Skylark in Negril…


Skylark Hotel (Photo: Emily O’Dell)

What a gwaan (What’s going on?). Mi a gwaan easy (I’m taking it easy). To settle into the easy life, I took an hour drive from Montego Bay to Negril to get acquainted with the main tourist strip in Jamaica. I had done no research before going there, but I knew enough to expect a lot of hotels and many foreigners. Along the way, my driver stopped at a coconut shack so we could hydrate with fresh coconut water.

On the road in Jamaica

On the road in Jamaica (Photo: Emily O’Dell)

I had booked a room in advance at Skylark, but I had done no research on the hotel or the area–I wanted to experience it all with fresh eyes. Skylark in Jamaican slang means: “to laze about, idle, goof off, lollygag, dilly-dally, tarry, behave in an irresponsible manner, to ne’er-do-well, mischief make, engage in shenanigans, tomfooleries, loaf.” That sounded just like what the doctor had ordered–lazing about, loafing around, goofing off.


Beach living at Skylark (Photo: Emily O’Dell)

I had been told in Montego Bay that in Negril you can live all day in your swimsuit–i.e. hotel culture is catered to life on the beach. When I pulled into Skylark I realized what that meant–the whole design of the hotel broadcast bohemian beach club. It was retro without being gimmicky, and relaxed but classy. The minimalist design made for few distractions from the beach and seemed well-suited to sand being trekked inside and out.


Skylark Hotel (Photo: Emily O’Dell)

When I went to my room to drop off my bag, a retro radio was playing music from the ’70s–a groovy, welcoming touch. I don’t usually listen to the radio in my daily life, so I was grateful to be lulled into a relaxed mood. Fortunately, the room didn’t have a television, so that wasn’t a temptation–and I could direct all of my attention to the beach.


Miss Lily’s at Skylark (Photo: Emily O’Dell)

Since it was drizzling when I arrived and I was hungry after our drive, I decided to go to Miss Lily’s, the hotel restaurant, for lunch while the storm clouds cleared. I was immediately impressed with the hip vibe in the music-themed restaurant–not to mention the menu. I settled on coconut shrimp and callaloo, and made myself right at home.


Coconut shrimp (Photo: Emily O’Dell)

Home. That’s how the hotel feels–like you’re in your own personal, giant beach house, with the best food of all the nearby hotels. I also appreciated the feel from the other guests–from tattooed artist-types to middle aged couples with class–everyone was chill and respectful, quiet and pleasant.


Sunset sea stroll

I set out after lunch for a beach stroll along the seven mile stretch to commune with the sunset, check out the other hotel properties, and get my bearings. I strolled past stands selling Bob Marley merchandise, got offered marijuana (no thanks) by a number of men, and perused the menu of nearby hotels. None of the other hotels caught my fancy, which made me grateful that I had randomly picked the best place.


Surf’s up at sunset (Photo: Emily O’Dell)

It was awe-inspiring to see the beach stretch on for miles–and the scenes playing out in all directions made for an entertaining beach walk. Children played atop giant crabs made of sand, while young Jamaican men sang reggae on their guitars, and a bride and groom took wedding photos with the sunset. Eventually, it was time to turn back to Skylark, especially as I was getting harassed by a number of Jamaican men on the beach (a shame–the only downer).


Skylark at twilight (Photo: Emily O’Dell)

The hotel was all lit up when I made it back and looked so charming. There is a lightness to the design–the airiness makes it feel like you’re in a giant beach bungalow. The hanging lights add a festive, yet delicate, touch. I retreated to my room to relax, shower, and catch up on emails before heading back down for dinner at dusk.


Time to dine (Photo: Emily O’Dell)

The menu was all Jamaican-inspired: Cod Fish Fritters, Jerk Corn, Jerk Chicken Wings, Ackee Dip, Jerk Pork, Jerk Chicken, Jerk BBQ Pork Spare Ribs, Oxtail Stew, Curry Goat, Whole Escoveitch Snapper, Jerk Steam Roast Fish, and Miss Lily’s Fried Chicken Platter. It was the fried chicken that was calling out to me–loud and clear–and I dutifully complied. I savored every bite, and went to bed fantastically full and so totally relaxed.


Dinner time (Photo: Emily O’Dell)

I kicked off the next morning with coffee, fresh OJ, and a callaloo-cheese omelette. I was going to spend the entire day doing absolutely nothing but lounging on the beach. Since this was the last leg of my trip, I wanted to take full advantage of the opportunity to spend a few days of intentionally practicing deep relaxation before it was time to return to “real life” back home.


Coffee at Skylark (Photo: Emily O’Dell)

After breakfast I put my toes in the water to check out the temperature (ideal, obviously), and then took a brief beach walk to help wake myself up. When I lived in the Sultanate of Oman for three years, I tried to get to the beach every day and made beach walks part of my daily routine. I got the idea a few years back when I spoke at the Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome Conference in India (the first of its kind in Asia), where a physical therapist had told me that walking in the sand would be a great way to strengthen and stabilize my torn hips. The added benefit, of course, was that it was like a meditation on nature–with so much beauty to take in while I walked.

Cheers (Emily O'Dell)

Cheers (Photo: Emily O’Dell)

What a joy to not rush breakfast–to take in the view and sip my coffee in total peace. There was nowhere to be, nothing to do. My only order of business was the beach, which was waiting for me just a few steps away.


Post-breakfast sea stroll (Photo: Emily O’Dell)

Eventually I parked myself in one of the hotel’s canopied chairs (so perfect), and got to reading my book. It’s rare that I have time to do pleasure reading, so I was grateful to have time to dive into my new book, which was given to me by an American expat friend in Oman.


Beach time at Skylark (Photo: Emily O’Dell)

The Power is a 2016 science fiction novel by the British writer Naomi Alderman. The premise of the book is that women develop the ability to send out electrical jolts from their fingers, a disabling and deadly power that renders them the dominant gender. I highly recommend it–it was so engrossing that I managed to finish the whole book on my trip.


Beach read (Photo: Emily O’Dell)

The water, as you can see, just begs you to wander in. I spent the day going in and out of the water, doing laps, water tai chi, physical therapy exercises, and the usual floating. I retreated to the restaurant when I needed food and shade (and to charge my phone). Everything felt so incredibly easy–no effort required. I’m not prone to relaxation (more like addicted to overachieving and constantly working), but the super chill atmosphere at Skylark plunged me into such a deep state of relaxation that I almost didn’t recognize myself–it had been years since I had felt so relaxed.


Step right in (Photo: Emily O’Dell)

While I had a blast on every leg of my Jamaica trip, it was really at Skylark in Negril that I finally tapped into what it means to “just be.” No mask, no frills, no expectations. Just days of relaxing on the beach without a care in the world. A reminder of what it means to be truly alive–to be in touch with that most essential joy in being full present and witnessing natural beauty.

Peace from Jamaica (Photo: Emily O'Dell)

Peace from Jamaica (Photo: Emily O’Dell)

I had forgotten what inner peace felt like–and tapping into it made my last days in Jamaica feel not only joyful, but truly, blessed.


Sunset in Negril (Photo: Emily O’Dell)

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