It seems that to really see all of Jamaica you need plenty of cash, all the tours and attractions come with a price. Even the Bob Marley Museum which is apparently where he lived in the last few years of his short life charges USD25.00 each just to enter! Mountain tours start at USD60 each and the nicest beaches like San San which is close to the blue lagoon made famous by Brooke Shields charges USD10 entry. Despite the currency being Jamaican dollars, the touristy places want american dollars. So on our small and dwindling budget we decided a hire car to explore would be the most economical way of seeing the island. Our drive around the east coast of Jamaica was a bumpy one. The road heading east from Port Antonio is badly maintained and full of huge pot holes which made the coastal trip around the eastern end and into Kingston a rather slow one. Huge lorries hurtling in the other direction meant we had to keep on high alert too. The north east coast is stunningly beautiful, we chose to just stop and look for free.
Just around the corner the eastern coast is battered by wind and waves but equally as beautiful. Before reaching Port Morant in the south east corner, we drove through many acres of farmland backed by the famous Blue Mountains. For quite a remote area the bumpy roads were busy with cars, bicycles and pedestrians. Every little village along the way has at least two bars, fresh produce sellers and the usual group of ponderers under a shady tree.
Kingston was heaving and a bit overwhelming for us country bumpkins, we don’t drive very often and certainly aren’t used to traffic jams with Joy, so after a brief lunch stop of chicken pattie and cake, we left Kingston behind and went into the hills. The road back to Port Antonio took us through the mountains in between the Blue Mountain and John Crow ranges.
The mountain road winds its way through lush green vegetation and again passes through many small villages, cars behind pushing us on and overtaking in the most obscene places. It was difficult to find places to pull over for a photo.
We managed to find a propane gas refill station at Annotto Bay about an hours drive from Port Antonio, so the next day we took our empty bottle hoping for a refill. There is a place in Port Antonio, but this was the day before their general election and they weren’t in the mood to fill our bottle. So off to Annotto Bay where they filled our 12kg bottle for JMD1100, which is about £7. Our German friends on ‘Na-Ja’ had been charged 20USD a couple of weeks ago by the local guy at the marina for a bottle half this size, so we were glad we had done it ourselves.
The coast road heading west from Port Antonio is excellent, no pot holes to dodge so it made a much more relaxed drive. Ocho Rios was packed as two cruise ships were in port, so we opted not to stop and be hassled. Falmouth also had a cruise ship, so another town avoided. We pushed on to Montego Bay on the north west point, a very long drive arriving at about 2pm into a very built up town which was chocker with cars, and another cruise ship.
Montego Bay was somewhat of a let-down, the sea-front is very commercial and even the cruise ship dock is by a building site on an un-made road. With traffic jams everywhere we were pleased to find the MaxiMart which is a large supermarket selling just about everything you can imagine. Here we found some Carib beer, we haven’t had this since leaving St Thomas last summer, and we thought we had a good price until they added the 16.5% tax at the checkout. So by now the car was stocked up with gas bottle and shopping and it was getting late, so after sampling some local jerk chicken in a bar overlooking the bay and airport we decided to head back knowing we had at least a 4 hour drive. The car, however, had other ideas. The fan belt had been slipping and squealing since we collected the car (we had to take it back to them after day 1 to tighten it up) and was now giving up on us, crawling through the busy rush hour traffic heading east, we stalled at every traffic light. As it got dark, the headlights made the situation worse and by the time we had reached Oracabessa we had all electrics off and our headlamps were like candle lights. Google maps took us unwittingly off the main road on what we thought was a short cut. It turned out to be a narrow back street full of pot holes winding through small noisy villages where the locals were out on the pre-election rampage. We pushed the car on with barely any lights, near misses with unlit pedestrians and dogs put the adrenalin level in overload. It even took us through a ford which luckily for us was only a few centimetres deep, and at one point the engine lost power so we pulled over, turned the dim lights off and revved her up for a minute or two. This got the lights back to a better, but still poor, level. Limping back onto the main road with every possible warning light flashing again, the car finally died. In the middle of nowhere and in complete darkness, we fumbled for the phone and Eastern Car Rentals number. Kevin the manager was initially concerned about where we were, he asked if there were people around us and when we replied no, it occurred to me that this was a good thing. We were at least an hour and a half’s drive away from Port Antonio so had a long and nervous wait for him to arrive. Nervous only because we were pulled over on a narrow verge barely off the road, and cars and lorries were hurtling past us at great speeds. With a dead battery we had to keep turning on and off the dim hazard lights when another car came into view, this still didn’t slow them down. Kevin the manager arrived at about 10pm, we were so grateful to be rescued! The belt had indeed gone hard and snapped after many miles slipping, with a new belt on and a change of battery we were back on the road and followed Kevin back to base arriving back on Joy with all our shopping just before midnight. When we returned the car the next day, Kevin said that the belt had not been the correct one for the car hence the problems. His concern for our safety was obvious and I certainly wouldn’t hesitate in recommending them, even after our little adventure the previous evening.
Election day on Thursday was a very noisy affair, the bars were not allowed to open until 11pm presumably in an attempt to keep ‘incidences’ down. At 9am the crab seller told us that he had just had his second rum of the day, the closed bars weren’t stopping the merriment. Despite all the loud music sirens and car horns, less than 50% of the 1.8 million registered voters turned up to vote with stories of a shooting, stabbing and harassment at the polling stations on the island. By 11pm the party had really started and pumping tunes and sirens continued well into the early hours, the Jamaican Labour Party won by a narrow margin.
Our quiet little bay has filled up with newcomers over the past few days, we have had a very wet and dull weekend with a front moving over. Yesterday Customs and Immigration were in the marina checking in boats and kindly agreed to clear us out for Monday at no charge. It was a 5 minute process with one form to complete, so today we have a quick trip to the market in town for a few fresh supplies and fingers crossed we have enough wind to sail the 100 miles north to Cuba.