“Gone are the days we stopped to decide; where we should go, we just ride” Robert Hunter
December 15, 2013
We had no clue where we were going to stay in Treasure Beach. We had the name of one guesthouse that we couldn’t even check out; the “road” to the place was buried under sand and we knew motorcycles and sand are not a good mix. We proceeded down the road slowly; keeping an eye out for a guesthouse or Inn that would suit our modest needs and modest budget. We spotted a hotel right on the sea and pulled over. Sunset Beach Resort was a hotel that Thing 1 had once recommended to us. Thing 1 had also raved about Bath, so we approached dubiously. I was optimistic; while Thing 1’s tastes in excursions might be suspect based on our Bath experience I knew the guy did not stay in dumps.
The hotel was a ghost town. This was not surprising considering it was off-season. With Jakes right next door I imagined the place to be a second tier alternative to one of Chris Blackwell’s places in his prestigious portfolio. The views of the sea definitely appealed to me. The pool was partially empty and appeared to be undergoing a cleaning in preparation for the busy holiday season. Since my new bathing suit was in the wayward pack this did not concern me at all. Overall the property looked clean and well-kept so we went into the office to inquire.
We passed through the humble restaurant to the woman who was sitting in the small cubicle-type office. We asked the rate.
“$150.00US per night”
Our eyes grew wide, then narrowed. Ron began the negotiation from the local angle.
“We live in Negril…do you offer a local’s rate?”
They did but it wasn’t too far off the $150.00 rack rate and still a bit too rich for our blood. I then took over, using my hospitality experience.
“Can I ask what your occupancy is tonight?” I knew any property that has less than 80% occupancy should be more than willing to deal; empty hotel rooms only cost money. The woman shifted slightly in her seat.
“I guess you’d be it.” Bingo. “OK, “ I continued in my sweetest voice, “How would $75.00 per night work?” We whispered among ourselves, deciding at that moment to extend our trip by one day. “Guaranteed two night stay”, I wanted to sweeten the pot just a bit. She still looked concerned and said she’d have to consult with the owner. She pled our case simply; she had four potential guests that were from Negril, the only guests for the night it would seem, willing to pay $75.00US per night for two nights. The owner agreed, money was exchanged and everyone was satisfied.
Our decision to stay an extra night was based on more than just the discounted rate. We were looking forward to getting off the bikes for one solid day and from the looks of the place and our wish to see more of Treasure Beach it seemed like the most logical thing to do.
We were led to our rooms. They shared a small porch and were side by side. It turns out they were two rooms in a larger apartment-type unit that had a full kitchen. Each room had its own bath, a king-sized bed, air conditioning and cable TV. We were far uptown from our previous accommodations; we were far uptown from our own living accommodations in Negril as far as room amenities went. For the first time on this trip I didn’t feel compelled to use our own bedding either. And the view from our porch did not suck.
After washing the road off of us in a nice hot shower with good water pressure we gathered to watch sunset and headed off for dinner. We decided to keep it local and see what the hotel’s restaurant had to offer. When we opened the menus I was pleasantly surprised at the prices. I would come to find out over the next two days that restaurant prices, particularly seafood offerings, were lower than they are in Negril. I spied lobster for 1200JMD and even though I rarely order lobster in Jamaican restaurants I had to go for it. They did a pretty respectable job of not cooking it to death and even brought out a plate of “leftover” tails for us to enjoy. Bellies full after a long day we hit the hay and I actually enjoyed being lightly air-conditioned for the night.
December 16, 2013
We made plans to meet our friend Ted and his dog Flora at Fisherman’s Beach. We first met Ted five years before on our first trip to Treasure Beach; he was our boat captain that took us on our first trip to Pelican Bar. Every year since when we’ve taken visitors to Pelican Bar or on the Black River we’d call Ted. Today we were just meeting up with him to catch up.
We rose early. I put on the same yucky clothes I’d ridden in the day before, giving my teeth a “brushing” with my finger. We decided to walk and stay off the bikes for the day. On my agenda today was replacing essentials lost in the pack such as a toothbrush, tooth paste, a hair brush and something more clean to wear.
We decided on Jakes for breakfast. On our first visit to Treasure Beach we’d spent some time at Jakes swimming in their salt-water pool and eating lunch. Much to our surprise then, lunch was very affordable. We were hoping breakfast would be as well.
As empty as Sunset Beach was, that’s how busy Jakes was. I headed straight for the sundry shop, I figured most if not all I needed would be right there and since I did not know the area I was not inclined to do a “search and destroy” type of shopping mission. One and done, that was my mission. Save a hairbrush, I got everything I needed there including some clean articles of clothing that I immediately changed into to.
Jake’s breakfast menu was posted on a chalkboard at the front of the restaurant. Short but sweet, every item tempted the palate and we had a hard time choosing what to eat. The prices were sweet too, confirming our memory of our affordable and tasty lunch five years before. Being genetically pre-disposed to craving smoked fish, I chose to have the smoked marlin and bagel. OK, not too Jamaican but thoroughly delicious.
We’d planned on retracing our steps from five years ago to get to the beach. That would mean walking off-road, the sea to our side on a narrow trail that would ultimately descend to the beach area. I was looking forward to re-visiting that awesome and gnarly tree that we all climbed on perched on that day. Sadly we couldn’t take the road less traveled; the path leading away from Jakes had been blocked off.
We took to the road, keeping an eye open for a short cut that would lead us to the coast. By the time we left Jakes it was close to Noon and the hot sun overhead was beating down on us and slowing our roll. After a few non-starts we found an uninterrupted path towards the shore. Along this walk we marveled at the almost desert like environment that surrounded us; shorter Cypress trees, dried grasses and cactus. The beach also has its unique features in comparison to Negril; the sand is brown, a chocolate-brown and the beach is carved into soft sandy cliffs. Fisherman’s beach is just that – a beach where the fishers come in with their catch, moor their boats and sit around in little wooden shack bars sipping beer and rum and telling tales of the “big fish”. We met Ted and Flora and made ourselves at home at one of these shacks.
We spent a few hours talking with Ted and playing with Flora and then headed back to the hotel. Once there we settled in for a nap, a bit of TV watching and a little air conditioning; the late sun was hot and blasting into the room so we drew the shades and enjoyed the dark and cool environment for a while.
We stopped at Jakes to take a look at their dinner menu. We weren’t impressed by the offerings so we continued on to another familiar place, Jack Sprats. The place looked pretty much as it did five years earlier and we placed our orders at the counter. The pizza was good as I remembered but I decided to go with the Brown Stew Fish, a decision I was happy I’d made. As we walked off to find a table we saw the big change that had taken place during our five-year absence. Jakes had installed a long and wide wooden deck out towards the sea. That magnificent tree we all fondly remembered was now encased in Jake’s deck. We chose a table near the tree.
We were pleasantly surprised when the German couple we’d met at Rasta Villa walked in. They were traveling in a similar trajectory to us; they’d stayed at another guesthouse in the Blue Mountains closer to Kingston and had now met up with friends in Treasure Beach. We shared our stories of the road. They told us of their day’s activity, which was a snorkeling trip at Font Hill beach. Unfortunately Font Hill was closed so they had gone on a Black River “safari” instead. They warned us that the road from Treasure Beach to Black River was pretty terrible. We recalled that it might be however five years before we were traveling in a van with seven other silly people so the road conditions either flew over our heads or we just didn’t care.
December 17, 2013
The road lived up to its reputation. It was slow going as we navigated the potholes that left small islands of pavement scattered in the center. We grabbed a bite to eat at Bluefields Beach par then headed out on the South Coast road westward.
No road trip can end without a visit with the police, and this was no different. On our way into Sav la Mar we were waved over at a roadblock. No big deal, we were “old hat” with the routine already and we handed over the paperwork. The female officer dealing with Ron and Peg was reduced to giggles watching the couple bicker over where they had stashed it. Our guy wasn’t as jovial. He looked at the rental paperwork, and then walked around the bike, inspecting it carefully. Apparently it was missing an inspection sticker. I pointed to the rental company’s sticker and phone number telling him we had rented the bike assuming everything was in order. He pondered the sticker for a moment then let us all go on our way.
We figured we’d ridden about 400 miles that week. We’d ridden on roads that rivaled North American highways; we’d ridden on roads better suited for donkey carts. Of all the roads and all the miles we’d ridden on this trip the one on which I most feared for my life was the ten-mile stretch from Little London to downtown Negril. It has nothing to do with road construction and everything to do with the drivers. It’s as if everyone driving that stretch of road learned to drive in a boxcar derby. I’ve often said that when you are riding a motorcycle in the States you are invisible; in Jamaica not only do they see you, they aim for you!
On those ten miles we were practically run off the road by a truck and closely passed by a chain of no less than a dozen route taxis. Middle fingers and bumbaclots were flying until we turned the roundabout and found ourselves safely on West End Road. Only then did I stretch out my arms and put my face to the sun with a big smile – mission accomplished.