The baby goats waggled their tails and bleated after their mother, who obliged them with some milk. A bananaquit alighted on the hanging ornamental banana flower, only to be chased off by a Jamaican Mango (the hummingbird, not the fruit). Women’s laughter floated from the tree house next door. Further away, two gardeners were striving to trim an unruly bamboo hedge.
We breathed deeply. Here we were at our favorite place of calm and comfort – Sunset at the Palms in Negril.
The hotel is “all-inclusive” – a phrase which conjures up visions of clusters of tourists, slopping around the place with piña coladas in hand, wondering what to do next, echoing voices in vast, impersonal hallways. Sunset at the Palms is far from this; it is much smaller, to start with. The lobby, which is airy and at the same time cozy, is adorned with low table lamps, dark carved furniture, Indonesian-style, and glowing polished wood. The entrance includes a very large piece of limestone, with native plants such as the agave growing in it, surrounded by a pool with fish.
We had the warmest welcome you could imagine – so warm that it almost brought tears to my eyes. Marlando, a young man with thick eyebrows who reminds me of our son, picked up our bags. Gloria Allen, the head of housekeeping, has a broad, kind smile. It was also good to see Almarie again – a sweet young woman who lives in Little London.
The rooms are “tree houses,” dotted about in a lavish garden. The hotel is built on what was once wetland, I am sure; but it has retained quite a bit of vegetation – in particular, the palms: tall, stately palms, palms with skinny trunks, native palms. There are beds of ginger, heliconia and other large, leafy plants. As evening falls, a cacophony of tree frogs gets started among them.
I quickly settled into my cushioned corner on the verandah, with a view of the peaceful field full of trees. My husband settled in the hammock at the other end of verandah, and went very quiet. In the foreground were tall, glowing red crotons. In the field were a scattering of goats (they are the hotel’s pets, and not for the curry pot, I am glad to say). American Redstarts fluttered in the branches. I had brought a new acrylic paint set and some brushes, and tried to paint a couple of the flowers in the garden (tried).
Did I mention the pool? It is not large, but it has a cozy swim-up bar and it is set right among the palms, with plenty of shade (important for me as I have to avoid strong sunlight) and natural tiles. It doesn’t have a deep end, which is good. I swam and swam, then lay on my back and gazed at the palms.
And now for the beach. A man or woman, like the school “lollipop man,” bravely steps out onto the road and holds up the traffic, so that guests can walk across to the beach, two steps away. Drivers in this part of town tend to put their feet on the gas, unfortunately.
The beach is, again, not denuded of vegetation as so many beaches sadly are. You walk through tall trees to reach it from the gate, and the sea view opens up to you. The bar plays the usual cheerful reggae music, and there is lots of space to spread out if you want a quiet spot. And of course, the sea… It is invariably calm, in a sheltered bay. If you know Negril, you will also know that the water has a silky quality to it, especially in the evening hours.
The first sunset we saw was extraordinary. It looked almost garish, like a Japanese video game; but it was completely real. As the sun set behind a chunky cloud, its rays spread out from behind in diagonal lines. But we, the bar tender and the security guard were almost the only people to admire it.
Yes, life at Sunset in the Palms during the pandemic is – well, different, of course. We sanitized our hands on coming in, and at every meal time we had temperatures checked and recorded with our names and room numbers in a large book. Meals are very different. Instead of the extensive buffet selection, the hotel keeps it simple and manageable with food served to us in the well-ventilated restaurant. The menu is naturally limited, but still the food is excellent. Evening entertainment is curtailed; the enthusiastic band played Tina Turner et al, during dinner rather than after, because they had to get home before the 9 p.m. curfew.
The hotel staff, as quietly friendly as in pre-COVID times when we first visited, made us feel simply at home. Everyone wore masks in public places; the staff all did so. We dragged ourselves away from the palms, and the sunset, and the cozy spots, with great difficulty – but with a lovely send-off chat with the General Manager, Ms. Kamarla Simms (almost the VP-elect’s name!) who showed us round the elegant Lotus Leaf Restaurant. The enamel art work there and in the reception area is splendid. The birds inevitably caught my eye first, but then there were the orchids, and the magnificent, polished, austere Buddha in the restaurant entrance.
As we started home, we were already planning to return. As soon as possible. Next week would be fine!
Our heartfelt thanks for the palms, the gardens, the birds, the goats, the sea…and especially – thanks to the lovely people at Sunset at the Palms.