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TOURS - Discovery Bay | St. Mary
Tour 16 - Exploring St Mary
Excerpted from the book, Tour Jamaica, by Margaret Morris
At the next opportunity, turn R for Wilderness Resort about 10 miles
into the hills. Travel L of the White River gorge, taking the L fork through
Cascade to Labarinth and then the R fork towards the next crossroads and
"Miss Miri's" shop where you turn R to Goshen and Wilderness Resort
a broad valley with large fish ponds where a small entrance fee covers bait
and tackle and even, if needs be, someone to bait the hook for you. Here
you can fish to your hearts content, then buy your catch of freshwater snapper
and have it cooked. You can try kayaking or paddle boats on another large
pond. Or walk a nature trail. There are restrooms and a restaurant and campsites.
Goshen is the remnant of a large estate that once stretched from Mt Diablo
to the coast, and the water for the fishponds comes from the White River
via a slave-built stone aqueduct. Owners Alex and Fay Lanigan are usually
on hand to greet you. This attraction is very popular with Jamaicans, especially
R. of the coast road is Harmony Hall (art gallery, craft shop and a good
pub). Sea Palms, and Chris Anns are condo hotels; Glenn's Place, R, has
good food and jazz. Next is Couples, which in a previous incarnation was
called Tower Isle. Created 40 years ago by the patriarch of Jamaica's tourism,
the late Hon. Abe Issa, it was the first large hotel on the north coast.
The tower on the small island offshore was built to make the name appropriate.
In 1979 Abe's nephew John Issa jettisoned its somewhat staid concept in
favour of a new all-inclusive couples-only format. The highly successful
formula has been copied, and elaborated by others but Couples remains one
of the most popular resorts in the Caribbean. No longer a member of John's
Super Clubs chain, it is now marketed and managed by his nephew Christopher
Issa and Paul Issa, youngest son of Abe.
Just past Couples, look carefully on your R for the insignificant hut
of Rastafarian sculptor Brother Albert Jones and a sign tacked to a post
which advises, "Mankind Remember God help those who help themselves."A
consummate carver, he specializes in intricate pieces fashioned from cedar
and mahogany roots. Across the road Irie Ceramics is a partnership of four
At Rio Nuevo, a road L leads down to the battle site where the remnants
of the Spanish forces led by the governor Don Cristobal Ysassi were defeated.
The site is well tended, shaded with pimento (allspice) trees and has a
fine view of Rio Nuevo Bay and fishing beach. The site, open from 9am to
4pm, 7 days a week, is a pleasant place for a picnic. British guile may
have played a decisive part in their victory. Their force sailed around
from Port Royal and landed on the other side of the river. The weary River
Spaniards were encamped on the hill. The British sent an envoy waving a
white flag ostensibly to negotiate terms but in fact to assess the strength
of the Spaniards. Satisfied that theirs was the superior army, the British
subsequently stormed the hill and routed the Spaniards, many of whom fled
to Cuba by canoe. Ysassi is believed to have left from Don Christopher's
Point east of Robins Bay and Annotto Bay.
The Rio Nuevo is little more than a stream in dry season. The fisherman's
beach can be reached by turning L just before the bridge a bad road but
short. The beach is made of smooth- weathered multi-coloured stones. Fisherman
Morgie Adams sells cool drinks and snacks. Boats can be hired here for fishing
or snorkelling. Prices negotiable. There are sandy coves under the headland
to the west. On a hill just above the beach the Rio Nuevo Great house offers
Continue east to Stewart Town, a nondescript village whose only claim
to fame Moxon's Restaurant - has seen much better days. Moxon's, when operated
by a transplanted English couple, Oliver and Benita Moxon, was a gourmet
mecca that lured V.I.P. visitors from near and far. The late Oliver Moxon,
a former JLP parish Councillor also started numerous community projects,
including a flooring industry using tiles made from the thousands of coconut
trees killed during the 1950s by a mysterious disease called Lethal Yellowing.
The Boscobel Beach Club is an up-market all-inclusive with special facilities
and programs for entertaining children of all ages. Once a Hugh Hefner Playboy
Club it was refurbished, expanded and lavishly landscaped to create a successful
member of John Issa's Super Clubs chain.
On a plateau R of the road is the Boscobel landing strip for light aircraft.
This one is official. There are still numerous private and illegal airstrips
on the island catering to ganja flights. Periodically they are destroyed
by the army and just as routinely repaired.
The road descends as you enter Oracabessa. At a triangular junction usually
occupied by fruit sellers, commuters and school kids turn R towards Sun
Valley Plantation and into the pleasant world of rural Jamaica where the
roads are bad, the foliage lush and the people friendly. Signs will direct
you L to Noel Coward's Firefly and to Brimmer Hall Plantation, a tour popular
with cruise-ship passengers. At Jacks River ask for Mrs Gloria Davis. A
potter in love with her craft, she fashions custom-made clay pots in a tumbledown
shed, and fires them with wood - for fun rather than profit. Further on,
the Jacks River Basic School L swarms with tots in gingham and khaki uniforms
and a parent has painted a scenic mural on the outside of the school house.
Past the village at a fork in the road with a bus shelter on the R follow
the ìSun Valleyî sign straight ahead for another mile to a
60 acre banana plantation owned by Nolly and Lorna Binns and enjoy a ëhands-on'
introduction to banana cultivation, from planting to packing. You will also
see - and sample in season - everything else that grows on the farm: citrus,
cane, naseberry, otaheite apple, guava, nutmeg, coconut water and jelly.
Local snacks and fruit juices are complimentary and there is garden bar.
Tours are often conducted by Lorna , a lady who personifies traditional
Jamaican hospitality. The farm is part of Crescent, a sugar estate established
in 1741. At a spot still known as "The Factory" there are ruins
of the mill, waterwheel and slave barracks and a Guango Tree said to be
three hundred years old. Optional extras are horseback riding and climbing
the soft falls in the Crescent river.
Retrace your route to the coast and Oracabbessa. Fifty years ago, when
ships anchored offshore and were loaded by lighters this was a booming banana
port. Today it is a sadly neglected one street town where almost all traces
of wazzu elegant Victorian buildings have been obliterated by crude repairs
and alterations. During the 1970s, millions were spent on a project to build
a deep water pier. The harbour was dredged and the foreshore dumped before
the project was abruptly abandoned. Towns-people say that the government
planners discovered, belatedly, that the prevailing wind made the site chosen
for the pier unsuitable.
To date, Oracabessa's considerable tourism potential remains untapped.
The Goldenhead Hotel, on the beach beside the river has had a chequered
and mostly unsuccessful career. It is once again up and running, financed
by Neville Blythe, a local insurance mogul and owner of the Jamaica Herald
newspaper. Currently, entrepreneur and music promoter Chris Blackwell has
plans for a multifaceted tourism village on idle government lands along
the foreshore and adjacent to his oceanfront property Goldeneye. This was
formerly the winter retreat of British author Ian Fleming, creator of masterspy
James Bond, and most of the novels were written here. Fleming got the name
for his flamboyant hero from what he called ìone of his Jamaican
biblesî - Birds of Jamaica by ornithologist James Bond.
One of Oracabessa's most interesting residents is artist Richard Von
White, grandson of W.E.White a self-made man, baker, planter and Oracabessa's
leading citizen in the early 1900s. Von's brilliantly hued, evocative canvasses
reflect the tropical flora that is the source of his inspiration. He spends
two days per week as resident artist at Boscobel Beach Club and paints at
home the rest of the time.
His airy wooden house overlooks the sea and art-collectors are always
welcome. Turn left after the police station, first house on your left.
Towards Port Maria you pass the Galina lighthouse L and the spot where
the Misses Parsons, retired school teachers, were drowned in hurricane Allen
in 1980 when they elected to stay in their cliffside home with their pet
dogs. The house was comp-letely destroyed by an unprecedented storm surge.
Approaching Port Maria bay turn R at the sign and proceed carefully up
an unpredictable road to Firefly, once the home of Noel Coward, British
playwright and wit. He died here and is buried at the bottom of the garden
under a plain marble slab an eternal "Room with a View" over the
sweeping vista of Port Maria Bay and Cabaritta island. Coward's heirs gave
the property to the nation. Ill-kept for years, Firefly is now leased to
Chris Blackwell who has restored and refurbished it, and created a Coward
museum complete with video presentation, theatrical memorabilia and some
of Coward's own paintings. Blackwell, whose mother was a close friend of
Coward's, is the music promoter who discovered Millie (My Boy Lollipop)
Small and launched Bob Marley.
Firefly, once part of Llanrumney estate had another famous owner - Sir
Henry Morgan, a buccaneer who turned ìrespectableî, became
famous for the sacking of Panama city, and ended up as Governor of Jamaica.
He claimed to be the son of a Welsh gentleman, but unkind rumour had it
that he came to the islands first as an indentured servant. A brick ruin
in the garden , said to have been his look-out, has been restored and now
as "Morgan's Kitchen" is a bar and "Tea-Room"
Just below Firefly is an Arawak site that has been partly excavated.
Owner of the land Rastafarian Errol Henry welcomes visitors. Casa Maria
L of the main road and overlooking the bay is a small hotel.
Port Maria was christened Puerta Santa Maria by the Spaniards. It has
an interesting history and great natural beauty but is currently one of
the poorest and shabbiest towns in the island, waiting, apparently without
much hope, for the revival of the banana trade or tourism development. There
is no shortage of churches: the very picturesque Anglican Parish Church
was built in 1861. By the bridge, an old Baptist church has been defaced
by modern improvements. At the other end of town an odd but imposing Presbyterian
Church was built in 1830 to christianize the slaves of Frontier, the same
estate where Tacky's rebellion had started 90 years before.
Tacky, a Coromantyn chieftain, was captured and sold into slavery. In
1860 he led a brave and bloody rebellion that terrorized the plantocracy
and government for over a month. He was shot by one of the Maroon mercenaries
impressed to fight with the militia. A monument in front of the Port Maria
courthouse commemorates Tacky's resistance against tyranny. Unlike Sam Sharp
and Queen Nanny of the Maroons Tacky was never made an official National
Hero perhaps because in planning his revolt he enlisted the aid of the obeahmen,
or witch doctors and was rumoured to be capable of catching bullets and
hurling them back at the enemy with deadly effectî a power also attributed
to the legendary Nanny. It is interesting to note that the parish of St
Mary of which Port Maria is capital, is still reputed to have the most effective
obeahmen in the island.
In the east of the town is Pagee Beach, a gentle curve of smooth sand
stretching along the water for almost a mile. The swimming is safe and the
beach usually deserted except for some friendly fishermen who relax by playing
dominoes. Boats can be hired here by negotiation, to take you fishing or
across to Cabaritta island.
En route to Annotto Bay you will pass Whitehall Estate L , its great
house crowning a hill thickly planted with coconut palms. An all-inclusive
country resort is in the making here. Further on, two interesting roadside
stalls specialize in pots made from an amalgam of aluminum and iron.
As you approach Annotto Bay and the bridge over the Wag Water river signs
will direct you L to Robins Bay - five miles of recently resurfaced road
offers unparalleled seascapes and sandy coves for swimming. You pass through
the tiny village on your way to two unique resorts.
Sonrise, owned by Bob and Kim Chase is the reincarnation of Strawberry
Fields, a former hippie haven. Now a family oriented operation, Sonrise
has spacious camping ground above a large white sand cove, spotless cabins
(with bath) include a deluxe honeymoon cabin above its own tiny cove. There
is a restaurant and bar (serving nothing stronger than Red Stripe) and a
dining pavilion perched above the ocean. Clean communal bathrooms are available
for campers and day visitors. Hiking trails take you west along an unfrequented
coast with waterfalls.
The road surface deteriorates abruptly at Sonrise but a short distance down a rough road brings you to River Lodge: a small guest house in a restored "pirate castle", probably once a sugar factory. Perched above a tiny stream River Lodge blends into the foliage: approaching over an emerald green lawn you are surprised to discover buildings six individual rooms (with bath) have high ceilings and thick stone walls. Further investigation reveals a tiny Reggae-oriented gift shop, a dining room in a thatched cabana and a bright, spotlessly clean kitchen brimming with local fruit and vegetables. Created and managed by a transplanted German, Brigitta Fuchslocher, River Lodge is popular with European nature lovers.
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