In 2006 I traveled to Jamaica, as staff, with friends and client ekoostik hookah and several other bands for a festival called Jamm in Jamaica. I spent a week in Negril helping out with that, enjoying music and friends.
But, as is my wont, I planned a couple of extra days at the end to go somewhere else, do something else, away from Negril. With my husband and an adventurous friend, we decided to head east, towards the south coast and Mandeville and explore. No hotel booked, though I had ideas.
We picked up a rental car from Island Cruiser. It’s a Jamaican company that makes cars on a Toyota base that look very much like the cars used by Mr. Roarke in Fantasy Island. Some even have striped awnings as a roof.
If ours had been red….well here’s what we got. Cover snapped on and off.
Just for comparison 😀
3 of us hopped in this thing and headed east, through Sav la Mar and on out the south coast highway. (Not much of a highway in 2006, compared to now, even).
Our destination was Hotel Villa Bella in Christiana. I’d talked to some folks about the area (southern cockpits, or northern “Alps”) and it seemed sufficiently historic and cool to check out. There were caves and waterfalls and things, so sounded as good as anything.
It began to rain. Comedy ensued as we pulled over and frantically snapped the canvas top back on, getting totally soaked in the process.
That’s a towel, because even with the top on, the back seat got really wet from road splash or what came off the car, or something. I’m just glad we didn’t rent scooters for this as originally planned. This is a major upgrade, water and all.
But we were rewarded with a rainbow….
Pretty sure this was taken on south coast “highway” (back then not what it is now on this part) towards Mandeville but not 100% certain. Maybe someone who knows the road can comment and let me know for sure.
And a heck of a view above the clouds as we climbed Spur Tree Hill…
..and then an incredible sunset. Luckily we’re not too far away now….
We managed to reach Villa Bella right before dark, good thing because this area doesn’t have much in the way of street lights or signs . I’d called ahead on my J’can cell to make sure they had a room for us and indeed they had a selection. We chose one with 3 twin beds, it was great for one night. We dropped our stuff and headed for the very colonial-feeling bar where we enjoyed a couple of cocktails before dinner.
The Villa Bella is old, and has antiques scattered about, marble floors, dark wood staircases. The history of the place is really interesting. It opened in 1941.
Villa Bella Hotel, was established during a period popularly known as “old style tourism”. In fact, it is the only hotel in the parish that has survived to today, and ranked with almost any hotel in Jamaica.
It was a time when beaches held little, if any, charm. Unnecessary exposure to the sun was frowned on. The attraction of the hills lay in their cool, mild climate which was reminiscent of an English summer. New Castle, Moneague, Mandeville and Christiana were prime tourist spots.
The demeanor and tradition of Hotel Villa Bella was British. Overseas guests stayed for two to three months. It was for many a winter destination. In addition, the British who worked here, vacationed in the hills to escape the heat of the city and to enjoy some of the traditional pleasures of the Colonial period – such as afternoon High Tea, which is still served to this day.
We missed high tea 🙁 But here is the lobby:
We got a lovely (covered) outdoor table for dinner.
And we enjoyed the company at the bar so much that we returned to it after dinner. We were the only guests, as far as we could tell. This is Erroll, our bartender.
The next morning I woke up first and walked around to take these pictures.
Holmwood Technical School is across the street.
We’re high up in the mountains here, 360 views pretty much, from the hotel property.
Here’s the very windy road we drove up last night!
Ginormous house near the hotel
I then got the car keys and drove out to grab a snack while the others slept in a bit. That’s me, driving – first time I drove in Jamaica, I think. Last time we had a rental car was in 2003 and my husband drove the whole trip because he was the only driver on the rental policy. This time we were both on it, so I drove, a little. I really liked it 😀
We passed Christiana High School…
The rotary sign (at the rotary) in Christiana
I’d hoped to visit a nearby waterfall this day but we were informed that the rains last night had made the path to it too slippery to climb. So, we checked out and headed up the road in the direction of, we hoped, Gourie Cave.
I had a map, but the roads aren’t really marked, so we ask people we pass if they know where “Gourie Forest” or “Gourie Cave” is, because that’s how it is labeled on my map.
People point in the direction we’re heading and say we’re on the right road, so we go on. Plenty of people out working. This is yam country and there are farms everywhere. Those vines climbing poles in the middle of this photo are yams. Looks like bananas down front but I’m not sure.
And then, finally, we see a sign and we turn in. Pine trees. In Jamaica. Never really saw them there before. This is a pine forest intentionally planted here, with a little forest ranger house, though no one seems to be around.
We parked and walked around a little, unsure where to go to see the cave or hike or whatever. Our buddy is looking down the 4wd “road” in this pic.
Just then, an older gentleman carrying a machete strolled up that road toward us. If you don’t know machetes are a standard household tool in Jamaica, this could be a little disconcerting, but I did know that, and the gentleman who approached us was very friendly.
He kindly offered to take us down that road and show us the mouth of the cave. We got ourselves, and him, a beer and headed down a steep, muddy, overgrown path I was immediately glad we didn’t try to drive down.
Here’s the opening. I know now that this is the longest cave in Jamaica, but we didn’t have the tools (flashlight/torch or anything else) to really go in, so we just looked.
Our new friend posed for a photo. We didn’t go much further in than this. I know Jamaica is well known for its cave systems and a lot of people come there to explore them, but unless they have some light and a nice place to swim, they don’t really do it for me. I’ve been slightly inside several now, this one, one in Duncans Bay area, Windsor , and maybe the most popular for visitors Green Grotto (that one in 1991).
We thanked him and offered a tip for his time, which he refused. He did accept a ride down just a piece down towards his farm. And then, we were back on the road.
The sky is clear and the drive beautiful. All downhill this time, back down Spur Tree Hill to Gutters where we turned off south towards the coast. We’re headed to Little Ochi at Alligator Pond, a place I’d read about but never been to before.
I’ll pick this up tomorrow and finish, promise.
Continue reading this series:
Adventure in the Southern Cockpits and Alligator Pond (2006 flashback, part two)