Friday, October 23, 2009

The Negril Ride

I declare Heather the champion rider in Jamaica, not only because she completed the ride from Kingston to Negril in fine style, cruising over the long continuous hill from Alligator Pond to Top Hill (a series of hills which Michael and Howie admitted had defeated them as they had to stop and rest a couple of times) like the energiser bunny, but also, at about 9pm when she reached Savanna la Mar, she took on a road bike which she had never ridden before, to complete the journey. It was actually quite an amusing sight seeing how she hugged up the road bicycle like a lizard on a limb (to steal a line from a popular dancehall tune) as she descended the last hill leading into Negril.

Those other MTR's who completed that challenging ride, arriving at the round about in Negril at five minutes to 1 am, were Damit, Michael and Howie. From the way he performed, Orrel (he also was not defeated by the hill in St. Elizabeth)could have easily completed it, but because he had to go back to Santa Cruz, he turned back at Savanna La Mar.

Kevin too performed in fine style, out riding everyone and keeping up with the lead vehicle whenever he chose to ride, but he was having challenges with his knee which had him going in and out of the vehicle at regular intervals.

As to yours truly, my ambition had been to ride to Black River minus riding up the long series of hills from Alligator Pond and I basically achieved my goal, jumping into the support vehicle about 5 miles before we got to Alligator Pond. I have an excuse however, as I had taken quite a spectacular fall in a huge ditch aka pothole and have the souvenirs on my knees, plus pictures to prove it.(Incidentally, at Freetown in Clarendon, we had been joined by Mark aka Wake Early, a professional rider from May Pen. He said he had considered riding to Mount Rosser for exercise as he had been unable to join the professionals the day before on their ride to Negril, but he decided to accompany us to Alligator Pond and ride back by himself on the South Coast road.) He stayed back with me when I resumed the ride after my spill. However, I was not the only one to fall this trip, for although I did not see any, I understand Michael fell twice.

It was really a very enjoyable ,interesting, scenic and challenging outing and the day was beautifully overcast, saving us from the ravages of the sun. However, we arrived some seven hours later than our tour director Howie had calculated but this is because several persons had punctures and the breakfast was so delicious that we lingered at the venue longer than we should have.

To begin with anyway, as far as Fun and Thrills is concerned, we left early since they left out only 5 minutes late!
Charles, Michael Chuck and Michelle came with us saying they would go no further than Black River as they had to get back to Kingston on Sunday, but they turned back at Comma Pen in St. Elizabeth and as Jervis had to study, he went back with them.

It was at Comma Pen that we met one of the nicest Jamaicans that I have ever known. His name is Billy Powell and he operates a liquor store in Junction, St. Elizabeth. He and his girlfriend/wife seemed to have been out on a Sunday afternoon drive when he saw a few of us gathered at a small complex. He started a conversation then out of the blue, pointed to his house nearby and said he would be going home to get a melon for us. He took an inordinately long time to return (so we assumed that he had been gwowing us). Finally he returned with a melon and lots of cucumbers and pears. When he saw our delight, he said he was going to get two more melons for us for a friend. Again he took a long time to return so we left, but we ran into him a short distance away.

He gave us a huge melon and scallions. Then he asked for Mr. Chin. (that’s Chuck for every chiney man is called Mr. Chin!) We told him they had gone back to Kingston. Would you believe he then took off to catch them to give them their melon? According to Michelle he started to blow them from the bottom of Spur Tree Hill, but Chuck thinking he was a carjacker, took off light a light. He however followed them doggedly all the way to the top of Spur Tree Hill where they had made a pit stop and presented them with their melon! What an absolutely wonderful human being and what a way Chuck fraidy fraidy!

Well being STR, after driving to up the steep non-stop hills to Top Hill in cool air-conditioned comfort with great music playing, I remounted my bicycle for the wonderful ride downhill all the way to Newell and along the picturesque St. Elizabeth plains to Black River.

Kevin and Orrell were ahead of me but they passed our food stop so I was the first to arrive and being very hot, immediately took off my shoes and top and jumped into the sea.

We are always told that in life, timing is everything and again that truth prevailed. For had I gone for a swim about ten minutes later, I could have been eaten by a crocodile!
For no one told me it was dangerous to swim in the sea, and having spent a number of my youthful days swimming in the sea there, I had never heard of crocodiles swimming from the river side up to the beach.

Apparently they have now started that trend for when I came out of the water, a lady came over and told me it was dangerous to swim in the sea for it is infested with crocodiles! About ten minutes later as I waited on a bench by the sea to get my bammy and fried fish, who swam by but a huge (about 12 feet long) crocodile!

I am still having nightmares at the thought of being eaten by a crocodile and am very upset with the authorities in southern St. Elizabeth for not posting signs to warn the unsuspecting, as they have done at Alligator Hole in Clarendon. Do you know that for about thirty years ago, my children, ex husband and I did swim with the manatees there as no signs were then there and we had no idea that crocodiles ventured into the area where the manatees were. Now they have signs and warning people not to swim there.(Incidentally, if you ever wondered where all the john crows that used to be in Jamaica have gone, they can be found along South Coast passage which runs from Milk River to Alligator Pond. Chris even said he saw a black and white John crow!)

One memorable segment of the outing was breakfast in Race Course, Clarendon. (It was only to that point that Andrew and Barry rode…. Andrew riding all the way from Kingston but Barry only drove down to catch us about four miles away and rode with us to breakfast.)
The delicious spread of run dung, ackee and saltfish and callalo with fried johnny cakes, fried breadfruit, green bananas, pear and melons was arranged by Leslie, a friend of Howie’s.

Talking about Howie, although he completed the ride to Negril easily, he has sworn off riding for two weeks as his butt is sore! Yet he insists that he is going to ride around the island in April next year. Is he a masochist or what? No, just MTR!

We spent the night at Shield's Hotel in Negril and had a wonderful, leisurely frolic in the sea next day. We stopped at Howie's in Middle Quarters for lunch and they were nice enough to warm up some curried chicken that Damit had brought for us.

I thoroughly enjoyed the entire two days of that memorable Hero’s weekend, and have determined that we are the true heroes!

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Saturday, October 17, 2009

Cutting Down on Government

Hearing the Minister of state in charge of local government on Power106 news this morning, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. For according to him, the local government reform programme had been set back another year and the consultants would stay in place.

Just last week there was a loud outcry about the level of fees being paid to divest the sugar factories, but does anyone have any idea how much we have spent so far on consultants for this so-called local Government reform programme which seems to have been going for over a decade? It must be costing us a pretty penny but we have nothing to show for it.

I am amazed that the government can be continuing this nonsense at a time when the prime minister is talking about cutting back on government. Isn’t it obvious to them that so-called local government is just another useless layer of government? How many of us even know our councilors aka local government representatives? How many communities have ever made representation to the councils to have something done and actually had them respond with action (not a bagga mout!)? When do we hear anything about most of the mayors and other officials apart from when they are going off on junkets to the Bahamas or Switzerland?

To get government expenditure back under control and give taxpayers some value for money, what we need to do is cut out parish councils and replace them with County Councils. This is not a novel idea for it was set out (after much study) in a well laid out document over a decade ago. That consolidation would require no more than around 80 representatives as opposed to the some 280 parish councilors that we now have. What on earth do we need 14 mayors and 14 bureaucratic structures for when we have only two cities, Kingston and Montego Bay? So three mayors, one for each county would be more than enough.

As I understand it, the main functions of the parish councils are; public health; some water supplies, fire service, poor relief, some level of town planning, local government roads, markets, street lights and parochial matters like bushing open land and community facilities such as playfields.

Almost all these functions are all overlapping with other agencies. Just recently the government instituted a road maintenance fund based on a levy on gas. Shouldn’t all roads be therefore centralized under the National Works Agency instead of being splintered all over the place for when you approach to your councilor to fix the parish counsel or farm roads anyway, all you get is the “…..there is no money " excuse.

Poor relief. Why can’t that not are simply taken over by the Ministry of Labour and Social Security which has Path and other such programmes as well as the bureaucracy that can oversee the poor houses.

Street lighting? Ah come on, when the street lights don’t work, you simply call the JPS and they deal with it and if we adopt the County council model, they can deal with the parochial issues, such as drawing up schedules for new areas to be lit.

Water supply? Don’t we have a National Water Commission with so much money that they can spend over half billion on billing system, so why should they have a problem dealing with a few extra local water supplies!

Markets used to be handled quite well by the Metropolitan Parks and Markets which was changed its name to NSWMA so why can’t they take back the function? With a fully blown Ministry of Health we certainly don’t need a different bureaucracy at the local level to deal with public health and the bushing and upkeep of playfields etc can be done by the Social Development Commission while the fire service remains the responsibility of the County Councils. All other parochial issues like zoning can be handled by the County Councils too. So what on earth do we need 14 bureaucracies for?

Right now the entire discussion about the cuts is swirling around which ministries to eliminate but apart from Sports which should be combined with Education and information which should go back under the prime minister’s office with a minister of State.

I really don’t see what great savings are to be made by cutting ministries. Instead, the ministers should be put to work to justify the existence of the over 200 statutory bodies, government companies and executive agencies that are under their portfolio for many of these were simply established to provide "jobs for the boys and girls” and have never given taxpayers any value for money.

But we are not serious about cutting governmental expenditure are we?

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Laws Should Be Obeyed By all

Why should only poor people obey the law?

That seemed to be the question that a former Minister of Security was trying to ask this morning during a very interesting and comprehensive discussion on crime on the Breakfast Club.

After touching on a number of different areas, the question arose, should Dons be allowed to be the beneficiary of government contracts? Naturally, there was an overwhelming "no" and it was even conceded that the National Contracts Commissions had made some progress in this area but at the level of sub-contractors, there remained a problem. Then Dr. Phillips asked the bombshell question, shouldn't the issue of law breakers benefiting from government contracts not extend to business persons who illegally operate in residential areas?

You could have hit me down with a straw when I heard that coming from Dr. Phillips of all people, for his constituency is the epitome of this form of illegality.

Thank God for conversions because for years Dr. Phillips has been in a position to deal with blatant breaking of the law in that area, yet he failed to do do.

Of course the chief enforcing agency for this problem in the corporate area is the KSAC, but for decades the KSAC has preferred to send its officers to chase down starving people selling a few cigarettes, guineps and other small items to prevent their children from starving, while ignoring the blatant lawlessness of well heeled business people.

Who was it again who said that in Jamaica "Money talks and b...s... walks?"
Lets us see if it is possible to deal with crime in a country where that is the mantra!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Back to Maryland

Surprise , surprise. It was back to Maryland on Sunday 11th October.

I say surprise, since our concious leaders had determined that we need to do long rides on Sundays in preparation to the long haul to Negril (some 140 miles) on Sunday 18th. Well it could be because we were having some newcomers and they did not want to stress them out. For this Sunday we were joined by Chris and Naomi. Well Naomi was a newcomer to Maryland but certainly not a newcomer to strenuous cycling, since her first ride with us was up to Long Mountain on a Wednesday night and after about three rides she was able to do that entire hill without stopping. So Maryland was nothing to her.

To Chris is it was a bit more challenging but she managed all right. Grace who had wanted to let it defeat her some Sundays ago, also completed it with virtual ease this time.

All went well. No spills. I guess it was because Heather did not come so she and I could crash again! Neither was Barry there. He is our star crasher!

Our swimming pool was still fairly intact though a bit low and therefore not as cold. It was great to get our water massage under the waterfall too. Naomi had sworn that she was not going into the cold water, but finally jumped in when she saw that everyone else was having great fun.

Chris was the only one who resisted the appeal of the cool, inviting water. As usual, Coy did not disappoint and we had a wonderful breakfast of mackerel, ackee and codfish and callaloo. Lazy Charles did not ride up but drove up with Fatman and Mitchum for the delicious Sunday morning repast.

Thumbs up to Maryland, the river, the people and the food.

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Sunday, October 11, 2009

Unadulterated Racism

I am a great supporter of strong opposition parties for good opposition parties keep governments on their toes.

The Republican party in the USA is however confusing opposition with personal hatred and have brought politics to a new low. For the shrill attacks that they have been launching at President Barak Obama since his election, are displaying nothing but raw, unadulterated hatred based on their belief that a black man should never ascend to the high office of Presidency in the USA. Even former President Jimmy Carter has recognised it for what it is.

At first these attacks came under the guise that they were opposed to his programme for health care reform, but when one sees the placards that are displayed at the staged demonstrations, the vitriol comes blazing through and the demonstrations are exposed for what they are.

Even when the citizens of the USA stand to benefit greatly from initiatives taken by Obama, the republicans cheer wildly when they go awry, note their recent cheering when Chicago failed in its bid to host the 2016 Olympics.

Actually I find it quite hilarious that their hatred of Obama has even led them to end up in bed with the Taliban since the announcement that Obama has been awarded the prestigious Nobel peace prize. For according to the reports, both the Taliban and the republicans have violently condemned his selection!

Maybe to be fair to them, the Republicans cannot see what Obama has done for world peace for as they say "nearer to church further from God". The fact is however, the rest of the peace loving world was glad to see the departure of the warlord Bush and his entourage, for as long as they remained, armed conflict anywhere and everywhere, was only a step away. We need only be reminded that North Korea, Iran as well as Venezuela had been threatened with violence just before Bush's departure. In other words we have all found comfort in the change of attitude to conflict for, as the Nobel Judges said, they found his promise of disarmament and diplomacy too good to ignore.

Neither should we ever forget the hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians including women and children who have been killed or displaced because of Bush's senseless incursion into Iraq.

Yes the USA had a real problem with security after 9/11, but the threat never came from Iraq. In fact, most political watchers remain convinced that Bush only went into Iraq to get even with Saddam Hussein whom it is reported, had threatened the life of his father. What a price the Iraqi people have had to pay for a personal vendetta……as did many innocent Panamanian people when his father was president and invaded that country to get at Noriega, with whom he had fallen out

The election of Barack Obama with the promise of ending the current wars quickly and dealing with other troublesome matters using diplomacy rather than weapons of mass destruction, has therefore been met around the world with a huge sigh of relief, a sigh of relief that has obviously been heard by the committee awarding the Peace Prize.

Obama is therefore more than deserving of this great award as every human being except Republican war mongers, prefer peaceful negotiations to cowboy style destructive tactics..

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Riding to Hermitage Dam

What a bangarang, Howie nearly lost a sexy leg! This happened on Sunday October 4th, 2009, when on our way to Hermitage Dam, we stopped in Norbrook for Stefan, Penny and Zori to join us. Well whenever we see an open gate, it is a sign that we are welcome to enter.So our brave leaders Michael and Howie tried to do just that, but alas, they were stopped in their tracks by the baying of two huge , fierce looking, black dogs rushing towards them with teeth bared.

While Michael had the presence of mind to close his side of the gate, Howie stood transfixed, his skinny, quivering leg saved only by the commanding voice of the master who with one word, stopped the vicious canines, Castro and Nax in their tracks. It was with a sigh of relief that we had a good laugh before we started the challenging ride up Long Lane.

At Red Gal Ring, Barry demonstrated to us how easy it had been for Eve to lead Adam astray, thus condemning all generations to eternal damnation. (I hope you do not believe that myth!) Anyway, religion aside, being the slowest rider I had moseyed along when Damit got a flat and the others stopped to help him. I had seen Heather ahead of me but as usual was unable to catch up with her. I was however surprised to see Barry cotching on a fence up at Red Gal Ring when I got there, as I never knew the Bolt of "Fun and Thrills" had been way ahead.

In the meantime, Heather had continued riding up towards Stony hill Square apparently not realising that we would not be taking that route. On confirming that she was going astray, Barry said he would go and get her and bring her back. I was surprised to see him catch her up, yet they continued riding! For about 15 minutes I neither saw nor heard anything of either of them. Then Heather came riding back down the hill all by herself! On inquiring what had happened to Barry, she laughingly confessed that she had convinced him that she had been on the right path. However after a while, on asking directions, she realized that she should indeed have turned at Red Gal Ring and turned back, but Barry had continued riding. It was probably another 5 minutes before a red faced Barry came back admitting that once again, he had been led down the garden path by a woman.

After Red Gal Ring, it was serious up hill riding but it was cool and scenic as that road is abandoned and the trees create a beautiful covering all the way up. By the time we approached the last third of the journey I was starving and contemplating whether I would live long enough to get breakfast since the plan had been to go to Stony Hill on the return journey, to have breakfast there. Then Stefan had the brilliant and life saving idea that we should send Chris, who was driving the support vehicle, to buy breakfast and meet us at the dam.Quite frankly, in all my years of riding that is probably the best suggestion I have ever heard.

The road to Hermitage Dam is no longer paved. It is narrow and full of pot holes but the saving grace is that it is level so we had no more hills to contend with. The area is sparsely populated but we did find a small shop where a Rasta man had some cane leaning up. Happily we bought one and he peeled it for us and we reasoned with him for a while. Hermitage Dam was just around the corner from there and was it ever a welcome sight.

I learnt a lot on Sunday. First, Hermitage Dam is much smaller than Mona Dam but according to Michael, the two dams are joined by a pipeline so when one runs short of water, it can be fed by the other.

Secondly, the dam is fed by the Wag Water River which comes out of the Blue Mountain range. The height of the dam is a scary 150 feet and it has a very deep overflow so when it is full, the water runs back into the Wag Water.

Interestingly too, people actually do commercial fishing in the dam. While we were there, a fisherman by the name of Emroy along with his young companion, jumped on one of two rafts that were in the dam and poled their way over to where their net was set. They later came back with a good amount of black perch. According to Emory, sometimes they even catch a fish called Grass Carp which can grow up to 15 pounds and which is quite tasty.

The area is absolutely lush and beautiful but just as our breakfast arrived the rain started to pour. However there is a caretaker's cottage there and we got shelter and had a wonderful meal of delicious liver, ackee and codfish and run dung.

On the way back there was separation of the MTR's and the STR's.

Zori and I fell into the latter category since we were not about to ride back in the rain and mud so while she slept in the back, I watched my MTR colleagues getting wet and soggy as they made their way gingerly between the potholes full of water barely seeing in front of them because of the thick fog.

At Red Gal Ring, they told me how wonderful the ride had been but I certainly felt no jealousy,only anticipation at the thought of speeding off the hill that had given me such problems during the ascent earlier. I got my bicycle out of the pickup and was not disappointed.

According to Barry and his fancy equipment, we rode 27.80 miles (not me but the MTR's!) at an average speed of 8.6 mph.

Anyway, as usual it was a great day of riding and camaraderie as we prepare for the real long haul to Negril on Sunday 18th October.

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