A short drive from Kingston Town, Hellshire Beach is a full-on vibrant community centred around rows of seafood restaurants and bars right on the beach. This is one of the more instantly authentic Jamaican experiences a visitor to this corner of the island can have. Driving through the high arches onto the sandy lane, the track narrows as you near the stalls and the beach. Friendly faces appear instantly to offer Lobster, Shrimp, Fish or maybe a cool beer? I walk on by, to the cheerful call of Hey Baby Girl from one of the vendors, welcome to the club he shouts. Reaching the beach, I look along the shore at bathing families having a late morning swim.
Home-made sun loungers are lined up between the lapping waves and the bars lucky enough to have a beach-front. I’ve come at lunch time and it’s quiet; I can only imagine how manic it gets at night when in full swing. But the quiet suits me right now – it gives me a chance to chat to some of the vendors as I walk back along the “street”. Mr Walker calls me over to his restaurant/bar Denis & Elaine’s. Stepping into the dark space, my eyes take a second to adjust. The kitchen comes slowly into focus on the right near the entrance.
I’m the first visitor of the day and the grill isn’t yet fired up, fresh fish lie in a neat pile cleaned and ready for cooking. Walking towards the bar at the back, the spectacular sea-view captures my attention. Denis, by now manning the bar, asks what he can get me. I take a Ting and ask what he’s having. A hot Guinness, says Denis.
It’s over thirty degrees celsius in here and I’m starting to sweat. I realise by “hot” he means “room temperature” – same thing in here. Why don’t you want a cold one? I ask, genuinely curious. A hot one keeps mi body temperature regulated comes the baffling reply. I treat Denis to a hot Guinness just as a group of locals walk in for a cool soda.
Bidding Denis farewell, I step back into the sandy lane and admire the brightly painted and imaginatively named restaurants as I walk back towards the car. Vendors walk back and forth with bundles of firewood and some of the kitchens are starting up their grills. In a couple of hours, the holiday weekend crowds will start arriving and the air will be thick with the scent of grilled seafood and the beat of the sound systems.