In which two Canadian women and an Irish couple go off into the jungle to be yelled at by a German, drink with a Jamaican boss, and generally wander around in circles.

That is about as clear and accurate a description of a Sunday afternoon with the Hash House Harriers as I can conjure. Hashing is sometimes hiking, sometimes running (for those who like that sort of thing), and always more than either of those things. Apparently it’s very popular in former colonies – it does seem oddly European – and started in Singapore.

Here in Kingston, the Jamaican Hash House Harriers, or JAH3 as they call themselves, meet bi-weekly on Sundays. An experience hasher (the hare for the day) marks out a route, complete with route markings and some false trail starts in advance, someone else prepares a hot lunch, and 40-70 people of all ages and fitness levels have followed the posted driving directions to the trail’s start/end.

For me the invitation to get out of my house, out of the city, and – most importantly – out of my head for an afternoon was irresistible even though I was very concerned about being able to keep up, especially as it was yet again 32 degrees and +60% humidity.

I was so glad I went. The afore-mentioned Irish couple were people I sat beside at Thanksgiving Dinner and who are particular friends of my friend Erin. Like me, Sharon and Paul were up for their first hash, so at least I had company in that. And, I loved getting to know them a bit better. It was a bit of a drive to get to the location and a good thing that Paul drives an SUV. Jamaica has some great bits of highway, some less great bits of highway, and then some roads that could really use some work. Those roads, however, wound through the stunning countryside of rural St. Catherine’s, through sugar cane fields and orange orchards, to a lovely shaded flat spot along the Rio Magno.

I don’t know that I would particularly consider the 4 kilometres we covered a hike. Much of it was on a road, which did go uphill, but to me a hike is through bush, following a trail that may or may not die out. There was a bit of that – the tree canopy providing a welcome shade in the middle of a Jamaica afternoon – but likely less than half of the distance. If you’re interested, they do post the elevation and distance of the hike on the JAH3 website. I thought about Strava-ing the whole thing, then remembered that I don’t have data on my phone here.

There were definitely a couple of times, on the final roadside downhill for instance, where I thought a mountain bike would be a much preferable way to cover the area, but walking with friends was also pleasant. I was wearing new hikers which fit and felt really great. However, I don’t appear to have packed any socks so the friction on my feet was pretty considerable, and I was happy to have a relatively cool river pool to soak them in after the hike.

It seems the after-hike part of a hash is as important as the hike itself. There’s the hot lunch you can opt to buy, but even if you choose not to have the full meal there is always soup, Red Stripe and Ting. Of those three, only Ting is an option for me (of course soup could be an option and we were told it had no wheat in it, but then Erin had a spoonful and discovered pasta just in time to warn me off), and I was soon on my way to a sugar high because of the hash circle.

Once everyone has eaten, a very yell-y very German man bellows “HASH CIRCLE” and everyone comes stand around. All the first-timers are called into the centre and interviewed with an eye towards getting them to say something that could be taken as innuendo or otherwise induce a laugh. After they’ve all said their bit, they get sung in while chugging a beer. Only of course I had Ting, so I had to chug fizzy grapefruit soda. That’s hard chugging. And then the punishments begin.

The punishments are also designed to embarrass the “guilty” party, who are likewise punished with chugging a drink while the circle sings. I’ll give you an example: as it happens, the Chairman of the charity I am here working with is an avid Hasher. I recognized him when I first saw him, but when I said “hi” he glanced at me and walked away. I figured he didn’t recognize me out of context, so when we both ended up at the cooler at the same time I said “hi” again.

To our later chagrin, the score-keeper was in earshot when the Chair apologized profusely for not having recognized me to begin with, to which I replied “oh, you probably just didn’t recognize me out of my office clothes.” Of course, that’s not quite funny enough for the Hash Circle. It inevitably got turned around to Mr. Owen having said “I didn’t recognise you with your clothes on.” More singing. More Ting. I wasn’t about to finish the whole bottle though, and the punishment for that is supposed to be to finish it by dumping it on your head. Oops – I guess I have bad aim as it all landed behind me. 😉

I really enjoyed the open atmosphere of the Hash – there were kids as small as about 4 there, and a man who walked with a cane. Although originally mostly expats it is now a group with a nice diversity. They are loud but well-meaning and clearly have a lot of fun. They were welcoming, if not quite friendly. I don’t know that I’ll do every hash in the next three months, but I’ll definitely try to get out monthly. Of course, that depends on having someone to tag a ride with.

There was one interesting development as lunch and the circle were winding down. As I mentioned, the start and end point were by a lovely pool on the Rio Magno. It’s a rural area, but still inhabited. As the afternoon wore on, a few women and children started to quietly take over the pool area. At first they were just swimming, but soon enough it became apparent that Sunday is bath day, and we were in their communal bath room. I was surprised by the women scrubbing her feet with a pumice stone until I noticed the woman behind her was naked except for soap suds. Even funnier was the line of men at the top of the hill – apparently Sunday afternoon is also peep-show day.

I expected to get a lot of great photos, but when you’re walking in a group AND walking through a jungle, there’s not a lot to see besides people and jungle. Maybe this weekend while I’m in Port Antonio I’ll get more of the sweeping mountain-top vista type images.

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