It was our first Sunday in Jamaica and we needed an adventure. Something to help us feel like we’d really arrived in the Caribbean and I was dying to get in the sea. So, H (my husband) and I decided to go to Port Royale – what used to be ‘the richest and wickedest city on earth’…
So wicked in fact, a giant earthquake threw it into the sea in 1692, cleaning it up a great deal. Now it’s just a sleepy fishing village with a beautifully restored fort. We caught a taxi out there, out past the airport on the huge natural spit that sticks out in front of Kingston. The taxi left at us the Morgan Hotel (as in Captain of course!) a seafront hotel with it’s own marina and lovely harbour-side bar where we got a drink before braving ‘the town’! Our stock method of approaching anything. Even though I’m not drinking, I feel braver too once Ed has had a Red Stripe! It’s a way for us both to take stock for a moment and get our bearings, while looking like we know what we are doing.
We walked into Port Royale, past some ramshackle houses and street vendors, and rather self-consciously past the wide-open doors of a church from which a stirring sermon was emanating. We caught a glimpse of the congregation inside all in their Sunday best – dresses and high heels for the ladies, and men in full suits. An absolute contrast to the dusty folk sitting around in the square in ragged clothes with no shoes!
We’d been expecting a fishing village but somehow managed to completely miss that part, and we walked right out of the other side of Port Royale again into a big green open area! Feeling a bit too much like target practice for comfort (big, white and wobbily – oh yes, and relatively – loaded!), we kept walking trying to look like we knew where we were going and luckily enough found ourselves at the historic Charles’ Fort.
We wandered in and had this magnificently restored site to our selves. Amazingly well built it’s survived the umpteen earthquakes and hurricanes that have struck this area. On the way out, a friendly guide with blue irises round his dark eyes, offered me a chair in a shady breezy spot, and began to tell us the history of the area.
He was charming, and clearly very proud of being from Port Royale, he said that the people living there family’s went back 300 years from that original city, that Port Royal folks were a proud people who hadn’t been slaves since the early days, as the Africans living there had become skilled craftsmen and tradesmen working with the Bucaneers. His family never worked the sugar cane, ‘no way mon’!! He was a big fan of Captian Henry Morgan, who he said Jamaica was settled by more than the British, it was Morgan, a ‘Bucaneer’ not a pirate, who had brought wealth into Port Royal, organised the whole place, then hung all the other Bucaneers when he became the Governor General.
Our guide pointed us back in the direction of the waterfront of Port Royale, just a few streets over, which was tiny, humming with people and pelicans, and filled with fishing boats. So now for the next part – the Lonely Planet said a fishing boat could take you out to a beautiful island called Lime Cay from beside the Morgan Hotel. Sounds simple? Like so many things here – actually doing it was suprisingly easy – although at the time you feel so unsure and everything seems so difficult and dangerous!
From the Morgan Hotel, the bar lady pointed us towards a gate on the harbour – go through that she said, and the next gate and then ask the fishermen beyond there. Well, the first gate had 6 guys sitting about smoking at it, all a bit intimidating as you couldn’t see at all what was through the gate, and then between that and the next gate there’s a tiny rubbish strewn beach filled with brand spanking new SUV’s parked up in the sand! Once you get through that, suddenly you see a lovely little beach bar, where boats are tied up and people are playing dominos. Phew… Boats ranging from little fishing boats, to seriously bling power boats (who’s owners have the SUV’s presumably!)
We were just in time, the bar lady hollered at a small scruffy motor boat that was just leaving to wait for us, and we clambered on board. H went a bit quiet on the boat, not sure he believed it was sea worthy, and was a bit dubious about where it was taking us and if we’d ever get back, but I had a huge grin on my face from the moment we put out to sea (momentarily dented by the sight of a dead dog floating in the water. Jamaica does that too you – it’s paradise but so rough around the edges.. It giveth.. then it taketh away again!) But I was delighted, here we were, in the sunny Sunday sunshine on the Caribbean Sea heading out to an island!
After a 15 minute trip, splashed my warm water as we bounced over the waves, we got to the island; a perfect strip of a sand with a few palm trees, dotted with people sunbathing and picnicking. It’s a popular spot on a Sunday; but then, considering that it’s opposite a city of a million people, sharing a little piece paradise with 40 others seems a pretty good deal. There were about 5 power boats tied up at one end of the island, ‘party boats’ crammed with people with sound systems booming, but apparently the constant ‘riddim’ is something you just have to get used to here! Our boat man had said he’d come back at 5.
We had a lovely few hours, reading in the shade of the trees, me doing an excellent pregnant whale impression in my maternity bikini, pretending to ignore the sweet smell of marijuana drifting over us from the next group along, finding huge pieces of conch shells, swimming in the gorgeous turquoise waters and getting our first jellyfish stings! (See that giveth and taketh away thing?! MAN! Just as we were beginning to relax – OUCH!) And we just about made the boat, who left at 4.30 so it was lucky we were paying attention as I don’t think our skipper had a watch, nor was he counting how many people were on the boat! There was about double the number on the way home, a mix of international folk and jamaicans all piled in, sinking the boat low in the water…
On the way home from Port Royale, our taxi driver told us people live out on Lime Cay. We said we hadn’t seen any houses – and he just laughed at us! ‘No man! People that live ‘dere catching fish and sleep on the beach!!’ The boat man had been bringing a couple of buckets of fresh water out with him… If that’s true then all credit to them – the island was spotless… What a place to live!
As we drove back along the spit to Kingston, a huge orange sun descended quickly into the sea, (‘winter’ sunsets here take about 5 minutes flat!) We were both exhausted, but delighted with ourselves for surviving our first adventure. Port Royale on reflection, is actually a very friendly, safe place, and we found out it is run by some sort of Jamaican mafia called ‘The Brotherhood’, in who’s interest it is that tourists get looked after. So now that’s one place less to be scared of! And we’ll have to go back one day to eat fresh fried fish at Gloria’s Rendez-vous – meant to be some of the best seafood around Kingston. Feels like every time we do something here, whether it’s going into a ramshackle bar, or finding the local supermarket, being in Jamaica seems a little bit less intimidating. There’s just so many unknowns still…