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Ahhh….Ras Natango: When Life Gives You Rocks

“When life gives you rocks,” Ahhh…Ras Natango Gallery and Garden‘s Tamika Williams said, “you make a rock garden!” That’s exactly what Tamika and her husband Ian Williams did with the half acre property they bought 25 years ago. Now, it’s a beautiful garden and gallery, a prominent eco-tourism spot in the small community of Camrose, near Montego Bay, and a fine example of “community tourism” at work.

The idea behind community tourism, which was pioneered in 1978 by local tourism consultant, Diana McIntyre-Pike and Desmond Henry, a former director of tourism, is to use tourism to promote sustainable development in rural areas by bringing visitors to communities where they wouldn’t normally go so that they’d explore and enjoy local resources and talent and meet Jamaicans where they live.

I visited Ahhh….Ras Natango Gallery and Garden earlier this year and heard from Ian and Tamika how they had transformed their piece of rock into their own idea of paradise on earth and got the community of Camrose involved by employing young people, working with the local schools by teaching students art, crafts, how to tend a garden and the benefits of composting. Their story is one of courage and determination, despite the odds, to breathe life into a vision.

I wrote about the couple and their garden yesterday but I wanted to share some of the flowers and other items I saw for today’s Travel Photo Thursday. Enjoy!

“Who takes a hillside and turns it into this?” Tamika Williams

Garden path leading to the gallery

Terraced walkway at Ahhh…Ras Natango Gallery and Garden

When I asked Tamika what the garden had taught her, she responded without hesitation that it had shown her how to be patient and gentle, and to appreciate everyone. “You can’t appreciate the rose,” she said with a twinkle in her eye, “without accepting the thorns.”

Red multi-bloom roses at Ahh....Ras Natango Gallery and Garden

Roses are red

Orchid at Ahhh....Ras Natango Garden

Phalaenopsis Orchid

Flowers on the steps at Ahhh...Ras Natango Gallery and Garden

Flowers on the stairs

Queen Achmea Bromeliad at Ahhh...Ras Natango

Queen Achmea Bromeliad

Garden lizard at Ahhh....Ras Natango Garden


Tree stump fairy villa at Ahhh....Ras Natango Garden

Fairy villa

Rock painting of three of the eighteen endemic species that can be seen at Ahhh…Ras Natango Garden and Gallery. Twenty-four species are endemic to Jamaica.

Jamaican Mango bird painting Ahhh...Ras Natango Garden

Jamaican Mango

Jamaican Woodpecker rock painting at Ahhh...Ras Natango Garden

Jamaican Woodpecker

Rock painting of the Jamaican Orange Quit bird at Ahhh...Ras Natango Gallery

Orange Quit

Rock painting of a shark's head at Ahhh...Ras Natango Garden

Caught between a rock

Rock painting of a lion's head at Ahhh...Ras Natango Garden

A Gentle Lion

Ahhh…Ras Natango Gallery and Garden is located in Camrose, St. James, about 20 minutes from Montego Bay. Entrance $30. A free shuttle service is available from town. Hours – 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. on weekdays; on weekends by appointment only. 876-578-2582.

This is my submission to Travel Photo Thursday, which is organized by Nancie at Budget Travelers Sandbox. Be sure to head over and check out more photos from locations around the world.



Falling for YS Falls

My YS Falls adventure begins as soon as I board the tractor-drawn jitney that would take me from the main entrance of YS Estate, a 2,000-acre, privately owned stud farm, to the falls.

Falling for YS Falls

Falling for YS Falls

It’s a leisurely 10-minute ride through lush vegetation that stretches as far as the eye can see. Pass logwood or bloodwood trees, which the estate used to export to Europe back when dyes couldn’t be made without it, poinciana and ackee trees among others, grazing Jamaica Red Poll cattle with an egret or two waiting patiently to catch its next meal, and horses roaming freely in the distance.

About halfway into the ride, part of the YS River, from which the falls derive, comes into view, its sound hardly noticeable over the put-put-put of the jitney. The water is clear and looks refreshing on this day that is being baked slowly by the sun.

Falling for YS Falls

Wading Pool

As we come to a stop, I take in the view: a wading pool ringed by ginger lilies and lounge chairs is to my left, a gift shop and cafe on my right, and dead ahead, the bottom of the falls — the rest disappearing into the verdant foliage. A huge logwood tree with a platform catch my eye and as I look up, someone lets out a big woohoo as they take off flying 50 feet above the canopy of trees.

Falling for YS Falls

One of the seven falls

Falling for YS Falls

The Falls

At approximately 120 meters, YS Falls has seven waterfalls that form several natural pools that invite you to take a dip or, for the more adventurous, a jump.

Falling for YS Falls

The Falls

Falling for YS Falls

Jumping in

There have been changes to the grounds since the last time I visited YS. Walkways now lead from the base of the falls to the top, a zip line canopy tour has been added and there’s tubing for the less adventurous. Several guides are on hand at each pool and accompany tubers and zip liners. Only swimmers are allowed to enter the water.

For the little ones, there are play areas far away from the water, and a few benches placed strategically around the grounds entice you to sit and enjoy nature’s bounty. Or grab a seat on the porch of the gift shop and watch as bird feeders call colorful hummingbirds to take a sip.

YS Estate is also a working stud farm that has produced several thoroughbred champions for Caymanas Park, the local racetrack.

Respect for the Environment

The Browne family, who own the estate and the falls, which are nestled in the foothills of the Cockpit Country, has taken great care in maintaining the natural environment. According to their site, when the falls opened in 1992, Simon Browne wanted to limit the number of visitors to 25 a day but that had to be revised as interest grew. Still, he’s said to monitor the numbers. (Groups are limited to 25.) In keeping with their drive to be environmentally aware, all toilets are eco-friendly.

My friend who joined me for the visit announced that she was in love with YS Falls, that because of the lushness of the surroundings, she preferred it to Dunn’s River Falls. True, YS feels more in harmony with the environment than Dunn’s River though I believe each has its own charm.

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Before you go:

YS Falls is located 50 miles from Montego Bay and Negril. Tours can be arranged through your hotel or guest house.
Admission: Adults $15/Children $7.50
Canopy Tour: Adults $42/Children $20
Tubing: $6 (20 minutes)
Hours: Tuesday to Sundays 9:30 – 4:00 p.m. Closed on Mondays and local holidays
Telephone: 876-997-6360

This is my submission to this week’s Budget Travelers Sandbox Travel Photo Thursday series. Be sure to check out other photo and story entries on their website.

Travel Photo Thursday: Jamaican Poui Tree

It’s hard to miss the poui tree with its brilliant yellow (or pink) flowers. It appears in full bloom, as if by magic one day, then a few days later, its flowers carpet the ground.

Travel Photo Thursday: Jamaican Poui Tree

Travel Photo Thursday: Jamaican Poui Tree

I don’t remember poui trees in the Jamaica of my childhood and had not noticed them on any of my many visits back. But sitting on the porch one morning a few months ago, a bright yellow tree in my neighbor’s backyard caught my eye. Then a day or so later, I watched as pieces of yellow fluttered silently to the ground, in ones or twos, like flakes of snow. By evening, the branches of the poui tree stood bare and forlorn; its flowers clustered so closely together, it looked as if the tree had on a bright yellow skirt.

I was disappointed and mystified. What happened? I wondered. How could such beautiful flowers not stay around longer for me to enjoy?

Travel Photo Thursday: Jamaican Poui Tree

Travel Photo Thursday: Jamaican Poui Tree

Sometime later, out of the blue, a riot of yellow appeared again in the backyard. This time, I snapped away happily and decided to watch, not sure whether the flowers would return and, if they did, how long they would take.

Two Fridays passed and the limbs were still brown. About a week later, I noticed flecks of yellow and the following morning, the poui tree was once again in full bloom. Sadly, these delicate flowers were no match for the torrential rain that came mid-morning. When the clouds cleared and the sun returned, not a speck of yellow was left.

But the poui tree was not to be beaten. Within a day or two, there was the unmistakable yellow calling out to me. I smiled. The world was right again.

Tabebuia, photo from Wikipedia

Tabebuia, photo from Wikipedia

Some Poui Facts:

Scientific Name: Tabebuia Serratifolia (Yellow), Tabebuia Rosea (Pink)

Common Names: Poui, Trumpet Tree, Pau d’Arco, Ipê

Location: Can be found from Southern Florida to Northern Mexico and South America. Also found in the Caribbean, notably in Haiti, Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Cuba and Trinidad & Tobago.

Size: According to the species, the poui tree can grow up to 150 feet, with a base 4-7 feet in diameter. The flowers are about 1-4″ and grow in dense clusters. Flowering season runs from January to May.

Uses: Because of its durability — it lasts 25 years — and ability to resist insects and termites, the wood of the poui tree is commonly used for decks, furniture and other outdoor projects. Since the 1960s, the New York City Parks Department has used the wood to maintain its boardwalks, including the one at Coney Island.

This is my submission to this week’s Budget Travelers Sandbox Travel Photo Thursday series. Be sure to check out other photo and story entries on their website.



Wildflowers of Jamaica: Spanish Needle

I’ve become fascinated by the variety of flowers, including wildflowers, that grow in Jamaica. When I asked about this one and heard that it was the Spanish Needle, I thought of a poem I learned years ago in school.

Spanish Needle

Spanish Needle

The poem, The Spanish Needle, was written by Jamaican poet, Claude McKay, who certainly thought a lot of the lowly wildflower. McKay was born in 1889 and moved to the U.S. in 1912, where he became a seminal figure of the Harlem Renaissance. Besides poetry, he also wrote the novels Home to Harlem, Banjo and Banana Bottom, short stories and autobiographical books.

This is what he had to say about The Spanish Needle

Lovely dainty Spanish needle

With your yellow flower and white,

Dew bedecked and softly sleeping,

Do you think of me to-night?


Shadowed by the spreading mango,

Nodding o’er the rippling stream,

Tell me, dear plant of my childhood,

Do you of the exile dream?


Do you see me by the brook’s side

Catching crayfish ‘neath the stone,

As you did the day you whispered:

Leave the harmless dears alone?


Do you see me in the meadow

Coming from the woodland spring

With a bamboo on my shoulder

And a pail slung from a string?


Do you see me all expectant

Lying in an orange grove,

While the swee-swees sing above me,

Waiting for my elf-eyed love?


Lovely dainty Spanish needle,

Source to me of sweet delight,

In your far-off sunny southland

Do you dream of me to-night? 

I was also surprised to learn (but really, I shouldn’t have been) that the medicinal qualities found in the roots, leaves and seeds of the Spanish Needle can be used to treat a variety of illnesses including malaria, headaches and arthritis. It is used widely in Africa, Asia and the Americas.