It was a spur of the moment decision to take a drive to the country. We were in our first week of a two-week holiday in Jamaica and we were staying in Lucea, a small town about 30 minutes from Negril. Our party was unusually large, but it was also our annual get together in Jamaica as we lived in different cities in the UK. Meeting up once a year in Jamaica seems the ideal way of holidaying and also having a family reunion. All in all there were 14 of us so we shared the cost of a minibus. We had heard about a lovely river walk about 20 miles inland called Mayfield Falls, although off the beaten track, it was still patronized by a steady stream of tourists looking for that certain ambience of the country atmosphere. We had initially decided to set off early but our minibus driver, my cousin ”Bigga” as he is known to everyone, turned up at a little past ten. It was obviously apparent why he was called ‘Bigga’ by simply taking a cursory look at his protruding paunch explained it all. He nonchalantly strolled up the pathway eating a mango he had just picked on his way up the path. He seemed surprised that we should voice an opinion regarding his timekeeping, while explaining that we were keeping “ Englan time”, as he described it, and that no one in Jamaica “watch clack” .
We eventually set off after a series of false starts due to disorganization by members of our party and we drove into Lucea town centre amidst a cacophony of music, shouting and colorful looking pedestrians. Lucea is a market town and the capital town of Hanover so it is invariably very busy with traffic and people. Everyone is selling something; buying something; listening to something or pummeling your ears with something. I got out the bus to take it all in as the general melee of sounds and smells was intoxicating. I watched in amusement the antics of the bus and taxi drivers in the bus park across the road. Bus drivers normally park in a queue and wait for a passenger going their particular destination, but the trade is very competitive so they have “sideboys” that tout for business and try and encourage passengers to board their vehicles instead. These can oftentimes take on a humorous pantomime spectacle. I watched in amusement as a ‘sideboy’ ran up to a woman as she approached the rank and he quickly grabs her handbag and throws it in his bus hoping she would follow. She instead gave him one of those infamous Jamaican ‘kissteet’ (sucking breath between the teeth) and folded her arms in a look that simply conveyed annoyance awaiting the swift return of her handbag…He apologized with a broad grin and promptly returned the bag. Another tout quickly grabbed the arm of an approaching schoolboy and attempted to lead him to his bus, but he wasn’t having it all his own way because a rival bus tout grabbed the other arm. There ensued a tug of war with the hapless schoolboy as the prize. It was all done in the type of jokey banter and humour that Jamaicans are known for.
We eventually commenced our journey traveling the main road towards Montego Bay but turning off at Kew Bridge about two miles out of Lucea town centre. The road took us through a large cane field and up a winding road that seemed to get narrower and incapable of allowing two cars when one was approaching from opposite direction. It was at this point that one could begin to appreciate the beauty of being in the Jamaican countryside. There were fruit trees in abundance wherever one looked and, as we were in the middle of the mango season, it was breathtaking to see the mangoes on the trees overhanging the road and just begging to be picked. There were mangoes lying on the road where they had simply fallen and no one bothered to retrieve them. We came across a widening in the road where bigga parked after we pleaded for him to stop while we all trouped out the van and commenced to partake of the abundance of inviting mangoes. The juiciest and most inviting mangoes seemed to be at the top of the tree still waiting to fall gracelessly onto the hard tarmacked road so we gave them a helping hand by throwing stones and knocking them off their stems
After a feast of mangos and yellow juice on the clothes of the kids in the party we again picked up the journey. Bigga seemed to be very experienced at driving on the winding narrow country road and he seemed to be constantly on his horn. It was a “beep beep” every time we approached a deep corner. Whenever we encountered a vehicle approaching, it was necessary to slow down to about 10mph in some parts of the road to necessitate a safe pass. We rounded a bend and came up to a part of the road that showed a panoramic view for about 20 miles. It was truly breathtaking! The rolling hills, the valleys, the green vegetation of the gullies. We all trouped out the bus once again to take photos. I took a deep breath and sniffed the fresh country air as I took it all in and tried to appreciate the beauty of the view as a man ambled by with a donkey. The donkey had on a type of harness with a basket on either side that were full of yams and perched precariously on top was a large bunch of bananas. He was a farmer on his way back from his field, or “grung” as its known in the country. The farmer had a mean looking machete in his hand. As he approached, he politely nodded and said “good morning” to as many of our party as he could muster.
We continued our journey and were soon climbing a steep hill. Bigga explained that we were going through Maryland. We passed various folks on the road with things precariously perched on their heads. Bigga explained that people had to fetch water from a standpipe or a water hole to meet their daily needs. Everyone smiled and waved as we passed. Soon we were passing through another little village that bigga explained was called Donalva. It had a school that perched on a hill and we could see the school from miles away before we eventually reached it. Immediately above the school was a typical Jamaican church in its structure, painted red and white and neatly kept. Bigga once again explained that the school and the church had been there for a very, very long time. Generations of folks had been through the school and over the years hardly anything has changed about it, even though partly built of boards it has withstand the test of time through rain, hurricanes and drought.
We kept climbing up the hill passing houses dotted here and there, some directly below the road, some precariously perched on hillsides. Bigga said he had to stop in a small village called Cashill as he had relatives living there. We stopped at a small wooden shop with a pleasant looking old lady inside. She seemed pleased that bigga stopped, as it meant good business for her. She greeted him by name and, after about 6 of our party had entered the shop, it seemed full and the rest of us just stood outside taking photos and taking in the breathtaking view. We could see for miles over the hills. All around us were different fruit trees. I could see breadfruit; oranges; sugarcane; lime; mango and other fruits indigenous to Jamaica. Various locals ambled by the shop and bigga seemed to know everyone. A disheveled young man walked up looking sad and morose. He had a distant look in his eyes so Bigga quickly came out the shop and shooed him away. He explained that the young man was mad and people in the village said he was the way he was because someone had put “obeah” on him. The young man was once an aspiring ambitious academic and was well known in the village for being polite and doing well both at school and at his church obligations however, he had a nervous breakdown through pressure to achieve from his uncle. People in the village had wrongly diagnosed his illness as obeah, a local black magic practice. Obeah is always a convenient diagnosis for unexplained illness in the country. Consequently, this young man was now seen as a pariah and shunned.
After emptying the fridge of all the cold drinks and refreshing ourselves, we once again set off on our journey. We wound our way over and around huge potholes in the road. Trees were hanging over the roads that leant a certain “unkemptness” that gave the whole scene a natural beauty to be appreciated. We passed rivers with women happily washing their clothes whilst the kids frolicked in the water. The washed clothes were spread out on the rocks to be dried. Every now and again we passed a farmer or a pedestrian who would simply step back off the road into the bush to enable us to pass. We would be rewarded with a wave or a “good morning”. Everyone in the country seemed so polite and charming. We arrived in a small village that gave a choice of two roads where Bigga deftly negotiated the left turn towards our objective. He explained that we were a short way from Mayfield Falls.
After about ten minutes of negotiating tricky bends and slopes we eventually turned into the entrance to Mayfield falls. Bigga parked the minibus directly under a mango tree and once again everyone was trouping out and heading straight for the inviting looking fruit on the tree. I, however, turned my attention to a cashew tree in full bloom. The cashew tree’s juicy fruit was hanging down and I didn’t hesitate to shimmy up the tree to retrieve the fruits once Bigga told me what it was. We all gathered our things and made the short walk down a path neatly made up of earth and built-in boards, which came down into a large yard with a series of neat wooden huts. We soon learned that these huts were the changing facilities, an eating area and also a craft shop. There was also a large, neat lawn nearby where other tourists were sunbathing.
We were greeted by a friendly looking chap with a huge smile who enlightened us as to the price of the trek up the river. After a few minutes of negotiating, bartering and arm-twisting, we all settled on a group price that was satisfactory to all parties. We paid our money and were shown the changing facilities. Shoes for walking up the river are available on request and our guide, Larry, pointed out that we needed to wear footwear up the river, as it was a long trek over stones.
He explained that if we required food on our return it could be provided but we would need paying for that in advance as it is cooked to order in time for our return. We eventually agreed on a group price and requested chicken and rice for our lunch on our return. Soon we were all setting off over a long bamboo bridge with our two guides, Larry at the lead and Manny bringing up the rear. The trek takes us through a bushy path where we were first walking alongside the river then coming out into a clearing where the river was flowing towards us. Larry took the first steps into the clear water and I tentatively followed. It was cool but refreshing as we all began a slow walk up the river. Mayfield Falls, as it transpired, is on a breathtaking river dotted with small falls and clear pools all along its course. Larry pointed out that these pools of water supposedly contain 7 different minerals. It was difficult to trek up the river without stopping every few minutes to dive into a cool clear natural pool of water.
All around us along the river is awash in the natural vegetation and beauty of the Jamaican interior with long bamboos stretched down as if trying to take a dip. Mango trees, giant ferns and the sounds singing of birds combined to make a heady mix. We trekked more slowly as some people in our party were farther down the river. Manny stayed at the back supervising while Larry stayed up front to keep an eye on things as he was very knowledgeable about the river and pointed out little hidden paths under rocks where we could dive and come out on the other side. It was truly intoxicating. Now and again we came across a mini waterfall cascading over some rocks and we would all crowd under it vying for the best spot under the natural shower.
After about an hour of trekking interrupted by diving in pools and mini-falls we eventually came to the biggest and truly magnificent waterfall not yet interrupted by large financial concern or huge tourist groups. We all gathered under the rushing water while our guides took photos with our cameras. After thoroughly satisfying ourselves in the beautiful clear water it was time to head back so Larry decided it would be interesting for us all to take the land route instead of going back down the river. We set off up a well-worn path through the bushes that took us past various fruit trees growing naturally in the wild. One such tree, the star apple, was in full season and the fruit appear green on the outside but was pretty delicious and juicy on the inside. Larry climbed up the huge tree and was soon shaking the limbs to release the fruits. Some members of our party tentatively tried the fruit at first but soon found them delicious enough to request more. We passed a farmer in his yam field who gave us a cheery wave as we passed just as Manny excitedly came up to us clutching a bunch of leaves which he claimed was a substitute for soap which, apparently when rubbed with a drop of water, suds like soap and can be used to wash clothes or even the body when in the bushes without the comforts of home. Next Larry showed us a certain type of bush that he called ‘charmaine’ that was gentle to the touch and supposedly used as a substitute for toilet tissue when one was caught short in the bush.
We followed the path that sometimes took us alongside the river and at other times seems to be taking us away from the sound of the dashing water against the rocks.
Eventually we reached the camp and after changing into our dry clothes, Larry informed us that our lunch was ready. We were all shown to one of the larger huts where our food was neatly presented to a very hungry group. It was delicious mixture of chicken cooked in rich gravy with rice and peas, a Jamaican specialty. We also had a refreshing jug of fruit juice to wash it all down with. When we all finished our meal a small group of musicians gathered around with their homemade instruments and well preserved guitars giving us a rendition of Jamaican folk songs. It was a magnificent end to a truly wonderful day out in the country.