The news appearing in the Jamaica dailies – the Gleaner and Observer -- is rife with violence. I hope our beloved country does not hold the monopoly on this “virtue”. Even though to some, the evidence might be mounting.
Many years ago, the country embarked on a `Build Jamaica’ campaign, similar to the `Eat What You Grow’ one now being bandied about. Both are good ideals, but they remind me of the story of an ambitious policeman: Having just joined the force, the young gentleman vowed to rid his entire neighborhood of all vices. Six months down the road, he narrowed his sights on just cleaning up his block. Six months on, he narrowed his goals to just cleaning up his street. After yet another six months, his sole ambition was to reach his mailbox without stepping in dog mess.
Having been on the `Better-Jamaica' job for years, I empathize with the policeman. Although still willing to work towards noble causes, these days, on visits to Jamaica, my ambition is just to find a little peace and quiet.
It might be surprising, but tranquility in Jamaica still exists. But, like the fish and wildlife which are under threat from the oil spill in the Gulf, this peace and quiet is under threat from a tide of lawlessness. It is still a ways out, but unfurl the barriers.
What was heartening was that I rediscovered some on a recent breezy stop-'n-go drive from Ocho Rios, St. Ann to Boston Beach, Portland. Years ago, I had made the same run. Times then were not as advanced, and if I recall, the only public phones around were those in telephone booths. These days, every Tom, Dick and Harry, including myself, has a cellular.
Be that as it may, time seems to have been bottled up along this northeastern Jamaica shoreline. The beauty in this part of the world remains relatively un-spoiled.
As I sat at having breakfast at my little lodge, my mind for a moment reflected on one aspect of justifying projects. I thought of the pro forma line, that proposing to `do nothing’ was not an option. Today, on my own time, it is the only option.
At 7:00 a.m. the sea below the open-air dining area where I am staying, is turquoise and still. Beyond the hibiscus branches and way out, a cruise line inches towards its berth. What a sight. The breakfast is traditional – ackee & saltfish with a green banana and a fried dumpling. It’s measured, but welcomed. The waiter smartly dressed in her black & white, is polite. The only disturbance is from the caged house parrot nearby, squawking for his breakfast as well. Freer birds flit from one hibiscus branch to the next.
I begin my little mosey east, bucking the morning work traffic heading towards Ochie. At Rio Nuevo, a little ways out I park, take in the Ocho Rios skyline and listen to the pounding surf. Houses there run JA$20 million up, and so I dare not tarry. A sucker for signs I make my first stop at Island Flava – a hexagon-shaped quanta structure a little before Oracabessa. I am early for lunch, but in-time for a Guinness stout. “Wi ‘ave fry chicken and curry goat on the menu fi lunch,” the bartender says. Not having had an old-fashioned Jamaica fried chicken in awhile, I make small-talk and stick around. My wait is worth it.
On a full tank and with a full belly, I continue on towards Oracabessa. The town is a buzz of activity as I crawl through it. Further on, I hit Boscobel which beckons another stop. The view of the Caribbean Sea is irresistible. As I pick up some speed again, a mare breaks loose. I brake and allow her passage. “What’s your problem?” she seems to be saying as she provides a perfect photo-op.
A herd of goats follows suit.
Bustling Port Maria:
As I move towards Port Maria, a Western Union billboard suggests that Jamaica money can now defy gravity. It can be sent `up’. Life presumably, is now a two-way street.
The town of Port Maria is full of nostalgic charm. I pull up next to Claude Stuart Park and ask a lady rocking on the porch of the St Mary Parish Council Building, if I can park on the road. “No massa, as yu quint dem lif yu caar.” But history beckons, and so I chance it. The Civic Centre there was built in 1821, and the gorgeous cut stone-walled St. Mary’s Parish Church in 1861. Down the road, the open-air market is in session.
I continue to St Margaret’s Bay and then on to Annotto Bay, where I spot JP Tropical Foods, home of the famed barbecued cassava chips. Just before reaching the latter, there is a stall full of `Dutch-pot’ cookware. They are too heavy to travel with, but I take note and cut my eye.
Port Antonio and further south:
Lorenzo Dow Baker began transporting tourists to this beautiful part of Jamaica back in the early 1900s. When I came through last June, the Portland Jerk Festival was in full swing. Again in search of some succulent `jerk' I sought out `Mello’, but he has folded his tent. Instead, I moor at Folly Oval and watch a little bat-and-ball. But just before the modern Portland Parish Council Administrative Building is an eye-catcher. (which is what??)
I continue down to Boston Beach, take some fresh air and then backtrack to Dees Krazy Hype Bar across from the Jerk Center. The sun has long since been up, but the bartender is sleeping on a bench out front. A mentally challenged man sweeps up, and is rewarded with a piece of pork fat and slivers of breadfruit. He works diligently, but his efforts are ridiculed. Another `mad-man’ comes by, says his piece and is on his way. “Im 'ead nuh good,” says the bartender of this one. “Is a man wi walk from aall Port Antonio to Boston,” she continues. I cross my paws, soak up more bar-talk while tearing into the jerk chicken secured from across the street. For good measure, I buy some jerk seasoning packaged in a plastic Pepsi bottle for JA$600.00, and then begin my trek back.
On the way back to Ochie, I swing into Somerset Falls - `The Little Slice of Heaven’ as its signage proclaims. The lushness in the parking lot is enough. Without a sweat, I am back to home base in Ocho Rios.
What a life!