Ode to Jamaica’s Blue Mountains

Where the land seems to touch the sky…Nazma Muller discovers her spiritual side on a 7,000-foot peak in Jamaica

Blue Mountains. Photograph by Dean ClarkeBlue Mountains. Photograph by Dean Clarke

People always ask me, Why you love Jamaica so? Is de music, nuh? De fellas? De beaches?

I tell them, yes and no. It’s partly the rub-a-dub love-up and niceness of their patois. And the dancehall tunes that make my heart want to jump out my chest and do the bogle dance. And yes, Jamaican men are very special – what with that accent, the patois and their wicked sense of humour. And truly, Jah Jah must have spent the seventh day making Jamaica’s beaches.

But it’s more than that. The reason I love Jamaican cyan done is the Blue Mountains.

Yes, iya. The first time I ever went to Jamdown, and the plane made its landing approach, me heart bawl. Me eye start water. I had never seen anything so magnificent in my life. The mountains just went on and on and on. One after the other. One hundred and ninety-four thousand acres of them, stretching across the middle of the island. As if the Almighty had decided to give the Taino Indians, the first people, a sign to say, “Look here, yuh nuh see Jah works? Eeh-eeh. Now show I and I respeck, seen?”

And He covered the mammoths with mists to make them a mysterious blue.

This is really why Jamaicans are such a spiritual people. Every time they look up, they see these 7,000-foot mountains reaching to the heavens. And their souls just sing out, Praise Jah! Give thanks, Rasta.

Even that old scoundrel Christopher Columbus, when he first clapped eyes on Jamaica, he exclaimed: “It is the fairest island eyes have beheld; mountainous and the land seems to touch the sky.”

Two centuries later, the land that seemed to touch the sky was where runaway slaves fled. Led by their Ashanti warrior queen, Nanny, the Windward Maroons manage to elude British slave masters. From up here, they waged war on the colonial authorities for decades, until the Brits finally conceded defeat and gave them autonomy.

And let’s not forget the coffee. These mountains produce some of the finest gourmet coffee in the world. If you should pass a coffee tree in the Blue Mountains, please to genuflect.

A few years ago, I met the most amazing Jamaican – besides Rex Nettleford, of course, who is probably enlightening God on all matters Caribbean at this very moment. Marguerite Soltau was 77 at the time, and she was as fit as Asafa Powell then. Marguerite must be still fitter than me, maybe even Usain Bolt. In her lifetime she climbed the Blue Mountain Peak so many times, she lost count. On the last occasion that she had made the seven-mile climb the lady was 73.

Yes, you read right: 73. “And if you don’t hold me down, I’ll do it again,” she joked.

I gawped. Was she serious? I had made the climb to the peak once, and couldn’t imagine doing it again. Because that trek can kill you, trust me. You see the part called Jacob’s Ladder? You know why they call it that? It really looks like it’s going straight up to heaven. Everyone warned me: “Doh look up. Jes keep yuh head down, pick some cheeseberry deh so, and we soon reach de top.”

When I finally reached the top, and the black spots had cleared from my eyes, I almost fell back down. The path ran along the side of the mountain, and the edge was just a few feet away.

We climbed for four hours straight. Three times I stopped, smoked a cigarette, thought about turning back, then plodded on. The only thing that kept me going was the fact that I was still ostensibly young, and how it woulda look that one of de man dem was 50 and him skipping up the mountain like a billy goat, and me a limp like a granny?

The air got thinner, it got colder, the wind chill factor felt rather un-Caribbean, and still we climbed.

But oh my word, the views were stunning. I could see all the way to Portland in the next parish. And the flowers? Lawd have mercy. They came in the most unusual shades of blues and greens. The fungi were almost psychedelic. Moss covered rocks and lime-green ferns sprouted everywhere. Up here, you can see Papilio homerus, the second biggest butterfly in the world, and flowers and plants that can’t be found anywhere else on the planet. Nearer the top, the trail passed through a forest of dwarf trees that bent and arched overhead, stunted by the extreme climate.

When we finally reached the peak, sweating and shivering at the same time, the clouds wrapped around us. I felt like I was in the Enid Blyton story The Magic Faraway Tree. You know the one where these English children discover a big tree with the top in the clouds, and a new magic land would pull up at the cloud every week? Any second I expected to see Moonface, Saucepan Man and Silky the Fairy come traipsing down the trail, back from the Land of Scones and Cucumber Sandwiches.

Now, when I see Jamaicans singing their national anthem, and I see them get all teary-eyed and emotional, especially when they sing, “Jamaica, Jamaica, Jamaica, land we love…”, I know how they feel. Is de Blue Mountains dem a think bout.