Little Black Eels and World-Class Beaches

by Barbara Barton Sloane

JamaicaSept13-2.jpgThe Amazonian Giant Centipede, the six-foot Yellow Jamaican boa, the Hutia, a small, squat rodent once popular as a food source for the Taino people - all are indigenous to Jamaica.  Eeeuwww.  But put that out of your mind right now.  When you visit Jamaica, chances are you won’t cross paths with any of these lovelies.  Instead, you’ll be surrounded by an azure sea, lush tropical scenery and some of the nicest people you can ever hope to meet.

Jamaica, the third largest island in the Caribbean, was once a Spanish possession known as Santiago.  In 1655, it came under the rule of England and was named Jamaica.  The country achieved full independence from the UK in 1962, thus commemorating its 50th anniversary this year. Celebrating this same half-century anniversary, that British secret agent we all know and love. The author, Ian Fleming, lived in Jamaica and repeatedly used the island as a setting for his James Bond novels, including Live and Let Die, Doctor No, and For Your Eyes Only. Two Bond films were made in Jamaica, and The Man with the Golden Gun, his 1965 novel, is centered in the resort town of Negril.

JamaicaSept13-4.jpgLocated in Westmoreland, the westernmost parish in Jamaica, Negril is small and intimate, with a population of just over 3,000.  It’s thought that the name comes from the black eels found along the coast.  Spaniards called the area Negro Eels, shortened to Negrillo and finally to Negril.  The coastline, commonly referred to as “Seven Mile Beach,” is actually just slightly more than 4 miles in length – but who’s counting? Here are found the island’s finest beaches, rated among the top ten in the world, and ideal for diving and snorkeling along its protected reef areas. Nightlife in Negril is full of possibilities – lots of restaurants, live reggae shows on the beach and of course, visiting both Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville and Rick’s Café (with its fearless cliff divers) is a must – an event the kids will love!

Capital of Casual
The town is quaint – no traffic lights, only one round-about.  The road leading into the center is two narrow, winding lanes crowded with traffic.  As my taxi zipped along, confidently maneuvering the treacherous blind curves, the driver noticed my white knuckles clutching the back of his seat.  In that wonderful Jamaican lilt, he reassured me.  “No problem, mon, we’re used to it!”  The road was  lined with goats, dogs, chickens, brightly-colored dwellings and small stores with vibrant, rainbow-hued clothing - dresses, pareos, t-shirts, skirts,  all flapping in the breeze. I had to get a photo so I hopped out of the cab and began snapping.  A young gal peered out from between the garments, asking if she could help me.  Saying I just wanted a picture, she said, “Ok, but if you want, I can braid your hair.”  Sensing that my beach-blown coif needed help, yet unable to channel a Bo Derek moment, I declined.  However, if traveling with your little princess, this particular chic technique will be something she’ll want to try, and the results are invariably charming. Though not for me, this amendable lady smiled warmly, wished me a nice day and I was on my way. No pressure, no hard-sell.  I was quickly getting the sense that Negril, known as “The Capital of Casual,” lives up to its name.

Rasta Man
JamaicaSept13-1.jpgI visited a small, rural village tucked high in the mountains of St. Ann Parish where reggae singer Bob Marley, one of Jamaica’s most esteemed citizens, was born in 1945 and later laid to rest. The community is owned and operated by the singer’s family and my tour started with a walk through the house he lived in as a boy.  My Rastafarian guide shared with our group many little-known insights from Marley’s childhood and career.  We visited Mt. Zion Rock which he used as a meditation spot and finally we toured the mausoleum, his final resting place. 

Nearby, in Ocho Rios and Montego Bay, there are some terrific family-friendly resort hotels.  At Round Hill Hotel & Villas, families love the extra space and convenience of a villa and the complimentary Pineapple Kids Club whose programs include arts, crafts, music, games and exploring Round Hill. Lucy’s Club for kids at the Iberostar Rose Hall Suites has a wonderful water park and promises a new, fun adventure every day. Especially appealing to kids– it’s all inclusive! Hot Dogs, popcorn and soda whenever…yay!

Slipping, Sliding, Glowing and Zipping
You might want to check out Kool Runnings Water Park in Negril with 10 very different water slides. Some tower high above the beach while others twist and turn through tunnels and waterfalls. Waters that glow in the dark? Visit Luminous Lagoon at Glistening Waters and be dazzled by the magic of bio-luminescence.  Take an after-dark dip in warm waters or just watch from a boat. And how could we leave out ziplining?  At Lethe Estates, a gated farming community hosts the Jamaica Zipline Adventure, a series of five sets of ziplines through the jungle canopy. Families are encouraged to taste the fruits and foods grown on the farms, including pineapples, coconuts and sugar cane. A sweet ending to an exciting adventure.

Live the Life you Love
On my last day, I awoke to the solitude of a sweet Jamaican morning –a warm breeze rustling tall palms, the shimmer of a glass-like Caribbean Sea. A significant factor for this cherished calm is that Negril is still fairly underdeveloped. However, this may not last for long as a new highway from Montego Bay and an improved infrastructure will ultimately bring many more tourists, hotels and tour operators.  So….a most compelling reason to visit Negril, Jamaica now. 

When You Go:

Negril 411:Jamaica Tourist Board

Iberostar Rose Hall Suites 

Round Hill Hotel & Villas 

Jamaica Zipline Adventure Tours 

Kool Runnings Water Park 

Luminous Lagoon at Glistening Waters

Barbara Barton Sloane is a contributing writer who lives in New York. 

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