Food Baby Aborted: What’s for Lunch?

Last month I expressed my dissatisfaction with the typical Jamaican lunch and the feedback was enlightening. I didn’t realize so many people were concerned about the portion distortion, nor experienced the distended abdomen (“food baby”) and sluggish feeling afterwards. My abdominal distention would last until night or even the next day sometimes and cause serious discomfort. If I wore tight-fitting clothing, within 30 minutes of lunch I appeared infanticipating. This is likely due to a myriad of factors: the stale recycled oil used to fry or stew the chicken, high MSG content, overeating bleached rice while rushing my meal in a short lunch break, high sodium content or even the sugar many cookshops are notorious for adding to rice and peas, chicken and gravies as their “secret ingredient.”  I finally decided to make a change although it’s still in progress. Here are my weekday lunch substitutes so far:

1) Smoothies

mango nut smoothie

Mango Nut Smoothie

The components vary depending on what I have, but my ideal ingredients include (not all in one smoothie of course!):

  • Oatmeal
  • 1 glass milk: I use 1% lactose-free milk (cows’ milk to which lactase has been added to break it down to the more digestible glucose and galactose), with hopes to use almond, hazelnut and hempseed milk, or even yoghurt occasionally.
  • 1 handful of nuts or seeds: peanuts, almonds, flaxseeds, pumpkin seeds etc.
  • Fruit: banana, mango, pineapple etc.
  • Spices: vanillin (1/4 tsp), powdered cinnamon (1/2tsp), nutmeg (1/4 tsp, grated).
  • Occasional ingredients: cocoa powder
  • 6-10 ice cubes

Prep/cook/clean up time: 20 minutes. Blend until smooth and serve cold. Affordable combinations I’ve tried so far are banana and mango smoothies.

I make them overnight sometimes and freeze, or in the morning. Drinking lunch instead of eating may not sound filling but it actually is! It’s due to that soluble fibre and complex carbohydrates causing a slower release of energy, however I carry these only on early days.

2) Pasta Dishes

coconut tuna pasta

Coconut Tuna Pasta

My most frequent concoction is what I like to call coconut tuna pasta and consists of penne, elbow or twist pasta, coconut milk, tuna (canned in water, drained), julienned sweet pepper and spices (chopped scallions, thyme, cayenne or Scotch bonnet pepper, parsley). It takes about 20 minutes to make al dente pasta, during which I prepare the other ingredients. At 20 minutes I stir everything else in, mix, cool, store and clean up. Overall, this takes about 40 minutes and I prepare enough to serve 2 lunches (but my brother takes it for dinner so it always seems to serve once 😒). Even with substitutions, I think this can work out affordable and relatively efficient.

I plan to substitute tuna for leftover chicken, lentils or chick peas occasionally, and switch pasta for sweet potato or yam if I happen to find any at decent prices.

3) Wraps

So time-consuming!!! I still make my wraps (knock-off tortillas) from scratch because for the life of me I cannot find any affordable brands! The cheapest pack of 10 7-inch diameter tortillas is like $500JMD, while if I sacrifice the hour it takes to knead a dough for about 8-10 wraps, flatten with a rolling pin and make them on stove top in a skillet, it’d cost about $40JMD total. I kid you not since a kilogram of flour costs $100 and I use 1/3 bag each time with some paprika for colour and flavour, and of course water.

curry lentils

Curry lentils on the stove

So far my fillings have been:

  1. Curried lentils
  2. BBQ lentils
  3. Curried chickpeas

I’ll probably keep all the fillings legume or vegetable related just because it’s cheaper. Health is an added plus 😉.

Ideas I haven’t actually tried yet are loaded potatoes (which I’ll most likely  load with cheese and chorizo) and some other tasty bites I’ve pinned here mostly taken from budgetbytes.com, music to the ears of a broke girl who likes to eat.

_________

When all else fails, there’s the good old sandwich which doesn’t exceed 15 minutes to fix (ham, etc.). I don’t mind getting soup for lunch at tuckshops either when available and occasionally, I give myself a break and have lunch delivered. There are often inexpensive healthy delivery options in the corporate area from humble home cooks trying to earn an honest living if you ask around.

These are some of the dishes from the only such cook I currently support who delivers to my campus at lunch hour (click pictures for description).

Benefits Reaped So Far

  • No abdominal distention after meals, whoopee!
  • No distention= clothes fitting better and looking slimmer (at least in my opinion 😊)
  • No discomfort after eating
  • I feel more energetic.
  • I feel happier knowing I’m taking better care of myself.
  • My tastebuds are happy from a wider meal and flavour variety. I no longer feel stuck in a lunch rut and man, do I not miss the grease and rice!

Disadvantages

  • Making time to cook.
  • Keeping warm food warm. I’ve yet to find a small food thermos, so I often end up reheating food even it was cooked that morning. Plus, I’m doing a microbiology clerkship right now so I keep thinking of what could be growing in the food I’m leaving at room temperature.
  • Keeping smoothies cold. My insulation flask isn’t too insulating.
  • Spills. This hasn’t happened to me, but carrying lunch makes this a disastrous possibility.

_________

Will I eat rice & chicken box lunches again? Possibly. But never again will it be a daily habit.

**Disclaimer note: I’m only referring to cookshop or cafeteria box lunches. By no means am I saying Jamaican cuisine on a whole is like this because we do have very healthy and scrumptious local food. You just have to search widely, pay more or make it yourself if you want it on the go at lunch time.**

If you already make these, plan to or give any a try, join the conversation below in the comment section. I’d appreciate healthy affordable suggestions too as we strive to live our best lives. 🤗 P.s. Before this new “lifestyle” I’d never eaten yet alone cooked a lentil. 🙈 I’ve been missing out.

‘Til next time.

Bull Bay Beaches, Saint Andrew

I figured it was time I feature a stereotypical Jamaican chill spot having written about waterfalls, museums, a botanical garden, mountain and mineral spring. You guessed correctly: a BEACH! 🌴 In keeping with A.f.Elle budget-friendly style, I chose an unpopular one: the Wickie Wackie beach in Bull Bay. Bull Bay is a suburban town on the border of the Saint Andrew and Saint Thomas parishes. It lies beside its lesser-known sister bay, Cow Bay. Both place names reflect their former purpose of cattle-rearing predominantly for leather during Spanish colonial rule of Jamaica, before British conquest in 1655. This beach only comes up in conversation when it is the venue of a party or concert such as the annual Wickie Wackie Music Festival. I wanted to see what it looks like when it isn’t pulsating to the ‘riddims’ of the latest fete.

Getting There

Starting from Half-Way-Tree (HWT), parish capital of Saint Andrew, we boarded a JUTC bus (state-run public buses) en route to Downtown, Kingston from the HWT transport centre. We came off at Parade, an area surrounding the Sir William Grant Park where most buses in Downtown load. Circling this park takes you to North Parade from which we took a Bull Bay JUTC bus, route 97. Total travel time from HWT to our stop in Bull Bay took about 90 minutes, inclusive of waiting time. We came off opposite to Little Copa Club and Restaurant. However, we unintentionally gave ourselves unnecessary walking. 😅 There is a closer stop so it’s safe to say press the buzzer after passing Little Copa on the right– not alight at Copa.

Secondly, note the original aim: Wickie Wackie Beach. What we got instead by choosing that stop: Carib Beach as shown by Google Maps. Both beaches are adjacent and honestly, it’s one coast line anyway. Both are public beaches (i.e. free) and we found no clear line of demarcation separating the two. I’m almost certain we crossed that “invisible line” and visited both beaches with our wandering feet.

Bull bay beach

Carib Beach against the backdrop of omnipresent mountains

The Beach

Slightly missing our beach target was a blessing in disguise. We wound up at a surfing school-turned-hostel by the name of Jamnesia, run by an affable Rastafarian family. Public beaches in Jamaica are a dwindling kind and finding clean bathrooms and changing facilities at them is elusive. In other words, you have to pay for such “privileges.” Thus, if we didn’t find Jamnesia, we likely wouldn’t have accessed such facilities. They allowed us to use them for free. This beach strip is found along Sugar Loaf Bay and presents a good surfing spot. Showing up on a day when waves were ‘flat’ denied us such opportunity, not that I was intent on learning how to surf before nailing swimming 😂. Surfboards and instructors are available but sadly I never obtained the price.

coast

Abundance of trees on the Bull Bay coastline

It is undeniable that Jamaica has far better beaches but if you want a safe, free and secluded beach for a few hours, this is it! Impetuous waves break against a brown-sanded rocky coastline with fiery sun blazing overhead. Only the saltwater and occasional shady tree offered respite. Beaches are beautiful with that seemingly endless horizon and 50 shades of blue as sea meets sky. However, saline and unshaded sun reminded me of why beaches are lower on my list of outdoor attractions. Cool fresh-water rivers and waterfalls have spoiled me rotten and I don’t mind. That aside, I had myself a wonderful peaceful day strolling along the shore and swimming. The water was very pristine, if not the sand.

coast2

Carib Beach, Bull Bay

Wrap Up

Leaving by bus was easy, as coasters (smaller public buses) run all the time between Bull Bay and Downtown at the same price as JUTC buses, JM$100/person. We got one in under 5 minutes. If you wait on a JUTC bus, expect an unpredictable waiting time ranging from several minutes to an hour.

I’d recommend going with a friend like I did, unless the goal was for solo time and meditation which seems safe enough to do here. Carry sunscreen and adequate water as it is easy to become dehydrated fast. Also, do consider wearing your swimsuit. It was our stroke of luck to find good amenities, but on a public beach in Jamaica it’s possible you won’t find any.

I had a wonderful time, likely due to the company I had who enjoys unfrequented spots as much as I do. However, I won’t romanticize the attraction. The lack of amenities, occasional plastic bottle litter on the sand and the ubiquitous stones (albeit smooth) earn it 3 stars, ☆☆☆ from my book.

‘Til next time ✌

Hiking in the Caribbean: Part 2

In the second part of Rochelle’s Caribbean Hiking Guide, we are going to discover the hiking opportunities offered by Cuba, the largest island in the area, and Guyana, an unspoiled… Read More The post Caribbean Hiking Guide: Cuba and Guyana appeared first on Justraveling.

via Caribbean Hiking Guide: Cuba and Guyana — Justraveling

Liebster Award

gold-with-red

Ah, Renegade. You’ve considered Adventures from Elle yet again for a blog award. I really appreciate this. 😊 Many thanks. Head over to Renegade Expressions for an interesting perspective on life and above-average knowledge of birds (leading me to wonder if ornithology is a side-profession of his).

The Rules of This Award

1. Acknowledge the blog who nominated you and display the award.
2. Answer the 11 questions the blogger gives you.
3. Give 11 random facts about yourself.
4. Nominate 11 blogs.
5. Notify those blogs of the nomination.
6. Give them 11 questions to answer.

11 Questions For Me

  • What countries have you visited or would like to visit? I’ve only left Jamaica twice- once on a prep school Disney World trip to Florida, USA (too young to have clear memories of it) and the other to Curaçao, a tiny Dutch-speaking Caribbean island. High on the “would like to visit” list are Canada, Guyana, Cuba, Haiti, Iceland, Costa Rica and Ecuador (an odd mix of tropical, temperate and polar climes).
  • Do you play any sports? Nope. Tried several. Realize I’m too clumsy and steered clear of sports after grade 10 altogether, except for watching (and LOVING) track and field like a stereotypical Jamaican.
  • Who is your favorite actor? Taraji P. Henson
  • Are you an Apple, Android or Windows Smartphone user? Android
  • Do you see the glass as half-empty or half full? Usually as half-full, unless I’m depressed where I’ll sometimes think half-empty for a while.
  • Are you a Cat or Dog person? DOGS. 🐶
  • Do you know who Goofus and Gallant are? Lol.. no. I’ll probably be judged for this.
  • Who let the dogs out? (Who cares?) Ruff, ruff, ruff, ruff 🎵
  • Can you do the Macarena? Sure can. One move my left feet can do.
  • Heathcliff or Garfield? Garfield definitely.
  • What is your favorite guilty pleasure? It isn’t guilty if you own it right? Everything cheesecake despite my metabolism screaming no. Close second: Chocolate.

11 Random Facts About Me

  • I’m a proud product of a single-parent family. Thanks, Mommy.
  • I’m not from a travelling family so I’m not sure where my wanderlust gene comes from. Autosomal recessive perhaps?
  • My favourite fruit: a juicy ripe East Indian mango. (No mangoes aren’t all the same species. That statement angers a Jamaican as much as a person who peels mangoes to eat. Don’t take it personally. 😂)
  • I talk a whole lot and ramble, but only among people with whom I’m comfortable.
  • I did advanced level Spanish in high school (Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Exam- CAPE) and have a national award for it. I still listen to a few Spanish songs and read an occasional Spanish article, but I’m terribly shocked at how much my knowledge has deteriorated in just 3 years of disuse. I’m not sure I could translate a magical realism text anymore e.g. from Gabriel Garcia Marquez, requiescat in pace.
  • My favourite subjects in high school in order were Biology, Spanish, History and English Literature.
  • April 2017 (the 28th I think) makes 4 full years since I last chemically straightened my hair.
  • I walk because walking is one “sport” which has never failed me.
  • My left feet & I seriously admire dancers!
  • I’m a recovering comfort eater. My weight went up into the obese category because of it 4 years ago, but having found alternative crutches/outlets for emotional issues plus incorporating more movement into my daily life, I’ve been maintaining at a decent enough BMI of  24.9, smack at the upper end of normal for my height. I’m still heavier than I want to be but it’s not something I’ve actively worked on changing since 2014. I committed that year to dropping 10% of my body weight, did exactly that in 5months and since then, everything I’ve lost/been able to maintain has been from trying not to “indulge” in a self-destructive habit.
  • Still training my brain to have photographic memory. If I ever succeed, I’ll let you know.

My Nominees

Sorry! I don’t have 11 at this time.

11 Questions For My Nominees

  • Are you where you thought you’d be 10 years ago, and if not, are you pleased with where you are instead?
  • Favourite type of weather?
  • Dancehall or soca?
  • Beach or mountains?
  • What is your biggest pet peeve?
  • What is your biggest food craving and how often do you indulge in it?
  • Favourite cuisine from around the world?
  • I just bought you a plane ticket to somwhere you’ve been dying to visit. Where are you going?
  • Hug or shake hands?
  • If you had to lose one sense, which of the 5 would be easiest to part with?
  • Zoo or safari?

Hiking in the Caribbean

A Caribbean vacation is often envisioned as sipping from a coconut while reclining in a deckchair on a white sand beach. That image is encouraged by the “sun, sand, and… Read More The post Caribbean Hiking Guide: Jamaica and Haiti appeared first on Justraveling.

via Caribbean Hiking Guide: Jamaica and Haiti — Justraveling

Hiking isn’t a popular Jamaican past time. We don’t have a culture of backpacking and camping either; that’s seen more as for cadet groups. What Jamaica has though, is a mountainous interior teeming with beautiful trees, plants, birds, sweeping valleys, rivers, waterfalls, cool weather and all-around spectacular views. There are quite a few people who already regularly make use of Jamaica’s outdoors and are reaping the benefits. I’m not (yet) an avid hiker but I have my eye set on the good spots. 😎 The limited hiking I’ve done so far has me looking forward to more. So far, I’ve covered only one such place here since my blog only covers 2016 onwards. Thus, consider my guest post to justraveling.com as a sneak peek into my personal hiking bucket list. I wanted to share an alternative tourism spin on the whole region as we are more than sun, sand and sea.

With that, head on over to these guys and see the many opportunities to hike globally and closer to home.

The Jamaican Box Lunch

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A typical Jamaican lunch. Photo Credit: fooddiaries101.wordpress.com

“Sell me a rice and peas and fry chicken with curry gravy.”

“A curry goat and rice.”

“A jerk chicken and rice and peas.”

“A stew peas and rice.”

These are some of the daily options on the lunch menu of a Jamaican restaurant, tuck shop, road side shop etc. Delicious, sure, but so few options. Chicken, chicken, chicken, maybe fish, maybe goat. However, notice the common theme: rice. With the bounty of staples available to the Jamaican diet (breadfruit, yam, green bananas, plantains, sweet potato, white potato, coco, dasheen), cookshops trade our health for financial gain and serve bleached rice. Jamaicans have acquired the taste for rice because if more Jamaicans had an issue with this, surely more options would be introduced. I have reached my chicken and rice limits after having my final box (at least for now) yesterday.

Portion Distortion

  • 1 serving of rice=  1/2 cup
  • 1 serving of chicken, or meat in general= a deck of cards in area and thickness. That is, half a chicken breast, maybe a small thigh or chicken leg.
  • 1 serving of vegetables= a cup of shredded cabbage and carrot (the typical Jamaican salad)

If any Jamaican is ever served that, even in a small JM$300 lunch, a shouting match would erupt. The reason: how dare you serve a Jamaican the correct portion of food?! A small lunch should have 3 servings of rice, 2 servings of chicken (with curry gravy) and for side, either a garnish of shredded carrot and cabbage or a hefty serving of mayonnaise-drenched pasta. If we were active enough to require that much fuel, we would not have a worsening obesity crisis and high type 2 diabetes rate.

What can I do about it?

I’m not advocating for the boycott of cookshops, vegetarianism, veganism nor the cessation of rice consumption, especially not the latter. Rice is cheap and it “full belly” as we say, meaning that it is very filling and hence we get value for money. Personally I don’t like rice and would love to do away with it altogether, but my family nor budget can accommodate that change. Plus, I’d miss the Jamaican staple of rice and peas if away from it long enough.

I feel sluggish after my lunches in the week which doesn’t occur on weekends, so it must be because of the differences in food. I also go home noticeably larger around my middle at the end of the day. That’s not normal nor good for my long term health. That type of lunch is devoid of vitamins, minerals and fibre. What I’m receiving instead are saturated fats and more starch than my body can burn in a day.

I have a few ideas already on my alternatives, but of course this involves me carrying lunch on most days (again). This is something I’ve tried before in one of my phases, but hopefully this one develops into a lasting habit. And no not salads. A salad on its own isn’t a complete meal. I’ll let you know what I try and how I feel after I’ve made the change long enough to reap the benefits.

I tried eating healthier previously for the wrong reasons (yes there can be a wrong reason to work out, eat healthier etc.). Now, my reason is all coming from a place of self love- wanting to be the best me that I can be which involves avoiding the habits which predispose me to developing lifestyle illnesses and having enough energy to take me through each day. I owe this to myself.

Conquering Blue Mountain Peak: Part 2 of 2

Blue Mountains Jamaica

This is part 2 of a 2-part series. This post covers the Blue Mountain peak, day 2 descent, tips and additional info on how to conquer the peak safely and affordably. Part 1 covered the ascent. Completing my track analogy from last week, the peak trail would be GO! 🏁

Go: The Peak Trail

The voice at 11:53pm belonged to Mr. Owen Bowman, a guide thrice my age and twice as limber. I had got over my annoyance at being awoken early and we got along pleasantly– such a sweet elderly gentleman. Flashlights in hand, we began our trek at 2am. The advice “If you cyaa [can’t] handle the ladder, turn back,” began to make sense. The ladder is all the preparation you need to reach the peak because nowhere along the trail gets worse than the ladder’s terrain. The path is steadily uphill so we felt the burn in yesterday’s sore spots.

The views of Kingston and the Milky Way were glorious! We turned off our flashlights at every rest stop we took to admire them. I never understood the seriousness of light pollution until this point. We really miss the beauty of the night sky in urban areas.

Blue Mountain Peak, Portland

CabinWe made it in just under 3 hours. Mr. Bowman had underestimated our endurance. My first impression of the peak: unbearably frigid. The blast of 4:50am wind slapped me full-force. My 4 shirts and 3 leggings were somehow insufficient. Without leaving my tropical homeland, I managed to step into a winter wonderland. This roofless building was our only shelter, which according to our guide has never been repaired since hurricane Gilbert of 1988. However, we emerged at 5:30am to this!

Every drop of sweat and torn muscle fibre was worth it. At 7,402 feet, we were higher than the clouds! It wasn’t raining and the sky was clear enough for us to see the surreal sunrise. To our chagrin, no view of Cuba. Haha. . . I won’t say it’s untrue but just know your chances are slim. Then again, who cares? Look at this sun!

sunrise at blue mount peak

Descent & Departure

It took 90 minutes to return to our Portland Gap campsite, half the time it took us to climb the peak trail. All the foliage and canopy we failed to admire on the way up revealed itself now in the soft morning glow. Ferns, conifers, bromeliads and blooming things line the trail; Jamaica’s own garden of Eden. The greens weren’t as bright as they can get since the trail hasn’t had rain for a bit we were told.

In Portland Gap we snacked, relaxed and got more rest until 11:00am when we began cleaning up after ourselves and packing. As the signs say, take nothing but photographs and leave nothing but footprints!

The driver we hired for 2pm Sunday afternoon came 5 minutes early. It took us just over an hour to reach the foot of Jacob’s ladder when he was pulling up, so we were right on time. Thankfully, he drove a mini-van this time so we had a more comfortable ride. Our eyes were treated to the same stunning views on the way down, and we had an uneventful ride into Kingston.

Wrap Up

It’s clear the park needs some work. A shelter at the peak and heating devices are lacking essentials. Nonetheless, I understand the financial constraints. Slowly but surely our national park is being transformed from a hidden beauty to a sustainable eco-tourist spectacle, evidenced by the construction of sturdier cabins and facilities in Portland Gap. It should be exciting to see where this development reaches in a decade. However, I still rate here 5 stars ☆☆☆☆☆ because I truly have never seen nor experienced anything quite like it. One visit is insufficient. I still don’t know at which point I got dragged into making a sunrise visit but I don’t regret it. Next time, I may try seeing sunset and certainly pack warmer wear. Also, I’ll budget for transport to and from the ladder. No further heroic hiking attempts will be made unless I’m miraculously fitter when next this opportunity presents itself.

Relevant Links

  • Download, bookmark or pin my planning checklist and advice infographics.

Conquering Blue Mtn PeakBlue Mountain Peak Checklist

  • Jah B’s Guesthouse
  • Jamaica Conservation & Development Trust (JCDT): The government unit which manages the entire Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park (BJCMNP), offers the best rates, operates the Portland Gap cabins & campsite and can answer not only all your peak questions, but also everywhere else within this park e.g. Holywell, Cinchona Botanical Gardens etc.
  • Whitfield Hall Hostel
  • Learn more about the significance of the BJCMNP through UNESCO here.

I hope this post will help subsequent hikers. I included every ounce of advice I had, while injecting enough wanderlust for those who won’t/can’t make the trip, so they can enjoy the adventure through my eyes. ‘Til next time. ✌
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“It is the fairest island eyes have beheld; mountainous and the land seems to touch the sky.” -Christopher Columbus, 1494.

This is part 2 of a 2-part series. This post covers the Blue Mountain peak, day 2 descent, tips and additional info on how to conquer the peak safely and affordably. Part 1 covered the ascent on day 1 of the adventure.

Also, I featured the Blue Mountain peak as #3 on January 9th in my 2017 bucket list so this is 5 down, 12 to go.

Conquering Blue Mountain Peak: Part 1 of 2

Blue Mountains Jamaica.jpg

Clocking 7,402ft. (2,256m) above sea level, Blue Mountain Peak is Jamaica’s highest point. It majestically towers over the entire nation and its waters. It forms part of the Blue and John Crow Mountain National Park (BJCMNP) in the eastern corner of the island, and holds the proud title of Jamaica’s first UNESCO world heritage site which it achieved in 2015. This 26,252-hectare champ is listed as both a natural and cultural site, making it 1 of only 32 “mixed” sites worldwide (mixed meaning the BJCMNP has both natural and cultural significance). It reserved its natural title because it is home to thousands of species, many of which are endemic, endangered or sadly both. The world has gained a lot from and may have much left to gain from the biodiversity teeming in this reserve. It holds a cultural title from the Nanny Town Heritage Route and its associated remains, i.e. secret trails, settlements, archaeological remains, hiding places etc. These are associated with the grand marronage by then-enslaved Africans and African descendants, their struggle for survival, freedom and the unique preservation of their traditions and culture to this day. I have conquered the park’s most formidable point at sunrise: the Peak. Part 1 covers the ascent. Part 2 will cover the peak, descent, tips and additional info on how to conquer the peak safely and affordably.

Getting Ready

Getting to the Peak for sunrise requires at least a week’s pre-planning (see infographic in part 2). If you want to skip the effort and are willing to pay for it, by all means utilize a reputable company e.g. Sun Venture tours. Consider public transport and hiking your way up if you are fit, well-versed on patwa (the local Creole) and not too claustrophobic as mini-vans are the modus operandi. If you have your own vehicle and feel comfortable being out of sight of it for a weekend, you can drive to a landmark, park then hike. The advised place to park is at the Mavis Bank police station parking lot. However, going by the size of the “lot” I saw on my way up, I can’t guarantee you any parking space. Furthermore, you have to be skilled at manoeuvering your way on winding dirt tracks because that’s all many of the “roads” qualified as.

On Your Marks: D-Day

We started at 9:30am from Papine, an easily accessible town in St. Andrew at the foot of the Blue Mountains. We boarded a mini-van headed to Mount Charles. They board passengers adjacent to Papine square in the town’s centre at $150/person. Mount Charles is a district in Mavis Bank. Sitting with luggage in lap and in a tight space may make even the best of persons feel claustrophobic. Thankfully, the ride is under an hour. You’ll enjoy cool breeze rushing in through your window as you are whizzed to Mount Charles at alarming speed by an experienced driver. Unfortunately for us, our mini-van broke down en route to Mount Charles so we had to wait on a replacement van which thankfully arrived in under 30 minutes. I hope that isn’t a regular occurrence.

Blue mountain coffee

World-renowned Blue Mountain coffee berries

From Mount Charles, take a bus to Hagley Gap in Saint Thomas for another $150/person. Ask your Mount Charles’ driver to direct you on which bus to take or wait until you alight and ask a resident. You are bound to see several residents milling around the district’s square. The ride from here is more scenic as the road winds around green hillsides and the swift Yallahs river. After another hour’s drive and crossing parish lines from St. Andrew to St. Thomas, the physically fit can begin their hike. We started at 11:45am from Hagley Gap. The districts to use as landmarks before Portland Gap are Minto, Epping Town, Penlyne Castle and Whitfield Hall. Along the path you’ll see coffee berries responsible for world-famous authentic Blue Mountain coffee.

trees

High montane tropical forest

As daring young adults and with poor judgement and advice, we believed our bodies could take us from Hagley Gap to Portland Gap. Unless you are in extremely good shape, DO NOT FOOL YOURSELF! Do pay the $5,500 to be carried from Mavis Bank to Jacob’s Ladder by 4WD landrover. We barely made it to landmark #3 when we had to suck up our pride, call the driver we had hired only for the return trip, have him meet us in Penlyne Castle and take us to Jacob’s Ladder! He charged us $2,000. Judging by the state we were in, we probably would have paid thrice over. We began to cool down and get our first taste of the forewarned cool weather in our landrover, good for only fair weather.

Rejuvenated by the rest and breeze, I finally started to admire the imposing trees, dramatic mountains, sweeping valleys, colourful flowers and darting birds. Along this trail only good for 4WD and experienced motorists, we crossed parish boundaries from Saint Thomas into Portland.

Get Set: Jacob’s Ladder

“If you cyaa [can’t] handle the ladder, turn back.” -Words from our guide Mr. Bowe and every villager with whom we spoke when they learnt of our destination. Their vehement advice conjured up images of using hands and feet to pull myself uphill.

Jacob's ladderThankfully, that was not the case although maybe it would have been if it were raining or the trail was wet. Jacob’s ladder is the steepest portion of the trail connecting Whitfield Hall to Portland Gap and is only accessible by foot or beast of burden. I hear you can hire one of our furry friends to carry you or your load uphill but none of us tried that option. Instead, we footed it cautiously and took breaks as needed at the wider parts. The never-ending trail finally stopped in the clearing known as Portland Gap at 6pm. What a relief to despondent spirits!

We threw down our luggage, then ourselves and panted for a few minutes. Staring up at the mist overhead and darkening sky, realization hit me that we had to start pitching our tents and preparing a campfire immediately before nightfall. Frantically, we gathered stones to form a ring, tore newspapers which my boyfriend had the foresight to bring and gathered twigs. Some bore the task of pitching our 3 tents. Gathering twigs to start a fire was futile in a humid rainforest. Everything was damp. Since Portland Gap is under construction (set to finish early next month), helpful workmen came to our assistance with dry firewood.

Our Campsite

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Our Portland Gap campsite

After our tents were pitched and fire blazing, in true Jamaican style “we ran a boat” (to run a boat= cooking hearty meals in which everyone involved pitches in with the ingredients, usually done outdoors). We cleaned up, refilled empty bottles at a spring then prepared for bed, errrr.. sleeping bag. By 10pm, we were all in bed sleeping bag with alarms set for 1:30am.

At 11:53pm to our dismay, we were awoken by our guide. He reached our campsite early to find out at what time were we planning to start the morning hike. I wish there had been a more considerate way to do this. 😑 I take a long time to fall asleep and as soon as I hit NREM sleep, I hear “Hello!”, “Anybody there?” Sleepily, we bargained and settled on 1:30am.

Campfire

The campfire

After trying to fall asleep again unsuccessfully, my boyfriend and I decided to rekindle our fire. Gradually the team stirred and pitched in. We rationed tea, hot chocolate, crackers, roasted marshmallows and s’mores to prepare for the anticipated 4-hour walk. We roused the last 2 sleeping companions of our octet, and didn’t coax too much when they insisted on not coming. They were the most affected by the hike from the evening before. This actually served as a blessing in that we didn’t have to worry about securing anything at our site before we set off for the peak at 2am (yes, 30 minutes late).
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“It is the fairest island eyes have beheld; mountainous and the land seems to touch the sky.” -Christopher Columbus, 1494.

Complete the adventure next week in Conquering Blue Mountain Peak: Part 2 of 2. This is part 1 of a 2 part series. This post covers the ascent to the peak on day 1 of the weekend adventure. Part 2 covers the Blue Mountain peak, day 2 descent, tips and additional info on how to conquer the peak safely and affordably.

Also, I featured the Blue Mountain peak as #3 on January 9th in my 2017 bucket list so this is 5 down, 12 to go. 😊 ‘Til next week. ✌