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TOURS - St. Thomas |  Hills of Kingston |  Spanish Town |  Hellshire Hills |  Port Royal

Tour 1 - Exploring St. Thomas
Excerpted from the book, Tour Jamaica, by Margaret Morris

Harbour View, east of Palisadoes is a large dormitory suburb with schools, churches, a drive-in cinema and an energetic Community Environment Resource Centre led by Public Health officer Selvin Masters. They have been trying for a long time to take over the non-functioning government sewage plant and turn it into a model facility capable of recycling water.

The Donald Quarrie school here is named after one of Jamaica's Olympic champions. As you proceed east, the dry Hope River gully and scarred foothills on your left dramatically illustrate the peril of deforestation. Presently you may glimpse L the Yallahs pipeline which supplies water to the Mona Reservoir.

From the high road above COW BAY, you can get a fine view of the city and harbour. In defiance of a No-dumping sign the slope below the road is littered with years of garbage. L of the road there is a monument and plaque commemorating Jack Mansong, better known as Three Fingered Jack, a bandit who patrolled the nearby hills and valleys and fought, often singlehandedly, a war of terror against the English soldiers and planters who held the slave colony. A chivalrous outlaw who never harmed a woman or child, he was finally ambushed and killed by a Maroon bounty hunter who pickled his head and three fingered hand in rum and took them to Spanish Town to claim his reward. In his lifetime he was the subject of many songs, stories and even a London play.

In dry weather, the YALLAHS RIVER is little more than a haphazard trickle in a wide, boulder strewn gully. In rainy seasons it becomes a raging torrent and when this makes the main road fording impassable motorists must detour L up towards a bridge below the village of Easington. Three miles above here, at Mount Sinai, a plaque tells the story of JUDGEMENT CLIFF where a huge landslip occurred in 1692 during an earthquake. The mountain fell into the river burying an entire plantation and the owner who, legend insists, was extraordinarily evil. The face of Judgement Cliff, 1,000 feet high is visible across the river, but covered now in vegetation.

You can return to the coast road at POOR MANS CORNER by crossing the river below Easington where two stone towers beside the iron bridge are all that is left of the suspension bridge erected in 1826.

The fertile Yallahs river valley stretches 22 miles up into the Blue Mountains. Above LLANDEWEY the Yallahs Pipeline taps the Yallahs and Negro rivers to supply water to Kingston. Deforestation, causing unpredictable river flows and flooding have made the multi-million project less productive than anticipated and small farmers in the valley complain that the scheme impacts their water supply.

If you skip this detour and cross the Yallahs fording on the main road you may be struck by the dry, dusty moonscape of the river mouth. Sometimes the fording itself is destroyed by the floods and you must pick your way through the riverbed in the wake of more adventurous motorists. Beyond the crossroads village of Yallahs are the Salt Ponds: two huge shallow pans of briny water separated from the sea by narrow spits of land. The legend is that two brothers quarrelled so fiercely over their inheritance that the land in question sank below sea-level. The ponds sometimes have a bright red colour caused by bacteria that thrive during times of drought. The big pond has a maximum depth of 14 feet and is 10 times saltier than the ocean. The smaller pond has a maximum depth of 4 feet, is less saline than the ocean on the surface, but of equal salinity three feet below.

A seventeenth century owner claimed that the ponds yielded 10,000 bushels of salt annually. On occasion, they also emitted an overpowering stench. This was so bad in October 1902 that it affected Kingston and prompted investigations. It was discovered that the smell was caused by a high concentration of hydrogen sulphide in the big pond which was manufactured by a specie of bacteria which multiplies in rain water. Channels were dug to connect this pond to the smaller one and to the sea and the problem has not recurred. Few fish can tolerate the unusual conditions in the ponds but the water teems with micro-organisms that fascinate scientists. Among these are certain archae-bacteria which were among the first form of life on earth. Currently a UWI pilot project is producing Artemia (microscopic brine shrimp) in the ponds. They can be used as food for aquarium fish. The local people collect rock salt from the shores of the ponds during the dry months of February through April. A rough road leads from the village 2.6 miles along the outer edge of the small pond. From here it is a long walk along the beach to an old signal tower, built in the late 1770s when Port Royal was an important naval base.

At PROSPECT PEN, just beyond the small pond and L of the main road is the JAMINTEL EARTH STATION which is linked to the Intelsat satellite, and through it to the rest of the world. The large dish antenna has been operating since 1971. It is a standard A type Intelsat station, is 30 metres in diameter, weighs 326 tons, and can function in winds up to 55 miles per hour. In the event of hurricanes it can be pointed to Zenith and locked and is designed to withstand winds up to 200 miles per hour in this position. It provides telephone/fax, telex, telegraph and television links and has the capacity for 960 circuits. The smaller dish, 12 metres in diameter, now serves as a standby. The station also has its own standby power plant. The road up to the earth station provides a panoramic view of the coast and Salt ponds. You will pass a blunt tower of stone, an eighteenth century kiln in which limestone was burnt to produce lime for building.

Back on the main road, about a mile from here and just beyond a cutting, turn R and follow the old road to a deserted shingle beach on the outer edge of the Salt Ponds. Like many beaches and all riverbeds in St Thomas it has some interesting stones: multicoloured and jewel bright when wet. A short distance from here at a district known as GREENWALL cliffs plunge to the sea and the water swirls over and around flat topped monoliths: a stunning view but not if you are afraid of heights. The approach to this view is opposite a small white concrete house with HOMEBOYS painted on the wall. This is current dancehall slang to describe an extremely fashionable, smart, successful and desirable man.

L. of a crossroads and less than a quarter mile from there is a small building and signs advertising RANZA ACCOUNTING SERVICES and employment agency. If it is a weekend, ask for Joe Corniffe, a practitioner of Alternative Tourism and very knowledgeable about camping facilities, bed and breakfast lodgings, local beaches and hikes, etc.

The beach at ROZELLE is eroded and somewhat dilapidated. A waterfall gushes onto the main road providing an open air shower bath for all. The Ethiopian Coptic Church owns a large estate nearby at WHITE HORSES. Development here stopped with the imprisonment in Miami of American Coptic leaders including the flamboyant Brother Louv. The sect claims that the smoking of marijuana is an aid to meditation, an integral part of their sacrament and their constitutional right. The U.S. government claimed that the church was a cover for drug trafficking. There was a Coptic temple on the farm and also a complex of ancient mule and water mills. The place is now deserted. Roadside vendors in White Horses offer Honey, Irish Moss, ackees, naseberries and mangoes for sale. The village perches on a blunt promontory above chalky cliffs visible from miles away.

The Bustamante Bridge, the longest in the island, crosses the wide stony channel of the MORANT RIVER. On the outskirts of MORANT BAY is the Goodyear tyre factory. Their large sports ground borders the main road providing the chance to see football or cricket in season as you drive by.

MORANT BAY, was the scene of the Morant Bay Rebellion. In the year 1865 drought, poor crops, irregular employment and low wages had reduced the labouring class to abject poverty and their suffering was exacerbated by the harshness of the planters and magistrates. The flashpoint of their bloody protest was the unfair arrest of a poor man the day before. Paul Bogle, a farmer and Baptist preacher, led a march from the village of STONY GUT to the Morant Bay Courthouse where he confronted the Custos and other officials. The encounter became stormy, the militia fired upon the crowd and in the ensuing riot 28 persons were killed including the unpopular Custos. Bogle's men burnt down the Courthouse and freed prisoners before retreating. Rioting spread over the countryside. The governor called out the troops. Retribution was swift and terrible. George William Gordon, a coloured ex-member of the House of Assembly and champion of the poor, was arrested in Kingston and brought by boat to Morant Bay where he was tried and executed along with Bogle and 600 other persons. One thousand huts were burned and thousands of men and women flogged.

Next year, a Royal Commission found that the disturbances had their origin in a planned resistance to lawful authority but punishment was excessive, punishment by death unnecessarily frequent, floggings reckless and at Bath, positively barbarous. Today both Bogle and Gordon are considered martyrs for justice and liberty and have been made Jamaican National Heroes.

The broad main street outside the Morant Bay Courthouse forms a mini town square over which the powerful figure of Paul Bogle looms. The bronze statue is the work of the Hon. Edna Manley, wife and mother, respectively, of Norman Manley and Michael Manley. During the week the courthouse is busy with litigants, while friends and relatives sit on a shady wall below. To the west is Christ Church, a photogenic red brick Anglican Church, part of it dating from the seventeenth century. To the east is a railed memorial commemorating those who died in the World War I.

The courthouse was rebuilt shortly after the rebellion and now houses the local government offices. Behind these the MORANT BAY FORT dating from 1758 still has three large cannons on elaborate cast-iron carriages. Excavations behind the courthouse in 1965 unearthed the skeletons of 78 victims of summary justice. These were re-interred in a mass grave below the embrasure of the fort and a memorial erected: In remembrance of Paul Bogle, George William Gordon and the 437 Jamaican martyrs of October 1865 who fell because they loved Freedom. In gratitude from the generations who now witness that they did not die in vain . The tiny park is reasonably well kept and cooled by the sea breeze.

Exit north via George St and East Queen St to the hairpin bend onto Hope Road where you will find Caravan Jerk Pork, reputed to be excellent. This highly spiced Maroon dish complemented with hard dough bread makes a hearty and sustaining travellers lunch.

MORANT BAY VILLAS in a landscaped garden overlooking the ocean has rooms and self catering suites, a large clean restaurant and bar, airy dining room with good food and reasonable prices.

Leaving town via Wharf Road you find R Chef Restaurant which serves good local food at reasonable prices in clean surroundings.

L. of the road is the PRINCESS MARGARET HOSPITAL, opened by the Queen's lively younger sister in long by-gone days.

LYSSONS public beach provides good swimming but the facilities are in sad disrepair. Beside it is a beach cottage owned by the University of the West Indies.

As you leave Lyssons, opposite the Forever Supermarket a sign points R to GOLDEN SHORE BEACH HOTEL, a nice surprise. This has a variety of tastefully appointed rooms, a simple restaurant (you can watch your food being cooked) and its own long beach with sand that, in certain lights and after a few drinks could well look golden.

Back on the main road at RETREAT an interestingly named hostelry is GOLDFINGER s a very substantial concrete villa with a sign inviting you to Step inside and check it out. There are also several cottages along the PROSPECT and RETREAT beaches that can be rented.

PORT MORANT perches on a deep, wide inlet fringed by fishing beaches and swamp with a village that stretches inland. From the eastern approach you can see the remains of the old United Fruit Co. wharf at BOWDEN, disused for many years. Beside it is a new private marina built by the owners of the local Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise. This is the site of an annual Marlin Tournament and other boating activities. Beyond here, at Old Pera a new wharf is under construction and scheduled to export gypsum and bananas in the near future. Near the head of the bay, oysters are being grown on bamboo rafts. Among the bars along the swampy seaside road is the TOTAL EXPERIENCE CORNER belonging to genial fisherman and ex-policeman Silbert Harrison.

Along the road to Bowden wharf there is a fossiliferous rockface containing mollusc fossils that are three million years old. This is the most publicized fossil bed in the island but not the most interesting. Fossil beds in Clarendon and St James have fossils up to 60 million years old. The road to OLD PERA is bad but if you are feeling adventurous you can pursue it and discover beyond the canefields an entrancing but lonely shoreline protected by a necklace of rocky cays. East of the village on a slight hill is a ruined windmill built in 1780, a legacy of King Sugar.

Rejoin the main road to Port Antonio and drive towards GOLDEN GROVE between plantings of coconuts and bananas. Just before the village of STOKES HALL turn R and proceed a short distance along an unpaved road to the remains of STOKES HALL known locally as Great House. This impressive ruin may be the oldest structure in Jamaica and was built in the latter half of the seventeenth century. In 1656 old Luke Stokes, Governor of Nevis, obediently heeded Cromwell s call to populate the newest British colony and migrated to Jamaica bringing all his family and 1,000 settlers. Within a few months Stokes, his wife and two thirds of the immigrants fell sick and died, but his three young sons, all under the age of fifteen, survived and eventually prospered. One of them built Stokes Hall. It was as much a fort as a dwelling with towering thick walls punctuated with loopholes through which shotguns could be fired. The ruin is set on the crest of a hill and surrounded by dense cultivations which obscure the fine view north to the mountains and south west across the plain to the cane fields and factory of Duckenfield.

To the extreme west below Holland Bay is the MORANT POINT LIGHTHOUSE fashioned in London in 1841 from a cast iron tube 100 feet high. It is of considerable interest to historians of industrial technology but proceed with the utmost care if you decide to visit here the road is unreliable and the terrain swampy.

Turn north and drive through banana fields with fruit swathed in blue plastic on your way to BATH FOUNTAIN & MINERAL SPA. (Eastern Banana Co. Ltd., a partnership between the government and Jamaica Banana Producers Ltd, has 2319 acres under hi-tech banana cultivation. After a lot of teething pains, arising from experimental tissue-culture planting material supplied by United Fruit Co. Ltd., not to mention Hurricane Gilbert, Eastern Banana has established itself as the largest exporter of bananas on the island.)

Bath spa is well worth a visit. Legend agrees that the miraculous springs were discovered by a slave but there is argument as to whether he was a leper or a runaway with an ulcer on his leg. In any event the waters wrought a complete cure and soon afterwards people started flocking to the Bath of St Thomas the Apostle, seeking relief from numerous ailments including bellyache and venereal disease, all capillary obstructions and diseases of the breast proceeding from weakness or want of proper glandular secretions . . . consumption and nervous spasms . . . not to mention . . . rheumatism and depraved appetite.

By 1699 the government had appointed a board to oversee the administration of the baths for the sick and infirm. Accommodation was built near the springs and 30 slaves purchased to maintain the road and cultivate vegetables for the inmates. The town developed and a hospital was built. It had baths and a resident doctor who was required to treat poor people free. Subsequently the guest house at Bath became a popular resort. Some of the fashionable patrons even claimed that the waters were intoxicating while others judiciously mixed them with rum and lime (just in case they were not). Unfortunately factions developed in the smart set, political quarrels disrupted the atmosphere at Bath, patronage declined and the place fell into disrepair. Since then the guest house has experienced many ups and downs. Currently it is operated by the Ministry of Tourism under the management of cheerful Mrs Shirley Jones. The small hotel upstairs the baths is clean and spacious, has a large dining room, balcony overlooking the river and a friendly ghost or ghosts, known as duppies in Jamaica. (Doors slam, footsteps patter, the smell of a strong cigar sometimes wafts through the rooms although there is no one in sight, and the strong smell of coffee has been known to issue from the empty kitchen.)

The tiled baths big enough for two are fed with hot and cold taps from two different springs. The after effect is a feeling of complete relaxation. The waters are said to be especially good for arthritis and skin problems. The baths are open to hotel guests 24 hours and to the public during the day. Many guests take a brief hike upstream to splash in open air mineral springs, and there is one just five minutes away where the hot water gushes from a rock.

To find the spa, drive to the centre of the mini-town, turn R opposite the Botanical Gardens and travel a short distance up a winding mountain road.

The BATH BOTANICAL GARDENS, established in 1779, were the first in Jamaica. A nursery here provided the first plant of several imported species including breadfruit, otaheite apple, cinnamon and croton.

The hills above Bath are the natural habitat of HOMERUS PAPILLIO, the giant Swallowtail Butterfly indigenous to Jamaica and now threatened with extinction. There is fine for capturing this butterfly. A UWI project aimed at conserving the butterflies dwindling habitat and a possible captive breeding program is headed by etymologist Dr Eric Garroway.

Return to Morant Bay (just 6.5 miles away) by crossing the Plantain Garden river, the longest in St Thomas. The bank below the bridge is a popular place for baptisms. A detour from Morant Bay into a broad and fertile valley will take you past Serge Island, a large dairy farm with milk processing plant and into the foothills of the Blue Mountains, where a hiking trail to the Peak begins at Cedar Valley.

Returning to Kingston along the coast road you can turn R at Eleven Miles for a rugged detour via NEWSTEAD and CANE RIVER to PAPINE. The CANE RIVER FALLS a favourite haunt of the legendary Three Fingered Jack occur in a deep rocky chasm. To view them you must leave your car, clamber under the bridge and proceed downstream for a short distance.

This route provides an unusual view of the city with a spectrum of buildings from the shabby houses of AUGUST TOWN through the UWI campus to the elegant residences on JACK'S HILL and SKYLINE DRIVE.

AUGUST TOWN was the headquarters of Prophet Bedward. He started his career as a cult leader who effected miraculous cures by dipping people in the nearby Hope River. Bedward, famous in the early 1900s, was a charismatic preacher who collected a huge islandwide following. He was at first ignored, then abhorred by the establishment, and ridiculed by some who immortalized him in the folk song Slide Mongoose. One verse: Mongoose go eena Bedward kitchen; Tief out one of him righteous chicken refers to a Don Juan who lured away one of the prophet s supposedly virginal followers. Bedward announced the date and time that the world would end and a large crowd of believers gathered at August Town confidently expecting to be gathered to heaven with him. They waited in vain. On a subsequent occasion he announced that he would fly to heaven and attempted to do so but fell out of a tree and broke his leg. He died in Bellevue, the mental asylum, deserted by all but a few faithful women who keep the faith until this day.

On the edge of the UWI complex is a CHESHIRE VILLAGE designed to accommodate handicapped persons and facilitate their leading a normal life. After World War II several of these villages were established worldwide through the efforts of British War Hero the late Leonard Cheshire. Several of the villagers are employed at the nearby Polio Rehabilitation workshop where fine craft items are produced.

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