Chukka River Tube on the Martha Brae
At the Good Hope Estate, a one-time sugar plantation turned resort, Chukka provides many of the cruise ship shore excursions in Jamaica offered in Falmouth as well as from Ocho Rios and Montego Bay. Chukka (which means a period of play in polo) is one of the largest employers in the Caribbean with excursions around Jamaica and in Belize and Grand Turk as well. From High Tea at the Good Hope Estate to horseback riding, Chukka has it all. Tourism is the number one industry in Jamaica and much of the Caribbean so they want to keep the tourists coming.
Our combo river tubing and zipline excursion from the MSC Divina started with a bus ride from the cruise ship dock in Falmouth. We passed shanty towns with a lot of small houses that looked like they had tiny businesses offering anything from food to auto repairs in their front yards, then some larger and nicer homes, pastures of sheep or cows, and crops like bananas and sugarcane. Sugarcane may not be what it once was in Jamaica (or the rest of the Caribbean) but they still grow some for sugar, molasses, and rum. Other by-products of sugar cane include fuels and fertilizer.
On the bus they said we would do the zip line first, have a jerked chicken lunch provided with our tour and enough time for changing clothes, and then do the river tubing. We were nearly to the water before I found out that while some people had done that, the part of the group we ended up with was actually river tubing first. I had decided at the last minute to buy the aquasocks they sell in their gift shop for people who show up with unsuitable footwear or those who decide that since those are available there’s no need to get their shoes wet. (They also have rentals for aquasocks.) I must have still been in the gift shop when they made the announcement. Luckily I had my swimming suit on under my clothes. Apparently this happens to people often enough that they routinely take the clothes back and have them waiting by the locker area when the group returns, as there is no way to take them with you on the river tube.
They panicked us on the bus saying cameras were not allowed. We asked one of the workers there about that after we got off the bus and it turned out it was actually a concern for water on the river and hands free on the zip line. Since my camera is waterproof and I had it on a neck strap (as well as in a small camera bag also on a neck strap) it was allowed. Just goes to show it never hurts to ask.
At the water’s edge they lashed strings of tubes together, some of which they filled with water and rinsed out prior to boarding leaving small puddles in the bottom. Everyone had to put a life jacket on before boarding their tube. The guide had a blow-up kayak which he lashed to the front tube and paddled the entire group from there. At times he turned the string around and pushed everyone along from the back rather than pulling from the front. Although he was mainly steering and keeping the tubes from snagging on rocks and trees and things since the river provided the actual propulsion.
Floating down the river our very knowledgeable guide kept up a nearly constant monolog of information about the plants and things we passed and history of the area, sometimes interrupted by a call of “butts up” reminiscent of the cave tubing in Belize. When they call butts up it means rocks just under the surface you really don’t want to hit so you’d better raise your derriere or you could be sorry.
Giant Indian bamboo lines much of the riverbanks, planted by the English plantation owners back in the heyday of sugarcane farming. They cut down the bamboo to make 30-foot rafts to bring their goods downriver. We happened by a local cutting down some bamboo to make a raft, which in current times is used not for hauling rum and molasses to market, but for providing tourists with an authentic river rafting experience on the Martha Brae River. This short river runs just 20 miles from an underground source to the sea.
The bamboo there grows about 4 inches a day and they call it a suicide plant because once it reaches somewhere over 100-120 feet high it becomes too top-heavy and snaps near the bottom and falls. Tall as it grows, it is not the tallest tree there because it isn’t a tree at all, but a type of grass.
Some actual trees do grow along the river, many of them host to an array of air plants. Instead of high mounds on the ground, termites there have nests that look like great blobs in the trees. Our guide said the termite nests are all-inclusive resorts for birds who will peck holes into them they can crawl into, and while there find a ready meal.
As we passed under a bridge he said much of the old stone architecture such as that bridge and many old buildings were made not from native stones, but from stones brought over as ballast in ships (much like the blue brick roads of old San Juan – only these rocks are not blue.) Throughout the day we saw remnants of many old stone things from a lime kiln through the bus window to where a water wheel once worked on the zip-line route. They still mine limestone in the area and also bauxite, used for making aluminum.
Most of the float was a relaxing ride, but every now and then we got a bit of excitement in the form of a small rapid. At one stretch of river the guide invited people to jump out of their rafts and swim, calling the slightly chilly water “refreshing.” One person jumped in and a family of Canadians joined them, no doubt used to much colder water in their far northern home. The Canadian mother said the temperature felt fine once she’d gotten used to it. Not a fan of cold water, I stayed in my raft. When we reached a place shallow enough for them to stand they all got back in and floated down the river once again.
I would recommend this excursion for people interested in a nice leisurely scenic float, those who like to learn about the places they visit while still seeing the outdoors, people who want a pleasant day out in nature, or people who want something a bit different from the usual excursion, but not for anyone looking for wild rivers or major whitewater.
Near the end of the video there’s a couple zipliners in the background. One seen as the tubes pass under the bridge and the other just after. Watch carefully to see if you can spot them.
The brochure on the ship did say to bring insect repellent, which would have been a good idea had we packed any. Sunscreen and sunglasses are also quite helpful as some areas of the river are out in the open, though much of it is nicely shady. We did get lucky on the weather as it was raining when we left the ship and after we got back, but sunny during our tour.
More posts about Jamaica
Jamaican Bobsled Roller Coaster at Mystic Mountain (Ocho Rios)
Dunn’s River Falls (Ocho Rios)
Zip Line at Good Hope Estate (Falmouth)
Swimming with Horses (Montego Bay)
I really do think that this is one of your best posts especially as you added the video. Loved it !! Ralph xox 😀
I agree with Ralph. This post was a lot of fun. You so deserve to get Freshly Pressed. As I was reading it and looking at the pictures, I was thinking, “I wish she had a video.” What a treat that it was there at the end. I think I did a “butts up” while watching about two thirds of the way in when you got so close to the rocks. And yeah, I saw both zip liners.
Thanks. It would be such an honor to get Freshly Pressed. The closest I’ve ever come was when somebody reblogged one of my posts once and they got Freshly Pressed.
THAT IS SO ANNOYING!! Like writing in all caps….
If I ran Freshly Pressed and came across a story I liked that was on a reblog I’d go to the original and post that so the person who actually did all the work got their blog promoted rather than the one who just pushed a reblog button, but maybe that’s just me.
This was a wonderful post! Great pictures and your descriptions made me feel as though I was on the next raft. That is something I’d really enjoy doing. Unfortunately, when we cruise, we are limited in taking many excursions because my husband is a big guy… 300 lbs. Many excursions have weight limits and I’m guessing with the shallow rocks, this is one of those! Now I could go off by myself …….. 🙂
Thanks. I looked on Chukka’s website and there is a 250 pound weight limit. 😦
I used to have air plants but the one in your picture even makes my big one look like a little baby. Sadly I moved to an apartment where I didn’t get enough light and they all died within six months. I tried again when I moved to Texas and they had some for sale one day at the botanical garden but the guy said they don’t like AC. I thought they would be fine after keeping them for years in Washington (without AC) but sure enough they all died within months when I tried in a house where the AC was running.
Sounds like if you wanted air plants now you would have to put them outside in the summer and bring them inside in the winter when it is probably too cold for them outside, but also too cold to have the AC running. In which case you probably would not want them so big as the wild ones we saw in Jamaica.
Also had to say the old bridges and stone work are really cool.
You would have loved that excursion.
I also found this very interesting and informative. I was surprised that the first guy to go in the water left his hat on.
I hadn’t really thought about the hat. Nobody who went in the water got their heads wet though.
Great post, one of your best. It contained history, photos, fun facts and even my video! It’s nice to see my wife do so well with her writing and photography. It sure was a fun excursion.