WITH its white, sandy beaches, all-inclusive hotels and gift shops, Negril at first sight seems typical of the tourist resorts you see on postcards. But once the uninitiated get their feet wet, they quickly find out that this once sleepy fishing town is anything but the average getaway.
Despite the influx of all-inclusive hotels in the last 10 years, Negril, located on Jamaica's west end, has retained a rustic image that remains attractive to back-packers and adventure seekers alike. It is also the place where many women come to sample the local delicacy -- a delicacy that does not come on a menu.
Amidst the hand-gliders, speedboats and sunbathers, there are the buffed (and not so buffed) bodies of young men hoping to catch the eye of a single tourist woman looking for a good time. And if that is the case, they have come to the right place.
Gigolos are something Jamaica's tourism has never been short of. While the practice has toned down due to increased policing in Ocho Rios and Montego, it abounds in Negril where the trade is as notorious as its seven-mile beach is revered; so notorious that the 1999 hit movie, How Stella Got Her Groove Back, was based loosely on the town and its amorous lifestyle.
Unlike Winston, How Stella Got Her Groove Back's reluctant paramour, the beach boys of Negril are more than willing to whet the appetites of these women, most of whom are middle-aged, white and from the United States.
And unlike Winston who had pearly-white teeth and came from a middle-class background, Negril's studs are usually poor country boys with limited education. Many are from Westmoreland, the sugar-rich parish where Negril is located; they would have grown up hearing the stories of men acting as escorts for white women longing to feel the thrust of the 'big bamboo'.
"Doctor", a 19 year-old of medium build, is one of them. He says he's been working the beach since age 13 and at the time we spoke, was upset that three American women he had shown around town the night before had taken off in a boat with one of his rivals.
Doctor's frown lightens to reveal a youthful countenance. He is bare-chested, his close-cropped hair an auburn red due to many an hour in the sun.
His shorts are loose-fitting but tight around the crotch area, showing how well endowed he is.
Doctor's years on the beach have made him a seasoned pro. His strike rate with women, he said, is an impressive one. "If mi try fi sey 10 woman fi the year, mi get through with the whole a them," he snickered, adding that he has no great strategy when making his moves.
"Mi (me) jus' give them intelligent talk and mek them laugh," he said.
Doctor makes his living from hitting on women on the beach. He says the ages of his conquests range from 22 to 50 and usually they are on the hunt for the same thing.
"Them want a Jamaican man fi tek care of them. Them sey Jamaican man a the best (in bed), them sey wi harder than the rest," he boasted, by now the frown completely erased from his face. As he tells it, getting it on with a tourist is not as easy as people make it to be. Many of the women are not prepared to give in at the snap of a finger.
"First, they want to know Jamaica, they want to enjoy Jamaica," he explained. "Sometimes it tek yuh a week before yuh get little (sex), yuh haffi know how fi approach them."
Jim, a gangly 22 year-old, has no problems with his approach; in fact, he says much of the time it is the women who do the chasing.
"Sometimes, you'll be sitting down and they wave at you, call you and tell you they like you," he said, his rural tongue sandwiched between a pseudo American accent. "A lotta them say they want to be with you."
Jim is not as physically imposing as Doctor. His hair is plaited and his eyes are covered by dark glasses. At the time of our interview, he was on his way to meet his lady, an African-American, down on the beach.
"Mi nuh really fool 'round the white woman them, yuh nuh," he stated. "Them wan't yuh do all kinda things."
If an 'escort' plays his cards right, being with a tourist sexually can raise him a pretty penny. Most of the women are into oral sex, largely taboo among Jamaican males; for this act, some of the women are reportedly willing to pay as much as US$100. According to Jim, this is normally played out in their hotel room.
The majority of these adventurous tourists travel to Jamaica in the winter season. They are single women in their mid-forties and are from major cities in the United States. They are not necessarily into long-term relationships, but Jim says they return regularly to their island boy, bringing gifts like jewellery, designer sneakers and clothing.
While many of the men welcome these presents, the ultimate for them is marrying and migrating, preferably to the United States. It gives them an opportunity for a new life and better days for their children.
Doctor has not been that lucky yet, but said he would not mind getting away from Negril eventually. "If things work out, why not?," he asked.
Since it was first discovered as a nature getaway by hippies in the 1960s, Negril has become a haven for the good-time crowd. Though all-inclusive hotels like Sandals and SuperClubs have given the town a corporate image, small hotels and villas allow it to retain its rustic setting.
The heightened popularity of Spring Break in 1999 was a shot in the arm for these smaller properties and the gigolos, who have reportedly been a hit with wild American college girls.
In the last two years, their progress has received a body blow with the disappearance of Claudia Kirschhoch, an American travel writer. Investigations revealed that Kirschhoch may have had a flirtatious relationship with a bartender at the Beaches resort.
Though the bartender was eventually cleared by the police, management at hotels and clubs have put in place stringent rules prohibiting any relationship between guests and workers who stand to lose their jobs.
As a result, Jamaica's tourism authorities have increased fines for persons they consider to be pimps in other tourist locations like Ocho Rios and Montego Bay. They have also stepped up their attack on the boys of the beach. On the day I spoke with Doctor and Jim, two of their colleagues were being carted off by the police beach patrol.
But beefed-up security does little to deter experienced heads like Doctor. At the end of the interview, he strolled down the beach, stopping at intervals and chatting up other prospective clients. Just another day on the job.