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TOURS - St. Elizabeth | Milk River | Hills of Mandeville
Tour 6 - Circle St. Elizabeth
Excerpted from the book, Tour Jamaica, by Margaret Morris
ROUTE A - VIA NEWPORT TO ALLIGATOR POND
Alligator Pond has a large fishing beach, well equipped with modern fibreglass
boats plus high powered outboard engines. A good place to sample fried fish
straight from the ocean or purchase fresh fish and lobster. Some boats are
available for hire, price negotiable. Interesting Detour: Turn left at the
Alligator Pond crossroads passing several holiday cottages and landmarks
with evocative names like CUCKOLD POINT, OLD WOMAN'S POINT,
GUT RIVER, CANOE VALLEY, ALLIGATOR HOLE RIVER and
GOD'S WELL (see Tour 7).
These coastal waters are the preferred habitat of manatees (local name:
sea cows) which come to drink the fresh water bubbling into the sea from
underground springs. In Arawak times there were large manatee herds but
the current islandwide population is estimated as less than 100. They are
protected under the Wild Life Protection Act, but that does not stop some
fishermen from killing those snared in their nets. Four manatees, rescued
from fishermen are kept in captivity in the Alligator Hole river. Unfortunately,
because they are all female there is no hope of a captive breeding program.
Mournful-looking sea mammals, manatees may have given rise to legends about
mermaids. They are extremely gentle and shy, feed on sea grasses and can
grow to be 13 foot in length and 3,300 lbs in weight.
West of Alligator Pond crossing, a clear cold river enters the sea near
the site of an old fort. At its mouth, Sea River resort, a 12 room hotel,
belongs to the local member of parliament Derek Rochester. Further west
is Alpart's Port Kaiser. Alumina, transported by private railroad from the
Alpart refinery, is shipped from here.
Despite the scanty rainfall, south St. Elizabeth supplies most of the
vegetables (carrots, tomatoes, cucumbers, melons, escallion, thyme, onions)
sold throughout the island. The traditional thrift, industry and ingenuity
of the farmers here are reflected in the small, sturdy houses dotting the
hills, and the patchwork of fields neatly mulched with guinea grass - a
local technique known as "dry farming". Many of the people hereabouts
are light-skinned, some with blue or green eyes and are known locally as
"St. Elizabeth Red Man". Theories about their origin differ. One
is that their male ancestors were the crew of a Dutch ship wrecked off the
coast long ago. Another that the local white planters were exceptionally
libidinous and prolific.
It is farming country all the way through BULL SAVANNAH,
JUNCTION, and TOP HILL where there
is a monument to two children shot in a 1970s political campaign. Erected
by the JLP, it is a grisly reminder of things better left unsaid in a tour
book. SOUTHFIELD, where both routes converge,
is a large and prosperous village.
ROUTE B - VIA SANTA CRUZ TO MALVERN
At the Spur Tree cross roads there is a gas station and the small Bus
Stop cafe. From the brow of the mountain, while viewing the St. Elizabeth
plain for the first time, try to remember that the belching smokestacks
of Alpart are vital to the island's economy. L of the main road and overlooking
the lowland plant are Alpart's corporate headquarters. The Spur Tree switchback
descends to a large mined-out bauxite pit that used to be the village of
GUTTERS. At the T-junction near the bottom of
the hill you can turn L to TREASURE BEACH via
LITITZ. Almost immediately you come to the relocated
Gutters, with a gas station, a few shops and JIM'S HQ,
with a restaurant and a disco reputed to be the most popular in the island.
Or you can continue straight on to MALVERN
via Santa Cruz. You drive through pasture and farmland infrequently punctuated
by landmarks like St. Andrew's Church at GILNOCK
or Mr. Brown's Bar half a mile further on. The prosperity of Santa Cruz
is expressed in bulky new houses encased in fantastic burglar bar designs.
St. Elizabeth has always been famous for horse breeding and Santa Cruz
grew up around a livestock market. Now it is the most vibrant town in the
parish, a dormitory town for Alpart, and a centre for farmers with a typical
Jamaican market overflowing into the surrounding streets. In the centre
of town turn L for Malvern, along the road where the livestock market is
still held every Saturday. Past an entity called Chariots Entertainment
Centre (Bar open around the Back) you start the climb into the Santa Cruz
Mountains, reputed to have the healthiest climate in the world. There are
groves of Pimento (allspice) and bracken (a temperate climate bush) either
side of the winding road. You will also notice Logwood trees (fortunes were
once made by selling the logs for dye, nowadays the fragrant blossoms produce
the best honey) and the indispensable guinea grass. You are in the centre
of MALVERN when you reach a T-junction, facing
a line of small shops with L the Police Station and El Paraguas Tavern.
Malvern is an educational oasis. The BETHLEHEM
Moravian teacher's college, founded in 1861 at Bethabra in Manchester soon
moved to Malvern where there had been a Moravian community since 1823. (Every
Sunday, the newly converted slaves walked 20 miles to church at Fairfield
near Spur Tree.) Moravian missionaries were brought to the island by the
owners of Elim estate in 1754 to preach Christianity to their slaves. In
the hot, mosquito-ridden lowlands they were plagued by fevers and many died.
The survivors relocated in the mountains. Practical Christians, the Moravians
concentrated on education ("Mihi cura futuri" is Bethlehem's motto)
and imparted among other things the useful skill of building cut stone water
tanks and catchments. Today, the Bethlehem educational complex, partially
funded by government, comprises the college, primary and all-age schools.
Rev Justin Peart, Minister of the Church is an affable gentleman with the
ability to deliver an enthralling history of the Moravian church and its
mission in Jamaica in about fifteen minutes. Its founder, a scholar named
John Hus, was burnt at the stake for heresy in 1415. He "proclaimed
the priesthood of all believers" - a credo shared by genuine Rastafarians.
THE MALVERN SCIENCE CENTRE in an old estate
house opposite Hampton Girls School was established by the Masthead Foundation
with some support from local donors like Alcan. Its mission - to provide
an information centre for science teachers, students and aspiring environmentalists
- is energetically supervised by Mrs. Heidi Reidel. Exhibits in the Sun,
Sea and Sand rooms cleverly relate the world of science to the physical
resources and economy of the island. A small Hall of Fame includes local
celebrities like Dr. Thomas Lecky, who against official disapproval pursued
cross-breeding experiments to produce the Jamaica Hope, an acclimatized
dairy cow; and Mrs. Beth Jacobs, a family planning pioneer. MSRC
also distributes How-to literature and advice on environment friendly options
like Solar Ovens and Banana Circles. Heidi, an adopted Jamaican, is also
a fund of information on St. Elizabeth. HAMPTON HIGH SCHOOL
and MUNRO COLLEGE were established in the late
nineteenth century by a trust left by two philanthropic merchants named
Munro and Dickenson. Both schools have excellent academic records. Because
of location they were originally elite boarding schools, today they are
government aided and cater also to day-scholars.
Visitor accommodation is nil except for a cottage at Windy Manor (turn
L off the Malvern to Mountainside road). Owners Winsome and Roy Manning
(an aquaculturist) are also planning cabins and campsites on their 17 acre
coffee and pimento farm.
Near Munro there are two routes down the hill. The first (turn R before
the College) drops almost vertically offering spectacular views. Windswept
Munro looms L above the road, living proof of an old school cheer which
claims that "Munro Boys eat rice and peas, Munro boys feel mountain
breeze, it makes them cold but it makes them bold". At the first crossroads
the JAH BHQ bar and restaurant boasts 24 hour
service - "if necessary". Turn R for Southfield, then R again
at the next junction opposite the South St Elizabeth Holistic Medical Complex
and you are in SOUTHFIELD, a prosperous mini-town.
Past a church, turn L to LOVERS LEAP approximately
1 mile east. En route, the unpretentious Lovers Leap Guest House, Drive-In
and Lounge is operated by Ms Yvonne Burton. Opposite Lovers Leap, there
is a populous goat pen. From this cliff, legend says, two young slaves leapt
to their death rather than be parted. The reality is a near vertical escarpment
plunging thousands of feet to the sea and the view is spectacular.
So much so, that neither the adjacent army camp and radar facility nor
an unfinished concrete structure littered with goat droppings can break
the spell. In fact the view is enhanced by climbing to the unrailed balcony.
It is possible to look down on small aircraft flying below you along the
coast. A detachment of US military help to man the radar station - their
mission is unspecified but locals believe that their main function is to
monitor drug flights and shipments between the island and South America.
Returning to Southfield, turn L past a supermarket, bakery and ice-cream
parlour heading south through "dry farming" country for Pedro
Cross, where the Police Station overlooks the coast and the two Pedro salt
ponds. The climate here is semi-desert, but the land blooms miraculously
with the slightest rainfall. Bear left for Treasure Beach. Before you get
there, turn L towards GREAT BAY. On either side,
the smooth brown pastures, neatly fenced with gnarled timber and barbwire
are sparsely filled with goats and sheep. There is a sprinkling of farmers
homes and a line of cottages for rent around the bay. Three afternoons per
week the beach is the scene of much activity when the fishing boats return
from the PEDRO CAYS. The rest of the time it
is almost deserted except for men playing dominoes under the thatch at Spanner
Elliot's Water Hole. Fishing trips can be arranged. Price negotiable. Unofficial
mayor of Great Bay is Desmond Henry, a former Director of Tourism and now
eco-tourism consultant and practitioner.
TREASURE BEACH is less a village than a series
of bays and coves, edged with cottages for rent. The locals, independent
small farmers and fisherfolk have awakened belatedly to the economic potential
of tourism as the area becomes increasingly popular. The inevitable side-effects
of tourism, high prices, harassment and even crime are not unknown but still
vestigial and the culprits are usually from other areas.
Places to stay: Numerous cottages and villas from basic to luxurious
can be rented through Countrystyle or JAVA/Vacation Network. TREASURE
BEACH HOTEL on a hilltop overlooking Frenchman's Bay (good bathing
but watch the surf and the currents) has a beachside swimming pool and colourful
garden shaded by Lignum Vitae and Palms. Cheerful decor, courteous service
and reasonable rates.
THE OLDE WHARFE RESORT is unique among seafront
hotels for its unimpeded 360 degree view including the Great Salt Pond,
the plains, the mountains, Pedro Bluff, Great Bay, and Calabash Bay. If
you are lucky you may even see manatees close to the rocky shore. The owner,
Mrs. Sharon James Rose, says that she "hates to use the word eco-tourism"
but offers something very similar. Olde Wharfe has a family oriented Jamaican
atmosphere with swimming pool, sheltered beach, ironshore grotto, bird sanctuary
and an old white mare called Snowflake grazing nearby.
Vegetable fields and smooth pastures line the road through NEWELL
and WATCHWELL to the edge of the Black River
Morass. A short detour R to MOUNTAINSIDE takes
you to MISS LURíS one of the best restaurants in the south - if you
like roast pork. The owner, Lurline Patrick is the retired Postmistress.
At Salt Spring, the left fork takes you to PAROTEE BEACH
and the sea; take the R fork to BLACK RIVER
capital of St Elizabeth. The town, with a deep water harbour but no pier
is still a fairly active port. Ships are loaded by large open boats called
lighters. The Black River, dark as molasses, is the largest in the island
and drains an extensive wetland soon to be declared a national park. Its
clear water reflects the colour of the peat lining banks and riverbed. The
river's main source rises as Hector's River near Troy in the Cockpit Country
and goes underground twice before resurfacing near Balaclava. Long ago Black
River was an important waterway navigable for almost 25 miles upstream.
Today it is used primarily for shrimping, and tourism. The uncontrolled
increase in pleasure traffic is threatening the habitat of crocodiles and
other species. Trips start from the bridge. On the east bank, SOUTHCOAST
SAFARIS is operated by crocodile buff Charles Swaby who pioneered
trips up the river through Man-grove Avenue - a fine spot to swim. On the
west bank Dr. Dan Bennett's St. Elizabeth Safari offers more of less the
same itinerary in pontoon craft.
The town's somnolent charm is enhanced by old buildings and a historic
Anglican parish church of rosy brick. A neglected mineral spa to the west
of town, once a favourite place for King Leopold of the Belgians, continues
to await rescue.
Places to stay: Cottages along Crane Road and Parottee beach are available
for rent through Countrystyle, or JAVA/Vacation Network. Hotels and guests
houses include: PORT OF CALL and BRIDGE
HOUSE along the coast road east of town are both noted for good
food. WATERLOO GUEST HOUSE on the coast-road
west of town has a comfortable new wing. This old Victorian mansion was
the first house in Jamaica to get electricity when the original owner, a
Mr. Leyden, installed a lighting plant so that he could air condition the
stables of his racehorses. INVERCAULD HOUSE,
a restored Victorian mansion plus its modern mirror image, replicated in
concrete is clean and comfortable. HOTEL PONTIO
overlooks the sea on the western edge of town.
The Black River and its many tributaries meandering across the plains
of St. Elizabeth have contributed to the formation of THE
GREAT MORASS - a huge area of freshwater swamp dotted with islands
and covered with lush wetland vegetation including stands of majestic palms.
The road north to MIDDLE QUARTERS skirts south
west of the morass. Unsuccessful attempts to develop this area date back
to 1783 when the British government decided to settle some loyalist American
refugees here. Local opponents to the scheme gleefully reported that even
a settler whose name was Frogge found the area too damp, so the scheme was
abandoned. More recently there have been unsuccessful attempts to extend
rice production and a successful project to introduce fish farming. Jamculture
has a large fish and shrimp farm at Barton Isles. To date, however, the
most lucrative crop is illegal - marijuana (ganja); hence the sporadic activity
on several unofficial airstrips constructed in the morass during the 1970s.
At Middle Quarters, vendors squat on the roadside with baskets and plastic
pails of hot peppered shrimp. Some of the shrimps come from the adjacent
wetland streams but most of them are imported from Big Bridge in Westmoreland.
The design of the bamboo crayfish pots is of African origin and centuries
old. One mile from Middle Quarters a road leads L to the beautiful YS Falls.
Back on the main highway you travel to LACOVIA through
photogenic BAMBOO AVENUE, a cool green tunnel
three miles long formed by bamboos arching from both sides of the road.
Midway there is a JTB reststop with washrooms and snacks. The farmland either
side is leased to Appleton estate and grows cane and mangoes.
LACOVIA, the longest
village in the island, sprawls on both sides of a bridge over the Black
River and was the site of a battle between the Spanish and British in 1655.
Lacovia's famous tombstone beside the gas station marks the site of two
ancient tombs now covered by the road. One legend says that the tombs are
those of a British and a Spanish soldier who were chosen by their respective
armies to do battle in single combat but another legend claims that the
duel was over a lady. Both duelists died and one of the seconds got the
girl. The remaining tombstone, relocated by the roadside, commemorates one
Thomas Jordan Spencer aged 15 and the engraved Coat of Arms on it connects
the lad with the family of Winston Churchill and Princess Di.
An interesting crop in these parts is the Cashew. The slow growing trees
produce gourmet nuts encased in a hard shell at the tip of the fruit that
make a delectable preserve and heady liqueur.
Possible detour: Turn L at the gas station for MAGGOTTY, APPLE VALLEY PARK and APPLETON ESTATE. Or continue north through SANTA CRUZ, then GUTTERSwhere you start the climb up Spur Tree Hill and back to Mandeville.
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