Trip Reports

Staying Conscious in Jamaica Part 2 of 3

Written by Bill Evans

Renting the car, Abeokuta, Guru on the mountain top and the infamous “Kentucky” I got checked out by about 10:00am and we had Robert, the taxi driver at Whistling Bird, drive us to Shereth’s house in Sheffield. We unpacked the bags and Shereth went to get Jackie who was renting us her car to bring the car over here. The exchange of money, telling where the A/C is and how it works and a “good luck” (15 minutes in total) was all it took to have a car. I liked the deal and the A/C worked GREAT but the wishing of “good luck” seemed, and later proved, to be an ominous wish. More about that later. I drove down to Negril while Shereth packed to pick up some patties from Juicy Patties and our new friend Richard Tripp. He is truly a “Trip!”. I loved being able to practice driving on the left for a short time alone before the scrutiny of a Jamaican Woman Driver would call me to task for every action over the next few days. Tripp in the front seat and patties in the bag, now we were ready to pick up Shereth and travel!

We decided to see Abeokuta Private Nature Park first as it was just after the turn towards Montego Bay at Ferris Cross. The road wasn’t bad for a marl-based Jamaican road and we made it quite easily. I pulled into the yard and saw Owen walking towards the car. We shook hands and he said that Mitzy would be right out in a minute. We all spread out in different directions as I walked over to the Kiddie Pool that was formed from a diversion off the main aqueduct that fed the near Olympic-size swimming pool.

Soon Mitzy came walking up smiling and extending a friendly hand in friendship. Owen and Mitzy Banhan are Managing Directors of this wonderful oasis. This place makes one pleased to know that Jamaica is not all about beaches! We strolled together chatting about the park and Jamaica in general when we came to the oldest swimming pool in Jamaica which goes back 300 years and is 71’ long and 47’ wide. Mitzy offered me a push on the rope swing but I declined this time. I promised to give her the pleasure on the next visit.

Mitzy then explained that not only was the pool a refreshing place to swim but that the water is therapeutic due to the natural minerals dissolved in it such as Iron, Calcium, Chloride, Magnesium and several others. Success in the treatment of Arthritis, Pinched Nerve and Muscle or Bone problems has been reported. And as if this were not enough reason to visit this special place, Mitzy pointed at the valley below and started pointing out landmarks from this lofty perch.

When I looked down at the valley floor I realized that the carpet of grass that seems to go on forever was actually the tops of countless Paw-Paw trees! The view from Abeokuta Private Nature Park is quite spectacular and breathtaking when you survey the myriad of venues such as the ocean, valley below, Frome Sugar factory and the spreading fields of sugar cane. There is the “Olumo Rock” which you can see on the Nature Tour but we were in a little hurry to get to the healer/guru on the distant mountaintop.

This rock is found in one other place in the world: Abeokuta Nigeria Africa! Abeokuta is a crime-free community with no hassles and the park is tranquil and relaxing with flowers and trees all around. The lawns are well kept with picnic areas, playground for volleyball, football or cricket. Come up to view the incredible vista or to have a cookout. The rest of what is to be learnt can only be seen, felt and breathed in which comes naturally when you are smothered in the arms of Mother Nature. You will want to tell all your friends about this place but, when you have found it you may want to keep it all for yourself! Contact Owen & Mitzy at (876) 957-7719 or (876) 823-1587 and have an adventure!

We needed to head out so we exchanged hugs and promised to get together again real soon! We pulled back on the main and took the turnoff to go to Seaforth Town and Darliston. When we reached the Darliston turnoff, we continued going straight and wound our way through the mountains until we found an opening in a fence with a dirt road going up a small rise. As we drove up the road, the already parked cars became more numerous and finally we found a small space up near the top. Due to the nature of this place, it was not prudent to take pictures so I will do my best to describe the scene. There was a rather large, concrete house with a good sized verandah from where this healer usually talks to people making a pilgrimage to this spot for a few hours each day beginning at 3:00pm. Today, however, he was holding a session in a small, country church adjoining the house. The church was a freshly painted blue and white structure with eight rows of pews on each side with about 10 people per pew. There were several people sitting on a bench outside the front door but when we went in, there were a few seats at the back right pew. There was a side door kept slightly ajar to let the cool mountain breeze into these close quarters and three 4 feet square wood board shutters stationed around the room also ajar. The breeze was minimal but sufficient to keep the attendees from passing out from the heat. At the front of the church was a 60-ish White/Asian man with a long, wide mustache that would probably be best described as being a handlebar. He had short white hair to go with the white mustache. Everyone was very quiet and listening to the words of wisdom coming from this man. He was talking to a group of two pews or 20 people at a time but would, from time to time, address others in the church. Two women were seated behind the man and would write down his sage advice and would pass it to its intended recipient when directed by the man. The woman would extend the note and the recipient would replace it with money that the woman would divert her eyes from while scooping it into a small box. Every half hour or so, the 20 or so people in the front would get up and exit through the side door and everyone would move up to take the empty seats and the session would continue. Shereth was intent on talking to the healer but the time was getting quite late as we had called Ozzie at Kentucky to let him know we would be there before 6:00pm with food for dinner. I hated to disappoint Shereth but we needed to go. I promised her that we would return some time on a later trip. We returned to Darliston to shop for items to fix for that nights dinner.

Now, we were off to Kentucky! It was now about 5:00pm and we needed to get to Kentucky by our 6:00ETA and we were traveling on mostly unfamiliar roads taking any road that seemed to head West from wherever we currently were positioned. After awhile, I noticed a road I recognized that would take us to the police station in Bluefields so the turnoff was only a few miles North of that location at Cave. We turned at Cave road and started the long, arduous climb to Kentucky. It was obvious Richard couldn’t hold back his enthusiasm to get there as he kept saying things like, “We are getting there” or “Just a few more turns” etc. but we just kept climbing and dodging holes until he blurted out, “Stop!” and jumped from the car to grab a propane tank from a youth that was sitting next to the road. Richard introduced us to Ozzie’s son Roland Mc Cubbin who they simply called “Cubbin”. Cubbin was kind of quiet but had a smile on his face. When I realized he was walking up this mountain to deliver the full tank for us to eat dinner and that the house was still another 2 or 3 miles up the hill, I knew why he was smiling! Finally, Richard blurted out “Just around the bend!” Shereth and I made quick eye contact and shot each other a smile. Where had we heard THAT before, we both thought in unison? Sure enough, after one long switchback we pulled up the stone covered driveway to park next to a small store at a trailhead. We now had to pack our bags up a trail and into the cabin where we would be sleeping that night. Richard, like a welcome pack mule, grabbed two of the heaviest bags and Ozzie another to make the move as painless as possible.

Walking up the trail, Ozzie would stop often to point out some interesting spots along the coastline below but really was doing it to provide little rests along the way. What a thoughtful host. Along the way, we stopped at Ozzie’s house and he introduced us to his lady Rosemarie and three of their six kids along with the newborn named “Baby” as no name seem to stick to this point. A short way past their house was our cabin for the night. Hand hewn out of local timber and selected stones from the area made this rustic but comfortable cabin seem like an outpost on the edge of the world.

Shereth took a seat in the chair on the verandah and became transfixed with the spectacular view of Savanna La Mar far below her feet. With a little help and triangulation she was able to make out Sheffield and the beach of Negril in the far, far distance. Ozzie stopped by with three of his girls in tow to ask us if everything was okay. Okay? We were almost numb from the beautiful view and, even though this was “bush” to Shereth, she was in Kentucky Heaven as I could tell from the glint in her eyes. She absolutely loved this place and so did I! Ozzie excused himself to go cook dinner but he left the three little girls behind. One was so shy and kept holding on to her sister for support and was working out on her thumb for nourishment. Slowly, I reached out and pulled her to my lap and within a few minutes she was feeling comfortable and a few minutes later, she was fast asleep. I asked her sister Rhoadecia if I could take Meisha home with me and she had to think for a minute or so before saying “No!” What beautiful and well-mannered children. I have no children of my own and found out that I miss that when I find the well-mannered ones! Next thing I know, Ozzie and the oldest daughter Melessia and Cubbin came through the door carrying dinner.

Wow! All this “and” room service was more than I could imagine. After eating, everyone left the room except for Melessia, Shereth and myself. Melessia was just getting ready to graduate from school and she was torn in different ways about her future. She had grown up in partial isolation here on this mountaintop and now she was realizing that perhaps her dreams and goals in life would require her to go far from this family sanctuary. Shereth got her to come clean on her innermost thoughts and feelings and tried to help her sort out options without trying to direct her on what she should do with her life. You could see Melessia appreciated Shereth’s council and they formed a fast but permanent bond. There is only one bed in the room and Shereth was sitting on it while talking to Melessia perched on a small stool. I went out to the verandah and plopped down on the reclining chair and soon fell asleep. Sometime during the night, I got up and walked around the property before coming back to the room and falling asleep at the foot of the bed on a makeshift mattress. I was fast asleep when an ear splitting “Heee Haw Haw Haw Haw!” pierced the quiet night from the donkey that was tethered near the cabin. I sat up with a start but swiftly realized what the sound was so I quickly went back to sleep. In the morning, I walked around the property taking a few pictures when Ozzie came walking up. He suggested we climb up to the cabin perched on the side of the hill overlooking both Dean’s Valley and the coastline. Ozzie showed me where Hurricane Ivan had blown off the room and the verandah but he was in the process of having it restored to its original beauty. I acknowledged how difficult it is to do work with little income and Ozzie smiled in agreement. He was sure that people would come to enjoy this spot so he was investing all his savings and energy into getting it back to pre-Hurricane condition. When we got back to the cabin, Shereth was up and getting packed. We had decided to leave around noon so we could get to Accompong Town in the latter evening. We wanted to stop a few places along the way so getting on the road was important.

After we finished packing, we walked down the path to Ozzie’s home for a cup of coffee and a bulla cake. Both Shereth and I knew we would return someday soon. Ozzie gave us two Cell Phone numbers to contact him. (876) 847-2091 or (876) 810-8400. He told me to let people know he and his family would love some company. The cabin rents for $20 US per night and $100 per week. Longer stays would be even cheaper per day. Meals can be worked out at a reasonable cost. We hiked down the trail to the car with a heavy heart, as we were very sad to leave our Kentucky Heaven.

Next stop, Accompong Town! We left Richard off at Ferris Cross before heading on to Black River for a fill up before heading for Accompong Town. We hadn’t eaten a proper breakfast but Shereth saw mangoes for sale along the road in Brompton so we stopped to buy a dozen. I had brought her an all-purpose pocketknife she could now put to good use. It’s just like Shereth to cut me pieces and feeding to me as I drive before eating them herself. We had no sooner gotten back on the road than traffic came to a complete stop. I noticed that no cars were coming the other way either so I knew it was a real problem. Once we started creeping forward I saw the reason why as the road had been blocked from the torrential rains the previous couple of days. We had head something about problems in Santa Cruz but didn’t think it would also be down this far as well. A front-end loader was cutting through the car roof high mounds of dirt and debris and depositing it on the other side of the highway. Getting through the problems, we turned at Lacovia and headed to Maggotty and Apple Valley Park to make a brief stop before heading up the mountain. By the time we got to Maggotty the skies were getting quite dark and the rain was imminent so we just continued up the road to Accompong Town. Boy! It felt good coming into Accompong Town in the rented car and not in a taxi as I usually arrived. Everyone was waving and saying “Hi! We cruised through the town up to Diane’s house where the near car-wide path gets close to Colonel Robbie’s Guest House. The recent rains and the rain that was starting to fall had the clay-bauxite soil so slick, I had to park after only 50 feet or so up the path. We just sat in the car for about half an hour until a lady resident I know came with an umbrella so I could get to the Guest House to get some help. Within moments, another umbrella appeared and three guys grabbed all our bags and carried them for us. It was a scene out of an African safari movie! When we arrived on Colonel Robinson’s Guest House verandah,

I was pleased to see he had been putting some finishing touches on the place. Windows in their frames, doors hung in place, walls painted and the floors and verandah tiled. What even made it more impressive was when I learned that he had recently suffered two mild strokes that have slowed him down significantly. Colonel Robbie had always told me that he had a lot of furniture in storage in Kingston and now I was seeing it being used in the Guest House like the dining room table, old china hutch and a living room set of sofas. For all these years, visitors and community members have gotten used to gathering and eating on the verandah and now they are doing the same in the large and spacious living room.

We originally had plans to walk over to Flashy’s story to say hello to friends but the rain didn’t want to cooperated so we just hung out on the verandah playing dominoes and talking to the kids who always come by to play. Shereth wanted to have her hair braided before seeing her mother in Bog Walk when we were to be traveling through in a couple of days. I convinced her to wait until Accompong Town as I knew Avis’ oldest daughter was a skilled hairdresser. It was getting late so we retired for the evening. Remember I said that Shereth was not a morning person? Well, in Accompong Town she is even less so. It seems she relishes the quiet of the town and that spills over to her desire to wait just an hour or two longer to rise in the morning. Marshall, however, is a very early morning person getting up before dawn each morning. I wanted to spend some time with him so I got up early and looked him up. It was another rainy day so we decided to just hang around the Guest House and this would give Shereth the time to get her hair braided.

Colonel Robbie heard me talking with Marshall so he got up and started to prepare a good hearty breakfast. Of course, I had to slow him down a little to coordinate Shereth’s late rising and the breakfast being served all happening near the same time. Shortly after the hearty breakfast, Avis’ daughter came over with her tools of the trade and the hair color that most closely matched that which Shereth was looking for. After a thorough washing, the long process of braiding began. Colonel Robbie couldn’t keep awake watching the process and a few hours later, the finished product. We decided to drive out to Lover’s Leap the following day as Shereth had never seen the place and we wanted to get some fresh fish for our last night’s dinner. We asked Marshall to accompany us and he agreed. Even with all the rain, we were having a great time with the kids and friends who constantly kept stopping by to visit. As we were visiting with a local woman and her children, we heard yelling and hollering coming from down the way. Children were shrieking and adults were shouting admonishments at the top of their lungs. Now I had never heard so much commotion in my many years of visiting so I was quite confused and Shereth was rattling on with non-understandable Patwa.

What was happening I tried to ask while grabbing her arm but she just got up laughing excitedly; almost uncontrollably. Then I saw a large group of pickneys running excitedly towards the Guest House being followed at a distance from the group by scared and confused adults screaming orders to stop this foolishness. It was a “patu”, an owl that was causing all the commotion. Many adults and some youths in Jamaica believe that the patu is actually the embodiment of a “duppy” or a soul that has not found peace. I don’t know all the actual facts about this but everyone seemed to be very afraid of being touched by the patu or having the patu on their property due to the bad luck it would possibly bring. Even Colonel Robbie, who is a very learned man, shouted to get that patu off his verandah. It was only the bravest of pickneys who would touch it at the chagrin of the others in the village. I snapped a hurried picture that seems to put the approaching curse into a photographic reality. After this the rest of the day was uneventful and we made an early exit to bed as so to rise a little earlier the following morning. We got up and got on the road by mid-morning and started heading for Santa Cruz where we would make the turn to go up into the mountains through Malvern and on to Lover’s Leap. Shereth said she had a relative in Malvern so we asked around but couldn’t find anyone who knew where she lived so we just continued up the road. The wild fires that Jamaica had been experiencing since Hurricane Ivan were visible all around. Much of the rugged mountaintops were denuded from the ravages of the wind swept fires.

We drove through Southfield and Junction before cutting down the road towards Lover’s Leap. When we arrived at the restaurant where the verandah was the precipice for viewing the awesome natural beauty, we were disappointed to find it closed from the hurricane damage. I decided to go into the lighthouse parking lot where a resting lady directed me to a small store on the other side of the road. Shereth got out and approached a farmer sitting on the stoop of the store and asked him if he could help us visit the site. He smiled and we followed him through a yellow squash field and a hole in the fence to a small area just down from the restaurant verandah.

I have been to Lover’s Leap many times and it never ceases to amaze me not just because of the sheer height of the precipice but of the incredible view over the Pedro Bluffs and to Treasure Beach so far beyond. This farmer was a great guide as he has lived in this spot for all his life never venturing past Mandeville or Black River. He had the blue eyes and ruddy complexion of many people from this area. We tipped the farmer $400J for his time and decided to go to Black River for the fish and eventually get some nyamings from a shop somewhere along the way.

It was raining in the hills beyond where we were traveling but nice and dry here on the South Coast. It was nice ride to Black River as the three of us chatted about things all the way. We pulled into the market area down next to the river and Marshall and I went over to where they had the vegetables for sale while Shereth picked out the fish. The pickings were kind of slim but we managed to get scallions, yellow yam, tomatoes and onions along with some other small purchases before heading over to where Shereth was haggling with the fishmongers. She picked out a beautiful three pound King Fish that she would prepare for the two of us and we also picked up some reef fish for everyone else who might want to eat with us as well.

I decided to take a picture of one lady selling fish and the next thing I knew, all the fish mongers we wanting theirs taken as well. I was happy to oblige. Now we had what we came for so it was on to a cook shop somewhere to eat. Shereth had just the place in mind. We drove through Middle Quarters and, just before entering Holland Bamboo, we stopped at a long cook shop where both Shereth and Marshall knew the people. The shop was about 40 feet long with fires burning in about a 2-foot wide trough along the length of the shop. On top of the fire was a long row of large 10-gallon aluminum pots each with a different food. Some had Mannish Water and some had stews or porridge. Shereth got me Peanut Porridge and herself one as well. Marshall got a large cup of Mannish Water. The food was great! We were feeling so good and full when Shereth remarked about some noise she was hearing from the front of the car. I don’t have the great acuteness in hearing that I once had so I just passed it off as something minor. Marshall said he heard something too but we just continued back to Accompong Town. That night we dined on fresh fish to our heart’s content. Several ladies and their pickneys stopped by and we fed them as well. We could tell it had been a very long time since they had the pleasure of eating fresh fish and that pleased us to be able to provide it for them. After supper, we played several games of dominoes before calling it an early evening. We wanted to get started by noon the following day as hoped to get to Bog Walk and Shereth’s mothers house where we would find a room for the night. I was having mixed emotions as I hated leaving Accompong Town but loved the prospect of seeing more of Jamaica before my vacation was over.

About the author

Bill Evans