We boarded Captain Dennis’s boat directly from the pier at our hotel in Treasure Beach on the southwest coast of Jamaica. It was the two of us, a man with two kids, a young family of four, Captain Dennis and his assistant.
We bordered the coast north towards the mouth of the Black River. At that time of the morning, the waters were calm and the ride was smooth. The coast is rocky and abrupt; the beaches are small and some seem difficult to reach from the land side. Some of the houses, especially on the cliffs, were spectacular. There were houses for all kinds of budgets, from huge mansions to humble huts, but all shared fantastic views of the turquoise sea. Seagulls swirled around us, pelicans fished for lunch and the odd dolphin popped up to say hi.
We advanced among moored fishing boats and clumps of lily pads. Oh, and a couple of saltwater crocodiles! These crocs inhabit the mouth of the river but never go upriver, where the water is sweet. One of them was sunbathing and another was swimming placidly next to us. I’d never seen crocodiles in the wild and I must confess that catastrophic scenes played out in my head.
The river is called Black because the sediment at the bottom makes the water look black, although it really is crystalline. The water reflects the vegetation on the banks of the river, mainly rushes and mangroves, and clumps of lily pads, and it seems to be upside down.
We sailed past a man squatting on the edge of the water, holding what looked like a rod to me. He was a traditional spear fisherman. I hope we didn’t scare fish away and ruin his day. The negative side of tourism.
We stopped in a place with a makeshift pier so people could stretch their legs and have a drink in the hut that passed as a bar. There were a couple of people smoking ganja. The smells made my stomach turn. There already was a boatful of people, families with small children and teens, who were diving from a wooden platform attached to a tree. I declined. I’m not too keen on swimming in rivers. And the image of the crocs was still fresh in my mind!
We turned back to the mouth of the river, where we stopped for delicious patties and drinks. We ate lunch on our way to our next destination.
The next stop was Pelican Bar, a wood and thatch construction in the middle of a reef. It can only be reached by boat. Both the bar and the reef were crowded. The bar isn’t very comfortable unless you’re there to party. I went down to the water: warm, calm, transparent. It’s quite shallow, the water didn’t reach my hips, so I could see what was at the bottom. Rusty beer bottle caps. Seriously? Some people only care about getting drunk and partying hard and forget about the damage to the environment.
Captain Dennis was fantastic. He paid attention to every little detail. He made sure we were safe at all times and that potentially dangerous situations were averted, like fingers getting crushed between the boat and the edge of the pier. He stands out in a country where customer service -at least to independent travellers- leaves a lot to be desired. Just look at the reviews on Trip Advisor. This isn’t a paid advertisement; I just like to recognise those who go the extra mile to make their small business grow.
If you’re planning a trip to Jamaica, I encourage you to visit the Black River!