Renting a Scooter in Jamaica

February 15, 2011 by  
Filed under Rental Cars and Scooters in Jamaica

Renting a scooter in Negril Jamaica, a review of Jah B’s and my scooter experience.

Zooming down the roads at 200 miles per hour doing flips in the air while chugging a nice cold Red Strip and toking on my spliff with a scantly clad lady under each arm while riding my scooter….okay, none of that happened but it would make for an interesting story.  Renting a scooter in Negril is more like renting girly bike with the little tassels but nobody makes fun of you since others get stuck walking or dealing with taxis.

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Shopping for a Scooter to Rent: Since 95% of the recommended scooter rental places in Negril narrow the search down to just 3 places and I was staying at one of them, I rented from Jah B’s.  I looked over his entire fleet of scooters, dirt bikes and Harley style cruising bikes and as a one time motor bike owner I knew he kept his fleet in excellent shape.  The last thing I wanted to to break down on some rural road having to push my rental scooter 20-40 miles in a snow storm.

Pickup and Delivery of my Rental Scooter: The whole process was rather easy, I inspected the rental scooter, signed a contract, got a helmet and was on my way within a few minutes.  Since I had not been on a modern moped…..I mean scooter, I got a brief intro on where to find the turn signals and how to lock the steering (forcing a thief to go in circles or caring my bike instead of just pushing it in a straight line).  The one thing I failed to notice in the rental office was the giant map of Jamaica but who really needs a map to explore a foreign country?

Driving a Scooter in Jamaica: At first I drove really slow and it was like trying to relearn how to drive a motor bike like I never drove one before.  Judging when to swerve to avoid potholes and what potholes I could drive over at my given speed was a giant learning curve!  Several times I hit potholes dead on, other times I ran into sand drifts and other times I chickened out when it came to playing “chicken” with other drivers and animals.  Even driving very slow it was at times an edge of my seat experience.  As the days passed my confidence increased and I was riding with mad skills at record breaking speeds….(at least 40-50 miles per hour).  Along with the increase of my skills, less and less locals yelled at me when they passed, come to think of it, I was actually passing people.  The highlight of my increase in skills came when I was zooming through the crowds of tourist leaving Rick’s Cafe and they were all yelling rude comments about how reckless I was driving.

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After spending days exploring a large share of the west coast of Jamaica, I became really familiar with the roads and with many of the people in local shops and just random people that I would see walking along the side of the road.  From time to time I would stop and offer random people a ride and enjoy the fruits of their gardens (seems like everyone in Jamaica has a nice fruit/veggie garden) in return for my efforts to be  a motor bike taxi driver.  In remote areas people would flag me down thinking that I was lost and couldn’t understand that I was driving around with no destination in mind but we both laughed at how silly each other was.  Several of the people I met invited me to local parties, took me on tours or in a few cases invited me over for lunch or dinner.  It was really a shock meeting real people that wanted to share unlike some of the people in Negril!  Without a doubt, I knew then and I know now that renting a scooter let me explore a culture instead of just giving me a way to get from point a to point b.

Scooter Safety (not getting it stolen): While scooters have a locking steering wheel of sorts, they are easy enough for two men to load into the back of a car or pickup truck.  I would strongly suggest bringing a cable style bike lock with you from home or buying one in Jamaica.  Assuming the price for a scooter is around $2000 and adding in the fact that rental insurance does not cover theft, a $30 lock provides some protection.  Also, park your scooter where you can see it or where a shop owner that you that you have done business with can see it.  A simple, “I would like to buy a water, here’s a tip, could you watch over my scooter while I do whatever” works wonders.

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Scooter Safety (staying alive): From my experiences, driving very slow creates more of a hazard than growing a set and making an attempt to keep pace with the other people on the road.  While it’s normal to stay close to the white line, staying in the middle of your lane gives you more options when it comes to avoiding obstacles.  Generally people will honk if they need to infringe on your path if they want to pass you but it’s a good idea to look all around before you change your location on the road.  Speaking of honking, you should also honk when you want to pass other cars.  It’s hard to explain but within a few hours you will understand that Jamaican’s have dozens of reasons for honking and you will soon understand them.  Click on this link to understand the honking—-> Honking In Jamaica

Scooter Comfort: Scooters have big gas tanks, keep them over 1/2 full so you don’t get stuck pushing them when you run out of gas!  Gas stations are all over the place in tourist areas but once you leave you could go hours without seeing one.  Scooters also have plenty of storage areas where you should keep extra bottles of water, sunscreen and the other comforts that you might need while exploring the island.  Scooters generally have black seats which attract the sun….you will burn your ass if you sit on a seat that has been exposed to the sun for more than a few minutes…..park in the shade!

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Scooters and Insurance: Insurance coverage in Jamaica for motorbikes is not like insurance for cars!  Generally the bike is not covered, your personal injuries are not covered, your passengers are not covered and random things that you might hit are not covered.  In my opinion if nothing is really covered then you could run up a $2000 bill for the bike along with whatever damage you do to personal property and other people.  I guess the freedom of a rental bike comes with a little exposure?

Overall Experience Renting from Jah B’s: I can’t think of a negative thing to say about my rental experience!  Once I asked if my breaks could be set a little tighter( I like overly tight breaks) and Omar made the adjustment in just a few seconds.  Another time he switched out my rental since the back tire was just a little low in air pressure.  The service, bikes and friendly service all got an “A” in my book and here on my blog.

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Overall Experience Renting a Scooter in Jamaica: Overall, I would not trade my exposure in the case of a crash for what freedoms and experiences the rental scooter offered me.  I guess to each their own so spend a few minutes or hours weighing this out at home before you get that vacation mindset and jump into renting a scooter in Jamaica.

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Renting a Car in Jamaica, my Experience

February 13, 2011 by  
Filed under Jamaica Tours, Rental Cars and Scooters in Jamaica

In September of 2010 I decided that instead of dealing with charter taxis in Jamaica I would rent my own car.  Having a great deal of experience driving in Jamaica…4 miles in a van and maybe 300 miles on a scooter/motor bike I knew I was ready!  But…. I know how the roads are in rural locations so I knew in my heart I didn’t want a car but rather a SUV or Hummer!

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Shopping for a rental car: Shopping for a rental car over the internet is a challenge to say the least.  All of the cheap cars are mini sub compacts that hold maybe a small cat with limited luggage and their ground clearance will not allow me to combat the pot holes.  I really wanted a tank or at least a Hummer but neither were available….it’s a manly thing to have a big ride in case you didn’t know.  So my search was limited to a SUV (how humbling).  To make matters worse all of the SUV’s on the island are girly SUV’s!  After spending a few weeks looking around at the local and international rental places I decided for about the same money I would  go for the safe route and book with a company that I knew from the states (US.

Pick up and Delivery of my Rental Car: After sailing through the Jamaican customs and immigrations, I hit a giant roadblock picking up my rental SUV.  It was like time was running at a snails pace!  The normal 5 minute stuff lasted 40 minutes and when we got to additional drivers time just stood still.  I wanted to add a local friend of mine who just flew into Mobay a week ago and stopped by the rental place to provide his license.  At the time the rental clerk said everything was okay and they didn’t take a copy of his license.  When I showed up, not having a copy of the license was some sort of federal crime.  After another hour of pure fuckery I decided that I would be the only person driving and left to pick up my rental.

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Inspecting a Rental Car: In the pouring rain I had to follow my rental guy around my SUV at 100 mph agreeing that everything was perfect.  To his dislike, I slowed him down and took several pictures of scratches and such and forced him to mark on his card that every surface of the SUV had defects.  At first he was a little pissy but as I was taking more and more pictures he knew his opinion was not going to get me to sign out the car. In the end, I had a rental card that showed that every surface had defects without any details as to what the exact defects were.

Driving in Jamaica: Leaving the airport I hit one of the only round abouts on the island.  Being from Massachusetts, I’m an expert at them but seeing as how I’m driving on the other side of the road, my mind locked up.   I was only a few yards away from the circle when I knew I had to go left(east) and my mind was saying to go right but I knew I had to go left…..confused!  After maybe a minute I figured the whole thing out and overcame that mountain of a challenge.  A few miles down the road I was able to stop at my favorite gas station (overpriced convenience store) and at my favorite north coast Cambio.  I have to add that as a tourist getting out of a rental car a few miles from the airport, I smell like money to the dozen or so people hanging out in front of the cambio.  While walking inside, I knew in my mind that I left $5000 or so of camera equipment in the car along with cash and that I would be walking out with $100,000 or so in Jamaican money.  Needless to say, when I got out it was time to get the fuc out of dodge!

Over the next 60 miles I learned a few hundred times that my turn signal and my windshield wipers were on “the wrong side” compared to how they are at home.  Actually, over the next several days I proved to myself time and time again that I kept getting the controls confused….damn those English folks for making Jamaicans drive on the wrong side of the road and messing up where their controls are(kidding)!  Since I knew that I was driving on the north coast highway and it was the best highway on the island, I settled in and got use to driving.  Several times other drivers alerted me to radar traps and random police stops, after experiencing them before (machine guns and such) I kept my speed nice and slow and my mind on the wheel instead of on gin-n-juice or ganja.

After 90 minutes or so, I reached Ochi, the armpit of Jamaica when it comes to tourist and being harassed.  As much as I hate the town, it was only fitting that it rained like I have never seen it before.  The streets looked like rivers and random rocks and streams of sand made some streets a danger unless you drove a vehicle with very good ground clearance.  I drove around for 30 minutes or so to kill some time before I had to drop of wedding photographs that I took almost a year before to some friends of mine that got married over in Negril.   It was sort of a sucky meeting…..here’s your complete wedding on 3 DVD’s…we are getting soaked….have a good day.

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20 minutes later I was heading up to where my friends live in the hills above Runaway bay.  Finally roads that I knew like the back of my hand……or so I thought.  I got lost twice before I gave up and hired a local to show me  the way.  It cost me a $3.00US tip for a local to drive with me for 20 minutes and then he had  to walk back on his own even after my offer to drive him back.  My feeble attempt of being proud of my navigation skills died when my hosts claimed that locals called them several times to let them know about my route through the hills.  <–Locals like to forewarn people that foreign people are roaming about looking for them!

The next day my local friend and a couple of tag alongs loaded up and we were heading to Red Light, a town about 15 miles north of Kingston.  Looking at my new (and expensive map) I knew it should only take a few hours.  But….the maps show straight lines instead of all the hairpin turns!  It seemed like hours before we finally turned up into the mountains and from there it was turn after turn at 20-30 miles per hour.  It’s hard to describe how stressful the driving was with cliffs on one side and the other side of my SUV rubbing up against trees and such. Several times I offered my childhood friend (now  local) to drive but he kept reminding me that he was not on my rental insurance.  I think the real reason for him not driving is that I have over the years commented on how degrading the act of driving is.  “Nah, you drive, it’s so degrading for me to drive”….ah my word comes back to bite me!  After a couple of hours and several stop to provision for our stay in the Blue Mountains my friend’s (the navigator) and my memory of the mountains began to have a conflict.  I kept saying over and over the towns that we should past through and the towns that we were passing through were different.  Finally after reaching Kingston (never in our plans) I figured out that my navigator had a title that he did not deserve!  After several calls to our “resort” (Rafjam) and several somewhat heated debates we headed back into the mountains on another road.

Driving up into the Blue Mountains was a driving experience that is beyond description.  On one side you have a cliff that has a 1000 foot drop off and on the other side you have a mountain.  The road is just a series of 180 turns so 5 miles = 10,000 miles and the whole trip seems like a life of stress.  After getting lost several times and with thoughts of throwing my navigator over a cliff we reached our resort area.  The directions were turn right at “Redlight” until we reach the resort.  As soon as we made the first turn we knew it was a donkey trail at best.  Thank god I got the SUV because the the road was something out of a bad movie!  At one point a huge rock made a canopy above the rental SUV and the insurance thingy was ringing in my head.  It was a real relief that our resort owner drove us around the mountains in my SUV so I could enjoy a few days without stress….even though my insurance would not cover him.

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Driving south and out of the Blue Mountains was a more enjoyable experience!   I strapped a video camera on the front of the SUV to capture the sites, the sounds and the constant honking of the horns at every blind corner.  I would post the video but some ass clown stole my video camera…..$100 camera but I would pay 3 times that for just the SD card with my video.  Looking back, I’m glad that my cheap camera was stolen and not one of the other two I had with me or some of my lenses that cost more than my trip.

Once reaching Kingston, I knew I had to get out of town and to the west coast as soon as possible.  The heavy smoggy air and the traffic reminded me of bad places back at home.  For an hour we were stuck in traffic that lead up to a roadblock that the military set up.  Sitting in this type of traffic while it’s like an oven in the car forced me to turn on the AC and for several reasons using an AC in Jamaica is just wrong.  Like me expand on this thought, with the AC on and the windows up you can not hear what is going on outside of your car, you condition your body to 60 degree temps and every time you leave the car your body goes into a mild type of shock, you burn more gas and gas is expensive in Jamaica!  At one point a random guy started to wash my windshield and in my best Patois I yelled at him that we don’t want it washed and that I don’t have any money with me to give him a tip.  Over and over I stressed that he should back off but my message fell on deaf ears until it was time to pay up….those deaf ears washed my window for free since supporting a forced service sends the wrong message.

Looking at a map and comparing it to the north coast, the drive from Kingston to Negril should take a little under 3 hours…..wrong…wrong…wrong!  The drive takes about twice that time at a safe pace with a few stops.  The first half of our drive up to Mandeville was a pleasure even though the lack of roadsigns and the lack of skills on the part of my navigator caused a few detours and miles of backtracking when we missed turns.  Once passing through Mandeville, we got hit with a rain storm that flooded all of the roads.  In parts the two lane roads turned into one lane roads and it other parts you could not see the roads.  At this point I was really happy that our girly SUV had a good ground clearance so we did not hydroplane!

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Once we reached SAV the need for a car with high ground clearance was over.  The roads from SAV back to the north coast are in excellent shape during the day.  At night the lack of white and yellow lines on the roads combined with the lack of lights on the roads and the sun bleaching the roads makes driving a really awful experience for me.

A few tips for driving in Jamaica:

1.  Keep your gas tank at least half full since gas stations are not on every corner like at home.

2.  Tire or as they call them Tyre damage can and will happen because of the pot holes.  Be sure to inspect your tires, rims and your spare tire before you pay for a rental.

3.  The people in the center of a round about have the right of way unlike at home.

4.  Make sure your rental car has proof of an inspection, you have your license with you and you have bribe money if you wish to pay off the police instead of paying for a ticket.  Generally a $5-$10 ($500-$1000 Jamaican dollars) bribe is fine  but if you pull out a wad of money the fine will be more.  Hint, keep $500J in one location and $1000j in another location.

5.  Don’t transport ganja or other drugs!  It doesn’t matter if it’s a single joint/spliff or a giant bag, the police will ruin your day or at least your budget if they search your car and find drugs.  If you smoke just buy a bag/spliff when you stop for a break.  There is not a single place on the island where you can’t get a spliff….scream ” I need a spliff” and watch how many people will help you with your needs…..so don’t take a risk with a spliff in your car.

6.  Roadblocks, have your ID and paperwork ready and keep your hands where the fine people with machine guns can see them.  If you drive around the island you will be stopped 1-10 times (a luck and karma thing) at these horrible and stressful roadblocks.

7.  Drive slow on rural roads since the school kids have to walk on them to get to school, the random cows, broken down cars, dogs and such also share the same road with you.  One thing to note, goats for some reason are smarter than all of god’s other creations and they seldom get run over…everything else stains the pavement red so keep it slow so you don’t ruin your trip by running over a kid walking to school.

8.  Lock up your stuff in the trunk and keep anything worth stealing out of site!  Lock up your stuff in the trunk and keep anything worth stealing out of site!  Should I repeat it a third time?

9.  Park your rental car in secure locations.  With a rental car you are sort of marked as a rich tourist with money.  Keep this in mind whenever you leave your car.  In some rare cases this might require hiring someone to watch over your car but after a little while you will get a feel for the whole concept.

10.  There always has to be a number ten!  #10……just f’ing enjoy your trip, enjoy the sights, sounds, smells and culture.  Renting a car gives you the freedom to go where you want any time you want to go there, by renting a car you paid for this freedom so enjoy it!  Load up a few cold beverages, a good map, a clear head and explore the island!

I would like to thank the 100′s of Monday night quarterbacks on tripadvisor and N.com who have never rented a car and warn people about renting them….not sure why I want to thank them but maybe they inspired me to write about my experiences?  Also a special thanks to Ohliz for sharing her car rental experience on several Jamaica sites and providing her views on the topic.