Beyond the congested streets and sweltering heat in Kingston visitors to Jamaica will find tranquillity, cool temperatures, and nature too fascinating to overlook in the mountains overlooking the capital city.
Easily, the journey from Papine to Irish Town in St Andrew is a nature lover’s paradise.
A sign posted on the right side of the street which reads “Welcome to Papine, a gateway to the Blue and John Crow Mountains” marks the beginning of a roughly one hour expedition.
The first left turn takes you out of the broad and busy road to a narrow, quiet thoroughfare bordered by boulders, ferns and tall trees. Five minutes into your journey you will spot a few informational signs pointing to the left, signalling the next turn to continue your journey.
Five minutes later there is another cluster of signs, one of which indicates that you are at Maryland, a district on the cusp of the Blue and John Crow Mountains range. At the entrance of the community you are greeted with the sweet chirping of birds — music to the ears of birdwatchers.
You will also spot three abandoned shops to your right, coated in Jamaica’s famous national colours black, green, and gold. Paintings of our national bird, the Humming Bird, reggae legend Bob Marley and folklorist Louise Bennett-Coverley affectionately called Miss Lou, also adorn the shops, triggering reflections of the creativity of our people.
Welcome to Café Blue
As you continue north, you will see a few more shops and houses scantily dotted along the road for the next 15 to 20 minutes until you arrive at Irish Town where it is difficult to miss Café Blue, one of Jamaica’s better coffee shops, perched in the deep right-hand corner of the street.
The coffee aroma is too strong to ignore, as you make your way inside where you will be greeted warmly by the baristas, who will coax you into choosing a beverage, pastry or snack among scores of food items on the menu, which you can enjoy on the balcony while overlooking a large area of greenery and blue skies.
Debra Keane has been working at Café Blue for almost five years.
“We sell retail coffee, souvenirs, brittles, chocolates, pastries. We also do breakfast: pancakes and omelets, bagels, croissants and wraps. We also have Blue Mountain coffee, cappuccino, lattes and cold beverages like mochaccinos,” said Keane.
Since the onset of the novel coronavirus pandemic in March last year, many businesses have been reeling from financial challenges, including the coffee shop. But Keane said there are still a few loyal customers.
“Things haven’t been that wonderful because the people are scared to come out, but we still get a few customers who always come. As long as we are open, they will be here,” she said.
She guarantees that when you come to the coffee shop, you will have an unforgettable experience.
“I like meeting new people. Whenever you are at a coffee shop there is always someone there that you haven’t seen for a long time, so people always meet. It just gives me goose pimples because they are always so glad to see each other. You can always meet your friends at a coffee shop!” she said.
Café Blue was established in 2005 by the Sharp family, who owns and operates the oldest working coffee plantation in the Blue Mountains called Clifton Mount Coffee Estate which exports to some of the most prestigious coffee retail outlets in the world.
The brad is located in other areas across the island — Main Street, Montego Bay; Norman Manley International Airport, Kingston; SuperValu Centre, Constant Spring Road, St Andrew; Sovereign Centre, St Andrew; and Fairview Town Centre, Montego Bay.
Crystal Edge Restaurant
Crystal Edge Restaurant is the adjoining food establishment to Café Blue. Owned and operated by Winsome Hall, this restaurant offers breakfast between 8:30 am and 11:00 am; and lunch between 11:30 am and 5:00 pm.
A flight of stairs, almost at the centre of the restaurant, leads to a bar for a more relaxing vibe.
Shreen Henry, who manages the daily operations at the restaurant, said visitors can expect a vibrant cuisine of some of the most famous Jamaican dishes.
“We do all Jamaican food items. You can get your ackee and salt fish, callaloo, corn pork, stew chicken, liver, and on the weekends we do a variety of foods,” Henry told LetsTravelCaribbean.com, noting that the menu has been downsized since the onset of the novel coronavirus pandemic, as business has been a bit slow.
Henry enjoys working at the restaurant, as she gets to meet new people. Her most memorable moment she said, was meeting British actor Idris Elba.
Continue your journey up the mountain for approximately 15 minutes, passing more greenery and brightly painted structures, you’ll arrive at the next eatery, Eits Café the entrance of which makes a great photo.
A black and white vintage European car parked under a large tree with the name painted on the door announces the property. EITS (acronym for Europe In The Summer) is a small café hidden behind tall bamboo.
The establishment, which opens its doors on Fridays, shares a space with the Food Basket Farm and Mount Edge Guest House which encourages a ‘3-in-1 experience’. The area is referred to as 17 Mile Post, and the café is operated by the father-daughter duo of Robyn and Michael Fox. With the European-influenced appearance, it would come as no surprise that the café offers a blend of Jamaican and European cuisine.
Moving further up, in about 10 minutes you will get to the Jamaica Defence Force’s historic training complex.
Newcastle Training Depot
This is a place where JDF recruits go through rigorous preparations, honing the skills they need to effectively carry out their duty of serving the Jamaican people. The training station was found by Field Marshal Sir William Maynard Gomm, who was a veteran of the wars against France and lieutenant governor of Jamaica from 1840 to 1841.
Here, you will realise that the science lessons about air temperature you received in school are true – the higher you go the cooler it gets. So you may have to grab your sweater. In fact, you may even be lucky enough to see the recruits in training.
Continuing on, you will pass a major landslide, then in about five minutes you will get to Gap Café.
Comfortably nestled at an altitude of 4,200 ft, the café is close to the border of St Andrew and Portland.
Though the café is closed, denying visitors of the delightful meals that used to be served there, there is no shortage of fresh air and cool weather, as the wind whistles in your ears.
The café also has a very rich history. In the 1930s it operated as a station for buggy cars charging 10 shillings for an overnight stay.
In a mere two minutes from the Gap Café a dirt track will lead you to Holywell Recreational Park which is surrounded by an abundance of tropical plants including Jamaica’s national tree, the Blue Mahoe.
Holywell Recreational Park
“It is one of the recreational areas in the mountains. People come here to relax, walk on our trails and even camp out for a night in the cabins,” said Marlon Hamilton, who has been a ranger at the park for 10 years.
The property falls within the Blue and John Crow Mountains and is listed as a United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) World Heritage Site.
In addition to cabins that visitors can rent, Holywell has a total of five areas for adventurous treks — Oatley Mountain Trail, Blue Mahoe Trail, Waterfall Trail, Shelter Trail, and Wagwater Trail.
Of the five areas, the Waterfall Trail requires the longest walk of 1.3 kilometres to get there. Even though the journey is a bit long, it is worth it, as you are rewarded with a cascading waterfall.
On the journey back to Papine you will most likely reflect on the trip up and conclude that ‘there’s gold in them thar hills’.