty minutes the call would come and everyone would gather at the entrance of Sam’s place heading off in a group usually led by Ron to navigate the somewhat rough trail, in the dark, to the cave.  Here and there we’d find a candle marking our way, telling us where to turn and helping us through.

I would always place myself towards the front of the pack so that I could take in the awe-inspiring vision and then place myself at the entrance to watch as everyone else saw what I saw, heard what I heard and watch their reactions to that.  I’d watch jaws drop, people whispering “Oh My GOD!” in hushed intensity.  One woman one year burst into tears upon entering the “cathedral”.

That vision was surreal – you’d almost have to do a reality check to really remember where you were.  As you entered you were met with the glow of hundreds of candles in the huge cavern and the only background noise aside from a squeaking bat or two would be the gentle drumming or soft strumming of an acoustic guitar.  Sometimes there would be soft singing or chanting.  The feeling would be one of reverence.  It was a quiet time spent in there – soft voices, slow and soft and careful steps.  People perched on ledges, their faces lit by the candles at their feet.  I’d find my way to that big hole with the tree roots hanging down, climb up on the rock and softly sway to the music as the huge disk in the sky would pass over and stay momentarily framed by that hole.

Those candles only burn for twenty minutes each so our time in the cave was relatively short.  As silently as we entered we’d exit, making our way back to Sam’s.  We’d spend some time there – the bikers would take off before the vans, as they did back what seemed like ages ago in Negril at LTU.

The last full moon celebration at the cave in Little Bay was on January 21, 2008.  That also happened to be the last night in Jamaica for Les and I.  That night we lingered a bit longer at Uncle Sams – most everyone else had headed back to Negril or to their homes and guest houses in Little Bay, just a handful of us hung back, sat at the picnic table and talked with Sam.  I didn’t realize how late the hour had become until I looked up and saw the Southern Cross rising from the sea.

We arrived back in Negril and spent the rest of our last night awake, with our friends who were staying at Lighthouse Park.  We enjoyed the rest of the night into the dawn and watched as the full moon set into the sea while at the same time the sun rose in the east.

There will never be this type of celebration at the cave in Little Bay again, at least not in the forseeable future.  But every time the moon is full I bask in its glow and the memories it evokes of one of the most magical times spent in Jamaica.

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4 Responses to A Look Back: Howling at the Moon

  1. Audrey Wright says:

    My husband Terry and I were always asked by Peggy and Ron to “Come to the Bat Cave”. I always thought…why would I want to go to some cave…..didn’t sound too exciting to me. But…finally…one year…after really getting sick of making excuses of why we were not going to join them…I caved in, and we went. I will say that that was one of our most memorable experiences we have ever had in the many years of vacationing in Negril. I need to step outside of the box more often. Thanks for that experience.

  2. VVHT says:

    Very Very Nice!!

    Keep them coming!

    Thanks,

    VVHT

  3. Pauline mangione says:

    I was one of the few fortunate people to have experienced this several times and each time it was as great as the first. i loved to look at the cave Life at night. there was lots of life happening if you took time to really see it. there were lots of tiny crabs that were the exact color and texture of the inside of the cave and even the bats were awesome to watch. It will always be one of my fondest memories from my many trips to Jamaica. My love of the fat tyre festival kept me coming back many,many times.I miss the many wonderful people that I met there and would love to go back and visit again before I pass on to the next phase…..respect,pauline Mangione

  4. Les says:

    As a few of us left uncle sam’s to light the cave we’d tell ron leave in 45 mins. giving us a good head start. my first few times were in amazement of rusty’s jamaican friends and locals that would rock climb crazy shit and hang to set a candle. after doing it a few more times i would light and entire box of candles and hold it like a torch. Easy to see and easy to melt the bottoms to set them. And then the Best part was to hear the first of the folks show up and listen to their amazement. Play music listen to music explore and just find the vibe. The Rat Bat Cave showed us what to do lets find as unique and fun spots to do it again. peace and love. Thanks Nikki for bringing us here again!

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