Story by Don Canup
Photo by Andre Grossmann
Most travelers to Negril fly into Montego Bay’s Sangster International Airport, then figure out which route to use next. One is the "in-country" road. The other is the "coast road." If you travel the coast, keep the ocean on your right, and you can’t possibly miss Negril. Both take about 90 minutes by car.
The "in-country" road, as you travel westward on A1, is a left turn onto B7, just out of town. The signs say Anchovy, Montpelier, and Sav-La-Mar (Savannah-La-Mar). Roads are always in a state of disrepair but that forces you to slow down and take in the lush scenery.
Look for food being sold along the way. Many of Negril’s smaller hotels offer food service, some may allow you to cook, and most will allow you to tip the cook in return for preparing whatever you bring. The prices along the road will be cheaper than purchases in Negril.
The likkle (that’s how Jamaicans say "little") stands along the roadside sell Red Stripe beer, coconuts, callaloo (Jamaican spinach), honey, sugar cane, and snacks of all kinds from nearby farms. Try fresh green coconuts. There are several places along the way where you can get one. Make sure it’s cold. Drink the milk and then eat the jelly inside.
Highway B7 turns into B8 as you follow the road signs to Sav-La-Mar past Ramble. Here, you are about halfway to Negril. Almost every stand and small eatery/grocery along the way sells ganja, usually in small 2-3 gram bags for about 200 Jamaican dollars, less than $5 US.
Be persistent. Although Jamaican store clerks may pretend they don’t know what you want, they know. It’s not kind bud, but it’s usually decent brown "St. Ann’s." Don’t buy much more than you need at the time.
Should you stop at any place other than your hotel for a smoke, ask first if it’s OK to burn. Then buy a Red Stripe or a snack, and relax. The manager will usually give you a safety "heads up" if the authorities arrive.
The "coast road" is a beautiful oceanside ride. After you pull out of MoBay, a roadside stand on the right called Tony’s is just a few miles up the road. Stop here for your first Red Stripe. Tony’s is cool, but pricey.
Guess who’s waiting for you just before you get to Lucea! At a one-lane bridge (unless the proposed highway has altered the road), a band of ganja salesmen run alongside your car as you slow down to cross. The guy with the white spot in the front of his hair is "Boss." We call him "The Running Man." Your car can’t outrun this salesman. You may get a look at some kind here, but buy smart. There’s plenty in Negril.
Not long ago, rural Negril and its seven-mile beach was far less populated by all-inclusive resorts and glitzy smaller hotels, where you can eat, rent bikes, scooters, play around, and never leave the area. But its singular, laid-back vibe remains strong.
My favorite spot to eat in Negril is Erica’s. You can’t miss it as you head away from town on the cliff road. It’s a likkle shack on the left side with a large concrete building in the background—just in case more than the few usual diners show up. For about $10 US you can get fresh—not speared—Caribbean lobster cooked to your liking, rice and peas, and slaw.
Bike tours, waterfalls, and private cars can be hired to drive you anywhere on the island. A nice day trip is Treasure Beach, found down along the south coast past Black River. Some call it the next Negril. If you plan more than a week’s stay in Negril, at some point you will probably shop at the market in Sav-La-Mar. It’s a food and trinket flea market and everyone goes.
Remember, ganja is illegal—although it may not seem so. The beach is heavily patrolled by salesmen of all kinds—including those selling ganja—but the police prowl in groups, looking for anything that might not be the proper mode for tourists, and will bust you for smoking—if they’re in the mood. Just be cool. You can savor Negril without stress by utilizing discretion.
The "cool" side of Negril is a bit further around toward the south coast, a cliff area along the shoreline. This area exudes ambiance and is dotted with offbeat hotels and private guesthouses. The police do not patrol as persistently, and look the other way on most revelry. ("Most" means you can still get busted for ganja.)
The music in the West End is louder, the people wilder—and you are about halfway to the home of Jamaica kind bud, located in Orange Hill, a likkle hamlet just beyond West End Negril.
A drunken sailor could find kind in Orange Hill, but if you do not want to buy quantity, risk roadblocks, or travel too far from your vacation, there are plenty of ganja entrepreneurs in Negril to make the connection.
Don’t pay in advance; you will be robbed. Also, weight is a non-issue in this country. Expect to be shortchanged. If you want to be creative, consider bringing items for trade. Shoes, hip clothing, and tools are prime trade goods.
If you choose to carry ganja, you may find a police roadblock around the next bend. Roadblocks here are right out of the John Ashcroft wish book. Anything goes.
If you are caught with ganja, make a deal as soon as you can. Because the closer you get to the jailhouse, the more involved your drama will become. Adhere to a strict "one spliff rule" when traveling.