These days, unless I can help it, I travel by myself – misery does not like misery. Besides, everybody seems to be in a hurry these days. And, I’m not. I had the occasion to visit Manchester, Jamaica, a few weeks ago, and true to form, chose the road less travelled. The toll road could have `zupped’ me from Spanish Town to Mandeville, in a jiffy. But I chose not to pay the toll.
The night driving and I are unfriendly bed-fellows. And so, as nature’s curtain began to come down, I found myself nearing Old Harbor. I will not make it to Mandeville in one fell swoop I said to myself, as I envisioned intermittently losing my vision confronted by the undimmed headlamps of un-coming traffic on a road, too long ago travelled.
It was then that I heard a `drum-pan’ – the thumping, but effervescent bass-line of some dancehall music. Following my ears, I stumbled on a red transformer-like SUV, transformed into a road-side dance hall music set. To this ‘ole-timer, it appeared something out of Star-Wars. I decided to ‘hoal-a-Red Stripe, cross my paws and absorb what was going on. When I enquired of a native where the hell I was, I was told `Quarrie’. I made no further inquiries until well into the night, when I figured that when the music stopped, that I would need to find a musical-chair. “Hibiscus deh up di road deh faada,” says the gentleman with the bill of his cap protecting his nape.
“Any vacancy,” I bravely asked the inn-keeper, as if to say, it didn’t matter whether, he had one or not. But I was obeying Field Marshall Montgomery’s, rule No 1: Never show distress, even when in distress. But in reality, if he didn’t have a room, as the saying goes, (quote): “dawg would a did eat mi suppa.” Because here I was in no-man’s land. And after having `a few’, was far from being winding-road worthy. “Yes, but yu haffi leff out befo seven,” said the inhospitable-looking inn-keeper. But looks can be deceiving, because, in truth and fact, he was my savior.
A good night’s rest and, I’m up at the crack of dawn. And the inn-keeper’s pacing in the parking lot, reminded that it was time to go. Doctor’s advice has it, that a good breakfast wards off illness. Besides, I can’t go far on an empty stomach. I make it through center-city Old Harbor as the sun begins to rise behind me. “Skippa, where can I find something to eat?” I ask another. “Jus tap-side a dah sign deh boss,” I am directed. I follow instructions.
From outside, the place doesn’t look like much. And inside, is, well, no easier on the eye. But the menu is beautifully scripted and in color, on a chalk board. I go for a large salt mackerel. “Tenk God fi Jesus,” I tell the hostess. “And it’s a good thing I didn’t take the by-pass toll-road,” I mused. “No daddy. Dem nuh sell nuh food pon toll-road.” The point is taken.
I mosey around Mandeville before heading down Spur Tree to the Cool Shade Restaurant & Bar – literally an oasis in a barren land. The beers are cold and the hostess in charming. It’s across the road from Alex’s – well-known for curry goat lunches. And so for lunch, I opt for the same. If it isn’t the real thing, I figure, it will be close enough – close enough to Alex. And it is.
Not wanting to again be in any distress, I secure my night’s lodging and this time, in broad day light, at the modest but comfortable Crystal Palace on my way back from down the hill. That settled, I visit Chantilly District off the beaten path, located in the hills, east of and above Williamsfield. It’s accessed from the old road to Porus, and half-way up, offers a splendid panoramic view of Mandeville in the distance. A pit-stop at the nondescript Davyton District, and I’m back down to earth. Another good night’s rest and I’m rolling again.
The road from Mandeville is all down-hill. But recharged on the beauty of rural Jamaica, my spirits are not. Again, on reaching Williamsfield, I elect the road less travelled – the by-pass road to Porus. I pause at Melrose Hill to admire my handiwork. Many years ago, while working at Alcan in Kirkvine, Manchester, just up the hill, I replaced their well-water booster pumps. The pumps are still standing. The Kirkvine Works are not – a sad tale of `selling-out’ to foreign deliverers who end up not delivering. And now, here comes another - the Chinese. When will Jamaica ever learn?
The car is dust-laden, and I dare not return it as such. Outside of May Pen, I spot a toothless Indian fellow washing a car under an open-aired zinc-roof canopy. “How much,” I enquire. “Four bills fi ‘hinside ‘han ‘hout daddy.”
A little bar is near by, and within my gaze of the car. It’s approaching eleven o’clock in the day, the sun is hot and almost unbearable, and I can use a cold one. And so, I kill two birds with one stone. Some wicked Skatalites music is playing whether on a CD, or coming in straight over the airwaves. It doesn’t matter. These days, I drink milk, not count cows.
A clean car and a purged mind, and again, I’m off, travelling again, with the billowing wind, and on the road less travelled.
All this confirms to me, that, there’s still a Jamaica, for me - the one off the fast toll roads which hurry to nowhere, and end up taking a toll on tranquility, and the best that nature has to offer. I stayed off the main and rediscovered my sense of value.