Thứ Sáu, 20 tháng 7, 2012

Rafting on the Martha Brae in Jamaica

In a land of jungle and caves washed by the Caribbean Sea along Jamaica's northern coast, are the resorts for which this country is justly famous. To name a few: Half Moon in Montego Bay, the Grand Lido in Negril, and Breezes, a short drive from Ocho Rios; all pockets of heaven on a paradise shore.

As tempting as it was to laze on the beach in the shade of almond trees and sea grapes, we, a group of seven, chose to step out beyond the luxury of the resorts to explore the natural beauty of one of the Caribbean's most fascinating islands.

Royal Poinciana

Travelling a winding road through wild Mango, Breadfruit and Banana groves, Royal Poincianas sprinkled with flame-coloured flowers showered us with petals as we drove by. Alongside us like a giant serpent, the waters of the Martha Brae River, brown and burdened with silt after recent rains in the mountains, wound a circuitous route through dense vegetation.

At Rafter's Village we sipped rum punch, a deliciously cold tipple on a day with soaring humidity. Buoyed by the alcoholic refreshment, we proceeded merrily - through wild ginger and hanging lobster claw bushes to a rickety boarding point for a cruise with a difference.

Clambering aboard a 10-metre long raft fashioned from bamboo, Nicole Boulanger and I settled on a seat for two on a raised platform. Our craft was a Jamaican style gondola; our 'gondolier', a cheery Captain Sewell positioned on the front of the raft wielding a 4-metre long pole. Way back in the days of sugar plantations these same rafts were used for transporting sugar to the merchant ships at the mouth of the Martha Brae in Falmouth.

Dressed in a floppy shirt and shorts, with a gap-toothed grin, our gallant man Sewell was a fund of wisdom about Jamaican folklore, life, love and the environment.

He related the story of brave Martha, an Arawak Indian for whom the river was named. In a quest for treasure, the invading Spanish Conquistadors had cornered Martha in her cave on a nearby mountainside. When she refused to reveal the whereabouts of a legendary gold mine, the Conquistadors tortured her. With her supernatural powers Martha conjured up an earthquake that brought about the drowning of herself and the soldiers in the very river upon which we now rafted.

Sensing my interest in the environment, Sewell pulled over to the river bank. “See that little plant, touch it and something strange will happen”. I did, and its delicate leaves folded immediately. “It's a sensitive plant” claimed Sewell. “We call it ‘Shy Lady’”.

Puzzled about the black birds hovering overhead, Sewell explained. “They’re turkey buzzards. Our name for them is Jancrow” Later when reading Jamaica's No. 1 Bestseller “How to Speak Jamaican”, I discovered that the birds are named for the Revd. John Crow who, when preaching, leaned on his pulpit in a black gown, - 'like a Jancrow drying his wings in the morning'.

A loud creaking in a thicket of bamboo brought another snippet of enlightenment. “Hear that bamboo swaying in the wind. They grow up to three inches in 24 hours.”

Photos copyright Anne Gordon

Posted on Friday July 20th, 2012

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