Cunha Cunha Pass - Hiking Blue Mountains, with Family & Friends

DAY 1            Gordon Town Trail, EITS, Newcastle, Clifton Mount Coffee Estate               

It was Tammy’s birthday, and she wanted to be hiking in the Blue Mountains, with Family and close Friends. We were a group of Jamaicans, and none of us had ever hiked the Cunha Cunha Pass, a 5.5 mile mountain trail, which was first used by the Windward Maroons, (Taino and Africans who ran away to the mountains rather than stay as slaves). This is where the Blue Mountains and John Crow Mountain ranges are closest together. The area is particularly lush and beautiful with numerous streams and waterfalls. This is also the main habitat for the endemic Giant Swallowtail Butterfly – the largest butterfly in the Western Hemisphere.  images-1The butterfly is mythic, people go to great lengths to see it, but few actually do…  You get on the trail not too far from Port Antonio.

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About to hit the Gordon Town Trail.

We started our adventure in Kingston, deciding to hike the Gordon Town Trail, as a warm up.  This trail goes from Papine/Kingston to Redlight and we’ll spend the night in the Blue Mountains before touring on to Port Antonio via Buff Bay. Our adventure was 2 nights/ 3 Days over the August Emancipation Day holiday in Jamaica.

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Blue Mountain Trail, Marianne North

Here are some facts I love about Gordon Town: Hinton East established a botanical garden here in the late 1700’s, where most of Jamaica’s really vital plants and trees, like ackee and breadfruit were introduced to the island. 100 years later the great Victorian lady traveler and botanic artist Marianne North lived in the house East had abandoned and used the very trail we were to walk. Miss Lou, Jamaica’s most beloved folklorist, lived in Gordon Town. And it is still a very charming place with a town square and a community of citizens who know each other.

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The Gordon Town Trail is the old parochial road between Gordon Town and Redlight. Soldiers and coffee farmers would use this road to reachNewcastle – the British Military base built in 1830. Today, school children and residents of Industry – a community only reachable by this walking trail – are who we find.

We follow the river up the trail, there are pools and waterfalls a plenty.

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Redlight is the last “town” of any size you find before continuing up the mountain to Newcastle. It feels like an outpost with one commercial district of bars and vendors that lines the main road for a block or so.

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RedLight, see Newcastle in the distance.

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DownloadedFile-2 Simeon, who is our sweetheart driver scoops us up and we are ready to enjoy a celebration lunch at EITS.

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Robin Fox is the best hostess and EITS food is exceptional.  More friends and family gather for lunch.  We convince them to join the party, and hike the Cunha Cunha Pass!  We started the day as a party of 7, now we are a roving party of 9!

 

Clifton-MountBefore we find Woodside, where we’ll light a fire and sleep.  We follow one more trail, toClifton Mount – Blue Mountain Coffee – Estate, at 4,300 ft. above sea level.  One of Jamaica’s oldest private coffee properties, tracing its history from 1773.  By the 20th century Jamaica’s coffee industry had collapsed and Clifton Mount was in ruins.  In 1956, an English couple, Maurice and Suzie Lister, lovingly restored the old coffee house and lived there happily, quite isolated, without electricity for almost 20 years.  When the couple retired to England in 1977, they sold Clifton Mount to the present owners, the Sharp family.  CliftonMountThe Listers had begun growing  flowers – carnations, in lieu of coffee, and flowers are still being grown at Clifton Mount today, as well as approx. 100 acres of the finest Blue Mountain Coffee on the island.  A dream realized by Richard Sharp, Lawrence Sharp’s son, who with his brother Jason are shaping the Coffee Industry of Jamaica.

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Richard Sharp, Clifton Mount Trail, Jamaica

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Woodside.  Bliss.

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DAY 2            The Old Tavern Blue Mountain Coffee Estate, Buff Bay Road,                                Fishdone Falls, Pt. Antonio, Ambessabeth Cabins

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Alex Twyman’s The Old Tavern was the first coffee estate to be awarded a license to process and sell their own coffee, opening the door for all single estate Blue Mountain Coffee’s marketed today. Mother and son, Dorothy and David Twyman are the islands’ only artisan roasters, offering several types of roasts as well as the specialty Peaberry and Aged Coffees.

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Our visit to the Old Tavern is perfectly timed, as the prevalent noon time Blue Mountain mist is yet to desend into this valley, erasing completely the magnificent views from 4000 ft. above sea level to the Buff Bay coast line below.  It’s this continuous steady supply of cool mountain mist, that slows down the maturation of coffee beans, allowing them to grow larger, and sweeter, contributing to the excellence of Jamaica’s Blue Mountain Coffee, prized the world round.

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Back on the road.  Through Section, down the mountain to Buff Bay.  It is a beautiful route and the road, at this time of writing, is in great shape.  By the time we hit the coast we are a hungry crew, but Blueberry Hill Jerk Centre, just east of Buff Bay is right on our path and we couldn’t be happier…

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FISH DONE FALLS are very much off the beaten path.  Sometimes you get there and the river is  running so hard you can’t get in, without danger of being swept away, but today, things are  perfect, we are blessed.

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Port Antonio – we need shoes for one of our party, which are fun to purchase in the market, and phone cards, snacks – before heading back to the bush and Ambassebeth Cabins where we prepare for our Cunha Cunha Pass trek.

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Part of the magic of Ambassebeth Cabins is that you can only get so far by car, then you walk the rest of the way in.  They will send help, so you don’t have to carry your bags, and it’s appreciated.  In the exchange, there is distinctly the feeling of unloading, of leaving one world behind and stepping into a simpler place.CCPass1

Ambassabeth is located at Bowden Pen in the upper Rio Grande Valley in close proximity of the Cunha Cunha Pass Trail. Ambassabeth offers visitors the opportunity to be immersed in nature, the culture and history of the area and to enjoy real old time Jamaican hospitality. They focus on good eating and traditional Jamaican cooking – meals at Ambassebeth are a special treat.

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Again our timing is golden. Emancipation Day celebrations were the next day… so the night before, when we were there, we were privy to the preparations. Food was being cooked in traditional ways, cultural exhibitions are being created.

And the principal organizer is Linette Wilkes, one of Jamaica’s Great Ladies, a contemporary Nanny (a Maroon heroine, who spat bullets back at the Plantocarcy), a champion of preserving Jamaican history and culture, and guiding her community to work towards a common purpose.

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We collectively fall in love with Linette, are proud of her, and find her mission inspirational. The food is fantastic.  We don’t eat wild boar, but they are still catching them in the region. We are privledged to great story-telling.  It is so cool to be experiencing authentic Jamaica. We all sleep well and wake early for our Cunah Cunah Pass hike.

DAY 3           Cunha, Cunha Pass Trail, Return Kingston 

In 2002, the Bowden Pen Farmers’ Association (BPFA) restored the Cunha Cunha Pass Trail (with funding from the Environmental Foundation of Jamaica and assistance from the Blue & John Crow Mountain National Park Rangers and Jamaica Conservation Development Trust). The trail is one of the most famous trails across the Blue Mountain and is used by residents and visitors alike.  Ambassabeth Cabins and the Cunha Cunha Pass Heritage Trail are the primary income generating activities of the Bowden Pen Farmer’s Association, supporting their work which includes: natural resources management, heritage preservation, reforestation of denuded lands and education, improving the livelihood of the community as a whole.

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Cut to the chase.  We saw the Giant Swallow Tail Butterfly!  And we were thrilled!  We knew seeing the elusive butterfly was far-fetched, but we didn’t discount it was possible.  And there it was, undeniable, the largest butterfly any of us had ever seen and looking exactly like every picture we knew of the endemic ‘Giant Swallow Tail Butterfly’.  Our good fortune is sealed.

 

Everything after that was glowing and wonderful.  We were collected by Simeon, in Hayfield, at the other end of the Cunha Cunha Pass Trail.ccL

From there we drove to historic Bath and the Spa, which was far too crowded with Emancipation Day celebrants to really be comforable.  So we carried on, stopping now and again for a Jelly Coconut or something we saw cooking.

We were back in Kingston, by tea time.  Some of us were home, some pressed on and were back on the North Coast before dark and some spent the night and set out the next day.

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ALL PROMISING, TO BE CONTINUED …

Join us to hike the Cunha Cunha Pass Trail this July 31 & August 1, 2014.                Please contact:  Jamaica Tour Society.  (876) 357-1225;  info@jamaicatoursociety.com

Cunha Cunha Pass Hike: 5.5 miles / Approx. 3.5 hours / moderate climb.

Ambessabeth Cabins, Comfort Level: Simple, clean, private and dormitory rooms, shared bathrooms, authentic eco-tourism hostel. Excellent choice for friends and family groups.

Plan early, Space limited.

 

About the author

Lynda Lee Burks has lived in Jamaica most of her adult life. She supports her passion for living by the sea, by organizing tours of Jamaica, producing events – dub poets to destination weddings, and as artist and teacher.  

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