Hiking Jamaica’s Rasta Highlands

Trade winds snap at the bamboo and coconut palms. Two-hundred-and-fifty-year-old stone churches crumble into the hillsides. As you approach the shabby hot-springs mecca of Bath Fountain, a shirtless Rasta on horseback rides slowly down the center of the road, as if time still moves at an ancient, unmotorized pace.

Up ahead, the gnarled, near-vertical peaks of the Blue Mountains rise out of the morning mist, majestic but also menacing. “Up here is hills and jungles and rivers — natural life,” says Eddie, who runs a coconut stand down the coast in Port Antonio and offered to guide us on a trek where few nonlocals go. “The place wi goin’ a different kinda place, mon.”

The plan was to hike for two days over the John Crow and Blue mountains, which form a jagged spine across the eastern part of the island, retracing trails first carved by slaves who escaped from Spanish plantations in the 1600s.

These trails were used commercially until the 1960s to haul bananas to the coast for export (the local Gros Michel variety was once the most expensive in the world) and as a trade route for locals carrying goods back and forth to market in Port Antonio before decent roads and cheap cars came to the island in the ’80s. Now, despite a government effort to promote a section of the trail known as the Cunha Cunha Pass as a tourist destination, the only people up here seem to be pot farmers, who hide their crops in the banana plantations, and mountain men like Eddie and his crew.

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