“Adventure can be an end in itself. Self-discovery is the secret ingredient…”
― Grace Lichtenstein
For the first twenty-five years that I was visiting Jamaica I never went far beyond the boundaries of Negril. Oh sure, there were the trips to Little Bay, a fashion show in Bluefields once, countless trips to Sav la Mar and Orange Hill but I never saw places on the North or Eastern Coasts, inland or even the south, our closest neighbor. I never really felt compelled to; that and up until January 2012 we shied away from driving all that far. In those twenty-five years I always kept myself very busy with those little road trips and adventures off the beaten path making my experiences at times very far from “typical”. After our first overnight road trip to the North Coast that January however we were bitten by the bug to see and do more on this fantastic island. Ron and Peg felt the same way. Living there full time and running a business they started to feel a need for a vacation true to the word; an opportunity to get out of their day-to-day, to relax and explore their beautiful adopted country. The four of us knew we traveled well together, we’d done it before and always had a great time. With a little planning and discussion we were ready to go on our first trip around the island on motorcycles (because heaven forbid it should be too “typical”) the week before Christmas 2012.
This is a tale of two road trips. I’ll call our trip in 2012 “The Best Laid Plans”. I’ll call our trip in 2013 “The Best Laid Plans – Mission Accomplished”. I hope you enjoy the ride.
December 20, 2012
The plan was loose but it was a plan. We’d ride straight into Port Antonio, spending the night then heading through the Blue Mountains, spending a night there as well. Then we’d stay somewhere on the South Coast – probably Treasure Beach. Armed with several hotel recommendations from friends, suggestions as to what to see and do along our way we headed out. Les and I were riding a Honda Shadow rented from a friend. We left the yard and headed north, covering the same ground as the year before (https://westcountywestend.com/2012/07/29/riding-north/) on the A1, the North Coast Highway, one of, if not the best road in Jamaica. We made a stop at Scotchies for lunch and then barreled on.
Somewhere around Runaway Bay the engine conked out and Les carefully rolled to the side of the road. Perplexed, he and Ron checked the bike over – dead battery? I’d never known until then how scarce jumper cables were in Jamaica. There was the four of us, milling about like lost puppies on the side of the road next to a huge resort’s back end waving at cars as they zipped by at 80kph. Every now and then one would slow down to see if they could help offering up random wires and telephone chords when we asked if they had cables, shrugging when we inquired about a nearby mechanic. I began to eyeball the area for places to stay in case we got really suck there which was starting to seem like a real possibility. After a long while one of the cars had the answer to our prayers – he knew of a mechanic just up the road apiece. Ron rode over to check; Les and the nice guy limped our bike over, the place as it turns out was not far at all. Peg and I were shuttled over by the mechanic’s assistant riding Ron’s bike – he was having a pretty good time with it.
The place was a little wooden shack combined with a truck trailer and Mr. Fixit definitely was an appropriate name. All around were lawn mowers, cars, scooters and other things in repair and repaired by the talents of this one guy. Mr. Fixit carefully examined the bike with the requisite kibbitzing of his assistant and friends who gathered around the mysterious machine. Soon enough the problem was diagnosed and the part needed determined. Unfortunately, the part was thirty miles away in Ocho Rios – Ron jumped on his bike and made haste down the road to get to the store before it closed.
The rest of us passed the time best we could. Peg and I wandered off to the nearby plaza where we had a drink. We each got an ice cream cone from a parlor in the same plaza. Ron returned with the part and it was installed and tested. Meantime Les called our friend and apprised him of the situation including the cost of the part and labor and the current situation, which was that everything was OK.
We were good to go but hours had passed and we realized there was no way we were going to get to Port Antonio before dark. We decided to stay somewhere closer and leave first thing in the morning for Porty.
While short on luxury but long on friendliness, we called Leroy from Blue Harbour and informed him we were on our way. Leroy told us he’d have “chef” prepare some food for us. Just as the sun was setting we turned off the road into the familiar hotel where we’d stayed the year before. Blue Harbour was formerly Noel Coward’s home and guest house and the rich and famous from the Hollywood of the 1940’s had spent many good times there. I was pleased to see this historic guest house had received the TLC it much deserved; the owners seemed to have put some money into the place in the form of fresh paint, makeovers to the common room and most importantly updates to the guest rooms. I was not nearly as “icked” out as the year before and I settled into one of the now comfy loungers on the verandah and enjoyed watching the sea until we were called for dinner.
December 12, 2013
We had been talking about our next road trip almost as soon as we returned from our first one Christmas time 2012. We learned some lessons and switched up our timing so that we’d be traveling before Christmas and we actually made hotel reservations. Most importantly, Les and I rented a motorcycle from a well-respected and legitimate business in Negril. We carefully mapped our route and planned our movements; two days in Long Bay, one night in the Blue Mountains and one night in Treasure Beach. We’d invited two friends to come along, a commitment they did not make until the last-minute. Thing 1 and Thing 2 were on board.
We left Negril as planned and coincidentally just as the power went out. The outage was all over Negril, which meant we had to gas up in Lucea. There would be no stop for Jelli Coconuts at “Point” sadly.
Thing 1 is an old friend; we’ve known him for many years. He’s a fun guy to be around, from the northeastern US and culturally we have a good deal in common. He’s been covered in tattoos as long as I’ve known him and when we first met he was an upright physically fit tough/sweet biker guy. Over the years hard riding had taken its toll on his body and his mind – the poor guy is in pain pretty much all the time.
I’d met Thing 2 briefly a couple of times and knew very little about him. He had lived in Negril full-time, helping a friend or brother or cousin run a place on the beach. He’d cheated death, his advanced cancer now in remission. He struck me as quite the character; charming, sarcastic with a quirky sense of humor and a wild side, all traits that appeal to me. This guy strutted through life as a tough guy biker, a “gangsta” if you will but with what appeared to be a heart of gold. Moving around with these two quirky guys promised to make our trip even that more fun and interesting.
Thing 2 immediately proves himself to be a flamboyant rider. On his rented Shadow (his was in the shop) it was clear immediately this guy needed to prove something. He’d rev the engine when stopped at a light, stand on the pegs as he rode all while yelling something unintelligible in French. To me, it was amusing. I was happy to be the Peter Fonda Zen character to his manic looped out Dennis Hopper.
Nothing would bother me that day. I just love being on the back of a bike. I trust Les implicitly and I know what to do or more importantly what not to do back there. I love the wind in my face, all the OMG scenery rolling by me. Short trips, long trips – I love being a biker bitch.
The road is smooth and the scenery is awesome. We slowed to 50kph as we passed through little towns like Discovery Bay and Orcabessa and through busier more bustling cities like Port Maria and Buff Bay. Our goal was to be off the road in Long Bay before dark and time was getting tight as we sat in rush hour traffic in Port Antonio. When we pulled off for a drink and a smoke at a roadside bar it began to rain, no pour, delaying us even further.
Rain delays are not uncommon when riding in Jamaica. It seems to always be raining somewhere and as we moved further east it was to be expected – this was the “garden parish” after all. The “Things” however were growing impatient and hungry – and grumpy. Still, I knew we were a good hour away and what little daylight we still had was hiding behind the clouds that were dumping rain all over us.