A Natural State of Bliss - Page 2

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Horseback riding in water in Jamaica
BY LAND AND SEA: Horseback riding in Jamaica includes adventures on land through lush vegetation and bareback rides in the ocean  (courtesy, Jamaica Tourist Board)
Take the Family to Jamaica
Expert advice on Family Travel to Ocho Rios

Cruising down a river is a lot more relaxing than hiking up a body of water. The day prior to our Dunn's River Falls climb, half of our party planted themselves inside large inner tubes and floated down the scenic White River. High in the hills above Ocho Rios the water was as cool and clear as gin. Led by three guides, we sang Bob Marley songs ("No Women, No Cry") as we drifted with the slow-moving current. Several times, rapids swept us up into faster parts of the river, but most of the ride was at a leisurely pace. When we weren't singing, we listened to the high-pitched call of the yellow banana quit bird and peered out at the green mosaic of ferns, banana trees, and thickets of bamboo that climb the banks of this sinuous waterway like ivy climbs a wall.

Halfway down, we stopped for a snack of jerk chicken at the Hidden Beauty hut, owned by a ganja-smoking Rastaman. The verdant scenery, peacefulness, and spicy food left us in a state of sheer bliss. I begged the guides to let us stay. "My nephew Max can lead us down the rest of the way." No such luck.

Every one of our outings ended up in water, even the horseback riding. Our guide, Vernon, had the group face him as he looked us over like meat at a deli counter. He was sizing us up, figuring out which person would work best with each horse. General was regal enough for the ex-rodeo star in my family, my step-brother Bill. Footloose calmed even the most apprehensive of mothers, my wife Lisa. And for my daughter, Melanie, Vernon chose the towering Lasco, who looked as though he could sprint off into the sunset at the drop of a hat. Melanie, however, was none too pleased with her mount and started whimpering. Vernon allayed her fears by riding beside her and off we went away from the dirt pen on a path hugging the coastline.

We passed pristine Papillion Bay, named for the Steve McQueen movie filmed here in 1973, and stopped for a refreshing drink. When the horseback ride portion of our adventure ended, the horseback swim began. We mounted our horses again, this time without saddle or stirrups and rode bareback holding on to a small handle. Before we knew it, our horses were not just wading through the ocean water, but galloping at a brisk pace up to their necks. An exhilarating feeling of freedom came with speed and the knowledge that the waters would break the fall if we should happen to slide off. Providing additional entertainment, Vernon splashed us while riding backwards.

For our final excursion, we hired a driver, Rupert, and a large van to take all 13 of us to Nine Mile, the birthplace and final resting spot of Jamaica's ambassador, Bob Marley. We cruised out of Ocho Rios through Fern Gully, where dense dark jungle surrounds windy roads, and passed hundreds of schoolchildren dressed in uniform as they walked along the main streets to school. Without school buses, Rupert explained, kids walk as much as three miles to and from school each day. Climbing higher and higher into the Blue Mountains, we passed a shepherd with his flock of goats, cattle resting on pasture, small farms lined with cabbage and carrots, African tulip trees and their blooming red flowers, finally reaching the Bob Marley Mausoleum.

Looking out at the expanse of green, listening to birds chirping, you can easily sense how this small village in the mountains inspired Marley's feel-good music. We met Marley's cousin, still strumming on the banjo, and toured the small tin-roofed hut he grew up in. Then we lit a candle and walked around the tomb of a man who died way too young, at the age of 36, from melanoma. Afterwards, we sat around and drank cane juice, created by stalks of sugarcane fed into a large archaic-looking grinder. The sweet and tangy beverage was perfect after the long drive to reach Nine Mile. Asked how the drink tasted, my niece Sarah responded, "Irie, mon."

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