Thursday, 27 February 2014

FLIGHT TO JAMAICA

Things don't always turn out as one expects, as I've found out many times on this trip so far. My current US permit had almost expired, and I was looking for a cheap way out to somewhere. So, “Hey Mon”, the next thing I knew I was on a plane to Jamaica – thanks to Paradise Farms where I'd been since returning from my trip down to the Keys. I've been keen to cycle in Cuba, but I'm not permitted to travel directly there from the USA. At least I was able to see Cuba from the air.
When I landed in Jamaica I thought that perhaps I'd fallen asleep and my flight had been diverted to Africa. Things were a lot more low tech than at Miami International, and the immigrations que was a mile long as another flight had landed at about the same time. I was welcomed into the country without a visa, and with no mention of when I had to leave. In the baggage hall I picked up my bike (Old Saartjie), still snugly in her box, but that was all! The rest of my baggage was not on the plane. I had no clothes, toiletries, camping equipment, panniers, or even tools with which to re-assemble the bike! And then, before I could get past the customs check-out my bike had to be fumigated. I payed 200 Jamaican $ for the procedure (US $2). Subsequently a Veterinary Officer appeared and deposited a squirt of liquid from a plastic bottle onto each tyre, then she declared:- “That should do it!” - and I was free to leave.
From the airport I took an expensive taxi to the Reggae Hostel in Kingston, and luckily they had a relatively cheap tent out back where I could stay until my baggage arrived 2 days later. Only then could I prepare to bike around the island. (Jamaica is not all that cheap, and on average things cost about the same as in the US – but there is usually some cheap local accommodation).
So it took me a few days after arrival in Kingston before I could hit the road. My intention had been to cycle around the perimeter of Jamaica, so I set off in an Easterly direction from the capital, Kingston (located on the South coast). My first mission was to get out of Kingston city alive (home to about a million people, one third of the population). The roads on the island are mostly in poor condition and narrow, and the driving is insane.
At first I was somewhat disappointed with Jamaica, as the people seemed harsh and even threatening at times – calling me “White Man” (sounds like “Wide Mon”), and trying to kill me with their crazy driving – on the left side of the road for the first time since Australia some years ago.
Then I started to see reality. I'd been in North America for a year, and it seems that perhaps I was expecting things to be similarly ordered and regulated. Also, I'd started my Jamaican trip through the slums and non-touristy part of the island (the SE is probably the least attractive area for visitors). Also, I later discovered that if they call me “White Man” there is no malice intended, they are simply stating a fact (and sometimes they even say it with affection).
By the second day the scenery had improved and I was in much better spirits – not even the frequent rainshowers or the hilly road could get me down. On the NE coast I stayed over in Port Antonio, where I found a nice cheap room in a nice run-down guest house. The place is popular with foreign budget-travellers, and the Rasta's from across the road invited us over at night for a good old “Jamaican” party.
The North of the island is very tropical, and there was some wonderful scenery along the way. Also, for most of the way along the North coast the road was in better condition (perhaps for the benefit of the tourists?). And it was along this North coast where I started running into more tourists, with hotel resorts and even cruise ships (such as in the pic at Ocho Rios).
At times the locals seemed to be concerned about my safety, advising me to be careful about where I camped at night. However, I had no problems, and never felt at risk. On my first night out I found myself in a very local village without any tourist facilities. The tropical rain was pouring down and I was offered the abandoned upstairs former restaurant in the village sports/community centre (with a lock for the gate and all). A few nights later (again in the rain) I enquired at a guest house which turned out to be somewhat above my budget. Just across the road on the hillside was a school, and they insisted that I camp inside a classroom (with a lock for the gate and all).
By this time I was heading West along the North coast of the island, and Montego Bay was next on the agenda. I arrived there after a long day of almost constant rain. Many toursts fly in directly to Montego Bay, which is set up for them with the so-called “strip” and other facilities which Westerners find comforting. Accommodation in that area can be rather costly, so on a tip (from the Rasta's) I headed to a local dump right in the centre of town. I was coming down with a chest infection – probably a combination of cycling in the rain, and too much sampling of the local Jamaican herbs. Therefore I stayed for a few days in this interesting place, with none of the regular tourists in sight.
There had been a much publicized double murder in the area, and on the Sunday the funeral was conducted from the church next to my room. Myself and other guests watched proceedings from the balcony overlooking the street, which turned into a major Island Style event. The conservatively dressed “believers” huddled into the church, and the hundreds of mostly inappropriately dressed “sympathisers” had a huge street party lasting for hours (apparently it is important to celebrate the life of the deceased). From the Guest House balcony I could also pick some fruit which I'd not eaten before, called a Jamaican Apple – but looks and tastes more like a pear.
I carried on West via Negril (pretty but very touristy and expensive), then down the West coast where I stayed over at one one or two places. I really enjoyed camping at Black River for 2 days, practically on the beach.
Then it was time to turn back East towards Kingston again, over the infamous Spur Tree Hill (locals had warned me that I would never make it over there on a bike – but in the end it was small fry compared to much of what I'd done previously).
And, oh yes, they play cricket – I was fortunately able to stop along the road and watch a local match through the fence.
Closer to Kingston there was a stretch of new highway, and I asked the roadside traffic police if I could cycle on that road – not permitted. However, after explaining to the policeman that I was cycling all around the Island, he asked me if it was for the Guinnes World Record! Tourists can hire bikes for short trips at the resorts, but I don't know if there has been a proper touring cyclist around Jamaica before? I had many intersting and funny comments thrown in my direction, all in that crazy accent. Quite a few times people would look at me passing on the loaded bike, and say something like “It's da balance”. Old Kasi, my worn-out little mascot on the front of the bike has never been referred to as a rabbit before, but as I cycled bye some guy at a bus stop called out: “Hey Mon, I wont dat rabbeet on da fraunt!”.
Eventually back at the hostel in Kingston I was pleased to find my bike box still there and intact (the main reason for booking into the hostel in the first place). However, the morning I'd cycled out of there I had a shower and forgot my towel on the line. Upon my return I found that they'd cut the towel in half, and it is now serving as a shower mat in two of the bathrooms! Another thing I found out while I was there is that the Island was gearing up for Bob Marley's birthday, just after I was to leave (so unfortunately I missed the main celebrations, and what a party that would be!).
My visit to Jamaica was too short, but very sweet. One of the other guests at the hostel (Axel) gave me a ride to the airport, and before I knew it Gabriele of Paradise Farms had picked me up at Miami International Airport. They had been waiting for my return, and I've been rather busy. I expect to be on the farm for a while, hopefully earning my keep.
Daily distances cycled around the island (starting in Kingston):- Golden Grove 86 km; Port Antonio 53 km; Galina 78 km; Montego Bay 134 km; Negril 81 km; Bluefields Bay 53 km; Black River 46 km; Spur Tree 58 km; and Kingston 104 km. The total distance which I cycled around Jamaica was 693 km. The total distance which I've cycled so far on this trip is 121 479 km (75 924 miles).

2 comments:

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Guillaume said...

It has been a long time since you were there but for bike trip seeker it is a treasure. Keep riding and enjoying life as you do.