Jamming on the Martha Brae

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With each visit to Jamaica, you begin to meet friends and strip away the fear of the unknown and just enjoy the ride. That’s what happened one Wednesday morning as my girlfriend and I set out to find the Martha Brae River. We’d heard such good things about it and thought it would be the perfect relaxing adventure after a long plane ride.

We called up Trevor. Trevor is a taxi driver we met four, maybe five trips to Jamaica back who has since been upgraded from our taxi driver to our dear friend. We’ve learnt that the best places in Jamaica are often found through service people who live here and are friendly and inviting enough to bring you into the spots they traverse. We warmed to Trevor right away and he’s taken us on many such adventures.

This Wednesday morning when we called up Trevor and asked him if he knew how to get to the Martha Brae from our Ocho Rios guesthouse, Trevor’s response was “yeah mon, mi never go there yet but easy thing fi find mon.” We knew that this meant trouble right off the bat but Trevor’s never steered us wrong so we began what was supposed to be a journey of no more than maybe an hour and a half.

We tumbled into Trevor’s van and took off, catching up and snapping pictures of the coastline along the way. Trevor told us about his sister who had met Sisqo who was in the island for some concert recently and how she wouldn’t stop going on and on about him. About an hour into our trip we saw signs saying we were approaching the Martha Brae so felt comfortable that we were on the right route.

There was a turn off up ahead that we took and all was well until we got to a fork in the road with no signs. Which way did we go? We decided to take what looked like the path most travelled to us. After driving for about 15 minutes through what can only be described as bush, we stopped at the first sign of life which was of course a rum bar. Those are littered all across Jamaica and are the cutest, most quaint little joints you’ll ever see.

A patron of the bar informed us that we were on the right road and should continue pass the big mango tree and take a bend down to the river. Jamaican directions always involve some kind of landmark that you could easily miss. Which mango tree? We continued for another maybe 20 minutes when I turned to Trevor and said there’s no way there’s any river around here buddy. There was a lady walking with what looked like a huge market bag on her head. We decided to ask her and she confirmed what our rum bar patron told us, keep going looking for this mysterious big mango tree.

Off we set trying to find the mango tree when we hit a clearing complete with a gas station in the middle of nowhere. We pull over to ask for more directions only to be told that we took the wrong turn at the fork 45 minutes ago! When we finally found Martha Brae we had to laugh at ourselves for just how close it actually was to the main road. Our little detour into the interior of Jamaica’s hilly regions made for some good times and picture but I was happy to finally be at our destination, almost three hours later. Once here, you’ll be able to book your raft down the river for what should be a 1:30 minute ride. We were lucky to snag Captain JK for our journey who was so pleasant and charming right throughout the ride. He even sang us his rendition of a few Bob Marley songs to keep us entertained.

The river is cool and refreshing, especially on a hot day after a long drive. There are little huts along the bank selling cold drinks and snacks and you can take a little swim if you’d like. We stopped by Tarzan who hails from a huge Guango tree on the river banks with a collection of ropes hanging from extended branches over into the river. Here, we discover why Tarzan was given this name as he dangles expertly from the ropes performing tricks and dives into the river below. After a few minutes he offers us the rope to follow his footsteps. The best I could manage was to swing out over the river grasping on for dear life and then jumping in hoping for the best.

Captain JK makes rafting look so easy that after my triumphant attempt at diving from tree ropes, I offered to give him a rest while I steered the bamboo raft. It was unbelievably heavy! These captains are skilled for I had to hand the bamboo stick used to push the raft along right back over before we hit the banking. He tells us that skilled raft makers take about a day and a half to make one of these 25ft rafts by hand. Apparently the bamboo must be harvested on moonless nights as that’s when the termites that live inside them vacate their homes, giving the bamboo a longer shelf life.

This was almost as fascinating as the tales of just how the Martha Brae got its name. Martha Brae is allegedly the daughter of an Arawak Cacique that had supernatural powers. Spaniards captured her demanding that she take them to a secret goldmine located in a cave along the river. When they got there however Martha Brae changed the course of the river drowning the Spaniards. Do you believe it?

Either way, the experience was rich and refreshing and I would do it all over again. Check out the Martha Brae River Rafting Experience if you’re ever in Jamaica. It will add everything you’re looking for on your Jamaican vacation.