Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Jamaica 2016 Day 7. Port Royal

Ah, nothing like waking up at dawn with the crashing sound of the waves! I was even motivated to go out for a sunrise walk down the beach, which is here and there interrupted by uplifted terraces of a remarkable coral reef: brain rocks, enormous fans of coral, and oysters that were a good 30 cm long. The fact that it has been uplifted is clear proof that Jamaica is still a very active tectonic element.

Back to reality I had to make an important strategic decision: Shall I continue along the coast, taking two days to get to Kingston, or shall I follow the main road unto the foothills to reach Spanish Town (100 km) or Kingston (120 km) in one day? I leaned for the first route, but when I asked at a gas station, one of the attendants strongly urged me not to go along the coast: “That is the bush, mon. Nobody goes there. It is dangerous because it is the bush.” I think that what he was telling me is that it is a region where they grow marijuana, and where new faces are not welcome, so I braced myself for the main road, knowing that it was going to be stressful because the roads are narrow and traffic was going to be a lot heavier, including big trucks. I was not mistaken, and on at least a couple of occasions the trucks passed so close I thought I was going to be tossed into the shoulder. To add insult to injury I went through at least four squalls that drenched me to the bone, and intervening periods of scorching sun.

I was, therefore, pretty tense by the time I reached Spanish Town, and was totally under-impressed by a lackluster, trafficy village without a well-defined center of town. So I blew out of town, heading for the famous Kingston. Alas, Kingston is a much bigger version of Spanish Town, and I had to find downtown by the old trick of following a bus with the sign “Downtown”. Finally I made it to the port, and scootered up and down some of the streets, but I was once again disappointed by the generally run down aspect of the town (a bit like the French Quarter of New Orleans the morning after Mardi Gras). Most significantly, I did not spot a promising guest house or small hotel. Rats!

I was tired, and hot, and out of ideas about what to do next. Continue along the coast and look for a welcoming beach? How far would I have to go?

I was in Kingston, however, and I could not pass the opportunity to go to Port Royal and see with my own eyes one of the mythical places of my childhood, when I read and dreamt of buccaneers and heartless pirates. So I got back on the road, went around the bay to the airport, and followed the spit of sand at the end of which is Port Royal. The spit forms a natural barrier that extends partially across the mouth of the bay, thus creating the perfect harbor for the likes of Henry Morgan and Blackbeard.

The hamlet reminded me a bit of Isla Mujeres, being probably 10 blocks long and 5 blocks wide, certainly too small to accommodate all the debauchery and mischief that the pirates of my childhood indulged in. At the end of the town stands Fort Charles, erected there to protect the entrance to the Jamaica harbor. Honestly, it looked like a toy fort compared with the monsters erected by the Spaniards and Portuguese (no wonder the pirates went in and out at will), but it had the small historical distinction of being one of the first commands of the then wet-behind-the-ears Horatio Nelson (go tocayo!).

Looking at the displays I learned a fascinating factoid. The spit of land is formed by clean, loose, water saturated sand, so when an earthquake struck Jamaica on June 7, 1692, the sand liquefied, and two thirds of the town slumped into the ocean! No doubt that is where many of my pirates ended their wicked careers. I imagine this event was retold by many a preacher as proof that the wrath of the Lord had visited the lawless and sinful city.

So now, what? I really didn’t fancy getting back on the road, so I asked a young woman if there was a guest house in town, and she surprised me by saying “Yah mon, the Admiral Inn by the beach.” So I headed for the beach, and asking here and there was soon standing in front of a modern looking house, where I was received as a returning hero by Ena and her husband Roger. The room they offered me was … well … it was perfect! It had air conditioning, a little fridge, a sink and a kettle, a comfortable bathroom, a working TV. Wow, I had to come to the pokiest little town in Jamaica to find the perfect den. The back yard is huge, has a cool canopy of beautiful plants, and comfortable lawn chairs where we sat down to chat and laugh for over an hour. Roger is a retired Coast Guard Commander, Ena is a retired secretary, and this guest house is their retirement project. Both were intelligent, charming, and very curious about my family, Mexico and the political situation in the US. What a great couple!

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