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My American Airline flight landed on Port Royal pirate wreckage at the Kingston International Airport, Jamaica. Port Royal was once the richest and wickedest sin ports in the Americas, home for notorious Captain Morgan’s “Jolly Roger” and his nefarious 17th Century entrepreneurial fleet, flying the flag for fortune and infamy, sold to the highest bidder.
Kingston, the Caribbean’s largest city, is now over a million plus, but back then it offered Black Beard, Morgan. and other souless seafarers the perfect port, protected by a spit of land, with Port Royal at the tip — where the airport now sits. Like Gomorrah, Port Royal was destroyed, but not by fire, but swamped by an underwater earthquake, triggering landslides into the sea, creating one of the world’s most lucrative marine parks. Continually, Spanish doubloons, gold, and bullion are salvaged from the site — even today.
Discover the Blues
Rising from Kingston foothills the uneven Blue Mountains pierce low misty clouds in the distance. The ‘Blue’ range runs virtually the entire 145-mile length of Jamaica at varying altitudes, but at 7,200 feet, they are at their most majestic just out of Kingston, and the Caribbean’s second highest mountains, after the Dominican Republic.
After an impromptu airport shower provided by the tropical humidity, I learned my bags didn’t arrive with the flight, so I put myself up at the Indies Hotel, a quaint East Indian inn in the heart of the Kingston financial district. At night, the area is the home of roving reggae rave parties, and the beat of the island resonates through the hotel garden walls. The next morning my bags are waiting for me in the hotel lobby.
The decrepit train station in Kingston doesn’t move any bananas or sugarcane along it’s rusted skeleton anymore, but it is the only spot in the city large enough to accommodate the dragon-breathing, polluting buses that patches Jamaica’s faltering transportation infrastructure together. Screaming above the hubbub, I locate a bus heading in my general direction. I cram in, bags tossed on top, and from a rag tag kid, I buy a plastic bag of “sky-juice,” reminiscent of Gator Aid/Kool-aid. I sit back, sucking the warm slush through a straw. The driver grinds a couple of teeth off the gears, the bus lurches forward, setting out in the general direction of Captain Bligh’s Bloody Breadfruit.
The road into the Blues is serpentine, craggy along the coast, rising significantly out of Kingston, dropping back on the other side for a coast into Morant Bay, famous for a slave revolt so long ago. Near Morant Bay I am ejected out of the sweaty ganga bus at a triangular cross roads. I await anything that moves in the direction further into the Blues. After an hour’s wait in the sun at the shabby, barricaded gas station serving as a bus depot, I decide to take anything, anywhere. Eventually a ride shows up—an ad hoc Jamaican cab driver, who asks in proverbially Jamaican patois, “Hey mon. I de taxi mon; ned a liff, mon? Where to mon? Pay in dollars mon? J’s no gud, mon. J’s s—, mon.”
We agree on a U.S. dollar amount, equivalent to, I don’t know how many J’s, or Jamaican dollars.
The crumpled car rattles over ancient roads and over 18th Century British Army Corps of Engineer built bridges, through the humid banana belt leading into the mountains.
In the 1600s the British occupied most of Jamaica, carving banana and sugar plantations out of the rich Blue Mountain foothills. The agrarian tradition continues today, with the eastern end of Jamaica producing some of the island’s most lucrative cash crops, including Captain Bligh’s Bloody Breadfruit, and the world’s most expensive and smoothest coffee—Blue Mountain, at about US$25 a pound. Recently the Japanese bought up most of the future coffee crop, paying a premium price. Suddenly, all the area farmers are in the coffee plantation business, planting crops on marginal, easily eroded soil.
After crossing a jungle river, a body-double of a “Bridge Over The River Kwai,” I arrive in the small community of Bath. Bath was a favorite community of the British colonialists over two centuries ago. It is still the gateway to the cool Blue Mountains, and still the sleepy home for a few hundred Jamaicans; granddads lazily bicycle in loopy circles in the middle of the street in the middle of any given day. The only open thriving business in town is a juice joint on the corner of the only paved street, and it was serving a brisk trade in sky-juice. spiked rum, and today’s gossip. After bailing out of the cab, sweat pouring off my forehead, I stumble into the juice joint, tanking up on sky-juice, water coconuts, and a shot of rum. In the open-air bar I ask a friendly face pedaling slowly by, imploring the direction of the Bath Fountain Hotel, the only real accommodations in the area. At the time, I didn’t know how close I was to Captain Bligh’s Bloody Breadfruit.
The Jamaican bicyclist stopped, pointed up a graveled road spiraling north of the juice joint. Nothing less that a four-wheel boulevard. “About a mile, mon,” grins the gap-toothed kid. Soon all the kids in the neighborhood seemed to be peering through the juice joint door. “My brother Joe has a motorcycle, mon.” Joe is volunteered into the pickup and delivery business. He shows up just in time on a sputtering 100 cc Honda, hair threaded with dreadlocks, smiling, a spliff permanently stuck between bad teeth. I jump on the back of the Honda, luggage tearing my arms out of their sockets.
Bath Fountain Hotel rises majestically, with the Blue Mountains serving as an encompassing backdrop sentinel. Built as a hospital by the British in 1749, the stone hotel is now owned by the people of Jamaica. Revitalized after Hurricane Gilbert in 1988, the hotel perches above the Bath River, more like a stream, like a moldy relic from a bygone era.
In 1609 the Maroons, slaves of Ethiopian extraction, and other British slaves in the banana trade, escaped their tyrannical masters, marauded, hiding out in the rugged Cockscomb area of the Blues, an area that today is largely unexplored, and just getting mapped, and where the Maroons still do not welcome whites into certain regions. The Spanish word for runaways is Cimaroons, and in the Carib shortened to Maroons. For over a hundred years the Maroons and the British waged battles back and forth in the Blue Mountains, but eventually the Maroons drove the British out of the mountains and into the foothills.
The British built the Bath Fountain Hotel as a hospital, not because of the battles, but because of the mineralized hot water that poured from the mountains. Clinically speaking, the hotel waters are claimed to be the most radioactive and healthful in the world, second only to Lourdes, France. The Maroons first discovered the healing waters, but the British developed the hospital with twenty clean, but spartan hospital rooms, and the 16 beautifully restored tiled baths in the basement.
After checking into the hotel, paying with a wad of colorful J’s, I relaxed on the restaurant terrace with a real jungle punch drink. I ask about the mineral baths. It takes about two hours to slowly fill the three-foot, by six-foot, by three-foot deep baths. The 105-degree water flows out of the mountains in the original British plumbing system that is slated for upgrading. The bath waters are tempered with cooler stream or spring water. I reserve a bath for the next morning. Why I need a reservation for the baths is incomprehensible, I am the only person in the entire US$15 a night hotel.
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Kriss Hammond, Jetsetters Magazine Correspondent – Read Jetsetters Magazine at www.jetsettersmagazine.com To book travel visit Jetstreams.com at www.jetstreams.com and for Beach Resorts visit Beach Booker at www.beachbooker.com
About the Author
Kriss Hammond, Jetsetters Magazine Correspondent. Join the Travel Writers Network in the logo at www.jetsettersmagazine.com Leave your email next to the logo for FREE e travel newsletter.