Whether it’s the effect of having lived outside Jamaica so long, I love just driving through the country. I really don’t like long drives, though. But, since coming back some 15 months ago, I’ve racked up some miles. Admitted, my trips haven’t often been to far-off places or spots completely new. But, Jamaica has changed over the years, and keeps changing. One obvious change is the structure of roadways. The last decade and a half has seen the completion of new multilane highways. First, east-west feet wen Kingston and May Pen, and recently, north-south between Linstead and Moneague. These are toll roads, and the price gives faster travel and less congestion.
I’ve driven east-west many times, headed to Mandeville. Now, I’ve been traveling, recently, to and from the north coast. The new highway offers spectacular views across to Mount Rosser/Diablo, and the bauxite and alumina plant at Ewarton.
The road has been much criticized for its steepness, but it’s not really a problem for most vehicles in good condition.
Highways are very different from other roads in Jamaica: they have no vendors. Instead, you get vista.
Nothing seen is ever the same, not least because time of day means different activities. I rarely drive these roads late at night, and enjoy the sights that come early in the day. School children walking and waiting for transport. Men walking with weedwhackers, machetes, saws–tools of their trades. Women walking for exercise, sometimes with a male escort. Loaded minibuses and taxis. Soup pots. Roadside eateries.
I often stop in Salem, by Runaway Bay at an eatery named ‘Jerkie’s’. A friend suggested it on one trip and they do a great Jamaican breakfast. Funnily, it’s across the road from a resort my parents used to visit, from the late 1980s, which had now been converted to a housing estate. The former cottages are now inhabited as homes. On one trip, one of my passengers went to visit his sister at one of the homes. I was almost sure it was the cottage we used to rent.
But, I stop for breakfast, not holiday recollections. Today, some Jehovah Witness ladies offered me copies of ‘Watchtower’. They wanted to offer me new government of my life.
I was well ahead of schedule, so decided to sit and eat. My homemade plantain tarts had gone well with my tea over the first leg, but I needed more to hold me. I ordered the regular breakfast, with salt mackerel. It was too much, but I was happy to carry half with me. I was likely to be out walking a golf course and it could be handy.
It was about 9, and breakfast trade was brisk. I yearned for some hominy porridge to go with my order. No joy.
The Witnesses and I exchanged pleasant words outside before I headed on.
I much prefer the rolling country roads and find the straighter coast road boring. It’s all speed. The police know this and wait for fools to drop in. As I passed one checkpoint, I noticed a driver being frisked. Was he a toter? Maybe, his licence was stuck in his pants. It looked odd. Groups of vehicles were stopped at each such check.
The police focus on speeders only. All other road problems seem ignored.
As I moved along the coast road, I tried to see signs of tourism thriving. New hotel work has trucks and labourers jostling all over the place. The road is coated in mud. When the rain falls, the roads are a mess. I didn’t draw any conclusion.
Someone told me the airport was rammed with visitors. Were Americans fleeing their Ebola ‘threat’? Seems unlikely.
I never saw any sign of our dreaded Chikungunya. Sick people should be in their homes.
Our roads are filled with the able-bodied.
Our roadsides often look like a waiting room. We give the impression of idle living.