Kingston to Port Antonio, or, 2 Hours and 20 Minutes on a rural transport coaster

Have you ever packed 40 adults (to say nothing of assorted packages, children, and a baby nicknamed Anna Banana) into a 26 passenger coaster?


You doubt?

You say it can’t be done?

Au contraire, my good mon.  Au.  Contraire.

First, keep the AC blasting while waiting for the coaster to fill overflow.  This will lull your passengers into a false sense of spaciousness (“I do not sweat, therefore I am not crowded”).  It will also prevent them from bolting (back out into the heat) when the overfilling process drags on and on.

Second, if any of the passengers does complain about sharing a seat they paid good money for with one (or two) other people . . . sincerely, repeatedly, with-your-heart-in-your-eyes, BEG them to get off and wait for the next bus.  They won’t, of course, and you will have very effectually quelled the unruly one.  (And you can be sure that every one else will think twice about revolting.)

In fact, this technique is so effective that later on the refractory passenger will obediently serve as an intermediary between yourself and the rest, handing fares and change back and forth with nary a bleat.

Third, (and this is the most important part) turn the AC off as soon as the vehicle starts.  Your passengers will begin to sweat profusely and realize just how closely acquainted they are becoming with each other, but what care you?

You can ride with the side door wide open, the wind blowing in your face, on the lookout for more.  Always more.

This is your time to shine, to reach new heights of clown car-dom.

Three – better make that four – no five! – adults can be uncomfortably mashed standing in the area between the doorway and the first row of seats.  They will all find the same two outcroppings on which to stake their tenuous hold on an upright state in life.  This will be difficult for some, yes, nigh unto impossible for others, but the coaster must be packed!!!

And if things get really desperate, you and one of the young men can always hang out the open door.


IYG (If You Go): Catch the Port Antonio coaster on the Burger King side of the Halfway Tree Bus Terminal.  Cost: $450 Jamaican.  Incredibly scenic ride through the mountains and along the coast.  Final destination is the Port Antonio taxi rank, which is a short walk to Queen Street (several guesthouses), the bay side restaurants, and the heart of town.

Lime Cay

We long terms arrived in Port Royal after an hour’s drive by bus and headed back down the road to the Grand Port Royal Hotel | Marina and Spa (that’s the problem when places change names.  You miss your drops and get mildly chastised by your bus driver).

Fortunately, the hotel still offers boat rides out to Lime Cay.  The receptionist told us to go wait in the restaurant and the pilot would be back shortly from dropping off an earlier group.

“Oh, wait!  How old are you?”

Must be a bar and she wants to make sure I’m at least 18 (the legal drinking age in Jamaica).  “Thirty.”

“Oh!  I was going to tell you that children 12 and under ride free.”

Me, joking: “You mean I could have said Matt was my dad and I’m 12 and I could have gone for free?”  (Matt, for the record, is all of 21 years old.)

Her, serious: “I would have believed.”

Crince (i.e. combination cringe and wince).

I didn’t know what to feel more chagrined about – the fact that I missed out on a free boat ride or that after 3 decades on planet Earth I can’t even pass for a teenager.

While Matt went to sit in the restaurant, I took my underage self to the saloon style doors of the changing rooms (“Wenches” for girls, “Pirates” for guys) and re-assessed my life (Should I have worn a maxi dress instead of a tank and shorts?  More eyeliner or less?  Could she not see my white hairs!?).

ANYwho . . .

The 15 minute ride on Millennium Baby out to the Cay was amazing.  Pelicans dive bombed for fish in the water, seagulls soared overhead, the salt water was a gorgeous deep blue, and our pilot sat by the tiller looking appropriately weather beaten and taciturn.

This tiny strip of sand was waiting for us:

Lime Cay

We walked the perimeter in probably about 5 minutes (and that includes navigating the tangle of mangroves on one side of the Cay).

Warming!  Warning!  About to go all travel agency-ey on you, dear readers.  But I really can’t help it.  This place demands a gushing description.  Proceed at your own risk.

Uninhabited, the place is blissfully undeveloped except for a few signs (No Vending, No Burning) and a thatched pavilion.

The water is almost bathtub temperature and the most beautiful shades of undulating turquoise, aquamarine, and sea blue.

Lime Cay2

Scrubby trees that have been bleached by the salt and the sun until they resemble driftwood provide shade.

Yellow crabs feint with each other on the soft, foamy sand before disappearing into their holes.

A couple feet from shore, the Cay is ringed by small reefs covered in black and red sea urchins.

Across the water in one direction, mountains rise above Kingston.

Across the water in the other direction, a blue horizon filled with towering white clouds.

In short, the Cay is not a bad spot to take an afternoon nap.

End of gush ;-)


Jamaica-isms that Confused me (at First)

Baggy:  When one of the guys asked us if we had any containers and Amanda said, “No, but  we’ve got lots of baggies,” we couldn’t understand why he burst out laughing.  This is when we learned that “baggy” is Patois for “panties.” Boots: When I started asking questions about prostitution in Jamaica, I was told that New Kingston (the city business center with a lot of highrises) was notorious for a thriving, nightly sex trade.  The problem had come to light because of the complaints of office workers about the large number of boots left behind on the ground each morning.  I was picturing this: th Huh? Turns out what they meant was this: 51IJMGCHSxLPatois.  It will get you every time! Gaza/West Side!:  This is one of the first things I was taught when I arrived: hmMge What it meant and why it kept getting flashed around I wasn’t really sure.  Thankfully, I kept to the straight and narrow path of the more traditional greetings because I’ve since learned that Gaza and/or West Side has come to be associated with Kartel, a popular reggae artist who is also a convicted murderer. According to the man on the street, they never found the body but the victim’s girlfriend received a number of texts (“They’re going to kill me!”) and there are some pretty incriminating phone records of Kartel telling an associate to bring him shoes (i.e. guns). Kartel supporters flash the sign in solidarity, but many Jamaicans think he was just plain stupid to forfeit all his success and opportunities (and for doing such a poor job of covering his tracks). Baby Mama: This is one I don’t think I’ll ever really understand.  Many, many, many Jamaican men find nothing wrong with having one or more of the following at any given time: a wife, a sugar mama, a girlfriend, and a baby mama.  If you clicked the link in the “Boots” section, you read that 85% of Jamaicans who are born do not have their father’s name on their birth certificate. Just before Father’s Day, I was talking with a girl who works at Mustard Seed and telling her that even though I wouldn’t be seeing my father, I was going to call him.  Then I asked her if she’d be seeing her dad.  No, he didn’t live in Kingston.  Oh, did she ever get to go visit him?  An incredibly sad look came into her eyes.  “In Jamaica it is not common for children to know their fathers.” 90% of Mustard Seed’s residents were abandoned by their families.  Unfortunately for many of them, adoption will never be an option.  Lawyers have been working for years to track down birth certificates but it is a slow, unfruitful process.  In cases where parentage is known the fathers refuse to sign over their parental rights.  These men don’t want to give “their” child to someone else, even though they themselves are doing absolutely nothing to care for their son(s) or daughter(s). There is a cost to all of this and it’s the little ones who are paying it.

London Burning


London burning, London burning

Look yonder, Look yonder

Fire, fire!

Fire, fire!

And we have no water

This is absolutely, positively, without a shadow of a doubt, one thousand and ten percent our favorite Circle Time song at My Father’s House.

By the end of the second “London burning” the circle (which is really more of a squashed oval) has erupted into shrieks of delight and bubbling laughter.  Arms flail and wheelchairs shake and those who are able join in with all their might and main on “Look yonder, Look yonder!”

But lest you suspect the 20 some residents of MFH of harboring a deep, dark grudge against the Brits some 52 years after Jamaica achieved independence, I should explain.

Miss Parkins emerges from the laundry room, toting two purple & green water pumps.  She stalks the circle, singing all the while.

Fire, fire!

Fire, fire!

And we have no water

So call the fireman, Call the fireman

Put the first water pump in Devon’s hands.  Help him pump.  Water sprays everywhere.  The kids in the line of fire – excuse me, water – can barely contain their delight.

Look yonder, Look yonder

Fire, fire!

Fire, fire!

And we have no water

One of the toddlers take it in the face and startled, blinks rapidly at this uncalled for second bath of the day.

So call the firewoman, Call the firewoman

Look yonder, Look yonder

The second pump is in Sasha’s hands and she totters on unsteady legs but manages to soak the three wheelchair bound residents next to her.  More laughter.  Natty tries desperately to stick an uncooperative arm in the air, hoping to be chosen as the next fireperson.  Darn you, Cerebral Palsy!

First verse again!

London burning, London burning

Look yonder, Look yonder

Fire, fire!

Fire, fire!

And we have no water

Almost everyone in the circle has had a turn by now and the atmosphere becomes noticeably charged.  The anticipation is about to bust our seat belts.

All this time, Ramone has been dogging Miss Parkins’ steps, making futile grabs for a pump.  Now, she turns to him and the trash talking begins.

“You want to take me?  You think you can take me?”

“Yeah!” Ramone giggles hysterically.

It’s on.

Like boxers in the ring, they circle each other.  Miss Parkins, still singing and stalking in time to the rhythm.  Ramone, rollicking on the inside of his right ankle, right arm permanently clawed up to his chest.

She aims, she squirts!

Ramone is about to choke with joy but still manages to get in a few good shots before they both run out of ammo.

Back to the water bucket!

Ramone has the advantage this time!  A full pump thanks to Aunty Sarah but what’s this?  Oh no!  He’s off balance and all his water is hitting the pavement!

But Miss Parkins is giving no quarter!  She -

Devrow!  Get your head out of the bucket!

Where were we?  Oh, yes, she soaks Ramone’s head and shoulders, routing him utterly.  The audience roars.  He takes off for the shelter of the babies’ room, but she is right behind him.

They emerge from the other end of the room but now he is chasing her.  Oh, it’s too much!  We really can’t contain our excitement!

Another trip to the water bucket, with much the same result.  We’d say Miss Parkins had the best of the encounter, if Ramone wasn’t laughing so hard.

“Oh, Lord, I’m tired!” says Miss Parkins.

We’ll do it all again tomorrow!  Yeah, Mon, we will!

Tavoy, or Tavar?, the Irresistible

Tavoy or Tavar – to quote Shawn Spencer, “I’ve seen it both ways” – is one of the little guys I inherited from my first roommate/fellow volunteer here in Jamaica. She spent a lot of time with him doing art projects and reading stories and he in turn adored his “Uncle Catherine.” One of the most tragicomical things I’ve ever seen is Tavoy or Tavar clutching Catherine’s leg and sobbing (crocodile tears and all) during every single one of the smiling, happy-face goodbye pictures she was taking with the other kids on her last day. It made an impression.

His legs don’t work but wheelchairs aren’t his favorite things. You can usually find him scooting himself along on the ground, sliding on his calves and pulling himself forward with his arms.

He’s a little cutie who can melt into tears of epic proportions without the slightest warning. That’s Epic as in the “spoiled thirteen-year-old girl who just broke up with her first boyfriend and had a Facebook fight with her best friend and was asked to load the dishwasher by her mom” variety.

It’s something to behold.

And as if all this wasn’t great enough, he has this trick of scooting himself out the door and into the middle of the walkway whenever he realizes you are leaving to shout, “Aunty, me!”

Since scooting takes a while, you’re normally all the way at the other end by the time he shows up. But I defy anyone to look over their shoulder as they’re sprinting for the bus and not change directions when they see this:

Tavoy (or Tavar – I’ve seen it both ways) on his knees, arms uplifted in supplication, and a confident-in-your-coming smile already stretching across his face.

But if you do by some superhuman effort resist, his “Aunty, one more hug!” will finish you no matter how many people are in the bus waiting.

I guarantee it.

Cinchona Botanical Gardens

This amazing place:


Was reached after riding in the back of a pickup truck up a one lane road that began as potholed pavement before turning to dirt before turning to, strangely enough, cobblestone.  Which was followed by a 3 1/2 mile hike up this:

blue mountain hike

Our hike began in lush jungle grasses that turned into coffee tree farms and then, as we neared the top – desolation.  A recent fire that had started on one side of the ridge had swept over to the other side, charring pine trees, consuming the grass.  Would there be anything left to see of the Botanical Gardens on top of the mountain?

Incredibly, yes.  We rounded a bend and left behind the ashy landscape just as quickly as we had entered it.  This is what we saw:


Years ago, the British sought out the sub-tropic zone of this peak in the Blue and John Crown Mountain ranges.

Here, Cinchona, Eucalyptus, Pine, and other plants that would have died on the hot tropical plains flourished.

Here, they developed treatments for the dreaded Yellow Fever.

And here, we came to spend a fabulous afternoon on August 6, Jamaica’s Independence Day!

Old, stone ponds with purple water lilies.  A crumbling great house.  Unexpected twists and turns in the moss covered paths underneath the bamboo.  A pattering of feet and scratching of claws as something went running at my approach.  And the views.

Oh my lord, the views!


I sat for a long time on a bench, watching the clouds descend on a mountain across the valley.  Jamaica is the first place where I have found myself able to simply “Be still and know that [He] is God.”  Something about the beauty of the water, earth, and sky enables me to empty my mind of all distractions and just Be.

I think it affected some of the others the same way, because on our 3 1/2 mile hike back down the mountain, Javon (our driver) and I had a long conversation about faith and its impact on our lives.

The best part for me was when he began talking about his commitment to his wife (“monogamy” is NOT a word in the average Jamaican male’s vocabulary).  “Sometimes my friends will be saying, ‘Mon, that girl likes you.  You should go get her.’  I tell them ‘No, Mon, that would be a sin.  How could I do that after I prayed to God for her?  And now that He has given her to me, I’m just going to go cheat?’  I have to remember the time when I had no wife at all.  And then I am thankful for what I have right now.   I don’t need to cheat.”

Speaking of love and marriage . . .

On our way back down the mountain later that evening, about 4 random guys jumped in the back of our pickup truck.  Nothing like hitching a free ride down the mountain when it’s cold and misty out!

3 eventually got out, but one still hadn’t reached his destination yet when we overtook a woman and offered her a ride.  She also rode in the back and before too long Last Man Riding was putting her # into his mobile.  (Yes, I was spying out of the corner of my eye while pretending to gaze at the fluorescent red cross someone had erected on top of the mountain across the valley..  No, I did not feel guilty about it.)

Did we inadvertently begin a love that will last a lifetime all because we decided to go hiking?  My fellow volunteers rather realistically projected two nights (if that) but I prefer to think positive thoughts ;-)