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Cruising – Jamaica, Part 1 Martha Brae River Rafting
Jamaica is one of our favourite islands in the Caribbean, perhaps because it was one of the islands we visited on our very first cruise with the children, so it has a certain magic about it. Although we love Florida, and Orlando in particular, we enjoy visiting the many islands of the Caribbean after a hectic time spent in our lovely home, making sure it is in tip top condition for our guests, as well as visiting the parks. Jamaica is home to coffee, Blue Mountains, rum, cricket, Bob Marley, Rastafarians, Ian Fleming of James Bond fame, and Desmond Dekker, amongst other people.
We arrived early in the morning at Ocho Rios, and seeing the wonderful mountains and the verdant tropical vegetation as we sailed, ever closer, was an exciting moment. Indeed, it was actually our first Caribbean island, as the other two ports were Cozumel and Key West, so we were anxious to see what we could of this friendly island. Since then we have returned on several occasions and each time we have loved being back. There are numerous tours offered by the cruise ships around this beautiful island, but one of our favourites is the Martha Brae River Rafting Tour, which is located about 40 miles from Ocho Rios.
Although we had previously visited the Martha Brae River with our children and taken a leisurely and relaxing raft trip down this beautiful and idyllic river, we decided to do the same on our last visit, but this time it would be just the two of us. This is a trip I can thoroughly recommend as one of the highlights is that, being an hour and a half coach trip each way, you get to see a lot more of the countryside than many other trips. They have recently built a new road which much improves the journey, but be prepared for a pretty basic and well worn vehicle to take you there.
We arrived in Ocho Rios to find the mountains shrouded in mist and torrential rain pelting down. Not to be deterred, we made our way off the ship and joined the rest of the people eagerly anticipating their river rafting trip. We sheltered under a tarpaulin which had been hastily erected to offer some sort of shelter, but the rivers of rain trickled round our feet as we stood waiting for our coach to arrive. However, it was warm, and the forecast was for sun later, so we didn’t mind too much that our feet were getting waterlogged.
The coach eventually arrived – that is one thing you must get used to in the Caribbean. It is a relaxed and philosophical society in which tomorrow will do – though in our case, we would not be there! So it was with some relief that we followed our guide to the parked coach, which was quite small and pretty battered. The seats were rock hard, and the vehicle noisy and erratic. We soon realised that the driver had some difficulties as he had to coast down the hills and literally floor it to get the coach up the inclines. We wondered if the brakes were fully operational, and we overheard conversations between the driver and our guide which, despite being in pigeon English, gave us the impression that the vehicle was hanging by a thread! Still, we settled down in our seats and the driver set off.
Although we had not been for a couple of years, little seemed to have changed, and parts of the countryside were still as poverty striken as we remembered previously. There were new and modern hotel complexes being built and some older hotels being renovated, and we passed a new housing estate which our guide told us contained houses owned by many rich Jamaicans – often rich as the result of drugs or some other illegal operation. All along the coastal route we caught glimpses of the brilliant blue Caribbean Sea, and as the rain began to stop and the sun came out it lifted our spirits, as we turned inland through the dense exotic mountain forests of the hinterland.
The miles seemed to fly past, and we were lucky enough to see the ‘real’ Jamaica. We could hardly contain our excitement at the prospect of a gentle river raft down the Martha Brae.
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