By some stroke of luck, my favourite parish of Portland in the northeastern side of Jamaica remains lush, green and untouched by mass tourism. Portland is home to the Jamaican Blue and John Crow Mountains which has species not seen in other parts of the island, let alone the entire world. It houses the Windward Maroons, an indigenous group of Jamaicans who are direct descendants of runaway Africans and Amerindians. The Jamaican Maroons are a proud people and have called the rugged inhospitable mountains home for over three centuries. Their governance is largely independent of mainstream Jamaica, they live off of and respect the land, and have managed to preserve their rich heritage and traditions to this day. It’s in this region of Jamaica that Millbank and its majestic waterfalls are located: the Upper Rio Grande Valley which is Windward Maroon country. Here’s how that adventure went.
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Getting to Millbank
The trip from Kingston to Millbank took roughly three hours– longer on the way to than from because of a wrong turn we made when we lost phone signal for a few minutes, but I never grew impatient for a second. Why? Well, the entire drive is scenic! There’s always something to look at out the car window.
The route to the district of Millbank from Kingston will take you along the Junction main road which overlooks the picturesque meandering Wag Water River and connects St. Andrew to St. Mary. From there it’s a straight road to Port Antonio, the capital of Portland. From Port Antonio, Google Maps will lead you onto a winding road called “Breastworks to Windsor Road” and from early, you’ll be treated to cool refreshing mountain air and jaw-dropping views of the majestic Rio Grande. You’ll pass a sign for Moore Town but you’re not going there. Look out for the next right instead. That’s the road you’ll need. If you miss the turn, you’ll end up going to Cornwall Barracks and you’ll know you missed the turn because the road to Cornwall Barracks is DEPLORABLE! Once you don’t make that wrong turn, road quality will be great (for the time being).
You’re on the correct track once you come across that sign pictured above and the iron bridge. Take the left and pass through Ginger House, Comfort Castle and then finally, Millbank. It’s at this left turn that the road quality steadily decreases with more and more potholes which seem to increase in size and depth every few metres, and eventually is reduced to nothing more than a dirt road. This side of Portland has bussu– a freshwater shellfish which is similar to oysters, and highly regarded for their aphrodisiac properties. They are usually used to make bussu soup and there’s even an annual bussu festival which attracts Jamaicans and foreigners from far and wide. I didn’t come across any, and I likely wouldn’t have tried it anyway. What I had instead was wild boar from a cookshop in the community after my hike and it was the leanest stew pork I’ve ever tasted. In fact, these wild boars are still hunted the ancient way with snares and traps.
Hiking to Millbank Falls
When you get to Millbank, you’ll need a guide because the hike is an hour long (give or take), steadily uphill and the terrain is moderately difficult. Sorry, if you dislike long walks, have mobility issues or are very out of shape, the waterfalls I’m about to describe are not the best ones for you but the community has an easier 30-minute hike to another waterfall. That area is known as Dry River and they call that waterfall Fish Dunn Falls. I’m not sure how I’m going to differentiate between that waterfall and another waterfall I already know as Fish Dunn Falls in Silver Hill Gap whenever I ever visit and write about that attraction, but I’ll cross that bridge when it comes. Anyway, I guess you can turn up and try hiring someone to take you up to the falls in the community but I wouldn’t drive this far from Kingston and risk not finding someone able to take us. There are several tour companies which advertise hikes through this unspoilt side of Jamaica on Instagram so I reached out to one of those pages before the trip to ensure we’d have a reliable guide. That company is On the Edge Tours Ja and I highly recommend them for their hospitality, customer service and bonhomie. Damian from On the Edge Tours was our tour guide, an amiable, intelligent and professional fellow, who brought us coconuts and fruits. What this area may lack in material wealth, it makes up for in fruitfulness! Like, I could not believe my eyes. Otaheite apples littered the trail and stayed on the trees until spoilt because there.. are.. just… so.. many! I’ve never seen anything like it.
The hike to waterfall #1 was steadily uphill and thankfully Damian was carrying my bag or I would’ve been more winded! The views were gorgeous with tall awesome conifers and tree ferns which likely have been around since before the Windward Maroons chose to make this inhospitable mountain range their home. We took perhaps two short breaks of 5 minutes each and got to this gorgeous waterfall pictured below in under an hour.
Now, now. We had only spoken about this waterfall in the planning stages but Damian thought we could handle another cascade because we had made good time for the first one. Plus, we had forgotten all about how difficult the trail was after splashing about in the cool crystal clear water. He hadn’t warned us that the hike to waterfall #2 was much more treacherous but it probably wouldn’t have stopped me anyway. We were in good hands, and Millbank is home to at least a dozen cascades which are widely spaced along the White River tributary of the Rio Grande. Thus, once Damian said I could see two falls on the same daytrip, say less!
Here’s waterfall #2. Just. No words.
I was exhausted afterwards and felt muscle cramps for two days after, but the trip is well worth it once you’re into off-the-beaten-path adventure. Actually, I recommend both the hike and On the Edge Tours 11/10. Damian taught me so much about the area that I was already planning a return trip on the way back. When I return, I’ll write another article on the other falls in the area. I also want to take a photo on that cute blue and yellow footbridge that leads to Cornwall Barracks. I’ll definitely need to spend a few days at an Airbnb in the community to accomplish all these new bucket list additions. Tell me, is the community of Millbank nestled in Upper Rio Grande Valley now on your list?
Also, it’s worth mentioning and commending the residents for keeping the waterfalls so clean! I often get a woeful greeting at these sort of attractions with empty KFC boxes and plastic bottles. Not the case in Millbank at all. You’d think no human being has ever stumbled this way ever.
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‘Til next time!