Jamaicans are the friendliest people I have ever met. No fakeness, no pretense, no problem! One guy I met said, “In Jamaica we don’t have problems. Only situations!”
If one photo could speak for my trip to Jamaica this would be it.
Perfect Caribbean sea, a fresh coconut, reggae music, and chilling in the sun! And let’s not forget the ubiquitous ‘Red Stripe’ beer.
It’s one long flight to get to Jamaica. 3 actually! 36-hours in transit from Johannesburg, my wife I touched down in Montego Bay, or Mobay as the locals call it! Hilariously we were pulled aside at customs and screened for malaria! Even the Jamaicans are scared of Africa!
It’s the quintessential Caribbean picture postcard town. Blue ocean, palm trees, resorts and sunburnt tourists! Mobay is the second biggest town in Jamaica. The capital, Kingston Town, is numero uno.
* In Jamaica, Caribbean is pronounced Carry-be-UN. Emphasis on the ‘UN’ man!
Why am I here? To run the Reggae Marathon. Yup! Jamaica is now on the world marathon stage, and their contribution is billed the world’s friendliest marathon. I will put that too the test in a week. In the meantime, I want to experience Jamaica, albeit the touristic side. Cue reggae music, jerk chicken, rum, red-stripe and sunsets.
From Mobay I jumped in a bus and headed the 80km south to the hippy resort town of Negril. It’s the less-busy younger brother of Mobay. Perfect!
My chariot for the week’s adventure is a Suzuki Access 125cc. A slick looking machine made on a production line in India since 2007. From the get go I like this red fire-cracker. Well crafted, superb handling and braking, and a comfortable pillion position for my wife. Hiring scooters in Negril is a breeze. Along the 10 km stretch of road linking all the resorts along ‘7-mile beach’, are dozens of car/bike hire companies. It seems the Suzuki is the preferred choice in this neck of the woods. Ranging from $30 to $50 a day hire, it’s all about the negotiation. Irie man!
Negril has a little bit of everything. It’s not Mobay or Ocho Rios, with mega resorts and theme parks. It’s less commercial, and such, is not the go-to destination for spring-breakers. (American students who fall down drunk each April/May!)
Instead, it offers rustic resorts, street food & casual beach dining, and unrivalled tranquility on the 10 km of beach front. That being said, there are plenty of day excursions on offer so you can get your Jamaica fix.
Here are some of MY must-see places in Negril (or nearby!)
- Cliff dive at Rick’s bar
Rick’s is a busy spot. (it is a bit of trap). But it offers cliff diving. For free. I’ve always enjoyed jumping off high boards, so the 33ft (10m) platform was a comfortable height. The water of the Caribbean is crystal clear. Even if you don’t have the courage to jump, take a quick dip between rounds.
- Drink a red stripe at Floyd’s Pelican ‘floating’ bar
Not quite in Negril, but easily accessible with a local driver. I personally do not feel comfortable driving the Suzuki scooter here. Even ScooterSteve has limits, and 100km is my max daily scooter radius. Floyds is like nothing I have ever seen. A wooden structure 1km out to sea. It resembles a scene from Waterworld. A post-apocalyptic pirate’s nest. Uncle Floyd has spent the last 2 decades building, repairing and perfecting his retirement plan. The taxi dropped my wife and I at the shore, and for $10, a local fisherman took us to his pelican bar – built on stilts. Epic! If your idea of a good time is to sit and sip beer, and do nothing for a few hours, then this is your kinda place. And when you get hot, take a dip, and drink another Red Stripe lager.
- Eat Jerk chicken. And festival!
In South Africa we have braai (BBQ). In Jamaica they have jerk. A combination of coal-roasted, smoked chicken or seafood. Heavily spiced in chilly and seasoning, the meat is cooked on barrel bbq’s. It’s pretty much a 24/7 affair. Whether you want jerk for breakfast, lunch or at midnight, you’ll find a spot with jerk cookin’. There are loads of sides to choose from, but my favourite was festival. A deep fried, sweet tasting dumping, with the dough made from corn flour, wheat flour and sugar. (and some cinnamon I suspect.) A half-chicken with sides costs $13 so it’s not cheap, but it’s a meal-and-a-half for one!
- Rum appreciation at Appleton Estate.
Jamaica is sugar cane country. And Appletons is the largest sugar cane producer on the island. Apart from growing sugar cane, they make Rum. And plenty of it! I am not a big fan of hard tack. I prefer my beer. But when in Jamaica, you have to give the various rums a go. The tour on offer at Appleton’s is expansive. You’ll see every step of their operation. My favourite part, apart from the tasting, was the cellar rooms. More like warehouses. The rum is matured in old wine-barrels for decades. I am sure many a sailor has drowned on this island! Hic!
- Scuba dive. An unexpected plethora of life in the 29 degree waters.
When you google “Caribbean Scuba Diving” you get places like Bonaire and Grand Cayman, even Belize. Never Negril. I have dived in the Dutch Antilles. Take my word for it, Negril is up there with the best. A lovely Canadian lady called Martine runs a business called “Negril Fun Diving”. Her shack is on 7-mile beach near the town center. If you have your sea-cards then I would recommend her operation. You load your gear onto a glass bottom from the beach, then head out for 15-minutes to the various reefs. We dived near the island of Booby Cay (named after its birds). The reef was un-spoilt, and proliferous in life. From the biggest barrel-sponges I have ever seen, to arrow crabs and eels, this was tropical diving at its best.
Jamaicans are the friendliest people I have ever met. No fakeness, no pretense, no problem! One guy I met said, “In Jamaica we don’t have problems. Only situations!” He explained that no one goes hungry on an island where mango pips grow into trees in a season. Let’s not kid ourselves. Jamaica is having its fair share of problems, but somehow the locals are embracing their rapidly expanding world with a smile. We can all learn something from them.
Back to the scooter. I am impressed. Plenty under-seat storage, effortless electric ignition, smooth acceleration, plenty of grunt 2-up, and responsive braking. I believe the newer 2018 access model has combination braking which means the left lever pulls both front and back brakes. Cool for a scooter. It’s the highest score I have ever given a scooter. 40/50. That’s 80% perfect. For a mass produced scooter, high praise.
Do I smoke? No! But if you want to it is everywhere!