Negril, Jamaica: Day Five (Or, Appleton Rum Estate)

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The Appleton Rum Estate is a three-hour drive from Negril; two parishes away, actually, in St. Elizabeth. But I began my last day in Jamaica in Negril, where I boarded a charter bus with a group to take us south to the Appleton Rum Estate near the town of Balaclava.

Our drive was incredibly scenic and we made a couple of pit stops along the way. First, we stopped at Bluefield Bay.

Bluefield Bay

Internet, doesn’t this look like the quintessential “vacation in paradise” advertisement? Why don’t pit stops in California look like this?

About an hour later, we stopped at a roadside stand for a quick snack of crawfish soup.

Crawfish Soup

The soup was simple and satisfying. I never really got used to eating hot soups in Jamaica’s warm and humid climate, but as a dish on it’s own, I enjoyed it.

About an hour later, we arrived at Appleton Rum Estate and were joined by Senior Blender David Morrison. David took our group on a tour of the estate, beginning with a demonstration of the rum aging and blending process. This is how rum used to be made:

After learning to juice sugar cane, we held a rum tasting where we not only tried Appleton’s range of rums, but also got to try our own hand at blending rum.

Rum Tasting and Blending

Each participant received a small bottle with which to take their creation home. With bottles in tow, we walked over to the Appleton dining hall to enjoy a buffet-style lunch of fried fish, callaloo, boiled crawfish, rice and peas and salad.

Lunch at Appleton Rum Estate

I don’t know what it was about the fish, but it was so fresh and seasoned so well. I still can’t put my finger on what the seasonings were. The crawfish was very spicy but the rice and peas helped cool things down.

Soon after our late lunch it was time to head back to Negril. It was a mountainous journey back for most of the way, and it began raining heavily right as we got on the road. We still made it back with plenty of time to grab a bite for dinner, pack up our belongings and get a good night’s rest before our flight back to San Francisco the next day.

The next morning, I got a ride to Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay, where I enjoyed a grapefruit-flavored Jamaican Ting soda as we waited for my flight to board. It’s been two months since I returned from Negril, but I’m still dreaming of Jamaica. And now, I’m itching to go somewhere new yet again.

Negril, Jamaica: Day Four (Or, Royal Palm Reserve and Cool Spot)

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I’m sorry, Internet. I haven’t been updating this blog nearly as much as I should. I can assure you it’s all for good reason, though. You’ll just have to take my word for it.

Anyway, where where did we leave off? Oh yes, Jamaica. On our fourth day, I enjoyed my requisite breakfast at Country Peppa before arranging for a ride to take me to the Royal Palm Reserve, a 300-acre site within the Negril Great Morass. The reserve boasts 114 plant species and 300 animal species, though it seemed most of the animals were hiding when we visited.

Royal Palm Reserve

Royal Palm Reserve

The sun was shining harder than usual during my walk around the grounds but the forest provided ample shade and I kept busy by trying to spot the alligator reputed to roam the reserve. Luckily for me, I didn’t find it, but I did see tons of birds and butterflies, including a duck species unique to the reserve that makes a chirp-like noise instead of quacking.

The ride back was full of more domesticated wildlife, or goats and cows to be exact. Baby goats are everywhere in the Negril countryside and I never got tired of seeing them. By the time I arrived back to my cottage, I was hungry, so I walked down Norman Manley Boulevard in search of conch. I had been wanting to try conch fritters or grilled conch since my arrival, but every restaurant or stand that I approached was out of supply by the time I’d asked.

I settled on a meal at Cool Spot, a beachside restaurant on Seven Mile Beach. Alas, they were out of grilled conch and conch fritters as well, so I ordered the only other conch on the menu: curry conch:

Curry Conch and Coleslaw

The conch was not very flavorful and the curry sauce was pretty average. Texturally, it was like calamari, but slightly thicker and softer. If nothing else, at least now I can say I’ve tried conch. The accompanying rice and peas, though, were well-prepared:

Rice and Peas

After our meal, I returned to the beach and observed a storm approaching. Instead of going indoors for cover, I took a dip in the ocean and really, I cannot emphasize how fun it is to wade in the (warm and calm) water in the middle of a rainstorm. (Can you imagine people doing the same in San Francisco’s freezing Pacific waters? Terrible idea.) The dark clouds that had approached in less than an hour were gone just as quickly, and I dried up just in time to enjoy a gorgeous sunset.

Sunset at Seven Mile Beach

All that hype you’ve heard about Caribbean sunsets? It’s true.

Negril, Jamaica: Day Three (Or, Cool Spot)

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Jamaica has no shortage of waterfalls and even before I’d purchased my flight I knew I wanted to visit at least one of them. Mayfield Falls was the closest to Negril, so after a hearty Jamaican breakfast at Country Country, I was picked up by a taxicab to take me on the long drive to Mayfield.

Jamaican Breakfast

My breakfast of ackee, callaloo, Johnny cakes and fruit was filling but not quite as tasty as the banana pancakes I’d tried the day before. Although it’s a fruit, the ackee tasted (and looked) similar to scrambled eggs. Unfortunately, I’m not a fan of scrambled eggs. A security attendant at Country Country told me that ackee can be prepared in a myriad of ways and tastes. If I ever have the chance, I’d like to try it again.

But back to Mayfield. The main road to Mayfield Falls was closed when I visited, so the driver took us through the long route, which was fine, because I got to see his hometown, sugarcane fields and endless mountain ranges as we drove by. After about an hour, we arrived at Mayfield and was assigned a guide to help our group hike through the river.

My only complaint about Mayfield Falls is that the guides encourage visitors to pose in all kinds of cheesy positions while they take photos. Frankly, I’m not looking for Disneyland-esque moment while I’m concentrating on not falling flat on my face in a rocky, gushing river, but I can see how the photography aspect might be novel for some visitors. Other than that, our guide was wonderful and the river was stunning.

Mayfield Falls

A couple hours and countless unflattering photos later, we reached the river’s head and turned around to walk back to the beginning via land. I was famished, so I picked a beef patty for the ride back to my cottage.

Later that evening, I explored our neighborhood in Negril in search of more Jamaican cuisine. I wandered into Cool Spot, a spartan restaurant on Norman Manley Boulevard with four or five items on the menu that day. I had the curry goat with rice and peas.

Curry Goat with Rice and Peas

The goat was far less gamey than I had anticipated and was pretty similar to beef, actually. It had stewed for so long that it practically fell off the bone (of which there were many shards to be careful for in the curry). The rice and peas sopped up the sauce, which tasted a lot like a richer version of khoresh-e kaari, or Iranian curry khoresh.

The walk back to my cottage was short and I was ready to call it a day. I had already crossed many items off my to-eat list in Jamaica, but I was still excited for all the ones yet to be discovered.

Negril, Jamaica: Day Two (Or, Hungry Lion)

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Even though I was staying on the beach side of Negril, I knew I couldn’t let this trip pass without visiting the cliff side of town at least once. After a short rest on my second day, I hailed a cab to go on the twenty-minute ride to Rick’s Cafe, where Negril’s most beautiful sunsets are reputed to be at.

It turns out the sunset was just as nice as those at the beach, but I finally learned where all the Americans were hanging out at. Red Stripe in one hand, “hang loose” gesture in the other, my compatriots were dude!-ing and bro!-ing it up. Rick’s Cafe turned out to be a concentrated pocket of a stereotypical spring break in Negril. I have to admit though, the cliffs are gorgeous and the water is a deeper, brighter blue than that at the beach side of town.

Negril Cliffs

After half an hour of watching cliff divers jump from the 35 feet-high platform and into the ocean, I left the scene and walked down West End Road towards the Hungry Lion, Negril’s famed restaurant specializing in Ital vegetarian and seafood fare. I started with a Lion Heart, a blended drink of juice, rum, sugar, lime juice and ginger. My pumpkin soup soon arrived, which was absolutely delicious despite the hot, humid weather.

Pumpkin Soup

I also ordered an order of baked crab backs to share.

Baked Crab Back

The crab wasn’t as fresh-tasting as I would have hoped, though it was spicy enough to be satisfying. Perhaps I’m too accustomed to San Francisco’s Dungeness crabs.

For my main dish, I ordered the grilled red snapper fillet in foil with rice and peas, callaloo and spicy vegetable stew.

Grilled Red Snapper Fillet in Foil

If I’m ordering seafood at a restaurant, I usually don’t choose fish because I greatly prefer shellfish instead. But this snapper was juicy, succulent and practically melted in my mouth. The menu item said that my dish would come with plantains, which I love, so I was disappointed to not see them on my plate. Otherwise, I was more than happy with my entree.

I took my time at the Hungry Lion, enjoying a breathtaking sunset that put Rick’s Cafe to shame and savoring each course on the restaurant’s rooftop patio. Usually when I travel, I start to crave local Bay Area food after the first day or two, but not this time. Jamaican cuisine was keeping me sated and happy.

Negril, Jamaica: Day Two (Or, Country Peppa’s and Jamaican Patties)

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To say that the beach in Negril is beautiful is an understatement. Still, I don’t think I was prepared for how crystal clear and inviting the water is. Even at breakfast I wanted to run in and take a dip. I had a beautiful view of the beach from Country Peppa’s, the restaurant and bar on our cottage grounds at Country Country. I could literally throw a pebble from my table and it would hit the water.

The beach wasn’t distracting enough to take away from my enjoyment of Country Peppa’s ridiculously good banana pancakes, however.

Banana Pancakes

Served with bacon and fresh fruit, these pancakes were smaller than their American counterpart, crispier on the outside and more moist on the inside. They were only mildly sweet, and had a curious hint of saltiness to them that oddly enough, worked really well. Along with a side of Blue Mountain coffee and fresh pineapple juice, it was the perfect way to start my day.

After breakfast, I spent most of the day near the coast, orienting myself and exploring the beach.

Seven Mile Beach

Glass Bottom Boat

Seriously, Internet, how clear is that water?

After a few hours, I started getting hungry, so we stopped at the Cocobread Patties and Drinks stand on Seven Mile Beach to pick up some food and take it back to my cottage patio.

Beef Patty

Coco Bread

Aside from a pathetic patty knockoff I once tried in the Bay Area, I’d never had a real patty before, and these were absolutely wonderful. I got a beef patty and a piece of coco bread. I mistakenly thought that coco bread has coconut in it. Not so. It was sweet though and sated my hunger. The patty was flaky, juicy and delicious.

I retired to my cottage to rest up a bit while I plotted the next part of my day: a trip to the Negril Cliffs. Out of three meals I’d had in Jamaica so far, they were all solid wins. I was excited to learn what else Jamaica’s food scene had to offer.