Carolyn Cooper | Freedom at Bob Marley Beach and Cane River Falls
Last month, four of us went on an excursion to Cane River Falls. We had gone to Bob Marley Beach and decided to make a detour on the way home. Incidentally, the wall on which the sign for the beach was painted has been knocked down. So we missed the turn-off and ended up in St Thomas. It was not until I saw the massive concrete structure for the long-overdue highway that I realised we had gone too far. I also use Corn Shop as a landmark. It’s across from the narrow road to the beach. But a huge truck parked outside the shop had blocked the view.
On June 22, THE STAR published a report by Simone Morgan-Lindo with this headline, ‘Bob Marley Beach to benefit from highway construction’. Ifari Thomas who has been working on the beach for many years was quoted: “‘The roadwork nah stop anyone from coming here, not even the tourist. The worker dem lick down the sign, but nobody nah get lost or anything.’” I’m sorry to have to tell Mr Thomas that he’s quite wrong. Me get lost. A temporary sign to the beach should be put up.
The first time I went to Bob Marley Beach I was so relieved to see the wide expanse of sand. It’s black and that’s not a problem for me. Sand is sand. I usually go to Hellshire Beach but not to swim. It’s for fish at my favourite spot, Aunt Merl’s. Big up Matthew, Maggie, Sonia and the rest of the crew! There’s no beach any more. It grieves me to remember what Hellshire used to look like. There are still little strips of sand and brave souls can actually go in the water. Their constitution, unlike mine, can probably manage the pollution that washes across to Hellshire from Kingston Harbour.
There’s no entrance fee to Bob Marley Beach and the vibe is sweet. But there’s a warning sign that says: “NO LIFEGUARD ON DUTY SWIMMERS BEWARE, STRONG CURRENT”
The notice is signed by the notorious National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) and the Natural Resources Conservation Authority (NRCA). I know that neither NEPA nor the NRCA can do anything about the strong current. But these agencies ought to be agents of change, facilitating the process of developing the beach and making it safe for visitors.
‘DI ROAD BAD’
Just outside the exit from Bob Marley Beach, we turned off the Bull Bay main road at Nine Miles. I asked a taxi man about the condition of the road going up to Cane River Falls. His answer was not reassuring: “Di road bad. But it not bad-bad-bad.” I wouldn’t like to drive on a road he considered to be triple bad. As far as I was concerned, this road was at least five bads. In some places, there was no road at all. Pure rockstone!
In other sections, there was only half a road. The other half had vanished over a precipice. What remained of the road was full of potholes. And it was quite winding! I kept blowing my horn to make sure drivers coming in the opposite direction would not swing around the corner to avoid a pothole and crash into us. Miraculously, we arrived at our destination in one piece.
Cane River Falls is privately owned and there’s an entrance fee of $500. The grounds are well maintained and there’s lots of parking. An attractive bar is a welcome sight after the treacherous drive. But I wouldn’t recommend a strong drink right before tackling the steps down to the falls. There are over a hundred of them. You have to be fit and wear proper shoes to make it all the way down and, especially, back up.
The entrance to the steps is through a rock formation that is ancient. It reminds me of the magnificent churches built into the rocks in Lalibela, Ethiopia. I felt a sense of sacred grandeur as I entered the space. The scale of the gigantic rocks is a humbling sign of just how small humans really are in the larger scheme of things. It was a mystical experience.
Cane River Falls got a huge celebrity endorsement from Bob Marley. In Trench Town, from the Confrontation album, which was released after his death, Marley sings:
“Up a Cane River to wash my dread
Upon a rock I rest my head
There I vision through the seas of oppression, oh woah!
Don’t make my life a prison.”
Like the beach that bears Bob Marley’s name, Cane River provides temporary escape from the daily struggle for survival. Marley laments the negative stereotype of inner-city communities: “They say, ‘Can anything good come out of Trench Town’?” He echoes the question asked by Nathanael when he is told that Jesus is the Messiah. “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” That cynical question is recorded in John 1:46, New King James Version.
“They say it’s hard to speak
They feel so strong to say we’re weak
But through the eyes, the love of our people, woah oh!
They got to repay
. . .
Say we’re the underprivileged people
So they keep us in chains.”
Marley asserts, “We free the people with music.” Then, it seems as if he turns the affirmation into a question. “Can we free the people with music?” But this challenging question could also be seen as a call to action. Marley optimistically declares:
“In desolate places we’ll find our bread
And everyone see what’s taking place
Woy, another page in history”
Marley refers to the Bible again. It’s Psalm 109:10, King James Version: “Let his children be continually vagabonds, and beg: let them seek their bread also out of their desolate places.” The entire chapter is a malicious prayer to God to curse the psalmist’s enemies. But Marley turns the biblical curse into a prophecy. The poor will find bread. A time of reparation must come.
Residents of rural Jamaica, like that taxi man who seems to have resigned himself to the bad road, must be empowered. Similarly, residents of inner-city communities must claim their voice and speak out. The pages of history reveal that generations of underprivileged Jamaicans have suffered through seas of oppression. They must be fully freed. That’s the promise of Bob Marley’s Cane River vision.