Mission Report: Goldeneye – the return

Darryl Marsch reports on his second visit to Goldeneye Resort, from where he recently returned.

Crescent moonlight reflected milkily off of my companion as she swam.  By day, the lagoon at Goldeneye sparkled like an aquamarine, but at midnight, its waters only faintly glinted like a shiny, black onyx.  My companion jackknifed her body under the black sheet of water, whooshing in a thrust of current and reappearing a few meters away, bobbing and smiling.  All around, the rhythmic chirp of tree frogs carried on the cool night breeze of the Undertaker’s Wind.  “They’re calling to their lovers,” I said, and then my companion smiled more broadly and invited me to join her in the inky water of the lagoon.

James Bond had been on many missions in the nighttime sea. On each mission he brought special gear to facilitate his tradecraft, including  spearguns, a miniature rebreather, and an underwater camera with infrared film.  Bond once carried a heavy limpet mine to place on the hull of Mr. Big’s yacht. And, searching in the dark for nuclear bombs, he swept the hull of the Disco Volante with a Geiger counter. Bond even infiltrated North Korea wearing night vision goggles on a high-tech surfboard full of C-4 explosives. I chose not to remember the decoy seagull that 007 wore on his head when he emerged from the water in the opening scene of Goldfinger, but the white dinner jacket that Bond wore under his diving suit was unforgettable.

As I dived into the lagoon, I had no gear — nothing at all really — but I had hope for the eventual outcome of my nocturnal adventure.

Back when I considered planning this trip, that midnight lagoon swim couldn’t have be imagined, so I had to ask myself why return to the same place I had been not twelve months before?  Bond rarely returned to the same location, except to pay respects to the women he loved. Usually, 007 was off to a thrilling new assignment.  Exotic, adventuresome travel was always part of the Bond formula.

Jamaica, though, is special. Jamaica is the place where James Bond always returns. And, James Bond’s birthplace and spiritual home is, of course, there at Goldeneye.

As you know, Goldeneye was the home of Ian Fleming, where he authored the James Bond novels and short stories, and it is now a private resort consisting of his former residence, approximately twenty-five beach villas and lagoon cottages, and assorted huts. The resort sits “on the North Shore, opposite an invisible Cuba, on the eastern corner of a tiny banana port called Oracabessa (Golden Head).”  My companion and I traveled to Goldeneye in May 2023, and I filed my first Mission Report on that adventure here.

On this trip to Goldeneye, we stayed at Lagoon Cottage #8, which sits on a shimmering, smooth ribbon of salty water weaving behind Button Beach, around Santa Maria Island, under Goldeneye Bridge, and finally merging into the the sea near Ian Fleming’s villa.  Each morning, we breakfasted like Fleming on scrambled eggs or salt fish and ackee at the table on our dock.  There, we spied sea turtles breaching the surface and befriended a mottled brown grouper swimming around the moorings of our kayaks.

We made no offsite excursions on this visit; rather, my companion and I spent a good part of each day lounging in the serenity of our cottage.  I read the latest Fleming biography, and we played backgammon (a nod to Octopussy), watched a Bond film, and enjoyed each other in tropical paradise.

The island’s scented air was a blend of sea and trees, including hibiscus, holy wood, oleander, and dogwood.  Fleming undoubtedly delighted in telling visitors about a particular variety of dogwood called “Bitchwood,” which due to “likeable Jamaican pudeur” was politely referred to as “Mrs. Dogwood.” Many guests, including Michael Caine, Kate Moss, Quincy Jones, and Johnny Depp have planted trees at Goldeneye upon making a donation to the Oracabessa Foundation, which works with the town of Oracabessa on sustainable, local development.  Our new friends, Laura and Bryan, whom we met at the Bizot Bar, planted a Rose Apple tree.  Its fruit is small, round, yellow, sweet, and like many things in Jamaica, hinted of floral. Jamaican children apparently scoop them up and eat them like candy.

A variety of birds flew from the trees or hopped up to our cottage.  We could have used 007’s namesake ornithologist to identify them all.  We regularly spotted what I will call an egret resting on a sycamore branch directly across from our dock.  Its version of television was watching the fish jump.  Next time, I will pack a copy of James Bond’s Birds of the West Indies, so I can make fuller (fowler?) report.  Incidentally, I found the bar cats, Lucky and Bizot, far easier to identify as they slept or prowled for morsels of fish that may have slipped from a plate.

A highlight of this year’s trip was a tour of the Fleming Villa, his residence at Goldeneye from 1946 to 1964. Fleming designed the Villa in traditional Jamaican style, intentionally blurring the lines between living space and nature.  We entered the Villa through a narrow walk around a sunken garden.

Sunlight streamed through wide windows into a living room of extraordinary scale.  An oversized, white daybed loaded with cushions dominated one side of the living room.  On the other, I gravitated to an ornate backgammon board that sat on a glass-top table suspended by two stone figures and flanked by dark wooden, pineapple-backed chairs.

The bathrooms were secluded outdoor retreats, perfumed with orchids.

An outdoor dining table overlooked the steps down to the sandy crescent of Fleming’s beach.

In the corner of Fleming’s bedroom stood the desk where he wrote Bond.

By no small coincidence, James Bond had a similar desk in his Jamaican villa in No Time To Die.  Fleming was known at Goldeneye by his military rank, Commander, which was of course the rank also held by James Bond.  When he wrote, the Commander required that the bedroom jalousies be thrown open, so that the windows nearest his writing desk framed a broad landscape of the grounds outside, and then, the sea.  But, Fleming’s bedroom was also a sanctuary — a room within a room, with mosquito netting extending about four feet from the sides of the bed. A pair of Fleming’s swimming trunks and a small book about his last love, Blanche Blackwell, were displayed in another corner.

The Villa was an inspiring, creative environment, but I wasn’t fully prepared for the sense of history that overcame me there. I thought about Fleming snorkeling and spear fishing there and how he later journeyed onboard the Calypso to dive with Jacques Cousteau.

I imagined the cocktail parties with Katherine Hepburn, Errol Flynn, and Fleming’s neighbor Noël Coward.  I thought about all the war stories told there that would have violated the Official Secrets Act had they not been published merely as fictional spy thrillers.  Discussions by Fleming and Dr. No director Terence Young with Sean Connery about becoming James Bond played out in my mind.  And, I thought about the china that must have been broken during rows with Ann.  The dearest thoughts, though, were of the ocean play pool that Fleming had built for their son Caspar, for whom Fleming wrote Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

And then, there was the life of the Fleming Villa after Fleming.  Briefly owned by Bob Marley, and now by Chris Blackwell of Island Records fame, the Fleming Villa has a who’s who roster of guests.  A gold record of “Every Breath You Take,” which Sting wrote at Goldeneye, hung in Fleming’s former garage, now converted into a media room.

Most recently, the Fleming Villa made an anonymous appearance in 007: Road to a Million on Amazon Prime. Two new guest cottages have been tucked in to the side of the main villa. And, an added swimming pool was blended organically into the scene next to a Jamaican Apple tree lush with its leathery, mahogany-skinned fruit. It was all quite stunning.

The people who work at Goldeneye were very thoughtful.  So many of them remembered us from our previous trip, it was heartwarming.  Marlon brought a handmade flower arrangement to celebrate our anniversary, and Kerry sent us a special slice of cake.  Our concierge, Tamara, arranged for one of the butlers from the Fleming Villa, Adrian, to conduct our tour there.  Milton served us our favorite Blackwell rum cocktails at Bizot before we even had to ask.  Countless others, made our second stay at Goldeneye even better than the first.

On our last night, there was a slightly more formal dinner option at the Gazebo.  I ordered an Ian Fleming martini, made with Gordon’s, and my companion favored her usual French 75.  After cocktails, an ice-cold bottle of Bollinger popped open, and at sunset we clinked glasses to celebrate our anniversary, Goldeneye, and “happy new future for SPECTRE!”  We laughed at our new favorite toast inspired by bad guy scientist Valdo Obruchev from No Time To Die, and we dug in to a bouillabaisse filled with muscles, shrimp, and scallops, alongside creamy crab macaroni and cheese.

We took another stroll around the Fleming Room at reception to admire the 007 memorabilia and artwork.

And then my companion and I watched the stars shine down on Jamaica as we walked across the Goldeneye bridge and along the gravel path back to Cottage #8.


 

Dream of staying at Goldeneye? Check out prices and availability: Goldeneye Resort

 


The Rose Apple photograph is © 2024 Bryan R. Smith (bryanrobertsmith.com), used with permission.  Words and other photos are © 2024 Darryl Marsch.

Darryl Marsch is a husband, father, lawyer, and Bond fan living in Frisco, Texas. Follow him on instagram at @darrylrmarsch

The opinions expressed in the article are those of the author. They do not necessarily reflect the views of the website owner.

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One Response to “Mission Report: Goldeneye – the return”

  • Melissa

    Wow. Really well done and what an insightful and inspiring review.

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