Lenbert Williams, host and driver of the One Love Bus Bar Crawl is all smiles at the first stop on the tour in Negril, Jamaica
The moment the dated Mitsubishi Rosa bus pulled up, I knew this would be one of those
experiences that would be very different from my initial expectations. Quite frankly, when I agreed to the tour, I began to worry if this would be a tour experience that was planned, scripted and sterile.
Lenbert came up with the idea for the One Love Bus Bar Crawl in 2011 out of a desire to boost community based tourism in the resort town of Negril. His push into the tourism sector was also prompted by the country’s forever devaluing dollar and excessively high import duties on merchandise which severely affected his previous business of selling shoes from this very bus, which was then known as the ‘Fashion Bus’.
Regardless of the push, it’s clear that he’s passionate about getting visitors to venture outside of their resorts, giving them a more authentic interaction between local resources and the Negril community. A good old fashioned bar crawl to local pubs provides a fun experience for all, “while also allowing for people to mix and cultures explored”, he says. By the way, this is not a tour that’s arranged by your resort. Nope. You need to know that it’s happening and if you can, get in contact with Lenbert beforehand via his website or mobile phone. The One Love Bus Bar Crawl rolls out on a Wednesday, Friday and Sunday Afternoon at 2:00PM. Or, you can also just head outside your resort’s gate on the day and wait. This is very much how Jamaican’s take buses and trust me, you won’t miss the labeling of the transport. Lenbert picks up guests one by one in front of their hotels along the Negril strip. It’s very much like a hop on tour, no fare required, with the hop offs being a series of bars in Negril’s West End. On a typical afternoon, between seven and ten bars are visited before climaxing at the ever popular Ricks Café for the destination’s incredible sunset experience.
I’ve gotten way ahead of myself here though. As we trundle along towards the next set of pickups, Lenbert boasts that in the five and a half years that he’e been driving, he’s had over 45,000 people on the bus tour, with many passengers being repeats. My wary brain doesn’t even attempt to engage in such arithmetic. But looking around the bus, the benches are arranged lounge style as if to encourage socializing and I begin to wonder how many people would fit. Without missing a beat, Lenbert says that the bus can seat 20 passengers with 45 as the max. He then offers that this is likely to be a slower day since many are recovering from the Reggae Marathon earlier in the day. The average count is 35. I feel a bit relieved.
As we pull over to collect the next set of guests, Lenbert’s welcome to them is even more familiar. Two gentlemen have gotten on and have jumped right in front as if co-pilots. Lenbert immediately introduces me to Mick and Jason, both visiting from the UK. This is their THIRD time on the tour for this trip alone and Jason’s 7th overall in the numerous times he’s visited Jamaica. He says that every time he visits Negril, One Love is a must.
I ask the obvious question of why so many times, to which their reply is simply a love for Lenbert and a taste for the “real” Jamaica. In a nutshell, they’ve been able to get outside of the resort and see more of the Negril community, support local business while also enjoying themselves.
At our next stop, Mawka and Jeff, a couple visiting from Winnipe, Canada have climbed on. This is their first time on the bus which was recommended by another visitor. As we trundle along Negril’s strip, the stops are becoming more frequent. Guests standing in front of their resort gates climb onboard and there is a consistent ratio of repeat guests and first timers. There is an air of familiarity in the bus, which is actually becoming quite full. As I look around, it occurs to me that we are almost at standing room and we’re not even half-way through the strip. Jason notices what is perhaps a look of concern on my face as to where we’ll all fit and reassures that “by bar three, everyone’s the best of friends!”. I think to myself that this feels very much like a Jamaican country bus on its way into town. Everyone climbing in, and no one hopping off. Tight!
Our first bar stop was right on schedule at 3PM and everyone stepped off the bus into
the bar, which just happened to be on the side of the road. I hear Lenbert mention to those at the front that this is a new bar that we’ll be trying out and that he “hopes they’re ready”. I see scrambling inside as the bar staff realize that a busload of guests are about to descend. Within minutes, ice cold Red Stripes and rum punches are in hand as we overflow into the road.
After the first round of drinks, we’re back on board, on route to the next stop. We’re all already feeling pretty familiar with each other, sitting in laps and bracing the standers as Lenbert carefully balances the bus on the deep turns of the West End Road. It is important to note that visits aren’t just to surface spots. The bus rolls through the inner communities of Negril, to areas that many other Jamaicans have not ventured. Many of the guests call it the shanty towns, which is what they’re quite curious about. It’s here that Lenbert notes the importance of community tourism, for local bars are able to expose their business to visitors, while visitors are able to see how some of the Jamaican population live without it being invasive. Lenbert is adamant that this is not an opportunity for handouts to the less fortunate. It’s not encouraged. He doesn’t want young kids thinking that they should view tourists as a quick and easy way to get some cash.
This is an experience that I can’t recommend enough, not only for someone new to the island, but quite frankly for Jamaicans as well. It’s no wonder that the bar crawl is rated number 1 in the top 20 Negril Nightlife activities by Trip Advisor. Whether you decide to drink or not, the journey is a busload of fun! It’s community and it’s an opportunity for us to get a sense of those that surround us and support each other. Mark Twain said that “travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness,” and as the Negril sunset unleashes its brilliant hues onto the cliffs of the West End, this feels like community tourism at its best. Effortless and experiential.
The bus! The famous One Love Bus awaits its passengers as part of the One Love Bus Bar Crawl in Negril, Jamaica. The bus has reportedly carried over 45,000 passengers as part of the community tourism initiative.
Contact Lenbert to arrange your seat on the One Love Bus at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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