Jamaica is an amazing place to escape to while the rain and snow hammer Vancouver and the trails at home in BC. In the spring of 2012 a posse of riders: Dean Payne, Andreas Hestler, Darren Butler and Connor Macleod signed up for the Jamaica Fat Tire Festival, a guided tour that would take them deep into the lesser known parts of an amazing destination.
This crew of riders collected under the BC Bike Race banner rolled out for an amazing bike adventure. It was as much about camaraderie and experiencing another culture as it was about escaping the foul weather of our dark BC winters.
The chance to be guided on the ground by locals and explore off the beaten path in a destination like Jamaica was simply too much of a good offer, so while the weather did it’s thing at home they journyed south and east to the amazing island of Jamaica.
Mountain biking is an amazing connector – it brings people together and unites different cultures under one experience. We all share the same passion for exploration whether our backyard or abroad, mountain bikes are our vehicle of choice to take us into the wild and beyond.
Welcome to Jamaica. As we waited in the open night air at the airport for our bus to Ocho Rios on the West side of the island, we bucked down to our flip flops and shorts and met our new friend Red Stripe. A few short hours later we awoke to our first daylight views of Jamaica and bright colors were what greeted our eyes. From dreary BC rain to the vibrant colors of a Caribbean nation the contrast was shocking.
The Bike Bash. We rode our bikes out of Ocho Rios and over to James Bond beach, a small-enclosed park on a little finger of land completely surrounded by crystal clear blue water. Here on the green grass spit a running track would host numerous bike events: a criterium, the Rambo Olympics, the bunny hop competition and a skills relay course.
Many different types of bikes were present some with two wheels and some with only one but everyone was equally enthusiastic and the pool of talent was deep. These people were celebrating all things bike in their very own way. The heat of the Jamaica sun was building and so was the excitement of a critical mass of bikers sharing their unique style.
Hanging out on the grass with the awesome people and watching Darren go for it in the Rambo Olympics highlighted a perfect bike festival. Later there were trophies for the Champions and bragging rights given out for another year.
Sunburns, coconuts, Red Stripe, bright colors, bikes and great people with big smiles would be the norm for the next seven days.
As we moved deeper into the Blue Mountains, the facilities shrank in size and modernization, but the smiles remained sincere. Not having an understanding of the size of Jamaica we were all amazed at the vast green jungles and huge mountains that ran down to the many fishing villages dotted along the coast.
Moving around the island we were taken to places that few tourists frequent, this is the beauty of adventure and working with local guides. We began to truly understand what Island life is like outside of the main thoroughfares.
Jamaica is warm and friendly and the green jungle gives and it takes. The people who we crossed paths with live with the land and the ocean, they were open and inviting and as inquisitive about us as we were of them.
Much of Jamaica is undeveloped and quiet, a perfect retreat and we felt right at home –escaping the urban jungle and the tourist compounds we found the true roots of Jamaica. It was not hard to think about Bob Marley and his Reggae and compare that to the modern Reggae that comes out of Kingston one of the toughest cities in the world.
Biking and Jamaica seemed like a perfect fit, the hot sun beat down on our sweat stained shoulders and the tour rolled on. One of those trips that you just don’t want to stop, so easy to settle into the their relaxed lifestyle and so different to our North American ways. Getting there was as easy as Mexico or Hawaii and being amazed or astounded would not adequately describe our feelings.
Away from the cities, away from the rain we all found a little Jamaica in ourselves and set about getting ‘Irie Man’. The Jamaican dialect was in and of itself a spectacular puzzle and led to many bouts of laughter as we tried to interpret what was being bandied about between the locals.
Strange monoliths of wealth sat in the most unusual places and beside them always bright colorful murals and the jungle reclaiming all that was left behind.
Back to Kingston via the back alleys and the grey meshing of rural and urban interfaces. Chickens everywhere remind us that our routine fare of Jerk Chicken from very spicy to just spicy, tossed in Scotch Bonnet sauce or not is something that rounds out the whole travel experience. From Jungles to beaches, smiles and murals, to endless potholes and the flavor of street smoked Jerk Chicken – Jamaica is an all encompassing experience that will take more than one.
Photo Credits: Connor MacLeod
Words: Andreas Hestler