All Around Jamaica – Day 4

All Around Jamaica March/April 2003…Day 4
by Liz Maher

Day Four, Saturday (Portland)

We wake up quite early again. Though, this time, sleep in a little bit because the AC and the shades make it dark and cave-like in our room, but all of Portland is out there and we are still up by 7 and head to breakfast at the FH restaurant. Had a great breakfast – my first ackee and salt fish of the trip, it’s been out of season and difficult to find. P has pancakes or something, it’s all great. Meals aren’t cheap at FH, breakfast and coffee and all were about $10 each, but that view…

Today is our only full day in Portland and there’s a lot we want to see. First though, we need to head back west to Port Antonio and buy a new tire. The exploded one is not fixable. We head into town and change money ($54J to $1US pretty much the whole trip, except the airport was 46, what a ripoff) and shop a little, then stop at, oh, 4-5 tire shops. No one has our size. After about an hour, one place has one that isn’t the right size but will fit on the rim and we tell him he’s got a deal. $25US plus $2 to the guy who puts it on for us and the spare is back in the truck and we’re ready to roll once again. I actually enjoyed running these little errands around town, it made me feel normal, not like a tourist.

So we’re off, once again loving that freedom of having a car. We can carry drinks and swim stuff easily, and it’s like having a little private home wherever we go. Having lived out in the country in the US for a few years, we’ve become quite attached to our little homes on wheels, I guess, and it’s nice to have one in Jamaica.

We point the car east once again. This drive is the best yet, truly spectacular scenery…windy cliffs, mountains always on the right, cattle, bananas, wide open spaces and tiny little coves with little deserted sandy beaches. We pass Boston Beach but it’s still early and we’ll check back later.

On a bit, we come to Long Bay. As we catch glimpses through the trees, I tell P we must stop…I’d heard this was like "Old Negril", meaning before all the hotels were built, but it’s supposed to also have huge waves. P is a surfer and is very interested in renting a surfboard here. There is a place to rent them but alas, the water is unusually calm this day and the surf is too small.

But what a beach. Just a couple of cottages and a bar or two on a mile-long stretch of pinkish sand lined with palm trees. I spotted one or two people enjoying the beach here. That was it. A big night was coming though, Mutabaraka and a bunch of other artists were to play that night at Cool Runnings beach bar. There were bonfire stacks ready and people furiously cleaning and stocking up for the show. I know we won’t make that show…it’s supposed to start around 10 but you regulars know nothing starts then. It’ll be 3 AM if we’re lucky and that’s become closer to when we wake up than when we go to bed so far! So we walk the beach a bit, stick our toes in the surf and take a few photos. Lloydie and Paula and Selina and Roy and their kids had just been out here for a few days’ vacation so we observed the cottages they stayed in and wished, again, that we had more time to stick around.

But it is time to head on to Reich Falls. Right before the turnoff, at Manchioneal, is probably the nicest vista in Jamaica. There, we turn inland, into the Blue Mountains and up a mile or two to the falls. Have I mentioned how beautiful it is here yet?

I’ve always wanted to visit Reich Falls, more so after talking to Libby about the place. It’s run by an older man (though the JTB is apparently interested in taking it back to run…grrr, they’ll Disney-fy it for sure) who takes excellent care of it. There are some little stands near the parking lot where you can buy refreshments and things. There is absolutely zero tourist hassle here. Also, there is even a sign warning people not to bug anyone. The falls cost us – get this – $100J a piece. That’s right, $2. I am getting used to these east coast prices. I have a feeling that we’ll spend a lot more in Negril.

The walk down to the actual falls is short, just a few dozen steps and we’re there. Older or physically challenged folks will not have a hard time here…I’d put it at just a tiny bit more challenging than walking up YS and way easier than Mayfield.

We come down and wow! This is the absolute clearest water I have ever seen! There are a few guides down there who offer to take us up the falls and to some caves. P gives one $100J to just show him where to jump off the falls from and we’ll guide ourselves. That’s cool with them and we settle in and enjoy. The water is so clear, I’m told, because it comes from an underground spring so it does not get topsoil and leaves and such in it at all like Mayfield and YS can. They can both get a little brown if it has rained recently. It actually didn’t rain once while we were on the east coast. They’d been dry for two weeks. This is unusual, but I guess March is a good time to be there. Sun, sun, sun and more sun.

P dives into the water and promptly loses his glasses. Oops! The water is clear enough that he can sort of see them but there is a current and losing them would not do. A kid has a mask that P borrows (the kid really wanted to get the glasses himself, for a tip I guess, but we tipped him about $50J for the use of the mask anyway. It took about 30 seconds for P to locate them). Whew! We climbed and swam and generally hung out enjoying the water for a couple of hours and headed up the hill to the parking area.

One rasta has a stand up there with some homemade toys. We bought one that I’d never seen before – as it turned out that no one in Jamaica had seen one either and everyone loved it. I should have bought all he had, it was a $3 toy. It’s a piece of hollow bamboo with another little piece on top, sort of like a pipe. In the "bowl", if you will, there is a needle with a little piece of styrofoam on it and a hook on top. Attached to the end of the "pipe" is a piece of wire, like coat hanger thickness, with a sort of basketball hoop maybe 4 inches above the "bowl". What you do is blow into the bamboo and it makes the styrofoam rise up and you hang the hook on to the hoop. That only took a few tries to get. But then you have to blow and put it back in the "bowl". We still haven’t mastered that move! The guy we bought it from says smoke is optional 🙂 Those of you coming to Hookahville, ask me about it, I’ll bring it.

Back in the car we head down the road. Another car is heading up and though we pull over to let him pass, he scrapes our car as he passes. After a few choice patois curses on P’s part (he does catch on fast), we all stop and get out of the car but what can you do? The driver goes and we’ll figure it out later.

I’m a little nervous because I’ve heard these horror stories about rental companies taking your deposit (which was $1000 US, by the way) for that stuff but we’ll be back in St. Mary and will talk with Chef (he’s a driver) about what to do then. For now, we are just too mellow and in-a-Jamaican-frame-of-mind to worry about it. We turn back west and head for Boston Beach because we are now starving.

Boston Beach (or Boston Bay as it is sometimes called) is, they say, the home of jerk cooking in Jamaica. There is a "Boston Style". You see it on signs all over the island, but this is the original place. We pull into the parking lot by a lovely cove with clear aquamarine water. Again , usually the waves are big here and you can surf but not today, wind is blowing the wrong way. P resigns himself to surfing next year.

As we pull into the lot, we are immediately approached by a guy to take our order. I’m a little leery because somewhere I read that people here aren’t that crazy about US visitors, but everything was cool. He really did work there and really did take our order and when he sat down to chat with us while we ate, we had a great conversation. Everyone we met there was very sweet, and interested to talk to us about the war and things. I guess I needed a reminder to remain friendly and open-minded. It pretty much works every time for us in Jamaica. Gotta trust those instincts and stay open.

The beach here is public and there are maybe about 20 people who are around — a few tourists, some locals, some day-trippers from elsewhere in Jamaica. It’s a nice vibe with great food on a nice sandy clean beach. Only one guy, towards the end, approached P for cash. He said he cleans the beach and people give him a donation for it. P is not having this so he asks if everyone pays. It finally comes out that only the "white people" pay him, not the day trippers or Jamaican tourists. Well, we aren’t that white, we tell him, and he gives up. That, right there, was the one and only hustle we encountered on the east coast in 6 days, and it was easily dealt with. I have no idea if he really cleaned the beach or not – I didn’t see him at it – but we’d bought food, drinks and a couple of pieces of jewelry there and felt we’d contributed enough. If he’d approached us in a nice way, we probably would have given him money, but he basically came with his hand out and was annoyed we didn’t pay him. That turns me off every time. The bay is beautiful, the water is great for swimming, the beach is free and there are showers and all the amenities there. I highly recommend a visit. The food is surprisingly cheap too.

It turns out that we are only 10 minutes from our hotel. Another day in PA and we’d have definitely come back to Boston Beach. Instead, we rested in our suite a short while and decided to go back to Blue Lagoon for another swim in that weird water. This time, we had to pay – $400J for 2 at 5PM – and there were tons of kids running around (from the BL villas, I assume) so we didn’t stay too long. I have kids, I love kids, but this was our no-kids vacation.

We decided to chill back at the hotel and just eat dinner there. The food was not quite the same, since there was a different chef, but it was still good and the sea/mountain view remained stunning. Once again, we fell into bed. Tomorrow, we stay here one more night or go back to St. Mary and this is NOT an easy decision to make.