Tale of Two Road Trips – Part V

Part V

“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.

Reach Falls

Reach Falls

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.

Preparing to jump!

Preparing to jump!

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

Blue Mountains

Blue Mountains

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.

Riding without a net

Riding without a net

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.

Mystery Parking Lot?

Mystery Parking Lot?

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

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.

Blue Mountain Coffee Beans

Blue Mountain Coffee Beans

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.

Prince Valley Guest House

Prince Valley Guest House

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.

Christmas Day in Porty

Christmas Day in Porty

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

View from Prince Valley Guest House

View from Prince Valley Guest House

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.

Morning coffee

Morning coffee

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….

Click. Click.

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!”

On the road home

On the road home

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.

The road home, from a van window this time

The road home, from a van window this time

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.

Small towns along the highway breezed by...

Small towns along the highway breezed by…

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.

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Tale of Two Road Trips Part IV – Photo Gallery

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Tale of Two Road Trips – Part IV

Part IV

“Make everything an adventure. Otherwise, it will suck.”
Nita Morgan

 

December 22, 2012

We got home from Bath and recounted our experience to everyone at the Villa over dinner. We had a good laugh; Blue shook his head, telling us none of it would have happened if he’d been with us. After we finished Bigga and Anesta invited us to come with them to a party at the Old Marina in Port Antonio and after a little thought we agreed.

We arrived at 8:30pm, early for a bashment in Jamaica. The place was not yet crowded, and, as per usual, there wasn’t anywhere comfortable to sit. The sound system was outside at the front entrance and it was loud, living up to Jamaican decibel standards; that being if the music isn’t distorted, it isn’t loud enough. The four of us grew bored within an hour and disturbed by the number of police walking through and around the place. The smokers wanted to smoke and that was not going to happen anywhere within the confines of this party. We grabbed Blue and headed outside of the Marina, into the night time streets of Port Antonio.

Port Antonio Marching Band

Port Antonio Marching Band

We stopped at the end of the drive where there was a small building that housed the Port Antonio Marching Band and a small art gallery/studio. We hung out in the shadows, even ventured in and around the gallery and admired the art. We knew not much would have changed at the party so we continued on into the city.

Port Antonio Market

Port Antonio Market

We mostly absorbed the vibe; even after 9:00pm the streets were crowded and car sound systems were pumping. We kept up with Blue’s pace, wide eyed and people watching, catching the scents of the barrel chicken and checking out the wares in the market which even at this late hour was jammed with shoppers. The fruit on display was magnificent and I enjoyed seeing and touching stuff we could not readily get in Negril. No one said anything to us and even in the market we weren’t hounded by anyone to check out their stand and buy something. We just blended in with the rest of the crowd best we could.

Fish!

Fish!

After about an hour we headed back to the Marina. More people had arrived, some of them was dancing and the music continued to blare. We found our group who were well into their booze at this point, having a great time. We were pretty tired out from the day so we bid them goodnight. Blue drove us back and I was asleep before my head hit the pillow – must’ve been that River Massage.

December 14, 2013

I shook myself awake early, wondering if I’d just had some bizarre dream. A quick count of the number of parked motorcycles assured me I had not.

When we’d returned from our day we found Thing 2 at the kitchen table swilling from a bottle of rum. I’d gone and taken a nap and when I emerged for dinner there he was, face down on the table an empty bottle of rum beside him. Going against common sense Bigga shook him awake for dinner.

In a repeat performance of the night before Thing 2 proceeded to alternatively rant and close talk each person at the table. Les and I and Ron and Peg managed to escape and head to bed, leaving him, once again, to the Germans.

At around 2:00am I was awakened by a gravelly French accented whisper:

“Lezzzzz….Lezzzzz!”

I lifted my head off the pillow – there he was, Thing 2, in our room standing a few feet away from the bed. I shook “Lezzzzz” awake as it was asking for him but engaged with it anyway while Les looked on.

“What? What’s the matter, what’s happened?”

He began to pace in little circles, speaking rapidly, “NeeeKeee! I have to get out of here. My daughter’s been shot – my baby daughter’s been shot! I have to get to MoBay and be on the first plane out to Montreal.”

What?   Wait…his daughter, the one who just bought a house, the one whose house he was going to help fix up when he returned from Jamaica the following week?

“She lives in a bad area,” he continued, “they broke into her place and shot her…” he broke down in tears, sobbing “My baby! My baby!” He went on to say how he’d just gotten a phone call with this terrible news.

What could I do? I comforted him, telling him everything was going to be OK. I tried to get him to go to Kingston in the morning rather than ride all the way to MoBay tonight – no dice. He calmed down and explained he just had to leave right now. He put 3000JMD on the nightstand. “I know this isn’t enough,” he said, “but I’ll pay you guys back when you get back to Negril.” Then he was gone – the motorcycle roared out of the driveway.

I stood there for a moment wondering what the hell had just happened. Why us? Out of everyone we were traveling with he knew us the least. Phone call? None of us had any signal, Digicel or Lime, at the Villa – the best signal was out by the gate. As far as the money it didn’t need to be said that this would be Thing 1’s problem – the guy was his “date” afterall.

Assured this wasn’t a dream, I told everyone at the table what had happened. In the light of day the story became even fishier. Thing 1 filled us in on what took place in his room right before Thing 2 came into our room. Apparently in the course of rambling with the Germans, Thing 2 discovered that he and Thing 1 were paying slightly more for their room, something that disproportionately upset Thing 2. Thing 1’s theory was that the guy split because he was disgruntled. I just couldn’t imagine someone lying about his daughter getting shot. Either way, he was gone – we were down one rider but on our way to the Blue Mountains.

As we were leaving the driveway and hitting the main, we lost Thing 1. He was worried about Thing 2, felt he should go back to Negril to see exactly what was going on and hoping not to find his friend mashed up on the side of the road. That left just the four of us…and it was just fine with the four of us.

December 23, 2012

Over breakfast we discussed the route to the Blue Mountains with Bigga, Anesta and Blue. We took our time packing the bikes, settling our bill and bidding farewell to our hosts and fellow guests, in other words, our new friends. Ron and Les hopped on, Peg and I prepared to walk down the hill. All the right sounds were coming out of Ron’s bike – and nothing out of Les’ bike except for a “click click” when he turned the key. Thinking back on our repair in Runaway Bay we started to check off what could be wrong – not the battery, we had a brand new one. The Startex? “Click click”. Immediately all phones came out of the pockets and phone calls were being made to auto shops in Porty and to our bike’s rightful owner. Les jumped into a route taxi to try to track down a part at that auto store while Ron, Peg and I retreated to the kitchen “checked back in” to Rasta Villa and waited for Les to return. We were hopeful that Les would come back with the magic “thing” that would fix the bike and we’d be on our way.

Bike Repair

Bike Repair

It didn’t, so we were “stuck” in Long Bay for the time being. Our hosts and fellow guests, while sorry our trip was interrupted were openly happy about having us around for a while longer, which took the sting out of our current situation. Bigga put a call into a repair guy that he knew that might know something about Honda Shadows. In retrospect we realized that we’d not seen one Shadow on the road on this part of the island. When we rode through small towns our bikes drew a great deal of attention, people coming out towards the street to “see” the sound of the “big” hog rolling by. This amused us but now this “novelty” that was our mode of transportation was biting us in the butt. No Shadows – no Shadow mechanics. No Shadow parts.

Christmas in Long Bay

Christmas in Long Bay

After re-settling in, we headed out on foot to explore Long Bay. Bigga’s brother owned a restaurant down the road about a quarter mile so we decided to stroll on over there. It was Sunday and all was quiet except for the church which was filled to overflowing, praise songs ringing out. We paused for a moment to listen and watch. Church in Jamaica is indeed an event and this was the Sunday before Christmas, so churchgoers were doubly enthusiastic. The door was open so I could see in to the palate of colorful pastel dresses and hats, even the men sported color in their three-piece blue and purple suits. Even though the ceiling fan looked to be going at its highest speed, fans moved to cool down the faces of the faithful in time with the hymns.

Long Bay's Beach

Long Bay’s Beach

The restaurant was a simple wooden building, with uncomfortable (read: Jamaican) seating all around. There was even more uncomfortable (read: Jamaican VIP) seating in the back on the beach. It was windy but we sat there and enjoyed our chicken lunches.

I’d been observing the other visitors to this area and took note of their youth. Portland seemed to attract young people, just as Negril used to. There were young backpacker types, lots of young surfer types and from all over the world, especially Europe. It was refreshing to hang out with our new friends, young Germans and a young Swede. I enjoy watching the surfers at home so it was a nice change to watch them here. The sea was far too rough for me to even think about venturing into it but I enjoyed watching these dedicated souls with boards navigate each set of waves, riding in the curl and landing on shore with huge smiles…and not one of them in a wet suit!

"Used to be the heart of the town"

“Used to be the heart of the town”

While the others busied themselves with a spliff I took a short walk up the beach. Things were still in a bit of a mess from the hurricane. I came upon the ruins of what used to be “THE” spot in Long Bay. Weather, possibly even Sandy had the place pretty much trashed so I couldn’t tell how long it had been closed. Based on what I saw and heard though the place was “it” for any type of nightlife in this area and its closure was fairly sudden and suspicious. It stood there now, like the temples in Greece, fading paint and chipping stone as a monument to what once was.

When we returned home, our hosts and fellow guests were gathered around the kitchen table. Two new guests had arrived; a young American couple who were on their honeymoon. The group was discussing a little off-property adventure and we were down to join in. We’d split up between the German couple’s rental car and Anesta’s truck. Where to go? After much discussion we put it to Blue, Anesta and Bigga and they unanimously agreed that we should check out Reach Falls.

December 14, 2013

Amidst the roar of the bikes we said goodbye to our friends and made them promise to keep us in the loop and let us know where they landed after New Years. Anesta got teary – between our dramatic entrance this year and our dramatic departure last year I’m sure she was a bit emotionally overwhelmed. At the end of the road we ran into our old buddy Blue – we had not seen him at all this time around so we paused to catch up for a few minutes. Then we were off – continuing our adventure from the year before.

The German couple was also heading to the Blue Mountains so they trailed behind us in their car; our initial idea was to share the road trip with them. Just before we hit Port Antonio however it started to rain so we ducked into the same place that we had on our way to Long Bay two days before. We were detained for about a half-hour; the Germans decided to forge on ahead without waiting for us. We understood; they weren’t psyched to stop for every drop of rain that we needed to stop for, it could get pretty tedious.

Corn Pork and Other Stuff

Corn Pork and Other Stuff

After a pit stop in Porty to replenish mostly medical supplies we headed towards and stopped in St. Margaret’s Bay to meet up with the mechanic. We were in the “town square” about a half-hour later. I was reminded once again how nothing goes fast in Jamaica so while the boys worked with the bikes Peg and I mosied about. We took a look in THE store which carried everything from monkey-wrenches to pig’s feet. I love reading the signs in stores such as these, listing the stuff for sale and their prices: Chicken Back, Chicken Feet, Oxtail, Turkey Neck. Every Jamaican cook worth his or her salt can take these “strange” ingredients and produce a work of delicious art. We crossed the highway to look at the shore. The shoreline was all rocks, very little sand, of all sizes and colors. As the gentle waves lapped up and then descended you could hear the sound of sand being made: tikka-tikka-tikka.

Where sand is made

Where sand is made

Striking out on new territory, we turned off the North Coast highway and headed through Buff Bay. It was still morning, not too hot and town was busy with people going about their business. Pretty soon the road started to narrow, conditions got a bit worse and on our right a beautiful river rattled and flowed over smooth rocks and reflecting the few clouds in the Cobalt sky. Ron signaled for a pull-over; we hadn’t gotten very far but we were more than ready for our first stop and smell the roses moment.

A river runs through it

A river runs through it

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Tale of Two Road Trips Part III – Photo Gallery

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A Tale of Two Road Trips – Part III

Part III

“One of the inescapable encumbrances of leading an interesting life is that there have to be moments when you almost lose it.”
Jimmy Buffett, A Pirate Looks at Fifty

December 22, 2012

We woke the next morning to fresh coffee and Bigga preparing Ackee and Saltfish for breakfast. Our mission for the day was to touch the eastern-most part of the island. Coming from the western-most part we thought it be a significant journey to start our exploration.

Through the cane fields

Through the cane fields

We hit the road early passing through small towns south of Long Bay. Using a combination of a map and verbal directions from the street we found ourselves turning into a tremendous sugarcane plantation and processing plant. We followed the narrow unpaved roads through the cane fields, occasionally passing an abandoned bus or van where workers o just folks were taking shade from the beating sun.

We kept following the road that seemed to go on forever. Just as we were feeling that we were hopelessly lost a wooden hand written sign confirming we were on the right path.

Directional Signage

Directional Signage

From that point it wasn’t too long until the sometime overwhelming odor of decaying cane was replaced with a salty sea breeze. We found ourselves on a “real” road hugging the coast. Sadly, that “real” road was overcome with sand, a casualty of Hurricane Sandy. We chose not to ride further in the sand as sand and motorcycles do not mix well.

The Point Morant Lighthouse

The Point Morant Lighthouse

There it was – not too far in the distance, The Point Morant Lighthouse. West meets East, we felt we should have planted a flag to mark the occasion. We walked around the beach for a while but the wind was intensely harsh and constant; the sea was rolling angrily at the same time.   We checked out the debris scattered about the beach, a good deal of it brought in by Sandy, no doubt.

Creepy baby doll

Creepy baby doll

Soon we were riding back through the cane fields; the ride back didn’t seem to take as long. We stopped in the small town of Duckenfield Hall for a box lunch of fried chicken and rice. It was still early so we discussed our options as to what to do next. Pulling out our list of recommendations we decided on Bath. It was kind of on our way back to Long Bay and we all felt that healing warm waters would be a nice relaxing thing to do.

Small town

Small town

December 13, 2013

We all sat around the large kitchen table that morning drinking coffee and deciding what to do with our day. Amazingly enough, Thing 2 was pretty coherent considering that he had held court with the Germans for a good three hours after the rest of us had gone to bed. I wanted to check out Blue Lagoon. I’d seen such nice photos of the place. Les, Ron and Peg were down; Thing 1 and Thing 2 not so much. They wanted a break from being on the bikes. Their plan was to spend the day at the beach close to home. Bigga gave us the lo-down on the Lagoon. Yes, there would be “guys” there but nothing too harassing. All we’d need to do is throw one of them a Nanny to “park” and they would leave us alone.

Blue Lagoon

Blue Lagoon

To get to Blue Lagoon you drive off the main down a narrow road/hill where huge villas and resort walls surround you. We pulled into a small gravel parking lot where we met “the guys”. As Bigga said, there was really no pressure or harassment – we handed one of them the Nanny to park.

“Did we want a boat ride?” he asked. We politely declined. There’s a small rocky beach near the parking lot that was completely taken over by some photo shoot so we proceeded down to the only access to the Lagoon, the dock. The dock area is tiny and there are more than several boats tied in to the left. The only swimming access was to the right, a tiny beach-type of walk in access. Ron and Peg checked things out then sat on a bench next to where souvenirs were being sold, with no view of the water. Our guy said, “Welcome to Blue Lagoon! Well…its green today because of all the rainfall.”

Blue Lagoon Boats

Blue Lagoon Boats

Green water withstanding, the lagoon is beautiful. I looked across the water and saw it was ringed with trees and bush and in many cases a small beach had been cleared and there were chairs, maybe a table and a lounger. I knew that these days most of the lagoon was surrounded by private homes, villas and resorts. I saw some of the young people from the photo shoot swimming across to another somewhat less developed area across the water. While I was interested in what was over there I knew it was too big a swim for me. I walked into the lagoon gingerly – the water had a bit of a “nip”. Once submerged though it was simply delicious. I swam around, close to shore trying my best to avoid the boats. Unfortunately, one of those boats pulled into the dock. I hung back as far as I could as the boat unloaded, the smell of gasoline could have ruined the whole thing for me if I’d let it. I reluctantly swam to shore through the perceived effluence of the vessel’s motor. There was none, or not that I could detect however the idea of swimming where an outboard motor grossed me out a bit. To dry off I attempted to lay out on the dock for a bit. I got up pretty quickly; lots of people were walking back and forth on the small space that was apparently not meant to be a “chill spot”. I was disappointed that there really wasn’t a place to relax and enjoy the beauty that surrounded us.

P1090821I joined the rest of my group at the bench. We were sitting next to a sweet young Jamaican man whose leg as obviously mangled. Being that we were the boo-boo brigade with fresh bandages on newly acquired wounds war stories of motorcycle accidents became the topic of discussion. We talked bikes and injuries with the young man for a while. Les was having a small issue with our bike that we were looking to take care of before we made the trek into the mountains and we knew that motorcycle mechanics were scarce in Long Bay. Our new friend was more than happy to help and turned us on to his “guy” in St. Margaret’s Bay, just past Port Antonio and on the way to Buff Bay.

A large tour bus pulled in and we took that as our cue to vamoos. We said goodbye to our new friend and checked Blue Lagoon off of our bucket list. While the spot was lovely the experience was less so. The fact that there was no place to relax and enjoy the setting, that the swimming access was so small and crowded with boats bummed me out a bit. The only was to really experience the lagoon would have been to have taken that boat ride which for us was more money than we wanted to spend on a half-hour “tour” – that and all that motorized boat activity seemed to be environmentally unfriendly. I would have much preferred to have jumped in a kayak, canoe or rowboat the gently float around the water at our own pace and explore what was on the opposite shore.

December 22, 2012

Traffic on the road in St. Thomas

Traffic on the road in St. Thomas

The ride to Bath was beautiful as we snaked through the hills of St. Thomas. The road was narrow and rough and we were surrounded by lush foliage. When we approached Bath the first thing we saw was a huge pink building that looked like an effeminate penitentiary. It was, in fact, THE hotel at Bath.

As we pulled into the parking lot no less than ten men, yelling and talking over each other, surrounded us each trying to be our “guide”. There was no getting rid of these guys and we did need to know which way to go so we went, with all ten guys surrounding us. The path to the river was narrow but not harrowing. Several vendors were set up along the way selling drinks and food, but none called out to us as we passed. Perhaps it was because these guys that were “with” us did not shut up the entire walk. Several times they would stop dead on the trail and argue with each other in patois over our heads. Each time we’d have to yell at these fools to move just so we could continue on, even though our better instincts told us to turn tail and run in the opposite direction. I never once felt threatened but I was seriously irritated. After what seemed like miles and hours we arrived at the river. We were directed to the warm water spots and waded in. Our “entourage” hung around, making some small talk with Les and Ron. Peg and I settled ourselves on a ridge on the opposite side.

The river was beautiful and the water warm. Sadly my irie was so mashed up at this point that any hope I had of relaxing in warm healing waters was dashed far, far away.

I’m not quite sure what happened next; it’s all a blur. Suddenly, or not, I was getting a massage with hot and cold water being poured over my head and body. Peg was also getting a similar massage. I don’t know why it happened so fast and so slickly but something in the back of my head was telling me to just go with it. I remember laying face down on a rock in the river, being rubbed with pimento oil, doused with hot water, then doused with cold water and thinking “you are getting a massage in a river – embrace it!” Still I knew that I’d have to pay for this on some level, probably the cash level.

I’m not sure how long we were pummeled, but after it was all over Peg and I sat limply on the ledge. At some point one of the guys had asked for my camera so he could take pictures of me “enjoying” the springs – I had the presence of mind to refuse. Peg, unfortunately, did not and handed her camera to him. Her “photographer” snapped some pictures and returned the camera. We looked at the out of focus and poorly composed images with humor and Peg graciously thanked the guy.

Then our “masseurs” approached. OK – here we go. He asked if we enjoyed our massages. He asked if we wanted to buy some pimento oil. Then the hammer came down. I had in my head what I was willing to pay as he pontificated about how a massage like we just had would cost “x” amount of US dollars but they were only requesting a gratuity of…wait for it…$50US. I had no words so I just burst out laughing. Thankfully Les and Ron stepped in and the negotiations began in earnest. Ron is awesome at this, his patois is quite good and very deliberate so these guys knew right away that they were not dealing with a newbie tourist who wandered up the wrong lane. An agreement was reached civilly, no yelling, no bumbaclots but definitely some sour faces. As the masseurs each walked away glumly with their 3000JMD (each) the rest of the “entourage” all huddled in again; each wanted a “guide” fee. Ron and Les were firm in the fact that if any fee was to be paid it would only be paid to two of them; one guide for each couple. As we left the river there was a repeat performance by the Hardy Boys, arguing with each other as to who exactly would receive this “fee”. They argued with each other and pled their cases to Ron and Les the whole walk back. At one point Peg’s little photographer friend saddled up to her, hand out, wanting his fee for photography services – 1000JMD. Peg reached in her purse, pulled out a Nanny and handed it to the kid, giving him the look that said, “Now take it and SHUT UP”. He did and bolted up the trail leaving his compadres behind to fend for themselves.

A mere few feet from the parking lot we were stopped dead in our tracks; the moment of truth had arrived. Les and Ron announced that each guide would be receiving 1000JMD and that was it. Les handed the bill to one guy, Ron to another. Amidst the bumbaclots, foot stomping and outrage one of the guys from the group snatched the bill out of one of our “guide’s” hand and took off. Immediately the victim began whining to Les, trying to plead his case as to why Les should re-compensate him. “Dude,” Les said, “You have a better chance getting the money back from that thief, cause I’m broke-pocket.”

As we approached the bikes there was a kid standing there with a wash bucket. I’d had just about enough. Before the kid could say anything I threw my hands up in the air. “Go ask your friends for money – they just took all of ours!” He gave me a look like I’d just drowned his puppy, really, really crestfallen. I caved and Les and Ron handed the kid 300JMD each. We pulled out of there, leaving Bath in the dust.

As soon as we got some distance between Bath and us we pulled over for a smoke by the side of the road and burst into uproarious laughter. All our annoyance and irritation melted away into humor. Here we were, two full-time residents and two veteran visitors who “know the runnings” and who had just been run over by those runnings. We laughed about how people complain about aggressive vendors in Negril, none of whom could hold a candle to these guys. These days when I read complaints about Negril’s hustlers I smile and think of Bath.

Here it is again though; a perfect example of how Jamaicans shoot themselves in the foot. This is yet another naturally beautiful gem in Jamaica ruined by its self-appointed ambassadors.

December 13, 2013

After Blue Lagoon we headed to Boston Bay for lunch. The place where jerk was originated, it gets a lot of buzz as THE place to go for this uniquely Jamaican cuisine. We ordered our food; chicken and pork with roast yam on the side. Roast yam is not something you find at the jerk joints in Negril too often but it is a staple of Jamaican cuisine. Just a little butter, wrapped in foil and roasted on an open fire, I thoroughly enjoyed eating my roasted yam. More than I enjoyed eating my jerk chicken; it wasn’t bad but it was earth shattering either. The simplicity of the yam was more to my liking, so much so that I’m inspired now to build a fire pit in our yard in Negril to roast yam…and conch, fish, and those little snail-like things that cling to our cliff walls.

Boston Beach

Boston Beach

After we were done eating Ron settled himself into a game of Dominoes while Peg watched. Les and I took a walk and found ourselves at Boston Beach. What a pretty little beach! It would become my favorite on the east coast of Jamaica, a beach I would love to return to in the future. The vibe was super chill with young hard bodied surfers all around from all over the world. There was a small “shack” where you can rent a surfboard or boogie board. The beach itself is not all that big, not even big enough for a decent walk so we sat down on a bench in the shade and watched the surfers paddle out and cut through the waves. The young and relaxed vibe and the surfers reminded us of our Northern California beaches – without the fog, the wind and the cold.

Endless Summer

Endless Summer

We strolled back and encouraged Ron and Peg to return with us to that bench on the beach. We sat for a while, and then as we were leaving a man came running up to us from the small restaurant next to the changing rooms. He was really excited; he recognized Ron from Negril. Apparently he’d worked at one of the more popular jerk places in Negril – was it 3 Dives? I can’t remember. He had a big smile and told us his story. He’d moved recently from west to east and was now running this jerk restaurant. It was too bad we’d already eaten but I look forward to the next visit where I can breeze past the pushy jerk vendors and enjoy a quiet meal at this guy’s place on this fabulous beach.

 

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A Tale of Two Road Trips Part II – Photo Gallery

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A Tale of Two Road Trips – Part II

Being soaked alone is cold. Being soaked with your best friend is an adventure.
Emily Wing Smith, Back When You Were Easier to Love

 

December 21, 2012

The ride north

The ride north

We left Port Maria as early as we could muster and rode the part of the highway east where I’d never been before. The road curves dramatically with sweeping vistas of the sea; a different kind of sea than what we were used to, with rolling waves pounding the shore. The lushness of this end of the island was unmistakable even after Hurricane Sandy had blown through just the month before. We rode through groves of Coconut Palms, Banana, Plantain and Papaya forests with the sea a constant companion on the left. Just before getting to Port Antonio we rode over a bridge that crossed the Rio Grande, a river famous for its Bamboo Rafting. We checked out and dismissed a nearby hotel.

P1070511We drove into Port Antonio and tried to get our bearings to seek out another hotel recommendation, Ivanhoes. Ivanhoes is an old and famous guest house that came highly recommended by friends in Negril. We were a bit turned around so we stopped a police officer to ask for directions. “Follow me”, he said We were then escorted right to the door. We had doubts right away about staying there as there was no secure parking. A somewhat grumpy woman met us at the gate and showed us the rooms; they were tiny, dark and airless. That sealed the deal, we would not be staying there but we took a few minutes to enjoy the sweeping views from the balcony. The sky was clear and the entire city lay before us.

The view from Ivanhoe's

The view from Ivanhoe’s

Checking our list again we cruised out of Port Antonio and south, into the country. Shortly after we left Porty the road conditions deteriorated considerably sour our ride became slower and more surgical. We pulled into a long driveway to check out Frenchman’s Cove. I’d read a good deal about the place but we’d gotten a dubious recommendation from a friend who had stayed there. She said it was definitely a nice place but she was put off by the “panic buttons” in the room. Pushing this bit of unsettling information aside we entered the office. As we’d figured just by the looks of the place, it was a bit over a budget. So we passed on staying there but took our friend’s recommendation to have lunch there on the beach. Off we went following the marked trail.

Suddenly a man in a uniform descended upon us – now this is not an inappropriate use of the word descend, the guy literally ran up and cut us off at the pass.   We were clueless. We told him our intention was the have lunch at the restaurant on the beach. The guy informed us, very abruptly, that each of us would have to pay 700JMD for that privilege. Huh, what? 700JMD just for walking to and into the restaurant? Well, no…that’s the fee to enter the beach. Oh, right! But…the restaurant is ON the beach?

We tried unsuccessfully to reason with the guy. Hey – we’re “locals” – any break in that “fee”? Nope. So, you are saying that we cannot go and drop what will probably be a considerable amount of money for food and drink at the restaurant if we do not first pay a “fee” to go there? Um, yup. Guaranteed our bill would have exceeded $32US but oh well – we turned around and went back to the bikes. None of us felt it worth 700JMD to simply sit at a restaurant on a beach. Cho.

A view of the sea

A view of the sea

We rode on. Everything was so new and dramatic, so green it was easy to see why Portland is known as the “garden parish”. The eastern side of Jamaica gets more rainfall in general than other parts of the island so it boasts fabulous tropical jungles with raging waterfalls.

Scenic view from the back of the bike

Scenic view from the back of the bike

We continued on to the last recommendation on the list, Zion Country. When we walked through the gate it immediately felt “right”. It had sweeping views of the sea. The buildings were colorful and freshly painted. The property appeared to be carved into the hillside with guest accommodations on different levels. Our host greeted us warmly recognizing our friend’s name and making us feel immediately like friends. He pointed out the various elements of the property including the beach. Our rooms would be down below, just above the beach. I was really starting to dig this place. Shared bathrooms – OK, I could deal with that for one night – price – right on point. Now, where were those bathrooms we’d be sharing? Well they were right next to where we were standing at the top of a steep and winding staircase, where, ten feet below were our rooms. Since our rooms were literally right on top of the beach having bathrooms closer on that level was not only illegal but also environmentally gross. Our excitement factor was taken down several notches as we tried to visualize navigating those stairs while going to take a pee in the middle of the night.

Before we knew it though, the guest register was out and the guy was asking how many nights we’d be staying. Well, the plan was for one night we told him. “One night?” he asked shaking his head, “didn’t Tania tell you we have a two night minimum?” Well, no she hadn’t. We didn’t push – the stairway to heaven was a pretty daunting thought but we were fresh out of recommendations so we asked him for one. He quickly said, “Check out Bigga and Anesta over at Rasta Villa.” He gave us directions and we were back on our way.

Machoneal

Machoneal

As we drove through Long Bay, keeping an eye out for a seafood restaurant and dirt lane, we were feeling a little lost. We pulled over by a restaurant on the sea-side of the road to ask directions. A route taxi pulled up alongside of us.

“Looking for a place to stay?”

“We’re looking for Rasta Villa, do you know where that is?”

He smiled and handed us a card with a picture of a Doctor Bird on it. Villa Rasta it said.

Was it the same place? Normally I would assume it was but in Jamaica you just never knew. Still we followed the route taxi as it turned up a rocky dirt road next to a (closed) seafood restaurant. We enter the gates of Villa Rasta, aka Rasta Villa where the driver, whose name was Blue, introduced us to our host Bigga. Anesta, Bigga’s wife and Blue’s niece pulled in a few minutes later. After business was discussed we were led to our rooms – spacious, comfortable with “real” pillows and “nice” bedding. Since we failed at our lunch attempt at Frenchman’s Cove we were ravenous. No problem – Bigga pulled a chicken out of the freezer and began to cut it up. Oh well. Hungry or not, dinner wouldn’t be ready for a while so we took in our surroundings.

Villa Rasta

Villa Rasta

What I miss about staying in small hotels and guesthouses is the camaraderie that is formed with other guests from all over the world. While sitting and chatting with Bigga and Anesta their other guests began to file in. There was a young man from Sweden, a chef, traveling solo and a nice couple from Germany. Later that evening a young American couple checked in, fresh from their first route taxi experience traveling from Kingston. It was so warm sitting around the kitchen, learning about each other and ultimately sharing a wonderful meal family style. We were having such a pleasant evening we decided to extend our stay in Long Bay for one more night.

Villa Rasta

Villa Rasta

December 12, 2013

The rain stopped…well, slowed…slowed enough for us to decide to mush on. We figured we’d be on the road for about another hour. The last leg of our ride proved to be the most uncomfortable and stressful. Rain was still falling, the sun was setting and the road was rough. Finally, just as the darkness was starting to set in, we turned up the unpaved and rain-soaked road to Villa Rasta. Thing 1 was stressed. He pulled close to our bike, and said in a stage whisper that was loud enough for me to hear, “How did you guys FIND this place??” In his mind it was six or seven years ago when there had been a crime wave in Long Bay and a tourist was supposedly murdered up a lane such as this. I didn’t respond, I figured once he got there and got settled he’d chill out.

The last five feet of the road is steep and rocky. On our previous visit we discovered it to be safer if Peg and I walked up or down the hill and met the bikes at the main. It’s too bad that this bit of wisdom never entered our minds as we made the final push in the rain and the mud to our beloved guesthouse. As soon as we started that final ascend I watched, as if in slow motion, Ron’s bike sliding out from under him. I don’t even know what I was thinking when I shot my leg straight out – as if to stop him from falling. Needless to say, Les lost control of the bike. I’m not sure if I flew or slid but somehow I landed straight on my ass in a mud puddle. Les remained standing but pinned against a fence with the bike leaning against him and its engine searing into his calf. As I looked around, Ron was struggling to get up, favoring his knee. Peg was lying off to the side of the road in the push writhing in pain. From what seemed out of nowhere neighbors gathered around, one running up to the gate at the top of the hill yelling for Anesta and Bigga, who were down there with us in no time. Anesta brought her truck down and transported Peg up to the house, we followed behind on foot.

By the time I arrived the kitchen and dining room had effectively been turned into a MASH unit. The domino table looked like an instrument tray in the ER. First Aid kits contents were all over the place; bandages, tape, tweezers, Hydrogen and Peroxide covered all surfaces as the injured were triaged and treated by all in attendance. Pain meds were distributed and soon enough the injured were bandaged and treated and we got settled in our rooms.

Villa Rasta

Villa Rasta

Now – where were we? We hugged up Bigga and Anesta warmly and met a German couple who were also staying there. They were still in a bit of shock from our dramatic entrance but eased into our presence soon after that. Thankfully Bigga had dinner ready because Thing 1 was really, really cranky. All of us ate voraciously, everyone enjoying the wonderful chicken prepared lovingly except for Thing 2. Somehow he had lost his appetite between our rain stop and our arrival. He opted for Rum instead.

The rest of the evening proceeded very pleasantly as we caught up with Bigga and Anesta. Les, Ron and Bigga settled into a domino game, Bigga being a Jamaican National Champion at the game. We learned that they had sold the Villa to an Italian woman and they would be vacating the property on New Years Eve. They were not quite sure what their next move would be. Anesta was tossing around the idea of buying a condo in Negril so we discussed those options for a while. Neither wanted to leave Long Bay – it was where they had both grown up.

Villa Rasta

Villa Rasta

I looked over and saw that Thing 2 had polished off a half a bottle of Rum and slowly wound into action. What took place was like Robin Williams going off but with a gritty French accent. His performance went vertical once Bigga and Anesta had turned in for the night. The guy just went off, telling fanciful tales of hanging out in biker bars in Kingston, throwing knives, jamming with Jimmy Page – fantastical stuff like that for at least a solid hour without shutting up. I have to admit at times he was pretty funny and entertaining but I soon tired of his voice and stopped understanding the flow of his stories – it was, simply put, exhausting. In between breaths we made our escape back to our room where we could hear him still going strong and the Germans were his only audience.

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