Saturday, February 1, 2014

Cruisin’ The Rio Grande

Posted by Alexander.  Written Jan.26, 2014

Yesterday morning, when the rain started to slow down and the sky cleared up, we had a taxi-van come and pick us up at the marina.  He drove us high up into the surrounding mountains, along a tiny, winding mountain road through the green jungle.  Eventually, we got to our destination.  The mighty Rio Grande!

Jamaican taxi through the mountains.
After we paid for our tickets and were given lifejackets (which we ended up using as backrests), we stepped onto the long bamboo rafts and sat on the benches. Christopher, Katie and Dad were on one and Mom and I were on the other.

Sunscreening before our river adventure.
The raft captains prodded the bottom and coaxed us gently down the river. Mom started talking with our captain who’s name we learned was Neville. He told us that there were 110 captains in a rotation to bring people down the river and sometimes he only got to bring people down once every two weeks!  The guides all build their own rafts from bamboo, which they buy from the land owners.  The rafts cost between $50.00 to $100.00 (American) to build, which doesn’t sound like much, but I think it is a lot to the average Jamaican.

Relaxing on the rafts.  Jasper is the snappy dressed captain on the left, and Neville is on the right.
Floating serenely on a low tech boat.
As we talked we rode over little sections of rapids but mostly the river was calm. Mom and I both agreed it was the most relaxed we had been in ages. Dad and my siblings rode along right next to us and talked to their captain, Jasper. Dad asked if we could try poling the raft and they said that there was a good spot further down the river.

Rapids!  This was about as rough as it got.
The river was brown because of the rains earlier that morning. I reached down to find it was quite chilly. The green mountains around us were full of jungle trees and vines. I asked if there were monkeys in Jamaica because if I were a monkey I would want to be there. Sadly no there were no monkeys. Sad smile I also checked to see if there were crocodiles but Neville said that the Crocs were in church. Whatever that means. The captains told us that they liked it best when they had Canadians and Americans on their rafts. Basically they liked it when their riders could understand them.  Which is interesting, because the truth is we can barely understand the Jamaican “patois”, even when they are doing their best to speak to us.  When they are speaking to each other, they might as well be speaking a foreign language.  One phrase Jasper taught us, that we like, is “Howmuchaclock?”  Which is a Jamaican way to say “What time is it?”

A little power poling to keep us off the rocks (tilt-shift picture).
About halfway down the river we stopped at a little hut with a cooler on a beach. They offered us food but we had come prepared. We feasted on oranges and chips so we didn’t need to worry about hut food. Dad, Katie, Christopher and I decided it would be an awesome idea to go for a swim. We walked out into the river. It wasn’t very deep but the current was strong. We could see some vines hanging down in the river so we went above them and then swam over and rode the current towards the vines. Dad got a hold of some and I grabbed onto him and then grabbed onto another vine close by. Christopher’s vine snapped so he had to swim back to shore. Dad and I were doing okay until our vines broke too. Then we made the difficult swim back to shore against the current. There were vultures in the sky and we thought maybe they expected us to become food.

Riverside restaurant.  Fortunately, we had brought our own food.
Fighting the current in the brown river.  According to our captains, usually it is clear, but with all the rain lately, the run off has filled it with silt.
Later down the river as we came on a slow spot Neville and Jasper said Christopher and I could paddle. After a couple tries I think I got the hang of it and it was actually pretty fun. Christopher and I had a bit of a raft race and eventually Neville and Jasper took over again. We came out at a bay and stopped by a beach and that was it. It was one of the most fun thing I have done on this trip so if anyone reading this is in Jamaica go for it. And ask for Neville or Jasper – they were pretty good guides.  Actually, they asked us to write that, since they get to jump the rotation and take an extra trip if they get requested personally.  But really, they were pretty good, and I can recommend them both.

Contemplating my career as a raft captain.
Christopher racing me. 

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