After Moore Town we wanted to visit the Blue Mountains where one can climb the highest peak of Jamaica at 2500 meters. The region is known for it’s excellent coffee and lush vegetation. The plan was to leave at around 9 am, jump on the local bus to Buff Bay, about 30 minutes drive west of Port Antonio and from there catch another bus for another hour or so. Drive through the blue mountains to Mavis Bank where we would hike up a steep hill to Penlyne Castle to Jah B’s guesthouse and there we will stay for two nights. Easy,
right? Well, nothing is easy in the Caribbeans islands and sometimes getting somewhere is as interesting an adventure as being there.
In Port Antonio people told us there are no buses and we had to take a taxi. After insisting and some more asking around we found the bus-minivan and together with another 8 Jamaicans we and Katammi drove to Buff Bay. When we arrived the bus driver asked us where we want to go, we told him we want to take a bus to Mavis Bank, he said there is no bus but he can take us there for 100 USD, you know man, it is very far, man.
We hoped to find a bus and pay local fare but everyone insisted we had to take a taxi. After some bargaining with a local taxi driver we found ourselves inside, one sitting next to the driver, 4 in the back seat and another 4 in the trunk. He drove us first to an ATM but it did not accept our cards so Ragnar and me had to take another taxi back to town to another ATM because the driver was afraid the police will stop him as we were too many people in the car… That other ATM not only accepted my card but it liked it so much it didn’t want to give it back to me, guess I had to leave a souvenir in Jamaica.
Dress code for visitors at the entrance to a local school – no spaghetti straps?
Back in the other taxi the driver asks us if we smoke ganja, not because he wanted to sell us some but rather he wanted to know if it bothers us if he smokes while driving. How considerable of him. You are driving with 9 people, 5 of which young kids, and you want to smoke ganja. No man, we do mind, please smoke on your way back, after you dropped us. By his driving we understood why he needed to smoke – he drove as if the police was chasing him while playing with his two mobile phones at the same time.
After an hour and a half the guy announces us he will not take us any further as Mavis Bank is still very far away. And if dropping us in the middle of nowhere (well not really nowhere, but not where we wanted to get to, it was a little village called Red Light) was not enough, he asked us to pay him more than what we agreed on.
Thea and Ragnar from Kattami
Luckily a minute after we got off the taxi a small minivan, the local bus we wanted to find all along, stopped next to us and agreed to take us to Papine where according to him we will be able to get another bus to Mavis Bank. Almost another hour of driving and we find ourselves in Papine which actually is on the outskirts of Kingston, what the hell are we doing in Kingston? Apparently, the taxi driver got lost and took a wrong turn, maybe he did smoke without us noticing? We could have been in Mavis Bank an hour ago.
In Papine same story. People telling us there is no bus only taxi. They ask us again 100 USD to take us to Mavis Bank. It’s getting late, we are not even sure if we will have the time to make the hike so maybe we need transportation all the way to Jah B’s place? Finally, one driver of a minivan full of school girls in blue uniforms tells us he goes to Mavis Bank, 150 Jamaican dollars per adult, kids 50.
A nice lady that sits next to Virginie starts chatting with her. When she hears we want to walk all the way from Mavis Bank she does everything she can to convince her it is absolutely impossible with the kids – too steep, too long, too hard, too dangerous, too everything. She even tried to make Virginie promise her we wont try walking there but rather take one of the 4 wheel drives taxis that go up. Virginie, on her side, proposed the lady to join us.
So an hour after we left Papin and for less than 10 USD we found ourselves in Mavis Bank ready for a hike. It was 14:30 so we still had about three hours before sunset. But as soon as we got off the bus a guy took me to a pickup truck that was parked on the other side of the road. This is Jah B’s son, he goes to his father’s place, he can take you there, the guy tells me. I tell him we really feel like walking after sitting the whole day in buses. Just speak to his son he insist.
the local church minister on his way to church
Jah B’s son had the same arguments. the hike is way too long and too steep. We can take the dirt road but this will take us at least 4 hours. Then he says, give me 30 USD and I’ll take you to my father’s place. I don’t know if it’s only me but this shocked me. We are on our way to stay at your father’s guesthouse, you are going there anyway and you ask us money to come with you? Finally he says, so just give me something. And we all climb at the back of his pickup truck.
holding tight at the back of Jah B’s son’s truck
Jah B’s son with the flowers our kids gave him, he said give me something right? We did pay him also.
The ride was crazy. It wasn’t a real road. More like a forest track. Very steep and with lots of holes and bumps. One side the mountain, the other the hollow of the valley. Everyone holding himself to the metal bars of the trunk, some standing, others sitting. Half way he picked up two bags full of coffee beans and a small kid in school uniform. All of them joined us in the back of the truck. It took much longer than we imagined but we all enjoyed it very much . The surrounding green mountains and the ocean we could see in the far horizon were beautiful. Even though we still felt like we needed to walk a bit we were very happy we did not hike up to Jah B’s place.
Jah B having a nap. For obvious reasons the Rastafarians were very sleepy most of the day
Later that evening we had an excellent vegetarian meal cooked by Jah B all made with fresh vegetables from his garden. We questioned him about Rastafarian religion and he was happy to explain. They are vegans – he does not eat anything that comes from animals. They don’t drink alcohol. And they don’t believe in all the things the white church tells them. They live simply, trying to be self sufficient by working the land. Halie Selassie, the emperor of Ethiopia, is a sort of a messiah for them (Ras-tafari was his name before he got the title of king of kings)
This guy was living in a little shed next to Jah B’s place. He was the nicest of all the Rastafaris. Every time Virginie went to talk to him she came back with something – a grapefruit, an avocado, a lemon.
Some of the Rastafarian’s principles I think are very appealing but most of it, like any other religion, is illogical and full of contradictions. To follow and adhere to it you need to believe (and probably smoke a few spliffs) not to reason.
At Jah B’s place there were a couple of other rastafari guys living and working. And interacting with them was as much enriching experience as it was with Jah B. One of them, Everton was a real character.
Everton in the kitchen. The food both him and Jah B cooked was delicious.
Same position different chair. Jah B and Everton in the background
One evening we were sitting outside having a beer enjoying the beautiful view. Everton was sitting next to us. ‘Don’t you have a beer for me?’ he suddenly asks. We thought you did not drink alcohol. Ah, sometimes I do. ‘So don’t you have a beer for me?’ Sure, we handed him a beer. A couple of minutes later he saw Amos’ Swiss knife, he looked at it, took it in his hand and said – ‘I want this knife. Com’on, will you give me the knife?, you’re only a kid, you don’t need such a knife’ His reaction was the same when he saw Virginie’s knife. He insisted we should give him the knife. We encountered this very direct way of asking things from us too often in Jamaica.
red beans freshly picked from the garden being dried
Later that evening this same Everton took us to see their sacred plant, a little bush of marijuana planted in the backyard next to a rotting truck. After this he demanded Ragnar to give him something for showing his plant. Ragnar, not really knowing how to digest this kind of behavior and unable to say no to people (he is too kind this Ragnar!) gave him 50 Jamaican dollars. I told Ragnar he should ask Everton 250 for the beer we gave him earlier. As Ragnar tried later to explain Everton, this way of behavior is simply too alien to us.
Ragnar, Everton and the sacred plant
The next day we finally went for a walk. The highest peek of Jamaica, ‘the peek’, as it is known to the locals, is only 5 hours of walk away from Jah B’s place. People usually wake up at 2 am to be on time for sunrise. We figured out that with the kids a later start will guarantee a nicer day for all of us (kids are always a good excuse).
The view from the guesthouse
On the way we met some more interesting Rasta people. One of them, a guy who sold avocados, oranges, coffee beans and sugar cane all surrounded by ganja haze. On the way up we bought some oranges and on the way down Ragnar bought a sugar cane. He told the guy he had only a 1000 Jamaican dollar bill but this last assured him he has the change. He prepared us the sugar cane and while kids were enjoying the sweetness of the cane Ragnar wanted to pay and handed him the 1000 dollar bill. But the seller asked him to pick some other fruits as he actually did not have change. Later, the Rasta guy noticed Ragnar’s machete and argued he needed it more than Ragnar and so he should give it to him.
I understand this behavior comes from an actual and real need, these people don’t have much money, they see us and they simply express their desire to have things we owe but still, it is a way of behaving I find hard to accept. And instead of us staying longer and spending more money it makes us want to leave.
All 5 kids walked like champions chatting and laughing in English. They all came back with bags full of little treasures from the forest – leaves, flowers, seeds. Each of these represented some other thing – like lemons, avocados, sugar etc. Then they gave prices to each thing and played for hour buying and selling stuff to each other.
blue mountains coffee beans being dried
On our last day we decided walking down to Mavis Bank. After walking for 2 hours from Jah B’s place we finally arrived in Hagley Gap. We had another hour to walk to Mavis Bank but instead of walking we took a ride with a pickup truck together with 6 ladies on their way to church all very nicely dressed.
From Mavis Bank we took a bus to Kingston from where we could join another very crowded bus back to Port Antonio. We were sitting there for more than 2 hours squeezed between plenty of other people without being able to move a finger. Luckily the kids were very patient.
We were so happy to be back on the boat. Until we opened the door and saw water on the floor. Before leaving I forgot to unplug our rain collection system from our tanks. During the weekend it rained a lot and our tanks got over-filled. Water started to come out of the taps down to the floor and into the bilges. We pump out about 50 liters of water out of our bilges…
Then at night there was a party going on in Port Antonio. The owner of 4 big supermarkets in town organized a birthday party for himself and all town. The party was open to all and everything was paid for. He even brought a very popular dancehall DJ to animate the evening. This DJ did not stop screaming into the microphone until 3 o’clock in the morning. We should have gone dancing with the crowds instead of suffering on the boat trying to get some sleep.
So life is never boring around here.
Fantastic story Matan! Thanks for sharing. Ya man!