The Pelican Bar, Black River, Jamaica
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The day I FINALLY went to see the “World Famous Pelican Bar.”
If you knew me at all, you’d know that I go against the flow. If a hotel or tour group says, “This is a must see…” I skip it.
Often, even if a friend suggests something, I’ll decline. It’s not that have issues with authority…okay, maybe I DO, but that’s for another discussion. It’s simply that I prefer to take the road less traveled. We moved a lot when I was a kid. Many “tourist sites” we stopped to visit were less than impressive. It was always our meandering along back roads that yielded the best memories.
I guess those early experiences formed me into the restless spirit and explorer that I am today. And explorers do NOT, by definition, go where others have gone before. They find new places, right? That has been my quest in Jamaica.
I tell my Jamaican friends and drivers, “Take me to the places only Jamaican’s go.” It’s kind of ironic, if you stop to think about it. If I go there, it’s no longer a place only Jamaican’s go, is it? But I’ve enjoyed so many unique experiences that way.
So, whenever it was suggested that I might enjoy The Pelican Bar, I asked myself, “Why ruin my trend?”
Yes, I did ONCE take “the sunset booze cruise” and I watched the cliff divers at Rick’s Cafe. I even watched my husband JUMP from the 30 foot cliff. But, those “tours” all happened on my first trip to Jamaica years ago. The one where I stayed in an all-inclusive resort and feared to venture out onto the streets and…god forbid…interact with actual Jamaican’s. Gasp.
However, now I’ve been here more times than I can count. I’m a seasoned “Jamerican.” I’ve seen what crowds and commercialization can do to “natural sites” here, so I resisted paying a seemingly large sum of money to ride a junky fishing boat out to a rickety bar that was, no doubt, just another tourist trap. Until this trip.
My daughter, Libby, and her boyfriend, Patrick, decided to join us for our first week of our current 10 week stay in Treasure Beach, St Elizabeth, Jamaica. Patrick had never experienced Jamaica or even been “off the resort” in any foreign country.
Being here without a vehicle, we looked for more local venues.
When friends suggested The Pelican Bar and found out I had never been, they insisted we make the trip. On Sunday morning we met with Captain Ted in Frenchman’s Bay and headed out. I took along snorkeling gear, figuring I’d be bored and would just want to swim.
Traveling with us that day was a Jamaican student that I’ve been helping out, named Alexan. Although he had become like a son to me online, we had never actually met face-to-face. He came by on his way back to school from Christmas break to remedy that. He had never been on a boat and doesn’t really swim.
Alexan lives on an ISLAND, a piece of land SURROUNDED by water, but, even in his 20’s, he has never had the opportunity to experience a boat ride. Amazing.
He was petrified. He told me he thought he might vomit from the fear, but he trusted me enough to try it out. The first thing he did onboard was to ask for a life jacket. As we pulled towards deeper water, I seriously thought he might jump out and make a run for shore. I looked over at him, silently grasping the orange vest in his arms, and wondered if he was “pale” from fear beneath his dark complexion. Poor guy.
When he eventually saw how smooth the ride was, the bright smile returned to his face. He began to relish the view of his country from this new vantage point. It was like watching my baby take his first steps. I LOVE that feeling!
Right about that time, The Pelican Bar came into view, just over the bright red bow of Captain Ted’s fishing boat.
I had to admit that it looked pretty intriguing, sitting high on its spindly legs, surrounded by the crystal clear Caribbean. I instantly wondered how many times it had been torn to smithereens by passing storms.
We got there “early,” which, by Jamaican standards, is anything before about 11 AM. Two men had joined us for the boat ride out but we were the only group there, besides the workers, who were sleeping in the shade and seemed blissfully unaware that we had arrived.
The structure’s rustic body, made entirely of scrap wood, gave it a worn, homey feeling. People from countless countries and walks of life have tread there, many having their names carved into its boards. Okay. So it WAS kinda cool.
Anytime I have the chance to swim around and stick my masked face into the refreshing waters of the Caribbean, I’m content.
Even if I don’t see anything remarkable or find an interesting treasure, I’m at peace in the water. So, I suited up Alexan in his trusty life jacket, even though the water was only up to his naval, gave him some instruction on breathing through his snorkel, and escaped into my happy place.
By the time I returned, always the last to get out of the water, the “kids” were already into their second round of drinks. They had commandeered a table, in fact the only table, and were enjoying the hot sun and each others company. The place had gotten quite crowded during my absence. Loud music was playing. Joining the kids, I found they had ordered lobster and fried fish. Thus began the customary long wait for Jamaican food.
We offered seats to some middle-aged women who seemed to be searching for a place to park.
As it turned out, they had flown in on the same flight as my daughter, lived near us in the USA and were in Jamaica for a yoga retreat. Per usual, I travel halfway across the world to meet the woman next door.
They were total characters and we immediately hit if off, as so often happens in warm, relaxing environments. Everyone had a few more drinks while we waited for our food.
The women chatted up a storm with us and did all sorts of crazy yoga poses (in their bikini’s, mind you) while shooting photos of each other. It was really pretty unforgettable.
Eventually, our food came, turning out to be worth the wait.
We lingered with our new friends for a while, with a nice breeze blowing the heat away. The sky was bright blue. The water was calm. The company was interesting. All in all, as much as I “hate to admit it,” I really loved The Pelican Bar. I will certainly return.
One added point: Wear LOADS of sunblock when you visit. We applied it twice and still got FRIED.
To read about other cool “tourist” destinations that I broke down and visited after being proved wrong about the Pelican Bar, click here.