News Americas, KINGSTON, Jamaica, Fri. May 19, 2017: An hour’s drive past New Kingston, up winding, mountain roads – rough in spots, leads you past coffee plantations, small road side cafes, mountain side mansions and exclusive resorts like Strawberry Hills. Up, up to the top we go to reach Jamaica’s only UNESCO Heritage site – The Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park.
As the four wheeled drive vehicle leaps around bends, horn honking at points to warn the next driver coming towards us, the mountain terrain and vegetation seems to show off more and more of its brilliance and leaves you lost in the magnitude of its natural beauty that towers above and rises up to 3,000 feet.
Looking down causes your head to spin with crazy thoughts of what if the vehicle fell over and off this precipice like road? But quickly deleting those thoughts and focusing straight ahead, causes you to instead soak in the green beauty interspersed with purple hues of flowers that glisten in the morning sun.
About an hour later, we are in Holywell Park, (pronounced Hollywell), one of the premier attractions accessible in these magnificent mountains of Jamaica and the closest to the capital of Kingston.
It’s the other side of Jamaica few bother to see – way beyond the sun, sea and sand; beyond the jerk cuisine, beyond fried fish and festival, beyond weed and ganja smoke, beyond reggae music, sex tourism and of course athletics and Usain Bolt.
This Park, with a peak that rises 1,400 meters above sea-level, towers over all those attractions like a classy lady looking down her nose at the elements beneath.
And it is slowly but surely growing into an attraction for local and foreign visitors alike, looking to experience the eco-tourism element that is still rarely typified as brand Jamaica.
The growth is evident in the demand for stays in the lone three rustic cabins on site, which are booked up throughout the year and offer a spectacular view of the city of Kingston and parts of St. Andrew’s parish below.
A stay here puts you smack dab in the middle of a natural world, leaving you feeling closer still to the giant spirit in the sky, whose face it appears is turned fully towards you in the clouds that seem to bend to gently grab the roof of the cabins in a tight embrace.
The cabins with dreamy names like Hotlips, Mountain Yacca and Cupressus – named from trees in the Park – includes very basic but modern amenities.
Fees start at USD 50 per night and there is a real bed, a gas lit stove, a fireplace in the bigger cabin, a seating area, a small refrigerator, a real shower and inside toilet and running water as well as electricity and Wifi!
Visitors also have the option to camp out privately under the stars or cook on an open fire. In this Park, there is mainly silence all around, except for the occasional ever slight rustle of the wind in the trees on a clear day, a ranger or the birds that come out at the crack of dawn over the 50 or so species of trees and shrubs.
From any cabin, you can trek to several of the Park’s accessible attractions via mountain trails, including the waterfall. It’s semi-difficult in parts to get to the Fall and the trek is about 1.3 km long. You can feel it in your knees at points as you also try to avoid puddles of water that gather from the constant rainfall in these parts.
Past Blue Mahoe, Caribbean Pine, Milkwood and other trees and ferns – including some invasive species – we meander our way along the dirt track and down a slope, and suddenly, there it is in its matchless beauty – the much touted waterfall – falling 15 feet on its way down the valley to join the Wag Water River.
The water cascades from some unknown location in the mountains, down the volcanic rocks, into a pool below. Sunlight on the vegetation hits the water, giving it an ethereal look and causing you to have thoughts of heaven and spiritual beauty as you stay absolutely silent in reverence.
It is the perfect place to write, or simply bird watch, nature gaze or commune with the great maker.
Or you can choose to just gather a group of friends and picnic at one of the 10 gazebos on site, which have each been named after a plant or bird found in the National Park. There are also barbecue pits and additional benches throughout the area and bathrooms are available near all the gazebos.
Typical entry fees to experience Holywell Park are US $10 for adults and US $5 for children. Group tours with a guide can also be arranged for an extra cost. All visit must be pre-booked and check in must be at the Visitors Centre and Ranger Station. It is recommended you wear comfortable walking shoes (sneakers or hiking shoes), bring a sweater because it can get very cool/cold at times, take an umbrella in case of rain and take your drinking water or snacks/food.
In these mountains, which hold hundreds of years of history, all is calm, with only the whisper of the breeze in the trees to remind you of a past of Maroons, slavery and the strength of a people whose will, like these mountains, could not be broken.
Perhaps if Ernest Hemingway had made it to these mountains instead of Cuba, we might have had Old Man And The Mountains instead – in what would have been a poignant tribute to these Blue & John Crow Mountains of Jamaica – a welcome diversion beyond the usual sun, sea and sand.