Two weekends ago I ventured into the countryside with my fellow Cuso volunteers and a handful of dentistry students to go on a hike in the Blue Mountains. My colleague Peter wrote a beautiful piece on Medium about our trip and I beg you to read his perspective, for he is far more poetic than I am. I will, however, share with you a few highlights.
The Blue & John Crow Mountains National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that protects roughly 78,000 hectares/200,000 acres of tropical rain forest and steep mountain slops in the north-eastern section of Jamaica. The region has more than 800 species of endemic plants and is home to 200 species of resident and migrant birds. It is also the agricultural region for the world famous Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee, one of the most expensive and sought-after coffees in the world.
We were mildly unprepared for our Blue Mountain trek. There were 38 of us in total, and all we had been told ahead of time was where to meet, to bring snacks, to expect camping-style accommodation, and to plan to leave in the middle of the night if we wanted to reach the summit for sunrise. No one seemed to know much of anything else, but we were all pretty excited to go on an adventure unique even for Jamaicans. I mean, a moonlit hike to the top of the highest mountain in Jamaica – who wouldn’t jump with both feet to do that???
We stayed at a guesthouse and farm run by a Rastafarian named Jah B. The Trip Advisor reviews for Jah B’s place give a fairly accurate portrait of the place – you’ll either love it or you’ll hate it. I loved it, except for the fact that it was freezing cold and I had no blankets (you must bring your own and I foolishly left all my blankets in Canada). After exploring his farmland and gawking at his gorgeous coffee bushes, I inhaled Jah B’s Ital dinner of rice and peas, coconut veggie stew, and coleslaw and hunkered down for a chilly nap until our wake up call at 2 am.
All I can say is THANK GOD I ate a full meal and had a snooze before we left. Somewhere along the way someone had said the hike would take 7 hours (inaccurate – it took us an average of 10 hours), so I had presumed we were in for something like the Grouse Grind in Vancouver, only a little longer. Not *completely* off the mark: in order to reach the summit, we walked 13 km with an elevation gain of 3,000 feet to an elevation of 7,402 feet in the dark (in contrast, the Grind is 2.9 km with an elevation gain of 2,800 feet).
For my outdoorsy hiker friends, I am sure this hike would have been a piece of cake, and in truth it isn’t really that tough of a walk. Everyone but one in our group made it to the top, and we only had a few that needed a hand coming down. But stumbling through a dark forest on very little sleep with no clear sense of destination isn’t the best way to take on a 26 km mountain walk. There was a lot of incredulity on the way up (“How are we *still* not there???”) and a lot of grumbling on the way down. Thankfully, we had two expert guides and the path is pretty hard to miss, so we weren’t in great danger, in spite of our ignorance.
A moment to mention our guides, or the one guide in particular with whom I spoke along the way. Mr. Bo is 61 years old and started guiding hikes to the top of Blue Mountain 3 years ago. He averages 3 hikes to the summit a week. He put every single one of us to shame as he scrambled up the gravelly, muddy path in the dark. I’m pretty sure Mr. Bo was a mountain goat in another life.
Along the way, I (like Peter and every single writer and climber before me) began to see the mountain as a metaphor for life. We stumbled through the darkness along an unknown path, unable to see very far into the future. Sometimes the way forward was easy and sometimes it kicked our butt. Every once in a while we needed a friend to shed a light for us and guide the way. We were all headed towards something that was supposed to be amazing, but there was no guarantee that it would be what we expected. It was easy to build up our expectations of what was to come, and just as easy to become frustrated and long to give up. What seemed like the goal the whole way up turned out just to be a special moment along the way that ultimately helped keep us motivated for the rest of the journey.
By the end of the hike, exhausted from exertion and lack of sleep, the metaphor had worn thin. True, much like in life, we were worn out but proud of what we had accomplished. Everyone agreed the journey had been even more spectacular than the destination. But (hopefully) unlike in life, none of us wanted to do it ever again.