Find Yourself Again at Portland Riverside Retreat in Jamaica

We have left Portland Riverside Retreat only a few days ago, and I already miss it terribly. It always takes me some time to let go of a place and ground myself into another. There are those few days that I feel somewhat “in the air”. It’s especially true when it’s a place that left such a strong impression on my soul. That feeling when a place feels so much like home, so much part of you from the moment you arrive. Maybe some flashbacks from a past life…

There is undeniably something calling me to Jamaica and this time, on the river, it’s like I discovered the absolute core, that precise pressure point from which this love originates. In Swift River, the natural beauty is abundant, the shades of green are unlimited, and the respect for the land is palpable.

The kids and I had the absolute delight of being hosted by Miss Claudette and Mr. Landy. They are some of the very best and most loving humans I have been blessed to meet in my life. I felt a wave of comfort and love from the minute I was greeted by Miss Claudette. A beautiful woman with a cheerful attitude and a contagious laugh, she really spoiled us from the beginning. I mean, being offered a fresh soursop juice on arrival! How did she know that was my favorite?

The home itself is brilliant. Miss Claudette keeps a clean house. Everything is tidy, the kitchen is spotless, it’s as if my mom lives there. The beautiful woodwork throughout the house makes you want to linger and enjoy the simple moments. In the bright kitchen, it always smells nice. Miss Claudette definitely knows what she’s doing in there. We were kept fed and happy, making our way through plantains, smoothies, an abundance of fresh fruits, and wonderfully tasty plant-based meals. Everything is made from scratch, using what is available at the moment. Miss Claudette gets a lot of her ingredients from their farm, which is located a short driving distance from the retreat. We all loved snacking on sugar cane while drinking a peanut smoothie. Pure bliss.

When we arrived to Portland Riverside Retreat, we were at the beginning of our third week in Jamaica. It was time for some laundry. I had bought some laundry detergent wanting to wash some clothes by hand, and asked Miss Claudette for a washing basin. She offered to put the clothes in the machine for me, but seeing my enthusiasm in hand washing, she quickly suggested I do it at the river. That was revelation time. Something as simple as doing laundry in the river can truly take you back to the real life. Using a source from nature to accomplish an otherwise mechanical task really resets your system and makes you appreciate the simple, little things. I don’t appreciate my washing machine more, but I appreciate nature and what it allows me to accomplish.

The river, because of its self-cleaning properties, is the source of life here. It feeds and cleanses the body, it brings water to the roots from which the food grows, and it gives life to the multitude creatures participating in the ecosystem. You feel its energy when you drink from it, when you wash in it, and when you are simply swimming in it.

And thanks to the river, Portland Riverside Retreat boasts many fruit trees like banana, plantains, coconut, and mango. During a hike to a nearby spring, Miss Claudette showed us many other trees like jackfruit, mammee, and something we never had before, rose apples. The kids fell in love with the floral aroma of the unique fruit and were inspecting every single rose apple tree to see if any ripe ones were still hanging low. Known also by its scientific name Syzygium jambos, the rose apple tree, indigenous to Southeast Asia, has been naturalized to Jamaica. It grows nicely on the riverbanks, and I might have to find a way to plant one in Arizona.

Kids eating rose apples found by the river.

The retreat is also surrounded by growing pineapple. Pure, organic sugar loaf pines. They are of such beauty and majesty. Mr. Landy takes good care of the garden and the farm. The kids loved reasoning with him and asking questions. He’s a man of presence, kindness and zen. Along with Miss Claudette, they are the perfect balance, a pair that simply vibrates different.

The whole time we were there felt like we were away from the world. In a very good and blissful way. All we wanted to do was enjoy the river and its serenity. You don’t need wifi, music, or even books. Nature is running the show. We would wash ourselves in the river and head to bed early. One last game of Uno before I close my eyes… I was always the first one asleep, and would rise with the birds and the sun, always refreshed after at least ten hours of deep, restful sleep.

One day, we planned a visit to Moore Town with Maurice from Kromanti. I wanted to explore the sites and waterfalls dedicated to Queen Nanny of the Maroons. Back in the 18th century, Nanny and other enslaved people sought refuge from the brutal slave society in the mountains, where they established a Maroon community. In 1720, Nanny had become the leader of the Maroon settlement, Nanny Town, in the Blue Mountain region. She now appears on the five hundred Jamaican dollar bill and has been declared a national hero.

That whole day was a blessing. I felt the love, bathing under those beautiful falls with the strong presence of Nanny’s spirit. The kids enjoyed the experience very much and collected many medicinal herbs along the way, all of them explained in detail by Maurice. They were like little sponges with all the new information. They still talk about the falls, about Nanny and about Joseph’s Coat. If you go to Nanny Falls soon, you might even see the makeshift raft the kids put together with bamboo logs they found lying around.

The rest of our days flowed comfortably. We enjoyed the spring, the hike, the absolutely exquisite food and simply living to the beat of the river. Before we knew it, it was our last morning, our last swim. I always get emotional the day of departure. Tears flow. How do you leave such a place? A place that changes the way you view the world, the way you understand your kids, and the way you interact with nature. Mr. Landy looked at me and said: “You’re doing good. Keep on trodding. Go with love in your heart.” I will always remember his wise words and I am leaving only with the certainty that I’ll be back.

For more about my enduring love for Jamaica, please read Jamaica: A “Feel” Trip and Treasure Beach and the Mystical South Coast of Jamaica.