Fri | Dec 14, 2018

Carolyn Cooper | My voyage of discovery to Puerto Seco

Published:Sunday | August 26, 2018 | 8:22 AM

It was Christopher Columbus who named the beautiful bay Puerto Seco. He didn’t see any rivers, so he assumed the port (puerto) was dry (seco). He didn’t know about the freshwater streams underground. When Columbus went along the coast to the west, he found a river which he named Rio Bueno (river good).

I don’t know what the people living there called their port and river. It didn’t matter to Columbus. He felt entitled to claim and name. That’s how conquerors behave. They ‘discover’ people and places that aren’t lost. And the victims of conquest sometimes accept their fate without protest. In 1947, the name Discovery Bay was slapped on the town in honour of its ‘discovery’ by Columbus.

Conquest comes in many forms these days. Some residents of Discovery Bay are fearful that they will soon not have access to a decent beach. Rich people in the town have no such anxiety. They enjoy private beaches. I first heard about the problem in June when I was sitting in for Mutabaruka on his ‘Steppin Razor’ programme on IRIE FM.

Lee Arbouin, an active citizen in the community, called the show asking for help to resolve the troubling matter. I took up the cause. Only certain bodies are entitled to leisure, as Maziki Thame argues so lucidly in her Gleaner column, 'Beach access and black unworthiness'. Last Sunday, I went with three friends to Discovery Bay to see for myself what was going on.  

PROTECTION FROM INVADERS

Our first stop was Fortlands Road. I’d been told that rich people who live down that road had put up a barrier part-way and installed a security guard. There’s a plaque at the top of the road stating, “Construction and surfacing carried out as a service to the community by Kaiser Bauxite Company.” Whose community?

The security guard stopped us at the barrier. We asked if it was a public road and, if so, why the barrier. He admitted that it was a public road but said it was “going private”. This barrier, which may be illegal, is quite effective. Most visitors would probably turn back right away. At the end of the road, there’s a beautiful view out to sea. And a cannon stands as a reminder of the need for protection from invaders. Just like the barrier and guard designed to keep out non-residents!

On our way back down Fortlands Road, we passed Fisherman’s Beach, which was full of vibes. There were several restaurants and lots of patrons. We parked next door at Peach Beach, which is controlled by the Jamaica Red Cross. It’s a lovely beach. Clear, shallow water! Unfortunately, there was scattered garbage and a couple of stray dogs. 

Community groups have been trying, without success, to get permission from the Jamaica Red Cross to manage the beach. Winnifred Beach in Portland is such an excellent model of community management of natural resources. I’ve written to Red Cross International to see if they can intervene.   

Beside Peach Beach is the Members’ Beach. I noticed that a lot of construction is taking place. I know there’s a dispute about the legality of the lease of that beach. I wonder what would happen to the buildings if the plaintiffs win their case and the lease is revoked.

HIGH CONCRETE WALL IN THE SEA

The next stop was Puerto Seco Beach. There’s a high concrete wall jutting out into the sea. It must be illegal. Anyhow, I carefully negotiated my way around the wall.  As soon as I turned the corner, an efficient security guard approached and told me I could not come on the beach.

On August 3, The Gleaner published a gushing article on Puerto Seco Beach by Barbara Ellington, which included this gem: “From the public beach, which adjoins the private property, a few swimmers venture across during the day. Once inside, they mingle harmlessly with everyone.” A likely tale! 'Inside' implies out of the water.

I told the security guard he could not stop me from walking in the water. I asked to speak to the manager on duty. He made a phone call and two more security guards quickly came. One of them confirmed that I could walk on the beach but not beyond the high-water mark. I told him to educate his colleague. As far as I know, that mark could be quite a few feet in on the beach.

Back at Fisherman’s Beach, we had a snack at Bashment Vibes Bar and Grill. The owner, Natasha Gordon, proudly told us that Serena Williams had eaten there. Then we went to Crisnic Bar and Grill, owned by Nickclesha Barnett and Christopher Coore. We had delicious fish. The bill for all four of us was $6,300. Excellent value! 

So many people are making a good living at Fisherman’s Beach and Peach Beach. Like Wilbert White, a knowledgeable guide, who runs a prosperous business! These free beaches provide welcome recreation for a lot of Jamaicans. We cannot allow any modern-day Columbus to ‘discover’ our beaches and take away our birthright.  

- Carolyn Cooper, PhD, is a specialist on culture and development. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and karokupa@gmail.com.