“Oh my God, the water is on fire!” I imagine this was the exclamation from Granny May when she discovered over 90 years ago that water flowing through her backyard could be set ablaze. This spring, located in the shanty community in St. Ann’s Bay is now known as the “Jamaica Fire Water”.
When water meets fire
At age 20, Granny May was taking a bath in the spring when she looked up and saw a wasp nest hanging from the nearby orange tree. She grabbed a torch to burn the nest but it fell into the river. Instead of going out the flames spread and the water was ablaze! She ran to tell her parents of the discovery and so began the allure that has developed around the water.
While this is the story of the locals, the Windsor Spring has been recorded in the reports on the Geology of Jamaica from as early as 1869 and the water’s unusual composition has played an important role in the search for natural oil and gas in Jamaica.
Today, the bubbling spring is believed to have healing powers and so enjoys frequent visits from ailing and baptismal patrons. Geologists have found that the spring contains high proportions of calcium, sodium and chloride and while it may have great medicinal value should not be consumed because of its high strontium content which may be radioactive. However, the locals still believe and will tell you that it is sulphur - filled.
On our arrival, Police, the resident protector of the spring gave us a quick tour of the area. On the outside are the humble wooden homes of members of the poor community. The spring is surrounded by a bamboo enclosure and has been concreted to create a shallow pool.
As I climbed into the pool, Police took out a lighter which he used to ignite the water. He walked through the flames and began to use the flaming water to wash his face. The fire was literally in his hands!
“Come man, it nah go burn you!” Police prodded me along as I hesitantly touched the water.
I soon forgot my mother’s warning ‘never to play with fire.’ I washed my face, walked through the flames and then settled down for a quick foot massage from Police. He heated the towel over the fire and then applied it to my legs. He boasted that members of the community rarely visited the doctor because of the natural healing powers of the water. The methane spring is also said to be the place where slaves went for a bath in order to be healed.
I couldn’t help but enquire why wasn’t the place more developed. “This is a very spiritual place and we don’t want the healing and the fire to go away,” Police responded. It could also be because the Windsor well that was drilled to a depth of 12,820 feet yielded no commercial oil.
Police lastly demonstrated how he prepared quick meals over the flames. We didn’t stay to grab a bite but I did promise faithfully that I wouldn’t bathe within 24 hours so the healing powers of the water could take full effect.
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- Wear comfortable shoes (it can be muddy)
- Take along a towel
- Be adventurous!
(Article first published in Buzzz Magazine)