OCHO RIOS, JAMAICA - Noel Coward’s “FIREFLY”
I took a cruise that stopped in Ocho Rios, Jamaica. Ocho Rios, is situated on the northern coast of the island. The translation of the Spanish is “eight rivers,” but the towns name was probably derived from the abundance of waterfalls (you won’t find eight rivers here.) One reason I took this cruise was this stop. If possible I wanted to see “Firefly,” Noel Coward’s home where he died and is buried.
Sir Noel Coward (1899-1973) was a self-made man. He wrote more than two dozen plays - musicals, drawing-room comedies and dramas, and dozens of songs, including such British classics as "Mad Dogs and Englishmen" and "Mad About the Boy," plus novels and an autobiography. Ocho Rios is the closest cruise port to “Firefly” but the cruise company was not offering any excursions to get there. “Firefly” is 20 miles east of Ocho Rios perched high atop Lookout Hill, midway between the towns of Oracabessa and Port Maria in St. Mary Parish.
After I got off of the ship I was directed to a building where the local land tours were meeting. Several Jamaican companies were selling trips to popular sites like Dunn’s River Falls. After investigating the options, I learned that no organized excursions included “Firefly” in their itineraries and I would have to negotiate with a taxi driver to take me there. I mentioned Yardie Tours had a trip posted their website but their representative was not in the area. So my only choice was to take a taxi. As I was heading toward the taxi area a lady from the local tour desk called after me, the driver-guide from Yardie Tours arrived. I agreed on a price with Earl the driver. The drive would take about one hour in each direction plus as much time as I need at the house. “Firefly” was open today.
The main highways in this part of Jamaica are excellent. Since this was a Sunday the roads were practically empty. It was very windy when the ship arrived. Earl mentioned that at times the wind prevents ships from docking. As we drove along the coast road I got great views of the shoreline and the pounding surf. Earl stopped at a small seaside hotel so I could get better pictures of the coast. The lobby of the hotel was decorated for Christmas with two colorful trees. Soon we reached the point were we turned off the main highway onto a secondary road. Then we turned onto a narrow rough pothole filled road that snakes up to the top of Lookout Hill. Now it was evident why bus tours were not coming up here, they would have difficulty navigating these back roads and avoiding wandering goats and animals. The turn off onto the Noel’s property is almost like entering a tropical rain forest with low hanging trees, plants, and flowers. I read it was “Eden like.” It was a fabulous entry into someone’s home.
Nearly a thousand years ago the site was a sacred burial ground of the Taino Indians, the original inhabitants of Jamaica. The Taino are credited with the word "batata" for an edible tuber; the Spanish heard it as "potato." Several centuries later the property was associated with the pirate Captain Henry Morgan (later Governor of Jamaica) who built a lookout and dug an escape tunnel to Port Maria. Morgan used this vantage point to watch the entire harbor of Port Maria. This is the same Henry Morgan that sacked and burned Panama La Viejo. It’s a perverse footnote to history Morgan being named governor of Jamaica is like appointing Al Capone mayor of Chicago!
In the 20th century, the site of “Firefly” passed into the hands of the Blackwell family. Their son Chris founded Island Records, the recording label that gave the world Bob Marley and U2. The Blackwell’s sold another property 10 miles away to British author Ian Fleming called “Goldeneye,” it's where he wrote a dozen James Bond stories including "Dr. No," which was partly filmed there. Fleming, in turn, introduced Noel Coward to Jamaica, and he liked it so well he bought a 7-acre seaside site and built “Blue Harbor.” I wasn’t told how long Noel lived in “Blue Harbor.” Noel called it his “folly,” since it was very popular with his friends, he and wanted and needed a private retreat to work and relax.
In 1956 Noel bought the “Firefly” property from Blanche Blackwell. And built a small, simple white stucco English–style house surrounded by wide green lawns and converted Morgan’s cabin into servants quarters and a bar now used as a concession stand. This is not what you might picture as the home of a world famous actor/playwright. Noel Coward lived in Jamaica for 3 to 6 months out of every year between 1956 and his death in 1973. During the 50's and 60's “Firefly” now became the winter retreat for his friends and admirers such as Errol Flynn, Laurence Olivier, Elizabeth Taylor and the Queen Mother.
I was greeted by a guide who collected the $10 admission fee and took me into the art studio, where Noel was “weaned from tepid watercolors into oil painting,” by Winston Churchill. Churchill pointed out… “with oils you could always change your mind and paint over your mistakes.”
The house is surprisingly Spartan, considering that he often entertained jet–setters and royalty. Inside are Sir Noel’s memorabilia including a desk where he did his writing. He wrote “High Spirits”, “Quadrille”, and other plays here. His books are on the shelves; his paintings are on the walls. His living room includes two grand pianos, back to back, behind a white chair that is turned to face the view out the open windows. There is no glass in these windows just a roll down canvas covering that the guide opened to give me the wonderful view. A few steps up is the small, simple bedroom where Noel died of a heart attack in March 1973. His bed is angled to face the windows and catch the view.
Faded photographs are everywhere of Sir Noel’s friends who visited: Laurence Olivier, Vivien Leigh, the Queen Mother, Maria Callas, Sean Connery, Alfred Lunt, Lynn Fontanne, Beatrice Lillie and Ian Fleming among them. Some of the pictures were so faded that they are impossible to identify who is in them.
The glass table is still on the terrace where he had lunch with the Queen Mother in 1965. The dishes neatly pilled on a near by buffet. The house is stunning for its majestic views, and it is remarkable for the fact that time seems to have stood still and you expect Noel to walk in at any moment. Plus it was so quiet that the breeze sounded like whispers. When I left the home, I passed the now filled in swimming pool. An expansive green lawn sweeps down from the house to the edge of the mountain and the blue Caribbean beyond. From the lawn one could see Noel Coward's first home, “Blue Harbor.” It is situated 1,000 feet directly down the hill - he used it for guests after “Firefly” was built. The guide took me to Noel Coward’s simple grave on the grounds next to a small stage where his works are occasionally performed. Here Sir Noel is buried on the exact spot where he enjoyed his nightly cocktails.
After Sir Noel’s death in 1973, the house fell into disrepair. Rescued by Chris Blackwell of Island Records, it is now operated by the Jamaica National Heritage Trust.
Noel Coward wrote that Jamaica is, “where my heart is.” I could see why Noel chose this place, in a letter in the 1950’s he wrote: (I’m guessing he was still living at Blue Harbor)
“Last Night we took a thermos of cocktails up … and sat and watched the sun set and the lights come up over the town and it really was magical. The sky changed from deep blue to yellow and pale green and then all the colour went and out came the stars and fireflies…The view is really staggering, particularly when the light begins to go and the far mountains become purple against a pale lemon sky.”
The panoramic views from the Caribbean Sea in the north to the Blue Mountains, Jamaica's highest, rising through the clouds in the east are amazing. At one point I sat in Noel’s chair and just stared out at the view. I was alone my driver was sitting under a tree talking on a cell phone and the guide wandered off. I found the view, the silence – mesmerizing so “magical” as Noel said. It felt wonderful to be up here. I was the only one from the ship, and only three of us were on the property.
I wished I could stay longer. The concession stand in Morgan’s cabin had nothing for sale. The guide was sitting there reading the paper. He told me the walls are ten feet thick. “You could look around, if you like.” I did, Henry Morgan’s view was the same amazing one that Noel Coward had.
On the way back to Ocho Rios we stopped at Oracabessa, Earl bought some watermelon. We made a few photographic stops along the way. In Ocho Rios we stopped at a restaurant for “a view.” The patio of the restaurant is at the base of a small waterfall. The tables were festively set for a wedding party that afternoon for 110 people.
My mind was still at “Firefly” as we sailed from Jamaica. I went on deck. The ship went east, I was hoping the ship would continue to sail near the coast, but it didn’t. As we went further out to sea Jamaica became a gray silhouette on the horizon. Soon it disappeared. The next day was a sea day and then we docked at 6:00 AM in Ft. Lauderdale. I was back home by 3:00 in the afternoon.
The Dunn's River falls is a must for anyone young and old!
Just about two (2) miles west of the town of Ocho Rios, the 600-foot Dunn's River falls is in fact so famous that the parking lot is a vast sea of tour buses-any day!
Ascending the falls is usually a group activity: every group gets a guide. The guides tend to tell encourage their groups to hold hands and up everyone go up, linked together. Of course, we as seasoned locals don't usually use guides. You may not be allowed to go up by yourself though. K
ids are also allowed to climb up the waterfalls too. Seven is perhaps a good minimum age, depending how sure-footed your child is. I would encourage you to bring aqua socks, if you have them; buy rentals are available. The cost of renting may be a little expensive though.
The climb may take anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour. The cost at that time for visitors was $15US for adults and $12 for children under 12 years of age.
Elsewhere I’ve recommended the Bob Marley Museum in Kingston, which is certainly well worth a visit, but if you only have time for one Bob Marley tour I think I would opt for this one. Nine Mile is the small village in the hills of St Ann’s Parish where Marley was born and is now buried (following Jamaican tradition on burial in a plot on your own ground rather than a cemetery). As with the Kingston museum, the tour here is a well-packaged operation but no less enjoyable for that.
On arrival you’re directed to park in a small walled compound – look out for locals trying to sell ganja smokes through any crack in the wall! Up a short flight of steps is the house that belonged to Marley’s maternal grandmother, which is where he was born. Here you buy your tickets for the tour (US$15 per person) and wait for the obligatory guide in a room filled with memorabilia (posters, gold and platinum discs etc.) I think we were lucky in the guide allocated to our small party, the amazing Captain Crazy – if you want to meet a real character you might like to ask if he’s available. He has the most extraordinary laugh – at first irritating, later infectious – and kept us entertained throughout the tour. You can see him in photo 2 singing a Marley song to Javier on the steps outside the mausoleum.
Marley’s music infused this tour in a way that was perhaps missing on the Kingston one; Capt. Crazy sang various lines from time to time, and we were told that a guy playing some of the tunes on a banjo was one of Marley’s cousins (I imagine most people in the village might legitimately make that claim) and had given him his first guitar – see photo 3.
From the main house we climbed a steep path past his grandparents’ graves to the small house higher up the hill where he grew up, living there until moving to Kingston with his mother and siblings at the age of 13. Inside are a couple of rooms, including one with the “single bed” immortalised in the lyrics of “Is this love?” where we were encouraged to pose for photos (photo 4). Near the house is a cooking area and the rock where Marley used to meditate, both painted in Rasta colours. Beyond these you enter the mausoleum; the larger tomb in the centre is surrounded by the various offerings left by visitors and lit through a stained glass window (again in Rasta colours).
No photos are allowed in the mausoleum, and both here and in the small house we were required to remove our shoes.
Murphy Hill is the highest view point overlooking Ocho Rios and the Blue Mountains.
It is said to be 2,000 feet above sea level. You can even see over into Cuba from there.
It's a nice drive up to Murphy Hill, lots of big beautiful tropical trees. There's a hotel and small bar there. A nice lil swimming pool.
This is a good side trip away from Ocho Rios that can be done as a day trip Hire a car and have him/her take you to the town of Oracabessa, west of Ocho rios in St Mary. The drive over will give you a chance to see some of the less touristy areas of Jamaica.
Your first stop should be Sun Valley Plantation where you will experience a walking plantation tour given by owner Lorna Binns. She is very informative as she points out various plants, trees and fruits. While on tour your thirst will be quenched by various fruit juices as well as the freshly opened coconut for you to enjoy the juice and jelly. At the conclusion of the tour you are given a snack of Ackee and Saltfish (Jamaica's national dish). Having been on one of the larger plantation tours in Jamaica, I found this one to be more personal, informative and enjoyable. Call Lorna at (876) 995-3075 to set up a tour.
The next stop is Firefly, the home of the late playwright Noel Coward. Here you will be able to tour the grounds and home of Coward; there are many pictures showing the various movie stars and royalty that visited him here. The view is one of the best in Jamaica and the grounds contain a statue of Coward as well as his simple marble grave. You are able to get a tour from one of the guides without an appointment.
James Bond Beach is about 10 minutes from Firefly and is less crowded than most beaches in Ocho Rios. There are less facilities than in most Ocho rios beaches so you will have to decide if an off the beaten track beach appeals to you.
A visit to Sun Valley and Firefly will give you a chance to see the real Jamaica that is often missed by most visitors.
If you enter Ocho Rios from the south, e.g. coming from Kingston as we did, you’ll probably drive through Fern Gully, a rocky gorge of tremendous depth which zigzags for about four miles from the coast up to the central mountain area of the island. The road here is lined with tropical ferns (over 500 species) and the kind of foliage usually only found in a tropical rain forest. In the deepest parts of the gorge, only faint dapples of sunshine penetrate through the thick foliage and the temperature is about ten degrees cooler than outside. We were told by Dave that when he was a child the foliage met overhead in an unbroken tunnel and no light at all got through. In recent years however the fumes from the constant traffic have started to inhibit growth and even kill some of the plants. In an attempt to halt the damage trucks and lorries have been banned from driving on this road, but the alternative route is longer so many disobey as we saw ourselves. There is even talk of banning all traffic and restricting access to cyclists and walkers, but locals seem to be opposed to this as they would lose one of the main routes to and from town.
While the future of Fern Gully remains to be resolved, it is certainly a sight worth seeing, though to do so other than from your car will probably necessitate a stop at one of the several souvenir vendors along the road as there is otherwise nowhere else to pull over. Alternatively you might like to stop at the top of the gorge as we did, where this colourful drink shack made a great photo opportunity.
As I said in my intro, Ocho Rios makes a good base for excursions; in particular, we chose the resort for its reasonable proximity to Kingston, which was somewhere we knew we would want to visit. We’d already arranged for a day trip to Kingston when we made our reservation at the Blue House, and when we found we were getting on well with fellow guests Michael, Monika and Javier we invited them to join us, which reduced our costs and gave all of us a fun day out. My Kingston page will tell you more about the various places we visited that day, so this is just an overview.
It’s a good two hour drive to Kingston, so we left early and stopped off for breakfast at fast food chain Juici Patti, in Bog Walk in the centre of the island. We made a brief halt in Bog Walk Gorge to admire the scenery, before heading to our first sightseeing stop, Spanish Town, about twelve miles north west of Kingston. This was, as the name suggests, the capital during Spanish rule and there are some wonderful buildings here. Few of them have been restored, however, and some are simply facades, giving them more atmosphere than substance.
From here we drove to Port Royal, the former British capital situated on the same peninsula as Kingston’s airport. Here too the buildings are mainly pretty faded, with the exception of Fort Charles. It seems the Jamaicans value the tourist value of natural scenic wonders above that of their history.
Our next stop was possibly the highlight of the trip, the Bob Marley Museum in Kingston itself. I’ve seen this described elsewhere as a bit of a tourist trap, and it is certainly a very carefully packaged and slick operation, but we thoroughly enjoyed our visit so I would recommend that you go and judge for yourself.
After lunch at a good Mexican restaurant, well recommended by Dave, we headed for the Blue Mountains and the beautiful Strawberry Hill Hotel for excellent coffee and dramatic views of the city below, before the long drive home through the Kingston rush hour and back across the island for one of Darryl’s great dinners to round off an excellent day.
Pimento Walk is a community that is located in the watershed area directly above Ocho Rios, Jamaica. Surrounding communities are Parry Town and Snow Hill.
Pimento walk is full of houses and schools as well as children and families. When I was there on a Saturday afternoon everything seemed layed back. Some residents were playing dominoes and some were listening to music. I passed quite a few people who were washing there cars, and having a nice afternoon.
I came across some people that had just finished bathing in the falls. Mahoe Falls. No hussle or bussle here.
This shot is on the way to Ocho Rios from Montego Bay, on the main little road that runs along the coast of Jamaica. The water here is so clear and perfect you just want to get out and swim in it so bad. I could not stop taking photos of the water.
No matter if you horseback through the blue mountains or driving around them, they are beautiful and full of life. This photo does them no justice, the trees are full and lush. You can see the coffee fields up on the mountain, coconut and banana fields at the bottom along the way. It can be scary taking your eyes off the road as your drive goes 70MPH plus on a tiny back road, but if you can release your death grip from what ever your holding on to, grab your camera and snap one off your lucky.
On the way from Montego Bay to Ocho Rios, the cab driver pulled over the side of the road, kinda had us wondering what he was up to. Driver got out openned Terry's door and start to explain to us about this old Lime Mill, plus it gave us a strech with a beautiful view. Also near the bottom of the path there is a grave stone site of a poet Elizabeth Barret Browning. She rests in peace with a beautiful view. Jamaicans love to tell stories, these can be great pices of info to learn about their culture, so we are always happy to listen.
This is so cool to see, the colorful boats lined up along the beach. That's the real Jamaica, small shack made of plywood painted many diferent colors, right on the water, grill going, ahh you can smell the jerk cookin'. That seems like heaven, doesn't it
This photo is of what we were told was one of the oldest church in Jamaica. Told to be build in the 1700's By the time he explained what it was, it was to late for a good sahot at 70 MPH. ( Sorry ) It's located on the road from Montego Bay to Ocho about 3/4 the way there to Ocho. In a small town with many small block houses and broken down cars, the area seemed rather poverish.
Go on the Jungle Trail Tour at Dolphins Cove, the guides are very knowledgeable, good and friendly. The kids really enjoy this tour and it's interactive too, you can touch the critters and birds, even be apart of the show. The guides take you from the ocean and talking about many sea creature then up through the tropical forest to see snakes, lizards, birds and other fun stuff. The tour is free when you pay for a swim at Dolphins Cove.
Well, because of time frames, we didn't get to go, but received inside information from locals.
We were told that the Coyaba River Garden is beautiful, but better yet, 'the best botanical garden is Cronbrook Flower Forest', written and spoken from a true Jamaican local. *this picture was taken as our informative, lifeguard local was reading his book....* HELP I'm drowning! LARRY SAVE ME!!! Actually, his persona made me want to know him, and I found out he was a very friendly man with a couple good life saving stories. hmmmmmmm