After warming up over the previous few days we were ready to jump back on the bikes for a longer run. Our destination that day would be YS Falls – a popular tourist spot that neither Les nor I had ever seen. What we have seen, and never tire of, is the magnificent South Coast and the ride along the A2 that hugs that coast.
We headed east from Negril, riding the “Sav Road” and meeting up with the A2 in Ferris Cross. While this ride is one of the most beautiful I’ve done in Jamaica, it is also the most treacherous. The road is narrow and riddled with pot holes that sneak up on you in the dappled sunlight below the canopy of trees. On a motorcycle it is most prudent to ride this road during daylight hours for optimum safety. Our plan was to do exactly this so we made sure we headed out early and left plenty of time for our journey and destinations.
About an hour into the ride we pulled off into a small resort in the little town of Cave, about three miles west of Bluefields. It is called “Casa Mariner” and we headed into the bar and ordered our drinks. Casa Mariner is a simple place with four or five tiny cottages set back on their lush green lawn. We walked out to the seaside where there is seating, a gazebo and an old worn out pier. From this vantage point the mighty blue Caribbean lay in front of us as far as the eye could see. Pelicans lazily drifted above us, perching occasionally on a wooden stump protruding from the water.
The owner eventually wandered up and introduced himself. It turned out that he is the father of one of our neighbors in Negril. We had a nice “Jewish-Geography” moment with him before heading out and continuing on. We headed south on the A2 passing the beautiful and quaint towns along the way such as Bluefields and Belmont, along with the larger towns and cities of Whitehouse and Black River.
Between Whitehouse and Black River we saw the enormous and grand homes and vacation homes of the rich and infamous. Western Jamaica is known for its Ganja; the south coast as the stop over spot for Cocaine coming from South America and heading north.
At Black River the A2 turned sharply north and before we knew it we were pulling up to Auntie & UJ’s in Middle Quarters.
Several years ago our driver taking us to Rebel Salute introduced us to Auntie & UJ’s as the place to get Pepper Shrimp. Pepper Shrimp is a South Coast delicacy and Auntie & UJ prepare them expertly. The shrimp are harvested from the local rivers and streams and come in all sizes and types. It’s all shrimp to them but we recognize some as Crawfish. The shrimp are sorted out based on “type” so you can order either or: We usually get a quarter-pound of each River Shrimp and Crawfish.
The live critters are put in a pot and are covered with salt and mottled Scotch Bonnet peppers. The pot is then placed on the wood fire and twenty minutes later you have a steaming pot of deliciousness.
There is nothing fancy about Auntie and UJ’s place. There are some benches and tables in the back behind the small wooden shop, the benches positioned so that all have a view of the open-air kitchen. We settled in with our morsels and dove in. There is not fancy or remotely polite about eating Pepper Shrimp – no forks, lots of napkins and the idea is to literally dive in and devour them as noisily as you can. What is left is a large pile of shrimp and crawfish carcasses on the table, your hands covered with pepper and brine up to your wrists and your swollen and tingly lips puckering right there on your face. Baby wipes are suggested and a good scrub down required before you can touch your face or go to the bathroom.
After lunch we headed up just a bit further north and got on the road to YS Falls. Coastal scenery left behind, we now had the rich and fertile farmlands of Jamaica’s breadbasket, St. Elizabeth Parish, surrounding us.
After buying our tickets we waited for the shuttle that would take us up to the falls. We were dropped off at a gift shop and flat picnic area and from there began our trek.
YS was originally a Cane farm and a supplier of Logwood to Europe, who used the insides of the wood for dyes. By 1887 the property had changed hands many times and ended up in England’s “Encumbered Estates” court. The great-grand-uncle of the current owner, one John Browne, was in London looking to buy property in St. Ann, only to find out the property he was originally interested in was no longer available. He bought YS Estate sight unseen.
Eventually the market for Cane and Logwood slowed and in the 1950’s Tony Browne, the current owner, started to breed and raise thoroughbred horses on the estate. Today his focus is on breeding and raising Jamaican Red Poll cattle – a pedigreed herd.
In 1992 Simon Browne opened YS to the public. Simon’s original intent was to allow no more than twenty-five visitors to the falls per day. His original intent proved to be unrealistic but apparently he still monitors the numbers of visitors to make sure the natural beauty of YS is not destroyed by inquisitive feet. It is now one of the most popular tourist destinations in Jamaica.
The falls in a word are awesome. Fresh water cascades down rock into pools on seven levels. Even in a place that should be overwhelmed by crowds we felt like we had the place to ourselves…big ups to Simon! We stopped to dip our feet in the water about mid-way down but it was too icy cold for this now acclimated red-head to dare to shower under the falls.
On our way back we stopped in Middle Quarters again to get another “fix” and to pick up the “to-go” orders for some friends back in Negril. While there we heard, then saw intermittent motorcades of vans, cars and motorbikes passing through, heading west. Green flags were flying out the windows, horns were blaring and those vihuela things being blown with enthusiasm. There had been a rally in Mandeville that day where the current Prime Minister Andrew Holness, who had replaced the ousted Bruce Golding only two months earlier, announced the date for the next General Election.
From our perch in Middle Quarters we saw the enthusiastic display of JLP (Jamaica Labour Party) loyalists; a display we’d see and hear almost all the way home. People lined the streets dressed in green, waving green flags and blowing green horns as we passed.
This was another “first” for this seasoned Jamaica traveler. I had never witnessed nor even deeply discussed the Jamaica political process but I would over the next weeks both talk about and witness as this process unfolded around me. I would be there to witness the General Election slated for December 29, 2011.