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Posts Tagged ‘Grown-Ups Only Resorts’

“Hey Mon, Would you like to see my jewelry?”

A: “No, I’m all set.”

IMG_6663The cottage industry, Roaming Beach Vendors, aka, the band of people who stroll the resort sands past the chaise lounges of relaxing tourists perched under the midday sun, deserves the respect it never gets. Find a country, island, beach cove, or open expanse of seashore and you will experience the creativity of the entrepreneur. Free trade is a curious thing. Put it on the internet and (if legal) it is a normal part of our culture. Put it on the beach during the primetime of your well-deserved vacation, and something changes.

The West Indies Islands are remarkable in creativity from the local merchant, homeopathic herbalist attendant, masseuse, artist, watersports sales agent, food vendor/cook, and brownie salesman.  Oh, did I mention wood-carver?  Not only have I been engaged by one of these energetic trades, but I have searched them out in various lands. Fondly, the strong palms of the Thai masseuse, clad in white linen, head to toe, with that genuine smile, remains in my memory.  On a chaise under an umbrella steps from the lapping waters on the salty shore is the perfect place for the back and shoulder rub down in the fifty or so minutes.  What value, too.  And, there’s more.  Who might pass up the opportunity to listen to the comical stories of the beach comic, as he tries out a string of his latest jokes on the sunning tourists.  Shouldn’t that act be worth a few shekels ?  Many of my beach vendor friends have many jobs.  Take my comic friend, ” the Mighty Bassman”, as his real job is to pace the full several miles of beach promoting with a bullhorn the merits of attending the nightclub /beach bar for that evening.  ” It’s going to be Hot, Hot, Hot!  Come to the Party at Alfred’s Bar. Remember, Ladies are alway free! Hot, Hot, Hot.”

20121028_37 It is hard work, as the Jamaicans call it: Hustlers or Chiselers. I am certain the downturn of the North American/ European  economy has touched the livelihood of many of the vendors. From firsthand experience, I have seen the numbers of unused beads amass in the hands of the hair-braiding ladies. Fewer little corn-rowed children roam the classrooms after vacation week.  Belt-tightening certainly affects all the vendors. Music prevails on the beach, as the creativity of these local artist come through. Put three guys with dreadlocks, Hawaiian shirts, an aged tambourine, Guitar and old bass fiddle in front of you, playing a Bob Marley song.  As the bass fiddle is held together with ducktape, and the songs are in key, I open my wallet.  These artists become my regulars, or I, theirs.  I may be easy, but I like it.  Perhaps, I may be convinced to begin a foundation for the advancement of beach vendors, or to establish the Beach Vendor Senior Citizen Home.  In any case, I have grown with the beach vendors, heard their stories, watched them age, and have seen some leave us, like BanjoMan.

IMG_6656Negril Beach is seven miles long and the best beach in Jamaica. BanjoMan would begin his day on one end and finish the full distance and return at day’s end.  All was under the hot sun. He weighed a mere 140 pounds and wore khaki shirt and pants, a floppy straw hat and carried that ole -timey four string banjo, on bare feet.  I could guest that I first met him at his age seventy.  He lacked several teeth; top and bottom. He could play and he could sing.  BanjoMan wasn’t much of a talker, but I think it was his humility.  He could play:” The Harder they come, the harder they fall” and all the others.  The beach vendors mostly adored him, as I did. One season BanjoMan hung up his instrument for all time.

Who invented Aloe?  Yuck, these beach vendors roam the sands with aloe fronds in hand, looking for hapless idiots to smear a substance of rubber cement on those bodies.  The goop is sticky, yes, can’t wash off and will stain your favorite “T”-shirt. Then, they want you to give them money?  No thank you.  Then I think: ” I just don’t get it”, as the cardboard box on the beach vendors head is full of little reef fish. They are all beautiful in color; sargent majors, parrot fish, tiny grey angel fish. Tourist do not buy fish on the beach. Every week he fishes and offers his catch. He is still in business.

See, the All Inclusive Resort Business on many West Indies Islands has put a dagger in the hearts of these vendors.  Guests do not bring money to the chaise lounges at water’s edge.  One price and then the package is sealed. I say, that you need to bring those dollars. Buy that coconut palm hat that you will alway wear.  Go parasailing several times.  Bring home those Flip Flops.  Have them sing out for you: “Feeling Hot, Hot, Hot”.  And, support your Beach Vendor. You will be glad you did.  Thank you.
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Idyllic and tranquil are the two regular descriptions of Jamaica’s Western point of Negril.

This exposed region hosts a seven mile beach of white sugar sand and the proverbial “gin clear water” of this reef protected district.  Negril beach and the nearby West End Cliffs supports a number of small family run hotels and a few larger all-inclusive resorts. October 21, 2012 5:00PM local Kingston television news began reporting the stalling of the 90 L weather front at 200 nautical miles due south of the island, the name Sandy was uttered.  Mid-October brings the usual tropic afternoon thunderhead cloud formations to this part of Jamaica.  They build with a light sea breeze and the Westmoreland Parish mountains beyond the Great Morass wrings the moisture out of the passing formations with a dense soaking at two or three PM each day. All are prepared for a ten minute rush to shelter from the front and then back to the most gorgeous late afternoon sunsets.  October 24th was no different. Yet this day. the tone changed at two o’clock.

I spoke to the hotel owner, who had anxiously walked the beach near the moored dive boats and non motorized watercraft. He asks: “Do you believe the reports?”  I had been monitoring several online weather services and the numerous models. Stormcarib.com has become a staple for me.  We both knew the answer. One hour later all his boats had steamed east to the town of Lucea, and the safeharbor sheltered up the nearby river.  The beachboys, 15 in total, organized and hauled the windsurfers, pedalboats, hobiecats and all to the grassy areas well beyond the beach. Next came the chaise lounges numbering in the hundreds.  When the season is in full swing these chaises reach from the cocopalms to the water’s edge and carpet the several hundred yards of frontage. In the three hours before sunset, all were stacked and stored beyond the hotel’s buildings. Tensions began to mount as several communications of the storm preparations were placed under the hotel room doors. Occupancy was at 79% and the staff at 100%.  The beach scene was an eerie vision: light waves lapping the shore, a glimmer of sun filtering down through intermittent breaks in the purple-gray thunderheads and a handful of humans roamed the water’s edge. The lighter side of the whole circumstance came when all was secured by the beachboy staff.  The soccer ball was produced and the goals drawn in the sand for a rollicking game by the most hearty staff.

Soon the Ground’s Keeper crew emerged, as they proceeded to pull the weakest limbs from the cocopalms and surrounding vegetation. The tractor and wheelbarrows were filled. These precautions included the open air dining rooms, where the potted planters were brought in from the perimeter of the exposed regions.  These folks knew their jobs and silently all were carried out. The night of October 23, Tuesday, the diners found wonderful meals and rum punches flowed.  The eyewall of Sandy stood a mere ninety miles south of Kingston, Jamaica.  All models determined a direct hit at hurricane strength within 20 hours.  As the gusts of winds began to pick up to 25 tp 30 knots, I knew the beach was prepared to take the brunt on the next day.

Wednesday, October 24th started with a break in the overcast and the sun poured onto the beach. Sadly, there were no chaise lounges. All was packed in preparation. The Beach Vendors were absent. Typically a vendor would pass every several minutes, but they were long gone.  The Health Club was boarded up tight and the Spa had sent all home to their families.  Lunch and dinner were sanctioned to the buffets in the two largest dining halls.  A memo under each door required the verandah furniture to be brought inside of each room.

THE CALM BEFORE THE STORM

Negril is a low land area, more like a sandbar between sea and swamp.  The saving grace is the reef offshore approximately 3 KM out and sheltering most of the Seven Mile Beach and Bloody Bay. On a calm day, no waves break on the coral several feet beneath the surface.  On the morning of Wednesday, October 24, the gusts were picking up, and the seas were encroaching the sands.  The guests were gathered at the one swim-up bar; it was an active site. The beach bars were long closed and secured down.  Kingston TV reports were on full storm mode; anchors were taking the reports of the police and field reporters.  Sandy was making landfall in the eastern portion of Jamaica and east of Kingston was experiencing the  hit at 80 mile per hour winds.  In Negril, the winds rose and the seas churned higher, but the rain that was promised did not come.  Mudslides have ravaged the slopes of the hills in other areas in past storms.  Folklore prevails here in Jamaica.  There is a perception, call it a destiny, that storms with female names will pass-over the island. Hurricane Gilbert, Ivan and others lingered with infamy.

By 4:00 PM the rains came and the seas rolled, the cocopalms bent in the 60 mile wind gusts and the night concluded with sand blasting across the ground and walkways.  Most guests braved the elements to find dinner and then return to the security of their rooms. Thursday, October 25 let the world know that Sandy was focused and raging to the north. On Negril beach the licking was to begin.  The Jamaicans explained it perfectly: Hurricane Sandy was a ” Woman with a Tail”.  The seas continued to build and the reef did its best to protect.  Yet the waves threw fifteen foot monsters against the West End Cliffs and the Seven Mile Beach was strewn with seaweed and erosion swept away sand and shore. Negril still fared the best on this Birth of Sandy.  Other parts of the Eastern Regions did not do as well.  St. Anne Parish, Portland, Ocho Rios and Port Antonio all had disaster events and loss of life. Electricity, roads and bridges were out.  Still, Negril never lost power and the roads stayed open.  This was a blessing to an area of the world that evokes peace.  The path of Sandy could only have hoped for that fate.

Port Antonio to the East on Jamaica

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Mykonos nightsThere is a group of folks who taught me to live life to the fullest.  I call them the “September Club”.  Many years ago, on the island of Mykonos, in the Aegean Sea of Greece, a birthday party of  night revellers spilled over onto my hotel’s accessible balcony. These people knew how to party. They came from all over Europe, a few Greeks and several Americans. Some were on perpetual holiday and others had jobs, like airline flight attendants, teachers and Club Owners.  They had bonded for several summer seasons in the month of September. The invite to join them could not be refused. I was part of the September Club.

MykonosThe owner of the fun bar, called Uno Bar, Michael, lived on Mykonos and was well-connected and part of the group.  He had a large speed boat and many toys.  He was good at organizing beach parties. With a well planned Saturday outing of 40 people on two commissioned Greek fishing boats, we headed for the tiny island 3 Km off of Mykonos and near Delos Island.  Uninhabited, yet home to dozens of goats, this idyllic spot and the little sheltered-cove sandy beach promised a full day of pleasure.  We were not disappointed.  Soon after the beach chairs, volleyball net and kitchen BBQ area were arranged, Ouzo and Mythos beers flowed.  The Greeks and several Europeans, a very un-modest bunch, jumped right into volleyball, sans clothing.  The same was for the two beautiful Uno Bar Waitresses, as they proved they could somersault the whole beach. They could and they did.

The highlight of the afternoon became the feast. Lamb chops, fried zucchini, feta cheese, marinated chicken in olive oil and fresh oregano were prepared. Michael’s boat had snorkel equipment and three of us headed into the cove to gather the spiny black sea urchins amongst the rocks and sea weeds. With a potato sack full, I was to learn the secret of the Greek fisherman’s Sea Urchin salad.

There is danger to this recipe. We used Diving Gloves to hold on to the spines as we applied the Dive Knife to the crown of the Urchin’s mouth area. These slender tubular black needles penetrate the palm of my hand easily and biting them out with front teeth is an art.  Yet, in little time the stainless steel 10 inch salad mixing bowl had a pound of the roe ( some believe its gonads), in the bottom. The one inch ocher colored sacks give off a salty aroma and glisten.

compliments of Fotosearch Stock

Greek fisherman’s Sea Urchin salad, ala Mykonos Beach Party

  • 1/2 kilo Black or Red Sea Urchin Roe, one pound approx.
  • One cup soft White Loaf bread cubed without crust
  • One half cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • One freshly squeezed lemon juice, 1/4 cup
  • One tablespoon Sea Salt
  • One half tablespoon Greek Oregano
  • Fine ground black pepper to taste.
  • All ingredients are whipped in the Stainless mixing bowl to a semi smooth blended consistency.
  • The bowl may be floated on cracked ice.  Prepare the White Loaf Crusty bread in two-inch cubes for dipping.

We did not need the bowl on cracked ice, as it lasted for five minutes and satiated about 15 people.  The rest of the September Club folks were still running around naked or sleeping after too much Ouzo!  These summers, the group has dispersed. I have seen a few a while back.  The Uno Bar has changed, and not in that great traditional spot in Mykonos.  The Urchins are still there and I now live life to the fullest, waiting for next September.

 

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     A Baby Boomer relinquishes the last vestige of Youth in sorrow.

I remember the day clearly, as I wrote the check to the man at the counter.  He pushed the package across the counter and I was off and running. The sleeping bag, pup tent, mess kit and the one little burner Coleman gas stove gingerly was put in the trunk. The luxury of the single blow-up mattress was my next great desire. Sleeping on the ground bonded me to nature in the best primitive way.  As Tonto, from the Lone Ranger, placed his ear to the ground to learn the rhythms of the land, so could I feel the stability of the earth below my body, and, I loved it.  The pint-sized cooler held all nourishment needed.  At twenty-five years old, I splurged on the equipment with the hopes of the financial efficiency of wilderness and campsites.  I was not disappointed.

I quickly learned to make one extra purchase. The second sleeping bag assured companionship in my tent, as there would be plenty of room for two. I was ready to venture into the wilderness and to campsites.

     Matching Nylon Jumpsuits and Rhinestoned Poodles

The distance from the oversized apartment closet out to the trunk of the car was not far and the camping equipment fit perfectly. Hiking boots and denim and the obligatory plaid flannel shirt was quickly stuffed in a duffel bag and I was on the road.  The first destination was still unclear, but I would find the ideal campground.  Youth is resilient. The sign said “JellyRock Family Camping” and the price was cheap. The site had the campfire stone ring and was back from the small paved road. At twilight, with the baked beans and hotdogs well digested, and the flames inching up from the campfire, beverage in hand, what could be wrong? I paid  little attention to the others around the “Family Camping” area, until the strolls of residents began at dusk. There is a style to seasoned trailer campers that includes a travel cocktail tumbler, a sporty nylon windbreaker jumpsuit outfit and a little dog on a bedazzled leash. These folks all knew one another and appeared in for the season, each with a “Howdy!” as they passed by. The next outing was certain to scope out a true forrest, where my pup tent blended as one with nature. A requirement never to be forgotten. Or, so I thought.

     Finding Nature’s Bliss

All the comforts neededSoon the equipment graduated to a quality of comforts needed for the “experienced camper”.  The queensized plush-top mattress, with the electric air pump started the mission.  How could anyone sit near a fire without lucite brandy snifters?  The demands of the day required the nonstick pancake griddle to be supported by the Coleman double burner Camp Stove.  These in no way hampered the living off the land. In fact, the purchase to the six-person umbrella tent and camper fly awning, was only a mere forty pounds. One cannot expect to camp on the coastline of Maine without an aluminum and nylon 10 by 20 foot dining tarp; the weather so iffy. I so enjoyed the campchairs, they bringing comfort off the damp ground. The Coleman fuel lanterns gave off the glow that assisted the cuisine preparation on the aluminum prep table. Chilled properly, steaks and food supplies can last days in that 25 gallon cooler!  A fine camp chef need his resources, right?

     The Quality of Life on the Earth

Ok, I do not have the knowledge of when it started. It was not quite a tipping point. Maybe it was the camping vacation for five days when it rained buckets every day.  A  few, no, several, slugs climbed up my legs the week. There was the fall leaf peeping trip to camp on a Berkshire mountain side as the temperature plummeted to below freezing in several hours. I can love children and families while camping, but the several little ones shining the laser flashlights into my tent that one night was a bit much.  Maybe it was a seasonal event that one July weekend, as the mosquitos were the size of small sparrows. I believe a blood replacement transfusion would have made me feel better. There continued to be several more incidents of equal and forgettable outings. Oh, those “cheap” camp fees ceased to be anything but cheap over the years.

    A Four Poster Bed and Down Comforter

Vermont, B & B, The families that run the small county inns and bed and breakfasts know me.  They feel my pain.  Some have perhaps been in my shoes.  What they do not have is my camping equipment.  That all now belongs to a great younger friend with an oversized closet and a good sized car trunk. I do not have a small dog with a rhinestone collar and never did have one. What I do have is a knowledge of the loss of my youth to retain the creature comforts of warm baths, linen table dining, and inn-keepers happy to keep me off the ground.

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Vacationing on Mykonos is a 9 to 5 Job:   Nine in the Morning to Five in the Morning!

I love every hour of it, and have for summers for about twenty-five plus years. Yes, I have the routine down pat. You really need to stay on the island for several days minimum to get the rhythm and fall into a hypnotic state. I drink in the hours into their own zone of continuity.  Mornings are leisurely, breakfast is light, Photo opps prevail.  Noon is the time to mobilize to the beach, Paradise or Super Paradise or out past Ano Mera Town to a secluded cove.  Taverna food on the beach fits in somewhere.  High Five Hour is for partying on the beach bar [ literally, standing on the bar to the euro disco beat].  The  sunset brings its joy. Nap time back at the Villa.  Then the rest is open.  Dinner out in Mykonos town. Then to the clubs.  Five A. M. comes around darn fast.  Repeat all above as often as necessary.

 

Mykonos

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Couples Swept Away Executive Chef Anthony Miller is magical.  OK, he is only a wizard!  Well, maybe the food is the magic. It has put a spell on me.

This West Indies environ envokes the freshest start to the correct formula: ample spice, fruits, fish and veggies and more from the land.  All made available from the rich nutrient soils fed with norishing caribbean rains.  See, at Negril, Jamaica, the hills lead to the Great Morass and the land brings the life from the Roaring River in the mountains to the table.  The Resort has the facilities to serve the guests the creative menus of the Island and the Continent.  A twist on the indemic flavors merge the best of each.  Pepper, nutmeg, cumin, coriander, lime, molasass, cilantro, coconut and rum give the Carib kick to the dishes. The grill lines across the seared filet of red snapper that flapped that morning tell a story.  The dishes are works of modern art to view as plated. The aroma of sizzling rack of lamb sprinkled in Jamaican jerk season and cooked over natural charcoal lingers.  Guests at Swept Away have come to expect this all.

Chef Miller has two chef toques, one is french and the other is “rasta” or for the staff.  I have visited the behind the scene kitchen and the Couple’s staff dining area.  With one of the highest staff to guest ratios in the West Indies, the Staff Canteen humms.  The food on this menu is Jamaican and imparts the energy to fuel this engine: Swept Away. Three shifts and management need to be fed.  The food is fresh and available.  This is food that makes you smile; is healthy and hearty.  Most of the dishes are veggitarian, as that is more of the Jamaican taste.  The Rastifarian has a diet that is based on the land, and while fish may be in that diet, farm grown staples, such as yam and rice, are the norm.  For the people of the country, fish, chicken and meats are prized proteins.  Yet, gravys and stews, stir-fries and casserols, and some sweets round out the menu.

Sunday morning: Ackee and Saltfish!   This “Fruit” is the first part of the National Dish of Jamaica. It is more like a veggie or a small avacado containing three black shiny seeds, all hanging from large apple-like trees. The fruit is ripe when the pod opens and exposes the seed. Do not eat unripened fruit. That is the big no-no. Think: poison.  The fruit does come in a tin, too.

Scramble together with re-constitued salted cod and sauted onions, a few green bell peppers and you have the National Dish!  All Jamaicans know and/or eat this plate.  Sunday is the day.  The Ackee season is in the winter months and the trees are full.  The flavor is a little like scrambled eggs and sardines. It sticks to your rib, yes?  A Red Stripe Beer or a Blue Mountain coffee rounds it out.  The Canteen at Swept Away serves the best Ackee and Saltfish and the hotel team can’t wait.

Couples Swept Away is located in Negril, Jamaica and is part of Http://www.couples.com.

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When I return from year to year to one of my favorite spots on one of my favorite islands, consistancy is a comfort. Changes in management and economic upheaval can play a role in much disappointment at island resorts.  The pressure to follow the lead on cutbacks and bend to the lower demands of discount travel is hard to pass up.  Fortunately hotel groups that retain the founding fathers and have grown in moderation shrug off these pressures and keep the quality high.  This is certainly the case with the Couples Resorts of Jamaica.

Twenty years ago, while walking the magnificent seven mile beach of Negril, on the west tip of this large island, several rows of newly planted cocopalms were sprouting up on the groomed beach and grounds. Behind were the newly constructed atrium villas of Swept Away Resort. A quick guided walk through and some literature was enough for me to consider a return.  The Great House and pools and public spaces were well laid out.  The hidden gem was 300 yards away, across a two lane road.  The health and sports facilities and spa all gave the resort a place in the sun. 

Two expansions and solid management secured the level of quality above the competition.  While the original character of an all adult, non-Club Med, relaxed atmosphere is in place, one can find the excitement to stay occupied. Healthy choices abound at all of the restaurants and are offered all day long.  The Key to their success is the constant vigil paid to walking the grounds and the discussion with guest and staff by the founding family.  Hard to beat it.  Swept Away now one of several properties under Couples is the gem in the crown.

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