Jamaica March 2009: 19 – Round the Far Side (Portland-St Thomas-Kingston)

I’ve been all over Jamaica, almost. I’ve traveled around it, through it, up and down it. I’ve been to every parish in the country….except one. Saint Thomas. The far eastern parish that encompasses most of the Blue Mountains, loads of sugarcane and the far eastern coast – indeed point – of the island. As I am heading back to Kingston instead of on to Duncans Bay as i originally planned, I figure it’s time to see some of St. Thomas and head back to Town the “other” way – south and around the coast.

As good as the new road on the north coast is, the one past Port Antonio is bad. It’s supposed to be bad most of the way to Kingston. I’ve been warned, and I’ve told Ricardo I expect him to charge me extra for the miles and expected wear and tear on his car. I think it was an extra $1,000J.

Showered and changed and refreshed I bid goodbye to the staff at Ivanhoes – I will certainly stay there again – and head off with Ricardo to a part of Jamaica I haven’t seen since 2003 – Portland east of the parish capital.

I pass sights I remember well from our trip in 2003…Trident Castle, Frenchmans Cove, Blue Lagoon, Winnifred Beach, Boston Bay Jerk Center, San San, Fern Hill. But we don’t stop, we head on until we reach Long Bay.

I have been meaning to check out a place on Long Bay called Seascape. Last trip a friend stayed with the manager of that villa and I actually spoke to him on the phone. As we came near, I asked Ricardo to stop so I could see if he was around to give me a tour…I also wanted to see what was going on in Long Bay since hurricanes destroyed Yahimba and Cool Runnings.

We stopped and as luck would have it, Dave was there. Not only that, he recognized me from earlier in the day – he and the villa owners were having lunch at Norma’s at the marina in PA when I came back from my boat ride! As soon as he said it I remembered seeing them eating there. Small world.

I had a tour of Seascape, though an abbreviated one as the owners were there and i didn’t want to disturb them. It is RIGHT on the beach, sand outside the door, and looks quite comfortable.

The beach was still as lovely as ever.

Ricardo said he enjoyed the stop too, he hadn’t been there for years.

It’s still very quiet there.

…though a beach bar has opened, a nice spot.

This is where Yahimba cottages were, before Dean, or Ivan, I forget which hurricane.

After a drink and a final look around we head on.

Passing through Manchioneal I wish we’d had time to stop at Reich Falls…

We went on, passing coastline and small towns until the road cut inland for awhile, and we passed cane fields, lots and lots of cane fields…and then we were back on the coast, and I remembered another place i wanted to stop.

Golden Shores is in Lyssons, St Thomas, not far from Morant Bay. It’s a beach hotel in a pretty remote part of Jamaica that a few people I know have stayed at and enjoyed, and I am curious to see if it’s a spot I might stay at in the future.

We pull into the gate and I walk into the office. I ask if there is a room I might see and the woman at the desk apologizes and says no, there isn’t, the hotel is full.

Full???? Really? OK. I ask if there is a bar and she points down the drive to the beach and says something very odd.

“There are a lot of guests there but don’t worry, they’re OK.”

Don’t worry? What the heck does that mean?

Ricardo pulls down into a shady parking spot and tells me he’ll rest while I check things out and get a drink.

I walk towards the bar and whoa….if I’d had the balls to take out my camera and get a photo I would have, but I was frozen in my tracks. The Weather Girls’ most famous song comes into my head because man oh man, it’s raining men.

They are EVERYWHERE, have to be over a hundred of them. Talking, drinking, dancing, swimming… What’s really odd to me is that these men are clearly American, I can hear their accents, their voices are not exactly LOW.

I walk to the bar – where I am the only woman in sight except for the bartender who is being hit on by 5-6 guys. You know those old Wild West movies where the cowboy walks into the bar and the piano stops and everyone stops talking and stares at the door?

That’s how this went.

I approach my sister bartender and get a soda for myself and for Ricardo, I order a warm Magnum. If you are familiar with Magnum, you may know why the bartender gave me an odd look, since Ricardo is not in view.

In any case I exit the bar, where everyone is still staring at me, and out on the beach patio area, I decide I need to know what is going on. I approach an older guy (very fit, muscular guys were all there were but this one had gray hair and wasn’t shouting or doing shots) and say “Excuse me. Do you mind if I ask you a question?”

He responds in the affirmative and I try to put “Why are all you men here without women and what the heck are you doing partying like crazy in this remote corner of Jamaica” as politely as I can which comes out something like “Who are you all?”

My acquaintance stands up tall and says “Ma’am, we are the US military”.

Whoa…now it makes sense. I sit and am informed by my friend that these guys are engineers and civic planner-types with the US Air Force from Portland, Oregon and have been in Jamaica working with the JDF (Jamaica Defense Force) building things in Kingston.

Of course – THESE are the soldiers whose tents we passed at the airport on our way to Port Royal! There were Canadians and Brits and others there, but this is the R & R portion of the trip for the US guys who are heading home the next day, and then onto Afghanistan.

Now it all makes sense…the drinking, the swimming, the general merriment…these guys have been working their butts off building stuff in Kingston and this is their two day beach vacation before heading off to war. I’m amazed that most will return from Jamaica having seen Kingston and Lyssons -and that’s it. Quite a different view of the runnings from their friends and families who most likely cruised into Ochi or resorted in MoBay. But i guess military travel is always different.

We chat for 15 minutes or so, my uncle is retired Air Force, and my dad lives near Portland and I am having a rather nice time. The older guy is very friendly and his friends have begun to gather around to talk with me and they are cool too, but I have to go. We need to beat the sunset to Kingston.

I wish them well and we are on the road again.

Tonight is Roots Underground and I want time to unwind before we go out….

Here’s the beach at Golden Shores.

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