What’s not to love about water putting on a grand display? My island home of Jamaica is blessed with over 20 waterfalls hidden in its verdant rugged mountains. Our cascades are small making them interactive and fit to be climbed, stood under, swam in and enjoyed unlike the world’s largest falls which can only be admired at a distance. Waterfalls are my favourite feature of nature and since 2016 I’ve been trying to see them all. I’m now at 8 and counting, 6 of which were off the beaten path. However, chasing waterfalls has been more than an aesthetically pleasing experience. Here are 10 lessons I’ve learnt from chasing waterfalls in Jamaica this past year:
- Jamaican hospitality is real. Aside from a few commercialized ones such as the Somerset Falls, try finding a waterfall in Jamaica without asking for directions. To find anywhere off the beaten path means you have to rely on the helpful residents you pass who smile and unreservedly direct you to their community’s chill spot. For all they know you could have bad intentions. In the urban areas people are a lot more hesitant to give directions to motorists while in the rural areas, I’ve got nothing but warm Jamaican hospitality.
- Humility is as much a virtue as patience. Travelling to unknown districts and waterfalls brought me in closer contact with a wider cross-section of people. That’s humbling and makes one realize that you shouldn’t take your urban conveniences for granted even though I welcome the beauty of untouched countryside.
- Don’t underestimate the temperature extremes of a tropical country. I often forget that not all Jamaicans suffer in the sweltering 34°C Jamaican sun in which we that live on the plains bake. Step foot under a waterfall or into its pool and experience a drastic temperature decrease to near freezing point. You come out of the water to warm up but the sky in mountainous areas tends to be overcast (think relief rainfall from geography class) making it an impossible feat. Instead, you shiver until your body decides to acclimatize for survival. I’m perhaps exaggerating but waterfalls have taught me that migrating to cold climes is not an option for me.
- You can be a tourist in your own parish. It’s amazing to know there are still undiscovered places in one’s hometown: the museum you never visited, the river you didn’t know existed or the side of the park into which you never ventured. I’ve found joy in exploring Kingston and Saint Andrew spots which I’d never thought of going to a few years ago nor even ever had heard of before. Since 2016, I learnt that my parish has 3 waterfalls and so I’ve made sure to see them all before year’s end.
- Bargaining and haggling are vital life skills. I got to test my street smarts and practise haggling for fair prices! Some people will try to dishonestly hike their prices by thinking I look as if I could afford to pay more as well as trying to create a price for an uncommercialized spot when one doesn’t exist in the first place (ahem, Bowden Hill Falls). Nonetheless, I’ve managed to avoid being ripped-off this past year I
- Money doesn’t buy happiness. You really don’t have to have a lot of money to enjoy life. A lot of the Jamaican outdoors are still free, open, inviting, beckoning. Heed its call and do your part is leaving it untouched for future generations to enjoy.
- A waterfall is nature’s own masseuse. Waterfalls taught humans that a gentle back pounding is soothing and so the art of massage was born. Or not. However, the feeling of water on my back like a shower with full jets on maximum force is exhilarating, especially when it comes from Mother Nature herself.
- Never judge a person by his/her appearance. Unkempt hair and dirty clothes doesn’t mean an unkempt mind nor dirty soul. Always keep an open mind when interacting with people. Just because they carry themselves differently from you doesn’t mean they are any different nor inferior. This is something of which I’ve been reminded again and again in the Jamaican countryside and as such, I will share my favourite poem which drives this point home.
Touris, white man, wipin his face,
Met me in Golden Grove market place.
He looked at m’ol’ clothes brown wid stain,
An’ soaked right through wid de Portlan rain,
He cas his eye, turn up his nose,
He says, ‘You’re a beggar man, I suppose?’
He says, ‘Boy, get some occupation,
Be of some value to your nation.’
I said, ‘By God and dis big right han
You mus recognize a banana man. So when you see dese ol’ clothes brown wid stain,
An’ soaked right through wid de Portlan rain,
Don’t cas your eye nor turn your nose,
Don’t judge a man by his patchy clothes,
I’m a strong man, a proud man, an I’m free,
Free as dese mountains, free as dis sea,
I know myself, an I know my ways,
An’ will sing wid pride to de end o my days
Praise God an m’big right han
I will live an die a banana man.’ – Evan Jones’ “The Song of the Banana Man” excerpt, full poem here
- Travelling for some is a spiritual experience. I’m not particularly a religious person yet I find myself in indescribable awe when in nature and it has deepened my connection with God. I find myself briefly whispering a mental prayer not asking for anything but simply thanking God for His vast endless universe and for allowing me to experience it. It’s times like these I know that I’m not foolishly nor blindly believing in what I was taught because I can feel and hear Him there and know He’s real for myself. It’s just the quiet feeling and reassurance I get when in nature that all will fall into place in my life and that there’s nothing for me to worry about. I’m reminded that these mountains, the rivers and waterfalls have been around for millenniums and in comparison, my time on Earth is a finite second. Thus, I must fill every waking breath with zeal and mindfulness so happiness will seep into my life. That’s what travel is like for me at least and partly why it’s so addictive. I only hope it’s that way for other people too.
- The best things in life are free. Thankfully, happiness is one thing in life no one has managed to put a price tag on yet. Chasing waterfalls may require admission and transport costs but when you find off-the-beaten-path ones with no crowds, no itineraries, no rush and you can splash about at your own pace and just be, I’m reminded that the best things in life are truly free.
I’d never made a conscious decision to chase falls but as I increased my travel around Jamaica, I just gravitated to which attraction type I liked best. Many online articles feature Jamaica’s relatively unknown waterfalls but they rarely mention how to find them. That’s the gap I tried to fill on Adventures from Elle this past year. However, maybe that’s what keeps them “hidden” and I’m stirring up trouble by revealing them online. Increased visitation to these spots may lead to their destruction from trampling, habitat disruption, littering and commercialization. When places get formally commercialized in Jamaica, often very little is done to incorporate the poor who have been tending to their community’s jewel for generations. They lose a source of income or worse are shut out and forced to pay the same hefty price as a visitor to enjoy their hideaway.
Nonetheless, here’s to 2018 and more undiscovered falls to come! Catch up on the falls you missed as well as your favourites for the year here.
Travelling from Kingston (or St. Ann’s Bay in the case of two) to these 8 falls and back in 2016-17 cost me a total of JM$6,250.00 (about 50USD) including fare, admission costs where applicable, carpooling, tips etc. That’s cheaper than a night at the average hotel in Jamaica! How cool is that?!
See my full 2017 travel receipt on the 29th.
‘Til tomorrow. ✌