Clambering aboard a 10-metre long raft fashioned from bamboo, Nicole Boulanger and I settled on a seat for two on a raised platform. Our craft was a Jamaican style gondola; our 'gondolier', a cheery Captain Sewell positioned on the front of the raft wielding a four-metre long pole. Dressed in a floppy shirt and shorts, with a gap-toothed grin, our gallant man Sewell was an eloquent guide.
Sensing my interest in the environment as we floated in a haze of tranquility down the river, Sewell pulled over to the river bank. “See that little plant, touch it and something strange will happen”. I did, and its delicate leaves folded immediately. “It's a sensitive plant” claimed Sewell. “We call it ‘Shy Lady’”.
Puzzled about the black birds hovering overhead, Sewell explained. “They’re turkey buzzards. We call them Jancrow”. The birds were named for the Revd. John Crow who, when he preached a sermon leaned on his pulpit in a voluminous black gown, looking for all the world like a Jancrow spreading its wings to dry in the morning.
A loud creaking in a thicket of bamboo brought another snippet of enlightenment. “Hear that bamboo swaying in the wind. They grow up to three inches in 24 hours.”
Our tranquil reverie was soon to be disturbed. Was that a Bob Marley wannebe catching up on us? The familiar notes of ‘One Love’ floated on the breeze as two of our companions, Joe and Sophy, drifted around the bend on another raft captained by a Jamaican with Rastafarian locks tucked tightly into a bulging hat. Captain Murphy, head back and in full voice, was entertaining our friends with his repertoire of ballads composed by the greatest reggae singer of all time.
Goats, like curious children attracted by the song, flocked to the river’s edge to watch us go by. Surprisingly the animals seemed undeterred by a fire with flames leaping 10-metres into the brush beside us. Huge plumes of smoke billowed across the river. The heat swirled around us scattering ash on our clothes and hair. With its onslaught, trees and grass crackled, curled and blackened as we watched.
Seeking to alleviate an outbreak of fire phobia, Sewell reassured us with Jamaica's favourite saying. “ No problem mon. Burning is good here. We do it every year. It helps the grass grow.”
After an hour or so of poleing, Captain Sewell settled at our feet, opened a plastic bag tucked under our seat and proceeded to carve an intricate design on a calabash gourd. His work was beautifully executed with no more than a pocket knife.
Upon completion, he thumped his delicate-looking artwork against the raft's bamboo poles, showing me that it would be quite safe to take home in my suitcase. “Just stuff it with your underwear,” he said.
A daylight rafting trip on the Martha Brae is a special Jamaica experience, but for a truly magical encounter, an evening trip to the mouth of this mysterious river is guaranteed to take your breath away.
The Luminous Lagoon is one of only four places in the world where in its brakish waters millions of phosphorescent microbes are stirred to life by the movement of the tides, filling the dark surface with twinkling light. A swim in the Luminous Lagoon - and this is encouraged - could be likened to bathing in a sea of stars.
From Anne, “World Travel with Anne