One of the best meals I have ever had in my life was Janga rundung and pumpkin turn-cornmeal. In fact, I am ashamed to say that I have heard that our Maroon caterers at Millbank in Portland, Jamaica, are still talking about how I invaded their “outside” kitchen to get some more of that delicious fare. But I just could not help myself.
This happened some time ago, but I just have never been able to stop talking about the food. I did not receive that delicious meal on a platter however. In fact, I worked very hard for it. Hard but pleasant work. For it took us about three hours of riding uphill on some of the most impossible roads to get there.
Let me make it clear up front that I am a member of a fun-loving adventure group group called “Fun and Thrills”. We go hiking and cycling all over Jamaica. However, we are not like the professional riders you see on the roads from time to time, nattily dressed in their riding gear . We ride mountain bikes and proceed quite slowly, stopping a lot to take photographs, drink in the beauty around us, get a quick swim or just snack away. That’s the “fun” in our name.
On this occasion, we were riding into the Rio Grande Valley, in Portland, probably the closest thing to the mythical Garden of Eden. We had started out in Port Antonio and headed south to Fellowship, uphill all the way on a narrow, paved road full of corners which took us through pleasant little districts outside the town…..nice, brightly coloured, humble country homes with happy kids playing outside and lots of fruit trees in almost every yard.
At Fellowship we headed east and from there on, any idea we may have had about “good roads” evaporated abruptly. We were now in deep, rural, Maroon country, but by God, those mountains displaying every shade of green and covered with mist, the sound of the birds, the wild flowers and trees as well as the sound of the Rio Grande gushing over the stones and creating mini water falls all the way, brought a new level of the peace and serenity that most outsiders never get the opportunity to enjoy.
You know, it is quite common for us Jamaicans to be introduced to some spectacular parts of our countryside by foreigners, and this excursion of ours was no different. For this route into the Blue and John Crow Mountain range was being introduced to us by Kimberly John, a Trinidadian environmentalist who has been doing a fantastic job among the Maroons in Portland.
As we continued our challenging, upward journey through Windsor, Alligator Church and Ginger House, the number of small farmsteads became less visible but no doubt farmers were all around as was evidenced by the small lush banana plantations as well as fields of dasheen and coffee further up the mountain side. Fruit trees seem to grow wild throughout the entire valley too.
As we ascended, the sun became less visible, (thankfully, as riding in the blazing sun can be very challenging) and overcast conditions prevailed. All was well until just before we got to Comfort Castle where the road had been washed away and only a tiny path was left to cross over to the other side. So we had to dismount and gingerly push our way across, looking carefully and fearfully down into the deep ravine below. Luckily for the residents of Comport Castle and Millbank , a couple of cars had been over on their side when the road washed away. Now all their goods and produce are transported to the edge of the breakaway, then taken by manpower over the narrow path then picked up by the vehicles on the other side. This has horribly isolated them and made things very expensive for the residents of Comfort Castle and Millbank who play a major role in feeding this nation. Hopefully by now, that situation has been corrected.
Comfort Castle is a pleasant village on the edge of the Blue and John Crow Mountain range and Millbank which is reputed to have the second highest rainfall in the world, didn’t disappoint as we got a thorough soaking at least four times before we actually got to our destination. Getting soaked was by no means unpleasant however for as the rains stopped, the sun reappeared drying us off quite quickly.
Millbank is the last village in the Portland section of the Blue and John Crow Mountains before you cross over into the St. Thomas section of that range. It is your normal, rural district with the usual shops, churches and bars. Here, the temperature is cool and crisp and naturally is it is very damp and lush. While we were there, farmers were busy packing crocus bags of dasheen which they would take to the breakaway, to be taken up on the other side to feed the rest of Jamaica.
Most of the inhabitants in the Rio Grande Valley are loosely referred to as Moore Town Maroons. Each maroon village has a representative on the maroon council, the body responsible for the enforcement of the laws (the state deals with murder) and maintaining order and guess what, these villages boast extremely low crime rates. I wonder what they are doing right while the rest of Jamaica gets it terribly wrong?
I guess it all comes back to leading the simple life in a lush, beautiful, peaceful, environment.
Joan Williams is a licensed real estate dealer in Jamaica and author of “Tour Jamaica” and the “Original Dance Hall Dictionary”