First off, a little background about the location and my guide. Nanny Town is an important historic location that helped the Windward Maroons hide from and defend against the British who tried to overtake and enslave them. From my understanding, Nanny Town was eventually abandoned for another location a few miles to the west, near current day Charlestown, where the Maroon’s eventually signed their treaty with the British. However there is still a lot of history from Nanny Town and some ruins to see. Nanny Town is located far back in the Blue Mountains, at the base of some very steep sloped mountains.
As I said earlier, my guide is a man who hunts wild hog back in that area whose name is Ulie (my best approximation of the spelling for his yard name). Ulie grew up in the town of Coopers Hill, which is further down the Rio Grande Valley, nearer to Port Antonio, but just as rural as Bellevue. Ulie’s father was a park ranger for the Blue and John Crow State Forrest, constantly hiking through the bush to monitor for people illegally cutting down trees, burning areas and growing marijuana. In that way, Ulie grew up living in the bush and learning where all the trails lead. Back in the 80’s Ulie helped out with a professor from UWI who was doing summer research trips to Nanny Town with students to do 2 month long archeological digs, so he has spent a fair amount of time in the area. Below is a picture of Ulie during one of our small stream crossings – I tried to get a better picture of the small water falls in the back, but that didn’t work out.
So, Ulie and I had set to meet up on the road in Bellevue where the trail leads off into the bush at 7 on a Monday morning. After a quick breakfast of crackers and water and packing a bag that included a clean shirt and underwear, a toothbrush, some crackers and water and a camera, I managed to lock my shoes in my room while rushing out the door. Yes, I realize the only two things I actually needed that I didn’t bring were a knife and lighter, but Ulie said he was bringing these things and I knew me having a knife while stumbling through the bush would only lead to trouble. Either way, I got to the meeting spot a few minutes late and Ulie was waiting for me (what an un-Bellevue surprise that was).
With a simple, “Ready?” “Yup” we were off. Almost immediately we turned off the trail I’m used to and started heading north and west instead of north and east. Shortly after starting, Ulie cut me a walking stick, or, as I called it, my bostaff. I have made skills with a bostaff as you will soon see. After about a ½ hour of easy hiking, we made our way down to the Guava River, which I attempted to cross by jumping across stones and promptly had my first of many falls. From there on, I decided to just walk across the river bottoms. What difference did it really make if my shoes were wet if, after a ½ hour of walking through the bush and brushing up against trees and bushes, my clothes were already soaking wet?
After an hour we reached an area where an old abandoned community used to be. All that was left was a bunch of flat grassy areas with decorative plants and flowers around them and rusted out old 2” cast iron water lines. Ulie didn’t know the name of the abandoned district, but he did know all about the old water system that used to feed this abandoned community, another abandoned community called Johns Hall and Bellevue. It was a bit weird walking an hour from any road accessible by vehicle and seeing this and I can’t imagine how hard it must to live here – imagine going to town for groceries. I guess they were a bit more self-sufficient back then. Here is a picture of some of the views from this area:
About an hour after passing this area, we came down to another river crossing and then to an area where someone raises cows in the bush. This was really annoying for two reasons. First, the cows tear up the trail pretty bad, making it a big muddy, slippery mess. Second, the cows attract tons of tics that then get all over me. Good thing Jamaica doesn’t have lime’s disease. After passing the cows, we started our hour and a half accent up the side of a steep mountain where this time the trail was torn up by wild hog instead of cows. At least the hogs don’t have ticks like the cows. This was actually one of the easy parts of the hike for me because hiking up hill mostly requires being fit, not much technical abilities or good hiking boots.
After finally reaching the top, a place Ulie referred to as Gun Barrel, no story behind the name, we sat down for a short rest, a drink of water and some crackers. At this point Ulie also did something interesting. He took a small bottle of white rum and poured a little on the ground, then took some in his mouth and sprayed it around in the air and then muttered some words just saying we were passing through and asked for a good hike. He said this was an old tradition he learned from his father when passing through some areas to let the spirits know what was going on and keep them happy. I always see Jamaican men pouring the first sip of a beer or other drink on the ground, but the spraying and the mutterings was a first. I was certainly in support of making the spirits happy, especially with how the hike was about to go for me. Below is a section of trail near Gun Barrel – see if you can find the trail.
After leaving Gun Barrel, Ulie said there were no more big hills, which turned out to be like a Jamaican telling you something is around the corner when it is about 3 miles away. Yes, there were no more hour and a half climbs, but there were plenty of ups and downs on the steep gullies and lose dirt and slippery mud. Also, there were plenty of wild hogs along the way that used the trails as their own playground, digging everything up and making a complete mess of the area. At some points there were some almost vertical mountain sides with loose dirt and gravel where the trail was no more than an inch wide. My first major non-river fall was in one of these areas where I slipped and fell on my back side, sliding about 10 feet down the side of the gully before getting caught up in some small trees. Unfortunately my walking stick went a bit further down – bostaff #1 gone. I told you I have skills.
I crawled back up to the trail and Ulie cut me another stick. After a few more hours of rough hiking and a few minor falls, we came down to the Stoney River which is where Base Camp was. This was great for me because the trail really was flat finally and all I had to deal with were river crossings, which I managed not to fall on. A few hundred yards before reaching base camp, we came across a really cool looking small falls seen below.
The falls was only about 3 feet or so, but the water at the bottom had an amazing bright blue color and the random red flowers on the opposite bank were really cool looking.
Finally, after about 6 ½ hours of walking, we reached base camp:
As I said earlier, Ulie and his brother and friends come back here every few weeks to hunt, so they keep up this camp with pots and pans and bedding, which made it a much easier hike then having to haul tents and sleeping bags. After reaching, Ulie got right to work, doing his rum ceremony, making a fire and getting some clean water while me, being the useful person I am, went down to the river to take a look around, swim around a little and take pictures. Granted, when I offered to help, Ulie never accepted. The river was nice and cool and had some cool small falls near the camp.
Ulie heated up some really tasty Sunday-Mondays (left over rice and peas from Sunday) that he had carried with him and some tined Mackerel for a late lunch. We spent the rest of the afternoon / evening hanging out in the camp around the fire and eventually made festivals for dinner. According to Ulie, they needed more sugar and corn meal, but I was just happy to be having festivals for the first time in about 9 months, especially out in the middle of the bush. Since there wasn’t much else to do, it was an early night to bed around 7:30 on the very comfortable (….) bed.
Though I really have nothing to complain about since I didn’t have to build it myself, I didn’t have to carry a sleeping bag with me, and we kept dry from the pouring rain all night.
It was an early start to the next morning, getting up a little after 6 to try to get started walking by 7. Unfortunately it took a little longer then planned to get the breakfast of boiled dumplings and tined corned beef ready.
We finally hit the trail a little after 8 and we had a long day ahead of us. It would be and 1½ hours to Nanny Town and then trying to make it all the way back the Bellevue before dark. Our hike to Nanny Town was pretty uneventful, taking the River Road, crossing back and forth along the Stoney River most of the way. The last 20 minutes where a bit interesting when we had to basically hike down the side of the mountain on a “trail” that, in reality Ulie had cut for himself since it had been about 8 months since the last person had passed this way and it had all grown over.
Finally we made it down to Nanny Town, and it was pretty obvious why they had chosen this location. They were protected on three sides by very steep mountains and could know well in advance when anyone was coming their way. There were three really cool things about Nanny Town.
1 – there was a 4 sided stone enclosure that is the only remaining structure in the area. Here is a picture of Ulie bushing it out.
2 – There were two carved stone monument type things, the first Ulie said was done by the British soldiers after the camp had been abandoned by the Maroons and the second done obviously a bit more recently:
3 – There was an orange tree that had some delicious ripe oranges! I had 3 while at the camp and brought about 8 home with me! (Can you tell which one I liked the most?)
After about 45 minutes here and realizing that doing anything more would mean spending another night and missing my ultimately useless meetings in Porti the next day (a year and a half and I still haven’t realized that 75% of my meetings are useless…but there is always that chance…). So now it was a race to get back to Bellevue before dark. We left Nanny Town around 10:30 and Ulie decided to take the Mountain Road back to Base Camp, which was longer and harder then the River Road. Some how I managed to hold it together and made this portion of the hike without problem. Even after leaving from Base Camp and hiking the few hours it took to get to Gun Barrel I managed to do much better then I had the previous day, even though we had to hike through 2 hours of rain. The biggest problem was that we some how managed to find a lot of trees with maka, or what we would call prickers, then we did the first day, leading to a good number of cuts on my hands.
It wasn’t until after we passed Gun Barrel that the fun really began. I had learned through my experience with our water system that uphill is easy for me, downhill is my nemesis, and I finally figured out why: my hiking shoes are just that, soft soled hiking shoes, not hard soled boots like the water boots all the farmers wear. These are crucial, especially when walking down the side of a mountain where the trail is complete mud from the wild hogs and recent rain. So here we are, coming down the mountain, with Ulie in front, constantly talking about all the wild hog tracks he sees and wishing he had brought his dogs or some rope for a trap and me coming crashing behind him, using my mad skills with two feet and a bostaff to fall into trees and bushes the whole way down. On the way, I managed to lose my second bostaff, which Ulie quickly replaced, and managed not to break any bones, just completely lose my pride.
It literally felt half the time that I was skiing down hill trying to turn this way and that way, grabbing onto trees and bushes to slow down and change direction. At one particularly scary moment I had the feeling I was on the bunny slope learning the wedge again, and was very scared I was about to do a face plant into a very steep gully. At another particularly painful moment at the bottom of the mountain, a maka managed to dig into my ear and spin my head all the way around, almost making me lose my balance and fall yet again. That was the one time that Ulie heard some very American curses during the trip.
Once we reached the bottom, then it really turned into a foot race to reach Bellevue before dark. There were a few more falls in the last hour of the hike, but nothing like during the decent from Gun Barrel, and they were mostly because the trail was getting very dark under the dense vegetation with the setting sun. Ulie was gracious enough to give me a few minutes to try to clean up a little in the Guava River before the home stretch to Bellevue so it didn’t look like I had fallen quite so many times. By some miracle, we reached the Bellevue Road just as the sun set, and I had time, and just enough battery left in my camera, to take one last picture:
Walking down to my yard in the dark a little after 6, it started raining again, but I was still decently warm from the hike. As soon as I got back, my host family came out saying they were afraid I was lost in the bush somewhere and were getting ready to set out looking for me (apparently I didn’t make it clear enough that the original plan was for a 3 day hike). I was just thankful they had a plate of food for me! After cleaning up a bit, I finally started taking care of the ticks, trying to pick them off and squish them between my finger nails that are a bit too short. When my host sister and brother saw my futile efforts, they offered help and then spent the next half hour combing my arms, legs and back for ticks to kill. There’s nothing like a little communal grooming. (Does that count as an integration activity?)
Now a few days after the fact, the only physical effects are a few scratches on my arms and legs, some annoying bug bites, and some toe issues (I hope I don’t lose the nails on my big toes….). Otherwise, it was a lot of fun and I would recommend it to anyone who is up for a rough hike, just buy a proper pair of boots first!