June 10, 2013, Rio Grande, Jamaica
In the 1940s, Errol Flynn (swashbuckling Australian movie star) was sailing in the Caribbean when he was forced by a storm into Port Antonio, Jamaica. He fell in the love with the area, bought property, and built a home. Soon other celebrities were visiting and Jamaica had its first tourist boom.
Errol Flynn is credited with introducing rafting down the Rio Grande as a tourist activity. And it continues today; with very few changes from the original version.
This was no white-knuckle white-water trip. Rather is was one the most relaxing days of my life.
The rafting experience hasn’t changed much in the past 80 years. The rafts were originally built to transport bananas down the river. The story goes that at some point Errol Flynn jumped on a banana raft and asked the captain to take him down the river.
We got a taxi ride to the launch point up river where raft captains wait for passengers. (There is an organized system that determines whether a raft captain will be called. The captains show up, hang around, and hope for their number to be called. One of our captains said he had only made one trip in the last 10 days. Times are tough in the off-season.)
Because it is Jamaica, I was concerned that we would be hassled on our trip down the river. We met the beer and water vendor when we first started out but no one after that. To be polite, Tony bought some beer; we only had $10 and the vendor handed Tony a joint by way of change.
The day was made even more fun because three other yachties, Tom, Christian, and Ozzie from Astahaya joined us.
Pete and Gayle had a chatty captain and they learned lots of interesting things. Like how long it takes to become a raft captain. He started out with the job of taking the rafts back up the river, against the current. At first, it took him two days to get a raft back. Eventually, worked his way up to a raft of his own and now he pays others to take his raft upstream.
These are the rapids. Not scarey.
I ascribe part of the perfection of the day to our two wonderful swim stops. I would have felt terribly sedentary and lazy had we sat for the whole trip. However, we enjoyed two delightful swim stops. The first one was a bend in the river with a little whirlpool. It reminded me of a fairground ride — into the stream and then pushed around the loop, back to the starting position, over and over again. All five of us laughing were laughing like kids.
The scenery was spectacular, from beginning to end. I started out concerned that four hours would be too long a trip and concluded the trip wishing that it would never end.