I have one thing on my mind this week. The beach. The seemingly never ending grey mass of clouds hanging over Seoul finally parted this week giving way to the bright sun and perfect temperatures in the mid 80s. Prime beach weather. Also feeding this sand and sun lust? The fact that I will be in Bali in less than a week. I’ve been to various beaches over the past couple of years, but my last real vacation to somewhere that could be described was tropical was a spring break trip to Negril, Jamaica my senior year of college.
Somewhat last minute a couple of friends and I decided we wanted to go somewhere for our week off at the end of February to escape the cold and dreary Michigan winter. They had both done the Mexico thing so we went with the next cheapest option (we were college students) and jetted off to Jamaica. This whole trip can be told best through a few vignettes.
1. The Bus Ride
Our package that we had booked through STA included a transfer between the airport in Montego Bay and the hotel in Negril. After fighting off the hordes of people right outside customs trying to sell us beer, pot and taxi rides we found our bus. The door opened, a cloud of smoke billowed out and as we took a few deep breaths we realized this wasn’t going to be an ordinary bus ride. After some introductions we found out that all of our bus companions were in Negril for a High Times magazine festival of sorts. So, you can imagine. About 15 minutes into the 2 and half hour ride we pulled over and picked up a random man. He got on the bus carrying a large garbage bag full of Red Stripe beers and branches of Jamaica’s finest. After selling his products to the 12 of us, we pulled over again and dropped him off. This continued for the next 2 hours. The bus was filled with a hazy smoke and the sounds of reggae music. Could it get any more stereotypical American pseudo-hippie in the Caribbean? It did. A girl with blonde dreads behind me started playing a ukulele.
2. The All Inclusive “Resort”
When we booked a room at an establishment called the Fun Holiday Beach Resort we were slightly wary of what we would find, but we weren’t expecting it to be as bad as it was. We walked in the room and had to fight back actual tears. The linens looked like they hadn’t been replaced since the late 70s, the room had an Easter egg motif and there was framed picture hung to cover an enormous hole in the wall. Hot water? Forget about it.
Our all inclusive food and drink package also left a lot to be desired. The free beverages included on tap Red Stripe and Appleton rum. Neither was particularly tasty and both left you down for the count the next day. As for the food? I lived on Pringles for the week.
But we did walk out of our room and see this every day, which made all of the bad stuff a lot easier to handle.
3. The Cure for AIDS
The nightlife in Negril is pretty chill. A bunch of bars line the main beach and are filled with a mix of locals and tourists. You can walk barefoot in the sand from all the bars and back to your hotel at the end of the night.
On our last night in Jamaica we went a bar on the beach called Alfred’s to see Swallow, a local reggae singer, perform. The stage was set up right on the beach so we dug a little hole for our shoes and hit the sand for a night of dancing under the stars. After the performance ended we somehow ended up “backstage” to meet the singer. We handed our camera to this rasta man to take our photo with Swallow and after he did he was kind enough to let us know, in all seriousness, that this tree we are standing next to can cure syphilis, gonorrea and AIDS.
It wasn’t the most glamorous of vacations (that’s what you get for booking with a student travel agency) but it ended up being one of those trips that you will never forget. Laughing at the horribleness of some parts, remembering the fear you felt after to 4o foot cliff jump at Rick’s, thinking about the crystal clear water and beauty of Negril’s beaches, and reminiscing about the carefree attitude, or irie as they call it in Jamaica, felt by everyone there. The slogan of Jamaica’s tourism board is “Once you go, you know”. I can vouch for that. It can be difficult to describe the charm of this country, but it’s worth the visit to discover exactly what it is.