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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

Leave Port Antonio by West Palm Avenue, bordered by a few remaining Royal Palms. On your R is BOUNDBROOK wharf, the inspiration for Harry Belafonte's Banana Boat Song. Today, however, there are no stevedores working all night on a drink of rum or waiting for the Tallyman to tally their bananas. The loading of the fruit is mechanized. NORWICH is almost a suburb of Port Antonio. SNOW HILL was a Quaker settlement whose name may derive from the chalk white cliffs above the beach.

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 soldiers.

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 roads.

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 the fruit.

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 for export.

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 estate.

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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