Travel Weekly associate editor Margaret Myre and her husband
Bill, cruising on Carnival's Inspiration, chose the Mountain Valley
Rafting Tour as their shore excursion in Jamaica. Her report
MONTEGO BAY, Jamaica -- He plucked a flower from a tree, and I
put it in my hair.
He was Floyd, our poler and guide on Jamaica's Great River, site
of one of two bamboo rafting trips offered at this port of call to
passengers on Carnival's Inspiration.
Floyd, articulate and genial and not more than 20 years old, has
Like all young people of Jamaica, he finished high school.
That's the law here.
He has a job in the tourist industry, his pay a percentage of
the proceeds and whatever tips he receives from passengers.
In the pecking order of river polers, he is a rung up.
If we'd give him enough of a tip, say $20, he said, he could pay
one of the young men who hang around the termination point to walk
the raft two miles back upriver, against the current.
He had plucked a flower from a tree and I had put it in my hair,
so we tipped him $20. The last we saw of Floyd, he was jumping into
the back of a pickup truck for the ride upstream.
On the periphery, literally, of the river-rafting business were
the vendors who set up shop along the banks, their only overhead a
cooler and an inventory of beer and soda.
In the midst of the action, literally, was Rupert, middle-aged
and bare-chested, who earned his living wading into the cool,
rock-sprouting waters, hawking handmade bamboo replicas of the
two-seated raft on which we were perched.
We bought one for $3, and I wonder now why we didn't buy them
Minutes later, I gave the raft away to 3-year-old Amigo, who was
wading in his underwear, waiting for his mother to give him a
I called to the child, and he approached us, smiling, holding
three snail shells he had plucked from the water.
His mother said it was his birthday, so we gave him some money,
which did not seem to impress him at all. His eyes lusted after
that miniature raft, but he did not ask for it. So I gave it to
He handed me his shells, and I put them in my bag.
These people are poor, incredibly poor by U.S. standards.
But living in an agricultural society, where the climate
provides lush vegetation and red passion flowers, like the one I
wore in my hair, and surrounded by blue waters filled with
delectable fish, nobody starves and people seem actually happy.
People like Floyd, Rupert and Amigo live in the mountains near
the village of Lethe, where this concession is located and where
75% of the homes have no electricity or running water.
Most of the women come to the river to do their laundry. When we
spotted the first such woman, crouching low on a boulder in the
river, we thought she, too, was selling something.
But she was washing clothes, the light items first so she could
lay them out to dry in the cool shade of the river while she
scrubbed the heavier items. Those, we were told, she would hang out
at home in the hot Jamaica sun.
It gets quite hot in Montego Bay, sometimes as hot as 110
degrees, but there's low humidity.
It was refreshing on this river, where the idea for using rafts
to float people down its eight meandering miles came from the late
screen actor, Erroll Flynn, who owned a home here. Flynn outfitted
the rafts, previously used to transport bananas, with a bench seat
for two to entertain his guests.
There are two spots in the river where rafters can swim. Not
having been told that in advance, no one wore bathing suits.
The trip to the Great River is a white-knuckle bus ride 30
minutes into the mountains on a narrow, winding road from downtown
Montego Bay, where officials are upgrading for tourism by adding
sewers and underground communication lines.
They're proud of their communication system, said our motorcoach
guide: Visitors can use credit cards to place telephone calls and
send e-mails from retail stores, most of which, it appeared to me,
were owned by non-Jamaicans.
But communication -- like electricity and medical care -- is too
expensive for most of the people of Jamaica, the largest
English-speaking island in the Caribbean.