7 important safety tips & good info for when hiking the Jungles of Jamaica

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I didn’t really know what to expect when I was told we would be hiking up waterfalls and through the jungles in Jamaica. I guess I didn’t realize how thick the vegetation could be in Jamaica, or how slippery. So here are some tips that I wish I would have known before going, and other tid bits of fun I’m sure you are going to enjoy. 1- It’s very humid, this should be a ‘duh’ moment for me, your on an Island in the Caribbean….of course it is going to be humid. But when your base is in a desert you forget you have to prepare for this kind of environment. Be sure you drink water or have a beverage that has electrolytes in it. You tend to lose quite a bit of salt when you sweat. DSCN1246 2- Have moisture wicking clothing on you, with a swimming suit underneath, and some water shoes. I love my Keen shoes, the real ones, not the knock offs, one because they can go in the water & don’t give me blisters when I get out; two they have good air circulation which is nice when you aren’t wearing socks; three they have a rubber toe on them that protects you when you are clumsy like me and tend to stub your toes on every rock and branch in your path. Only draw back to this was that because there are open areas on the shoe, I finished the hike and found a tick embedded in my left foot. Our guide, who is from New York originally, had alcohol with her, and was able to remove it. She said that because they are on a more of an isolated Island, that the ticks don’t typically carry disease like they do in the States.

Lyme disease is typically associated with White tailed  deer, and other animals that typically do not reside in Jamaica, so the incidence is much less common. From one Medical Research article that I found, it appears that those who claim to have positive results for Lyme Disease, were actually false positives due to other cross reactive parasites that are found in Jamaica such as : Treponema pallidum which is typically given via Sexual Contact, and can pass to the fetus (baby).

article found here: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7855925

3- If you have balance issues, I would suggest bringing some hiking poles. Hiking poles typically cost $16-$60,  depending on how much of an avid hiker you are. I typically place these in my check on luggage as the pointy ends found on many hiking poles, may be considered a safety hazard on most planes. I can usually fit them in after my suitcase is all packed and I place them at an angle.

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4- Don’t be afraid to try the food picked up off the side of the trail. I drank water from the river when my guide said it was ok, I tried the Turmeric plant he pulled up off the side of the trail, I ate 2 seeds from a Cocao plant we stopped at along the side of the road, drank the water of a raw coconut, and chewed on a freshly picked sugar cane stick. All of it was delicious, and I didn’t get sick once.

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5-  The trails in the jungles of Jamaica are sometimes very difficult to find, and if you don’t know which way you are headed, it is easy to get lost. I am pretty good about following an established trail in and out, but the soil is so rich and the weather is optimum for plant growth; so the trails have plants that grow over them quickly, large Palm leaves that have fallen cover the trail making it almost impossible to know where to go unless you are a local. The good thing is that guides there are pretty reasonably priced, just make sure you arrange one prior to arriving to make good use of your time there. If you would like the guide that I used while there please email me at: gypsysouladventure@gmail.com & I can provide you with her information.

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6- There are 5 species of snakes on the island & none of them are poisonous, One that is the protected Yellow Boa. there is no need to fear this creature as it typically goes after the smaller animals, and typically goes out at night to hunt. It can grow up to 6.5 feet long, so likely if you see it, you aren’t going to miss the yellow monstrosity.  The other 4 include the Jamaican Blind Snake eats small insects, Thunder snakes that feed on small vertebrates, the Black racer that feeds on frogs, lizards and birds and is reportedly RARELY seen, and then Garden snakes and hunt fish, frogs and lizards. So really no snakes to really be worried about.

7-  Make sure you wear good Mosquito repellent as there are some things that can be transmitted through mosquito bites there. ie/ Zika is a concern there according to the CDC, and a case of local transmission of Chikungunya Virus (sx: fever/joint pain/rash).

For other health information recommended by the CDC before visiting Jamaica head here: https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/destinations/traveler/none/jamaica

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5 Hidden Gems of Jamaica

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Mayfield Falls

Just hiking up to these falls is amazing! You see, you actually have to hike, swim and climb up this river, with these little pools– that actually aren’t so little. You typically have a guide that you pay around $20 for near the entrance (which takes about an hour to drive to); and then at the entrance you have some great souvenirs & a place to change your clothes, some makeshift lockers (I recommend putting valuables in the car you came in, locked nice and tight). Make sure to bring some good water shoes, because the rocks can be a little bit slick. Our guide randomly would hike ahead of us, and surprise us by jumping into the hidden pools in front of us. It was so crazy! you are up to your ankles in water, and here he is jumping from trees 20 feet above you, and you think, “OMG! HE IS CRAZY AND IS GOING TO DIE!” But then he magically would disappear in these pools a few feet in front of us, and pop his head out grinning from ear to ear. He did this about 14 times with us, and it wasn’t until about the 10th time I actually started to join him. So If you have a chance to visit Mayfield falls, I highly suggest doing it!

H’evan Scent Zip

This Zipline is in Saint Ann’s Bay, and actually not only does it strap you in, you also have an option to go together whilst sitting on swing set seating. It takes you soaring past different areas of the Jungle, gives you REAL coconut water freshly picked from a coconut & has different options as far as Ziplines you can try. The best part is, its not as crowded as some of the other Zip-line areas throughout Jamaica, which is what I LOVE — I’m not one to be ‘a part of the herd’- so this is a perfect option.

Secret Falls

We didn’t end up having time to go to these falls because they were on the side of Ocho Rios & we had too much fun hiking through the Jungle, but this is one of the Falls our guide actually recommended. Who also happened to be from New York & had lived in Jamaica for over 25 years.

Rasta Highlands

I never thought I would be hiking through a REAL JUNGLE! It was really hot & humid, but I didn’t even care because of how amazing it was to see the abundance of natural resources in this place. From an outsider’s perspective you would think, ‘wow look at how terrible their living situation is’ but when you see how many resources they have, literally at their fingertips’ — that’s when I started to think that maybe we, in the developed countries, are the ones that are ‘poor’. For this journey, I would recommend a guide, as the underbrush requires you to use a machete, and those are not exactly good things to pack on an airplane, lol. Plus as you can see with the picture on the right, most of the trails are covered in thick discards of the vegetation; please note that this vegetation can get very thick & slippery due to the humidity– especially going down a hill. So this is another great reason to have a guide. We were also told that there are areas that you do not want to venture, that Marijuana is grown, and their Marijuana farm owners can get very protective and want to start a fight if you cross into their land, or try and pick their products without asking.

The Blue Mountains

The hike to get here I would say is easy to Moderate, but well worth the view and close to the Montego Bay and Mayfield Falls area. Very serene & quite, I loved our guide and how she gave us the history of Slavery in Jamaica and the different plants that were introduced there when Columbus came & all the spices that were available there naturally.

Contact Carolyn Barrett Adventures in Jamaica that for the hike up Mayfield Falls, through the Rasta Highlands, seeing the Blue Mountains and meeting locals and how they live their daily lives would only cost around $170 per person. This was WELL worth the money for this, especially since we were on a time constraint with our Cruise ship. She also offers snorkeling & scuba diving sites, as well as yacht trips around Jamaica and the different surrounding islands– as she has lived on many of them for throughout her life. Enjoy the Top 5 Hidden Gems of Jamaica and get the real Jungle adventure, I promise you won’t regret it!

The Sin City of Morocco…Marrakech

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I was quite surprised when I arrived in Marrakech Morocco, how modern it looked, and that it actually had nightclubs, casinos, and bars. The buildings reminded me of those you find in New Mexico in the United States. The flat-topped roofs and all the buildings were a Clay Red color adorned with embrasures that are distinctly Moroccan with a touch of Moorish influence on them.

The Climate of Marrakech

The air here is warm and dry, but I could see that the people knew how to dress for the weather when it gets extremely hot here. In the winter months (Nov-Feb) Average Highs are 73F (23C)-68F (20C), for the Summer months (March-October) it can range anywhere from 110F (39C)-to a cooler 77F (25C); so the best times to visit are really in March, April and October — if you are like me and have a hard time in the hotter weather. The humidity is not as bad here as it is in Rabat or the coastal cities, so expect it to be more of a drier climate. Nights can be relatively cool, but never reaching below 42F, and rarely going above 70F. For this reason, this is a city that is much livelier at night and sleeps in til around 11am. If you are an early riser, I suggest you grab something to snack on for breakfast, unless you are ok with having brunch. Marrakech street view

Where to Stay in Marrakech

I stayed in an apartment on Geliz street, a main thoroughfare of Marrakech. It had nice furnishings, a great AC, hot shower, washer, and a refrigerator with a working flat screen TV. There are other apartments & guest houses on this street that are a great location, typically have security at the door for you to check in with & prevent anyone who shouldn’t be coming to see you from even entering the building. I mistakenly went to the wrong elevators, and before the doors even opened, the security guard led me to the correct elevators. It was nice to know that they were actually just doing their job, and not watching television while on duty. The apartment was quiet (for a city apartment). Just realize the construction in Morocco doesn’t use insulation like America does so you will hear the chairs above you, or doors closing in the hallway — but conversations not as much, only if the people above you are talking quite loud. Most of the buildings are cement. This helps cut costs for cooling and such as most of the nights are cool and it helps retain that coolness throughout the day. If you are looking to stay at a fancier hotel (note: I am not sponsored to say this) – this one is a great location, with super nice and traditional Moroccan Décor. Typically you cannot enter places like this unless you are either a hotel guest or have a reservation. We just politely asked the security guards and they let us in to take a look around & encouraged the photos 🙂 The best way to find these guest houses is either through booking.com or Avito. If you have a local guide with you, they will likely have a friend or two that has a guest house you could use, that you will likely get a great deal on as well. Most areas in Marrakech are safe if you stay near the busier parts of town. Asking a local is always a good idea when traveling overseas. (Find out more about other Safe Countries in Africa) Breakfast, as I mentioned is taken late in the evening. Most people sit out on the patio, and I would say about 1/2 of them typically smoke. There is not etiquette here like in the States regarding second-hand smoke, so don’t be offended or give dirty looks if someone next to you is smoking like chimney, I don’t think the effects of second-hand smoke is widely discussed in the population in Morocco. Just ask to move to another table upwind 🙂 Eggs are great here, and Moroccan “bacon” is actually shredded beef (and it’s delicious). Olives are common pre-meal ‘appetite openers’, and given that I am not much of an olive fan, I became an olive fan here. The black ones are the best, with a little bit of the cheese on it. I don’t really know what most of the food I ate here was, I only know that 99% of it was fantastic & so delicious I want to go back just to have seconds 😉 If you have any allergies to particular foods or aversions to particular foods, make sure you write them down on a pad of paper in either Arabic or French (if you can’t write Arabic, then take a screenshot and have it on hand when ordering). For example, I would just show them the photo for Paviron Rouge (Red Peppers), and then say La, and grab my stomach and make a very pained face. This got the message across, and I never had a problem. If I tried to say it, it never got the message across. But for those Moroccans who do speak French, most of them know what Allergia (Allergy) means.

Things to do near Marrakech

High atlas with building I was able to visit the Atlas Mountains while in Marrakech, and they are much taller than I imagined, we were there when it was slightly cloudy, so it was difficult to get a decent picture of them. But they are well worth the visit, as there are cafe’s where you can literally sit in the middle of a river and drink the classic Moroccan Mint Tea from a Berber. I also was able to have an interview with a Berber man in the mountains, check out that interview on our YouTube channel “Gypsy Soul Adventure”, where I was able to be humbled by this man who was attempting to provide for TWO families, was an Imam to his city (a Muslim religious leader in the community), and was so happy and kind and tried to give me a necklace for free for buying 3 of them. Berber Man with necklaces in High Atlas I couldn’t take the free necklace, but those necklaces are now the most prized possession I have with me from that trip (along with my sandals that I will tell you about later)– mostly because of the story behind the person I received it from. I realize I take WAY too much for granted in my life, and need to be more grateful for everything I do have. Its easy to fall into the trap of ‘need, need, need’  and/or ‘want, want, want’. There are so many people who are happy in this world just literally by being able to put food in their children’s mouths or give everything they have and are just to be able to send them to school. Next, we went to the Menara Gardens and Pavillion, we visited these on our way out to the Atlas Mountains. There are fish there that are fun to feed, and men playing gimbris. It doesn’t have the pizzaz that other places inside Marrakech do, but if you think about how amazing it is that someone built this place in the 12th century, explore the nooks and crannies of the building, and realize that this was a place of gathering, reflection, and a place to get away from the busy city rhythm, then I think you may appreciate just how incredible it is that something built so long ago is still standing today. In addition to that, the Olive Trees surrounding this place is actually cultivated and olives gleaned and given to the poorer areas of the region for the people to have a source of income. If you go there and expect to see a lush garden with lots of photo ‘ops’ then this is probably not the place for you. But if you go realizing that this was actually built by the Sultan in the early Saadi dynasty; who increased his power by controlling a water source & did I mention it was built in the 12th Century! Then you may appreciate this place of reflection and peace. Make sure to go in the morning, as this can get quite hot here. Plus it’s free to get in here 🙂 olive grove at thinking pool We attempted to get into Jardin Marjorelle, but the line was literally around the block, it’s not free, and it was starting to get really warm and we had to drive to Essaouira so I nixed that plan and decided to head to Essaouira. Some may be shocked I didn’t take the opportunity to do this, but you have to understand, I’m not a ‘crowd’ or super touristy area kind of person, I like the places where the local people go. I like to get to know what makes the people in a particular city peaceful, and how they live their life. I’m not really into posing or getting that perfect Instagram photo that takes 20 minutes out of your day, but I could talk to a stranger in a strange land (at least strange to me) for hours about their story, and how they approach their problems that life throws at them etc….etc…. But for those of you who like to see these places, then I would suggest the Jardin Majorelle, Bahia Palace as well as the Ben Youssef Madrasa. These are beautiful places that command a certain amount of respect with any photo you take. I did go to Jamaa el-fna, or the famous Medina in Marrakech whose vibe changes from day to night and so do the shops. El-fna actually means (to some) Armeggedon, or the Assembly of the dead, or Mosque at the End of the World. It has a lot of different meanings and has been used for many different things throughout the centuries. In 1050 AD it was actually used for public executions, then it was renovated along with much of the city after the Almohads took over in 1147 AD, and after many rises and falls was eventually turned into a thriving market that both local and tourists visit. Spices shop During the day you can find orange juice stalls, Leather, Barbary apes you can hold, snake charmers (yes really, and just like you see in the movies), the shops are all open, the smell of spices and dates and olives fill the air. This particular spice shop featured above actually had a traditional sinus cleansing ‘spice’ that was placed in a small cup of hot water, and I’m telling you, I was still smelling that stuff about 20 minutes later. I figure it must be what they use in smelling salts because it was pretty potent. I don’t know what the name of it was, but it actually looked like small clear white crystals, that when placed in hot water puts out an even more potent smell. I found it fascinating that most of the people in Morocco actually found Americans to be overmedicated, they feel that the pharmacy industry was actually making people in America sicker than helping them heal. So places like this spice shop, actually double as a sort of apothecary that gives locals traditional ways of healing common ailments. Very interesting to me, as I work in the medical field; and yet I disagreed with this thought as well, as one of my traveling companions shared that his brother actually passed away from an Asthma attack. Something that would have been so simple to remedy, if they had the appropriate medicine. It made me sad that there wasn’t more public knowledge about simple medications like this. Medina at night Then as the sun sets, the shops close, and the traditional dancing Berber men with their twirling hats come in, Moroccan lanterns are lit with tiny candles, the smell of meat fills the air with smoke wafting above the square and can make you salivate to partake of it even if you are still a mile from the square. Medina at night 1 There is also an abundant flowing of Moroccan Mint tea of course, the best way to enjoy the square is on a Café Terrace overlooking the square. This way you are not hounded by the dancing Berber men wanting to put a hat on your head and take a photo for $2-$3. Minaret at night If you take a photo or get excited about a particular item you wish to purchase, it will likely cost you money in this place. As opposed to during the day, where locals come to buy supplies at the Souk’s (traditional North African Market) where bartering is expected & the craftsman that makes the traditional souvenirs will likely cost you much less if you go directly to them. Indoor Souk Where do you find the craftsmen? They are usually along the side alleys, that you may have to duck around some of the souvenirs that the shop owners use to hide the view of these side streets. They are so kind, and so helpful and really would do anything to help you out, BUT most of the time they don’t speak English, so if you have a guide with you, they can help translate for you, and it makes it totally worth it. I had some sandals custom made for me for $15 & I loved every second of it. It really made me feel so special that someone would go to that length and take such pride in making me something like that, just because it would feel better to walk in, with my bad feet. I can’t tell you how much that touched my heart. boy making sandals This little guy really touched my heart so much. Just the look on his face, the innocence and being able to catch that unguarded moment, where he just is enjoying being with his brothers. His brothers, who had been doing this for the last 17 years, told me that the shop belonged to their father, and this father before him. And it is a huge traditional thing to actually, as the Moroccan say, “follow in the footsteps of your father”, where typically these shops are handed down for generations at a time, or given to close family members to run the business and carry-on. Marrakech street view at night Overall, I found Marrakech very fancy, very modern & full of interesting stories and history. Because it is a tourist hub for both the world and Morocco, I was ready to leave after about 3 days; but definitely would love to go back for a visit, if only to participate more in the festivities of Jamaa el-fna; and would likely spend a few days camping up with the Berber people in the High Atlas Mountains as they are able to tell you the stories of their ancestors who have been there since the beginning of time.
If you enjoyed this article, you may also enjoy: BEFORE You Hike to Akchour Waterfalls in Morocco, You Need To Know This…. The Sapphire of Morocco, Chefchaouen ]]>