At the Edge of the Road Less Traveled

The “Falls” at Ashkenish

For my 45th birthday I was looking to do something a bit different.  A friend had mentioned a while back that he’d taken a Russian fashion magazine to a secret waterfall somewhere outside of Lucea for their photo shoot.  A waterfall?  Secret, as in no tourists? Was that even still possible?  Well, apparently it was and this place was so “secret” even our driver had no clue where it was.  So we loaded up the bus, our posse with our silly sense of adventure and headed north towards Lucea.  Our friend was in the front seat, guiding the way.

Shortly before we reached downtown we took a right up a narrow unpaved road heading into the hills.  The van pitched and bumped along all the way to the tippy top.  We stopped a the end of the road and parked the bus by a place that sold water tanks.

From there we walked.  It was not a long walk; about a quarter-mile first up a hill gradually then down steeply into a canyon.  From the summit we saw this waterfall.  I was seized with anticipation, picturing lush jungle, dazzling crystal clear water teeming and rolling over boulders and I couldn’t wait to get my first glimpse of this unknown and undeveloped treasure.

Well…there’s water…and it’s falling.  Mayfield Falls it’s not.  It appeared to have once been a dam that held back one of the tributaries off the Lucea River.  The water was coming down with great force and filling the somewhat large basin.

The water was crystal clear and sweet.  While it was the not the great “beauty” I’d expected it did have its very undeveloped charm and enough bush and mosquitos to go around.  We spent a really fun day there, each taking our turns under the “spigot”, walking around in the bush and in true posse style, spreading random acts of silliness and laughing our asses off.  It was a good birthday.

The Farm

Everyone loves a trip to the farm.  It was one of my first “activities” on my early trips to Jamaica.  Every farmer loves to be praised for their crop.  There is ganga a-plenty in Jamaica, the best of which is grown in Orange Hill.  It sells cheaper than in the states (if you know what you are doing) and while there may be no bananas there will always be ganga.

That is until the fall of 2010.

The Great Ganga Crisis of 2010 was a result of Hurricane Nicole and elevated military activity in the hills.  Whatever crop that might have survived the storm was ripped from the ground by the JDF.  Our ride from the airport that year was the first smokeless ride in twenty.  The little bits that were available were priced very dearly; double and sometimes triple what was being paid the previous season.  It was part schwag swept up from the curing room floors, a few immature plants that were harvested early – anything to try to turn a buck early in tourist season until the next crop came through.  Lots of hash was smoked until after New Years when the “true” ganga started to come back and the prices started to come down somewhat.

A trip to the farm is always fun.  The hike into the bush is always interesting, beautiful and at times treacherous.  The trip is always enhanced when a few Northern California farmers are in tow.  It elevates the experience from just gawking at a field of plants to a true agricultural exchange.

As a non-smoker I truly appreciate these conversations.  Even though I smoked my last spliff over thirty years ago, I have been surrounded by good weed for at least that long.  I’ve come to appreciate the subtleties of aroma, the crystal formations on the flowers, the colors and textures and even the tastes of each strain.  I’ve come to understand the intricacies of the science behind the mixing of strains and the results produced.

Ganga is grown different in Orange Hill than it is in Northern California.  Here we strive for a large bushy plant yielding anywhere from one-half to two pounds per plant depending on the strain.  Our outdoor growing season is limited to three to four months and we rely both on no rain during that time and a frost just before harvest to finish things up.

Jamaicans grow plants that are more single stalked and tend to favor Sativa as opposed to Indica.  Their season is almost a full year, the hours of daylight just about even throughout.  The single stalk technique reduces the risk of mold which could be a problem in a wet and humid climate.

Our farmer is a humble Rasta Man who is as strong as an ox.  Over the years he has trekked through the bush to his garden on the top of the hill hauling everything for dirt to water tanks.  He cleared that spot and is there everyday, most of the day, tending to his crop.  Scattered among the tires filled with plants grow yam, cassava and pumpkin which he tends to just as carefully as his valuable cash crop.

While many do not go to Jamaica for the ganga, quite a few are drawn there for the country’s reputation of cheap and excellent quality smoke.  It is easy enough to forget that marijuana is illegal in Jamaica.  At the very least many assume it is “tolerated” due to the sheer quantity available for sale.  However, if a tourist blatantly sparks a spliff on the beach the risk is very great that they will be arrested and forced to pay the $500USD fine “up front” instead of sitting in a holding cell in the Negril Police Station.

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