Sunday, 29 April 2012

April in Washington, DC

Arrived in DC on April 25 for a six day visit with Allie & Doug and to celebrate the 4-month birthday of August and George! 

I barely made it here on the 25th, having scheduled two hour plus in Miami to change planes from Kingston - only to find myself in a 1 hr 45 minute line-up to go through US Immigration!  They were taking at least 10 minutes with every person and it was painful and ridiculous.  Then I had to go through security all over again, and even the expedited line was long!  I put my runners back on - no explosives found in them - but had no time to tie them up, ran to the 'train' to get to another set of gates and was the last person on the plane as they were pulling up the ramp!  The video with safety announcements was already playing when I sat down. Whew!

Weather has been cooler than recently, though no rain and we are enjoying long walks and outings every day.  Went to the "Newseum" on Thursday, which was incredible: the history and impact of the news, complete with originals of the earliest newspapers from the 1500's.  We spent many hours there, then walked to August's pediatrician appointment, then walked home. A long, excellent day and both boys were good as gold.  We treated ourselves to delivered sushi for dinner!  Friday was walking to the National Zoo, beautiful and very well designed. Though it was a weekday, it was very busy with school trips - so it was a zoo inside and outside of the enclosures. 

On Saturday we went to the Kreeger Museum, which we found in listed as a "hidden gem" in the Washingtonian magazine.  It was, indeed, a hidden gem! A private collection housed in the home of the philanthropists - incredible to see 9 Picassos in the hall, 10 Monets in dining room, and many other works by Pissaro, Sisley, Renoir, Mondrian, Miro, garden of Henry Moores and many others all in one private collection

Shopping, chilling out and Sunday dinner today. I'm cooking. Made butter tarts last night :-)

Family dinner in the Lee-MacKay household

Doug reading with August. 

August with Pierre on his 4-month birthday, his blue shirt making his blue eyes sparkle

George with St. John on his 4-month birthday, smiling as always

Brothers on their 4-month birthday

Allie at the entrance to the 'big cats' exhibit at the National Zoo

Lions basking in the sunshine

More lions, more basking

Burrowing Owl

Pygmy Falcon

Bronze statue of otters outside the otter exhibit (which was closed). But reminded me of the Vancouver Aquarium

Graves of John F. Kennedy and Jacqueline Kennedy at Arlington National Cemetery. We had a Zip Car to go to the Kreeger, so went for a drive and to Arlington on the way back. Very interesting, historic site

Arlington, with some of 320,000 graves


This is Beezoo, Allie & Doug's 8 yr old Maine Coon Cat. She has very long hair and ruff, which is prone to matting.  And now the hot weather is here.  So Allie took her to the groomers and decided on a "lion cut" to keep her cool in the summer . . . 

. . .  and here is the resulting "lion", feeling rather foolish and not sure how to sit down without the fur padding on her behind :-)

Beezoo the Lion

. . .  and she is now outa here!

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Earth Day Forest Trek to Cinchona Botanic Gardens

It is Earth Day! (Sunday, April 22).  In recognition of Earth Day, the Jamaica National Forest Service organized a "Forest Walk", this being the third or fourth they have done. I was very fortunate that my CUSO colleague and friend, Delphine, knew about this and sent an invitation to join a team. Very un-Jamiacan, we had to sign up and pay registration six weeks ago and I have since  been looking forward to the trek.

We had a team of 10: 9 able to arrive on the day: 4 Canadians - 2 West Coast (1 having recently emigrated from Kyrgystan), 2 Montreals; 2 Netherlands; 1 Jamaican; 1 Trinidad/Tobago; and 1 Guyana. One of the many delights of living/working in Jamaica is the mix of cultures . . .  I am blessed to count them all as my friends.

Jamaica has a National Forest Service and, like many worldwide, is under-funded. However, good to know they are active and passionate and with an incredible lot of work to do. Check them out

The day was long, but well organized - well almost. We had many notices to arrive early for the 6 am departure and lists of what to bring and how to prepare. The lists included things like "wear comfortable underwear" and "cut toe nails". Really. I figure if anyone needs these reminders, they should not be trekking in the forest. 

Our team was on time arriving at UTech parking lot before 6 am.  Of course, the buses all departed promptly at 7 am.  We were all keen, in good company, and most of us accepting Jamaica-time (though we were all there at 6!) The weather was perfect, clear and sunny all day.  This was serendipitous as we have had a lot of rain and, as I write this on Sunday morning, it is an overcast day with continuous rain and drizzle. I digress that my laundry is on the line, though may have to take a detour to the dryer if the sun does not come out by late afternoon. 

The outbound hike was 2 hours (for me and my hiking partner), though 3 to 4 hours for many; all of it uphill for 7.5 km. We did not have to worry about 'trail', as it was an old road though very uneven and overgrown. The hike down was 1.5 hours. 

The prize at the top was the Cinchona Botanic Gardens, established in 1868 under the supervision of the Chief Gardener from Kew Gardens in London, England.  This is at 5,000 ft. above sea level. Originally the hillside grew tea; now the hillsides are covered in the famous coffee that the Blue Moutains produce. The gardens grew cinchona trees (to produce quinine  and export to counter malaria in British colonies around the world).  Hurricane Gilbert took a serious toll on the mountain top gardens in 1988 and the place has fairly gone to ruins since then. Difficult to understand why the botanic gardens where established at such a remote place: while the weather conditions and the view are unparalleled, the trip up by horse and carriage must have been very difficult for both horse and rider.

There were about 200 trekkers, estimated by the fact there were 10 'coasters' (familiar small buses that each carry about 20 people). 

The bus ride, both ways about 1.5 to 2 hours, was amazing and on roads that were new to me. Incredible scenery always on the side of a precipice; narrow one lane roads, accompanied by the backing-up of a vehicle to a questionable 'passing' section; and a few sections where the road has washed out and we were not sure the coaster could navigate without falling into the abyss far below. At one point, the coaster was stuck in a 'crossing' (river/stream across the road - I use the word 'road' loosely) and we all had to exit the coaster, walk up to the top of the next hill, where lightened coaster allowed us to pile back in.  No one seemed to mind as this appears to be a regular practice on the mountain roads.

Apologies, no pictures for the bus rides. I was in the back and not driving :-)  Stunning though it was.  I limped in the door at about 7 pm, after an excellent day, to a nice glass of red wine and homemade lasagna. I was asleep by 9:15. 

Enough talk . . .  now time for pictures to tell the rest of the story . . . 

Not quite there yet, as we made a pit stop at the Jamaica Defense Forces (JDF) camp in the Blue Mountains. Not sure why they would want a camp up there, but the view was stunning and there were toilets. That is Kingston in the distance below.

Arrived at the national park entrance, with the usual chaos of trying to get 200 hikers organized and on their way. The forest workers and trek volunteers wore red shirts and yellow shirts, and were numerous and helpful.

After the first 2 km there was a water and fruit station at the old Clydesdale coffee pulpery. Little did we know that was the "easy" 2 km! There was another water/fruit station at about 4 km, just before the brutal 4 - 6 km stretch.

Clydesdale coffee pulpery

Outbuilding at Clydesdale

Looking down on Clydesdale

Coffee on the hillsides, which are covered with coffee bushes. They are on hillsides that are so steep it is difficult to stand, yet they thrive in the environment and farmers hand pick the crops. 

Difficult to see in the picture, all the hillsides (called the Blue and John Crow Mountains) are covered with coffee plants. Some of them are cultivated and cared for, though many of the bushes belong to old, abandoned plantations. However, all of those bushes still produce the famous Blue Mountain coffee with the independent, local farmers taking the beans to central coffee plants for processing and shipping.  

High up and far from anywhere, a very small, family community. They welcomed us along our way.

Family in the Blue Mountains. Not sure if they were smiling or laughing at us.

Erin pausing before a very steep climb - it doesn't look so steep in the picture, but it was an over 45 degree incline.

Almost to Cinchona, barely visible is a coffee plant on the nearest hill top.

Cinchona Botanic Gardens, with old governor's house. We  had our lunch under that skeletal tree.

As we arrived at Cinchona, we were directed along a further trail - much further than we would have rathered at that point! - and everyone had an opportunity to plant a pine tree.  This is Erin. Deforestation is a serious issue in Jamaica, as the hillsides were denuded of their natural pines for the plantations. Many of the plantations are now abandoned and the forest service is trying to restore the natural vegetation.

The nasturtiums are self-seeding everywhere and quite lovely, decorating the abandoned buildings.

View from the peak at Cinchona, framed by nasturtiums in the foreground.

Behind the main building, I found this old potting shed with bike perched nearby defining the incongruity that one sees daily in Jamaica.

Bamboo tunnel

The Forest Service had set up lunch and refreshments - and cut the lawns! It was a lovely respite after the climb.  We stayed there for two hours before the decent.

Erin used a portion of those two hours for a nap.

Most of the flower gardens are no longer blooming, though these red iris were stunning.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Jacks Hill

On Easter Monday morning, a statutory holiday here - well, actually the whole day is a statutory holiday - Fred and Britta joined me on a drive up Jacks Hill. 

Normally, I would have returned the rental car on a Monday morning, but due to the holiday the car rental was closed. Which is a bit odd, considering it is open on Sundays, etc.  However, decided to go for a local drive and take advantage of the car.  The trip exceeded expectations!

Jacks Hill is both a long road through the foothills above Kingston and, I now know, is also a neighbourhood and community with its own identity.  If one drove quickly, which is difficult on pot-holed narrow roads, it is only about 15 minutes out of Kingston yet in a world of its own. 

We had a delightful morning, stopping many times for pictures and to express our amazement to find such a beautiful place right in our own Jamaican backyard. 

Of course, on the way back to made the obligatory stop at MegaMart - every other store in Jamaica was closed, but MegaMart is always open. Hey, if you have a car then you stock up on the heavy stuff and store it: if there is a hurricane I will not only survive and eat well, but will be able to feed my neighbours. And wash their clothes and clean their homes :-)

Part way up Jacks Hill Road, we stopped to view Kingston. This was after we passed through many beautiful homes and estates.  I am from BC, so this was rather like the upper reaches of West Vancouver. 

Looking down upon an estate on the slope of Jacks Hill.

 The flora on Jacks Hill is more exquisite than on the lower reaches and in town Kingston.

After the palatial homes we came, rather delightfully, to the true community of Jacks Hill. This chap was perched by his shop, defunct stove to the right, and proudly pointed out to us the small poster below the store awning announcing that the afternoon would see an Easter Monday Fete at the Jacks Hill Community Centre for all the children and their families. 

 I was trying to take pictures of the many flowers and this little bug decided to get in the picture 

 The back of the "yellow store" in previous picture . . .  all precariously perched on the steep hillsides.
 More perched houses with Constant Spring in the background.
Scenery to the north of Jacks Hill.

View to Kingston, through the screen of bamboo,  from near the peak of Jacks Hill.

Hey, there is always someone who needs a bit of furniture or a few plants . . . in the middle of the mountains and tropical forest. . . 

. . . .  and always a dead car or twenty . . . 

. . .  and always an edifice that you simply cannot figure out

This was the end of the road.  About a hundred metres beyond (to the right, not through the gate) the road continues. However, there has been a severe wash-out and there is a considerable engineering project in process to build a massive retaining wall and connect the two pieces; allowing one to cross Jacks Hill and descent on the other side above University of the West Indies (UWI). We had to turn back and re-trace our steps.  Though not after marveling at the gate of the estate at the end (temporarily) of the road: there are many symbols here and not sure if I have figured them all out.