Negril, with the longest, continuous stretch of white sand beach in Jamaica, is where the ganja cookie crumbles at a laid-back pace. My husband and I flew into Jamaica’s Montego Bay airport and drove to Negril, about two hours away. Adult-only hotels are tucked into rocky overlooks. Nudist beaches make suntans seamless. Smooth sands give silently beneath bare feet for miles and miles. The white velvet spreads into the ocean where fish dart around in the warm, clear waters. Music drifts down the beach like ganja smoke filling the lungs. Euphoric Negril is a playground of the true lover.
We stayed in the Charela Inn, that is situated right on the beach – one that the owner and hotelier Daniel Grizzle has zealously safeguarded. Together with his wife (now deceased) the couple forced the Government to shelve plans to mine peat in the Great Morass area in the 1980s, which, according to scientists, would have ruined the legendary seven-mile beach and turned the area into a desert.
The Charela Inn itself is very attractive and in the center of all action. Each room has either a private patio or a private balcony. Our room overlooked the freshwater pool. The white sand and crystal-clear waters of Negril’s beach, which made it to underwater photographer Tanya Burnett-Palmer’s Top 10 List for CNN Travel, were just steps away.
The best snorkeling spots for beginners are offshore and not accessible from the beach. As someone who cannot swim, I was worried as I scrambled into Captain Mike’s glass-bottom boat. We zoomed to the middle of the ocean where the live corals sway and Captain Mike led me gently into the waters. As we floated together, he pointed out brain corals and sea urchins. Angelfish, boxfish and goatfish nibbled at my fingers as they ate the breadcrumbs offered to them.
I could have snorkeled for hours enjoying the stunning underwater landscape made by the coral in a rainbow of colors. Some of the most common coral and reef species include green- and purple-base anemone, red cauliflower-, flowerpot-, star- and bubble coral.
Is Life a Jerk for the Vegetarian?
Much to the delight of my vegetarian husband, we discovered that Rastafarian food is Ital or vegetarian, with lots of green vegetables, no milk, no meat and no salt. Perfect at breakfast is ackee, a fruit that obligingly pops open when it is ripe. Ackee looks and tastes like bhurjee or soft scrambled eggs when cooked with onions and tomatoes. Collard greens look-alike callaloo, and doughnut look-alike “festival bread” or dumplings complete the breakfast.
An experience in color and flavor is created by combining bright orange squash, with yellow curried ackee, and yellow plantain. Scallion, thyme, garlic, onion, pimento, tomato and curry powder are all common seasonings in Rastafarian food.
For meat-lovers, jerk-seasoned grilled chicken, pork and fish are served with a spicy sauce. Fish prepared escovitch-style is seasoned, fried and marinated with a peppery, vinegar-based dressing made colorful with julienned bell peppers, carrots and onions. Goat and other meats are curried too. Beans cooked with coconut milk and vegetables are served with rice. Standard sides include steamed plantains, yams, sweet potato and breadfruit.
Fruits are plentiful in this tropical paradise. We sampled a variety of mangoes at the local market. In addition to a local one called “Julie” there were East Indian varieties. Sadly, a mango called “Bombay,” which we were told was the sweetest of them all, was not available. Nesberry, familiar to us as sapota or chickoo, also made a delightful snack.
Red Stripe beer, brewed in Jamaica, and rum are the alcoholic beverages of choice on the island. A number of souvenir shops offer rum tastings. “The locals have small shots of rum through out the day,” said the shop assistant at one, where we stopped for a sample. Soursop, a member of the sitaphal or custard apple family, added tang and smoothness to a cocktail with rum and coconut cream. We washed our day down with chilled coconut water sipped from the shell and sugarcane juice freshly squeezed by the roadside.
We drove back from Negril to Montego Bay where we stayed in “Polkerris,” a well-appointed and luxurious bed-and-breakfast, owned by the Bennetts. Jeremy Bennett came to Jamaica in 1962, fell in love with the island and his partner Clarissa, whom he married in 1970. Needless to say, he never left. The Bennetts host guests in their beautiful country house, which is just a ten-minute stroll from the restaurants and clubs of the Gloucester Avenue Hip Strip, Doctor’s Cave Beach and the Aqua Sol Theme Park. As a guest put it, you really will feel like you are visiting your rich relatives in Jamaica.
Tale of the East Indian and the Rastafarian
The National Museum West in downtown Montego Bay is a treasure trove of information about the history and culture of Jamaica. With respect to the Rastafarian story however, the Museum tells an incomplete tale.
Classified as both a new religious- and social movement, the Rastafari culture developed in Jamaica during the 1930s when Ras (Chief) Tafari was crowned the King of Ethiopia. The Indian cultural influence on the Rastafarian movement is undeniable. A Kingston couple Laxmi Mansingh and Professor Ajai Mansingh outline the connection between the Rastas and the Indian culture in Home Away From Home: 150 years of Indian presence in Jamaica. The Rastas are vegetarian, family-loving people, who worship the Goddess Kali. They wear their hair like the sadhus of India (devotees of Lord Shiva) and like them, smoke marijuana, which the Rastas also call ganja.
The first Rasta, Leonard P. Howell, took the spiritual name “Gong Guru” or Gongunguru Maragh (Gangunguru Maharaj), say Stephen Davis and Helen Lee in their book The First Rasta: Leonard Howell and The Rise of Rastafarianism. The name Gongunguru is a combination of three Hindi words – gyan (wisdom), gun (virtue), and guru (teacher). Howell started a community called the “Pinnacle,” which was especially known for the cultivation of cannabis, which has religious significance for the Rastafarians.
In the early to mid-nineteenth century, the British recruited Indians – from the tribes in the hills of Eastern India and from the Central provinces of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh – into the sugar colonies. For the indentured black population, the new Indian laborers seemed kindred spirits; their struggles had the empathy of the Rasta. Solidarity was soon established between the communities, both of which were brutalized economically and politically. The Rastafarian culture appears to be a result of the synthesis of these cultural interactions.
The Jamaican dancehall music – which also reflects the merging of East Indian and West Indian influences – is based on themes of survival, suffering and struggle, that inner-city black Jamaicans face on a daily basis, albeit in a more aggressive idiom than the Rasta-inspired reggae. Songs such as “Suhani Gyul” bring a smile to one’s lips as they seek their inspiration from old Bollywood songs and produce a Chutney remix – Arti & Zoelah’s Wine Up on Me.
The Jamaican motto is: Out of Many, One People; unfortunately, both Indo-Jamaicans and Rastafarians downplay each other’s influence, as they look outside the borders of Jamaica towards their mother countries – India and Africa.
Interestingly Edwards, the black security guard outside Ivans Bar, who after careful consideration, decided we were Indian, went on to share that his great-grandfather was Indian. He proceeded to tell us the story of Bahubali and so immersed was he in the whys and wherefores of the movie that when our taxi came Edwards was very disappointed to see his audience leave.
How to Speak like a Jamaican
English is the official language of Jamaica, but the majority speaks a form of English Creole or “Patois” (pr. patwa). Patois was derived out of a need to communicate between peoples who did not share a common language, the English masters and the slaves.
Here are standard greetings that can be heard around the island:
- Waa gwaan? – What’s going on?
- Waddup” – What’s up?
- Yo – Hey!
- One love – An expression of unity, love and respect for all.
One love, my brudder. One love, Sistreen!
From the time Christopher Columbus first set foot on Jamaica on May 6th, 1494, the island has seen increasing traffic year after year. All-inclusive hotels attract tourists in large numbers. “Enjoy the white beaches and chilled attitude before the island is run over completely,” says our driver Phillips as we head back to the airport, “Fo you can be shore that is coming.”
Yaw so nice, Jamaica!
~To book your room at the Polkerris in Montego Bay, please visit: www.montegobayinn.com.
~Guha Shankar’s book “Imagining India(ns): Cultural Performances and Diaspora Politics in Jamaica” provided good insight.
~Phillips, our fabulous driver in Montego Bay, can meet you at the airport and drive you around. He can be reached on Whatsapp at 1 (876) 447-0904.
Ritu Marwah is the Features Editor for India Currents and an avid traveller.