As the month of June closed up shop for another year, and before we forgot to truly celebrate, we decided to recognize our wedding anniversary by getting out of town – just for a couple of days – to a small guest house in White River, which is close to Ocho Rios in St. Ann, on Jamaica’s north coast. The house is snug, encircled with flowers, a soft powder blue like the sky. A forest stands behind, filled with birds. The hosts are kind and the staff gracious, and the food – well, I could devote several blog posts to the meals we ate, but you, my dear readers, would be salivating too much, and that’s not healthy! Or is it?
An account of a very lazy two or three days may not be exactly riveting for the reader, but this is really a hymn of praise to the innkeeper, Ms. Elise Yap, and her brother – known as the Barefoot Chef. I would prefer to call him the Incredible Amazing Gourmet Chef, or something like that – although, in truth, I did not see him wearing footwear of any kind. It is hard work keeping such high standards as these, and the Yaps succeed admirably. The rooms are all tastefully furnished with sturdy, local hand-made furniture that we much admired. The colors are bright and cool – tropical pastel blues, greens and earth colors. The garden is a carefully cultivated riot of green, dotted with pinks, reds and golden yellows.
And, most importantly for a guest house, it feels like home.
We settled comfortably in within minutes, with a warm welcome and a complimentary Ting (Jamaica’s best soft drink made with real grapefruit juice). We stayed in the Cozy Cottage, at the back of the house, which has a private and secluded feel. You can laze in a hammock under the arbor in the daytime. You can sit outside in the evenings with candles burning and listen to the astounding orchestra of tree frogs, backed up by the occasional chorus of cicadas. We also indulged in some football – the Euro 2012 semi-finals – as the house has cable television. Later, we stirred ourselves, still a little stiff from the two-hour drive from Kingston, and walked down to the White River, which is just a couple of minutes away from the house, walking past a lovely spreading guango tree down to the water’s edge.
White River is well named. It has a light, almost silvery quality as it froths over the stones. Even the deeper pools shimmer like polished metal. The rock is bone-white limestone and the tree roots curl at the edges of the water like knuckles. The water is cold – there is nothing more delicious than river water on a humid summer day in Jamaica. We did not bathe there this time, but you can. It was tempting.
Instead, we walked back and moved to the swimming pool for a leisurely afternoon swim. The water was deliciously lukewarm. My nose, of course, instantly burned red – as it always does – with my forehead also emitting a pinkish glow later that evening (not quite bright enough to read by). I retreated (too late, damage already done) to share the shade of an arbor draped with sugar-pink bougainvillea with my husband. This is one of those pools where you don’t need to bake on an expanse of achingly hot concrete, unless you are seriously into tanning; there are shady spots, which we appreciated.
As I said earlier, to write about the tantalizing breakfasts and delectable dinners, cooked by the afore-mentioned Barefoot Chef, would take me a very long time. But just close your eyes and try to imagine cassava pancakes with caramelized banana and walnut topping; lychee cake and the most mouth-melting chocolate cake you can imagine; sweet and sour fish, piles of stir-fried Chinese vegetables, flavors of lemongrass and other fresh herbs and spices; grilled mahi-mahi (which Jamaicans unfortunately call “dolphin,” but it’s not) with feta cheese and watermelon salad; French toast and juicy jerk sausage. And of course (always very important for me) really good coffee. A sustained period of rousing applause for Mr. Yap!
So yes – we were lazy, self-indulgent, deliberately indolent, in fact. I was barely energetic enough to lift up my very interesting and amusing book – a novel called “The Sly Company of People Who Care” by Rahul Bhattacharya (I must write some more book reviews, and soon!) It was an effort to find my camera and try to focus it on the antics of the hummingbirds on the upstairs verandah where we ate. A feeder with syrup hung at each end of the verandah. Two Mangos – no, not a fruit, the Jamaican Mango is actually a hummingbird – had taken it upon themselves to patrol the verandah from dawn to dusk, doing their best to prevent the slender and glossy Red-Billed Streamertail (Jamaica’s national bird, the “Doctor Bird”) from taking even the tiniest sip from the feeder. The Doctor Birds always give themselves away with the whirr of their wings, so find it hard to sneak up incognito. The Mangos position themselves one at each end of the verandah – one on the telephone wire, the other on the top of a tree of suitable height – and stand guard, it appears all day long. The only thing that cramps their style somewhat is when human beings like us appear on the verandah to chat or feed ourselves. Jamaica’s national bird hardly gets a look in. Having said that, the Mango is an appealing bird – stockier, darker, but equally graceful. When the light catches its feathers, it shimmers with dull gold and magenta and purple, like an old piece of jewelry that needs to be taken out of its velvet box to be appreciated.
Of course, there are more birds, and a place full of birds is bound to score high marks with me. Tall trees with vines hanging like strings from their branches, with untidy bunches of wild orchids festooning their trunks, stand like a regiment behind the house. It is marvelous to see a group of parrots, their crooked silhouettes swinging on the topmost branches against the pale early morning sky , and to hear them argue with each other in crochety old man’s voices. Or to watch the wayward flight of a Jamaican Crow, cawing loudly as he flies, as he tries to avoid the persistent attacks of a small mockingbird, swerving like a mini bus that is being steered badly, but never managing to shake off the much smaller bird.
There are also flowers, in abundance, pouring over arches, dipping over walls, standing like glorious colored sentinels in the front garden of not only The Blue House, but those of its neighbors. The neighbors are, indeed, engaged in the orchid wars. One house is almost hidden behind a stand of dark purple, white, burnt orange, butter yellow, and startling pink orchids. Orchids stand like soldiers along both sides of the path leading up to the front door of another neighbors. It is a war of flowers.
The Blue House is a home, and it is also a place of intense magic. A clap of thunder cracks the sky; the sun sails behind paper thin clouds; the river flashes across the stones; the tree tops soar. It is not Frida Kahlo’s Blue House, but it could also inspire art. If I had a week to spend there, I would be able to write, and write. No distractions, just to focus on the real things.
Thank you. And do visit there soon. Soon, you hear!
- Earth Day Plus One: Postscript from the Garden (petchary.wordpress.com)
- Jamaica, She is Royal (theislandjournal.wordpress.com)
- Jamaica’s Rich Biodiversity Faces Multiple Threats: International Day for Biological Diversity (petchary.wordpress.com)
- A Taste of Jamaica: A Recipe for Mango Smoothie (trifter.com)