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TOURS - The Maroons | Reach Falls | Annotto Bay
Tour 19 - West to Annotto Bay and via Junction to Kingston
Excerpted from the book, Tour Jamaica, by Margaret Morris
R of the main road the PASSLEY GARDENS TEACHER TRAINING
COLLEGE, trains Primary School teachers. The buildings were designed
to evoke the layout of a rural village and won the Governor Generalís
Award for architecture. They are complemented by extensive gardens. A pleasant
place. Visitors welcome.
Next R at PASSLEY GARDENS, the COLLEGE
OF AGRICULTURE can be toured by appointment. (Telephone 993-3324/6-8)The
college, a relatively new concept for the Caribbean offers a 2 year course
culminating in an associate degree in agriculture. Current President is
Dr. James McKenzie. The campus and farm occupy 600 acres encircling a low
hill crowned by a cut stone great house built circa 1840. The house can
be rented by visitors. It has five bedrooms, catering facilities, and a
terrace overlooking the coast.
The curriculum of the College includes much practical farming and you
are likely to meet students and lecturers in water boots and carrying machetes
on their way to the field. Livestock includes sheep and goats, pigs, poultry
and a dairy herd of Jamaica Hope (a dairy breed developed by Dr. Thomas
Lecky by crossing Zebu cattle with Guernsey and Jersey). There are pimento
and lime groves and cultivations of bananas, plantain and vegetables. An
interesting project is an organic coffee plot, the brainchild of Dr. John
Lamey. No chemicals are used. Pimento leaves used as mulch discourage pests
and water grass grown beneath the trees keeps weeds at bay and replenishes
the soil with nitrogen. The project is especially appropriate for Portland
where widespread coffee cultivation in the hills is causing erosion and
chemical pollution of streams and rivers.
In the pipeline is a project to create a living 'museum' of plants that
are now seldom grown or threatened with extinction in Jamaica - for example
Annotto, nutmeg, and many types of breadfruit.
The Passley Gardens estate has 2 miles of seafrontage. Offshore of an
old Spanish fort (now converted into the dwelling of a lecturer) is SHIPROCK, a treacherous reef that has caused numerous
shipwrecks. The college of Agriculture was generously funded by U.S.AID.
Just beyond here, on a hill L of the road RIO VISTA
RESORT has a fine view of the lower Rio Grande. Self-catering
apartments in the 10 acre garden overlook the sea, and double rooms and
meals are available in the main house overlooking the river.
RIO GRANDE RAFTERS REST, left of the river
mouth is the terminus for the rafting trip. It has clean washrooms, a well-stocked
gift shop and pleasant open air restaurant with food prepared and served
with Trident flair but at more moderate prices. A curve of shingle beach
east of the river's mouth has smooth, multi-colored mountain river stones.
The iron bridge over the Rio Grande, 500 feet long, was built in 1891
at a cost of 18,000 pounds sterling and replaced one mile of road and a
fording. It was opened by the then Governor Sir Henry Arthur Blake.
The road and railway track at ST. MARGARET'S BAY
was destroyed by hurricane Allen in 1980 and trains stopped coming to Port
Antonio 10 years before the recent islandwide closure of the Jamaican Government
Railway. Concrete groins have been built in an attempt to protect the shoreline
from further erosion.
KEN JONES AIRPORT R of the main road and
at right angles to a long black sand beach, was named for a former Minister
of Works and son of Portland. It can accommodate light planes but perennial
plans to upgrade it to international status remain on hold. Recently installed
lights make it officially possible to land there after dark, but marijuana
flights have been doing so for years, hence the frequent presence of JDF
Bottlebrush and Red Ginger announce L of the road SOMERSET
FALLS. Here the Daniels River cascades through rain forest and
the natural garden is embellished with plantings of crotons, heliconias,
wild bananas and torch lilies. Trees festooned with moss, ferns and creepers
arch over head as you climb beside cataracts for a plunge in the 'Cool Pool'
or further up to take a small boat for the brief ride to the Hidden Falls
where you may swim or plunge from a high rock that doubles as a diving board.
There are rest rooms and a refreshment counter. Friendly tour guides include
Judith Cassie and Donovan Shakespeare and the only visual flaw is the plastic
piping leading water to the ponds of the adjacent fish farm.
HOPE BAY is a large fishing village with
a derelict railway station in a coconut grove where the waiting room has
been labeled Sylvia Drive Inn Bar and displays a warning sign "Mr.
Trust Dead. Bad Payment no kill him?" (Translation: No Credit!).
In the centre of the village opposite the Police Station turn L up the
COOLING SPRING road towards CONTENT
to find the mountain retreat of SISTER P, who
was once a fashion executive in New York, and is now a nature worshipper.
Drive about one mile to Cashew Ridge and take the left fork of a very bad
road towards Content. Continue, less than a mile, asking directions from
any one you meet. Park and climb the wooded hill on your L It is tough going,
but worth the effort. Sis. P. lives right at the top with a 360 degree view
of mountains, sea and more mountains. She can provide a unique all inclusive
nature holiday with herbal teas and meals prepared from her own organic
garden. Half-hidden in the trees are three tiny rustic cottages: two overlook
the Blue Mountains, one overlooks the sea. Amenities include rainwater from
drums and outhouses. Campsites are also available. Hiking and river swimming
can be arranged.
The road crosses the SWIFT RIVER. This valley,
stretching back towards the mountains, is one of the most fertile areas
in Jamaica. Main crops are coffee and cocoa. You twist and turn through
plantings of coconuts and bananas to BLACKHILL,
site of a prehistoric volcanic eruption, and back to the coast at ORANGE BAY, another fishing village with a fairly healthy
reef, good for snorkelling.
Across the SPANISH RIVER is SPRING
GARDEN, one of the earliest sugar plantations on the north coast.
A colourful former proprietor, William Bancroft Espeut, established the
first railway here in 1868 to transport his cane from field to factory.
In an attempt to control rats in the canefields, he introduced the mongoose
- a small carnivore also partial to eggs. Five mongooses imported from India
thrived and multiplied. Espeut sold the progeny to other farmers; thus 'Sonny
Espeut' became the pseudonym for mongoose. In the wild, the mongoose exterminated
indigenous snakes, iguanas and conies - all of them now endangered species
in the island. The mongoose also preys on birds and domestic poultry and
is now regarded as a pest - illustrating the danger of upsetting the ecological
balance with introduced species. They resemble ferrets: small and brown
with short fur and long tails and can often be seen scurrying across the
Spring Garden, now owned by Mr. Joseph White is the site of NATURE'S WAY, R of the road.
Camping, canoeing, fishing, river swimming and snorkelling are available
here and a restaurant and other facilities are in the pipeline.
A short distance further on a sign points the way to CRYSTAL
SPRING. Turn L off the coast road and follow the signs to Crystal
Spring, a working farm, botanical garden, bird sanctuary, restaurant and
eco-tourist haven around a pristine mountain stream. Owned and operated
by Jack and Pauline Stewart it features a water-wheel designed and built
by Jack, currently a consultant to the UWI on sustainable development. Pools
have been created to raise St Peters Fish for the restaurant and Japanese
Koi. Near the streamfed swimming pool in a secluded garden, birdwatchers
can see close at hand, dozens of quits and doves and every variety of humming
bird swarming the feeders. At the foot of the hill some exotic birds are
on show in cages. On the hill above the garden are campsites and cottages
for rent. One is furnished with Jamaican antiques, others, patterned after
traditional country cottages are wallpapered with old newspapers - interesting
reading. This place is very popular with Jamaicans, Kingston firms rent
it for fun days for their staff and there are occasional open air music
shows - no Jamaican believes he can be having fun unless he is listening
to Reggae or Dancehall. This is another aspect of Jamaican culture that
eco-tourists may find interesting, but if it is peace and nature you are
after, don't visit on these weekends.)
One mile from Buff Bay Kildare estate was the United Fruit Company's
largest banana plantation until Panama Disease decimated cultivations in
the 1920s. Subsequently, Kildare was bought by the government and became
one of the earliest land settlement schemes for small farmers. The hills
north of here are another site of the coffee expansion schemes that are
inexorably destroying the mountain forests, aggravating erosion and polluting
rivers and streams throughout the Blue Mountains. Despite the protests of
environmentalists and foresters, the government is committed to increasing
the acreage under Blue Mountain Coffee by 10,000 acres and has received
large soft loans from the government of Japan for a development scheme around
Clavery Cottage. So far, protests from PEPA and other environmental activists
have not persuaded the government owned Coffee Industry Development Corporation
to reassess its methods.
BUFF BAY was the nineteenth century capital
of an erstwhile parish called St. Georges, now swallowed by Portland and
St. Mary. It had its own vestry, courthouse and parish church and is one
of the best laid out towns in rural Jamaica. It is currently the town centre
for hundreds of banana and coffee farmers in the Spanish River and Buff
Bay River valleys. Like most small towns in Jamaica it is well supplied
with bars and churches having at least 15 of the former and 17 of the latter.
One very photogenic church is the Anglican church on the main road. Opposite
this on your L is the PACESETTERS cafeteria
run by Mrs. Pet Brown and Mr. Earle Brown. Open 8 a.m. to 2 a.m., it offers
snacks, meals, excellent pastries, natural juices and the best (and cheapest)
cup of Blue Mountain Coffee you are likely to get anywhere. Added bonuses
are clean rest rooms, and a chance to meet and talk to members of the community.
The fork L in the town centre takes you to Holywell and Newcastle through
the Buff Bay river valley. This is a chameleon route: scenic even during
drought it is magically transformed when rains give birth to myriad ephemeral
waterfalls gushing from the hillsides and, sad to say, quite a few landslides.
ANNOTTO BAY is heralded by a disused railway
crossing with vendors offering 'janga' (mountain shrimp), Irish Moss, and
motor oil. The town straggles along the coast, a sleepy, grubby place but
not without charm and interest with its seaside market, old Court House
and along the main street the imaginative Baptist Chapel built in 1894.
The St. James Anglican Church is reached by a bridge over the railway line.
In its graveyard some elaborate tombs of the Pringles and their attorney
('A good and faithful servant') recall the heyday of the banana barons.
An erstwhile Tourist Rest Stop along the coast road was closed when we went
to press. During the transient banana boom of the early 1900s, Annotto Bay
was a busy place, exporting fruit from all the surrounding estates. In more
recent times the town's economy was dependent on an ailing sugar industry
and Gray's Inn sugar factory used to process cane from many small farms.
The factory, owned by the government and heavily subsidized finally closed
in 1985. The discontinuation of the rail route after hurricane Allen in
1980 has increased the town's stagnation. Nowadays, bananas are making a
comeback. The Jamaica Producers Co. and its subsidiary the St. Mary Banana
Co. have a large and expanding banana farm on former cane land, a high tech
operation with drip irrigation and cableways to support the trees and reap
Southwest of Annotto Bay the ruins of Agualta Vale great house overlook
the narrow coastal plain. It was built in 1907 by Sir John Pringle, a canny
Scots physician who came to the island as supervisor of the lunatic asylum
in Kingston and later made a fortune by buying up derelict sugar plantations
and planting bananas. His family became leading members of the Jamaican
plantocracy and produced a most successful Director of Tourism, John Pringle,
now resident in England and promoting the marketing of Jamaican Bananas
there. Agualta Vale, is owned by Jamaica Banana Producers Ltd, a company
founded by Jamaicans in 1930 to challenge the United Fruit Company's monopoly
in the banana trade. They have diversified into other crops: coconuts, ground
provisions and citrus, and more recently mangoes. During reaping season
it is possible to purchase reject mangoes from a shop at the Sports Club.
These large, robust Tommy Atkins mangoes were developed locally as suitable
Bear left for the JUNCTION road - the most
popular route between Port Antonio and Kingston. The road follows the Wag
Water valley crossing the river several times. The Arawak name for the river
Guayguata mutated under the Spaniard to Rio de Agua Alta and under the British
to Wag Water. The level of pollution in this river is evident from the amount
of bright green algae visible in it. Fish kills have also been reported.
The cause, as yet unproved is believed to be chemical runoff from coffee,
banana and other cultivations throughout the valley.
The road is winding but the surface usually in fair condition. The hills
tower on either side, their cover of grass and feathery bamboo broken occasionally
by massive outcrops of black rock. Roadside stalls offer fruit, vegetables
and fresh crayfish.
At BROADGATE a suspension bridge leads across
the river to the district of MAHOE HILL with
a primary school part funded by U.S. AID.
In rainy seasons a high waterfall spouts from a black outcrop halfway
up the mountain. A few miles further on at FRIENDSHIP GAP,
look for a pub on your L advertising Oriental Fried Chicken. It is excellent.
CASTLETON GARDENS midway on your journey
is a relaxing stop. The main road bisects 15 acres of gardens filled with
a fascinating variety of foreign, naturalized, and native plants including
35 varieties of palms, exotic fruits like the African Velvet Apple, rose-apples,
flowering and fragrant shrubs and huge tree ferns. Shady trees and grassy
slopes tempt you to picnic, the gardens slope down to the Wag Water river
where you can wade between smooth waterworn boulders. An interesting riverside
plant, Job's Tears, bears silvery seeds that are strung into bead necklaces.
Castleton Gardens were established in 1862 by a landscape artist who served
his apprenticeship at England's famous Kew Gardens.
From Castleton, at an elevation of 500 feet the road climbs to TEMPLE HALL, a small coffee
In GOLDEN SPRING flowers and foliage thrive in the cool moist climate and there are several export horticultural projects. From STONY HILL village, a suburb of Kingston, you descend via Long Lane to Kingston, emerging at Manor Park plaza and Constant Spring.
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