Less than 20 minutes from the Montego Bay International Airport, we ditch the car and begin what turns out to be a 50-minute hike up into the hills overlooking the second city.
Within minutes of leaving the main road, we are surrounded by dense vegetation. All around are mahogany, cedar, mango and other trees, many of which no one in my party recognizes, small clumps of sugar cane, succulent and creeping plants, moss and vines. The trees grow close together and straight up in an effort to find the sun. Their leaves form a protective canopy.
It is cool here – at least a degree or two below what it is in town. The air is fresh and clean.
We leave the feeder road and take a path that is wide enough for one person, or a donkey, the only mode of transporting heavy loads in these remote areas.
Pipes taking potable water stop at the road. There’s no electricity, and the only people we see are the ones in our party.
Each careful step takes us higher into hills, further away from the noise of the city. Except for the sounds of the birds chirping above, it is peaceful here. I have to remind myself that another Jamaica exists just beyond the trees.
We spot a neat little house, fronting a lush vegetable garden, its doors and windows open but not a soul, not even a dog is in sight. Sometimes, when his farms is in a remote area, a farmer will build a hut nearby with a bed and a kitchen in case he gets trapped by rain, but this isn’t a hut. I wonder how people find these places and how they decide to build where there are no modern conveniences. Not even cell phones work.
But it’s the view that captivates. Through the clearing, we can see directly out to the airport and the hotels at Freeport. It feels like you can just reach out and touch them. We watch a plane descend slowly over the Caribbean Sea until it comes to a stop on the tarmac.
Men Are in Charge of the Cooking
By the time we arrive at our destination, cooking is well underway. It’s the men who typically do the cooking here in the bush. It’s their domain.
There’s curried goat, (the goat had been killed a few days before, cut up into chunks and left to marinade in curry, onions, thyme, garlic, pimento, salt and Scotch Bonnet peppers), rice and peas, roasted yam and breadfruit, dumplings, fried chicken, boiled green bananas, and yellow and white yams. All this will be washed down by copious amounts of JB (affectionately called, Jamaica’s Best) over proof rum, that promises to ‘come in like a lion but leave like a lamb, a Trojan horse in reverse.’
Between now and the end of the year, the bush around the island will come alive with events like these as Jamaicans begin to celebrate the holidays.
This is the Jamaica that visitors rarely see.
Hiking or running shoes are advisable here. We also wore long pants, and packed hats and mosquito repellant but there were no mosquitoes or bugs, and the trees provided shade.