Friday, April 4th, 2008...3:58 pm
Finding Your Roots…
…en route from Kingston to Portland.
As we travelled up the fertile, lush and nourished vermillion hills that form ‘The Junction’ track, connecting Kingston to the North Coast, we were relieved from the rain of the past month and greeted by sun-drenched pastures (sorry that is the British in me shining through – i mean sun-drenched plantations) and an array of tasty roadside treats. (These stalls that adorn are the Jamaican equivalent of service stations in Europe). First-up, standing out from the ubiquitous fresh mango, banana and orange stations, we found a smiley, gnarly, marley(esque) store owner, brandishing both a bottle and his good given name “Up-Front”.
If such a confident moniker for an island gent takes you by surprise – then you want to try a bottle of the ‘stuff’ he sells – made almost entirely from his roots. Mixed with a home-brew sugar-syrup that slides slowly from the mouth of an old bottle of rum like rich molasses. Let me explain. Up-Front takes roots, well, tree roots, bark and branches to be precise, from deep within the ground of the aforementioned fertile, lush and nourished hills – and boils them up for a few hours. He decants the residue into a bottle then throws (slowly, mind) in some brown sugar for good measure. The result is a mouth-watering, eye-watering concoction that is bound to shiver the timbers of any touristing pirate.
“Dem roots, dey make you strong man, dey give you de force. It hard. Drink it in de mornin’ when you need to go work”, he barks. “It better dan’ Viagra!” one of his loyal customers blurts. A pavement of patrons rolls about lauging. They beam brilliantly at me as I make an adventurous purchase (the things we do for you, kind reader!) and Up Front gives me a final farewell warning… “Don’t drink it at home man, don’t drink it at home. You make sure you don’t drink this stuff at home”. I’m not quite sure what he meant, but I doubt they’ll let me back ‘home’ to the UK on an airplane with it anyway! Until then, the souvenir bottle brews tightly capped in the trunk of my car.
Price: A bottle of root juice will cost you between one hundred and four hundred Jamaican dollars. Bargain well. For increased haggling power, bargain after drinking your first bottle!
Article and photographs by Oliver Wright. Video by Jermaine Evans.