There is something about sitting on a beach that puts you into a day dream. After a while, things get a little hazy, and you realize you have been staring at the same rock for at least ten minutes. It must be the hypnotic sound of the waves, the continuous, unhesitating wash of them. Someone says something to you, and you reply: “What?”
So it was when we escaped from town for a day with visiting relatives, ending up on Winifred’s Beach in Portland, eastern Jamaica. Winifred’s has always been one of our favorites. The road down there has not improved (violently bumpy) but the glimpse of the water through the trees as you jerk along downhill (preferably in an SUV) is alluring. It’s a little more built-up than when we first visited close to thirty years ago, when there was only the occasional tent and one or two shacks selling drinks. Now there are two or three unpretentious places where you can buy food. A couple of Rastafarian gentlemen diligently sweep the sand and tidy up, and ask for a small contribution for their services.
Yes, Winifred’s is a public beach – an increasing rarity in Jamaica. Much of our coastline – especially on the north coast – has been hijacked by monstrous all-inclusive hotels or fenced off by the owners of villas. To walk along what’s left of the severely-eroded Negril beach, you have to run the gauntlet of security guards whose main purpose is to keep you off a particular stretch of sand (if you look like a tourist, you might be let through). This is a huge contrast to other islands I have visited (notably Barbados and Grenada) where all beaches are open to the public.
Then, at Winifred’s, there is the spring. In one corner of the beach, it is a slightly muddy jade green at its deepest. A small stream makes its way gently into the sea. If you scoop up the sand there it smells strongly of sulphur. Its natural mineral waters (very cold) make your skin tingle, after a swim in the sea. My back felt wonderful after lying in it for ten minutes; I wish I could do it every day. At one time local people used to do their washing in the spring; the strong detergent was ruining the water and vegetation and flowing into the sea, threatening the coral reef. Now, there is a large sign up in patois telling people not to do their laundry there, and there were no signs of any washers.
Dear Winifred’s. I floated on my back in water clear as glass, the sun in my eyes. A wave broke on my face and made my eyes red. Memories drifted back of sitting under the same tree with twisted roots with my parents, during one of their visits here. Of sitting on the edge of the water watching our son’s ecstatic play in the waves. Of calling him endlessly to come out of the water, because it was time to go home. He never, ever wanted to come out of the water, even when the shadows lengthened.
But there I go. Day dreaming, again.