Two roads diverged in the woods and I –
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
As you go south on West End Road, past the West Ender and before you start the climb Mount Airy, if you look to your right you will see an “opening”…an opening into the bush, the famous trail to Little Bay and beyond as you head south out of Negril.
Into the bush…it is the spirit of every hiker and mountain biker, it called to them as well as the ATV crowd and dirt bike riders. That day we felt the bush calling…calling us all the way to Lost Beach – and we answered the call.
We rented three Yamaha 175s from Prento on the beach. The bikes were in excellent condition. We started our journey on the road dashing just ahead of a small rainstorm that was brewing on the west end of Negril. We hit the trail, but what was once a single track was now a wide marl road, in better condition, I might add, than the “road-road” up and over Mt. Airy into Orange Hill, Brighton and Little Bay. The road is there for the planned development of 400 acres that had just been sold to a British Development company. When the bush calls, answer the call cause soon come…bush finished.
The “road” ended at a rock wall which was a bit beaten down by storms but this year built up again. Lift the bikes over? Mountain Bikes, yes. Motor-Pickles, I don’t think so. We scouted a bit and found a piece of barbed wire fencing that was just about tall enough for all of us to scoot under. As we rode through the meadow the sea was firmly on our right and on our left the hills loom in the distance across green flat fields. We see cows grazing – we even manage to “herd” a fairly large pack of goats. You can see forever here – the field stretches wide and we turned towards the sea.
We made our first “stop and smell the roses” stop by a cove – it has a name but dang if I can remember it. We took in the scenery – there was a dug out canoe and a kayak “beached” – the cove is a somewhat easy sea access for those parts and no doubt a fisherman uses this spot to launch from.
Onward and forward, we rode along the rocky shore. Since hurricane Ivan the landscape of this piece of coast line has changed dramatically. It resembles more of a moon scape – knarled dead trees, boulders, black lava rock intermingled with the white shale tossed up from the sea violently during the storm. This part of the island was slammed hard in that storm and did not fare well in the more recent Hurricane Dean either. Here, even on a calm day, the waves crash against the rocks, sprouting spray high into the air. Looking further down the coast we see the water sprouting through the various holes in the rock and lava – geyser-like sprays that shoot straight up. This was, as I’ve said, a calm day – I can only imagine how high these towers of water fly when the sea is rough.
We rode a bit more, then the girls had to get off the bikes. It’s time for some technical riding and the less encumbered the bike the better. It was the job of our skilled riders to heave these machines up and over a somewhat crumbled rock wall – we watched as the boys scramble and navigate the bikes up and over. We followed by foot – and we were now in the bush.
Little butterflies swarmed at our feet and we could immediately feel the lushness of the jungle. Overgrown houseplants such as Elephant Ears tower above our heads – the single track beckoned us through the lush greenery whose branches tickle our legs as we moved smoothly through.
Next place that we stopped to “smell the roses” was right beside the now famous downed smuggling airplane. The story, as I have been told, goes like this: Back in the hey-day of ganga smuggling there was an active landing strip just around this spot in the bush. On the day of this ill-fated flight the police had been tipped off about some major activity. This particular plane was “light”, it was coming in to pick up a load but fortunately the pilot sighted the bush filled with JDF and various other smugglers either handcuffed or running through the bush, so he decided to crash-land his plane as opposed to coming in for a landing. There was a 16-year-old boy flagging him in, unaware of the police activity surrounding him – this boy had to run for his life as the pilot dove into the bush, left the airplane and ran for the hills. What became of the pilot? In the wind, so to speak.
Now its wreckage lay within the dense foliage, becoming a part of the jungle over thirty years. It lay there as a “monument” to the wild west days of drug smuggling and heavy partying in that area. Slowly it was picked apart – seats removed to furnish someone’s new living room . By 2011, the plane was gone, no doubt carted off and sold for scrap metal.
We arrived in Little Bay, passing by Homer’s Cove which was as calm and serene as the little town itself. We arrived at Uncle Sam’s to “refuel”…Pepsi’s all around and a pleasant chat with some tourists there from New Jersey. Uncle Sam’s place was located down a dirt road past a nursery and a group of donkeys happily grazing in a field. His place was a scattering of buildings and structures – there was actually a stage there whose roof was perpetually being torn off by storms. He had “updated” his outdoor kitchen and we found him in there busily cooking up his famous fried chicken. By updated I mean that it had gotten bigger with basically the same equipment. Uncle Sam cooked over an open fire and had a glorious view of the sea from that vantage point. There was now a “counter” and “seating” at the kitchen and even a little picnic table just off to the side. The bar had remained the same for as long as I’ve known it – wooden, small – dark but cozy and always had tunes going but seldom had someone tending. We helped ourselves to the Pepsis. The seating in the bar was what made it most unusual – old dug out canoes served as benches to the makeshift wobbly tables. Outside the bar two hammocks hung but we look at them dubiously – both had been there since dinosaurs roamed the earth and were starting to show they’re wear. Off to the side is another facet of the place that doesn’t change – an obvious grave. That was Uncle Sam’s father. In Jamaica there are few cemeteries – people have owned and lived on their lands in their villages for generations and family members get buried right there – often you will see what resembles a cemetery but is in fact a family plot on a piece of the family property designated just for this purpose.
Fact is, there was NO comfortable seating at Uncle Sam’s but we made do. We sat at the second picnic table drinking our drinks and eating our chicken, catching up with Sam as we always had. Our visit was not as long as we would have liked; our goal was to make it to Lost Beach with some time to hang out there before the sand fleas attacked.
Our journey continued. We took the road through Little Bay, passing the wreckage that was once Humble Boy (boy, I’m glad I got the t-shirts and tanks!), through Salmon Point and shortly after that the road ended. Finished. There used to be somewhat of a road that went straight through to Lost Beach but now we needed to turn up and go back through Brighton, Little London etc. to get there…by ROAD. Ah, but we were all about the road less traveled.
Well, that’s an understatement. Now we were “scrambling” through some SERIOUS bush and sand…passengers at times getting off and walking while the drivers maneuvered the bikes through the dense trail. Then, just as it was looking the thickest off to the sides we saw construction going on. We paused to speak with a Rasta my friend knew from Negril, chatted a bit, and let him know what we were up to.
“Ya can’t get there from here Mon”
“Yeah, we think we can”
“No Mon! Can’t get there from here”
We assured him we could and as we kicked the bikes back on his parting words to us were:
“Don’t Fuck Up!”
Assuring words but we were trailblazers, we were tough, we rode off road…for exactly 10 feet where we were greeted by a pond/swamp/creek type thing…water. The situation was assessed and we forded the stream. And we didn’t “Fuck Up”.
The rest of the ride was magnificent and challenging. No groomed trails here, the only thing that walks through this way are goats (which we saw quite a few of). There’s something to be said to be sitting on a bike and having the bush completely envelop you…it’s scratchy, somewhat uncomfortable but extremely exhilarating.
All of a sudden we found ourselves on the beach…and since the weather had been a bit damp over the past few days the sand was packed just right for riding. It is exhilarating to ride on the beach, the waves gently lapping at the shore, the dense bush right to our left. We hung left into that bush and prepared for what was the most thrilling part of this ride – a ride through the thick bush, the road certainly less traveled – the leaves and limbs dipping down so you need to duck…a dicey wooden bridge that lays over a slurry of water – then more beach riding and ultimately – Lost Beach itself.
We are here, we are thirsty we are hungry.
I am sad to report that the state of this secluded little resort is deteriorating. We took a seat in the bar; no bartender and it takes a while for anyone to even notice we were there. This was not the problem – it was business as usual in Jamaica. Where once very delicious pizza was served we came to find out that this is no more. Our waitress/bartender hands us menus that are somewhat puzzling. We take a look at the lunch menu:
“Rasta Sandwich: Same as on the breakfast menu (see above) but here served with our without egg and with coleslaw”.
We spend probably too much time discussing this delicacy and trying to figure out exactly what is on this sandwich. Our waitress was of no help, she had no idea. We figure it is vegetarian in nature and we ordered it. Les ordered fries and we ordered our drinks. The waitress really was not suited for her line of work. She returned with the first round of drinks and confirmed our food order:
“Grilled Chicken sandwich – fries.”
No. We repeated that we wanted this Rasta Sandwich. OK, fine. Five minutes later she came back
“You ordered a cheeseburger, right? ”
Wrong. We ordered more drinks. Fifteen minutes later they arrived. We were still waiting for food so we headed to the beach. Les, Jess and I decided to take a dip. The beach itself at Lost Beach has never really appealed to me. The sand was coarser than in Negril or Little Bay and a bit darker giving the appearance of being “dirty”. There was tons of dried seaweed washed up; again, not a bother, I prefer a more natural beach. The water in those parts always has appeared gray to me as well but that day it was inviting and we went in. Yuck. The bottom was murky, almost sticky and there was a smell similar to sewage. I looked around at the resort – it was empty and is looking very run down. Even the boats lined up on the shore that say “Lost Beach” looked unmaintained and battered. Then, the piece de resistance – the early arrival of the dreaded sand fleas, encouraged by the drying seaweed on the shore. We made tracks back up to the restaurant.
Our food was just arriving – One Rasta Sandwich – “you are going to have to wait for the fries.” The Rasta Sandwich turns out to be good despite its confusing description. I picked up my Coconut Rum and Pineapple cocktail and luckily before I sipped I looked – about 10 flies had taken residence in my drink. The sandwich was devoured…no fries. We wait – the waitress had disappeared and still – no fries. We change into dry clothes – no fries, no waitress. We finally hunt her down for the check, make sure we have not been charged for the invisible fries and off we go. It was a somewhat tough ride and the reward lacking.
The ride home was swift. We took the “back” way to avoid the Sav Road and downtown Negril. We went through Orange Hill, up and over Revival and instead of heading back to the yard we make tracks to catch sunset at Catcha Falling Star’s new bar Ivan’s. We were greeted warmly at the gate and by a few friends already at the bar. This place is truly beautiful – completely rebuilt after Hurricane Ivan flattened it in 2004, Catcha Falling Star has become one of the gems of the West End – a most sought after property with sweet cottages and newly built “suites”. While the landscaping had not grown in we can envision what next season will bring. The bar, Ivan’s is magnificent. The seating is comfortable and the place beautifully appointed right down to the ashtrays. The vibe is mellow and quiet and even the posse respects that. We take a seat at a table with our friends who are already there, greeting Ben, the resident dog with lots of love (he also lives in our yard). We made sure to say hello to everyone; guests of the hotel included and no one ran away, which is good. The manager looked on nervously as we did this but she is a friend and knows deep in her heart we won’t be offending anyone, not this evening at least. I chose to talk to the guests seated at a table beside us. I found out that one of the men was a professor of Theology at Georgetown University and when queried came to further find out he is a Rabbi. I get all excited – I get excited when I meet members of the tribe in general, we are few and far between in certain places – but a Rabbi! I eagerly point him out to the fellow tribesmen in our group – Rambo, Les and Ron. We chatted for a while, these men had just arrived and I was enjoying turning them onto places to go, eat and where to get the “good” cigars. As we were talking, Ron approached. “Rabbi”, he says as he handed him a spliff. Without missing a beat our Rabbi took a good long toke and passed it back, thanking the young Jewish man.
I’d taken in a lot in this one day and I think about it as the sun dips into the sea, an umbrella from a sunning platform below silhouetted in the color. A long trail ride, a visit with my favorite Uncle, a dramatic beach ride, the worst waitress I’ve ever met and now this; a Rabbi that inhales. Baruch Ha Shem.