|Negril, Jamaica: Capital Of Casual|
The 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.
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 U.K. in 1962, thus it's commemorating its 50th anniversary this year. Celebrating this same half-century anniversary? That British secret agent we all know and love. His author, Ian Fleming, lived in Jamaica and repeatedly used the island as a setting for his James Bond novels, including Live and Let Die, Dr. 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.
Located 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 four miles in length -- but who's counting? Here are found the island's finest beaches, rated among the top 10 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.
Capital of Casual
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. Smiling warmly, she 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.
On the Rocks
Resort concierge Richard Gordon gave me a tour of the sprawling property and then handed me a cell phone. "Press this button," he instructed, "and 24 hours a day you can reach your personal butler. He'll take care of everything." The Cliffs' staff is friendly, attentive -- and a lot of fun. Each morning my waiters Hassan, Omite and Johnny Walker made what could have been a merely routine breakfast a really cool happening. They spun all my reggae requests and engaged in good conversation with charming Jamaican patois. The "let's get together and feel alright" ambience was infectious.
Love the Life you Live
I had the chance to experience the couple's Rehearsal Dinner which the resort took great delight in planning. It was a traditional meal with tasty offerings from each of Jamaica's parishes; for example from St. Elizabeth Parish there was fried bammy (cassava) and from Portland Parish, curried goat. I saw many guests lined up at the buffet for this particular delight. Me? I made a bee-line for the dessert table.
Live the Life you Love
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