Sometimes a ‘clever’ title comes at the expense of making sense. Hellshire was so lovely that playing on its name just to catch your attention kind of undermines my point, which is that Hellshire is the current lead in my ‘favourite thing in Jamaica’ list. Keep in mind, of course, that I’ve been here just under a month and have seen basically nothing else outside of Kingston, and not even all there is to see in Kingston. Even so, Hellshire was wonderful.
I admit I had a moment’s concern while excitedly preparing to leave for the beach. I’ve also been anticipating attending some dance events, and it turns out people don’t really dance at them. I thought, “Woah, wait! What if Jamaicans go to the beach but don’t actually go in the water? Am I going to be the only one ‘swimming’?” I decided if that’s the way it was, I’m okay with still not being the cool kid. As it turns out, I had nothing to fear.
Hellshire is more than just a beach – it’s an occasion and a community. Following my first trip in a coaster (small buses that run along set routes, but that only leave their starting point when they are sufficiently full. We waited about 30 minutes, which wasn’t that bad since we’d chosen an air-conditioned coaster), and a fairly typical hair-raising route-taxi ride, we arrived at our drop point, whimsically welcomed by a giant turreted gate.
The gate is about the fanciest part of Hellshire and – quaint as it is – is quite out of place. Hellshire is very much the locals’ beach, not a tourist attraction, which for me is a large part of its appeal. * Digression: In our only real interaction with a non-salesperson, Erin and I were asked by a mom floating by with her children “Are you two here alone?” We said yes. And she said “Oh, well where are you from.” So we answered Canada. And that seemed somehow to satisfy her curiosity. It seems that perhaps two white women on their own were worth asking after.* A short walk down a dusty road, and there it is – ish. What first appears at the end of the road is not the beach or the water but a long close row of fish cook houses, all offering basically the same menu – choose your VERY FRESH fish/seafood (red snapper, parrotfish and rock lobster being the most common offerings, though apparently chicken is available), choose your side, grab and drink and wait while they clean, prepare and cook your meat over hot charcoal fires. Back to that later.
My friend Erin has a ‘Hellshire Method’ that worked quite well and that I think I’ll adopt for future visits:
- Head to the quiet end of the strip to ease into the day. Have a cool drink in the shade of Screechie’s bar, listen to some intensely mellow music (Michael Bolton, anyone?) get into swim mode, and paddle about at the edge of the natural shallow pool out front. The pool opens out into wider waters, of course, and is as warm , gentle, and inviting as imagined.
- When sufficiently ‘arrived’, head down the beach to the main area. Pick out a likely looking spot for lunch (we went to Aunt Merl’s and I can see no reason to go anywhere else in the future). Order your food, buy your drinks, and settle at a shady table with a view.
- Enjoy being where you can observe the goings-on without being surrounded by them – the families swimming and lunching and dancing on the beach, the teens renting inner tubes and bobbing on the waves, the children (big and small) getting their 10 minute horse ride up and down the beach. Chair bob, occasionally but not too vigourously, to the music emanating from next door.
- Dig in, with both hands, to the amazing rock lobster when it arrives. This is not fine dining – eat with abandon. Crunch through the shell to get at all the meat – watch out for the spikes. Let the juice run down your fingers. Soak up the escovitch sauce and lobster juice with your bammy.
- Settle your food bill and jump back in the ocean to rinse the lobster juice from your sticky … everything.
- Head back up the beach to a spot with a major sound system, a live DJ, and more shade. Watch the world go by. If possible, grab a lounger. If it’s not possible, slide up to the bar along the window, rest your elbows on it, and relax. Make or avoid eye contact with the DJ depending how much you want to become a part of his show.
- Head back up to Screechies to start easing out of the day. Enjoy the return to the peaceful side of Hellshire. Have one last dip if your skin hasn’t already had too much sun. Have a final drink, and maybe buy some water for the road.
- Optional: Back in town, if you’re walking up Hope Road anyway stop at Devon House for ice cream before calling it a day. You deserve it. 🙂
Great day. Crazy music (there’s a whole separate post – or book – on the idiosyncrasies of pop music in Jamaica). Hot sun. Soft sand. Whole lobster. Warm water. Great company. Perfection.
- Plan ahead clothing-wise – wear your suit under your clothes when heading out, and consider the ease of changing after (e.g. a sundress is easier to throw on over a wet suit than shorts and tank top. There are limited rest rooms/change room facilities, and none that are free. Changing under your beach towel at the side of Screechies is a potential for embarrassment that’s easily avoided. Consider a second pair of shoes as well for a sand-free trip home.
- Bring enough cash to get there and back, keep yourself hydrated, and enjoy your lunch without counting pennies or bumming off a friend 😀 . You can also plan ahead and bring water, drinks and a picnic, but that seems like a lot to haul along. Transactions at Hellshire are cash only, and there is no ATM. My day cost
- $480 for transportation ($120 each for 2 route taxis, 1 coaster and 1 JUTA bus),
- $1200 for lunch,
- $50 to use the bathroom once
- $100 per bottle of water or soda and $250-$300 for alcoholic drinks.
- Bring your sunscreen and actually reapply it. #SlowLearner