Negril in 12 Sunsets

Friday, March 27, 2015

As the plane descended, I watched the pink and purple skyline slowly turn a gradient of navy blue as the sun set over Montego Bay. This would be the first of many sunsets I would witness during my stay in Jamaica.

"Welcome Home," Greg said after my parents introduced us. He reached for my suitcase and the four of us walked through the Sangster International Airport parking lot. The evening air was warm and the crickets echoed as we walked.

My parents had been in Negril for almost two months when I arrived. They met Greg during their first extended stay in Negril in 2014 and stayed in contact via Facebook. My parents have met so many special people in Jamaica. During my 13-day trip, I would have the pleasure of meeting all of them.

Located about 1.5 hours from Montego Bay, Negril sits on the far western point of the island. I've stayed in other parts of Jamaica in the past, but I would soon learn there's something different about Negril. The atmosphere is chilled and after just a few days, you feel at home. You can walk freely down the main road to the west end, stop at various food joints for a quick patty (beef and spices wrapped in a flaky pastry shell) or enjoy pan chicken cooked in an oil-drum barbecue on the curbside. Jerk cuisine (chicken, curry and sausage dogs) and fresh fish entrees can be enjoyed in many of the restaurants along the main road and on the beach. I highly recommend the Sweet Spot and The Best in the West on Norman Manley Boulevard and Bourbon Beach (on the beach) with live music every night.

"Welcome to seven-mile-beach," my Dad said with a smile as we stepped onto the sand the next morning.

There is no wonder, Negril beach is rated one of the top ten beaches in the world! The perfect white sand is smooth and clear for miles - both along the beach and out to sea. The beach is west-facing, offering plenty of chances to watch the peach coloured sun melt in the deep blue horizon. Through the clear turquoise water you can watch sting rays and fish swim parallel to the shoreline. Stalls, resorts of various sizes and bars with live music line the beach. Local souvenirs, boat and scenic excursions, jerk cuisine and red stripe or fresh fruit juices (orange, mango, pineapple, coconut) at your finger tips.

Negril beach is open to the public, so locals and tourists interact here more than anywhere else on the island. As the new face on the beach (and no tan) you can expect a little hustling from the locals selling everything from baked goods, crafts, glass-bottom tours to ganja in leaf form or brownie. A simple "no thanks" is all that's needed. By day three, the same locals will simply offer a smile and say, "You Good Mon!" If you respond, "Me Good Mon" in Jamaican Patois, they will laugh and offer a fist pump followed with "Respect Mon."

The tourism season is short in Negril. Many Jamaican people rely on tourism to make a living. At the end of April, most beach-side businesses shut down for the summer and re-open in December. When the peak season ends, the beach is near-empty and locals must find others means to provide for their families.

On my first evening in Negril, we headed to a local hot spot called The Boat Bar + Restaurant. My parents raved about this gem on the beach. The Boat Bar sits at the mid-section of Seven Mile Beach with the sun setting every evening on its doorstep. Studio One drummer, Joe Isaacs joins other Jamaica music legends including: Otis Gayle, Naggo Morris, Carl Henry and trumpet player, Frank Ayrd to perform live hits every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. The vibe at the Boat Bar is incredible. The laid-back atmosphere will have you swaying to the music while sipping a cold red stripe or hopping on the dance floor - especially when Carl Henry rocks his version of "I Gotta Feeling" by the Black Eyed Peas. Up and coming local talent and a few regular Canadian artists (YT) are also invited on stage. I had the amazing opportunity to photograph a few of them.

Joe Isaacs

I noticed Naggo Morris and Firefly sitting on these brick steps, chilling at the back of The Boat Bar stage during intermission. I gathered up the rest of the guys and captured one of my favourite shots from my trip to Negril.

Sitting down: Naggo Morris, Firefly, Frank Ayrd, Carl Henry and Otis Gayle (standing on right).

When he heard I was a professional photographer back home, Carl Henry approached me to schedule a separate photo-shoot with him on the beach. He was interested in a few portraits for new marketing material and possibly his next album cover.

The girls at the Boat Bar: Kadian, Shawnett and Carleen with Darlin (tank top) who worked at a gift shop next door.

Negril is divided into two sections: The beach side with small villas and large all-inclusive resort chains and the west end, housing boutique hotels nestled in the cliffs above lagoons and caves. The west end is also home to Rick's Cafe where tourists can watch locals and visiting dare-devils jump from a 30 ft platform into the water below. Rick's is also a popular destination to witness another Negril sunset. We walked through the west end to Rick's Cafe and stayed about 30 minutes. Like Margaritaville on the beach end, Rick's Cafe is very commercial. A beer will cost you $5, as opposed to $2 on the beach. A Patty, $7 versus $1.70 along Norman Manley Boulevard. That being said, it's worth a visit while in Negril.

My parents villa is located at about the mid-section and just steps from the beach. This Spanish-style, two-storey property is surrounded by lush green palms, almond trees and beautiful native flowers and fruit trees.

Below left are unripe Mangos which can be seen hanging from numerous trees in Negril.

After another awesome night at The Boat Bar, we headed back to our villa for supper. As we approach the gate, standing in the shade under an almond tree was a true Rastafari-looking Jamaican with long dark dreadlocks. His name was Richard. My parents met Richard on their first trip to Negril. He was selling glass-bottom boat tours. My parents said, "No thanks" and continued their walk on the beach. They saw Richard a few times after that and he never once tried to sell them another excursion. Instead, he started up a conversation with them and asked how they were doing. Before I arrived, my parents had spent the day at Richards home in the country side. He was eager to show me the real Jamaica and we arranged another trip to Orange Bay.

My third day in Jamaica would be my favourite. We spent the day at Richard's home about 40 minutes from Negril Beach. We grabbed a taxi and met Richard at the post office in Orange Bay. This shot of a sugar cane farmer was taken walking up the road from the post office to Richard's home in the hills.

You will often see half-built homes in Jamaica. The reason will make you think twice about paying high interest rates for a mortgage. The Jamaican people build their houses in stages. Paying cash, they building one room at a time until the home is finished. A process that can take 10-20 years to complete. The plus side: they owe nothing to no one.

Richard owns a farm with goats, pigs and chickens. He refers to them as his savings. As the animals grow and get heavier ($4/lb), his savings increase. He told me, when he is short on cash, he will sell one of his goats. He will sell one of his pig to local resorts to buy feed to feed the remaining pigs. Any babies that come along are interest.


Richard cutting sugar cane from his garden.

Richard is a true Jamaican and very proud of his culture. He loves telling stories of growing up in Jamaica and loves the tranquil life in the country - away from the hustle and bustle of the beach.

We bought a cooked chicken and Richard prepared the side dishes - a combination of steamed callaloo, pumpkin, peppers and spices simmered in coconut water. Sitting in his charming one-room house we enjoyed a delicious garden-to-table meal. 

Richard's cousin, Neil also joined us for dinner. 

As we were headed down the road to hail a taxi, these two girls were playing by the curb. They saw my camera and asked if they could pose for a photo. Of course, I was more than happy to oblige. They giggled when I showed them the photo on the back of my camera. It was the perfect ending to a perfect day!

My parents told me about a fresh produce and fish market in Savanna La Mar (referred to as Sav La Mar and Sav by the locals) approximately 30 minutes from Negril. There were stalls and people sitting in the alleys selling fresh callaloo, tomatoes, yams, potatoes, peppers, onion, apples, mangos, pineapple, a variety of melons and more. There was a section by the water where patrons stood waiting for the fishing boats to come in. The days catch was dumped from the cooler onto its lid and locals purchased their fresh fish. A few steps away, the fish could be cleaned and filleted.

The melon in the scale on the right is called Sour-sop. It tastes like pineapple and orange combined.

Greg checking off his list. He is a chef and takes a trip to Sav La Mar market every Saturday.

Eating fresh pineapple

After the market, we went to visit Clare, a friend who lived in the area. I didn't get to meet her entire family, so this is a photo my Dad took during a previous visit.

This is Clare's son, O'Mario (I hope I am spelling that correctly). 

He had a friend over when we arrived who was a little shy at first, but soon came around when we started playing with aeroplane toys my parents bought for O'Mario.

After we left Clare's house in Sav La Mar, we travelled 17 kilometres to visit another friend. Both Debby and Clare worked as housekeepers at the villa my parents stayed at during their first visit to Negril. Like Greg, they have stayed in touch via Facebook.

Debby is a single mum to four beautiful children: Treffiena, Tevaine, Teviena and Tiandra

This is Greg with my parents. He is such a great guy! When possible, he took us everywhere we wanted to go in Negril.

The beauty of Jamaica isn't entirely found in the turquoise water or pristine beaches, but rather in its people. Despite what they may or may not have, they are happy. There is something to be said for that! Jamaicans are friendly and fun. They welcome questions about their culture and love to show visitors the Jamaican way. They look for the good in every bad situation and try not to let anything break their Jamaica spirit. Respect!

When told Jamaican people are always happy, our friend Mr. Cold Beer (a nickname given to Murphy by my parents when he showed them where to get the coldest beer in Negril) said, "You can't smile when you're dead." That simple, quirky reply sums up the Jamaican Way. They don't dwell on the wants and needs, but yet surround themselves with family, live in the moment and enjoy life in their beautiful country that is JAMAICA.

There was only one thing missing from this trip to Jamaica - my husband. I hope we can return together next year. It was an amazing experience to travel to Negril and to visit my parents in their tropical paradise. I will cherish the memories made forever.


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