All Around Jamaica Again: Day 4 – Up into the Blue Mountains on Historic US Election Day

Day 4: US Election Day, Kingston

One more reason I wanted to go to Kingston was to visit the Blue Mountains. I’ve gone a little way in from the Portland side (Reich Falls, some other falls near Buff Bay), and I’ve stayed near them (Portland, Fern Hill). But I’ve never really been IN them, certainly not from the Kingston side. I wanted to see the mists around the tops…look down on Kingston…wind around the little roads…just BE there.

So I talked to Tracy the previous day about getting a driver to take me and she helped me arrange it for about 10AM.

I woke up at 8 or so, and as I was the only one really up, I decided to walk over to the mall and check out the food court. I mean, when in Jamaica….right? But it was too early, the food court wasn’t open yet. So I asked a guard where I might get breakfast nearby and she pointed me over to a Juici Patti a couple of blocks up Hope Road. Sure enough it was there, and pretty much like every other Juici Patti I have ever been to in any town in Jamaica, though this one had some kind of VIP sit-down service area. I found that kind of odd and opted to just wait in line and order with everyone else.

Many things were sold out (ackee) but I scored some coffee and coco bread which was all I felt I needed to eat before heading out on my little trip. I sat and enjoyed it in the air conditioning (walking even just a few blocks in Kingston is HOT), chatted on my phone with folks back home, and then headed back to T’s to meet my ride.

T has a houseguest from France. He’s a traveler, a resort manager-restaurant type young guy who works for awhile then travels for awhile…just the sort of thing I always wanted to do but chose to have kids and settle instead, you know? He’d been staying with T in Kingston for a month and might have joined me on my trip but he was still hung over from Saturday too…so when Ricardo my driver showed up, he and I headed out solo.

I had an idea about hiking in Hollywell National Park. I am not the “wake up at 2AM and hike to the peak” type at all, but these hikes seemed nice..shorter, not steep, just a nice walk around. So we headed for Irish Town and Strawberry Hill where the hikes might originate, or I could at least find out about where to get them.

I was surprised how quickly town turned into country. I shouldn’t have been, because in Kingston you can always see the mountains, they are all around you all the time. Nonetheless, within just a few minutes we were in country, winding up.

Here is the route from New Kingston. As you can see, not a good trip if you get carsick easily.

But the views are so worth it…

I am looking up at another part of the road here…all switchbacks, baby:

The drive up goes something like this, but I didn’t catch any of the big views or dropoffs, oh well:

We pulled in to Strawberry Hill and asked after the office – I’d called earlier to see what the deal was with the hikes and they basically said I could do their trip or do my own – I wanted directions to my own. The woman in the office was very helpful and explained to Ricardo how to get there and that he COULD get there, as some of the road was washed out but passable.

We chose not to go up and look at the actual resort. I thought we might stop on the way down if we felt like it, but we didn’t. Later on someone told me they ate there and was really disappointed by the food and for that price, I’m glad we didn’t.

We continued on the same road away from town and up. And up. And up. We passed only a couple of towns between Kingston and here, mostly we are looking at road, bush, waterfalls and steep drops.

Finally the road widens into almost a parking lot…this turns out to be the parade ground. We have arrived at Newcastle. The main feature of this town, in fact the only feature as far as I can tell, is the JDF training camp. Apparently it was set up in this location in the mid 1800’s when yellow fever was a big problem down below. I think as I look around that if soldiers can march up and down these mountain sides, they’re ready for anything.
We park and get out and look around – Ricardo has never been up in the mountains as far as Newcastle so we are checking it out for the first time together.
The view down from the parade ground over what I assume are barracks:

Up from the parade ground
Up at satellite/cell/who knows what tower.
This is how I will remember the Blue Mountains, the image that most sticks in my mind. Steep green hills and mist:

Looking back downtown Kingston from Newcastle…we are only about 13 miles form town but it took about 45 minutes to get up here.

Back down to the barracks

Crests of regiments that have served here

When I left Kingston it was hot and mostly sunny with clouds. I knew it might be cool in the mountains so I brought a long sleeved shirt with me and as I planned to walk a bit, I am wearing actual shoes…but I wasn’t quite ready for what came next.
Rain. Not a misty light rain or a sprinkle but a full-on, pouring, drenching rain. The kind of rain that only happens when you are actually IN the rain cloud.
I did not bring a raincoat. Not on this trip (or to Jamaica at all). I suppose I could have borrowed one from Tracy but I just wasn’t thinking. So if you plan to go up there yourself, bring a raincoat, you’ll likely need it.
I look at Ricardo and tell him I think I better save this Holywell hike for another time. He is cool with that so we go just a bit further up on the road and as it begins to get really bad (by “really bad” I mean more pothole than road with washed out parts that lead down to drops of hundreds of feet bad), we turn around.
As we drive down Ricardo stops so I can take a photo of where we just were:

And on down…

On the way up we passed Mount Edge. This is a place I’d read about as a cool inexpensive back-to nature place to stay. Since the rain kept me from hiking we opted to stop here.

The little bar by the road was not open but a man came up to greet us and when I asked to look around he gave me a tour. I believe his name was Ox but I am not positive.

Mount Edge has a little bar by the road and everything else is DOWN. Down concrete steps cut into the hillside that remind me a bit of going into the water from a cliff resort in Negril, but what’s down is cottages connected by these concrete steps and wooden steps between those, each cottage with a little deck.
Steps from cottage to cottage

There are some guests staying here and the nicest cottage is taken but I am able to see one with private bath:

I think you can see these are pretty basic, I think they are about $50 a night for 2 people, but check this view:

And this one:

Looking down you can see a little river and waterfall. The “resort” offers hikes down here, hikes to the peak, birding hikes…this is a real nature lover’s spot and there is nothing else around at all. We are just 40 minutes from Kingston but in a completely different world.Waterfall in the gorge:

A view from a different level…I think there are 7 cottages available here, none on the same level:
This cottage is the main kitchen and hang out area. An Italian couple was playing a board game in the “living room” when I stopped in, and this deck was a bit larger than the others. You can see a bit of the kitchen inside. I can imagine hanging out here talking with some serious backpacker-traveler types sometime.

I zoomed in on that river down in the gorge:

As an aside, Negrilphiles will know all those “I intend to apply in Sav” signs at bars…in the Blues they don’t get quite so specific about WHERE they will apply but are quite specific about WHAT they will apply for:

I thanked Ox for the tour and we continued on our way.On a previous trip I visited Christiana, near Mandeville, and spent some time at Gourie Forest, a pine tree forest planted on purpose. I don’t know about you but I have never seen pines anywhere else in Jamaica.

But here in the Blues I spotted at least one:

Obligatory “I was here” photo:

We got stuck in traffic on the way down…some construction project that looked like a dam or hydro electric project to me. It wasn’t going on when we went up but it was now, and these big trucks were blocking the road so that only small cars could pass by…we managed to do it but a lot of other trucks and buses were pissed…I have no idea how long they had to stay but there was no flagger or sign and it looked like they’d be there a long time. “____claat”s were flying through the air like a flock of butterflies.

Motorcycle got through right away:

And we make it back down to Kingston.

The rain has followed us from the mountains.

I am sorry I didn’t get to hike around, I’ll know better about the weather next time. But I am really glad I got to get up into those mountains. Knowing how easy it is to get to from Kingston, I know I will go back. Maybe spend a night or two and just chill out at Mount Edge.Ricardo’s a great driver and very good natured about the rather rough driving conditions we encountered – he was a very good sport. I bought him lunch and he dropped me off at Tracy’s.

I feel like I’ve had a full day but it’s only about 1PM.

On election day.

We spent the afternoon hanging out at the house as it was raining. Sometime around 3 or 4 T’s houseguest D, who is from Kingston but staying with T due to a houseguest at his own house, invites us out for a drink. N (the French guy) and I hop in his truck and head out. We drive down Hope Road and into a residential area. Rather suddenly we turn into the gates of the Mayfair hotel.

I’ve never heard of this one but I like the look…small buildings like houses set in lawns and gardens. I didn’t see any rooms though, as we headed straight to the back of the property to the bar. The bar is rather like an English Pub…lots of dark wood, some booths and tables with dark leather chairs. But as always in Kingston, beautiful views of the city and ever-present mountains out the windows. As we arrived in the late afternoon it wasn’t very crowded but a few people were about, mostly locals, I felt, after work or just having a late afternoon cocktail.

As it turns out we are meeting some of D’s friends here…which is almost redundant because it seems D knows absolutely everyone everywhere we go and this is no exception. I am feeling lucky to be along as it’s all guys thus far though eventually one other female friend turned up.

I enjoyed talking with everyone very much, it was a nice opportunity to spend some time with D and N, my fellow housemates at T’s, and meet some young Kingston people. There was a large flat screen TV here and it was on CNN, election coverage was on. We talked about that, we talked about Jamaican politics, we talked about parties and nightlife, we got drunk.

I’ve had vodka and Ting before but this time we were drinking “stings” – overproof rum and Ting. Pretty darn tasty. Our group got a little rowdy and it was a blast.
We headed back to T’s as the polls began to close and it was time to check out the election.

I had mixed feelings about being in JA for Nov 4th. I was able to vote early before I left, but I was kind of sorry I wasn’t home to help the get out the vote efforts at home – I live in Ohio, a swing state, and my family was volunteering, my friends were volunteering, I knew a lot was going on at home. At the same time, if I had to watch one more freaking political commercial I might have killed myself, so in a way it was good to get away.

D brought home some beer and more Sting ingredients and we hung out in T’s living room drinking, talking and watching the returns. I saw Pennsylvania go for Obama and felt good…when Ohio went blue I knew it was over. But we watched until they officially called it around 11.

Again we have two Americans, a Jamaican guy, a German guy and a French guy in the group…this time it is the 2 Americans who are the most excited. My family called from an election night party in the US and we celebrated, virtually.

I was pretty worn out from my day so went to bed around midnight.

Tomorrow I am on the road again.

Continue reading this series:

Thoughts? Questions? I'd love to hear them!