advertisement

A Stroll Through Port Antonio

The Central Square of Port Antonio is dominated by an old clock tower (though no one remembers when it was last in working order). It stands in front of the two-story Port Antonio Courthouse, constructed in the 1890s in the Georgian style. The cast-iron balcony adorning it was a gift from a foundry in Glasgow, Scotland. This is also the site of the post office, the busiest place in town besides the market.

You, too, can join the shoppers here by going across the street and into the Village of St. George Shopping Mall, perhaps the strangest, most bastardized bit of architecture in all of Jamaica. Local wits cite it as the only place in the Caribbean where you can see a mishmash of 5 centuries of European architecture crammed into one surreal and jumbled 5-minute overview.

From the square, walk north along Harbour Street, which will become Fort George Street as it takes you to the tiny Titchfield Peninsula, a spit of land that separates the town's East Harbour from West Harbour. At the end of the peninsula, you'll come to Titchfield High School, erected on the grounds of Fort George by the British. The old cannons and some decaying walls of the former fort can still be seen. To defend West Harbour, the British erected the fort here in 1729, with walls 3m (10 ft.) thick. A total of 22 cannons were turned toward the sea against a possible invasion.

Along Fort George Street once stood the Titchfield Hotel, the first bonafide hotel in Jamaica, bought during its declining years, and managed badly, by Errol Flynn. After a disastrous fire, it was demolished, but in its heyday during the early 20th century, with around 400 rooms, it was the most fashionable hotel in the West Indies, drawing the likes of Rudyard Kipling and William Randolph Hearst.

Continue down Fort George Street until it empties into Harbour Street. Walk southeast on this street until you come to Christ Church (tel. 876/993-2600), a redbrick Anglican church that is vaguely Romanesque in architecture. The church dates from 1840 and was designed by Annesley Voysey, who adorned it with a large stained-glass window and wooden pews. At the turn-of-the-20th century, the Boston Fruit Company -- growing rich on the bananas being shipped out of Port Antonio -- donated the church's eagle lectern.

Leaving the church, you can walk back up Harbour Street, cutting west at the intersection with West Street. As you walk down this street, on your right you will see the Port Antonio Market (it's also known as the Musgrave Farmer's Market), the most famous market for foodstuffs in northeast Jamaica. Most of what you'll see from the front side involves fruits and vegetables, but buried deep along its back side you'll also find a battered handful of outlets selling locally made crafts.

If you continue past this market, West Street becomes West Palm Avenue. Boundbrook Wharf is immediately to the west. Back when bananas were more important to the local economy than they are now, Boundbrook Wharf was the busiest loading dock in the West Indies. It inspired a cheerful song about the backbreaking labor required to keep the industry afloat. Today, however, loading machines have replaced the sweaty, hard-working laborers of yesteryear.

From the marina or the wharf, you can walk east, retracing your steps back to Central Square where your walk began. Taxis are found here waiting to take you where you want to go next.

If a guided tour of Port Antonio appeals to you, consider the offerings of Joanna's Port Antonio Tours (tel. 876/831-8434 or 876/859-3758). They're conducted by the well-intentioned and endlessly well-informed Joanna Hart, whose "interpretive" tours of the city are loaded with the kind of jewel-like, sometimes gossipy anecdotes that bring the town and its checkered history to life. During most of the week, Joanna is associated in some way with the administration of Goblin Hill Villas (separately recommended in "Where to Stay"). Tours usually last about 2 hours and cost from around US$35 per person.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.