Roger Crow finds some old movie magic and goes off the deep end in Caribbean haunts made famous by 007 writer Ian Fleming
Remember that moment in Dr No when Ursula Andress emerges from the Jamaican surf in a white bikini singing Underneath The Mango Tree? Of course you do. It’s hard not to be reminded of countless 007 references on Jamaica where Ian Fleming wrote all his spy novels.
On the coach from Montego Bay to Negril, I had my first cinematic flashback to Roger Moore driving a bus around the island in Live And Let Die. Jet-lagged and more than a little saddle-sore, our 50-mile journey came at the tail end of an epic trek from Yorkshire to Jamaica, via London and Miami. You can fly direct to Montego Bay, but a mixture of trying to get the most economic flights and flying on a certain day due to work commitments meant going round the houses. My desire to visit came, not from a lifelong obsession with Bond’s birthplace, but my brother-in-law’s wedding.
Jamaica is where you find Goldeneye, Fleming’s writing retreat. It’s also where Bob Marley, Island Records, Red Stripe lager and rum come from. But I was keen to find out more.
On arrival at Breezes Grand Resort & Spa we briefly marvelled at the lofty marble entrance hall, before heading for a well-deserved rest.
The following day provided a revelation. What we’d thought had been a wave machine lapping a few feet from our front door (it had been pitch black out there) was the bay itself. Grabbing a beer from the fridge and jumping into the hot tub on the open-air patio, we soon began to enjoy life, and while I could have easily spent my days lying there, or on the resort’s trademark sandy beach (raked every day at the crack of dawn to remove detritus), the chance to emulate scenes from Thunderball was too good to resist.
In the 007 movies, Commander Bond slips on an aqualung as easily as a dinner jacket and makes flippers look cooler than Italian shoes. But although I was surrounded by a backdrop worthy of any glamorous spy, making the leap from pool swimmer to amateur ocean diver was a little harder than expected. I’d never worn an aqualung, let alone a weight belt or emptied a flooded face mask underwater, so trying to juggle that lot and not fall over in clown-style flippers had me looking more Austin Powers than Bond.
I probably could have done with longer than half an hour’s training in the resort’s swimming pool, but as my stay in paradise was brief, I decided to sample the wonders of Jamaica’s hidden depths as soon as possible. Whisked off by boat to the middle of nowhere, my fellow divers (all seasoned Americans who looked like they’d trained with Jacques Cousteau) vanished beneath the waves a few minutes after the boat’s engines stopped.
For the brief time I did spend underwater, the view was stunning; like some high-definition documentary. But it didn’t help that the movie Open Water (a low-budget shocker about a couple of scuba divers accidentally abandoned by their absent-minded boat crew) was unspooling in my head. I held my nose to depressurise and followed a guide rope to the ocean floor. Alas, as water rose inside my face mask and my weight belt headed south toward my knees, I realised I was in over my head, in more ways than one, and extracted myself quickly.
But even sub-standard aquatic endeavours deserve a reward. Of the six restaurants in this all-inclusive resort, Munasan was a rare treat. This teppanyaki and sushi restaurant featured a top chef preparing mouth-watering food on the cooker before us and his theatrical pyrotechnics enlivened the dining experience no end. That good old takeaway staple, egg fried rice, has never tasted so good.
A wealth of wonders on your doorstep are also worth checking out. You can visit Appleton Estate, a local rum production outfit, or join plenty of other tourists in climbing Dunn’s River Falls. My favourite was Rick’s Cafe, an attraction a few miles from our hotel that has been pulling in the punters for decades, due to its incredible cliffside location and views.
We were driven there by Denton Wright, an eloquent 50-something local driver whose knowledge of the island enhanced our journey no end. He pointed out vendors selling hand-crafted goods. No mass-produced trinkets, but works of art.
I’d recommend Rick’s Café a couple of hours before sunset, dining at the restaurant and having a tipple while watching local daredevils diving into the crashing surf, listening to great music and mingling with other thrilled sightseers.
The light is extraordinary. By the time the sun goes down it becomes one of those sights you never forget, especially if, like me, you’re obsessed with photographing great sunsets.
Roger Crow was a guest of Virgin Holidays, which offers seven nights’ all-inclusive accommodation at four-star SuperClubs’ Breezes Grand Resort & Spa from £1,265, including scheduled flights ex-Gatwick direct to Jamaica and transfers. Regular departures from Manchester from £109, connect with Heathrow.
Prices are per person (two sharing) in a junior suite with garden view, and based on departures in January 2012. You can start your holiday before you’ve even taken off in the Virgin V-Room at Gatwick, which costs £20 (adults) and £12 (children). Virgin Holidays 0844 557 3859 or visit www.virginholidays.co.uk