The rural community of Bath in St. Thomas is teeming with history and beauty, home to Jamaica’s oldest botanical garden and a mineral spring by the same name. Legend has it that the bath was discovered in the 1600s by a runaway slave with leg ulcers. He stumbled across the spring, used it to wash his wounded limb then noticed the next day that his leg was rapidly healing. He shared the good news then stories of the fountain spread soon attracting visitors from islandwide. Guest houses sprang up nearby and many wealthy merchants built homes there, transforming Bath’s landscape. Time has not been good to the area though as the spa gradually fell out of favour and into a state of disrepair. However, many still travel from far and wide seeking balneotherapy for rheumatism, gout and skin ailments. The active elements in the water are lime, sulphur and magnesium and while the mineral concentrations are not as high as those found in the Milk River or Rockfort Mineral baths, it’s believed that the naturally-occurring high temperatures provide additional healing power.
Last week’s post on Bath Botanical Garden gave a detailed description of the route from Half-Way-Tree, St. Andrew to the community of Bath so I’ll pick up from there. Adjacent to the Bath Methodist Church on your right and directly across from the garden is a small access road leading up to the Bath Fountain Hotel & Spa. The distance is short but due to the poor road conditions, expect about 10 minutes’ drive. Parking is available at the end of the road outside the hotel’s premises.
If you’re heading to the natural spring at its source, follow the path on your left. It will take you across a bridge then muddy path but it’s easy to follow once you’re careful. You’ll know you’ve reached when you come across this shop with a Rasta selling treats and meals cooked on site over wood or charcoal fire, as well as this very rustic.. err.. changing room pictured below. Your things will be fine on a large rock in the water or the ledge in the corner.
Choosing Which Experience To Get
Unfortunately, Bath has a reputation of hustlers lurking along the street looking to pounce upon visitors and very convincingly getting them to agree to a massage then charging exorbitant prices afterwards. I found that story to be partly true. For those unfamiliar with the Jamaican forward or persuasive manner, the nature of the amateur masseurs and masseuses must seem frightening and even interpreted as harassment! If Bath was run like an establishment, the correct way of doing things would be welcoming signs, arrows to indicate you’re on the right track every few paces, maybe even a tour guide or two and STANDARDIZED prices for various massages and durations mounted on a poster for all visitors to see. The masseurs and masseuses would be properly trained and attired with no jostling for clients. I’m not sure under whose jurisdiction such regulation would fall– maybe the constituency’s Member of Parliament or St. Thomas parish council. This would solve the problems many tourists have with the place, bring more visitors and increase revenue, but clearly no one is interested enough to develop the attraction. A friendly but firm no and false promise of “not today, next time” was enough to get my group left alone so you be the judge of which experience to get:
- The Hotel: Pros: zero harassment, overnight accommodation, standardized prices for all guests, availability of proper facilities like changing rooms. Cons: Much more expensive than the outdoor experience, the mineral water is pumped into regular bath tubs so the natural relaxing vibe that can be had outside at the water’s source gets missed.
- The Outdoor Free Experience: Pros: beautiful environment, getting to see & feel the beauty and temperature of the water straight from the rocks. Cons: Harassment is possible, very very rudimentary facilities available, no restrooms, prices aren’t standardized and left up to your bargaining skills, i.e. I could pay $6,500 while your superior bargaining earns you a massage of $2,500 for the same duration.
Needless to say, I did my own massage and enjoyed the outdoor experience truly free but don’t let me sway your decision. 🙃 Both experiences have their flaws so choose what’s best for your needs.
The Mineral Spring
Unlike my Rockfort experience last January, this water waltzes downstream entirely unaltered. There are areas where the water gets very hot, hot enough to feel slightly scalded but not hot enough to cause first degree burns if that makes sense. Without any transition at all, the next step you make could be very cold. Polar opposites. Steam billowed up from rock and man-made recesses trapped some of that hot water, allowing you or your masseur easy access to the soothing stuff. There were a few overhead bamboo and PVC pipes to make the hot water accessible as a shower and boy, did I make use of it!
What perfected the setting were these tall bamboo plants which met overhead, filtering out excess sunlight to cast a virescent glow over everything. See what I mean?
The only other thing worth mentioning is the fact that this is a sulphur-containing natural spring. Hydrogen sulphide gas (H₂S) has a rotten egg odour so don’t be too alarmed if the hot water smells veeeery faintly like rotten eggs. That’s also a reason not to smoke here– H₂S is very flammable even though a few patrons were still nonchalantly bunning a spliff.
Most medical schools teach traditional medicine but I’m never one to discount alternative medicine. To me, the two can and must co-exist for a holistic approach to health. I didn’t visit Bath Mineral with any ailments save for a few insignificant knots in my back from stress and interestingly enough my back felt much looser after, a feeling I usually get only after a good albeit infrequent yoga practice. Maybe there’s some truth to the power of the hot mineral water then. You’ll only know when you go so if you do, let me know what the water did for you. Anyway, due to all the issues I mentioned earlier in this post, I can only rate the current Bath Mineral Spring experience with three stars, ☆☆☆. Here’s to hoping Bath receives the attention it needs in the near future. Oh and P.S., Don’t be surprised if you come back to a freshly washed vehicle and a hustler expecting tip for a service you didn’t desire.
‘Til next time. ✌🏼
Duckunoo/ Blue Drawers/ Tie-A-Leaf (n.) : a sweet Jamaican cornmeal pudding boiled inside a banana leaf.
P.S. One place down, 7 more to go from 2018’s bucket list. 🤗