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TOURS - St. Thomas | Hills of Kingston | Spanish Town | Hellshire Hills | Port Royal
Tour 4 - To the Hellshire Hills
Excerpted from the book, Tour Jamaica, by Margaret Morris
Just 14 miles and 20 minutes from the city lie the HELLSHIRE HILLS, a huge expanse of low hills, white sand beaches, limestone caves, salt ponds, scrub and cactus, much of it still untouched despite the encroachment of housing estates. A comprehensive plan for 27,000 acres here included low, middle and upper income housing, schools, medical facilities churches, light industry and tourist resorts. The development, administered by the government Urban Development Company was launched in 1965 and has created the beginnings of a twin city. Unfortunately the vast majority of the residents work in Kingston so traffic and transportation problems were horrendous even before the launching in 1991 of the Greater Portmore scheme which aims to provide another 15,000 dwellings.
The wilder regions of the Hellshire Hills still harbour wild hogs and
it was a pig Marcus hunter who three years ago discovered by accident, that
the Jamaica Iguana still exists here. No longer classified as extinct, it
is now considered the rarest lizard in the world. A conservation project
headed by UWI naturalist Dr. Peter Vogel is underway. The undeveloped hills
are also one of the few places where another endangered species the Jamaican
Coney survives. This small nocturnal creature was hunted as food by the
Arawaks and the Maroons.
Travel to Hellshire from downtown Kingston. Turn L off Garvey Drive,
skirting the Kingston Freezone and crossing the causeway. To your R across
the Hunts Bay lagoon lies Caymanas Park Racetrack and the mouth of the Rio
Cobre at Passage Fort. This was the seaport for the ancient capital of Spanish
Town and the place where the British force landed to capture the island
in 1655. It is now the site of Jamworld entertainment centre.
Midway along the causeway there is a fishing beach to your right, and
a collection of shacks selling fresh fish. Most of the fish comes from far
outside the harbour. Periodic oil spills and pollution in the harbour and
Hunts Bay have all but destroyed the marine environment here.
After leaving the causeway, historic Fort Augusta on your L is a women
s prison which invariably harbours several pseudo tourists, convicted as
drug runners. PORTMORE sprawling in front of
you is a middle income dormitory suburb. The road to Port Henderson is lined
with restaurants, clubs and guest houses the character of which can be deduced
from names like Happy Times , Moments , La Roose etc. Jolly s is a popular
place for seafood, especially on Tuesday evenings.
The almost derelict multi-storey building looming under a small hill
is all that remains of the attempt to create a tourism resort here. It started
life as the Forum Hotel, later it became the Adventure Inn, and was finally
bought by the government who have failed to put it to any use at all.
PORT HENDERSON was a fashionable resort during
the last century and a favourite place of at least one governor s wife,
Lady Nugent. She was fond of driving here from Spanish Town before breakfast
. One of its attractions, an icy mineral spa, disappeared after a severe
hurricane. The PORT HENDERSON BEACH PARK, previously
enjoyed by racehorses from nearby stables at Caymanas racetrack has been
recently leased to a group headed by PNP politician Dr. Jepthah Ford. Refurbished
and expanded it is now a rootsy playground for city dwellers. Ask for directions
to RODNEY's LOOKOUT and the ruins of a residence
belonging to Admiral George Rodney, the naval hero who saved Jamaica from
a French invasion. Rodney's Lookout, formerly called Grasspiece Lookout,
is about a quarter of a mile beyond the ruins and affords a magnificent
view of the Kingston harbour. Getting there involves a steep hike but there
is a safe place to park your car near the JDF camp at Green Bay.
To reach Hellshire Hills, turn R beneath the low hill and then L and
L again driving behind the hill through scrub and wetland and passing R
a portion of the Greater Portmore scheme with some weird and wonderful additions
to the rather dismal basic units.
PLACES OF INTEREST IN HELLSHIRE
FORT CLARENCE BEACH: Follow the sign L of
the first roundabout. Fort Clarence is very popular with Kingstonians of
all walks of life and offers at weekends a fascinating glimpse of Jamaica
at play. It is also a frequent venue for music shows and body building contests.
In addition to sea, sand, and surf there are changing rooms, lifeguards,
security, picnic grounds, a restaurant and bar, and snack shacks where you
can sample fry fish n bammy and a local specialty called festival ( a scrumptious
fried dumpling with a trace of sugar). The name Fort Clarence derives from
a small fort on the headland nearby, another of the string of forts all
around the coast that were essential to the defence of the island during
the eighteenth century.
The shallow GREAT SALT POND south of Fort
Clarence is connected to the ocean. A favourite fishing ground of the Arawaks
it still harbours snook, calipoeva mullet, mangrove snapper, stingray, shrimp
and some alligators. The marine environment off Hellshire is already showing
signs of stress and there were fears that sewage from the huge housing development
of Greater Portmore would impact the wetlands and salt ponds and compound
pollution of the marine environment. So the developers, West Indies Home
Contractors employed UWI scientists to design an environment-friendly system
that would require little maintenance: the result is huge maturation ponds
visible on your R and constructed wetlands for final polishing of the effluent.
Their boast is that water emerging from this system is potable.
For HELLSHIRE (or the Fisherman's ) BEACH, turn L at the next roundabout and follow your
nose. A collection of shacks and parked cars will confirm that you re there.
A number of fisherfolk live here and the fish and festival served from their
rickety stalls is excellent. The boats come in from sea at about 11 am and
sell the fish right on the beach. There is safe and enjoyable swimming in
the northern part of the bay which is shallow and protected by a small reef.
Very popular with Jamaicans of all walks of life, it has a carefree, egalitarian
TWO SISTERS CAVE is worth a visit. After
the Hellshire roundabout continue L up and over the hill until you come
to a rather faded sign. The entrance to the cave is in semi-desert surroundings
overlooking Kingston harbour. The caves are separated by tons of fallen
rocks and accessed by sturdy wooden staircases that lead down below sea-level
to caves filled with brackish fossil water . They are estimated to be 200,000
years old and represent the final stage of a geological process called limestone
From the observation platforms you can immerse yourself in eerie stillness and shimmering reflections and brood upon the gentle extinct race who left behind a rock carving to guard the spirits in the cave. A lone petroglyph (rock carving) is on the wall of the smaller cave, encased in a wooden frame. It represents an Arawak face, though 1000 years of humidity and erosion have made this somewhat difficult to recognize. Ironically, the roof of the larger cave has two rock extrusions that resemble human faces. The water here is crystal blue and the cave is inhabited by tiny swallows. Caretaker of the Two Sisters, Ronald Greaves, is helpful and knowledgeable.
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