We finally got away from Ocho Rios about 2:30 and headed for Kingston (black line on the map). Just south of Ocho Rios we passed through Fern Gully, a rocky gorge (a former riverbed) of tremendous depth that zigzags for four miles from the Ocho Rios coast up to the central mountain area of the island. There are over 500 species of ferns in Jamaica, and all of them can be found here; in places the foliage is so dense that almost no sunlight penetrates to the road.
After exiting the gorge we arrived at Faiths Pen. “Wherever you travel throughout the world,” says one Web site, “each town, each area, has a place that is a ‘must-see’. Well, on the road from Kingston to Ocho Rios over Mount Diablo, Faiths Pen is definitely a ‘must-stop’. Failing to stop at Faiths Pen is like going to Niagara and not bothering to see the falls.” Faiths Pen was the reason the young people didn’t want to eat in Ocho Rios. It is a sort of “food court” for traditional Jamaican fare—jerk chicken, ackee and saltfish, and so on. “It used to be a haphazard row of stalls perched somewhat precariously on the roadside, where you had to be rather skilled, and sometimes even a bit aggressive, to find a spot to park your car among the dozens of families and tour groups that got there before you. Now you’ll find a row of well-constructed stalls, thirty in all, with ample parking in front and a specially designated area at the back for the larger vehicles. Each stall has its name blazoned on its own wooden shutter which opens much like a Demerara window to give some shade.”
Isaiah was dubious about the hygiene in these stalls and preferred to eat in a proper restaurant (even Burger King). But the young people naturally went for the authentic stuff. Evelyn was driving Rita and Barney and me, and we arrived ahead of the others. Although we lingered for a while after they got there, we soon decided to press on, as we were hoping to get back to Kingston in time for some last-minute souvenir shopping. As we continued on our way, we saw many less formal roadside stands selling fruit (chiefly pineapple) and crafts. Vendors stood very close to the side of the road holding out fresh pineapples to tempt us, but we callously zoomed on by.
In Bog Walk Gorge, a one-lane bridge crosses the Rio Cobre, one of the largest in the island. A road was first opened through the gorge in about 1770. The flat bridge was originally constructed of logs that were washed away in a flood. The present bridge was built shortly afterward and has withstood countless floods. A marker there shows where the water rose to 25 feet above the bridge in 1933. Signal lights have fairly recently been placed at both ends of the bridge to control traffic, and as we approached the bridge, we were in a long line of cars stopped at a red light. As more and more cars piled up behind us, we watched the lights change from red to green and back again without any forward movement in our line, while a seemingly endless stream of vehicles approached us. I had been dozing, and others in the car had realized sooner than I that this was a funeral procession. The procession included many trucks from (if I remember correctly), a wholesale bakery, and we were curious as to what company executive had died.
As mentioned, we were racing to get back to Kingston. We’d been trying all week to get back to Craft Cottage and The Magic Kitchen, Ltd., two of the gift shops Gordon had taken us to, where we hoped to find the gifts we wanted. There had been some uncertainty about where these shops were located, but it had finally been figured out, and Evelyn was doing her best to get us there by 5. We were doing pretty well till we hit a traffic jam on Dunrobin Avenue. I thought we would never make it through the light, but after that it was pretty smooth sailing. Even so, it was after 5 when we pulled into the Village Plaza shopping plaza on Constant Spring Road. We first dashed into The Magic Kitchen, convinced that was what we wanted, but when I did not immediately find the bookmarks I sought in the place where I was sure I had seen them, we decamped quickly to The Craft Cottage, which proved to be the place we were remembering after all. Before it closed at 5:30, we had filled baskets with Blue Mountain coffee–scented candles, cedar boxes with paintings by Jamaican artists on the lid, postcards, soap, bookmarks, stationery, and so on. My charge total came to an alarming J$5,019.25, which Visa translated into $87.86, yielding, as I had hoped when I had asked for the charge to be in Jamaican dollars, a slightly more favorable rate of exchange (about J$57 to the U.S. dollar). We did return to Magic Kitchen (which didn’t close till 7) to buy a few more odds and ends, and we were back at the Russells’ by 6. Virginia and Fionn complimented us on our highly efficient shopping, and for once I was well pleased with my purchases and declared myself now totally satisfied!
The Last Night
Although we suspected we’d be tired when we got back from Ocho Rios, we had invited the Damdars and Russells to be our guests at dinner Saturday night at a restaurant of their choice. Allowing time for us all to shower and change (and for me to wash and dry my hair), we agreed to rendezvous about 7:30. Gordon had made reservations for 11 at the Dragon City Chinese restaurant, and Barney, only half jocularly, suggested that we order the “Dinner for 11.” In fact, Gordon, with input from the others, selected a beef, a chicken, a pork, and a vegetarian entrée and ordered two of each. This proved to be plenty of food for all, and we even splurged on dessert. It was a bittersweet occasion—so much fun being all together, but knowing that early the next morning we would start going our separate ways.
Returning to the Russells’ about 10, we spent the next hour and a half packing, then fell in bed to catch a few hours’ sleep.