O and I have returned from sunny, warm, wonderful Jamaica. It was an incredible trip and I'm in total withdrawal after having to come back to this gray, cold, boring place.
We stayed in Negril, on the western coast, in an all-inclusive resort called Swept Away (cheesy, I know). I had my apprehensions about going to an all-inclusive place, worrying that I wasn't going to get a real feel of the country, but we were trying to go for a more relaxing vacation here, instead of our usual "see as much of a place as we can in one week" type of trip. The resort was right on the beach, which is one of the longest in Jamaica, 7 miles of white sand. In the distance to the south you could see the point of land sticking out where the main part of Negril is, and you could see the lights of the town at night.
Our room was quite nice, with a large bathroom, roomy area with a high, vaulted ceiling and king-size bed, and a patio/balcony with a couch and chair that looked out on an area full of vegetation, like flowering plants, ferns, palm trees, and a patch of really tall bamboo. It was nice and quiet, except at night after dinner when we got the noise of the entertainment coming from the restaurant, and in the evening, starting at dusk, you'd hear the cricket-y chirping of tree frogs. When we got to the resort and I heard that chirping, I thought it was a tape playing in the lobby, since it seemed so much like atmospheric background sounds for a movie or something and not something that was actual nature.
I quickly fell in love with the all-inclusive concept, which, as it suggests, meant that all food, drinks and activities were already paid for in the price of the room. You only had to pay extra for spa services and some scuba activities. There was so much delicious food and drink available. Breakfast and lunch were both buffets, so you could delve in and eat to your heart's content. Dinner was a buffet twice, but otherwise it was a more formal 3 course affair. There was also a "Veggie" Bar that had a lovely jerk chicken sandwich, and chips (not sure what they were made of; cassava?) with salsa, sour cream and guacamole that made a good snack. They also had good tropical juices. There were two bars on the beach in these cool little huts with straw roofs that came down so low you had to duck under them a bit to get to the bar. They had all sorts of wonderful cocktails, our favourites being the pina coladas, and a drink called Golden Paradise, which was coconut rum, pineapple juice and banana liqueur. Yum. All of the bar and wait staff were so friendly, always asking how your day was, chatting with you a bit sometimes, the guys would call women "lady" (as in "would the lady like a drink?"), and they gave the most sincere "you're welcome"s, all in wonderful Jamaican accents.
Most days we went out to sit on the beach after breakfast and just relax, read and enjoy the warm weather. They had comfy lounge chairs with cushions that doubled as floats that you could take out in the water, and O went out floating a couple of times. Sitting on the beach also gave you a good seat to watch all of the water activities going on, like waterskiing, jetskiing, parasailing and boating. You would also regularly hear the calls of the cigarette sellers who walked up and down the beach all day, calling "Ceeeeeeeegarettes! Ceeeeeeegs! Cigarscigarscigars!" Every once in awhile one of the guys from the bar would come by and ask if you would like something to drink, or else you could flag them down by sticking a yellow flag in the sand, if you were too lazy-assed to go to the bar yourself.
One of my main regrets is that we didn't take part in more of the activities on offer, considering they were included. We did go one afternoon though to a couples massage course, which was quite nice. And we went on a glass-bottom boat ride, which is kind of a way to go snorkeling without getting wet. We saw some cool coral, some very big starfish, many different fish and a couple of stingrays, but what made the trip was the two resort guys who were our guides. They were funny as hell, and I still smile when I think about them. They'd go on about how seaweed is called sea marijuana here, and the fish eat it and are all chill and they get the munchies and eat everything else. There was more, but I think it's only funny in a "you had to be there" kind of way.
We did escape the resort one day, though that is my other big regret, that we didn't take a trip out to see Negril proper. The day we escaped, we went on a tour with our own personal driver for the day, Avril, who drove us on a tour of the south coast: a boat tour up the Black River to see some wildlife, a trip to YS Falls where you can go swimming, and a stop at the Appleton Estate Rum distillery. Avril was awesome, a big guy with a big laugh who told us all sorts of bits and pieces about Jamaican life and history, taught us some patois (the spoken language of Jamaica), and told us all about the native fruits and food. Well, he didn't just tell us about them, he also would pull over sometimes when he saw them alongside the road so we could see them up close and personal as well. He also stopped to make sure we tried a coconut. You can buy them at a roadside stand, big and green, not small and brown like we're used to seeing them. They hack the top til you get a little hole and then you drink the water that is inside. Then they hack it in half and you scrape out this soft white coconut jelly from the inside. O liked it all, but I wasn't too keen on it, maybe I'm too used to coconut being very sweet.
The planned stops were all very interesting. We saw crocodiles on the Black River tour and learned about the plants and animals of the river. O swam in the YS Falls and went 3 times on the rope swing they have. And the distillery tour was pretty interesting, especially because of our funny tour guide, Wayne, who was so gay and telling us about visiting Amsterdam and partying all night, and telling O that he was short for a Dutchie. You got to sample all sorts of rum drinks at the end, and Wayne made fun of me for not being able to handle a few samples. They were good though, especially the flavoured rum creams. They also had an overproof rum, which is like 63% alcohol. Oof.
I think my favourite part of visiting Jamaica, besides the people we met, was driving around past all these little towns and seeing all of these flashes of Jamaican life. Ok, it would have been better to have really visited some towns, but we'll be sure to do that next time. Still, I couldn't get enough of the scenery from the van, everything was so colourful and full of life. There were tons of bars everywhere along the road, which were really nothing more than little shacks, sometimes with just enough room for a few stools, but cheerful with bright paint and little lights at night. One town we passed through was known for its shrimp, and women sat by the side of the road with tubs of them, holding out small bags of their spicy shrimp to lure in a passing car. We'd also pass people who were just standing on the side of the road, seemingly with no purpose, until I realized that they were waiting for a bus. Jamaica's bus system is pretty laid back, so there aren't really any bus stops, you just stand around and flag down the bus you need.
The downside to driving around Jamaica was the actual driving part, since they have rather poor roads that are very bumpy and potholed. Our driver, Avril, was good about avoiding any really major holes, but you can't avoid it all and it was so bumpy at times you felt you could use a sports bra and a neck brace. After a day of driving around, part of you got used to the bumps; the other part was starting to feel very weary and bruised. At least we had air conditioning in our trusty little van.
We have tons of photos to get online from the trip, which will hopefully happen soon. When it does, I'll put up the link. Until then, I'll be getting used to this winter thing, work and making dinner myself...