649 KM - 21 DAYS
1 October - Boston, USA – Montego Bay, Jamaica - By plane
And, so arrived the day of my departure to Jamaica. It was time to say goodbye to the US and its friendly people and go in search of warmer grounds. I was up at 3h00 and packed the last of my belongings into one bag. Steve was dead on time and drove me to the airport where I boarded a plane to New York City and onward to Jamaica. All went well except for the fact that with Delta Airlines one pays for your luggage. The only luggage that is free is you carry-on bag. First bag $25 and the bike $150!! That all worked out to a rather expensive flight. At least they did not weigh my luggage!!!
It was incredible to see the clear blue ocean from the plane, it was so clear that I could see the bottom of the ocean! Tiny islands could be seen, all looking very idyllic, and then suddenly there it was ….Jamaica.
After landing in Montego Bay, I first had to buy an onward ticket before they allowed me in. I bought a ticket back to Miami for 27 November, as that should give me more than enough time to cycle around Jamaica and spend a month or so in Cuba, if I wish.
I collected my bag and bike and took a taxi to Gloriana’s for a night or two. That night I opened the bike box to reassemble the bike and found that the bike shop took the entire bike apart before boxing it! I did not have the right tools to reassemble it and only did what I could and left it at that.
2 - 3 October - Montego Bay, Jamaica
First thing in the morning I took a taxi to the bike shop and asked them to reattach the derailleur and do the other bits I could not do. It is times like this that I wish I was cycling with someone who could work on a bike!! In the meantime, I went in search of a bathing suit, as one cannot be in Jamaica without a bathing suit!!
Needless to say I, straightaway, fell in love with Jamaica. I love the people and their way of speaking, in fact, when they speak to each other, I don’t understand them at all!! I went to the hairdresser and nearly walked out with my hair dread-locked.
That evening I sat next to the pool, had a decent cup of coffee and then ordered the curry goat, which I washed down with a rum punch!! What a life!! Although, I must admit that I’m kind of shocked at the prices! It is rather expensive and nothing comes cheap.
While I sat sipping my morning Jamaican coffee next to the pool at a Hibiscus adorned table, I decided to stay another day. I lazily contemplated what to do with the day. In the end, I walked the not so far distance to Downtown where I found a bit of Jamaican history, as well as the local supermarket. I did my shopping and then walked back past numerous beach bars where rum comes in all colours, shapes and sizes.
4 October - Montego Bay – Fisherman’s Inn - 42 km
It was boiling hot as I packed up and left Gloriana’s. I slowly cycled down the road, stopping at beachside bars to get water and chat to the locals. I soon reached Falmouth, a typical Jamaican town with a long history. The centre of town had a few old buildings, but it was too hot to spend time and I continued on along the coast to where I reached the village of Rock, home to a phosphorous lagoon. I believed one could see phosphorescent at night.
I decided to stay and wait for darkness to witness the spectacle. I took a room at the Fisherman’s Inn which appeared to be closed as nothing worked and there was hardly anyone around. I got a room for cheap so I could not complain and it was right on the lagoon and it had a pool. Fortunately, there was a convenient store at the gas station where I could get some snacks and a beer.
That evening it started bucketing down and in the end the boat did not go out! I was rather sad about the missed opportunity.
5 - 7 October - Fisherman’s Inn – Ocho Rios - 77 km
I was not going to stay another night waiting for the boat, so I packed up and cycled to Ocho Rios. It was terribly hot again and the going rather slow. Cycling was not as easy as expected as there were a few hills on the way. At least I had butterflies darting around my head and not flies trying to crawl up my nose, as in other parts of the world.
Besides the heat, it was an interesting day past Runaway Bay and Discovery Bay. I stopped for lunch, which consisted of Jerk Chicken with rice and beans. One cannot stop at a local spot like this without someone coming to strike up a conversation and, soon enough, will invite you to come and stay at their home. I declined and continued on to Ocho Rios.
In Ocho Rios I found The Reggae Hostel, which was well-located, a stone’s throw from the beach and right in the centre of town. It was a real cool place to stay and everyone staying there was equally laidback. In the end, we all stayed longer than planned. I made use of the time to go scuba diving and, wow, what fantasticvisability we had. The water was a bright blue and the fish colourful and in abundance. I did two dives and thought it well worth the effort and money.
Back at the hostel I discovered that Sheldon (a really friendly Jamaican guy) and his girlfriend had a bracelet made for me in the Jamaican colours and with my name on it!! How awesome is that?
8 October - Ocho Rios – Port Maria - 45 km
I could not hang around Ocho Rios for ever, so finally packed up and cycled on along the coast. I did not get very far before being flagged down and offered a room along the way.
The Jamaicans have the most wonderful way of addressing a person. They’re always calling out: “Be careful, young lady” or “Hello, pretty lady. You need a room?” even to an old hag like me!!! But then it is not about being young or pretty; it’s just what they call people.
It was a real local place with a stunning view and a surprisingly modern room (compared to the rest of the place). I was in no hurry, so stayed for the night. Again, I felt that Jamaica was not for the single traveller but that it should be enjoyed with friends - the more the merrier. No good having a romantic room all by oneself!!
I, however, had a good time sitting around listening to reggae music and watching the locals rolling and smoking their joints while they were slowly swaying to the rhythm of the music. Oh, I love the Jamaican way, slow to move but quick with a smile!! I cycled the three, or so, kilometres into Port Maria, picked up some food and, while cycling back, I discovered that by then the entire town already knew me. I guess that a white woman on a bike can hardly slip under the radar in Jamaica!!
9 - 10 October - Port Maria – Port Antonio - 78 km
The road swung inland over the hills, past small rural villages seemingly untouched by the lively tourist trade along the coast. I soon came out at the coast again and continued until I reached Port Antonio. My bike was giving problems so I looked for a bike shop, which I found, but it was closed. The town itself was a bit of a dump, mainly because they were working on the roads and the whole town was in a mess.
The following day I took the bicycle to the bike shop and they adjusted the gears as best they could.
Jamaica is truly amazing. It’s not only the picture postcard scenery, but it’s the combination of the people, the food, the music and the culture. I took a walk to the marina, savoring not only the occasional waft of marijuana, but the wonderful aromatic smoke that came from the innumerable jerk stands.
11 October - Port Antonio – Morant Bay - 75 km
Again the narrow, potholed road hugged the coast for the first 40 kilometres or so and then veered inland over the hills to Morant Bay. I stopped at the Blue Lagoon for a dip, but I sadly did not resemble the 14-year-old Brooke Shields in the movie of the same name!
12 October - Morant Bay – Kingston - 65 km
I packed up at leisure as I knew it was not far to Kingston. Again, it was a real stinker as I followed the coastal road, which seemed to deteriorate the closer it got to Kingston. Fortunately, it was a Sunday and the road was not all that busy. There were, however, a few nasty little hills along the way, on top of that a bee flew in under my cap and stung me on the eye!!!
Once in the city I looked for the Reggae Hostel which was on the outskirts of town but still walking distance to shops. I was pleasantly surprised to recognize other travellers whom I had met in Ocho Rios (It’s a small island)
The following morning I woke with my eye swollen nearly shut!! I got antihistamine syrup from the pharmacy but it made me so sleepy that I did not take it again. There was not much to do in Kingston (except party). I stayed one more night, did my laundry and walked around to see what it was all about.
14 October - Kingston – Milk River Spa - 88 km
It was time to move on and instead of taking the main road, I decided to follow the seldom-travelled coastal route. I could tell by the comments and looks along the way that not only was it a less visited area, but also that a white woman on a bicycle was a rarity.
Towards the end of the day I reached Milk River, a tiny village, with a few churches and a large school. A road sign indicated that there was a hotel and spa and that it was the best hotel in the world! Judging by the condition of the sign I did not expect much but went to investigate. It was an interesting place with a few private baths. The hotel was an old wooden building with comfortable but sparsely decorated rooms along a creaky veranda. I wasted no time to submerge myself in the bath as it was rumoured that it provided a cure for numerous ailments. The room price included dinner and breakfast, which I was happy about as I was extremely hungry. I was the only person staying at the hotel and was treated like royalty.
15 October - Milk River Spa – Junction - 44 km
I had one more dip in the hot spring and then followed the coastal road further west. It was a rather interesting day.
I visited “God’s Well”, a deep sinkhole, off the side of the road and rumoured to be inhabited by the ghosts of a Taino maiden and a scuba diver (unrelated) who both drowned there. The scuba diver died whilst trying to establish the depth of the well.
Further along the road I stopped at Alligator Pond for lunch. Little Ochi is a well-visited restaurant where one can order freshly-caught fish right on the beach. The tables were in brightly painted boats on stilts and Reggae music blared from the bar.
After lunch, I set off up the mountain. It was midday and stinking hot. The road was steep and in poor condition. People kept calling me in, telling me to take a rest and rather take a taxi and that it was not achievable by bicycle. I nearly believed them as the going was rather slow and exhausting. By the time I reached the small village of Junction I spotted a sign for a Guest House and there and then decided to do the rest of the way the following day. The guest house was cheap but nice and even had a pool.
16 October - Junction – Treasure Beach - 30 km
I was up early and on the bike trying to do the rest of the climb in the cooler morning air. I soon discovered that there is no such thing as “cooler morning air”, and early morning it was already hot.
There are days that I truly doubt my sanity! Today was one of those days!! In the heat, I wrestled my bike up the hills. It did not help that the locals told me that I should rather take a taxi as it was not possible to get to Treasure Beach by bicycle!! Fortunately, there was only one hill to climb and then the downhill started, taking me all the way to the small village of Treasure Beach.
This side of the mountain was surprisingly dry and barren. It looked distinctly African with thorn trees and goats roaming the streets.
Treasure Bay was home to a few restaurants and guest houses and fortunately not “all inclusive”, as yet. No lounge chairs on the beach, just a few fishing boats. I found myself a room right on the beach and parked off in the shade.
18 October - Treasure Beach – Black River - 30 km
At Black River, I took the boat up the Black River and into the Great Morass. It was an interesting boat ride with plenty of birdlife and a fair share of crocodiles. Black River is a tiny village but interesting, with a little promenade and a few old wooden buildings dating back to the early days of Jamaica. I stayed at Waterloo Guest House built in 1819, reputed to have been the first place in Jamaica to get electricity.
19 - 20 October - Black River – Negril
I arrived in Negril, the party town of Jamaica, where everything is overpriced and rather touristy. I will spend a day here to float in the crystal clear water of the Caribbean Sea before cycling the last 75 kilometres back to Montego Bay where I started.
Jamaica, where ladies can “Rent-a-dread” or “Rastitute” as it’s called here, and it is not unusual to see middle-aged ladies strolling hand in hand with handsome young studs!! I believe that some European women have ongoing relationships and return regularly to Jamaica for the lure of the “big bamboo”, or that is at least what I’m told!! Ha-ha-ha.
21 October -Negril – Montego Bay - 75 km
It was an easy and interesting ride back to Montego Bay. The road hugged the coast and it was the first day that I actually got caught in the rain. Not bad, taking into consideration that it was supposed to be the rainy season.
As the rain came pouring down, curio sellers along the road called me to take shelter at their stands. I wasted no time in making use of their generosity. It turned out to be right next to the Tryall water-wheel and as soon as the rain abated I went to investigate. The gigantic Tryall water-wheel is nearly 200 years old and still turning!
A traditional breakfast in Jamaica consists of salt fish and ackee, served with callaloo and a side plate of yam, dumplings and plantain. Both ackee and callaloo are from West Africa.
22 - 28 October - Montego Bay
Once in Montego Bay, I found myself a room at Gloriana’s and settled in. The next flight to Cuba was only in a week’s time, so I had plenty of time to explore. I tried all the local dishes, including the famous Jamaican breakfast. Breakfast in Jamaica consists of saltfish and ackee (a fruit), served with callaloo (a spinach-like vegetable) and a side plate of yam, dumplings, and plantain. Both ackee and callaloo are from West Africa and most likely arrived in Jamaica on one of the slave ships.
Temperatures in Jamaica hardly change from one day to the next and stay at about 25 to 30 degrees Celsius. It was still the rainy season and in the afternoon clouds gather and there were thunderstorms for an hour or so before it cleared up again. Amazingly all this happened with hardly any change in temperature.
The tropical Caribbean climate in Jamaica facilitates a diverse ecosystem. Jamaica's plant life has changed considerably over the centuries. When the Spanish came here in 1494, except for small agricultural clearings, the country was deeply forested. The European settlers cut down the trees for building purposes and cleared the plains, savannahs and mountain slopes for cultivation. New plants were introduced but, fortunately, there are still some indigenous plants to be found.
In the following days I walked the streets of Mobay, which were packed with curio stalls all selling the same kind of thing. The interesting part is that on cruise ship days the prices double and it’s not a good idea to go shopping on those days. In the meantime, I looked for a bike box but could not find one anywhere. In the end, I stuck two boxes together and hoped that it would not fall apart before I got to Cuba.
Cuba is situated a mere 90 miles north of Jamaica, but the cheapest flight I could find went via Panama!! As far as I can ascertain, there is hardly any internet in Cuba, so I knew I would be out of touch for the month of November.