André Gordon, Gleaner Writer
PAROTEE, St Elizabeth:
RURAL EXPRESS recently ventured into the extraordinary, way beyond normal. In staying true to Jamaica's mantra, 'Land of wood and water', we ventured beyond land to the magnificent Pelican Bar which is made of wood directly in the water on a sandbar approximately 600 metres off the coast of Parotee, Black River.
Denver 'Floyd' Forbes, a local fisherman, has for more than 30 years fished the waters of the Pedro Cays and Parotee. In 2001, he decided to build a hang-out on the sandbar for himself and his friends. The spot proved very attractive and by 2002 the first tourist arrived at what had become known as the Pelican Bar, so named due to the presence of many Pelican birds which feed in the rich waters surrounding the cay. "It was a dream of mine for a very long time and it has grown; every time people come over they would tell me to sell stuff and they would support me. So, over time I added a bar and a small kitchen," Forbes recounted.
Due to the fact that the Pelican Bar can only be accessed by boat, the local economies of Black River, Treasure Beach and home base, Parotee have been given a big boost. This has resulted in the emergence of a brisk boat transport business to and from the Pelican Bar. Local fishermen have found themselves in the unique position of being part-time tour guides. From land, the bar seems to sit on top of the water, but a close view unveils the sandbar upon which it sits in three feet of water at low tide and four feet at high tide. On a normal day one can snorkel in the beautiful waters surrounding the bar.
Beautiful creatures such as sea urchins, crabs and many species of fish can be spotted in the shallow water. And, if you are lucky, you might spot dolphins on your boat ride over. Upon arrival, we were greeted by chef/bartender Candy Williams. He quickly assisted us from the boat unto the seemingly floating bar. The Pelican Bar is more than just a bar, it is a tourist attraction with a sheltered bar, a craft corner and a sun deck for the many Caucasian tourists which find it irresistible.
The bar has grown from a local fisherman hang-out to an international symbol of exotic Jamaican lifestyle. Many writers and A-listers find solace in the quiet surroundings of the Pelican Bar. When The Gleaner visited, there were tourists from Germany, United States of America, Austria, Argentina and Sweden. It is one of best-kept secrets hidden in the plain view of the public.
Angry waves associated with hurricane Ivan (2004), Gustav (2007) and, latterly tropical storm Nicole destroyed the bar; but each time Forbes rebuilds in a few months. "I will keep this place just like it is and maintain the same principles," said Forbes.
Photos by ANDRE GORDON