Jamaica is a land of folk lore, legends, truths and half truths, stories made up to bemuse, confuse, enlighten or inspire. Sometimes you never quite know the source or the veracity of these tales, some of which have become so standard they have achieved the status of gospel. Little Ochi, located across the parish border from St Elizabeth in Alligator Pond, Manchester, was so named because an inebriated man while having a good time there dubbed it so. The original Ocho Rios is located some 80 miles away in the parish of St. Ann and is known for its laid back tourist oriented feel and white sand beach fronts.
Too much rum can break barriers, allowing for distinctions between one place and the next to become blurred and so in an act of spontaneous ecstasy Ochi in St. Ann came to Alligator Pond in one spirited moment. Having experienced both myself I can say without a doubt that they are NOT the same. Ocho Rios now is a collection of concentrated tourist camps with fences, security guards and entrance fees making for a sense of exclusion. It is oriented outward to cruise ships and tourist dollars. But here in Little Ochi it was different – open, accessible, relaxed, inclusive with a native orientation. In this sense, it was more like western Jamaica’s Negril rather than Ocho Rios.
Our friend and guide was eager to take us here to experience the fish fry that the place had become famous for. This was to be a perfect cap to our road trip and a great place to have lunch. He was right. With respect to the growing popularity of Little Ochi and the basis for it, there is no dispute. We all had a delightful time seated outdoors by the sea feasting on fish soup, escovitched snapper and an assortment of beverages.
When we arrived there were already a small crowd but it was not congested nor busy, the wide parking lot close to being empty. There was quite a buzz of anticipation as we entered the open beach area, perhaps because this was our second extended stop after many hours of driving. Our guide who had been here before was specific about his plan of action, insisting on finding his own chef among the many that apparently worked at this breezy down- to-earth joint that felt on the inside like a Jamaican market place.
He searched for a name and phone number from one of his two cell phones but had no luck. After a few cursory enquiries about so and so, the man in question showed up and was more than ready to go, taking our orders while selecting the fresh fish of choice directly from an ice bin. This chef knew the ropes, had the touch. Of this our guide was absolutely convinced. Within minutes we had our drinks and soup in hand, paid up at the cashier and went outside to a cabana on the black sand beach to feast on fresh sea breezes and each other’s compan.
When the meals arrived, brought to us by the chef, excitement was rife as we drooled at the three seasoned and crispy looking fish dressed with pepper, onion and of course scallion. Roasted breadfruit and festivals (crisply friend sweet dumplings) rounded out the seaside fare. We said a sincere thanks to the chef and I think we said grace, I can’t remember. Before long we were digging in like beasts. It all happened so quickly. The sole female among us, my travelling partner and friend, usually prim and proper in matters of etiquette, allowed herself to let loose on the fish like a cat dismembering a mouse. We all did. The food was supremely tasty and delicious.
It was a lazy quiet day here today. Birds flew overhead peacefully while dogs lazily prowled and scampered languidly on the beach. A boy scaled and gutted fish while kneeling on the sand as his cohorts collected and pocketed cash from their transactions. Otherwise they sat outside in the shade waiting, waiting for more action on what seemed like a slack and boring day for them. A man calling himself the Nutty Professor came over to interrupt, volunteering to entertain us with his magic tricks. We obliged and I humored him to do a disappearing act but he didn’t. Instead he pressed on in a professional showman like manner unperturbed until he completed his routine in exchange for a voluntary donation.
As I said, it was a slow day but for us we were giddy with excitement for being here and for being together in this moment and in this place. Little Ochi has become the popular venue for annual seafood festivals attracting people from near and far and from all walks of life. It has become the latest place to be on the south coast, developing an identity of its own. The local entrepreneur, Edward “Blackie” Christian, who with his fisherman friends started this fried fish and dumplings affair on the beach years before, must have been a visionary.
It was hard to leave but eventually we had to. Our guide who had taken the day off to ride with us had to return home to Mo-Bay. Slowly dragging ourselves away we went back to the jeep and took off to Junction where we parted company with our guide and friend before moving on to Jakes.
On the way back to Junction we took great interest in the numerous windmills standing erect like giant toys mounted on a distant mountain ridge. Outstanding and peculiar in the landscape, the white windmills looked like a throw back to things past, Quixotic, and yet represented the possibility of a more enlightened future of environmental friendliness, an interesting combination of the old and the new.
It was hard to imagine now, but as far as the eye could see this vista was once a part of plantations owned and controlled by land barons and slave masters who raised livestock and cultivated coffee and pimento for export to Britain in the 17th and 18th centuries. When bauxite was discovered in the area in the early 1900s many of these farms were bought out and displaced by a new industry with new ownership having new prorities. Today, although the bauxite companies Alcoa and Alpart still own the land, it is evident that the ore has lost its dominance and that a new wind is blowing now.
Now, the windmills stand atop property leased from these companies and represent yet a new direction. The liberation of slaves by emancipation marked a significant shift and introduced a radical change in Jamaica’s evolution. So too did the introduction of the mining of bauxite. Could these windmills represent a new horizon, launching us into a new era of change? What next? The widespread use of solar panels in partnership with nature? One day here of full sunshine could provide sustainable energy for miles, maybe for days.
The wind turbines, which are a part of Wigton Windfarms in nearby Manchester, were erected in 2004 to harness wind power for generating electricity. In Jamaica where close to 90 percent or more of energy is imported, (mostly hydrocarbons and at significant cost), this project makes environmental and economic sense. This possibility was as impressive as the windmills themselves. This wind farm, if viable, could be the beginning of something new and progressive, the leading edge towards emancipation from green house gases.
Flight of fancy, you may say and you would be somewhat correct. The drive out here in St. Elizabeth was purifying, producing an elation that was intense and emotional, inducing a feeling of freedom and joy. Here thoughts and feelings flowed effortlessly, not unlike being on a high, feeling like windmills. Pure euphoria! This was in no small way because of the company we had. All three of us enjoyed the experience equally and lived on the same wave length as we toured.
As we approached Junction, we became increasingly quieter as we knew this could not last. Soon, our guide would say goodbye as he returned to Montego Bay via public transport. In the midst of the crowded hustle and bustle of the Junction town center we all embraced in farewell, watching him go. He would be missed.
From here, the two of us continued on to Jakes at Treasure Beach where we would stay for the night. On our way we reminisced about where we had been and the laughter and time we had with our friend. Enroute we stopped at a roadside vendor for coconut water and jelly, cut and consumed on the spot, straight out of the husk. Conversation came easy with the young man who made us feel as if we had known him for a while. With mangoes to go we headed down the hill toward the shore in a state of bliss and thankfulness.
Caption: Main photo – A boy cleans fish on the black sand beach of Little Ochi, Manchester, Jamaica. (All photos in the series by Melo Ayo except Wigton Windfarm)