Over the weekend (June 19 - 20), a diverse group of students, faculty and eco-tourists affiliated with Edu-Tourism successfully crossed the Cunha Cunha Pass Trail from Hayfield into the Rio Grande Valley. Our progress was assisted by a native trail guide, Sylvene Sutherland from the farming community of Hayfield, St. Thomas.
Once the arduous crossing was complete, we were greeted with open arms by the farmers of Bowden Pen at their new tourist facility, the Ambassabeth Cottages. We stayed overnight there and were treated to several tasty meals of traditional Jamaican cuisine.
This is a breathtakingly beautiful natural setting high in the Rio Grande Valley, offering a wide variety of eco-tourist options for the adventurous traveler. For those interested in Jamaican traditions and holidays, local residents are very willing to share their knowledge and will help you make contact with other residents of the valley. The trail guides are experienced in leading groups deep into the mountain valleys and onto the ridge tops, but for planning purposes it may be wise to pick up topographical map sheets while in Kingston before driving out. These trails become overgrown so quickly that the trail guides are essential. They cut back the brush and keep hiking groups from getting lost in the lush vegetation.
Jonathan Thomas, a Pennsylvania organic farmer who traveled with us last month, was so impressed by what he saw that he wrote a letter of thanks that was published in the Jamaica Observer.
Future hikers of the Cuna Cuna Pass need to keep the following cautions in mind.
1. Mosquitoes are a constant companion on the trail, so hikers should come prepared with insect repellent.
2. Bring a pair of hiking boots that have already been well broken in. The trail is has been improved to assist hikers, but because of the great amount of rainfall in the region, still involves rough sections. Hiking boots that are fit without rubbing and that have waterproofing will be a tremendous asset for hikers of the trail, no matter what season they choose.
3. Let the local coordinator Lynette Wilks know the size of your group, and how many cabins you will be needing, and stay in contact with her by cell regarding the progress of your hike.
4. Sleeping accommations are provided in cabins that include foam mattresses and large pillows. When traveling with a large groups, bringing along additional tents will help to make sure that everyone is comfortable. The Bowden Pen farmers are currently in the process of opening a new camping ground nearby that will accommodate groups of university or secondary school students.
Additional sources of information that will help if you are preparing to explore Port Antonio and hike in the Blue Mountains: the Rough Guide to Jamaica and Skywritings: Air Jamaica's In-Flight Magazine.