Every now and again Les is called upon to do a photo favor for one of our friends. Just about a week after we arrived this favor involved getting on a wooden fishing boat and cruising the coast north of Negril towards and into Green Island. We’d never seen most of this landscape from the sea before and since the powers that seem to be intent on developing much of the coast south of our focus on this day, it was beautifully refreshing to cruise by unspoiled and pristine shorelines.
We trolled slowly, stopping occasionally for the requisite photo opp. We saw a lot of rocky cliff and mangrove dipping down into the sea providing sanctuary for breeding fish and other marine life. The tree line appeared to come up to the water and in spots the sea itself leveled out as if the cliff extended into the water; a rocky ledge covered with barnacles and urchins protecting the fishes breeding grounds in the mangrove.
Occasionally we’d see a clearing with a patch of sand. In one spot I recognized the Hurricane Bar. We cruised past our beloved Half Moon Beach, clearly recognizable from the sea. Other clearings revealed fishing canoes and kayaks and the occasional fisher getting ready to go out for the day.
I am a beach-girl to the core and save for a few times in my life have never lived more than five miles away from sand and surf. I surprised myself when I became a devoted “cliff dweller” in Negril, from my first trip in 1983 right up until now. Those first years I’d stay on the cliffs but made a daily pilgrimage to Long Bay, more popularly known as the “Seven Mile Beach”, but before long that beach lost its charm for me. I was turned on first to Bloody Bay and then to Little Bloody Bay in my quest for unadulterated sand and sea. Sadly, soon enough we lost both of those pristine and natural beaches to resort and condominium developments.
Half Moon Beach is my go-to place when I want to feel sand in my toes. Its our Sunday ritual, arriving in the afternoon, getting settled in our spot at the northern corner of the beach, hanging the hammock in the Mimosa Tree and enjoying each others company.
Lying in the hammock the only sounds I hear are those of the surf lapping the shore. No Jet Skis. No Para-Sail Boats. When I look out into the bay I see only a few bathers, and the little Half Moon island in the distance.
I am only approached to be asked if I want another drink – though we do our own “flag” service there. We call the bar and order another round and an order of fries. The bartender, always polite and in good humor delivers the food and drink on a tray right to our special spot on the beach.
Half Moon Beach is a family beach and with that comes the family – Mom and Dad, kids, pets and even a Grandpa. John from England is a wonderful man who first came to Jamaica in the 1950’s. I love listening to his stories from that time. He is a gentle soul who, for the months he is there, provides a loving grandfather figure for the twin three-year old girls that call this beach home.
One Sunday as we sat and talked on the shore with John he pointed to the sea wall at the southern end of the beach and told us that behind it was the original road to Negril. Tanya encouraged us to walk it – she called it a “photographer’s dream”. So we hoisted ourselves out of our chairs and off we went.
A photographer’s dream indeed! As we walked the worn and scraggly path we first happened upon a huge heap of conch shells. There was a van parked and a couple; a Jamaican man and a white woman, picking through the pile and collecting the “perfect” ones, no doubt to sell on the beach in town. We gathered a few for our own collection and just past that pile we found a bounty of unbroken urchin shells that we collected as well. Hands an pockets full we carried on, passing little coves and clearings with dug out fishing canoes pulled up on shore.
When we looked back, we saw our friends on the beach in the distance, separated by a crystal bay, the sand sparkling like a jewel in the afternoon sun.
When we reached the end of the path out at the point we saw for ourselves exactly what Tanya was talking about. In the distance but not too far away was “Half Moon Island” and in between where we were standing the island the currents crisscrossed as the shallow waves from the north moved south and from the south moved north. I’d never seen anything like this and it did make for great photos and video.
Despite its crowds, development and commercialism I did find myself at Long Bay beach a few times this last stay. This year my friend leased a hotel, restaurant and bar on the beach, did the necessary renovations and named it Wild Parrot. The property itself is small but the beach is deep. The food is great and they make a mean Lemon daiquiri. I would plop myself on to one of their comfy loungers and enjoy the show. I watch as the parade of tourists walk by; the myriad of swimsuit styles and how they are fitting the myriad of body types – the good, bad and the pretty bad. I’d watch the reactions and interactions between the jet ski vendors from next door and the unsuspecting and usually unreceptive passers-by. I’d watch as the movement of people went north to south and south to north in a steady stream. What strikes me this time in particular is the way they are moving. They walk at a pace similar to my gate when walking in New York City! Walking the beach is one of the more discussed and beloved activities of a tourist in Negril. This conjures up imagery for me of a loving couple holding hands, sauntering along the shoreline stopping to talk to folks and wandering in and out of bars and restaurants along the way. The reality I’m witnessing is just the opposite: People are zipping by, walking as if they are on a mission or need to be somewhere at some particular time. Their eyes are either looking straight ahead or are trained to the ground as if trying to avoid others, namely vendors, that might approach. They do not stop to take in their surroundings, they do not even slow down to take in their surroundings. What is that all about? Sometimes when you stop, even for a second your eyes may be filled with awesome beauty that will plant your feet right in one spot.
…and if you don’t stop you might just miss something spectacular.
I took my only beach walk of this season when our friends were visiting from the Bay Area. We headed out from Wild Parrot just before sunset and since my walks are usually southward I guided our small group to the north.
As we walked we stopped, took photos, giggled and played a little game. The game was to count how many times we had to say “no thank you” to someone. The grand total was five times – not bad but then again, most folks who we’d say that to had gone home for supper. Speaking of which, as we passed the many restaurants on our walk we saw many menu boards boasting that night’s dinner special.
The further north we walked, the more we ran out of beach. Twice we had to climb up and walk into establishments. The first was Negril Treehouse. The next, Footeprints in the Sand. When we climbed the steps into Footeprints we were met by the enthusiastic hostess who immediately thrust menus into our hands. We were not in the mood for dinner at that point but a cocktail wouldn’t suck. At her suggestion we ordered a round of Pina Coladas. Oh. My. God. At Footeprints I have found the next best Pina Colada in Negril. It was smooth and creamy and the sprinkling of freshly grated nutmeg on the top just did it for me. At $5.00 USD it was priced on the low-end for drink prices on the beach.
As we made our way back to Wild Parrot we watched the sun set. No matter where I am this is the most dramatic and beautiful part of the day for me. I can’t remember when I’d seen the sun set from Long Bay last – if ever. It ended our walk on a lovely note.
The best feeling I know is to have sand in my toes, no matter where that sand might be.