As the early morning sun streamed in through the side window of Mike Higgin’s house, I suddenly became aware of the noises that permeated the Jamacian morning. Roosters were crowing and dogs were barking somewhere in the distance. I noted that Sergio’s bed was made and he was nowhere in the room. I dressed and headed for the beach below the hill from the house. The early morning air was so refreshing. I had forgotten just how good real air could smell after living in an urban area in Florida. The azure blue water framed the Port Maria coastline holding Allen’s Island in her soft hands. The coral island was so named by the locals after it’s creation from a bygone hurricane named, what else, Allen! I dove into the water and swam the 1/4 of a mile to the protruding mound of coral and stretched out under a crudely fashioned, thatched roof lanai. Down the beach I saw Sergio and Mike jogging along the deserted stretch of beach between Port Maria and Mike’s house. I dove back into the warm water and swam to meet them. Mike said that he wanted to show us something interesting, so we merrily followed him up the side of a hill to Firefly, the famous residence of Noel Coward where we strolled the grounds and enjoyed the spectacular view of the Port Maria coastline. A short way down the trail back to Mikes, he suddenly exited the path into a section of bush and told us to follow. I an opening an archeological dig was in process. Artifacts were being discovered that seemed to predate what was believed to be the original inhabitants, the Arawak Indians.
The resident archeologist excitedly explained how this discovery could re-write the history of entire Caribbean Basin. We listened in facination to a time line history of the region and examined the artifacts in greater detail. A museum was to open the following year to display the finds. On the way back to Mikes, Sergio and I discussed our plans for today. We really wanted to stay another day with Mike but, we had planned to be in Port Antonio for a Marlin Fishing tournament to be held the following day. Sadly, we gathered our gear and asked Mike for directions to where we could catch the bus. A large toothy smile crossed his face and he declared that he could help us get to Port Antonio tonight, “No Problem, Mon!”. I have heard that phrase many times but, when a car appeared at the top of the path and honked its horn, I knew JAH had provided, “Praise JAH Rastafari!”. Alton “driver” McIntosh, who claimed to be a cousin of Peter Tosh, opened the doors of his Russian-Built LADA and motioned me into the passenger seat and Sergio into the back seat while Mike loaded our gear into the trunk. We bid Mike a fond farewell as he instructed Alton in Patois what should be done. Along the northeastern coast towards Port Antonio the foilage became more lush and the foothills of the Blue Mountain forced the road to wind its way along next to the water.
Banana fields began to replace the dense underbrush as we passed through Buff Bay and began to enter Annotto Bay. I asked Alton where the name “annotto” came from and he offered to show us. We turned off the main road to Castleton, a free admission, 15 acre botanical garden situated on the Wag Water River. The ground had teak trees and mangos and Blue Mountain Coffee trees. Alton showed us the “annotto” tree. It was small in size and was the source of dye for the Arawak Indians. The caretaker offered us some Mannish Water and Rollies for which we showed our appreciation by giving him a pocket compass that Sergio brought for the trip. Sergio laughed and quoted a line from Space Cowboy, a Stever Miller Band song, “..captains in the chartroom navigating for the stars…he can’t know where we are going cause he don’t know where we are!” Well, that fit the situation because the compass couldn’t tell us anything we didn’t already know! Back on the road, Alton pointed out Navy Island off the coast ahead. He explained that Navy Island sat in the middle of Port Antonio’s twin harbors and that our destination was only about 10 kilometers ahead. I pulled out my trusty travel book and found a place called the Little Reef Hotel and directed Alton where it was located as he laughed and said he lived here in Port Antonio and knew the place very well. We pulled up to the hotel which had seen better days but we could tell that in its “hey day” must have been a classy place. A room with two beds was very inexpensive and the Mickey Mouse murals on the walls caused us to dub the place “Disneyland: Island Style”!
It was late afternoon and we were hungry so I offered to buy Alton some Jerk Chicken. We piled back into the LADA and headed for Boston’s Beach “home of barbeque”. Barbeque is an Caribe Indian word for the Arawak Indians they cooked and ate at this very spot. It is pork, chicken and goat now but the expertise lives on. We sampled several peoples cooking before settling on a mild sauce. The chicken was so good, we each bought a Pepsi bottle full of the sauce to take back to the US. Alton suggested one final stop before taking us back to our hotel and we readily agreed. Bonny View Hotel sits on top of a large hill near downtown Port Antonio and the view of the Twin Harbors, Navy Island and the sun disappearing like a fiery ball into the dark blue sea was one of the most beautiful sights I have ever experienced. Back at the Little Reef, Alton assisted us with our gear into our room and we exchanged addresses. Another Jamaican met, another friend made. Alton would accept no money for the ride to Port Antonio but, I saw him admiring an old money clip I was using for the trip. His gold-toothed smile let me know that we were “paid in full” and forever friends. “Let’s turn in early and get an early start tomorrow”, Sergio suggested. I nodded in agreement and shortly after hitting the bed, I was fast asleep. Tomorrow would be here soon enough and more adventures await……DAY THREE
Respect Bill Evans