Old Naval Cemetery, Port Royal


Our second unplanned stop on our recent Port Royal trip was the large and mostly abandoned Old Naval Cemetery on the outskirts of town.  Enclosed by a brick wall, the left-hand side of the cemetery is open scrub land.  Whatever graves may have been there are long gone.  On the right, there are rows of numbered crosses in various states of disrepair.  Alongside the simple crosses, more elaborate, older, stone graves are carved with the names of sailors from the late 1800s.  Many were victims of yellow fever and almost all are British naval personnel.   Everything leans a little to the left or right, or tilts forward or backwards, sitting awkwardly on the unstable sandy soil.

The history of the cemetery goes back to the 1600s but, yet again, the earthquake of 1692 sent a large part of history into the sea and famous graves such as that of the notorious pirate, Henry Morgan, are lost forever.


A cactus echoes the shape of its neighbours




Collapsing concrete and brick graves.  In the background, cement crosses are slowly crumbling away…


…until they fall to the ground as twisted piles of rebar and chunks of concrete. No names were on any of the crosses, just numbers.


The older carved stone headstones fared better, but many were cracked or fallen….


…but they all told a story.  Many gravestones were of fever victims.

I learnt that recently  a 40-strong detail of sailors from HMS Lancaster helped restore the neglected graves of their forebears when their frigate visited Jamaica in 2013.  They cleaned up the overgrown graves, explaining how we could even walk into somewhere in such disrepair.  Whatever did it look like before they cleared it out? Its such a shame that so much history sits so neglected.

Abandoned Fort Rocky

Off the quiet road on the way down to Port Royal, we took a little detour to follow an unexpected sign.  “To Fort Rocky”, it said.  I had read a little about a few other old forts in the area and was expecting the ruins of old stone walls, but was surprised to see an abandoned compound that was quite modern. The fort’s dusty courtyard was surrounded with crumbling and roofless concrete structures.  Rusting rebar poked out around windows and door frames.  My eye lead straight to the graffiti-sprayed walls and signs of vagrant inhabitation.  Cacti sprouted in incongruous spaces.   What was it?  And why was it abandoned?  I had no idea and there were no other clues.  The sun was fierce and there was little shade, but  I had to take a few pictures:







Peeking inside one of the ground floor rooms


I presume this is the Fort’s look out tower, complete with dead palm tree stump.

Fort Rocky Beach

A few yards outside the Fort is Rocky Beach. Sadly its covered in trash, although the beach and sea looked like it had potential to be a pleasant spot to visit if it were clean. The passing container ship just made it all look lonelier.

A little research online when we returned home revealed that Fort Rocky was built just before the first world war.  Fort Rocky became a major coastal guns defense, replacing the Victoria Battery at Fort Charles that was damaged in the 1907 earthquake.  The fort regularly housed more than 80 officers before it was closed after the end of the second world war.   I wish I had known during our visit that the area also had a steam railway that ran down the Palisadoes pennisula, near to Fort Rocky, all the way down to Port Royal.  Prior to 1936 there was no driveable road and the railway provided a way to transport important supplies.   There are still remnants of the old railway bridge to be spotted today, but I didn’t know to look.  Interesting piece of abandoned history.



Port Royal


I’m glad I did my homework before visiting Port Royal, one of the few remaining forts in Jamaica from the days of British colonialism and pirates. There’s not a great deal of history left in Kingston, and visiting Port Royal is a easy day trip for new arrivals to the city. There’s not much left to see, but a HUGE amount of history, most of which now sits hidden on the ocean floor.

Its easy to see why the British built the fort at the mouth of the large, protected bay of Kingston.  On the modern map above, this strip of land now hosts Kingston’s Norman Manley international airport.  You can see the long rectangle in the middle of the map that is today’s airport runway, so visitors to Port Royal must drive out past the airport to discover its charms, which is what we did a couple of weekends ago.

The first surprise is just how suddenly the city ends after the airport and the road appears to continue to nowhere, and sleepy Port Royal is as close to inhabited nowhere that I have seen.  People are just slouched around in the heat,  dogs are napping, stretched out in the middle of the street.  Barely a car passes by.   However, the well-preserved fort was open to visitors and our guide waved and introduced herself, but clearly had no intention of actually doing a tour.  We didn’t mind this too much.  I had done my reading beforehand and we walked around the restored building, toured the small museum and looked out to the sea beyond to imagine what lay beneath.

On June 7 1692, a huge earthquake hit the busy, prosperous Port Royal.  Famously dubbed “the wickedest city on Earth”, Port Royal was once home to pirates and their plunder, bars, brothels, and riches galore.  It was the original Sin City of the Caribbean, its riches built by UK-government sanctioned pirates, looting from passing Spanish and French ships.  In return for limiting their operations to foreign vessels, for over 70 years the pirates were deemed to be “privateers”, and allowed to stash and spend their spoils on the nefarious peninsular without hindrance or taxes.  Two-thirds of Port Royal fell into the sea that day and the vast majority of it still sits untouched and preserved as it was four hundred years ago.  Whole streets, buildings, and every day life lay buried on the sea floor and the lure of buried treasure and history has been of great interest to a number of diving expeditions over the last century.  Many of the artifacts they discovered now sit in Port Royal’s museum, but excavating the city that is still down there remains an enormously expensive proposition.  There were plans 30 or so years ago to open a Williamsburg-like pirate attraction but it threatened the preservation of the sunken city itself and was shelved.  Modern plans to develop the site for cruise ship visitors, complete with a sunken visitors center and the possible excavation of some of the city seem to buried in problems of money, investors and environmental concerns.  Its hard to tell from the internet articles, but the project seems to be forever stalled.  If done right, it would be a wonderful world heritage site and a massive injection of money and work opportunities into the otherwise dead local economy.

Port Royal

The courtyard of the sleepy fort

Fort Royal

Strolling through the fort’s quiet walls

Port Royal

Peeking out from the battlements.  The canon is missing here but there are plenty still on display elsewhere in the fort.

At the back of the fort are more modern remnants of its years as a successful British Royal Navy dockyard until 1907 when the next major earthquake struck the area.  Many buildings were destroyed, but a few still remain, including the ‘giddy house’ which sits half buried in the sand.


Original built to store guns and artillery, the giddy house is now an odd place where visitors can enter and experience the disorientation of slopping walls and floors….hence the name!

giddy house

Showing just how much gradient was inside

Other restoration projects are underway.  The Royal Naval Hospital is currently being restored and was too boarded up to take pictures.  However, I did stop into the 18th century St Peters church to have a look around during its current restoration. Two earlier churches on the site were destroyed: one in the earthquake and another in a later fire.   There were also a couple of other places near Port Royal that warrant short posts of their own, so they will follow…


Inside St Peters Church


Visiting the Protected Sanctuary of Portland Bight

jamaican horses

Portland Bight is an area of water and protected coastline about 1.5 hours drive outside of Kingston. In 1999 the Jamaican government designated the area as a marine sanctuary to protect a wide variety of endemic species including birds, reptiles, and freshwater and marine life. I had already learnt a little about local conservation efforts through the very interesting blog posts of my new friend, Emma Lewis, writer and blogger, Petchary, on her blog at https://petchary.wordpress.com. I had followed her posts for about a year before we arrived in Kingston, after searching for interesting Jamaican bloggers who could teach me more about our future home.  Latham was looking for a subject for his new documentary and Emma kindly introduced him to the wonderful staff at C-CAM (the Caribbean Costal Area Management Foundation), an organization that works tireless to keep the Portand Bight waters protected, to educate local fishermen on the importance of protecting their waters, and help them find new, sustainable ways of making an income through activities such as ecotourism. Its an uphill battle, but they are making headway and Emma’s blog offers much interesting further reading on the sanctuary’s challenges:

Our day trip down to Portland Bight was less informed and very exploratory for two people who had just arrived in the country.  C-CAM staff kindly gave Latham a tour of the area and an opportunity to meet some of the locals. We drove miles and miles down lonely, single-track roads through acres of dry coastal forest and scrub. The two-year drought had left the vegetation extremely brown, and C-CAM pointed out low-lying areas and swamp that had completely receded or dried out.  As we drove around, we were flagged down by people who knew the truck. They reported problems or sightings: distressed or dead animals, or conflict on over illegal harvesting in the forest.  On a nearby beach, a fisherman reported seeing a dead crocodile.

Dead alligator

We smelt the crocodile before we saw him. Locals were surprised to see freshwater crocodiles on the beach and wondered if the drought had been the cause. It was hard to tell as he was badly decomposed, but the tail appeared to be missing.  Crocodile tail can fetch a high price and it was likely that he was killed for it.


The wild and natural white sand beach. It was just us, a few fisherman,  birds, and a dead crocodile.  Two hundred kilometers and a million miles away from the commercial white sand beaches on the north coast


The bicycles of two young boys who cycled past us on our drive. With rods slung over their shoulders, they were clearly off to fish. I wondered why they weren’t in school.


The typical landscape. The dry forest and brush had a wild beauty of its own.

Jamaican vulture

A great chance for a close up a vulture. There’s such rich bird life in the area.


The fishing community at Portland cottage, where Latham was to eventually shoot his documentary

mangrove swamp

Mangrove swamps were everywhere. The brackish water is home to so much wildlife  which is sadly endangered due to man’s encroachment and the clear impact of climate change

Jamaican ray

A rare sighting of a ray! I just managed to snap this as he swam out of the river estuary into the sea.

It was extraordinary to tour the area with an environmentalist. We saw the day-to-day challenges that the organization faced, and the story of the local fishermen’s struggle started to form in Latham’s mind. I’m sure a post will follow on his documentary, which is in post-production now.  The trip left me with a first impression of the real Jamaica, an appreciation of the work that C-CAM does, and a desire to go back and learn more.

Discovering Treasure Beach

DSCF8215 One of the best things about discovering a new country are the many road trips that it takes to find your favourite places.  This involves kissing a few location frogs along the way, but its part of the excitement of adopting a new place.  Fresh off the boat, there’s so much you don’t know, so you just have to pick a place and go and give it a try.

We picked Treasure Beach, an area on the South West coast of Jamaica, about 2-3 hours drive west from Kingston.  We were told it had a low key vibe, unlike the north coast party towns, and was a better choice for people like us who like a simpler less commercial atmosphere.

The drive turned out to be the biggest part of the adventure. Our GPS got very confused when we drove on new, unchartered roads. “Michelle” freaked out a bit and found us an alternative way down to the coast and we listened to her. Big mistake! She took us on increasingly smaller roads until we arrived on the smallest, overgrown, underpaved, pot-hole encrusted back road ever…which stretched on for 30 kilometers with no turn offs. A flat tire or car problem of some description would have been a disaster with no one and nothing to assist for a very long stretch. Fortunately, nothing bad did happen, but lesson learned. Michelle only knows the destination and nothing of the conditions she’s taking us through.  We arrived at our hotel a little later than planned as the detour added at least one hour to the trip.

Treasure Beach turned out to be as laid back as described – possible more so. I’m not sure if it was because it was off season (although many rooms were already booked when I tried to find a hotel) or whether its always like that…but there were few people around and not a lot going on. There were vendors looking for a sale, but they weren’t obnoxious and we mostly had the beach and restaurants to ourselves.

We ate at Frenchman’s Reef restaurant both nights. Very laid back, ok food, and it clearly had a regular local clientele. The most compelling thing about it was there were no less than 30 signs saying “No ganja smoking”: on the walls, on little stands on the tables, on the doors, pasted to the pillars and painted in three foot high letters on the outside wall…in three different places. Yet the air was thick with it. Either they couldn’t read or were too stoned to care! I really wanted to take a picture of four guys leaned up against the big “no ganja smoking” wall, who were dragging on a joint without a care in the world. However, I didn’t have the nerve!

Instead I took a few pictures of the beach and hotel to give a feel for the place.  Here’s a little glimpse of the area:


Thought for the day from the wall of the excellent nearby Smurf Cafe.  Covered in painted smurfs and somewhere I would never have ordinarily stopped had I not got a tip from a local, Smurfs serves wonderful breakfasts and fantastic home roasted coffee.  Their poem resonated quite a bit with me that day too.  And, yes, the ganja guys were hanging out there too.


Beautiful sea view from Treasure Beach.  It would be a long drift out to Panama from here.


Sand filled swimming shorts that puffed and deflated with each wave!



Our small hotel, Katamah


Our au natural bathroom complete with shower tree.  The place was appealing rustic but needed a few more finishing touches to be truly comfortable.  It was hard to visit the bathroom in the middle of the night and even harder to keep sand out of the bed.


The communal kitchen at Katamah.  Lots of character and no lack of pots, pan and spices.

It was a decent first trip out. I’d like to go back to Treasure Beach and stay at somewhere a little fancier. Not fancy, but perhaps a little more comfortable. Maybe somewhere with that shaded veranda that I always covet?

Beach Lunch at Fort Clarence


For our first weekend in Jamaica, we decided that our first exploratory trip outside of Kingston would be to a nearby beach.  We picked Fort Clarence as our destination, a beach that’s about a 40 minute drive, and one of few popular weekend destinations for Kingstonians.  Its a pay beach, charging the equivalent of a couple of dollars for entry, which is enough to keep the largest crowds away as well as the hoards of vendors that we hear work other public beaches nearby. I had enough of that in Boracay and other Filipino destinations where foreigners were essentially shark bait for the entire day.

We went early to avoid the crowds and it was a short, easy trip on a modern highway. The beach and water were relatively clean, although there’s a bad seaweed problem, which to me is a sign of pollution, and I hear the weeds can be pretty stinky if you go there at the wrong time. There was a clean up crew in place that morning, raking the seaweed into black plastic bags, but at they worked their way down the beach they left as much as they took, so the beach still had more of a natural look, rather than a groomed appearance like tourist beaches in Jamaica’s northern resorts.  I wonder if they just burn the seaweed or perhaps make something useful like fertiliser out of it?

The day was hot and I hung out under a group of large, gnarly mangrove-like trees (whose name I have yet to learn) and watched while Robert and Latham went swimming.  They reminded me of banyan trees with their elaborate root systems and tangle of branches.  Two lay on their sides, victims of a hurricane, I’m sure. Someone had crafted picnic tables and chairs from odd pieces of old wood. It was a very natural and pretty comfortable place to hang out.

Fort Clarence beach

The beach actually had lifeguards. Note the seawood problem and the man raking it up on the extreme right of the photo.

fort clarence beach

The roots from a fallen tree provided shade for our lunch

We were spotted pretty quickly by one of the restaurant owners and encouraged to order a fish lunch and, as this was indeed an exploratory day, decided to give it a try. We order local lobster and whole red snapper, which she helped us pick out from the cooler on the restaurant floor. She also “threw in” a freebie: a very unusual looking ugly fish that was half fish/half mollusc. I’ve never seen anything like it, I hope it wasn’t endangered. She told me its name, but of course I’ve forgotten…. but it did taste good.


Everything was served on styrofoam and plastic. Its been years since I’ve eaten from a styrofoam plate, as its as good as banned in the US and the UK. Here its very commonplace and I have a hard time with it on a number of levels. Apart from being an enviromental nightmare, it squeaks in a way that puts my teeth on edge and on the windy beach it wanted to blow away at the first opportunity.


The food was very good though. I learnt that I don’t like bammy cakes very much — way too heavy — but breadfruit was pretty good. The festivals were fresh and hot but so filling that I knew that if I ate more than a couple of bites, I’d have no room left for the fancy fish.


Our neighbours on the next table were enjoying a different kind of shellfish. Does anyone know what they are?

Beach lunch near Kingston, Jamaica

Lunch before we tucked in. Lobster on the left, red snapper on the middle. The plate on the right has festivals (long, fried cornmeal bread fingers), bammy cakes (fried bread made from cassava flour) and fried breadfruit.


Latham was thrilled to finally be getting some Jamaican food before he headed back to London.

It was a nice day trip out, although I’m not sure that it will be a regular spot. There are so many other places to see and many nicer beaches, although they are a much longer drive. I’m also not very good at hanging out on the beach and prefer the quiet and privacy of a shaded verandah somewhere with good views, but Fort Clarence was a good start.

Good Things in Kingston: Part Two

Pretty much anywhere I go in Kingston – out my door, across the parking lot at work, or the supermarket – omnipresent in the background are the city’s moody green hills. On a sunny day they are often clear and bright, then the mists roll in suddenly and their tops are obscured for a few minutes before the mist drifts off elsewhere. On cloudy days you can see a storm coming and we wait to see if it will roll down into the Kingston lowlands or head out to sea.  When the rain comes, it can come down hard.

Kathmandu’s hills and mountains were far more dramatic, but we rarely saw them because of the intense smog. They were astounding when they appeared, just a few days per year, but I really love the rolling Kingston hills more, as are always there to greet me when I head outside and remind me that we are on a tropical island.

Mona reservoir

Up on the skyline drive above our home, the view down to the Kingston suburbs includes a bird’s eye perspective of the Mona reservoir, our new favourite walking spot.


Once you finally take off into the hills to explore, they roll on and on in tropical lushness and are wonderful to see …if you are the one not driving and the roads are less than ideal!


I love the fluffy bamboo groves that grow on the hillsides just above the city!


The lanes wind, no-one maintains the overhanging trees and verges, and pot holes abound…but worse… you never know what’s coming around the corner.  Some of the drivers are manic and the roads can be pretty scary.  This is actually a fairly mild example.  Its hard to take photos as you swing around scary curves!


The hills are filled with small towns like this.  Cars blocking traffic on the narrow road.  This was a Sunday morning and we passed a packed church on the left as we came into the town.  On the right, as we left, the air was thick with bbq and ganja smoke. …an interesting contrast!

The air in the hills is cooler and there are several nice spots to enjoy lunch and a glass of wine.  We have every intention of taking advantage!


Good Things in Kingston: Part One

For two years in Kathmandu, taking regular exercise was a struggle with the challenges of pollution and traffic. Getting mowed over by motorcycles was a real reality. Dodging cow poo and kamikaze drivers was not my idea of a pleasant walk. Here in Kingston, the Mona reservoir has been a huge lifesaver for us. For a small annual fee, the Water Commission allows joggers and walkers to exercise on the 2 mile loop around the reservoir. We can safely walk in peace and quiet, watch the birds and enjoy the sunset. No pollution. No hassle.

The reservoir is an important source of stored water in Kingston. When we arrived it was painfully low after a two year drought. In October (late rainy season) it actually started raining and the reservoir started filling up. It was pretty dramatic to watch the water gush down from the mountains from aqueducts on both sides of reservoir. We tracked the water level every day as we made our rounds, until the last week or two when it filled up so far that the overflow has kicked in and we are now watching the water gush out into the overflow channels. This is good news. The city needs the water.


Looking out across the water at the start of our loop


I love watching the birds that hang out around the water spotting fish….


…or roost in the nearby trees. Its mainly cranes (or ibis?) . I haven’t learnt the names of local birds yet. There’s also a troop of pelicans who do dramatic and very loud splashing dives into the water. Unfortunately I don’t have the skills or the camera lens to capture them… maybe one of these days.



We are lucky to live in the Caribbean with access to so many beautiful places, but after a while it is the every day experiences that count the most.  I’m very grateful for Mona and her birds.

…And now let’s take it all out the boxes again..

Its so hard to imagine your new home in a new country before you get there. Especially in Kingston, as they had no pictures to send us in advance. No amount of Googling and scanning the streets with Google Earth really gives you an impression of your new home. But arrive we did, and the streets of Northern Kingston turned out to be much more attractive than the internet let on.


A typical street near us. Green hills beyond, lots of ups and downs, pot holes and palm trees.

Three weeks after we moved in, the handbuilt crates that we watched Nepalis build in our garden showed up with all of our possessions.


Here we go again!  Oh the unpacking!


I made some kind of effort to get the boxes in the right rooms but a lot of it was hit or miss


Looking from the ‘would be’ living room through to what was going to be the dining room


The kitchen was much more modern than Kathmandu but we almost all our appliances were either broken or missing. Part of my shaky start here.


Note the wooden shutters to either side of the French doors are typically Jamaican from before the world of air conditioning came along. They are closed in the picture, but we now keep them open to let in light as the house is pretty dark.



The typical car port that so many townhouses here have. Good for unloading and loading the car in the tropical rain, but they block a huge amount of light.

Anyway, this is a little glimpse of home life here. We are unpacked and trying to make it home. Another blog post of the finished product may follow!