The Pelican Bar—Jamaica

It was Jamaica in July. My friends and I were waiting for a boat to take us to the Pelican Bar, which stood in the middle of the ocean, some miles from where we were. We had been in and out of sun and ocean all day, and I felt the group lagging as we waited for our Captain to pick us up at a small tiki bar. Some dozed in the shade, hats pulled over their faces with Red Stripe beers sweating nearby, while the owner of the bar sang Karaoke to a fifties crooner song that was on repeat. I walked out of earshot to the water's edge and watched pelicans crash-landing between the boats that rose and fell in the choppy tide, and found some young sailors to talk to, who were tying up their craft in the harbor.

An hour later, the boat we had been waiting for sailed in—a beautiful turquoise craft with The Word is Love painted inside its prow. Spirits rallied as Captain Dennis jumped out, and shook hands all around, apologizing for being late. It was a forty-five boat ride to the Pelican, and the scenery was stunning. We skimmed along the jade water about a half-mile off the coast of the island, near enough to see gorgeous resorts and houses, and sprawling white beaches.

The boat flew across the waves, and warm silver spray shot into the air on either side of the rail. I was at the very front of the ship on the left side, and the view was endless, with the vastness of the ocean swelling and dipping beneath us. I leaned and extended my arm as far as it would go, feeling the warmth of the island water against my skin. My heart skipped as the boat leapt into the air, and I heard myself laughing harder than I'd laughed in a long time.

After curving around the island, a speck appeared in the expanse, and we turned out towards it. It seemed to be a dilapidated structure from a distance, and it seemed more dilapidated the closer we came. I had some doubts about how sturdy it might be, but the water around it was shallow (at the moment), and the bar appeared to be built on a raised rock bed. The Pelican Bar was small and open, roofed on one-side, with a pier in the middle and a little series of shelters with tourist goods and a lookout at the other end, and a place to climb down into the water and swim on the other end.

We climbed out of the boat and up the ladder. I could see the ocean through the gaps in the planks, as we stepped into the low-roofed section where music blared from the speakers, and other bar-goers lounged on the benches around the perimeter. Four bartenders crowded into a little space behind the counter, chopping a large block of ice into cups. We ordered coral-colored rum punches and ducked under the low-roof to the open pier, enjoying the tempered breeze whipping through our hair and the novelty of being so far away from everything.

A few more boats came and deposited their riders at the bar. There were fifty of us at the little bar, and it was full. The man known as "Pelican Floyd" was holding court at the edge of the pier. He was said to be as much a draw and fixture of this place as the rum punch and the journey it takes to get here. I smiled at him, and he nodded back at me with a friendly grin and settled easily into Lotus position.

Our drinks ran low and were replenished. Reggae beats vibrated through the warm planks to our feet, and some people set down their drinks to dance and swim. The sun grew heavy as we drank and shared stories about life. When the colors began to change across the sky, the Captain pulled us away and told us the ocean would be too rough for sailing if we waiting much longer, so we settled up our tabs and climbed back into the boat. Pelican Floyd was still there in Lotus position at the end of the pier—he raised his arms to us as we pulled away, and I waved back.

The ocean churned and slapped at the sides of the boat as we flew back to Treasure Beach. The waves flung us off their crests into the air, and we would soar and land on the water again, like cement—it was so jarring I was afraid the boat might snap in two. When the Captain finally pulled into our little cove, I tumbled out onto the wet sand with relief. I turned to look at the path behind us to see the sky swept in Neapolitan colors, with the palm trees waving lightly before. Captain Dennis had already pulled back to sea, The Word is Love, still visible on the prow as he sailed away into the sunset.

There were countless places on the island to have rum punch, but like many experiences in Jamaica, going to the Pelican Bar was as much about the journey as the destination. If you find yourself on the island some happy day, gather some friends and a Captain, and sail towards a structure that doesn't look like much until you get close enough to hear the Reggae beats and laughter, and can see a happy, strange man they call Pelican Floyd, grinning wisely at the edge of the pier.

Friends, The Word is Love,
so dance and swim
and linger together in the golden hours
and tomorrow, we’ll do it all
again.

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