A Jamaica Shore Excursion

Reading Time: 7 minutes

Well, Jamaica changed me, at least it did with the people that I was able to encounter there. I am not one who likes to follow the herd. I wanted a unique and private Jamaica Shore Excursion where Patricia (my cruise mate) and I could bond, enjoy nature and take lots of cool pictures

Booking Our Jamaica Shore Excursion

We met up with Carolyn, from Barrett Adventures, and her tagline “off the beaten path” was literally like I found a kindred spirit a half a world away! I LOVED Jamaica, her, and the adventures she had in store for us. So I talked with Patricia who was very hesitant in doing anything that did not involve the overly priced shore excursion, with 80 other people photo bombing you throughout your expensive trip.

Through my negotiating powers, and begging and pleading, she agreed to do go with Barrett Adventures; but said I would be held personally responsible by her husband if anything should happen to her. She said she was only half joking (insert large gulp). Well we got to Jamaica, Carolyn was there waiting for us with a sign, and she quickly whisked us away from the main town center ahead of the crowd. We started winding up the hills, were taken through the small beach side towns, and would stop frequently to show us the different plants that were so abundant on the island for anyone to eat.

Jungles in Jamaica

I had no idea how much Cocoa plants look like acorn squash! Not only that but how tough the skin is to cut through, the sticky outer shell that has an incredibly slimy texture, but is so sweet you think you just ate a piece of candy, and then the slightly powdery bitter center that is the chocolate bean itself.

It was the part she said next that really got me, “now you see how it has that bitter taste? Think of how much sugar they are actually putting inside chocolate to make it taste so sweet. Something to think about”.

Travel Tip: Here is a guide everything you need to know about Jamaican Food

We continued on our journey, Carolyn told us about how she ended up in Jamaica. She was actually one of the only female divers that were able to be accepted into a diving school. When she told her parents, they nearly disowned her and chained her to her bed. But Carolyn’s adventurous and strong-willed nature propelled her to what she calls her life today. She left the East Coast, with all its stuffy over cramped buildings and headed to the ocean, where she was this young woman who was keeping company with…. well….. roughens of her time. Guys who were likely just let out of jail and a diving job is what they could get. She put up a good fight, learned how to swear like a sailor, sail like the best of them, got her own boat and toured around the islands of the Caribbean. She actually met her husband in Jamaica, as a chance meeting. He was so enamored with her that he came to the place where she was staying, knocked on the door and pronounced, “I would like to marry you, and I’m not leaving until you say yes”. Well, he stayed out there for about a week or so, and Carolyn decided that if he was that determined, why not. So they got hitched an started up, ‘Barrett Adventures’, which is now one of the top rated tours on Trip advisor.

We came to Mayfield Falls entrance, walked down the slippery entrance, while the locals were just walking down barefoot and fancy free— literally — yes this did include exuberant singing and conversations with all the strangers who were walking along the same path. One such fellow decided to befriend me, can’t think of his name at the moment because I was kind of crushing on him a little bit. So sue me, I have a thing for foreign guys, something about the accent makes me want to swoon……lest I digress.

He ended up being our guide, and was so fun! He would help us over the harder spots when we were hiking up the river, then sneak ahead and jump out right in front. Having worked at the Trauma 2 Hospital at night, I pictured one of the more terrible cases I had helped with & I was going to watch it happen right before me into this shallow riverbed. Well like all magic tricks, and to my shock…wonder….awe….there was no mangled body, he just disappeared below the water & came up smiling like a little kid at our shocked faces. At one point I even joined him, as afraid of heights as I am, I climbed up a very precariously built ladder onto a tree that had been cut in half as my landing pad. Patricia was yelling, “BE CAREFUL!” and then, “JUST DO IT!” while laughing the whole time. I was hyperventilating because I’m so scared of heights, well of what happens after you fall, as I have seen the worst of the worse in my day— but I did it. The feeling of being weightless for about 10 seconds, everyone holds their breath…hoping you jumped out far enough not to who everyone what the inside of your skull looks, then the rush of the water as it swallows your toes then legs then shoulders like a very hungry boa constrictor; only to emerge victorious & giddy with Adrenaline. Ahhhhh… I love the Adrenaline rush, and it is kind of like you won the talent show, as everyone claps & laughs. Bonding……isn’t it great. Well, on with our show, our guide showed us all the hidden caves where you could swim under the water and come up breath for a few & swim up river again.

Where are the pictures you ask of this amazing adventure? In a cruel twist of fate, my camera battery died about 20 minutes into the trip! Yes, you can all groan and cry a little for me…. I was devastated! How would everyone know how much fun I had?!?! Well, as they say, the show must go on— and I dare say, I enjoyed my time so much more than I possibly would have if I would have had that camera in proper working order. I actually looked around me, smelled the things around me, laughed a little more, stressed a little less about how I looked & who would notice my rolls and cottage cheese on my legs. Who cares! I think this is when I really started to appreciate that I had a body that was working, I could do the hiking, I could keep up (relatively well, lol) — and my memories and being able to connect with the people I was traveling with actually is what made it all so worth it. We got to Mayfield Falls & we were the only ones there, it was so BEAUTIFUL with 4 cascading waterfalls one after the other, gurgling, swirling and spinning like a dance under the bamboo canopy of the Jamaican Jungle with 4 unlikely people enjoying God’s green earth & this hidden gem, off the beaten path.

In order to keep schedule and not be stranded in Jamaica without our passports we quickly moved on to the hike through villages and the Jungle. This is where we met Harry, the mysterious man with the unspoken rough past, standing there in his tank top, phanny pack, shorts that were far to big for him & emblazoned with (what should be the countries official plant) Marijuana leaf. I was a little nervous at first seeing him, but as soon as he started speaking, I relaxed and his jovial infectious nature & positive vibes just had us all laughing and really enjoying our time.

He took us through the Jungle and pointed out all the plants. There was one plant that when Slavery was a still present was planted around fields — it has a special characteristic to it. That if you touch it, it will close its leaves rapidly for about 20 minutes & all that is required is a light touch. This way if the slaves tried to run, the ‘owners’ could catch them and know exactly where they had run to.  When I saw this, suddenly I became quiet and wanted to cry, its like the earth of this place testified of what he was saying, and its almost like I could feel a glimmer of how trapped these people had felt…..and for so long. The cruelty that humans are capable of, against their own species……it makes the strongest of us cry. People may think this sort of thing doesn’t happen today, or are just blind to it, just like they were in that time period, excusing it as a, “oh it’s just how the world works right now” — but thank God above for those who had the courage to stop the atrocities that happened on this beautiful island.

Next we literally bushwhacked our way through the thick vines, overhang, wet a slipping and a sliding over the humidity coated palm and banana leaves. Through a village, where Harry secretly showed us some Marijuana plants; how they grow etc….. Being a Physician Assistant, I have never actually tried the stuff, and care too much about my license to try it for recreational purposes; but again, was amazed at how humans fight over this small unique leafed plant that is only about 12 inches tall. I was beginning to feel the weight of how humanity is so backwards.

There is abundance in Jamaica, someone from the States may come to Jamaica and think, “look how poor they are with their tin roofs collecting the unsanitary water from the rain. Look at the terrible life they have”; but in reality….the people here have more opportunity and communal community than anything I have experienced within the USA. We may be the greatest nation in military and monetary value, but sometimes I feel we traded that for things that have far greater importance….I will let you think of your own opinion on what those things missing in the States could be.

In the end, this trip humbled me in ways that were very surprising…. I realized how selfish I was, how much beauty and quality of life is really in the eye of the beholder, how much the media contributes to skewed images of what the ‘perfect’ life is because of how lucrative commercialism is. I know some may disagree with me, but living a life of luxury and showing off my amazing trips became less important to me. The stories of the people I meet, their lives, their hopes, their fears and what drives them to get up everyday are the things that I vowed I would cherish the most from this trip.

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

Reading Time: 4 minutes
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.

                                            IMG_5482

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.

[gallery ids="1752,1750,1729,1730,1731,1722" type="rectangular"]

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.

                           IMG_5391

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

]]>

5 Hidden Gems of Jamaica

Reading Time: 3 minutes

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!