I liked spending part of my summer holidays at the home of my maternal grandparents. They lived in rural Jamaica, about 120 miles west of Kingston where our family resided. It was a stark contrast to city life.
The holidays there were book-ended by an all-day trip to get there and an all-day trip to return. The train was scheduled to leave Kingston at 10:00 a.m. and arrive at our destination at about 5:00. p.m. Frequently in busy holiday periods, the train was late which meant that the journey took longer than expected. I was very excited about the train ride. It was an adventure in itself – something I anticipated with great eagerness long before the school holidays began.
Mother did not join us on these trips, I guess it was time for her to catch up on projects she couldn’t pursue when we were around. She took all four of us, that is, my three siblings and I, to the Kingston railway station and bought four half fare tickets to Anchovy. She then spoke to one of the train conductors, much like you would advise an air hostess when a minor was travelling. The conductor, dressed in his smart blue uniform and cap was expected to keep an eye on us as he made the rounds throughout the day and to ensure that we got off at our destination, Anchovy, St James. As this was the last stop before the train reached its final destination – Montego Bay – there was little to worry about.
Once the train pulled out of Kingston, the adventure began. Different stops along the route were noted for different types of snacks. Although we had a packed lunch of corned beef sandwiches and several bottles of our favourite sodas, we were also keen to sample the fare that vendors sold at many stations. Roasted cashew nuts, tangerines and mandarins were favourites of mine, also caramel corn and coconut water in the shell.
I loved the breeze blowing through the window. It was so important to have a window seat, preferably facing the direction in which the train was going. This allowed us to look out at the scenery, hold our heads and shoulders out sometimes as the train rolled into another station. Then the vendors would rush to the side of the train with their wares. We would stretch out and down to pay. They would hand our purchases up to us in the coach. I loved the variety of faces and the voices intermingling, as everyone hustled to complete their transaction before the train moved on – time to pull my head inside again.
None of this activity superseded the beauty of the surrounding landscape. Every area had something memorable to offer. The train travelled west through the parishes of St. Catherine, Clarendon, Manchester, then headed north through Hanover and St. James.
On leaving Kingston, the landscape was fairly dry – a savannah, as Kingston is situated on the Liguanea Plains in a rain shadow area. Even these flat lands had something for the eye. In St. Catherine, the train travelled through several sugar cane estates and we could see the cane in its natural habitat. Much of this scenery continued on and off into Clarendon. But at the stop in May Pen, the capital of Clarendon, there was one delicious addition - dried pepper shrimps on sale. Once we left May Pen, the train started its ascent – first gradually – then steeper and steeper as it headed into the hills of Manchester.