I’ve never been able to afford one of those fancy all-inclusive resorts, nor would I want to after having an experience like I had my first time in Jamaica. Four years ago I was traveling around the country with very little money and a cab driver brought me to Blue Mountain Coffee Shop across the beach in Negril. After meeting the owner Latoya and her mother Helen, they took me in like family and put me up in a quaint little cottage above the coffee shop in a local community. Now I come back to visit as often as I can.
While visiting Jamaica, I discovered endless amounts of paddling, cliff jumping, snorkeling and even some deep water solo rock climbing. Each year my husband, Kevin Cullen, and I bring new friends to seek out new places and introduce them to the beautiful Jamaican culture. Through our travels we discovered One Love Rasta Cottages on the West End of Negril, a perfect place for hosting a group. The cottages are tucked away in a tropical garden loaded with edible and medicinal plants just a short walk from the Caribbean Sea.
Each morning we wake to our hosts, two Rasta men Boston and Jubee, shuffling in the outdoor kitchen or garden, and together we fix Blue Mountain Coffee, coconut banana or peanut porridge, papaya smoothies and more. Boston and Jubee are two of the nicest and most fun people we have ever met. Staying with them at One Love feels just like staying with family, and there is always something delicious to eat on the fire.
On our most recent trip to Jamaica, my family along with some new friends joined us to paddle some of the most beautiful coast we’ve ever seen. The west end of Negril features miles of sea cliffs abundant with caves and reefs to explore. Cliff jumping is common and encouraged, but just starting to be explored is the area’s potential for deep water soloing in which a climber free climbs above deep water for protection. While the quality of the rock is not Thailand or Mallorca, there are many gems to be discovered.
Armed with our Pau Hana Big-EZ inflatable SUP’s, Kialoa Insanity Paddles, Kokatat Orbit Tour PFDs, snorkeling gear, climbing shoes, a GoPro and a few red stripes, we set out on one of the most fun things you can do in Jamaica; a Jamaican Downwinder. In Jamaica everything is No Problem, everything is on Island Time, and what is most important is enjoying life with friends and family. Almost every day in the winter a nice breeze blows along the coast of the West End, creating the perfect conditions to be gently pushed along this world class coastline.
Normal downwinders are fun and exciting, but also a lot of work. On a Jamaican downwinder you can lay down and relax, enjoy a cold one, snorkel alongside your SUP, stop and jump off a cliff, or park your boards and swim into giant caves. In some spots you can even swim through underwater tunnels. While drifting downwind we are always on the hunt for good climbing lines. With deep water soloing all you need are your rock shoes, so they pack light. We look for clean rock, deep landings, and interesting lines. We have found many but there are many more to be discovered and climbed, most likely for the first time.
One day we joined Boston to visit an elder Rasta named Fire, who’d been living in a natural way on Canaan Mountain for over 25 years. Where the dirt road we came in on meets the trail up the mountain, a natural spring comes right out of the ground. As we were parking, Fire happened to be on his way to the spring to fill up. We filled up our jugs, and began the trek up the mountain.
A few minutes into the hike we met another Rasta named Patrick, and began to see the most incredible permaculture I’d ever seen. Coconut palms, Papaya Trees, Bananas, Yams, Taro, Pumpkin, Passion Fruit, Guava, Soursop, Ginger, Turmeric, and so much more all grew along the trail. We quickly came upon Fire’s old camp – a primitive structure with a roof and two walls where he had once lived. Continuing up, the trail grew steeper, the views began to unfold, and we stopped to pick some banana, soursop, and passion fruit.
At the top of the mountain after the steep 30-minute hike, we came upon Fire’s camp – a quaint shelter surrounded by edible plants with an outdoor kitchen and several hammocks strung up. We all were made to feel at home and home was paradise. The views overlooking the landscape below were incredible. Fire and Patrick started to grate pumpkin and coconut by hand, then added a little flour and kneaded the dough into dumplings. A fire was started, one pot boiled water in which the dumplings, Taro, and Plantains were added, and in another coconut oil sizzled over the fire with a wide variety of vegetables.
Soon Fire and Patrick were scooping Pumpkin Dumplings, Taro, Plantains, and Curry veggies onto our plates. Sitting around a homemade picnic table on top of this mountain with newly made family, we all agreed it was some of the best food we have ever had anywhere. Fire with his beautiful smile, jumped up and explained how important it is that love be put into the food for it to nurture us. The love this man has for the land, the plants that provide his sustenance that he has been nurturing for 25 years, and for all of creation was palpable and you could definitely taste it in the food.
One day we visited a very cool little resort on the cliffs called Xtabi, which is open to the public as long as you frequent the bar or restaurant - which was no problem. We spent the day relaxing, while overlooking Caribbean blue water. There is excellent water access for paddling, several caves to explore, exceptional snorkeling, many places to cliff jump and a few climbable lines on the rock to add to the amazing views and food.
On our way back to the cottages each night we would stop at the Sunset Pub, a little tiki-hut bar just a short stroll from where we stayed, and watch the most spectacular sunsets.
Back at the Rasta Cottages, we learn how to cook Caribbean food from Boston and Jubee over an open fire, we shared stories, listen to reggae, and play dominos. The food at One Love Rasta Cottages is some of the best on the island; curry chicken, curry conch, jerk chicken, lobster and all sorts of fish. But the best part of staying at this beautiful spot slightly off the beaten path is cooking together, eating together, and becoming family.