DAY FOUR: BABYLON BY BUS (REVISITED)

Vaguely, from somewhere in the fog that clouded my throbbing head, I heard the bells of Christ Church pealing their welcome to Sunday Service. A sudden knock on the door caused me to sit up sharply in bed. I glanced over at Sergio’s lifeless form and then rose to answer the door. It was Alton and it was 10:30am.

Sergio returned to the ranks of the living and mumbled a halfhearted good morning as he plodded to the bathroom. We hurriedly showered and packed to begin the next leg of our journey around the island. Alton listened in fascination as we told him of our plans. We were surprised to learn that although he had traveled between Ochi and Port Antonio many times, he had never been to the other side of Jamaica. I have since learned that many Jamaicans have never left their own parish. We bought Alton breakfast at the thatched roof cafe where we would meet Kenny for our sea going adventure. Due to our hung over condition, we reversed our stand on caffeine for one more day.

An overly cheerful Kenny came in and joined us over the second cup of Blue Mountain Coffee. He hadn’t had a paying charter in a couple of weeks and this trip was a lifesaver. We transacted our payment so he could fill his gas tanks before we shoved off. We said goodbye to Alton, who by now had become a good friend, and he helped carry our gear over to “Dreamin’ “.

We were underway with a small outboard as we exited the twin harbors. Kenny’s course took us along side a banana freighter taking on a load of bananas bound for England. The view of Port Antonio fading into the distance as we sailed around the Folly Point Lighthouse was spectacular. We decided not to fish but to relax instead so we sprawled out on the aft decking to catch some sun and watch the scenery. Kenny was telling us about this part of the coastline when he asked if we had ever seen the movie “Blue Lagoon” with Brooke Shields. We both said we had and Kenny said that it was just ahead so we decided to stop for a quick look.

The water of the Blue Lagoon was the richest blue I had ever seen and, when we dove in for a swim, the buoyancy forced us back to the surface. I had once taken a dip in the Great Salt Lake in Utah and the up force was similar without the high saline concentration. We floated for about a half an hour and then re-boarded the boat to continue our trip.

The Eastern coastline continued to get more rugged with nice, small beaches tucked into little bays and inlets. We saw massive sugar cane fields growing in the rich soil washed down by erosion from the John Crow Mountains and no structures of any kind were visible for many miles along this stretch of coastline.

We anchored for a time off the little village of Kensington and donned our snorkeling gear. The water was about 40′ deep where we floated on the surface watching many large fish swimming below us. Sergio saw a 5′ nurse shark and convinced himself that it was a man-eater so he returned to the craft. I swam around for a while then joined him back on deck. Kenny was much more experienced and dove to the bottom and brought up two medium sized lobsters for our dinner.

We lazily tacked back and forth making slow progress towards the Manchioneal Harbor. Kenny explained that the harbor and town were named after the poisonous manchioneal tree, which grows in this area. We entered the harbor and dropped anchor just off shore. Kenny lowered a Zodiac that was lashed to the top of the bow into the water for the trip to the beach. We were stopping here for a visit to Reach (sometimes spelled Reich) Falls that was about 3 miles inland.

We hailed a taxi and kidnapped Kenny for a few hours as we traveled into the interior. Reach Falls is a beautiful waterfall where small “cave-like” indentations are accessible through the falling water. The cool water is very refreshing and this spot is a popular recreational area for vacationing Kingstonians. A light rain began to fall so we made our way back to the sailboat for a lobster treat. I had been reading my trusty travel book and, after much discussion, Sergio and I agreed that we should spend the night at Bath Fountain Hotel.

It was a couple of hours drive from here so after eating we bid Kenny a fond farewell and hailed another taxi to Bath. We had to travel inland over narrow roads lined by sugar cane fields on both sides until we rounded the southern tip of the John Crows and entered St. Thomas Parish. A small stream exiting the foothills ran along side the narrow canyon road until the Bath Fountain parking lot appeared. We had not called ahead for reservations but, luckily, many of the Kingstonians who were using the hotel and accompanying hot springs over the weekend had already left for the long drive back to Kingston.

In 1609, a runaway slave uncovered the slightly radioactive hot springs. He had been wounded in his escape and the curative waters restored his health. Many incarnations of the present Hotel have been erected on this sight and the current structure was damaged during Hurricane Gilbert but has been restored and is in operation today. For a nominal fee you get a private tub where the up to 128-degree water is piped in for your enjoyment. A cold dip in the stream, which runs along side the building, seals in the warmth for a good night sleep.

I was about 8:00pm and a cool breeze was blowing through the canyon so we decided to sit out on the verandah and read and it gave me time to catch up on my travel journal. We discussed our progress so far and decided that we would slow down and take another day to enjoy this rarely traveled part of Jamaica. Tomorrow we would explore the Bath Gardens and travel to Morant Bay to spend a quiet day on the beach. The sleepy little hotel was quiet and the sounds of the croaking frogs and insects were a refreshing melody. We went inside to sleep and perchance to dream about tomorrow.

Respect Bill Evans

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