Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Jamaica 2016 Day 4. The hellish road to Black River

I started comparatively late this morning, largely because I wanted to say goodbye to my fellow lodgers, and by the time I got underway, at 9 am, the sun was already blazing. I normally wear a shirt and on top of it the black exoskeleton that protects my arms, elbows, shoulders, and back, so I felt like a trussed turkey thrust in the hot oven. Once I got going, however, the breeze of the scooter cooled me down a bit.

I had been given careful instructions on how to get to Black River by crossing the mountains, so it was with great confidence that I left the coastal plain and started ascending. The road was extremely narrow, and I had all sorts of jerks driving close on my butt. Some particularly annoying ones blared their horns just as they were passing me, which in a couple of occasions startled me into a swerve. At least the road was passable, and the number of cars diminished as I continued to ascend. As I mentioned before, there are precious few road signs, so I had to stop from time to time to ask for directions, which were at best of marginal accuracy. The end result is that I lost my way (or at least the most trodden path) and pretty soon I was motocrossing across the most miserable road I have ever encountered (and I though I had seen in it all in Vietnam!), swerving to avoid enormous potholes that were threatening to swallow me, bouncing through stretches where the road had simply disappeared in a mass of loose rocks, or negotiating hairpin bends at the edge of the precipice. I really felt sorry for the folks who rented me the scooter.

In compensation the view was grandiose, and I really felt I was living up to my pledge of being an adventure traveler. At one point I got into a straight, smooth stretch of the road that crossed a mountain meadow, and I felt I was safe giving the engine gas. The noise startled a myriad of butter-colored butterflies, which would have been a very spiritual experience were it not for the fact that each one of them became a small projectile that could splat against me like a high-speed bullet.

Today is Sunday, and even in the remote mountain villages I encountered lots of old gentlemen in their Sunday bests, and ladies wearing beautiful white dresses and handsome hats, going to or coming back from church. I decided to track one of these groups back to the church from where they were coming, and found myself looking at an old structure built of limestone blocks. One or two of the ladies had remained behind chatting, and upon seeing me they kindly invited me to come in and look at their church. One of them took the role of tourist guide and informed me that the church had originally been a hospital for slaves, built out of ballast stones (the stones with which sailing ships were ballasted on the empty trip from England to Jamaica, which were left behind once the cargo of sugar and bananas had been loaded). From that she proceeded to tell me that Sam Sharpe, a black slave preacher, had lived in a neighboring town, and that in 1847 he had talked the slaves into not working on the holly day of Christmas. The plantation owners retaliated against the slaves, who then rose up in what is now known as the Christmas rebellion. This was a big deal for the colonial government, and even though they managed to capture Sharpe and hung him in the main square at Montego Bay, the outcry of the slaves resonated throughout the British empire, and a year or two later the British Parliament abolished slavery throughout its vast empire.

I was beginning to get worried because all that mountain climbing was consuming a lot of fuel, but at last I went over the last ridge and far in the distance I could see the ocean. Barring any mechanical mishap I should be able to coast down to the shore.

I got distracted from my worries when I saw a perfectly manicured visitors’ center and, oh miracle of miracles, a sign inviting the traveler to visit the YS Waterfalls. I remembered that Future had told me in Mo Bay that this was a favorite place of Jamaican families, who in holidays are attracted in droves to swim in the pools and play in the waterfalls. Unfortunately I was carrying my backpack with me, and was encased in my protective armor, so I had no chance to change into my swimming trunks. Still, I enjoyed hiking along the stream, contemplating the refreshing and very pretty waterfalls (remember that I was feeling like roasting turkey), and seeing families and lots of kids playing in the swimming pools. It is a beautifully managed spot, and I sincerely hope that more places like this keep being developed around the island.

Finally I reached Black River and the petrol station. What a relief! This was my destination for the day, and it was only 4 pm, so I was looking forward to getting to my hotel and resting a bit. Ah, but my toils were not yet at an end. The Waterloo Guest House proudly boasts to have been the first house to be served by electricity in the whole island, but it seems that outside of this early distinction very little has been made to maintain the place. In fact, the main house seems to be at the point of near collapse. The hotel rooms are in the back, in a more “modern” building, but they would get a negative double star designation as far as comfort goes. In the first room assigned to me there was no water, and in the second one the television doesn’t work. I had made a three-night reservation, but I am afraid I am going to cancel tomorrow and try my luck elsewhere. So is the life of the adventurer.

To cheer myself up I went for a ride along the coast in the cool of the late afternoon, and had a delicious fish dinner at a roadside stand. The chef outdid himself and flattered by my compliments invited me to his birthday party on Thursday, to an encouraging chorus of all his friends. I will have to seriously consider this invitation. 

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