11 Days in Jamaica – Day 6

Blue Mountains - (c) Stan Thomas/Kanale Creations

Tuesday June 19, 2007

Today was the day for the Blue Mountain bike tour. I had booked the tour at the same time I made the reservation for The Ruins at the Falls. It started kind of early but they would be providing a small breakfast on the trip.

Earlier in the week I called Lancelot to let him know we were back on the island. I met Lancelot in ’02 on my first trip to Jamaica. He gave me a tour of Ocho Rios that you will not find in any brochure. Since then, each year I come back, I look for him and he takes me someplace new.

This year I told him I wanted to visit Port Antonio. He said that I wouldn’t want to go there because, “the roads are atrocious.” Now if a Jamaican tells you the roads are bad, believe him. The roads around the island are perpetually under construction but for him to single out this road is really saying something.

As our tour van left the last hotel picking up the tour-takers, the roads along the north coast deteriorated. The highway was torn up for interminable stretches. Man, was Lancelot ever right! I could see why he talked me out of going to Port Antoinio – which we ended up passing through on this tour anyway. We bounced along through town after town until we came to Jasmine’s Seafood Restaurant, Jasmine's Seafood Restaurant - (c) Stan Thomas/Kanale Creationsour first rest stop. Our driver, Cleve, told us – jokingly, I hope – that when it is time to go and you are not in the van, “Cleve will leave.” Everyone got back to the van on time.

Leaving town, we headed up the winding roads into the famous Blue Mountains. The roads narrow down to one lane. If you meet an on-coming vehicle, one of you must back up until you reach a part of the road wide enough to allow you to pass. Often this is done with one vehicle in the bushes, an inch or two away from the rocky mountainside, or a hair’s breadth from the edge of a steep drop-off. The space between the passing vehicles is virtually non-existent.

Up the twisting road we went. Cleve told jokes and called out points of interest. Then he told everyone to look toward the left, toward the mountainside, for a “pink rooster”. So all the passengers obediently craned their necks hoping to see this alleged pink rooster. Turns out that at that very spot, the mountain on the right side drops off very steeply, and the road is barely wide enough for the van to travel. Most of the passengers fell for the pink rooster bit on the way up, but there was no way to distract us coming back.

At the café, we stopped for a small breakfast of fruit, toast, eggs and juice. Here we met our guides, got fitted for our helmets and pads, and got a brief overview of the day’s ride. We were to take the van higher up into the mountains while our cruiser-type bikes followed behind on a trailer. Then we would mount the bikes and leisurely ride down. Lunch would be waiting for us back here at the café. We were to continue on down the mountain and end up at a waterfall/pool for a refreshing dip.

Robert, the guide - (c) Stan Thomas/Kanale CreationsThe brochure says that this is one of the most scenic bike rides in the world. Can’t argue there. It certainly was beautiful. We stopped many times while our guide, Robert, pointed out various things like plants and the different types of things they are used for. We stopped at scenic vistas. We stopped to see actual coffee plants and coffee plantations. We stopped to see crayfish traps. We stopped to let the slower people catch up. Since it was all downhill, we didn’t need to pedal hardly at all.

Lunch was, of course, jerk chicken. The guides gave a demonstration showing how coffee goes from berry to brew. The smell of roasting coffee wafted through the café. Packaged coffee was available to purchase but only a couple of people bought any.Berry to brew - (c) Stan Thomas/Kanale Creations

Mounting our bikes again, we continued down the mountain. School had just let out and we saw several schoolchildren walking up the hill. They stuck out their hands enticing us to high-five them as we rode by. I will remember the smiles on their faces forever. Who’d of thought that a simple high five could make a kid so happy?

One of the more interesting things Robert pointed out was a beautifully designed building known colloquially as “The Stab House”. It was secluded, far off in the distance. It is said that men would bring women who were, ahem, not their wives, up here for a romantic weekend.

Suddenly our guide turned off the main road – if you can call it that – onto a dirt road. We had to walk our bikes a few yards until we stoppedWaterfall in Blue Mountains - (c) Stan Thomas/Kanale Creations near the main road again. Our ride ended here. Refreshments had been set out in anticipation of our arrival. Our guides told us that we could go swimming here if we liked. From where we were standing, it didn’t look like much. Robert led us down a trail, past some boulders, and lo and behold, there was the waterfall!

I brought my swim trunks but didn’t go in. Most of the others did jump in. A few of the locals were swimming around. Soon they began diving off the head of the waterfall. I got a couple of good action shots of them, but the sun was directly in front, killing the photo.

Cleve retraced our route back to the same restaurant we stopped at in the morning. Once again, Cleve did not have to leave anyone when it was time to go.

Since the bike ride was so laid back, I wasn’t at all tired but the heat made me sleepy. I tried to catch a few winks but the condition of the road made it impossible. My daily commute back home can range from four to as much as six hours. Much longer than this trip. Yet I was losing patience with this highway fast. Somebody get me off this road. Please!

Meeting John from Scotland and Kelly from England did make bouncing along this road a bit more bearable. We talked for a while. Turned out they were staying in the same hotel as we were. They invited me out for a beer but I needed to get something substantial on my stomach first so I had to take a rain check.

If you are not very athletic and want a nice, easy ride, then this is an excellent excursion for you. You actually get to get out and walk around the famous Blue Mountains. You get to see this area from eye-level as opposed to bus-level. I, on the other hand, was expecting a more vigorous ride. All in all, you cannot beat the scenery on this tour.

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