Our week in Negril, 12 to 19 December, was a last-minute trip, planned four days ahead of time using frequent flier miles. (And after eating PopTarts for almost a year, we felt we deserved it.) Wanting a clothing-optional beach, but not wanting to stay in a large resort, we were intrigued by the Firefly Cottages and Apartments in Negril, and impressed by their web site http://www.jamaicalink.com.
All flights were smooth and uneventful. Cleveland airport has gotten much more efficient since October. Miami was Miami, but we made our connections. Arriving at Montego Bay airport two hours before our return flight was plenty early, even with all luggage being hand-searched by American Airlines and everyone having to go through metal detectors twice. It was curious to see nail files confiscated from elderly ladies, while college kids were taking large carved wooden clubs onto the plane.
We had arranged with Firefly to have an independent driver, Paul Jerry, collect us at the airport. Meeting Mr Jerry was the single most important key to our wonderful experience in Jamaica. He is a kind, gentle, and honest man, and a superb driver in a country with some crazy drivers. He took us everywhere we wanted to go, around Negril and far beyond, always pointing out interesting sites we may have missed and able to explain anything we didn’t understand. We took a lot of pictures, and he was always very patient in stopping when we saw a shot. It seemed no matter what deserted back road we turned onto, someone would wave and yell, “Jerry!” In this respect it was kind of like driving around with Norm from Cheers.
Mr Jerry works primarily with guests at the Firefly, but may also be available to taxi visitors staying at other resorts in Negril. His cell phone at work as of December 2001 is 876-774-1179. Because he expects to be changing cell phones shortly, Mr Jerry has given me permission to post his home telephone number on the internet. It is 876-956-0389.
We received a friendly welcome from Chalder at Firefly and found the accommodations to be exactly as described. We stayed in the “penthouse suite.” Up two flights of stairs, this was really more like living in a private tree house, with a sensational view of the beach and sea. The door to our suite opened into a well-equipped kitchen, with the bedroom on one side and bathroom (shower only) on the other. A large veranda provided additional living space, and we found these accommodations to be plenty big enough for two people for a week.
Everything was kept spotlessly clean. The tap water was excellent and we found no need for bottled water.
Safe deposit boxes could be rented in the office for $10 a week.
Firefly has impressive gardens, and it was a treat to be surrounded by tropical flowers, bananas, coconuts, Tahitian apples and other exotic flora. Oswald the gardener could answer many of our plant questions, and prepared a coconut for us before our departure. At the beach, we lounged under an almond tree.
The beach, and of course sea, at Firefly are clothing-optional. The beach is only about fifty feet wide, with a water sports concession on one side and a beach bar/restaurant on the other. The absence of any other naturists persuaded my wife to keep her suit on, but I went right ahead and enjoyed the beach and sea as nature intended. I had a great time, and never got any sense that the staff or other guests at Firefly cared one way or the other whether I was clothed. I was heckled twice by people on the beach. Once by a Jamaican vendor, and once by a boisterous and perhaps intoxicated group of Americans wearing wristbands. Most Jamaicans appreciate a quick and good-natured comeback, and this vendor was no exception. I still have no idea what to say to drunk Americans.
You may find more naturists at a time when Firefly is more fully booked, or in the summer, when more Europeans may be there. But it might be a good idea to consider your trip with the idea that you will be the only beach naturist. It worked for me, didn’t for my wife (for whom naturism is not a major priority, and so she still had a great time), and only you know whether or not it will work for you.
While we didn’t encounter any other naked people on the beach, we never found any clothed people in Firefly’s jacuzzi, a great spot to unwind in the evening and get to know fellow guests. Our one and only complaint about our stay at Firefly would be the difficulty in getting the jacuzzi turned on by the security personnel. It was supposed to open at 6 each evening, but we found that unless we made an advance request this did not automatically happen.
Firefly is ideally located in the center of Negril’s 7-mile beach. Its beach bar has the cheapest Red Stripe on the beach (J$40 or US$1 a bottle) and vendors will be around with warm coco bread and meat and vegetables patties. Don’t miss these delicious patties (spiced just right, inside of a delicious pastry crust). Sunday was ice cream day, with bicycle vendors (listen for the bell) offering both ice cream cones and sandwiches. Mobile beach vendors were also selling freshly squeezed orange juice, fruit, fish, spiny lobsters, sugar cane, hats, visors, wood carvings, Jamaica Blue Mountain Coffee, and marijuana. A short walk would take you to just about anything else you might want on the beach.
Music was everywhere, and if you don’t know Bob Marley’s Legend album by heart before arriving in Negril, you will by the time you leave. It served as the perfect background. There was a concert on the beach every night, typically starting at 9 and ending around 1. The various concert venues, such as Alfred’s, Risky Business, and DeBuss appeared to have their schedules well-coordinated to avoid concert conflicts. Posters advertised all concerts in advance, but it was more fun to simply leave home around 10, and follow the music. On nights when we wanted to turn in early, the music was never an annoyance or a hindrance to sleep. (Our bedroom had air conditioning, but we never used it, preferring the efficient ceiling fan and the sound of the surf.)
Some resorts that had built very close to the sea had lost almost all of their beach in Hurricane Michelle. Walking south was never a problem. Walking north, as to Cosmo’s, involved either walking up and through resorts or getting wet. Firefly had, we were told, lost some beach too, but there was still plenty. The Caribbean was very warm and as smooth as glass, and one could wade a long way out before becoming fully submerged. The Negril sunsets were spectacular, just as advertised.
We never ate at the same place twice, and didn’t have a bad meal in Jamaica. I won’t dwell on the vegetarian aspects, but Jamaica is a great place to be a vegetarian. Devout Rastifarians are vegetarians, and restaurants are completely accustomed to people who don’t each meat or fish.
Chalder recommended Rainbow Arch, within sight of Firefly’s beach, as a good place for a home-cooked meal. This was a great choice. We were the only diners (business everywhere in Negril was slower than it should have been) and felt as if we had hired a private chef for $20. A little further down the beach, Gino’s was a superb Italian restaurant. We are used to excellent home-made pasta, but Gino’s was exceptional. This is a restaurant that would be right at home in Grand Case in St Martin. At the cliffs on the West End of Negril, the Rockhouse had great food in a spectacular setting. Mr Jerry recommended the Sweet Spice, in the village, as a restaurant favored by locals. Another excellent meal (and this was the only restaurant where we couldn’t hear reggae music. Here everyone was watching The Cosby Show). Kuyaba was also great, and the only place where folks were dressed up, a little. We were disappointed to find that the “nouvelle Jamaican cuisine” at Tanya’s had been scrapped, in favor of a much more limited and Americanized menu. But everything was still delicious. Cosmo’s was also good, although we were surprised that they could not call a cab for us, even for a $5 tip, when a rainstorm erupted after our dinner.
Susan did not want to eat goat, and was determined not to order “mystery meat.” This was never a problem, with so much fresh fish, shellfish, and chicken to choose from. One server, overhearing her concern about goat when studying the menu, assured her that his restaurant served only male goats. When we looked puzzled, he explained that female goats could possibly have been with men with AIDS. We saw a couple of logical problems here, but didn’t pursue the matter.
We are early risers, and it was difficult to find anyplace on the beach open for breakfast at 7 a.m. our first morning in Negril. (Some websites—not Firefly’s—say that breakfast is served at the Firefly beach bar. It is not.) We finally found a great breakfast about a half-mile from Firefly at 7:30, but later that day had Mr Jerry take us to the Hi-Lo supermarket to stock up on breakfast fixings for the rest of our stay. Breakfast on our veranda, lunch on the beach, and dinner someplace new added up to the perfect Negril food experience for us.
We hired Captain Kirk to take us to Booby Cay in his glass-bottom boat. This small (3 acre) island is almost within wading distance from the Sandals/Hedonism end of the beach. The refreshment center at Booby Cay has been abandoned, and the island is heavily littered with bottles and other trash, and dead cats. There is a marvelous sand bar jutting far out from one side of the island, and a more private, one or two person beach on the other side (follow the path, but be sure to use footwear. There is sharp coral and rocks.) We enjoyed our time at Booby Cay, but it was nothing like a Robinson Crusoe experience. Visitors during our four-hour stay included fourteen guests from Sandals, who arrived in Sunfish sailboats and on jet-skis; the marine patrol; two boatloads of people from the Negril Coral Reef Preservation Society; and one boat-borne marijuana salesman. Only the people from Sandals objected to nudity, and we found that we could deter future incursions by standing up before they reached shore. I realize that it is wrong to draw any conclusions about a resort based on just fourteen of its guests, but we found the Sandals people to be loud, rude, and boorish. And litterbugs.
The Negril Coral Reef Preservation Society (NCRPS) is waging a campaign to keep Booby Cay protected from development and free for all. Sandals is currently in negotiation with the government to purchase the island, build a 70-seat restaurant on it, and reserve it for the exclusive use of Sandals guests. We had brought a garbage bag to Booby Cay, as we do when visiting any wild beach. We got the strong hint from the NCRPS that they would rather have the rubbish left as it is, almost as evidence against Sandals. So we returned with only what we had brought.
An all-day journey to St Elizabeth parish with Mr Jerry was a highlight of our trip. Our destinations of Lovers Leap and YS Falls were well worth it, but the journey itself—meeting people and interacting with vendors in some places where tourists are still not ubiquitous—was just as memorable. Here we bought river shrimp, sugar cane, melons, wonderfully sweet bananas, and the best tangerines we’d ever had in our lives. Lovers’ Leap, with its 1700' drop to the sea, has a modern visitors center (although the museum part was closed for renovations) and provides spectacular photographic opportunities. YS Falls was cool in every sense of the world, a wonderfully refreshing oasis on a 90 degree day. Their gift shop offers high quality items at much lower than-Negril prices. [Several web sites recommend skinny-dipping at YS; one suggests arriving before 9 a.m. to do this. Since YS seems well-secured (to insure that everyone pays the $10 admission), does not open its gates until 9:30 a.m., and has a security person stationed at every level of the falls, I don’t see it as the ideal skinny-dipping site. If any one else has a different perspective based on recent experience, I would love to hear it.]
Between Lovers’ Leap and YS we had lunch at the Waterloo Guest House in Black River. This is a really funky place, almost like something you’d find in a Dickens novel. A very filling lunch for three cost $15, and we really enjoyed their homemade ginger beer.
Right after we arrived, while we were taking the long and winding (and fascinating) road from Montego Bay to Negril, Mr Jerry mentioned that he had once transported Craig T. Nelson, whom he recognized from watching Coach. The idea of people in Jamaica sitting around watching Coach on TV immediately altered my perception of this island paradise. Of course Jamaica is not a paradise. It is a real country with real problems. We found its people to be, almost without exception, honest, hard-working, and possessed of a great sense of humor. Many are very poor, and made us realize how much we have, and how much we have that we don’t really need. When we were stranded at Cosmo’s, we decided against walking back along the beach in the rain, and thought we might be able to find a taxi out at the road. We couldn’t, but before long two guys named Ralston and Dave stopped, picked us up, and, for an appropriate fee, delivered us back to Firefly. Ralston couldn’t believe that we were out in the dark and rain, on our second day in Jamaica, “wandering around.” We hope to go back, because we have a lot more wandering around to do.