When I think of Jamaica, I think of dreadlocks, white sandy beaches, steel drums, and endless fruity rum drinks. I imagine everyone in cornrows and tye-dye clothes, singing to the rhythms of Bob Marley while yelling ayyy, no worries, mon!! While this is my fantasy (minus the cornrows because my scalp is too white), there is a lot more to this incredible island country than most of us expect.
While visiting Jamaica, I traveled with a group on several incredible tours through the middle of the country for the Black River Tour. Most tourists only see the incredible beaches and turquoise waters of the north side of the island, stretching between Negril and Ocho Rios – but we traveled to the southern side of the island for a completely different experience. Our bus wound through the lush mountains just south of Montego Bay, and we ended up in the town of Black River. In Black River, there are beautiful churches, manicured lawns, and incredible houses that dot the expansive shoreline. The town is named after the black river, a name that misleads those who haven’t experienced its beauty. This crystal clear river flows from the center of the island out to sea, and is home to lush mangroves and plentiful wildlife.
Our group boarded a boat in Black River, and embarked on a journey upstream. Within moments, we spotted a prehistoric beast beyond anything we had ever seen. We found ourselves face-to-face with an 18 foot crocodile, lumbering along through the water. He noted us curiously, but lazily floated by. After growing up watching Croc Hunter, part of me expected him to leap out of the water and try to steal one of my arms. (I crossed them tightly just in case). But he didn’t want to bother our boat, and kept his eyes on the birds darting down to the water for fish. I had a strange moment of understanding as I watched this dinosaur relic- he wasn’t the killer Id expected him to be, he just wanted to be left in peace.
So, away we went, speeding away down the river in our pontoon boat. This area of the country is breathtaking. A small mountain range surrounds the valley through which the black river flows, and is blanketed by a dense, dark green jungle. There was no trace of humanity around, and whenever the boat engine quieted, we could only here the soft chirping of birds and the gentle lapping of water against the mangroves.
We spotted another crocodile, then another. Our wild guide even kissed one croc on the nose, while we all screamed and flailed and made a huge scene over it. After a while, we started to realize how many there are in this area of Jamaica. But, we soon learned that while they are plentiful on the river, they are highly endangered and only found in a few places. Luckily, they are a protected species and can no longer be hunted- so we hope the species will return to a healthy number in the near future.
On the rest of our journey, we spotted several more crocodiles, flocks of egrets, and giant ferns (imagine Jurassic Park sized ferns) that were crowding the riverbanks. This place was truly incredible. Part of me expected a pterodactyl to swoop down from the sky and carry me away with its talons- but instead, we all popped open a Red Stripe and kicked back to take in the incredible scenery. After a few hours of excitement and breathtaking beauty of the lush valley, we turned back towards the town of Black River.
I never expected such an incredible and remote area to be hidden in the middle of Jamaica, but alas, this natural wonder proved to be an incredible hidden gem. If you are lucky enough to take a trip down to the carefree island of Jamaica, set down your rum drink and change out of your flip flops for and adventure down to Black River- you will discover a spectacular valley and a charming town that you will never forget.