Half Moon Resort Golf, HouseBoat restaurant Montego Bay and Ernie Smith!
MONTEGO BAY, JAMAICA - It’s great to eat dinner at your resort, but sometimes you want to get out and see the sights a bit. I hired a cab (more on the outrageous costs in a minute) at Half Moon Resort and asked the driver to take me to the HouseBoat Grill in the Freeport Montego zone, about 20 minutes away. It came highly recommended and sounded funky – a floating restaurant.
Anyway, I get in the cab, which is actually a van that can seat eight people, and I start chatting with the driver, Dennis, who’s maybe 40. It’s a slow time of year down here, with a few families and newlyweds but not so many Canadians trying to escape the cold. I asked where he was from and he told me on the southern part of the island, in Manchester, I think.
I told him I was going down there Friday, or near there, and that I was staying at a hotel designed in part by a woman who was married to the producer or director of the reggae film classic “The Harder They Come.”
The conversation shifted to the soundtrack to the movie and to the main singer on the soundtrack, Jimmy Cliff. Pretty soon out came a shiny, gold CD and two perfect strangers were belting out “but the harder the battle you see, it’s the sweeter the victory” from “You Can Get It If You Really Want”
After three tunes I asked to hear some of his favourite music to broaden my horizons a bit. I kinda expected something edgy, although the guy wasn’t that much younger than me.
“Yeah, mon,” he said. (It’s a cliché but so many folks down here still talk like that). On came something that sounded like country/western hurtin’ music meets reggae meets Detroit Motown soul, with horns pounding behind the chorus and a shuffle beat. What in the world, I asked.
“Ernie Smith,” he said. “Back in the 1960’s. Great stuff, mon.”
It was. I wouldn’t buy an entire CD but there were three or four really fun tunes. By the time the songs were half-finished I was able to pick up some of the lyrics and the chorus, so we sang along together as we rolled through Montego Bay and past a glorious sunset that backed a group of kids playing soccer. Vendors hawking lord only knows what patrolled up and down between cars and we drove past some real shanty-towns; a definite change from the resort.
We soon pulled up to some seafood joints and large factories in the Freeport zone and he stopped the van. I walked down a short pathway and saw a large (maybe 80 feet long, but that’s a guess) houseboat anchored in a quiet bay about six feet from a bank that was lined with mangroves (I believe; don’t hold me to it). There was a tiny, rickety “ferry” that was really just a wooden cart that floats. I asked if I could swim instead but the guy shook his head and laughed.
“Not unless you like eels and manta rays.”
Okay, let’s take the boat. To call it a ferry is to laugh. The guy just pushed off with one foot and we glided across to the restaurant in about 3.7 seconds. It makes the Toronto Island Airport ferry look like the Atlantic Crossing.
Anyway, the restaurant was outstanding. Service, as advertised in the guidebooks, was a touch spotty. But everyone was friendly and the food was great. I had spicy shrimp in a scotch bonnet beurre blanc sauce, a Queen Conch fritter with slaw and a nice salad of mixed greens with orange slices and beetroot, plus a Coke and Red Stripe Bold (6 per cent alcohol, so watch yourself, Byers) and a nice-sized crème brulee for about $35. Expensive for Jamaica but not by North American standards.
The atmosphere was the best part. It’s a touch rickety but the upstairs is wide open to the elements, with a small bar at one end and great views out over the bay to the hills west of Montego Bay. It was nearly a full moon and the light danced on the water and tiny lights on the hills flashed yellow, orange and white as small shards of distant lightning lit up the night sky.
Giant fish came out and splashed about under the boat’s lights, no doubt attracted by the bugs who came to check out the lights. The place was pretty full of what seemed to be locals – one man was pointing out the family home to his daughter – and tourists, including a couple Peace Corps volunteers from New Orleans that I briefly chatted with. A great spot.
The only drawback is that if you’re staying at a resort, you’re likely to get hammered by the cab fare. I don’t know what the deal is, but the resorts seem to have a deal with a local tour company. There’s a big sign at Half Moon that points out the fares for rides to Montego Bay or to local golf courses and such. My fare, for 20 minutes (roughly) each way? $40 U.S. Meaning it cost me $80 to get to a restaurant where I spent $35 for dinner.
Crazy. I mean, those are Toronto prices. I suspect I could’ve done a helluva lot better if I’d walked out into the road and flagged a passing cab, but I can’t say I saw too many of those.
I kept thinking about being in India in April and how a similar ride in a tuk-tuk would’ve cost maybe $4 each way. Maybe.
Oh, well. My driver was there to meet me after dinner and we rifled through another half dozen Ernie Smith tunes before I was deposited back at the hotel for a wonderful half hour out on the resort’s pier, watching the moon dance on the water and the lights on the shore twinkle as gentle waves rolled past.
I almost forgot to mention the morning, which started with a fabulous sunrise and then a great round at the terrific Half Moon Resort golf course. I teed it up with Ewan Peebles, the affable and helpful director of golf, and had a great time. He and our caddy, Kevin, did a great job helping a 55-year-old hacker with his downswing and had tremendous laughs as we watched a good eight or ten drives of mine trickle into fairway bunkers.
I’ll write more about the course in next year’s Golf Magazine in the Star, but suffice to say it’s a very fair resort course. No tricks. No roller coaster greens. No stupid, forced carries. Just good, fair, honest golf. And that’s something we don’t get enough these days.
Finally, I managed lunch at the resort’s Seagrape Restaurant (great snapper in coconut milk and chicken/pumpkin soup with “spinners” - pieces of dough that folks “spin” into small, spiral shapes. Half Moon GM Aram Zerunian, a great guy, told me Canadian arrivals have been growing at double-digit levels for four or fiveyears in a row, which is quite something.
Zerunian is from Austria originally but has lived in Jamaica for some time. Rather than have his family in Europe, he chose to have them live in Toronto – Thornhill to be precise.
“Crime is zilch, the education system is terrific and I love the multiculturalism.”