Negril, Jamaica, Gorgeous Vacation Destination
Grand Pineapple Beach Resort, Negril, Jamaica
Our Trip to Negril, Jamaica Becomes a Reality
Our family decided to travel to Negril, Jamaica for several reasons. I had seen some beautiful pictures from a friend’s trip to Kingston. I loved the lush and beautiful flowers, and the numerous shades of blues and greens that are the Caribbean. Friends told us about the low prices of all inclusive vacations, proving that a week spent on many tropical islands costs less than a week at the NJ shore. Since this includes all the meals, liquor, and many resort activities, it is an attractive deal. My husband & I had been on a cruise from NY to the Bahamas, but due to bad weather only enjoyed one day on Rose Island. It was just enough to whet our appetites for more tropical isles!
So I began some internet research, considered many island paradises, and finally decided on a quiet, secluded resort in Negril, I like mellow, out of the way places, where you can get to know the staff. Plus, I love nature, and wanted the best combination of beach and native plants. So although you CAN find great, party resorts in Negril, that was not my goal. We had six months to study anything related to Jamaica, and did lots of research, We got very excited as the day approached, and Bob Marley's Legend CD took up permanent residence in my CD player. Negril is located on the Northwestern tip of the island. We were to land at Sangster Airport at Montego Bay, then take a 1 ½ hour shuttle ride to reach our destination. Jamaicans drive on the left side of the road, and the taxi drivers are notorious for terrifying vacationers with their death defying antics on the road.
Negril, Jamaica, My Favorite Spot On Earth
Negril, Jamaica, First Impressions
As luck would have it, Hurricane Dennis passed through Jamaica right before our departure from NJ in 2005, and Hurricane Emily arrived about halfway through our stay. The nightmare began as soon as we arrived at Newark Airport, 3 hours early for an international flight. Our 9 AM flight was now leaving much later in the day, from JFK airport, and we were bused there. Many of the other passengers were angry and very aggressive, to the point that we decided it was safer to wait for the next bus. We arrived at JFK a few hours later, but all of us ended up on the same Air Jamaica flight. To make a long story short, we arrived at what was then called Negril Gardens around 10 PM in the dark. The kitchen was closed, so my husband headed for the bar. My son & I searched out the dining area, and thankfully some desserts were still out on the table, as we had only eaten a snack on the plane.
My son & I ventured down to the beach to check out the water temperature. The sand was so soft and powdery. A Jamaican man approached us with that lovely, lilting accent they have, and said, “Welcome to Jamaica! Is this your first visit here?” Before we could reply, we both had coconut bracelets slapped around our wrists, and he said, “That will cost $20 US.” So much for what we thought was a representative of the hospitality office! Exhausted and confused, all three of us headed back to our cottage.
We awoke the next morning and I found a lizard on my facial cleanser. I like nature and am called “Mountain Girl” by some who know me well, so I took it in stride. There were all sorts of birds and butterflies we had never seen. We then headed outside to explore and eat breakfast. The magnificent, colorful plants, and the gorgeous, calm Caribbean Sea just took our breath away! We had only to walk down a short path lined with flowers, vines, and palm trees to reach the restaurant, bar, beach and the Sea. Remember the scene in the “Wizard of Oz” where Dorothy sees the yellow brick road in color, instead of everything in black and white? That’s the only way I can describe the difference of what we saw now as opposed to the previous night.
Unusual Tree on Norman Manley Boulevard
Negril, Jamaica's Beautiful People
We chatted up the staff and other vacationers at the resort. It was small and off the beaten path, chosen by us for that reason. There were only 65 units. They were two story ones, with pretty carved pineapples and artwork on all the wooden balconies and railings. Colored in yellow, pink, orange, blue and green, we were surrounded by a riot of colors and scents from all the flowers. Gardeners were busy tending all these exotic bushes and trees new to our eyes. We later found that Jamaica is a volcanic island, and has plant life not found anywhere else in the world.
We ventured down to the beach and it became obvious that the native Jamaicans were not allowed on the resort properties. We had mixed feelings about that, so set out to walk around and get to talk to the country's people on our own. They are very poor people, but very rich in spirit. Most were delightful to talk with, and happy to share any info about their country, making suggestions about tourist sites. It was apparent that although tours were supposed to be made through the front desk, the natives needed money and preferred to act as tour guides.
Now Sandals and other large hotel chains are homogenizing tropical islands, something this writer views as negative. Even now, the property where native Jamaicans swim and fish is being taken over by these chains, making it so the natives no longer have access to the best beaches or recreation areas. Also, items like Blue Mountain Coffee or Appleton Rum turn huge profits, but not for the Jamaican people on whose lands provide these luxuries. There are not clear ownership claims on the land. Also, as an environmentalist who returned to Jamaica many times, it's obvious each hotel looks the same, and the natural beauty of the land is ruined. Old growth palms and other gorgeous plants are cut down to favor new landscaping.
I thought I was prepared to see poverty, but I never saw anything like the tin roofed shacks that we saw as we traveled the countryside. I sat in wonder, listening to the always present reggae music, tears in my eyes. There are few jobs in Jamaica besides tourism. And of course, the sale and use of Ganja (marijuana) is a way of life for the Rastafarians, and many tourists are happy to partake of it. It is illegal, but the police look the other way.
Some of the women in the country seemed to resent the tourists. Since the poverty is so bad, they think that all Americans or people who can afford to vacation are "rich" and do not realize that both myself and my husband worked for the whole year to be able to go on this trip. So the people try to sell you all kinds of trinkets while you walk down the beach. We sympathized with their plight, but it is annoying to be hounded to buy things every time you try to walk to the water. Some of the jewelry and carvings were creative, and we did buy some, but were bound by a budget ourselves, and had to make that clear. I have a beautiful Cancer the crab pendant and a 3 faces carving done for me by an old Rasta with long gray dreadlocks.
The warm and calm Caribbean is unbelievable. We laughed when they said the water was a "little rough" when the "waves" were about 6 in. high! I can see it in my mind's eye whenever I feel stressed or sad. Just floating around amidst all the scenery is like a dream. The temperature of the water is 80 degrees, and the air around 85 degrees all year around. You can sit in the shade of the palms and fruit trees, and there is always a breeze. The sunsets are spectacular. Seven Mile Beach in Negril is considered one of the most beautiful in the world, and rightfully so. It truly has to be seen to be believed.
Grounds of Negril Gardens, now Grand Pineapple Resorts
Our Negril, Jamaica Personal Guide
We fell into a friendly relationship with a Rasta named Phillip, who became our official Jamaican go-to person for questions and our tour guide. He explained much about Jamaican culture and its people to us. He was about 35, but appeared years older, gray hair threaded through his foot long, thick dreads. He spoke of how there was no future for the young people there. He was 1 of 4 siblings, and the only one still living in Jamaica, not liking the fast pace of the U.S. He was beginning to get sick from the contaminated water from the first Hurricane, Dennis, when warnings of Hurricane Emily started coming in.
The Weather Channel was predicting a Category 4 storm as a direct hit on Negril. The Jamaican natives that hung around the sidelines of the resort had no TV's or radios to track the weather. My husband kept them updated by drawing maps in the sand. Later, when we got home, our friends told us that Emily was predicted as a Category 5 storm in the U.S. news, and they were freaking out worrying about us. Since our resort was older and not hurricane proof, we were told to pack everything up in case we had to be evacuated. We didn't know what to think, and the staff looked scared. Luckily, we were spared the worst of the storm, but it did rain sideways for 24 hrs.
The blue skies quickly returned, and the tourists good moods as well. But when we saw Phillip, he was very sick. My son & I weren't feeling too well due to the water, it was "treated", but different than home. Phillip said he lived in a shack in the slums, and his family collected drinking water that fell from the tin roof in a bucket. He felt feverish and was dehydrated. I always travel with too much stuff, so was happy to be able to give him Advil, Imodium, and some other medicines we can get easily over the counter at home. He thanked me profusely and later seemed much better.
We enjoyed the last few days, took a river walk where you actually walked IN the river, shopped for Blue Mountain Coffee and Appleton Rum. The Blue Mts. are lovely too, sprinkled with little villages in lush, green jungle like settings where the coffee grows. Once again, we were delighted with the natural beauty.
Phillip decided we were "honorary Rastas" and continued to thank us for everything we gave him, which in our eyes wasn't a lot. I told him we only tried to help. He looked at me evenly and said in that lovely Jamaican accent, "No, Mama, you didn't just try. You helped. Not only me, but my whole village." I was deeply moved and humbled. People in the U.S. throw away more food than these people live on.
Bob Marley, One Love, A Favorite in Jamaica and Everywhere
Time to Leave Negril, Jamaica
It was sad to go home, though I always miss it when away. We kept giving Phillip and his friends all the food we could up until the time we had to catch the shuttle to our return flight. We left the resort to catch a 4 PM flight on a Sunday afternoon, to return home about 10 PM that same night. At least it was daytime as we traveled back to Sangster Airport, and we could see the combination of fancy resorts with bright green golf courses, and tiny, poor shacks and businesses we now knew probably didn't even have clean water to drink.
The airport was a disaster when we arrived, all the flights backed up yet from both Hurricanes. We had to stay one more night in Montego Bay, and never did get on a plane home until about 10 PM Monday night. We landed at Newark airport at 2 AM on Tues. morn, 2 days later than expected and stranded at Newark airport. I raved at the people manning the Air Jamaica desk, as our cab company had given up on us. Newark is not a nice place to be in the middle of the night. The airline picked up the tab and rode us home in a Town Car. We decided never to fly Air Jamaica again, because when they say, "No Problem" it's just denial. Continental has 1 non-stop every day from NJ to Jamaica.
There is one other point I want to bring up here. People always hear Bob Marley's One Love song, and believe it's a big "party" song because of the line, "Let's get together and feel alright." The Marley Foundation graciously lets the Jamaican Tourism Board use the song with changed lyrics. If you listen to the You Tube version above in this hub, it's a song about a coming Armeggedon, and a plea for all people to come together, be spritual, take care of each other, and then they will be alright. It's a prayer for world peace, which I heartily endorse!
Despite all the mishaps, I fell in love with Jamaica, its people, its spirit, its reggae music. We have returned 4 times, and hope to return again. The resort is now part of a chain called "Grand Pineapple", which so far has kept the natural trees, plantlife and pretty buildings intact. There are many large hotel complexes being built, but they destroy many of the old growth plants which only grow in Jamaica. They do not always employ the native Jamaicans so they can make a living, but prefer to bring their own staffs. Phillip and other friends we met over the years are well. I will always have a special place in my heart for these poverty-stricken people with generous spirits and hearts filled with love.
Countries for Peace
© 2010 Jean Bakula