Trip 1: Skirting the Blue Mountains by road

Saturday / Sunday 10 / 11 March 2006

Dickeesha, Sherona, Latoya, Kaideane, Paul

We set off from Papine on a warm bright morning at 8.15am, a bit squeezed up in the cab part of the pickup, sharing the space with our few bags. Down across the Hope River then up into the hills towards Constitution Hill. Wide views of Papine before we reach the junction at Lindos Gap and turn down to Dallas, a small community that gave its name to that much larger community in Texas, USA!

From there, not far to Cane River Falls, a long-time favourite at weekends, now complete with a spacious bar and other facilities for both visitors and night-time revellers alike. We wanted to have a quick peep at the Fall themselves, but this did not prove possible without paying the full entrance fee of $200 each.

So we moved on in the shadow of the Port Royal mountains to reach the main road from Kingston at Bull Bay, a community still showing signs of the extensive flood damage of the previous year and more. This part of Jamaica is very dry, in the rain-shadow of the mountains, but the floods come down from much further inland.

Motoring along the good road, we find a small monument dedicated to Three-Finger Jack. And looking back, a fine vew of the wind-swept coast running back towards the Palisaedoes. No reefs along this part of the coast, so white horses on the sea are the order of the day....

Yallahs River presents a sorry sight as we drive across the river bed. No fording, and no bridge - not even the temporary bailey bridge that washed away almost as soon as it was assembled... those storm water are awesome in their power. Looking up the valley into the mountains, one can see where all that water comes from...

Past the salt ponds and white horses again as we reach the next community of that very name. The fishing boats on the narrow, black sand beach speak to the skills of the fishermen who make a precarious living from the sea. Rochelle Falls, running a little less forcibly than usual (in this dry time), soon appears, gushing from the rocks into the edge of the road.

As we approach Morant Bay, we turn inland past the still-empty Goodyear factory (what happened to those grand plans for a gargantuan IT centre....) in search of Stoney Gut.

Not hard to find, and the site of Paul Bogle's church has been turned into a tidy and attractive visitors' centre. But the road leading down to it .. road??? We feed ourselves on apples, and in asking retrospective permission to pick from the tree, we find ourselves in the company of one Christopher Pinnock, a descendant of Bogle himself. Chris doesn't let us leave without telling us much more about Bogle's activitites here in the years leading up to 1865, not without a lot more apples, and cane, and a stem of both bananas and plantain... thanks Chris.

Into Morant Bay, bustling wih Saturday morning activity, but still quiet and peaceful in the sea-side park where we enjoy a Mothers' meal having paid our respects to Bogle's monument outside the court-house, the defiant pride portrayed in that familiar sculpture helping to define what Jamaica was then, and still is.

Almost missing Port Morant, which is not hard to do with its sleepy nonchalance, we head to Bath. All too famliar the 'welcome' we receive as we stop outside the Botanical Gardens, which we endeavour to enjoy nevertheless. Some very strange seeds/fruits the shape of a four-sided islamic minuet, and the most enormous banyan tree. With our passenger / uninvited guide on board, we motor up the road to Bath spring itself.... the little said next the better as several local young men vie for our favours. We do manage to walk up the path to feel the hot water coming from the rocks, but.... Inside the hotel, we view the baths which are sadly plain and unattractive... But another facet of the Blue Mountain range, revealing its volcanic origins.

Moving on with dampened spirits, we are soon driving through cane-fields, and looking for the bananas to accompany the Eastern Banana Estates billboard.. past the sugar factory - working at full stretch - and hoping to find the right track to the lighthouse...

Well, lucky we are and our Bath experience is soon behind us as we enjoy the serenity of Jamaica's most easterly point. Solar panels help to power the light but we also find a diesel generator as we climb the steps up the lighthouse. One brave soul Sherona goes on to reach the top and is kind enough not to call us all cowards on her return. We collect stones of all shapes, sizes and colours and leave feeling that we have really reached somewhere, and without the effort of climbing to the Peak, hidden now in the cloud many miles to the west.

Did you know of the wide and beautiful sandy beach near the lighthouse? We spent a good time there, trying not to be dragged out as we braved the waves up to our waists - yes, our beloved Jamaica.

Not far now to Hectors River across the St.Thomas border into Portland. Idris makes us very welcome at her Ocean View guesthouse, which looks out over the sea from its two balconies. If you are also looking for a place to stay in that area, give Idris a ring on (876) 447 6201.

Before resting up for the night, we drive the few miles to and from Machioneal, to sample the evening ambiance of deep rural Jamaica. Belly-full with a jerk meal, we head to bed to the sound of some rather loud party music nearby.... a rare occurance we are assured.

A simple breakfast takes us on our way towards a short stop at Zion Country Beach Cabins, another pleasant but more rustic guest accommodation overlooking Machioneal - call Free-I on (876) 993 0435. Manatee are often seen in the bay, attracted by the fresh water flowing in from Drivers River. Fresh enough for one of our number to soon be swimming in it at Reach Falls, a compact version of Dunn's River, and a lot less crowded, especially because its re-development is still awaited. More kind souls here, satisfying Dickeesa's craving for a cool jelly water - well, we all benefit thanks to Aston, Gary (Bruckup) and Roy. Even a nutmeg tree, the vivid red mace laced around the nutnegs themselves as they peep from the shell, ackee-style. The foothills of the Blue Mountains are full of delights indeed!

Back along the coast and its hard not to keep stopping to capture in mega-pixels what must be Jamaica's most beautiful stretch of coastline, sandy bays with their must-have coconut palms set amongst emphatic rocks, all against the backdrop of those beautiful usually-green Blue Mountains.

Long Bay, here in Portland, is a broad, wind and wave-swept white sand beach which stretches for a mile or more, edged by coconut palms and sleepy bars and down-to-earth restaurants. This is the alternative beach tourism, which Negril used to offer before its commercialisation from the 1970s. This part of Jamaica still offers that informal atmosphere of a real escape, and a photographer's paradise.

Maroon country next, as we savour the jerk-pork delicacy (can anything so hot be a delicacy?) at Boston. Even a large rum-bottle of cool, jelly-water can hardly put out the fire, but a short way along the road we discover the serene charm of Winifred's beach, and finally cool off!. Winifred's beach is quite a contrast to the surfer's haven that is Boston Bay - how those youngters have fun on their boards, not an easy skill to learn.

Blue Lagoon is not far, but the facility is closed, apparently due to an over-abundance of service-providrs in the area. Yet we catch a glimpse of the 200-foot deep wonder, but don't stay long enough to tingle in the warm-cool water, or fear for our lives by swimming to the middle...

Approaching Port Antonio, we stop a while at the Folly, falling apart from the salt-water mixed concrete. What a grand house to have built in vain - the lady must have been disappointed indeed. Bumping along towards the lighthouse, we find it closed for the day and have to thus disturb again (ever so slightly) the spectators enjoying the cricket at Folly Oval.

Into town (Port Antonio) and a stroll along the 'strand', chosing our favourite yacht from amongst the many moored at the marina... well, if not a yacht, we can afford a Devon House ice-cream, as we sit quietly, enjoying the peace and coolness of the early evening, those mountains hugging the town, never letting us out of their sight. Navy Island, just off-shore, looks inviting... as it must also have done to Errol Flynn.

Time to go... to head home... yet can the magic release us? Ken Jones aerodrome and an ancient WW2 plane of ill-repute awaiting its fate but 'piloted' briefly by four young ladies, who take their turn to look the part.

Yes, this time to stop no more on our weary way back through Buff Bay, Annotto Bay and Ochy to Spanish Town (what a long route to have taken...), Portmore and Kingston. Those waiting are relieved, and we are all thankful to reach back safely, and contented...