‘Strawberry Fields Together’ has to be one of Jamaica’s prettiest low-key resorts. It’s half a dozen little cabins dotted around two pristine coves on one of the last unspoilt stretches of Jamaica’s north coast. We’ve visited on day trips from Kingston before with the kids, but this time decided to make a night of it and get away without them.
We stayed in ‘Moonlight Magic’ – the upper floor of a cabin overlooking the smaller cove. Perfect escape from the kids: views straight across the coast off a tiny balcony with a cute bench and the waves crashing beneath us. I’d given my husband a set of dominoes for an anniversary present and we played while the rain poured around us on a rainy Saturday afternoon, feeling a million miles away from Kingston.
For supper, we went up to the Strawberry Patch Café (though they offered to bring the meal down to us in the cabin). My husband had Miss Jen’s seriously good award-winning fried chicken, and I had king fish with rice and peas. Just us and a couple of the other guests, and a chance to chat with the owners Kim, from the US originally and Everton, Jamaican. Fascinating hearing how they’d built up the business and their hopes and plans. Then Everton gave us a crash course in the finer subtleties of dominoes – a game that’s easy to play but seems pretty tricky to master!
The next morning was perfect, sunny with a light breeze, and we had the beach entirely to ourselves for an early swim. Normally , with our three small children, going to the beach is a total palaver, complete with 45 trips back to the room for beakers, sun cream, armbands etc., but this time it was just me and my man heading off bare footed for a dip. and a bit of a snorkel. We saw plenty of different kinds of colourful fish. Later, Kim told us, that you can actually snorkel right round their little headland to the other bay, which I would have loved to do, but didn’t quite trust the bay after seeing how rough it had been the day before! Or next time I’d definitely try their snorkeling coral reef boat trip.
After breakfast of ackee, bacon and callaloo served with perfect soft johnny cakes and velvety smooth Jamaican coffee, we had signed up for a boat tour to Kwamen waterfalls. A long, slim fishing boat took us along the completely undeveloped coast for about 20 minutes, no sign of human activity at all except for the odd fish-trap with a floating bouy. We spotted a Jamaican Sea Turtle swimming by and watched as our guides casting hopeful bait over the side until we reached ‘Black Sand Beach’. Wild and remote, this beach looks amazing from a distance but is sadly scattered with washed up rubbish.
A Rastaman farmer met us on the beach, and said he did what he can to keep it clean, mentioning that he’d picked up 6 bags of litter a few weeks ago that went back by boat to Strawberry fields and then on to Port Maria. Seemed like a depressing job for someone who creates nothing more than the odd roach end himself! There was probably 50 bags worth of rubbish there when we visited, mostly plastic bottles and Styrofoam. Wish the Jamaican government would just ban Styrofoam (as have Guyana) and get serious about recycling bottles or at least tagging on a deposit, seems like an easy step that would make a massive difference. The Jamaican Environmental Trust are doing what they can with their excellent campaign Nuh Dutty Up Jamaica but the ability of the govenment to ignore the scale of the problem is heart-breaking.
Another guy was working hard on the beach thatching a little shelter using palm fronds, for visitors to shelter from the rain. Watching him work was fascinating, how neatly he was folding and plaiting in the enormous leaves. Our guide got a little fire going and fried us plaintain and fish while we swam. It was nice, but we were keen to get on with the hike, and in retrospect would have loved to have had this meal up at the spectacular waterfall; the beach was a bit depressing with all the litter. I’m used to seeing a lot of rubbish around near Kingston, but here it just was particularly saddening as it felt so remote and wildAlthough we’d carried our snorkeling gear with us, there was nothing to see, just algae coated rocks and a not very many fish at all. Another environmental action I would love to see here is a complete ban on fishing for parrot fish, Jamaica needs these colourful algae eaters to help the destroyed coral reefs regenerate (only 2-5% of the reefs are still alive according to JET. Currently these fish aren’t protected at all and even the supermarkets are selling juveniles.
After lunch, we hiked for about 30 minutes through beautiful jungle, criss-crossing a shallow river, hearing many birds and parrots hidden in the canopy overhead, until we came to the spectacular Kwamen Waterfall; a picture perfect cascade with tiny ‘rain birds’ darting like swallows from under the huge rocky over hang. We swum again, loving the cool waters, going right under the falls itself with the water pounding on top of us. We thought how the kids would love it, but the rocks at the falls are slippery and the hike up from the beach probably not suitable for kids smaller than about 4 years old.
After a peaceful hour, we hiked back to Strawberry Fields, firstly back through the shady jungle, then onto a coastal track with stunning views and gorges. Took about an hour. Just before we reached, we stopped at Lloydy’s fruit and veg stall in the village for fresh coconuts, and also a sugarloaf pineapple (unbelievably sweet) and some pretty pungent shallots to take home.
Back at Strawberry Fields, it was ‘Pizza Sunday’ and they had stoked up the wood-fired stove. We’d ordered ahead and after draining some well-deserved Red Stripes and saying goodbye to our guide, a delicious pizza was quickly ready for us.
Reluctantly we started getting ready to go, the restaurant was busy and it was taking my husband some time to pay (not least because his credit card was on hold!) I was still sweating from our long walk so thought I’d go and have a quick dip to cool off before we got in the car to go back to Kingston. The main, sandy swimming beach was kind of busy and I didn’t want to put back on my wet swimming costume anyway, so I snuck over the hill to the little secluded cove where we’d stayed the night before to just have a quick dip in my underwear.
Disaster! I swam out only about 10 feet, and, knowing the water was shallow and rocky, I carefully turned round to come back in. As I turned, my butt touched the bottom – except to my horror I realised it wasn’t the bottom, not rock, not even seaweed – it felt like a plastic bag, but even as I thought it I knew – No! It was a big jellyfish! I yelled and scrambled up away from it, but I had fully sat on the evil thing! My bum was on fire! Yelping and swearing I scrambled up the beach, grabbing my clothes and trying to wrap myself in a towel.
Dozens of totally chilled guests, probably a bit drunk / stoned gazed at me as I ran through them half naked and soaking wet, swearing my head off, and a dashed up to the kitchen yelling for ICE desperately trying to show anyone who would look my butt, but no one could yet see what had happened. The only way I can describe it was like having a burning iron being held to my backside, ice helped, but imagine 1000 bee stings stinging you at the same time and you’ll have some idea of the pain I was in!!
Kim and Everton immediately rang the hospital and offered to take us there, but as we were all packed up and ready to go, we jumped in our jeep and shot off down the road to Anotto Bay. As we bounced along the pot-holed road, I was googling jelly fish stings, and became convinced I’d sat on a Man O’ War, about which the first line of every entry had the words ‘potentially fatal’. Half laughing, still swearing, and vaguely worried that I might actually be dying I called anybody I could think who might have a second opinion, until reaching my sister in Florida who recommended we stop the car and my husband# wee on me, but that I probably wouldn’t die.
We got to Annotto Bay Hospital within 20 minutes, my bum still on fire, and for a small country hospital we were very impressed with how quickly they saw me. Within 5 mintues of being there they’d injected (my other butt cheek) with painkillers, steroids and antihistamine, and I was able to lie on a bed and hold an ice pack near to the sting. For a whole hour the pain stayed as intense as when it had just happened, and then finally, blissfully started to gradually recede and they let us home.
What an end to a beautiful weekend! I would visit Strawberry Fields again in a heartbeat, I know it’s a place we’ll take the kids back to when they are a little bit older to stay, as there’s so much for them to explore, and perfect protected beach for swimming. It’s an idyllic grown up get-away, perfect for us as we love hiking and their loads of trails nearby.
As for the jelly – you can come across one of those anywhere in Jamaica, and after 4 years of swimming in stirred up waters, it’s probably inevitable that I’d get stung – but I’ll be more careful about swimming in shallow waters after a storm in future! A week later and the angry bruise has faded to what looks like a huge love bite. I’m left wondering will that amount of jellyfish poison had any kind of last effect on my system. Perhaps I’ll grow some tentacles. A bit like Spiderman, I’ll become Jelly Mum. Would be handy for parenting. Thanks Kim and Everton for a wonderful weekend and making Strawebrry Fields such a beautiful place to visit!