After successfully learning to kite board it was time to move on. I caught a couple of taxis and buses and arrived in Oracabessa, a small coastal town.
I met up with Sebastian and his new Danish friend Magnus (DJ Madness). The reason for visiting Oracabessa was a big dancehall party featuring most of the big names in Jamaica. It was beyond a true Jamaican experience. We were all well patted down and checked for drugs, but as soon as you get in people are selling weed everywhere anyway. I saw one guy getting searched by a female security guard. She pulled one joint out of his pocket, felt another two in his other pocket but just ignored them. Pretty funny. We got there at about 10 and got stuck in to the rum – a 200mL flask and a pepsi for about 6 or 7 bucks was the same price as 3 beers. Early in the night was a whole heap of no name dudes, most of whom really sucked, they couldn’t sing in tune at all. It got better as the night went on and became morning and I became less attuned to balance. At about 6 in the morning, things got very interesting. I was in the crowd, bopping away to someone that I had no idea who it was, when the whole crowd turned around and started running in a panic in the opposite direction. I joined in with the panic as I had not a clue as to what was going on. When I made it to the safety of a small bar, I looked back and saw stubbies being hurled at the stage and, even more unexpectedly, being hurled from the stage back at the offenders in the (now totally diminished) crowd. The newspaper the next day explained that these Vybz Kartel fans didn’t particularly like Bounty Killer. After about 5 minutes some music started up and everyone strolled on back in front of the stage as if nothing had happened. Well, this time the Bounty Killer fans didn’t like Vybz Kartel. Again, bottles were flying in both directions as the rest of us fled. This put quite an abrupt end to the party. I interviewed a couple of locals, which was fun, even though I could barely understand a word they were saying in Patois, which was also the case listening to the performers of the evening. I spent my last $2 on some dodgy fried chicken (I was actually expecting some delicious, freshly cooked jerk chicken), and walked home with my broken flip flops in my hand in the early morning light. I must have looked terrible. But that was my true Jamaican experience.
After a recovery day we set off for Black River, via Ocho Rios and Mo Bay. It took us a long time and we arrived after dark. We stayed in a bus at Sunset Beach. Black River is quite well renowned. Check out this photo and see if you can tell why. Hint: Never smile…
Yes, right in the middle of the town… a crocodile. We went on a boat ride up the river to see a few more. It was ok. You can get really close to them while they sunbathe. They can apparently grow up to about 4 metres. At the bridge where we stopped to turn around we had the opportunity to swim. I waived this opportunity, something doesn’t feel right about swimming in a river that you’ve just paid money to see crocodiles. I went swimming at our guesthouse and that was freaky enough. Even thought the owner assured us that it was totally safe, with zero visibility I was in and out of there very quickly. The town was ok, very Jamaican, but nothing special. Played some pool with a dude in a bar, but nothing to write home about… oh, hang on, I just did.
Next stop, not too far down the road, was Treasure Beach. It has a high ratio of tourists, but is very small and has generally avoided the big hotel complexes and all inclusive type tourism and is very minimalist when it comes to hustlers. The two other boys loved the place, for me it was ok. We went straight to the beach with our snorkelling gear, which didn’t get wet that day. There was some small waves rolling in so we opted for body surfing instead. We stayed for 5 nights and it was good to be able to cook for ourselves rather than have rice and peas twice a day.
The next day, we caught a taxi, actually a car impersonating a taxi, to Southfields. From here we walked the 1.5 km along the road to Lovers Leap, a ‘cliff’ where two slaves apparently jumped into the sea rather than have to part. This could be true, if they could jump about 2 km. It was not a cliff, just a very steep hill. The place was closed for renovations (more likely no one could be bothered running the place any more) so we made our own backpackers leap over the fence. The view was brilliant. At 500 metres elevation you could see the coast for kilometres, with the blue sea disappearing into a hazy sky. We found the small hiking trail across the football pitch and headed down. Halfway we could see some splashing going on. It looked like dolphins having some fun. It took us one hour to get to the bottom, where we expected to find a small beach, but instead found one of the world’s biggest rock pools. It was beautiful, but certainly didn’t feel like the traditional perception of Jamaica. There was a ledge, hundreds of metres long, where the small waves smashed into the rocks. It looked very nice and deep, but we decided it wasn’t safe trying to climb back up with the waves breaking over the rocks. On the land side of this ledge the water was knee deep, slowly tapering back to land about 15-20 metres away. We had to settle for a relaxing bathe al naturale here. The water was a perfect temperature – refreshing after the hike down in the midday sun, yet warm enough to laze around for half an hour without getting cold. We went for a wander along the coast a bit, but it was much of the same. We did encounter a random fisherman walking along the rocks with just a hand line. It was a big hike to catch no fish. After a bit more splashing around it was time to head back. It was really quite hot now and very little breeze the whole way. Magnus made it up in 40 minutes the crazy bugger. Sebas and I weren’t exactly slow finishing in 55. I was really struggling, so much that the first drink was non-alcoholic. Yeah, hot.
We went out to a local bar on the Friday night. It was good vibes with a nice young crowd – mainly locals with a few tourists floating about. Played some pool and had a good evening. So good, that we went back there Saturday night. Unfortunately, I did myself a bit of a mischief. We were drinking overproof rum at home before we went, then more at the bar. Its always cheaper to buy a 200mL bottle and a mixer than drink anything else. The overproof rum put me over the edge and I had to leave the pub early – needless to say the memories are hazy. At some point I realised that I didn’t have the key to get in our room and rather than going back to the pub, I came up with the ingenious solution of sleeping in a tree! It was such a fluffy and inviting tree. I believe I slept very comfortably for many hours before returning to our room. It was 2 days later that I met a girl who told me that I was actually trying to sleep in another tree closer to the pub, but she insisted that I go home. I showed her!
Our guesthouse called us a taxi to take us to some random town. On the way he called his mate to meet us there and take us to Mandaville. From there it was a bus to Kingston, a shuttle bus to the other Kingston bus station, a minibus to Papine and a taxi to Red Light. That’s as far as public transport goes. Here we play the hitch hiking game, very similar to the waiting game somewhere as remote as the Blue Mountains. There literally was not a single car drive past that had any spare seats for more than an hour while we chatted with locals and ate little fried snacks. Micky from the hostel was driving past and picked us up, for our seventh vehicle for the day. We drove 100 metres around the corner and stopped at the bar for one and to pick up Michael, the hostel owner. Another 10 minutes and we finally arrived in the dark to Mount Edge Hostel. Even with smooth connections all of the way (until Red Light) it had taken us almost all day. The hostel was buzzing. There was about a dozen guests and most were enjoying a drink and a smoke.
I awoke in the morning and the view from the balcony looking over the valley was beautiful. After a delicious breakfast we went down to the river for a dip in the chilly natural pool, followed by a barefoot hike in the undies up stream a few hundred metres, taking in magnificent scenes of small waterfalls, pools and lush flora. Along with some conversations about permaculture and renewable energies, I was feeling very energised myself. I had planned on staying 4 nights, but soon convinced myself that it wasn’t necessary to stay in Kingston and increased it to 6. I didn’t do a lot, but you don’t need to do a lot, just enjoy the feeling of the picturesque surrounding mountains.
I did visit an old Rasta man’s house. He has a couple of acres covered with trees and plants, mostly of the edible variety, of which we bought some. I also found time to visit the Rasta camp, about an hours walk away. It wasn’t quite what I was hoping for. We didn’t get to speak to anyone about how they run the place, what they do there, or what Rastafarianism is about. Instead, we played games with kids for about an hour. Of course this was fun, and the kids are gorgeous with their dreadlocks, but not particularly educating for anyone.
The Wednesday was a public holiday and there was a pool party in the tiny village of Red Light. It was running all afternoon and into the wee hours, but I only went for a few hours in the evening. I was amazed by how many people there were. Young people had seemingly wandered down out of the mountains for this glorious occasion, with Dancehall music blaring louder than the human threshold for pain, continually being interrupted briefly for the DJ to say something stupid. It became impossibly annoying after not too long.
I had a wander around down town Kingston one day. Nothing too exciting, nor scary, but from the stories I hear and the odd couple of super dodgy looking blokes I wouldn’t be strolling around in the evening. I went to the craft market which must have had 100 little stalls in there, with 100 people working, yet I was the only customer in the entire place for the hour I was there, checking out there handmade items, wondering which ones were factory made and/or imported from China, then spending just a few dollars in one shop – I don’t know how they can survive.
My last night at the Hostel was great. A couple of friends of the place turned up with instruments and amplifiers and had a proper jam session. It was an awesome finish to my stay there. Would I go back to Jamaica? Yes, but not desperately. There were a few places I didn’t make it to that I would have liked to. Besides that, the only places I would excitedly return to would be the Blue Mountains and especially Bounty Bay. Maybe Treasure Beach because I didn’t get to see the whole area.
The rest of the Jamaican pictures are here.
Next stop – Cuba!