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Where Reggae Rules

Negril, Jamaica

I’m a huge reggae fan. You could say I’ve become familiar with the culture of Jamaica through its pulsating rhythms and sunshiny vibes long before I went there for the Tmrw.Tday Culture Fest. But once I arrived, I realized that Negril’s spirit and philosophy of awareness and positivity made it the perfect setting for the festival’s lineup of health, wellness and musical events. The resorts and attractions along the coast’s luscious miles of sand and rock provide ample opportunity to enjoy the people, food and heavenly blue water.

Since I’d adapted to the language of Jamaica mainly through reggae—often puzzling friends with the consistent affirmative “Yeah, mon!”—when I got there, I finally felt understood. I was in my element. The cab driver also took pride in offering me more key Jamaican shorthand and explained that when issues arise, “we don’t feel it as a problem. We feel it as a situation.”

It was late when I landed and I found myself at an Italian restaurant where DJs played insanely loud dub music. I ran into legendary reggae producer Lee “Scratch” Perry, who at 81 is diminutive and animated, his dyed red hair under a baseball cap adorned with stereo speakers and CDs painted in Jamaican colors. Known for basically inventing dub music, he joined us at a table and I offered him some pizza. I told him I’d never been to Jamaica before, what would he recommend?

Leaning in, he responded, “Just look at the water.”

Eventually, Scratch was invited to take over the microphone for his patented style of “toasting” over the music. This went on for about three hours and everything started to feel like a surreal fantasy.

The next morning, I woke up for a hike in the mountains at Zimbali Retreats. A quick 20-minute drive up Canaan Mountain in the Westmoreland part of Negril, the family-run Good Vibes condos offer overnight stays and incredible farm-to-table sharing experiences at Mountain Cooking Studio. The meals were infused with the Rastafarian belief in the pure, natural and spiritual connection with the land. “Ital is vital,” proclaimed our guide.

On a walking tour of the mountain, he pointed out several different trees that give sustenance to retreat visitors. Mangos, guava, papayas and sugar cane are continually harvested throughout the island and prepared in various delicious dishes.

I was probably getting too used to this simple life on the island, showing up in a pair of flip-flops that weren’t quite adequate as I walked up the jagged and rocky roads and across a stream. Feeling a bit foolish walking barefoot for the next two miles, I realized that I was actually earning some real cred among the locals. More than once, while pointing at my burning feet, people said to me, “Ah, we have a true Rastaman here!”

At sunset, DJs were spinning for a crowd of revelers about 20 feet from the water on Seven Mile Beach. I couldn’t have asked for a more serene and dazzling way to bring on the evening, and then I was greeted by a pair of massage tables set up on the beach. After about 60 minutes of deep-tissue work, I found myself regaining consciousness, waking up to the sound of one of my favorite party jams, “Oh Sheila” by Ready for the World. A fun run was taking place nearby and some locals were offering horseback rides on the wet sand. Coconuts were being cracked and a woman threw a straw in one, offering it to me.

Later, at The Caves resort—located inside of the cliff that leads down to the ocean—there were African dancers and drummers in one room complementing the DJs spinning old-school reggae near the bar. Lee Perry was in the house and again took over the microphone.

I met a girl from Kingston named Kristie and asked her about the wild animals I saw everywhere on the island. “How aren’t there more accidents along the busy roads with massive herds of goats and cattle everywhere?” With a smile, she realized that I was a tourist. “It’s really just the island,” she said. “It has a simple rhythm here.”

Where to Eat: A little off the beaten path in Negril, Sips and Bites offers a real “roots” Jamaican breakfast. Think ackee and salt fish with roasted breadfruit, plantains and local coffee. For dinner, the abundant and delicious meals at Zimbali Retreats are sourced from its seven-acre farm in the Fertile Mountain Valley. zimbaliretreats.com

Where to Stay: The high-ceilinged cottages at Catcha Falling Star offer beautiful views with paths that bring you to the edge of the cliff for major relaxation or a heroic jump into the Caribbean. There’s nothing like waking up to the sounds of the waves in the morning. catchajamaica.com

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