Winding our way down the West End of Negril, Jamaica; we meet characters, artists, chefs, entertainers, and entrepreneurs. While many flock to Negril for its 7-mile beach and reggae festivals during Christmas or spring break, we have found summers the best time to talk and travel. The Negril chamber of commerce provided our first strip map which led us to the lesser known sites beyond the roundabout. "Oh, ya stay by de cliffs," locals nod knowingly. Let me introduce you to some of the more familiar faces of the West End Road.
Sunday, July 22, 2007,7:34 AM 82.5° We sit on the veranda outside room number 10 of the Westender Inn, and Rays arrives with a morning carafe of Blue Mountain coffee. I write in my journal as Bob checks out the ocean pool. We then cross the road to sit by the pool shaped like the island of Jamaica and give Kamar our breakfast order: a fruit plate and a traditional ackee and sal' fish with dumplings. Though some mornings we travel toward town to Just Natural to enjoy the traditional Jamaican breakfast, we eat there more often to enjoy the tables planted in the plants and eat a lunch of a veggie burger or black bean burrito. Or, we return later to have Jamaican snapper or lobster pasta followed by rum-soaked bananas or spiced cakes.
11:30 AM 86° Starting out from the Westender Inn which is southeast of the lighthouse and next to Jackie's on the Reef spa, we take a chance to catch Danny Monk at Jamaica Jurassic Park in Orange Hill. When we first met this artist welder he created a co-metallic park to show that nature and metal could coexist. As the years passed, his park turned into a community center. One event we experienced was a Raga Festival with a fashion show with a difference, Italian Rastafarian dishes, and a concert including Bounty Killer, Sizzla, Anthony B and others that lasted until dawn. Danny, a natural-born story-teller regales us with tales of local lore and has a laugh that never quits.
Creating images of dinosaurs the locals, who once thought of them as obeah, learned they are a part of our earth's history. He has a library of dinosaur books to teach them about the Jurassic era. Danny teaches tourists and natives with his every deed. He made us pigs' tales soup on our last trip featuring dumplings and dasheen. Famous for his gate work and masks, Danny always wears a baseball cap. You might spot him working on gates at new resorts or see his masks at long established spots. This mask's eyes light up when you walk by.
1:30 PM 87° Having chatted off breakfast and getting a little thirsty, we go back down the hill past our Westender Inn lodgings heading back toward Negril. A couple of Red Stripes are on our minds and soon will be in our hands. Although the famed 3C's Pastry closer to the beach and the round-about, no longer sells patties opposite the Hardware and Haberdashery, we are happy to stop at the Out of Town Pastry just between Whoopee's Park and Hylton Avenue. Colin's happy to serve a daily offering of fresh-baked beef or veggies patties, ackee loaf, or coco bread. We frequently stop at the pastry shop to get Ting or Red Stripes to bring to Wendley Blake's Crossroads Cafe.
After a previous afternoon chat with Captain Tom at the Westender Inn, we ended up arranging an early morning fishing trip. As we started out, we looked back at the sun rising above the lighthouse on the westernmost point of Jamaica. Though we didn't have great luck, Pat landed a barracuda. Hoping she would not acquire that as a pet name, we dropped the fish off at Wen's house and told him we would be back for dinner and he could serve the rest to family and friends. A few years back when he was establishing his "yard," we sponsored a goat roast and were served Mannish water, a goat soup that most do not want to know the ingredients. Our hundred-dollar investment served the entire neighborhood. The kids were thrilled with the fireballs I brought. Wen's wife, Sophia made passion fruit and Appleton rum punch. This attracted both relatives and neighbors. The boom box blasted into the night air filled with the scent of night jasmine. Hurricane lamps lit the tables in front of the green and gold café.
We met Wen in 1994 when he was chef at Secret Paradise. He later cooked at Kuyaba on the beach. Today, he is catering at visitor's residences or in his shop. Daughters Audette and Alana are his ready helpers.
2:30 PM 87.5° Continuing toward town, we check out internet-famous Sexy Rexy, who's call to all "Check it out" lures travelers of all nationalities. We find him with his ever-present towel over his shoulder eating some veggies and ready to let us know how he whooped his last domino opponent. He is a tour guide without compare. His mantra is "every day and twice on Sundays." This oft repeated saying is capped by a Jamaican "Ha-ha-ha-ha!"
3:00 PM 88° Too hot where we are, we turn back to the LTU Pub to catch some tunes and ocean breezes. Johnny, the best bartender not only on the West End, but in all of Negril has just come on duty to count his supplies and measure the contents of the liquor bottles.
While many are just chatting, some order bruschetta or their famed spicy coconut shrimp appetizers. It is here that we met Karl Ricketts, an artist whose work hangs on my sun porch and in my den. He signs each canvas with a spiritual message. I sign his book of comments from people who have bought his work for their walls. He frets about the imported Haitian paintings sold en masse on the beach. One morning, we spotted him dressed in denim too hot for the beach, but walking barefoot with his roll of art works, talking to tourists educating them on the real images of Negril: Mi Yard, women dancing, the boats of the wharf, 3 Dives, the face of Cyprion a former fire eater from Hedonism.
5:00 PM some clouds roll in, and we head back to change for the "hevening." While the resorts shuttle their tourists to catch the sunset at the overrated Ricks Café, we return to Whoopee's Park for one of Dennis Lynch's incomparable Appleton Rum and fresh squeezed orange juice drinks. Dennis worked on the road we have travelled all day. He built his bar with the thatched roof. He laid the stones in his cement wall. He tends the goats in his park. He hand wove the hammocks that hold couples who have been drawn there by the park's unique charm.
While he sips rum and coke and watches his road, customers stop to check out his ocean view. We have hundreds of pictures of that beautiful view and have even caught glimpses of the green flash. Here we have met and talked with Germans, Canadians, Italians, other New Yorkers, and residents of cold states like Michigan and Minnesota. None of us can get enough of the warmth that cures the aches and pains that winter provides. None of us can get enough of the sunny blues, ocean greens, bougainvilla reds that Negril can offer.
6:15 86° The temperature doesn't drop with the sun.
8:00 PM 85° We appropriately head for the Hungry Lion. Traditionally a vegetarian restaurant it now has varied menu including red snapper packets and quesadillas. Once, only a few restaurants had wine lists, but here and elsewhere bottles are readily available. We eat at one of the roof-top tables where we will eat beneath the full moon. Mark, our waiter, brings complimentary soup and bread. The ground floor sells local art. The day is almost done.
10:00 PM 84.5° We return to the LTU for cheesecake and coffee. The bar is full. The music is fine. The crowd of all ages, nationalities, genders, professions is feeling "Irie." They talk of their day's adventures, they talk of their desire to relocate, and they talk of the politics of here and there. We contribute our thoughts. We ask, where to next? We learn of new yards to visit. We promote the offerings of the WEST END.
Patricia Kohler is a writing instructor in Syracuse University's writing program. She and her husband first visited Jamaica in 1987 and have returned annually staying at various locations on the West End. They have spent time in the usual places: the beach, the lighthouse, Bluefield's Bay, Y and S Falls, Treasure Beach, etc., but always return to the same stretch of road to renew old acquaintances and eat great "natural" food and hear "tru" talk. They end many days "drinking in" the offerings of Whoopees park and learning about Jamaican politics, the fruits of their eart', traditional reggae and ska artists, and duppies.
Transportation, visas, health, maps and temperature
Airlines (Wikipedia): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_airlines
Embassies/Consulates (Embassy World): http://www.embassyworld.com/
Health precautions (WHO): http://www.who.int/ith/en/
Google interactive map: http://maps.google.com/
Temperature (Temperature World): http://www.temperatureworld.com/
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