Birdwatchers are a conservation minded-bunch, so taking alternate transportation to lunch seemed like a good selling point on our Naturalist Journey’s tour in quest to sample authentic Jamaican food. For many of us, the culinary highlight of a week-long tour, one featuring some great restaurants, turned out not to be a restaurant at all! Thsi is one of our picks for our new culinary endorsement series – “Five Places to Get Fat While Birding.”
Welcome to Miss Betty’s, now called Miss Wissy’s, where you’ll find a few tables and chairs on a stony riverside beach. Officially known as Belinda’s Riverside Canteen, family recipes for Jamaican Jerked Chicken have passed from mother (Betty) to daughter (Belinda, or “Wissy”) and rafters on the scenic Rio Grande River are in for a treat. Like an apparition, one rounds the bend and there on the beach is a happy cluster of friends, ready to serve you a cold Red Stripe beer, and urge you to fill your bowl with hot pepperpot soup. Both mother and daughter have walked the mile-long path from their hilltop home, with greens from the garden, sweet potatos, perhaps fresh crayfish caught that day. Maybe its happy chickens, but their jerk spice is beyond compare, the tender meat as sweet as the smile on Miss Wissy’s face when she knows you feel well fed. Well at ease, athletic from her walks, she seems at one with the simplicity of her endeavors. This is truely a movable feast, as the river changes level with the rains no structure will stand the test of time. This is Jamaica, go with the flow!
The alternate transport we elected defines a new style of “relaxed birding.” The bamboo pole rafts we we ferried on date to the days when Jamaica shipped loads of banana’s and other produce from the Interior down the Rio Grande River. Raft guides say that Errol Flynn, the legendary seeker of fun who made Port Antonio his home, took friends for a float and a business was born. Rains from the Blue Mountains of coffee fame feed the river’s flow. Birdwatching from a bamboo raft built for two, as you glide through forested gorges rimmed by an unbroken expanse of GREEN feels exotic, a two to three hours immersion in Jamaica’s natural beauty. Spotted Sandpipers, Black-crowned Night-Herons, Tricolored Herons, Snowy Egrets, Jamaican Woodpeckers and Belted Kingfishers are often seen, some of them migrants here getting a break from northern winters as we are. Twenty feet or more in length, the bamboo pole rafts feel more like lounge chairs than boats. Many are decorated in flowers. No one is in a hurry. All this beauty, novel transport and jerk chicken at Miss Betty’s – this is a birding vacation!
The Epicurean Birder is produced by the world-traveling guides of Naturalist Journeys, LLC. Lillian’s is one of five Jamaican restaurants endorsed in their “Five Places to Get Fat While Birding” series, piloted in January, 2012. Sample great food on Naturalist Journey’s Jamaica tour March 31-April 6, 2012.