Once Upon a Winter Dreary....By Steve Huber - March 1, 2001
So when the opportunity presented itself to leave frosty, frigid Rhinelander, I jumped at the chance. Janet, the girls and I needed a getaway, something that wasn't winter, cold and gray. A search of the Internet showed us so many choices that it boggled the mind. The travel agents weren't much help either. We didn't want to go to some fancy, glittering hi-rise hotel in Mexico, but that's all that our local travel agents seemed to offer. It was frustrating to say the least, so back to the computer we went. This time, we narrowed down our search to Jamaica. We'd been there before and had a good time when Janet's two younger sisters had a double wedding there two years ago. We didn't want a big place and we kept searching. After a couple hours, I thought I found the perfect place, I didn't realize how close to perfection I came. A quick phone call connected me to a cheery voice named Michelle and she told us that there was a vacancy during the time that we had free. Air fare was the next obstacle. Back to the travel agents. Frustration once again reared it's ugly head and back in front of the monitor I sat. A night's searching found some inexpensive, non-stop tickets from Milwaukee to Montego Bay, "Boom", out came the fantastic plastic and our trip was secured. Lost Beach Resort , Negril Jamaica was to be our home from February 5th through the 12th.
The morning of the 5th dawned cold, spitting snow and we bid a not-so-fond farewell to Milwaukee. We boarded our flight which amazingly took off on time and a little over 4 hours later, we landed in 86 degree, sunny Montego Bay. After clearing customs and retrieving our luggage (traveling with 3 females means LOTS of luggage), we met Dennis, our driver from Lost Beach. Jamaican traffic always made me glad that I didn't have to drive and this trip was no exception. To begin with, Jamaicans drive on the wrong side of the road, and if that isn't bad enough, there doesn't seem to be any speed limits and no set passing zones. Frantic honks on the horn and judicious use of the gas pedal seem to be the only requirements to pass. A very scenic, only occasionally white knuckled drive of 1 « hours had us near our home for the week.
As Dennis turned off the main road onto the road to Lost Beach, I wondered "My God, what have I gotten my family into?" Small Jamaican homes dotted the landscape as goats, dogs, chickens, cattle and donkeys wandered here, there and everywhere, with Dennis keeping up a steady stream of conversation as he deftly dodged potholes, stray barnyard animals, maniac taxi drivers, bicycles and small motorcycles loaded down with three people. All I could think was that "Toto, we aren't in Kansas anymore!" Just when I thought Lost Beach really was lost, Dennis slowed and turned into a courtyard. I couldn't believe my eyes, it looked just like the web site picture, absolutely beautiful! We quickly checked in, our luggage was taken to our room. My winter weary eyes couldn't begin to take in all the beauty. Lush, green vegetation, flowers with colors that I'd forgotten existed assaulted my vision, scents overcame me and I walked in a daze. Our room turned out to be a great little two bedroom apartment. Two good sized bedrooms with a decent sized living room and fully equipped kitchen. Our "hotel room" was nicer than many places that I'd lived in, what a nice surprise!
Abandoning my wife to look after unpacking (as I usually do), I found that our room was less than a stone's throw from the ocean. The beach was undeveloped, the only sounds heard were the waves lapping on the shore. I wriggled my toes in the sand and started walking, drinking in the smells, the sounds and the sight of the ocean. I could feel my blood pressure dropping, all my cares melting away. I also realized that I was dressed way too heavy and had to return to the room. Shorts and tee shirts were the dress code for the week.
After everything was squared away, we checked out the rest of the facilities. The rest of the resort was just as nice as our room. Lost Beach has a decent sized pool, a jacuzzi, two buildings with four apartments in each one and the main building. The main building houses the offices, a gift shop, a bar and restaurant. Damien, our bartender/waiter for the week (and an absolute cutie according to my daughters) introduced himself and also introduced me to Appleton Rum, my beverage of choice for the week.
After a couple of "Nerve Settlers" for Janet and I, we went exploring. Everyone that we met was friendly, wanting to know where we were from, what we did, "Was it really that cold in Wisconsin" and how long we were staying. It was a pleasant change from the beaches at the "SuperClubs" that we found in Montego Bay. While they were nice, there was none of the hustle and bustle at Lost Beach that we found in Mo'Bay. No one offered to sell me ganja, jewelry, carvings or aloe lotion. People here truly want to get to know you and were more than willing to just talk. The Jamaicans have to be one of the friendliest people that I've ever met, talking when you wanted to, leaving you alone when you wanted quiet.
Every morning, the fishermen from the local village would go out at the crack of dawn. They went to sea in hand-carved dugout canoes and what looked like 20 - 25 foot rowboats. Some boats had outboards and some didn't and oars or sails were used. None of the canoes had more than hand carved paddles. They'd pull "pots", (chicken wire covered, wooden framed fish traps) dump the catch in the bottom of the boat and return around 10 - 11:00 a.m. It was interesting and I tried to be on hand when they'd return, to see the different fish, so different from what I'm used to seeing. The shapes and colors were so different from what I'm used to seeing, no greens, grays or browns. Blue, pink, purple, blaze orange, BRIGHT green, yellow, white, these are the colors of Jamaican fish. I learned a little bit about the local fish and in the process, I learned what was going to be the catch of the day. Rockfish, Skipjack, Red and Gray Snapper, Snook and Butterfish were all found to be available and really tasty when grilled.
While down there, I went out fishing with Steve Welch, the owner of Lost Beach Resort, Bora, one of the local fishermen and Martin, Bora's apprentice. We decided to try trolling for sailfish and marlin, trolling from one of the Jamaican rowboats. A 20 h.p. Mercury outboard was attached, a cooler loaded along with some tackle. Due to a change in the winds, currents and unusually heavy rains the week before, there was a lot cloudy water. Billfish like clear water and we had to go out fairly far (3 - 4 miles before we found water clear enough to suit Bora. Large squid lures went out on two heavy trolling rods and 2 different color squids went out on handlines. Yes, that's right, I said handlines. Jamaicans don't seem to believe in rods and reels. They like to take monofilament line that looks like weedwacker string, wrap it around an empty plastic jug, tie a leader and lure/bait on, toss it out and they're fishin Mon! I asked why handlines and I got this ear to ear, dazzlingly white smile and the answer... "Strength against Strength Mon!" So, picture tipup fishing from a boat, that's basically what I was doing. If a fish hit, the line would break free from the home-made outrigger, the line would go whizzing past and you'd grab it and hang on!! The excess line is coiled around an empty bleach bottle and that's your line spool. Finesse fishing this isn't, you hang on, pull and something is going to give, the fish, the line, the hook, your back.....
We didn't have any luck with billfish that day, but while we were out, we were graced with the presence of three porpoise pods. These speedsters were unbelievably fast, graceful and came extremely close to the boat, seeming to enjoy the company. I tried to get pictures but they are so fast, I ended up shooting over 20 pictures, getting few that even had a porpoise in the viewfinder. The ones that I did end up getting were only by accident.
Oh, speaking of accidents, I forgot to get Dramamine. I'll NEVER make that mistake again. I purposely didn't eat breakfast that morning, only having some of that wonderful Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee and a glass of fresh orange juice. We were out for maybe an hour, trolling merrily along in some big swells, bobbing along in the boat, bobbing , dipping, swaying, losing sight of land while in the wave troughs, popping up on top, getting salt spray in the face, occasional whiffs of exhaust when it hit me, just as sudden as a brick in the face. BAM, I, Steve Huber, part man/part fish, a person that lives in a boat for 1/3 of the year, got seasick...BIG TIME!!! I thought I was going to die and couldn't believe that a couple cups of coffee and one glass of orange juice could lay a chum slick that should have drawn sharks for miles. Luckily, Steve had Dramamine with him and gave me one. I popped it down and felt better in a matter of minutes; sleepy, but my stomach settled down and stayed inside of me like it was supposed to.
We trolled to a different spot, Steve and I talking as fishermen do. I found out that normally, February is a great month to fish in the Lost Beach area. Tarpon, BIG tarpon cruise the area but due to unseasonable winds and currents, they weren't there. There are also barracuda, snook, snapper and tuna that usually cruise the area, but again, weird weather kept them away.
We did catch a small tuna which brought a smile to Steve's face. He said "Shark Bait". He had Bora take us to an area where they'd had luck earlier in the week. The tuna was attached to a "Quick Strike rig", shark style. A steel cable had two 12/00 stainless hooks that were stuck into the tuna's head and tail. This leader was attached to a handline, a huge lead weight (approximately 8 ounces) and the whole business was unceremoniously chucked over the side. It wasn't long before Martin said something had his bait. As hard as he pulled against the weedwacker line, he couldn't budge whatever had taken the tuna. After 5 minutes, he pulled up a shredded tuna, just the head and tail were somewhat intact, everything else from the center of the fish was gone! As an aside to this story, Steve, Bora and Martin went out the next day, back to the same area. Steve hooked a shark that was roughly 8 feet long and 250 pounds. He fought the fish for two hours, getting it up to the boat four times. When it came time to gaff the fish, Martin accidently caught the line and popped it! I'll bet that there wasn't a sorrier first mate on the entire island that day. I know Steve won't soon forget that day and I won't forget our day either. It was a real experience, fishing "Jamaican Style", talking the universal language of fishing.
I had taken some tackle along with me, intending to do some surf fishing. I managed to find time to do that once while down there. The family and I were walking down the shore. I was wading waist deep, casting a « oz. Jig and a 4" paddletail soft plastic as far as I could. As I was ripping the lure back, something grabbed it and headed for Cuba! I had it on for maybe 10 seconds before the line snapped. Whatever it was, it was large, mean and fast, I want a rematch!
The rest of the week was occupied by horseback rides in the mountains, swimming in the pool/ocean, chasing ghost crabs on the beach, catching geckos, anoles and assorted other lizards, playing with the two resort dogs and the local scroungers, shopping in the Craft Market in Negril, sightseeing, and exploring at Mayfield Falls. Mayfield Falls was great, it's a series of small pools that cascades through a bamboo forest. These small falls drop into crystal clear pools, the water cool and refreshing. Janet, the girls and I met a couple from Italy and a guy from Germany who's in the states as an anesthesiology resident. We cavorted, jumped, splashed and generally had a great time, climbing and swimming our way upstream like seven sunburned salmon. Our guide Tony had a great knowledge of the local plant life and was interesting to talk to. He knew what plants were good to eat, what roots were used to make curry powder, how to make a Jamaican tattoo from a local plant and what leaves could be used to wash up with, making a good lather.
While it seemed that we were constantly on the go, we had the most relaxing time. I was unsure if the girls would like this type of vacation. They were looking for something exciting, with lots of glitter, flash and noise. The girls were disappointed that we weren't going to a SuperClub, with a teen disco and all the amenities. Until they got there. They were never once bored, finding peace and contentment in walks on the beach with Mom and Dad, connecting with the old folks on some level that I don't think I've ever found with them before. Beth had a ball, making friends with the locals and the staff, Rebecca had every young male wrapped around her little finger. We swam until we were waterlogged, sat and looked at sunsets until the stars came out, with the gentle roar of the ocean in the background. We played with the "Official Resort Dogs", Molly and Sarah, chatted, sunned, ate superb food, cooked Jamaican style and enjoyed ourselves beyond belief.
I don't know if any of this makes any sense and I really don't think that words can fully express my feelings about this place. But I do know that if you're looking for a place to escape Wisconsin's chilly embrace, someplace to take the family, catch some rays, relax on the beach, cast in the ocean, fish "Jamaican Style", see a different country, meet charming people, eat good food, find your spouse and kids again, and do it all without breaking the bank, go to Lost Beach Resort. But only go if you want to risk leaving part of you behind when you return. You see, Lost Beach and Jamaica will affect you like no other vacation place ever will. It's gotten to me and my family, so much so that we've already booked our return trip. So don't look for me in July, cuz I'll be "Chillin in Jamaica Mon."
Until next time, See Ya Mon,