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TOURS - Seaford Town | Montego Valley | Trelawny
Excerpted from the book, Tour Jamaica, by Margaret Morris
Montego Bay defies description: posh resort, package tour playground,
market town, commercial centre, seaport, slum, second city, capital of the
west - its disparate elements co-exist without blending. The result is an
atmosphere of schizophrenic energy. Almost all tourists enter Jamaica through
the Donald Sangster airport but Montego Bay has long outgrown the label
"tourist town". It is sometimes referred to as "the Republic"
a nickname dating back to the last century when independent local landowners
criticized the government for neglecting the western parishes. That situation
still exists and true Montegonians, born in the bay and known as "Bawn
a bays" sometimes still threaten, only half in jest, to secede from
the rest of the island.
Christopher Columbus sailed into the bay in 1494 and named it "el
Golfo de Buen Tiempo" or Fair Weather Bay. The coast was frequented
by Arawaks, traces of whose habitation can still be found in the surrounding
hills. The first record of a Spanish settlement here shows it as Monterias.
The Spaniards hunted the herds of wild hogs that used to roam the hills
and produced and exported 'hog butter' or lard. The name Montego derives
from the Spanish "manteca" meaning lard, and Montego Bay is shown
on some ancient maps as Lard Bay.
The town, threatened from the interior by the Maroons and from the sea
by pirates, grew slowly but by the end of the eighteenth century it had
become a busy port visited by about 150 ships each year - more than use
it now. The fortunes of the town were tied to "King Sugar" and
declined when sugar slumped during the nineteenth century. Relief came with
the development of banana plantations and the export of bananas but it was
as a tourist resort that Montego Bay really came into its own. As early
as 1908, the Montego Bay Citizens Association were advertising the charms
of the town with an invitation to: Come South . . . to Montego Bay, the
most beautiful spot in Jamaica. Here is situated the famous Doctor's Cave
bathing place destined to be the favourite bathing resort of the Western
Hemisphere. Leave the grim north, come south! Only four and a half days
from New York.
DOCTORS CAVE, credited with the genesis of
the tourist trade was the property of an eccentric and lovable physician
Dr. Alexander McCatty, who donated it to the town as a bathing club in 1906. The curative powers of the sea water were promoted in England by the celebrated chiropractor Sir
Herbert Barker. A controversial but fashionable figure, Sir Herbert was
also a devotee of the small Casa Blanca Hotel, established by the matriarch
of Montego Bay tourism 'Ma Ewen'.
SEAWIND, a self-contained budget hotel with
beach including a 'clothes optional' section is located on the Freeport
peninsular. The MONTEGO BAY YACHT CLUB, terminus
for the annual Miami - Montego boat race in Spring and venue for the Marlin
tournament in the fall is an interesting place to observe some local movers
and shakers at play. Beyond here BAY POINTE,
with twin pools offers a mixture of residential and vacation apartments.
As we went to press, another luxury residential complex was planned for
the western peninsular and LAGOON LTD was seeking government permission
to build Jamaica's first casino-cum-theme park.
The commercial area of Montego Freeport lay dormant for almost two decades
but is now growing rapidly. Port facilities continue to be under-utilized,
mostly serving cruise ships. A multi-million cruise ship terminal and shopping
centre was recently completed. In the Freezone area where export companies
can operate without paying local taxes or customs duties there are garment
factories and data entry/electronic information companies. The latter are
served by the large saucer-shaped antenna of JAMAICA DIGIPORT
INTERNATIONAL, a telecommunications facility with satellite hook-up.
JDI is a joint venture between AT&T, Cable & Wireless and Telecommunications
The Urban Development Corporation (government owned and dubbed Urban Destruction Co. by its environmental critics) dredged and dumped the foreshore of the town centre to create an extension that includes the Howard Cooke Highway, commercial and hotel sites, WALTER FLETCHER BEACH, the CRAFT MARKET, a fisherman's beach, playing fields and the open air BOB MARLEY PERFORMING CENTRE site in 1993 of the first homegrown reggae festival SUNFEST. The HOWARD COOKE BOULEVARD was named for a popular local politician who rose to become, and still remains, Governor General, was knighted by the Queen and is now known as Sir Howard. Along the foreshore you will find LOJ's pleasant small shopping centre with a mini food court and PIER 1, a popular restaurant.
PLACES OF INTEREST AND RECREATION
His last words were: I would rather die on yonder gallows than live as
a slave. In the northeast corner a group of statues by Jamaican sculptor Kay Sullivan, depicting Sharpe
preaching to some of his followers. The sculpture blends into the commuters,
street people and idlers who customarily throng the square. THE CAGE nearby was once used as a lock-up for drunkards and runaway
slaves. The historic Georgian COURTHOUSE was
burnt down years ago, its ruin now forms the backdrop for civic functions,
political meetings and reggae shows. The elegant fountain in the centre
of the square was the gift of a banana baron J.E. Kerr at the turn of the
century. It functions sporadically.
Within walking distance, up MARKET STREET the BURCHELL BAPTIST CHURCH was named for the brave abolitionist the Rev. Thomas Burchell. The original chapel built by him was destroyed by a mob of slave-owners after the Christmas Rebellion. Burchell only escaped death because he was given sanctuary by the captain of a ship in the harbour.
The elegant ST JAMES PARISH CHURCH along CHURCH ST was founded in 1782 and contains several lavish monuments erected by wealthy sugar barons. Among these are two by the famous English sculptor John Bacon, one of them being a memorial to Mrs Rosa Palmer, not to be confused with Annie Palmer, the White Witch of Rosehall. Opposite here is the TOWN HOUSE, a well preserved Georgian mansion which is a popular restaurant. If you really want to learn what Montego Bay is all about, try a walk along BARNETT ST - the busiest in town and crammed with a kaleidoscope of small businesses, restaurants, bars and vendors.
Adjacent CORNWALL BEACH has the same fluffy sand and limpid water. Also located here are the JAMAICA TOURIST BOARD'S OFFICES (for advice and information) and the headquarters of The MONTEGO MARINE PARK a partnership between USAID, the government of Jamaica, and local friends of the sea who are hoping to rehabilitate the marine environment. WALTER FLETCHER BEACH has changing-rooms, snack bars and tennis court.
WATER SPORTS are available at all the above and at most ocean-front hotels.
TENNIS: Many hotels have tennis courts - some lighted. Half Moon where the pro is Jamaican champion Richard Russell has 13 courts, seven of them lighted, and 4 squash courts. Tryall also has a resident pro.
GOLF: 4 championship courses include Rosehall, Half Moon, Ironshore and Tryall which is the venue of the annual Johnny Walker Championship for the best of the best.
The story of the White Witch of Rosehall, Jamaica's most popular legend,
was perpetuated by H.G. de Lisser's novel. Annie Palmer is reported to have
been beautiful, lascivious and diabolical. She dabbled in voodoo, tortured
her slaves, murdered her husbands and lured into her bed any man, black
or white who took her fancy, boasting: If I survive I'll marry five. Annie,
it is said, was eventually strangled, by a slave, during an uprising. There
is no historical evidence to substantiate this tale. The facts are that
the Hon. John Palmer, Custos of St James acquired Rosehall through marriage
and built the great house. He was indeed the fourth husband of Rosehall's
mistress, Mrs Rosa Palmer, but a memorial to her in St James Parish Church
attests to her virtue and the fact that she died peacefully at age 72, predeceasing
her husband. A subsequent Ann Palmer, wife of James Palmer, grandnephew
of the Custos and heir to Rosehall, was also, research proves, a model wife.
But the legend of the White Witch persists, losing nothing in the passage
of time and encouraging attempts by various spiritualists to raise Annie's
ghost. One attempt in 1978 took place before a large crowd which returned
home very disappointed. Clairvoyant Bambos claimed to have conjured up a
stout cafe-au-lait lady who led him to her grave behind the house where
he discovered an incense burner and voodoo doll inside a termite nest.
Greenwood was one of the few great houses to escape damage in the 1831 Christmas Rebellion and has been occupied continuously. The present owners, Bob and Anne Betton use the stately master bedroom where their TV set is carefully concealed in a cupboard. Bob Betton returned to Jamaica in the late 1970s to go into farming. Instead he bought Greenwood at the insistence of an elderly English millionaire, John Binns, who wanted to see his priceless collection of antiques in loving hands. Among the treasures here are a sixteenth century court jester's chair, a Spanish brazier, an inlaid rosewood piano (a betrothal gift from Edward VII to his fiancee), the library of the Barrett family, many fine portraits, and a rare collection of antique musical instruments including a barrel organ that plays Daisy, Daisy. The huge variety of items substantiates Greenwood's claim to having the largest collection of antiques and musical instruments in the Western Hemisphere. There are off-beat items like the Barretts boudoir china (basins, jugs and chamber pots made by Wedgwood and bearing the family crest) - antique carriages and fire- fighting equipment and even an original 1778 advertisement offering a handsome reward for the return of runaway slave Mary Gold. The view from the upstairs veranda stretching from Rosehall to Discovery Bay is so extensive that you can actually identify the curve of the horizon. Tours are available 7 days a week and there is a pleasant pub-style bar in the old kitchen.
FESTIVALS: After 16 years in Montego Bay, Synergy, the promoters of Reggae Sunsplash decided to move to Kingston (and from there onto Dover). To fill the gap a group of Montego Bay businessmen including Godfrey Dyer and Mickey Morris got together to launch Reggae Sunfest. With the help of international publicist (and 'bawn a bay') Byron Balfour, Sumfest was born in August 1993 and has become an annual affair.
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