Throughout Jamaica it’s common to see pedestrians, but in Mandeville these walkers stroll, not just to the market or to a hotel job, but on their morning constitutional. Many folks spend their free time at the Manchester Club, the oldest golf course in the Caribbean. This nine-hole course is set on rolling hills. Nearby tennis courts challenge players and indoor squash courts offer more fast action. Other activities in Mandeville include a tour of the High Mountain Coffee Factory. Jamaica’s second best-known variety after Blue Mountain, this coffee originates on nearby plantations and is produced here at the factory. Tours can be arranged and a sample taste of the island’s java awaits at the gift shop.
Nature lovers flock to Mandeville. Twenty-five bird species are endemic to Jamaica and all but two are found in this region. Garden lovers can stroll the fragrant fields at Mrs. Stephenson’s Garden. The winner of many prizes from the Mandeville Horticulture Society, the gardens are filled with orchids as well as a fruit that was developed in Mandeville: the ortanique. The combination orange and tangerine is unique, hence the name.
In all directions beyond Mandeville’s borders, the roads continue their scenic routes, either into the hills of Christiana, the rich agricultural regions on the drive to Spanish Town and finally Kingston, or on one of Jamaica’s most scenic drives toward the South Coast. Here, Bamboo Avenue winds for over two miles, a green tunnel of tall bamboo that arches over the roadway. Along the road’s edge, vendors sell chilled young coconuts, cracked open with a quick machete chop to reveal the jelly inside.
...And Black River
The South Coast is home to the community of Black River, another must for eco-tourists. While travelers to the North Coast resorts are happy to hear “no problem” as an answer to just about any request, whether it's for another Red Stripe beer or a taxi or more towels in the room, in Black River you’ll hear “no problem” in response to spotting a seven-foot crocodile. There’s no need to fear; these crocodiles represent no threat. Unlike their cousins on the Nile, the Americanus crocodilius is not aggressive. Like vacationers on the nearby beaches, they’re content to lie in the sun and take life easy.
The water on the lower stretch of the Black River is brackish, as saltwater comes in and mixes with the freshwater during high tide. These conditions are perfect for mangroves, which have roots that cascade from high branches and reach the water. The result is a curtain of thick roots, an almost impenetrable fence that divides the river from the marshy swampland beyond the trees.
Black River fishermen use wire traps to catch blue Marie crabs. Shrimp are caught using a traditional trap, an African design dating back over 400 years. The bamboo trap, shaped like a large inverted bottle, holds coconut and oranges in the wide end. After two or three days in the river, the trap is checked and the shrimp fall out when the smaller end is twisted (much like pouring liquid from a bottle). Although crocodiles reside in these tea-colored waters, you’ll see men snorkeling along the river’s edge. With a speargun in hand, they fish for the evening meal. Others fish from dugout canoes, many using techniques brought from Africa’s Niger River centuries ago. The waters are also dotted with bull rushes, giant ferns (one of 600 species found in this country) and pancake lilies.
If you tour the river with a guide, he or she will probably point out things of interest, such as a 35-year-old termite nest and trees where over 3,000 cattle egrets nest nightly. But the biggest attraction on the Black River isthe crocodiles. Once hunted, these crocodiles are now protected, but they remain wary of humans. Loud talk (or even a spear fisherman at work) causes the crocodile to take refuge.
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