Seems like I had just closed my eyes when I heard a car horn blasting from some where outside the hotel door. I jumped up from the bed and shook Sergio awake before opening the door and motioning to our driver that we would “soon come”. We loaded our gear into his Fiat and headed towards Kingston. We drove a few miles and were soon on the longest bridge in Jamaica, which crossed over the Morant River. The water was rushing by from the previous evening’s torrential rainstorm that had dumped four inches in just over 2 hours! Our driver, Winston, told us that in the aftermath of hurricane Gilbert water had spilled over the bridge for 3 days. We just shook our heads in amazement.
About 5 miles down the road, as we approached the town of Yallahs, we encountered a roadblock, set up by the Jamaica Defense force. It seems they were looking for drugs and weapons as well as well as informing vehicle operators that the bridge was currently out over the Yallahs River. We would have to detour through Easington to cross. The burly officer looked over our car and decided that we must have looked like Hunter S. Thompson on the “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” run – he proceeded to conduct a full search. Turning up nothing, the disappointment showed as he scowled and bid us passage up the road. We then followed the river, crossed over the open bridge, proceeded back to the main road and finally, headed on to Kingston. The coastline was desolate along the stretch approaching the entrance to the Norman Manley Airport. Winston asked us where we were headed and we told him we wanted the ferry to Port Royal. He offered us a ride to the ferry for $30 US and we decided to accept it and get to the port while it was still early.
The ferry was a bargain for about $1US, and we boarded for the trip across the Kingston Harbor to Port Royal. Port Royal is the legendary home of famous pirates like Blackbeard, Henry Morgan and Calico Jack. The town was partially destroyed in the 1692 earthquake and the subsequent tidal wave. Today there is a partially restored fort and some sleepy little bars and stores along with the fishing boats that still ply their trade as they did in centuries past.
Sergio and I decided to tour the old fort and adjoining museum. As we walked along the southern wall of the fort, a plaque pointed us towards a major crack in the earth that resulted from the earthquake. I was interested to learn that during the occupation of Port Royal, Kingston was besieged with diseases like cholera and yellow fever, to the point that a line could be drawn across the hillside above town. Those living below the line were dying and those above it seemed to live a longer life. The cause of these diseases was traced to sewers emptying into the streets and carrying the dreaded germs. The closeness to sea level did not allow for installation of an underground, enclosed sewage system. Sewers still run above ground in some areas to this day.
We finished our walking tour by having a Red Stripe in a bar that claimed to be the oldest in the Caribbean. We sat at an old wooden table and questioned ourselves as to how we would go about getting a boat ride to Lime Key, our next stop. An elderly gentleman sitting at the bar suggested we go along the waterfront and ask anyone. We marveled at the simplicity of his answer, thanked him and headed for the beach area.
Sergio and I approached a fisherman who was repairing his drop net with a wooden shuttle and nylon cord. Sergio was itching to strike a bargain for a boat ride as I had been doing all the negotiating until now, and I wanted to see how he would go about getting us a ride. Sergio stopped and bought 3 Red Stripes from a man on the corner with an ice chest and he offered one to the fisherman. Accepting with a grin, he asked us, “Wa Gwan?” and Sergio began to tell him we wanted a ride out to Lime Key, to be dropped off and then to get picked up at 3:00 in the afternoon. Now, Lime Key, which was made popular in the Jimmy Cliff Movie “Harder They Come” is just a sand pile surrounded by a small reef in the outer mouth of Kingston Harbor. There are some scrub trees but a partially thatched-roof structure provides shade. The fisherman offered to drop us off for nothing if we wanted to wait a few minutes as he was going out to fish in the general area. When Sergio asked about the return “pick up”, a sly smile crossed the fisherman’s lips. “Now, mon….you are trying my graciousness!” he began, but Sergio mentioned $20 US and the deal was quickly struck. I intervened and said that the payment would come WHEN he picked us up! He smiled and said, “No Problem, mon! I would hate to see what the Jamaican sun would do to people whose flex was high after a couple of days without drinking water!”
We laughed nervously…. then Sergio ran to buy four more Red Stripes just in case! In about 15 minutes, the fisherman rose and tossed the net he was working on into the bow of the aged wooden boat and motioned us aboard. After several pulls on the starter, the unmuffled engine sputtered to life and we started crossing the mouth of Kingston harbor. The reef around the deserted island was teeming with fish and shellfish. We donned our snorkeling gear and entered the warm, azure blue water and joined another world. After four hours of snorkeling, resting under the thatched roof and nervously watching our watches, I started thinking about the fisherman’s chiding statement. Soon however, I could see the bow of a fishing boat cutting across the waves. I was extremely relieved to see his boat approach. Our boat ride and subsequent ferry crossing went smoothly but, when we exited the ferry, we suddenly realized that we had no idea where we would spend the night.
Once again, out came the trusty, worn travel book. I found mention of J.A.C.H.A. (Jamaican Camping and Hiking Association) run by a Peter Bentley of Sense Adventures on Jacks Hill. I found a public phone and inserted my Jamaican Phone Card and gave him a call. He gave good directions on how to get across Kingston by public bus and where to wait for the transport that serviced Jacks Hill on a fairly regular basis. The bus and transport rides took a couple of hours and we arrived at his house as the sun was setting. Peter Bentley, a white Jamaican, operated the hostel-like hotel and provided camping sites. We got a room with two beds for $20 US and he offered to have his cook prepare us a late dinner. We sat around a picnic table with four of Peter’s employees who were trained guides for trips to Blue Mountain Peak and the interior, and we began discussing our trip so far. These were some of the few Jamaicans we met on our trip that had been to other parts of Jamaica – many Jamaicans do not travel for fun and many have never even been to another parish! I noticed a box of dominoes on the table and asked if anyone wanted to play a “six love”. Hunter, named for his prowess with the ladies, sat down as my partner and Baps and Sweet Pea sat in opposition. I was determined to avenge the loss I suffered in Morant Bay. It wasn’t long before I was able to read the signals Hunter was sending and within an hour we had won our sixth game. Game over, we started to gather our gear and head for our cabin.
Hunter asked us where we were heading tomorrow. We told him that we planned to go to the south coast, somewhere around Treasure Beach, and maybe spend two of our last three days there. He looked around and whispered in a low voice that Peter often took visitors to a place call Golden Sands in Treasure Beach and that it was right ON the beach. We thanked him for the tip and announced we were going to bed but everyone was welcome “to have a Red Stripe on us!” We gave Hunter some money for the beer and the meal plus a nice tip for the information. He smiled and nodded his approval. Hunter said the transport down the hill started at 5:00am and that it was the best one to catch as the school children would overflow the bus on subsequent trips. We shook hands all around and headed for our room.
Sergio and I lay awake for a couple hours discussing what a wonderful trip it had been so far and how much we were looking forward to the south coast and the Cockpit country.
Respect Bill Evans