From Coral Reefs to Mountain Peaks in Jamaica

It’s hard to believe that I have been living in Kingston for two months now. My IEDP colleagues all assured me that this internship would fly by, and yet I still find myself baffled each day when I look up at the calendar on my office wall. The next few weeks will be particularly busy at work. I need to finish the implementation guide I have been writing and finalize the results framework and theory of change with the Monitoring and Evaluation Specialist. Once completed, I will present these deliverables to relevant stakeholders for feedback. It is exciting to see all of my work come together into a useful product for both the international organization I am working with and for all of the relevant partners. Aside from my formal deliverables, I am also assisting with various tasks around the office, such as helping to plan Human Rights Day in December.

Besides work, I have been lucky to spend a lot of my time traveling around Jamaica. I made it to all fourteen parishes and have driven from the tip of Negril to the west to Morant Point to the east (Zach drove us two hours through sugar cane fields to make sure we accomplished this). Jamaica is incredibly diverse and it has been amazing to explore beaches, mountains, and everything in between. Below I highlight some of the most memorable experiences so far.

Visits to Portland Parish

One of the first weekend trips I made was to Portland, a laid-back parish on the northeast coast of the island approximately two hours from Kingston. Often cited as one of the most beautiful areas in Jamaica (an informal poll of my co-workers put it very high on the list, plus IEDPer Suhina recommended it), Portland is a nature lover’s paradise with rocky coasts and hidden coves.

Winnifred Beach in Portland Parish.

We stayed in Fairy Hill, a community located near the capital of Port Antonio, and spent the weekend snorkeling at Winnifred Beach, eating too much jerk chicken (and jerk pork, and jerk beef…), and enjoying the vivid greens and blues of the forest and the sea.

On Sunday, we planned to drive the long way around the east coast back to Kingston in order to visit some towns along the way. After our first stop in Long Bay, a sleepy beach community, we got back to our car to discover that it would not start. There we were, stranded in the dunes during the peak heat of the day with a dying cell phone battery. As we opened the hood of the car, we heard a man call out from across the street, and the ensuing conversation went something like this:

Helpful Soul: Hey man, you got a problem?

Zach: No, well, our car won’t start so I’m just trying to see what’s wrong.

Helpful Soul: Hey, you’re in Jamaica! If you have a problem, you just call out and say, “I have a problem!”

Within five minutes, this helpful soul brought over the town mechanic (and another friend for moral support!) who took out our corroded battery, jumped the car with a new battery, and then switched our original battery back in with the car running. We wouldn’t be able to stop until we got to Kingston, he said, but that was a small price to pay! It was this moment, and a million other moments, that sealed our love for this parish and had us returning again a few weeks later.

Stranded in Portland.

On our second visit to Portland, we stayed at a lovely property that sat on 16 beautiful acres of greenery abutting a gorgeous cliff. In the last few years, the owner had worked to cut out a rocky path that skirted down the cliff to a secluded cove. We spent the weekend snorkeling, reading on the beach, and dreaming up plans to purchase this land and set up a cottage among the hundreds of fruit trees. I have never eaten so many avocados and fried plantains in my life, and we left with full bellies and smiles.

Hiking Jamaica’s Tallest Peak

Since arriving in Jamaica, my partner and I have wanted to hike Blue Mountain, the country’s tallest peak. Getting to the trailhead is tricky, though, and we weren’t sure if we would be able to make it on our own. Luckily, the UN organized a multi-agency hike as part of its wellness campaign a few weeks ago and we jumped at the chance to join!

The group met in New Kingston at 4 am to eat some “breakfast” and load up into carpooling cars. We headed up the mountains that tower over the city under the dark of night, arriving at Mavis Bank, a rural coffee community, around 6:30 am. From here, the road to the trailhead becomes too treacherous to navigate, so we piled into vans and pick-ups that shuttled us up to our destination. Around 7:30 am we reached Whitfield Hall, a hostel and coffee farm located at the base of Blue Mountain.

Snuggling up to Novia, my supervisor, before starting the hike. I was the only participant in shorts, which greatly concerned the group.

Jamaica’s Blue Mountain range spreads across the northeast coast of the island and sits in four parishes: St. Andrew, St. Thomas, Portland and St. Mary. The Blue Mountain peak, which sits at 7,402 ft, is roughly in the center of the range among the country’s famous coffee farms. The trailhead begins across the road from Whitfield Hall. The first part of the trail is flat and winds through coffee farms and misty hills just long enough to trick you into thinking this will be easy. After a half a mile or so, the path turns steeply and abruptly uphill into an infamous section known as Jacob’s Ladder. After 3 miles we arrived at Portland Gap and enjoyed a quick snack of bananas and biscuits. From there, it was approximately 2.5 miles to the summit. Along the way, we took in the amazing views of the surrounding Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park and admired the many local birds that fluttered by.

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At around 11:15 am, we summited the peak and immediately felt like we were floating amongst the clouds. We had a quick lunch, took some photos and then started the journey back down the trail. Aside from getting caught in one torrential downpour, it was a quicker trip down than up (although slippery and hard on the knees—thank goodness for bamboo walking sticks).

Equal parts exhausted and excited at the summit.

Once we got back to Whitfield Hall, we ate a delicious dinner outside under the hundred-year-old trees and watched as the sky changed to a shade of dusty pink. It was a magical place, and I feel lucky to have shared it with colleagues and new friends across multiple agencies.

Whitfield Hall, coffee farm and hostel in the Blue Mountains.

As darkness fell, we loaded back up into the vans and made the treacherous journey back down to Mavis Bank. Around each turn, we collectively held our breathe and shifted our weight away from the steep cliffs. Every few minutes one of the passengers would call out to the driver and ask, “you have done this before, right?”. It was memorable, to say the least, but we made it. By the time I got back to my apartment in Kingston it was 9 pm and I fell right into bed.

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