Before we left Santa Marta we got to take Leighton, Paula and a friend of theirs out sailing.
It was a beautiful day and we just went around the corner to a small bay. A group of tourists went past and clicked away with their cameras. I said that I wondered what the attraction was but Paula said that they probably thought we were movie stars being on a yacht. I had to laugh and thought maybe it was just that we had two very beautiful Colombian women lounging on our front deck.
Sailing away from Colombia at a fast pace, we viewed snow capped mountains. A strange phenomenon when you consider that the water temperature was about 32 degrees Celsius and the air 30. Ancient mariners must have been in awe of this wondrous sight just as we were. The crossing to Jamaica took four and a half days with one of those having about ten hours of motoring. Otherwise we were on a close reach as we pushed as far east as possible to round the east coast of Jamaica and head up north to Port Antonio.
Errol Flynn’s island stood to the starboard side of the boat as we entered the huge but quiet tropical harbour. Beautifully adorned with palm trees and overgrown jungle that was reclaiming an old deserted resort and other buildings on the island it welcomed us beautifully to this tropical paradise. The Errol Flynn Marina was tucked away in a corner of the bay. That’s where we stayed.
Port Antonio was rather run down and the majority of the inhabitants endeared themselves to us only to beg or demand we give them something. It was overwhelming and I felt like getting back to the boat and leaving. Although we were sympathetic to the local’s plight but it was just every few metres. I chose to donate to the Salvation Army Christmas Appeal that was established on a few corners. Unfortunately it didn’t give us a very good first impression. However, the people at the marina were lovely and George our guide for our river rafting trip was interesting and welcoming.
We had a beautiful drive with the jungle on one side of the road and a sea view on the other on the way to Montego Bay to pick Kiki up from the airport. The locals told us it was about a two and a half hour drive but it took four hours each way. Quite a day. With our visitor on board we decided to keep the hire car an extra day to explore the Blue Lagoon of Brooke Shields fame and Reach Falls. The lagoon was surrounded by venders and tourist operators – a far cry from the natural playground of the two children who were shipwrecked in the movie of the same name.
Reach Falls turned out to be a real treat. A lush jungle surrounded the moss covered limestone structure of the falls. The water sprayed over evenly like a fountain. Hidden caves awaited our exploration behind each of the falls. We followed a guide up river a short way swimming through crystal clear pools to other small waterfalls. One of these went through the limestone and came out through a tunnel further down stream. We climbed down into the cave whilst being showered and pushed by the rapid waters. Small stalagmites hung from the roof of the small cave and we crawled through the tunnel to reappear in the sunlight. It was only a small way but it was an interesting thing to do.
Back at the marina our future hitch hiker, Elia from Switzerland, was dropping by and venturing out around Erroll Flynn’s island, (Navy Island – the government owns it now), with us in the dinghy a few times. Then he broached the subject of joining us for a few days. He is a kind hearted soul and full of an urge to explore his world although he is a bit accident prone. We decided to welcome him on board and he really enjoyed his adventures.
We headed off around the east coast towards the southern coast line and stopped the first night at Port Morant where we were boarded by the Coast Guard and the Marine Police.
Thomas handled the official coast guard side of things while I chatted cricket and netball with the police. The Jamaicans are very particular about guarding their coast line from drug traffickers and other illegal activities so we’re required to check in with the authorities at every major port. This is a bit of a hassle and we made the mistake of going there on a Saturday morning which meant we had to pay overtime chargers. We got a bill of $65 USD. On closer inspection of the bill back on the boat the guy charged us for an hour and a half of his time and a 40km journey to see us. We had walked into his office and he kept us talking for half an hour. I guess it went towards the Christmas party fund. Need to question this on the spot next time but we tend to want to be very cooperative with these guys. It’s free during the week.
After checking in with Kingston’s customs and exploring the fort of the old pirate town of Port Royal, we headed off to an area of small islets and cays. Just beautiful and totally relaxing. We saw lots of lobsters and a couple of sharks. One was two metres long. The fishermen told us to watch out for the tiger shark!!!
Elia was keen to fish and he checked with the marine police to see if a foreigner was allowed to and they told him it wasn’t a problem. He caught an octopus and some lobsters. We made a fire on Little Pelican Cay fueled by driftwood and we cooked the breadfruit and the catch there. The breadfruit was very sweet when cooked this way. Captain Bligh is famous for bringing the breadfruit to the Caribbean from the South Pacific as food for the slaves. It is an important staple throughout the islands still and readily available. Elia ended up sleeping on the island for the night in front of the fire. He loved the sense of freedom it gave him.
Adjusting to the local fare is always initially a challenge as we learn how to prepare the indigenous fruits and vegetables, but it’s a fun one. The Jamaican national dish is ackee and salt fish. Take away the salt fish and I enjoy the ackee. It’s a small yellow brain-like fruit with a huge black seed at one end making it look like a beetle. It grows in a pod containing four ‘beetles’. The pod looks like a fruit itself but you wouldn’t want to go biting into it. Only needing a small amount of cooking, it has a unique taste. It is available in cans for about $12 in the U.S. But it costs $1 a bag fresh here on the island.
I also made sorrel, which is the Jamaican Christmas drink, out of rosellas, ginger and cinnamon. The locals add rum but it was delicious without it. After soaking the rosellas over night I was meant to discard the actual fruit but I decided to make some jam out of them. An old family favourite that I first made in high school cooking classes, turned out well. We don’t usually have jam on board but it’s nice with all our guests coming and for over Christmas. Elia did a bit of cooking for us and cooked an Ital meal that he’d learned off a Rasta friend. It didn’t look very colourful but it was very tasty. He also made us a bracelet each out of coral. They’re our Jamaican jewels.
After six days touring around the islands we headed back to Kingston to drop Elia off as he’s off to Cuba for Christmas. We then went out to what is supposed to be the best fish restaurant in Jamaica at Port Royal. I had a stir fry veggie dish. We tried ‘festivals’, a fried dumpling that turns out like a doughnut and their version of bammys – a fried yam fritter. The Kingston fishermen and locals are friendly and very welcoming.
We have headed back into the cays to continue on around the south coast of