Thursday, 22 November 2012

Blue Mountain Peak

It is late in the evening of November 21st and I am exhausted, though exhilarated. Since I arrived in Jamaica and particularly since I have been hashing (hiking) around and in the Blue Mountains, hiking to the peak has been on my list. I finally did it!

The peak of the Blue Mountains is 2,256 metres, though we drove to about the 1500 metre level to the trail head.  We, therefore, hiked an elevation of about 756 metres over 6 km (one way).  Doesn't sound like much, does it?  As they say in Jamaica, "trust me".  The first 20 minutes was straight up on "Jacob's Ladder" and I was wondering how I was ever going to make it all the way. The trail did change after awhile and we had sections of only slight incline through forests, interspersed with very narrow - as wide as my foot! - steep, rocky, slippery stretches. Coming down was almost as hard as going up; coming down Jacob's Ladder was definitely more difficult with my tired knees literally seizing as I inched my way down. It took up three hours going up stopping to take pictures, enjoy the scenery, rest our legs, catch our breath - this was not a race.  And over two hours on the way down - would have quicker if we could have flown over Jacob's Ladder.

While many go up to Whitfield Hall, camping out in a beautiful but very rustic (dilapidated?) setting and accessing the trail directly from there, we chose to go to Lime Tree Farm  A wiser decision could not have been made!  The co-owners are Charlie Burbury and Roger Bolton, and they have operated a coffee farm of about 8,000 plants staring from nothing about 25 years ago. They have added two homes, kitchen and dining area, and three guest cottages - all built by themselves.  Lime Tree is about 1 1/2 hours from Kingston and they provide return transportation, picking us up at our doors, and nested on its own peak of a ridge at the end of a track - one could not call it a road - into the hills past the Mavis Bank Coffee Factory. 

We had great conversations over dinner the night before, as we ate family style with Charlie, Rodger and families.   We learned that Charlie's grandfather was Sir Hugh Foot, later Lord Caradon, who was the Governor of Jamaica form 1951-57.  Hence, Charlie's connection and the reason he came to Jamaica . . .  it is a great story and you must go to Lime Tree Farm and hear Charlie tell it himself.  Charlie, Suzy, and their son, Alex, live there full time.  When he is not working on the farm or guest houses, Charlie is a commercial diver and works a lot in Kingston harbour.  Rodger also lives with his wife, Tiff, at Lime Tree but he is only there for about 6 months of the year, during coffee harvest season which coincides with tourist/hiking season.  Rodger was our guide.  The other six months of the year, he is the captain of a 40 metre yacht in the Mediterranean!

The lodging at Lime Tree includes meals, accompanied by wine/beer/rum and their own home grown and roasted coffee, Ratcutt.  The meals were some of the best I have had in Jamaica, all freshly prepared with local ingredients. We had a dinner the night before, breakfast at 4:30 am, second-breakfast picnicked at the peak, and were greeted by salad, quiche, and fresh squeezed lemonade upon our return. 

The price of this most exceptional guest house is the two hour drive to the trail head, through Hagley Gap and hamlets all perched precariously on the sides of steep hills. The inhabitants  afoot sharing the narrow track with vehicles, many of them heading to pick coffee.  Most impressive, and somewhat worrisome, were the children, many of them preschoolers, walking many kilometres to school in the dark at 5:30 am and all dressed crisply and spotlessly in their school uniforms.  I wish we could have stopped and taken pictures, but it just was not possible for reasons of darkness, no place to safely stop, and we were already trying to make the trip in two hours. We were transported in an old, but refurbished and reliable, Land Rover ably driven by Rodger.  The road was so steep, rocky, and narrow in places, up the axles in mud in others, that I am sure we would not have made it without the Land Rover. Or Rodger. These are roads (the word 'road' is too kind) that you have to experience to understand - pictures would not do justice.

Note that I am rather positive regarding the two hour each way trip to the trail head, as I greatly enjoyed the scenery and the adventure.  I must confess that I may have enjoyed it a tad more than my three hiking companions who were hanging onto ropes for stability and trying to remain seated on benches in the back of the Land Rover.  While they were being tossed  about, I was sitting in the front seat with a seat belt.  Age does have its privileges :-)

The entire trip and hike are in the many pictures following, all with their own descriptive captions. It was difficult to take many pictures on the trail as I was too busy watching where my feet were going and did not want to keep taking the camera out of my pack. 

Many groups hike up in the dark to catch the sunrise - you will see this advertised.  I am really glad that we chose to go in the early morning light instead.  Hiking in the dark on that trail would not be fun and could be dangerous. And chances of seeing the sunrise are very limited as the peak is often socked in weather.  We were incredibly lucky to have a sunny day at the peak!  The trail in mostly in forest and the temperature in the mountains is much cooler, so the hot sun is really not a threat. 

Enough talking and now to the pictures to the pictures . . . 

We arrived by 5pm, in time to take some pictures in the late evening light.  This is the view to Kingston from Lime Tree Farm.

View to the Blue Mountains from Lime Tree.  That is where we were going in the morning.

Room shared with Brianna, beautifully appointed with hot water in the shower! We slept here for a few hours, as we were up at 4 am to get ready for breakfast and a 5 am start. 

Our room was on the bottom level of this guest house.

Another guest house, with the kitchen/dining room (orange) on upper right.

The path between guest houses.

An old Land Rover, no longer in use, but home to Cat perched on soft foam in the back.

Gate to Roger and Tiff's house.

Jet, waiting for us to chase him and try to get his orange. Oranges are cheaper than balls in Jamaica. 

Suzy and Keisha in the kitchen. And this was a real gourmet kitchen, not like the fires & pots that you have seen in previous blogs. 

The dining table. Made by Charlie and Rodger out of a pine tree that come down in a storm.

Dining, sitting area: complete with library and bar. Note the tarps that are brought down in the evenings  to keep the bugs out and because it was cool.  We wore jeans and jackets to dinner - imagine that in Jamaica!

Floral arrangement from from plants on the property.

From left: Charlie, Isabel and Bruno (our hiking companions from Quebec City), Brianna, and Rodger.

Land Rover had a bit of a mechanical problem on the way up.  Brianna, Isabel and Bruno made their escape from the back for a leg stretch. Note the walking sticks, without which Brianna and I would not have made it down. 

Typical architecture along the road.

One Englishman to fix the Land Rover; two Jamaicans to watch. Roger says he can fix anything and we were very glad he could. 

Parked and getting ready to hit the trail.

Coffee drying ground.

View to Kingston less than half-way up. That is the ocean in the distance.  The fog came in on the way down, so we were very happy that we took pictures on the way up. 

View to south-east. The Yallahs River is down there somewhere making its way to the sea.

About two-thirds of our way up we made a stop at Portland Gap.

Rodger at Portland Gap

There is a ranger station at Portland Gap, but rarely a ranger. The Forest Service - this is a National Park - simply cannot afford them. 

Calla lilies at Portland Gap.

Garbage at Portland Gap. This pile is much larger and more horrific than it looks. Is seems that the garbage tins, at Portland Gap, are emptied into this tip in the bush rather than take the effort to remove it and take down the mountain.  We caught a quick glimpse from side of trail and went in to investigate.  This is so typical of Jamaica and broke our hearts to see this disgusting mess in such a beautiful place.  They could literally get 100 volunteers, each with gloves and large garbage bag, and clean this up in a day. Hopefully a group could get this organized and maybe make it a project for the next Earth Day.

Sign along the way.  Assuming we passed through the gully?

Signs were sporadic and most have not survived vandalism.  This one did. 

We made it!

Me too.

Kingston is below me in the very far distance.

We were above the clouds, with Cuba somewhere out there. 

Brianna tending to blisters - not from hiking boots, but from shoes she wore last week!

Through the forest on a gentle part of the trail.

If you can read this, it is worth it. Curious that they say that "Litter is ugly and unhealthy. Please use the bins." Then they empty the bins into the forest!

The fog rolls in. 

Felt like we were walking in the Ewok forest.


On the way back we stopped to pick up Alex, Charlie and Suzie's son, from his school in Mavis Bank.

School and yard.

While we waiting in the Land Rover, this little girl peaked up by my window.  She wanted me to take her picture and show it to her: which I did many times and she squealed with delight.  Wish I could have given her a print.

She soon brought her friend to join the fun. 


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