“In a car you’re always in a compartment, and because you’re used to it you don’t realize that through that car window everything you see is just more TV. You’re a passive observer and it is all moving by you boringly in a frame.
On a cycle the frame is gone. You’re completely in contact with it all. You’re in the scene, not just watching it anymore, and the sense of presence is overwhelming.”
― Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values
December 23, 2012
It was pretty late in the afternoon by the time we herded everyone into the cars. So late that Blue worried the park would be closed by the time we got there. No worries; Blue had a friend who’s family owned the property right next to the park, she would guide us as we hiked in.
We picked up Blue’s friend and parked right outside the entrance to the park, which, as we suspected, was now closed. Blue’s friend lead us to the sign that posted admission prices and she agreed to be paid the same amount as we would have paid as an entrance fee. She then lead us through a “Portugese Gate” and we began our hike down the hill. The path was as narrow as a goat trail, steep in spots, slick and wet in others. I’m not from the hikers and have a true phobia of going downhill, especially in steep wet spots; I’m always certain that I’ll slip and crack my head open on a tree stump or a rock. When we emerged from the bush we found ourselves on the riverbank dropping our belongings and planting our butts on the flat rocks.
Ron and Peg had a seat; Les and the rest of the group waded in and swam out to the falls. I stood there for a moment and enjoyed the beauty of the river and the raging falls just ahead of us. I stripped down to my bathing suit; the sweet water was calling me. Blue’s friend held my hand and tried to help me navigate through the rocky river bottom but I spastically stumbled around, terrified on falling and that got in my way. I encouraged her to swim out to join the others. They were whooping it up out there, wading in the rushing water and jumping from the rocks. Still intent on taking in the fresh clean water I stared to squat and submerge myself. When the icy cold cold water hit my mid-section it took my breath away but not until I let out a yell they could hear in St. Thomas. Ron and Peg were enjoying the scene of my frantically trying to get out of the chilly water, climbing up on the rock and wrapping myself in a towel, teeth chattering.
The three of us headed up the hill; it was getting dark and the mosquitoes were biting. While waiting for the others we chatted with the security guards posted at the front gate of the park. The others joined us a short time later. We dropped off Blue’s friend and headed back to Rasta Villa.
December 14, 2013
The scenery around the river was only the first of many “Oh My God!” moments as we rode up and over the Blue Mountains. The road itself had a reputation for its bad condition. Throughout the ride we spotted evidence of work being done to improve the road, especially on the southern side of the mountains. Still, certain things just could not be “fixed”. It’s mostly a series of switchbacks as it climbs through the mountains. The road is narrow, at points so narrow you wouldn’t think two cars going in opposite directions make it. Throughout our ride, on one side of us were the huge rock walls of the mountains shooting straight up into the sky; on the other a steep canyon descending hundreds of feet with majestic views of the range, homes and buildings seemingly dug into the side of each towering peak. The scenery was positively breathtaking as it was terrifying. Most of the time the road had no guard rails to prevent you and the valley floor from meeting face to face. Adding to this E-Ticket ride some of the grades were over 30%; Peg and I held on to Ron and Les for dear life, mouths open in a silent scream.
I loved riding through the small mountain communities. Small homes, shops and churches were laid out above, below and beside us. I watched as the terrain changed the higher we climbed; more Bamboo, less Palm, for example. The hillsides were colored with lots of beautiful blue mountain flowers and at one point we rode by a mess of mangoes, ejected by its ample tree protruding from the hillside.
As we passed through the town of Section the road hair pinned, then ascended at a 30% grade. As I was screaming in my head, my body pressed against Les’ as though to help the bike make the sudden climb some guy with a bag of oranges tried to actually stop us to buy some. As good as that might have sounded momentum was the only thing we had going for us as we climbed the short steep hill.
As we entered Newcastle suddenly the road appeared to “empty” out into what appeared to be a parking lot with a basketball hoop at either end. The road appeared to continue after going through this “parking lot”, but in two directions; up or down. Now we were confused. We got off the bikes and began to wander around, laughing like idiots and yelling “We’re the Fukawi” (reference: F-Troop). On one side there was a huge wall with a building perched on top and what looked like relief sculpture or medals decorating the side. There was a canon right in the middle. On the other side was a beautifully landscaped trail with some small cottages dotting the hillside going down. That vantage point boasted the most fabulous view of Kingston and the valley below.
View of Kingston
The boys were just about to light a spliff when a car approached from one of the roads on the opposite side of the “lot”. The car stopped; the boys leaned in and quickly found out which road to take and where we were exactly. The car pulled off, the boys started the bikes. It seems they were just about to smoke a joint on an active JDF Training Base.
We got as high as we could in a vehicle; 5,000 feet up in the sky. We got off the bikes and were surrounded by awesome views and coffee plants. Being at that elevation we were surrounded by the red Blue Mountain Coffee berries and the entrance to the Blue Mountain National Park, Hollywell. Peg and I strolled up towards the park admiring the view and the flora briefly. Soon enough we were back on the bikes and on the way back down the mountain.
We headed towards Middleton District where we would find our digs for the night. Prince Valley Guest House is located at the bottom of a very steep dirt road off the main. It is rustic and painted brightly and etched into the mountainside like Mount Rushmore. As we entered the property we were greeted by 180-degree views of the mountains and valleys. Our host Bobby was wonderful from the start and already had dinner cooking when we arrived. We got settled into our huge room that the four of us shared. The bedroom was tremendous but it also had a nice sized living room area and a full kitchen. There was a picnic table and a few Adirondack chairs on our private “deck” all facing those magnificent views. Dinner was served and we dove in with gusto. It was simple; soup, chicken, rice and veg and deliciously prepared.
December 24, 2012
Christmas Eve morning and day five of our four-day trip. For Les and I extending vacations, especially Jamaican ones, has always been a pleasure but with Christmas looming and a business that depends on holiday orders, Ron and Peg were getting pretty stressed out. It was clear that they needed to be back in Negril by Christmas; us, well we were just ready to go home. Les and I took another trip into Porty for more bike parts and some Advil. Despite the dire mechanical issues we were facing it was nice to see more of the city by day.
Anesta and Bigga had arranged for their friend and local motorcycle mechanic to come by the yard to see if he could help. He came by with tools and an audience; if I learned nothing from this I learned that Jamaicans love to watch and kibbitz with any kind of repair. One guy under the hood so to speak with an audience collaborating loudly from the sidelines is just the way they do it there. Finally – a possible solution? The mechanic removed the brand new dead battery from the bike. He had a charger back at his house so the plan was that he’d charge it all night overnight. He seemed confident that with a super-charged battery we’d be able to at least get back to Negril and get the bike into the shop. We were cautiously optimistic about this new situation.
Our last night in Long Bay will remain one of my top-ten most memorable moments in Jamaica. After dinner Anesta made a suggestion that we grab some blankets, load up a cooler with beer and soft drinks and head down to the beach for a bonfire. We walked down the rough road and hit the beach spreading out our blankets while Bigga and some of the men collected Palm Fronds for the fire. It was so nice to lay out on the beach and gaze at the stars with the warm fire crackling near by. Shoes off, I closed my eyes and smiled; this just could not be done on the beach in Negril, not for many years now. For example, if I’d closed my eyes there my shoes would be gone. There would be no way I could enjoy the peace I was feeling just then, a peace that took me back to my teenage days on the beaches on Long Island, a peace where I could have slept the entire night on the sand with the gentle sound of the surf the only sound I could hear. Those few hours that night on the beach in Long Bay gave me the peace and relaxation that a hundred spa treatments could not.
December 14, 2013
After dinner we relaxed in the Adirondack chairs as light turned to dark. It is blissfully quiet in the mountains save the occasional conversation or music bouncing off the canyon walls. We turned in early. We joked about having eaten dinner early and with no stimulus to stay awake we were giving ourselves “permission” to go to bed at 8:30pm.
December 15, 2013
Early to bed, early to rise. We sat in the Adirondack chairs and watched the sun come up. We had breakfast, which was not nearly as good as dinner. I love a good Ackee and Saltfish but this was basically saltfish with just a little ackee and possibly one-half an egg scrambled, which was inundated with saltfish juice. The coffee was awesome and from Bobby’s farm.
We cleaned up and packed the bikes. We paid Bobby, tipped the cook and prepared to head out. Since the road was so steep we felt it best that the boys ride up without passengers. Bobby agreed to drive Peg and I up the hill as he was heading out anyway. The truck went first, followed by Ron, then Les.
December 25, 2012
Christmas Day – do or die. We had to get home. We didn’t have any plans for Christmas but Ron and Peg’s situation was about to become critical and they were facing many deliveries all over Negril as well as lonely pets. The mechanic came by bright and early, rolling out of the car still drunk from the night before. He plopped our brand new and recharged battery in the bike. Fingers crossed, Les mounted the beast, turned the key and….
Alternate Plan C went into effect. Ron and Peg had to leave and as they roared off they promised to stay in touch along the way. We’d see them back in Negril.
The night before we had exhausted Plan B which was to find a rental car in Port Antonio during Christmas Week. We were not surprised to find out that there was not one available. I think Les was actually relieved; he prefers riding the motorcycle to driving a car in Jamaica. He’d really only driven a car a few times over the many years; the farthest he’d gone was to Sheffield with the vehicle’s owner passed out drunk in the passenger seat. No, when it comes to cars Les prefers to leave it to the professionals. So Blue agreed to be the professional and set out to find a vehicle.
While Blue was out my phone rang. It was Renee wondering what we were doing that night. I told her about our situation and how we were hoping to be home before sunset, so hopefully Christmas dinner would be do-able. I promised to keep her apprised of our progress.
Before long, Blue was back with some news.
He’d found a van – yay!
His friend with the van didn’t want to lend it to Blue – Boo.
A compromise was reached; the guy would let Blue drive the van so long as he came along and that the van could be used to make money on its route from Long Bay to Annotto Bay…and that we’d pay him $300.00US.
Ouch…but what choice did we have? To take on getting home via route taxi and bus on Christmas Day would have been a grand adventure if we already hadn’t had such grand adventures for the past week.
Our new young Swedish friend wanted to come along. He was only going to be in Jamaica for another couple of days, and was not going further than MoBay. He wanted to see Negril and he was such a delightful guy we were glad to have him tag along. He sat in the first row of the van with Les, I hopped in shot gun next to Blue. The van owner and his teenage son sat in the back and would take control of the stopping and going of the route van.
I’ve been in many a route taxi; my first trip to Jamaica I traveled to Negril from MoBay in one. It was entertaining to be there but not be IN there, an observer as opposed to a participant. We started picking up folks right out of the gate. Since it was Christmas it wasn’t too busy but people were still moving around, carrying baskets and casseroles to share at family dinners. The three or four rows dedicated for the taxi passengers never got insanely packed though there were times when we’d hear the van driver order someone to “small yuh self up!”
After we’d dropped the last of our passengers off in Anotto Bay we were officially a “charter”. The Swedish kid had a tiny spliff which he shared with the rest of the men as Blue drove down the North Coast highway. Not ten minutes after the spliff was extinguished we rolled up on a roadblock and were waved over. This marked my very first time ever being waved over at a roadblock in Jamaica. I have seen many, but have been stopped at none. Early on in my days of traveling in Jamaica I learned the language of the road. A couple of quick hits on the lights or high beams meant 5-0 ahead, be cool! This gives the driver time to slow down, douse the spliff and roll through hopefully without incident. In Jamaica you don’t necessarily have to be speeding or smoking or weaving to get pulled over, there is no such thing as “probable cause”. The closest thing to probable cause is “cause you are probably doing something shady”. Either way, the wave over is random. Everyone profiles though and we had a dreadlocked Rasta at the controls.
Blue and the van owner took care of the cops by way of a thousand dollar tip and we were on our way. We were making good time so I checked in with Renee. I gave her some ideas for the grocery store shop and told her we’d pick her and her husband up on our way home.
I plugged into my music and watched the sights roll by. It was much different from the front seat of a van as opposed to the back of the bike. Before I knew it we were rolling through MoBay, then Hopewell. Back to familiar ground.
Just outside of Hopewell were Jamaica’s finest, this time they were carrying M16s. Much to everyone’s surprise we were pulled over again. This time it wasn’t as quick and simple. All of the men were asked to step out of the van and I knew this meant a search. My heart in my throat I signaled to the young Swede to ditch the weed – thankfully the small spliff they had smoked outside of Anotto Bay was all he had. I watched from the front seat as each officer patted down each of the men. I was spared as there was no female officer present. The cops poked their head in the van and after reviewing the paperwork we were sent on our way – no tip required.
We were all commenting on how strange it seemed to be pulled over twice in one day. We speculated as to why. We were in a route bus from the other side of the island; perhaps it was a similar cliché scenario to the southern highway patrol pulling over a car with a New York plate just to give them the “bizness”. Or maybe just boredom; there were very few cars on the road and these poor guys were stuck out there with their thumbs up their butts. Whatever it was, we looked forward to the rest of the ride being uneventful. Ah…but that was not to be.