New tourism frontier opening in Discovery Bay

Lance Neita

Sunday, July 01, 2018

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Discovery Bay has been quietly developing over the past two years as a tourism destination that is fulfilling its potential which was discovered by Columbus himself many years ago. The new-look Puerto Seco Beach being developed by Kenny Benjamin and his Guardsman Jamaica, and a new visitor attraction ShowKart Jamaica based on the legendary pushcart derby, are among the latest projects that are putting Discovery Bay firmly on the tourism map.

Other attractions in this growing tourism landscape include the legendary Green Grotto Caves, the popular Ultimate Jerk Centre and cricket field, which is also an official rest stop, Columbus Park, Fishermen's Beach, Port Rhoades Sports Club, Bayritz Restaurant, the scenic views from the surrounding hills, and the growing number of villas and apartments offering accommodation — from bed and breakfast to long-stay bookings.

'ShowKart' is the latest of these tourism packages and has strong community credentials as Discovery Bay is known as the home of the National Push Cart Derby which captured the imagination of Jamaicans from the 1970s to 1990s, and which generated the ideas for the Jamaica Bobsled Olympic entry and the Cool Runnings movie.

Schools, communities, tourists, Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association (JHTA), and travel agency representatives have given the thumbs up to the races as well as the Bobsled Lounge, which houses a Jamaican historical artefact and Marcus Garvey exhibition.

Aware of this growing interest in the area, the JHTA staged their monthly meeting at Port Rhoades Sports Club in Discovery Bay on April 11 courtesy of Noranda Bauxite. This was the first time the area association was having a formal meeting outside of the traditional Ocho Rios/Port Antonio tourism areas.

President of the JHTA Ocho Rios Chapter Vana Taylor has expressed her confidence “that the area will benefit from the renewed interest in tourism”, while Simone Campbell from Port Antonio's Bay View Eco Resort, and Antonette Bernard of the Tourism Product Development Company (TPDCo) said they found their visit to the Discovery Bay attractions to be “an amazing day, and a great experience”.

The products are already generating increased employment in the area, attracting entertainers, cart riders, food and beverage personnel, and a beach workforce.

“This is an opportunity that has long been in the making for tourism,” says long-time resident and bauxite veteran Locksley Clarke, who welcomes the tourism expansion as a positive development.

Now the bauxite industry is no stranger to tourism in the area as the company built the original Columbus Park, maintained Puerto Seco Beach as a public beach for years, preserved the Old Folly Quadrant Wharf which docked calling schooners, and established a viewing point at the top of their plant access road which has a commanding view of the harbour.

Noranda Bauxite is a powerful ally in the Government's drive for economic prosperity. But the legacy of its predecessor company, Kaiser Bauxite, and Noranda is not confined to bauxite returns alone. That legacy is to be seen in the development and ideas being translated into other income- and employment-generating projects generated by the presence of the industry in Discovery Bay and other related communities. The Puerto Seco renovation, the ShowKart introduction, and the opening of the tourism frontier are manifestations of those ideas.

Still, as with all new developments, there is another side to the glowing picture, as while the new Puerto Seco Beach has added to the image of the town, old-timers regret the loss of the wider public availability that existed in the past under bauxite management, and have expressed concerns that locals are losing access to beach space.

This is a concern that is being actively pursued by the Discovery Bay Community Committee, led by Chairperson Lee Arbouin, and active representation is being made to the Beach Control Authority and other government agencies to ensure that public access is preserved in the face of the active privatisation that seems to be on the agenda.

Having expressed her personal admiration for the transformation of Puerto Seco, Arbouin is convinced the development must work hand in hand with the interest of local residents, and will be endeavouring to ensure that the new tourism frontier will be equitably balanced with the heritage, traditions, and sensitivities of the residents of the surrounding communities.

Beach availability in Jamaica is a hot-button topic at this time, and Puerto Seco, with its vast expanse of white sand beach and acres of manicured lawns, is coming under the microscope in terms of its new inclusiveness — as tales go around that other beaches beside it are also being privatised for dolphin and even hotel accommodations.

The village has always been proud of Puerto Seco. And today the community still uses Puerto Seco as a reference point for what they call the “Kaiser days”, when bauxite and community forged a strong partnership that had earlier been threatened by doomsayers who had predicted that the coming of the bauxite industry into the town would be a serious drawback for development and the environment.

Puerto Seco was originally developed by Kaiser Bauxite from a small, reserved holding in the 1950s and it was opened to the public when that company purchased Discovery Bay Estates and the luxurious Columbus Inn hotel. The hotel was converted in to the company's administrative offices, while then General Manager Don Tretzel brought the beach up to world standards.

Kaiser operated the beach for some 40 years as a gesture of good corporate citizenship. During that period the beach was renowned as a first-choice venue for fun day picnics and family outings for people from all over Jamaica. Back in my Sunday school picnic days we looked forward to 'truck back' and bus trips from Clarendon, across central Jamaica, to Puerto Seco. It was one of the most popular holiday spots for Jamaicans, who crammed the village and the beach on weekends, public holidays, and especially during the summer.

The bauxite company allowed free entry to schools, charitable organisations, local groups, and sponsored camps for scouts, Girl Guides, and Red Cross branches.

So the conversation goes on. Discovery Bay has for long been on the cutting edge of tourism. The town, first port of call for Columbus in 1494, is now setting up itself to be a part of the tourism map, replete with history and stories to tell. The building of the Queen's Highway, and its opening by Queen Elizabeth II on November 25, 1953, is a tale well told by the older generation who witnessed this grand event as schoolchildren waving the Union Jack and heralding Her Majesty with Rule Britannia and Long Live The Queen!

Discovery Bay is also the site of the marine laboratory operated by The University of the West Indies (UWI). This could be said to be another bauxite legacy project as the lands were presented by the company to Princess Alice, then chancellor of The UWI, and aunt of The Queen, on March 29, 1968.

In a sense, Discovery Bay could be called a university or college town as, apart from the marine laboratory, Noranda also made their former administrative building, the old Columbus Inn Hotel, available to the Ministry of Education to house the technical campus of the Brown's Town Community College.

And the company has built a modern community skills centre on the campus grounds which is being managed by HEART Trust/NTA for welding and electrical skills training.

With the renovation of Puerto Seco, Guardsman will be building on a legacy left by Kaiser, and they have already moved the new beach to another level with greater emphasis on tourism. This should be of general benefit to the area. Let us hope that the fears of locals that they will lose other beaches to privatisation will be allayed by the owners demonstrating more sensitivity to the accessibility, and pocketbooks of those who want to enjoy beach facilities anywhere in Jamaica at reasonable costs.

Saharan dust is here with us

Just as I was getting ready for an outdoor summer, hopefully free from hurricane threats, here comes another natural phenomenon that will make us understand the hazy atmosphere pervading the skies over Jamaica at this time. News from The Weather Channel this week is advising of strong and regular drifts of what is called Saharan dust — a dry, dusty air mass that pushes westward off Africa into the tropical Atlantic Ocean about every three or five days from late spring through early fall.

This Saharan dust, we are told, tracks as far west as the Caribbean Sea, Florida and the Gulf of Mexico multiple times each year. The dust particles can contribute to hazy skies and even photogenic sunrises and sunsets in the Caribbean islands. I saw a satellite photograph last week showing the dust causing hazy skies across the Caribbean and predicting a widespread area from the Caribbean across to Africa, with Jamaica clearly engulfed in the mass. Now, I believe I know where my dry cough is coming from. Maybe I should return indoors, have a cold one, and concentrate on the World Cup.

Lance Neita is an author and historian. Send comments to the Observer or lanceneita@hotmail.com.

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