I have spent quite a bit of time in Jamaica over the past couple years as I went to school there for 3 years and I visit often as my partner Dex lives there. Jamaica is hands down the most beautiful Caribbean country I’ve been to, not the best – Trinidad and Tobago wins every time- but the most beautiful.
Over the years I’ve explored the country quite a bit, but I still have an extensive Jamaican bucket list and I try to knock off at least two things every time I go. My last trip was a short one – 5 days in May 2017 and I spent the time at this AirBnb in Kingston which was a great choice – very central, comfortable, affordable ($60 USD per night) and clean.
We didn’t have much of an itinerary but got lucky because Dex’s sister’s boyfriend – let’s call him Sean – was in Kingston (he lives abroad) and looking for adventure. We decided to go to Reggae Falls which is in the parish of St Thomas and had been on my JA bucket list for a couple years.
So on a bright Sunday morning we set off to St Thomas excited and pumped to spend the day at the falls.
Now the first thing you have to know about this trip is that we weren’t one hundred percent sure where we were going and we couldn’t find written directions to the Falls ANYWHERE. But we had English tongues in our mouth and we knew the way to St Thomas.
When we got to St Thomas we stopped in Morant Bay because I had to see the statue of Paul Bogle and the legendary courthouse which was burned down during the Morant Bay Rebellion (1865). Ironically, the Court House was burned down again in 2007 and someone ran away with the statue of Bogle.
While there, we asked Egbert (probably not his name) who was selling corn, for directions to the Falls and he gave us directions up to a certain point. We set off once again through some rough terrain even driving through a river bed and on winding roads, asking everyone we saw for directions until we saw the sign welcoming us to Reggae Falls.
As Jamaicans would say, the sign ‘too lie’. Trust and believe the Falls was a good thirty minute drive after that sign. At this point, we were behind the good Lord’s back in every possible way. We continued driving. What was funny was, at this point, every time we slowed down to ask someone for directions, before we could even open our mouths, they just pointed in the direction of the falls (I guess by now they’re fed up of hearing the same question every day).
After some time we drove into a bit of a clearing and a man ran up to the car and told us we could park in his parking lot.
The trek to the falls from the parking lot was a somewhat easy 10 minute walk through bush and a strong river current but when we saw Reggae Falls it was worth it.
Reggae Falls is magnificent. Quick fact: it’s called DamHead by those who live in the area and isn’t exactly natural – it’s the result of a failed hydro-electric plant (read more about that here). The current is really strong but the water isn’t deep. It also wasn’t ridiculously crowded on that day. It’s not safe to leave your stuff and go into the water though, so it’s always a good idea to have someone keeping an eye.
We had an amazing time there, but decided to leave the falls a bit early because we were hungry, there was no food around and it was quite a drive back to Kingston. The last thing we wanted was for evening to meet us at the falls.
We got back to the ‘parking lot’ deeply satisfied and still buzzing with excitement until Sean said he couldn’t find the keys.
When someone says they can’t find the keys, I normally just brush it off- it must be somewhere right? So we casually searched through our things – no keys.
Sean decided to head back to the Falls to see if we left it there. At this point I was still very relaxed and optimistic. If they fell we should have seen them – it was highly likely we left them by the Falls. He was able to open the car through one of the windows for us so Dex, our friend Shanice and myself sat in the backseat happily recanting stories and planning for the rest of the evening.
Fifteen minutes passed…we heard nothing.
Thirty minutes passed…nothing, my anxiety started knocking.
Fourty minutes after, he returned….no keys.
It was about 5PM.
Quick reminder here that we are at least an hour away from the nearest town and we could probably count on one hand the number of houses we passed on the way to the Falls. The man who told us we could park in his parking lot was hanging around, waiting for us to pay him for his security services and when we told him what had happened, he began to call the men around to see who could help.
At this point we were all worried but still stupidly optimistic because one of the men who came said he knew someone who could ‘bridge’ the car to make it start without the keys. So we decided to wait for this man- not like we had much of a choice.
Twenty minutes passed.
Half hour passed.
The flickin sun is beginning to set.
More men are coming out to ‘help’.
It’s four women and one man sitting in one lone car because everyone else left.
We ask (for maybe the twentieth time) for the whereabouts of the man who is coming to ‘bridge’ the car. The answers start to become more and more suspect. Dex’s phone is dying, mine has no service, her sister’s own is dead – we are basically stranded.
Shanice had a link and used it to call someone who knew someone in St Thomas who could find someone who would be able to help.
It was 6:30PM.
A familiar car rolls into the parking lot. Two men jump out – I recognized one of them. He was trying to talk to me at the Falls earlier. He started shouting at the men in the area- someone had allegedly stole his phone- his friend was literally walking up to the men and patting them down. They both declared loudly that they were ‘not on games’ and from Maxfield Avenue (inner city community).
We were all really scared at this point because we’re the only women around – save the woman at the nearby parlour – it was dark, we were stranded and men are arguing five feet away from us.
It was 7PM.
It was pitch black outside because there were no streetlights and little moonlight. One of the men from the area came to the car window and asked if we wanted a place to stay for the night – trust me, he wasn’t being hospitable. We politely declined and I think it was at that point we realised we were in shit.
No one was coming to help us. The keys were absolutely positively gone. The men who were being helpful in the light had retreated to huddles in the dark and as if on cue, gunshots started to ring out in the nearby bushes.
Shanice started to cry.
At this point we were actually fearing for our lives.
The man who had earlier declared he was from Maxfield Avenue began walking to our car. He said he wanted to help and that he did – he tried in vain for about thirty minutes to start the car, first with another key and then he opened under the steering and began fiddling around.
The car started but our relief was short lived because the steering was locked. At this point the man from Maxfield Avenue was ready to leave and he offered us a drop back to Kingston.
This man was a complete stranger and he was accompanied by two other men and a young boy. We could either stay in the dark parking lot, stranded, surrounded by men who kept peering into the vehicle or leave with these men.
Three of us left with the men. Sean and Dex’s sister decided to stay back with the car because we got the feeling that someone in the area had found the keys and was waiting for us to leave. We took the number plate of their car, sent it to different people and crammed ourselves into the backseat of their car. My only saving grace was that there was a little boy – I thought (perhaps ignorantly) that they wouldn’t hurt us with a little boy in the car.
We left Reggae Falls at almost 8pm armed with one glass bottle praying we wouldn’t have to use it, wondering how much use it would actually be if we had to.
I’ve never prayed so much in my life. It was dark, we didn’t know the route – these men could literally do anything to us. About an hour into the ride they stopped and left the little boy in the car with us and we asked him questions and sent the information to our parents.
The entire ride was traumatic – even after we got into Kingston I was still scared. What if when we were nearing the AirBnB they wanted something for dropping us home? What would we do then?
Nothing happened to us thankfully but it was such a HUGE risk. We got back to the AirBnB safely and I have to say a bit of my thirst for adventure left me. We got news about two hours after we left that they were able to get the steering to move and Sean and Dex’s sister were now on their way home. So many things could have happened to us that night, but we were rescued by the man from Maxfield Avenue.
I don’t think I’ll go back to Reggae Falls (at least not with a small group) – it’s gorgeous but something about being stranded in the middle of nowhere, in the darkness, surrounded by men…I’ll lah hay somewhere else next time thank you very much.