Nothing scares me quite like nature. It does not ask forgiveness when it trespasses. It just comes at you, a force that must be reckoned with.
These thoughts flashed through my mind as I looked out on the Caribbean Sea, somewhere on the northern coast of Jamaica, in a small village called Robin’s Bay. Crabs scurried as I plopped myself down on the ground, near border walls workers built to protect against the tides.
My family and I were on vacation on the island, where we rented a bungalow open to the sea on three sides. The surf broke loudly on the jagged volcanic rocks outside our hut, its spray blowing with the wind like a boat.
It was the perfect place to contemplate fearlessness — and how I choose my vacation destinations, a process I still am not entirely sure of, despite traveling to new places often, ideally every few months.
Like any relationship, travel locations and I have a weird kind of alchemy. There is a feeling, an instinct, and you just know you have to go with it.
To reach our bungalow, we drove and drove — or rather, our friendly driver Leibert drove, just to the left of the coast, except when he veered right to avoid the potholes. We saw the sign for “Strawberry Fields Together” a good while before the ravaged, coastal road gave way to the camp-like property itself, where we would shack up in our open-air bungalow, Sunrise Magic, for the next three nights.
Sunrise Magic was one of a handful of colorful cottages dotting the magical campus on a hill above the sea. In my head, I panicked. Maybe I’d forgotten how to relax. What would we do in this windy paradise with a 15-year-old? And how would I keep him off of his phone?
But it was my son who made us to wake up early one morning, to see the sunrise from the property’s point that jutted out into the Caribbean.
It was cloudy that day, so we waited. We were, seemingly, on the edge of the earth, with layers of the Blue Mountains in the distance. Suddenly, the rays emerged out of the clouds, like beacons from beyond. It was clear: we were small.
“Take a picture!” my boy screamed at me as he spotted a type of bird we didn’t know. His phone was in time-lapse mode, stabilized on a rock with a beer bottle he found nearby.
When I missed the shot, he was annoyed with me. I smiled.
And, despite my initial fears, we would go on to do a great deal more in our days on the island. We went to the store in nearby Anton’s Bay with the resort’s cook, Jennifer, and its driver, a Rasta gentleman named Brian. We bought chicken parts instead of goat, since I don’t know how to cook goat, and because the goats we passed on the road were just too cute.
We bought rum and Red Stripe and curry spice and coconut milk.
We dined on fried mahi-mahi and festival, the long local corn cakes we came to love, inside our bungalow’s kitchen — which also opened to the sea after we lifted a big wooden shutter and tied it to the gate.
We sailed out into the rough waters on a fishing boat with our guide Damon, and got dropped on a beach, from which we hiked out to a waterfall. There, we swam in a cove while Damon cut wood from a tree with his machete, and grilled local fish and yams on an open fire.
We ate fresh almonds and guavas that Damon cut open for us on the long trail back to Strawberry Fields, on which we made a pit stop at a fresh fruit-and-juice stand. It was enough to forget that big cities also exist in this world.
We played with the cats that roamed through the breezy open-air dining area on the hill, as waves smashed into the rocks below.
Waves, crashing on rocks. Nature. That’s what we were here to see, I realized. And it wasn’t so scary after all.
Facing nature forced me to rid myself of the expectations of city life, of my thoughts of other people and society. It forced me to confront the powerful force of the elements, and myself in them.
Watching the water crash into those rocks will always amaze me. It reminds me that there are some things in life I can never control — and that there is nothing wrong with that.