Wild Jamaica

Rose Hall is a beautiful yet ghostly mansion that’s worth a visit for those who enjoy history and a good scare.

As the story goes, Annie Palmer was raised in Haiti as the daughter of English and Irish colonists.  When her parents died, she is said to have learned both witchcraft and voodoo from a nanny. Seeking fortune and a new life, she eventually moved to Jamaica to marry the owner of the Rose Plantation, John Palmer, on whom she cast a spell on to acquire–19th Century Tinder. Her goal apparently was simple: Marry up. What wasn’t so simple, and indeed not so common, was her plan to kill her husband and become the owner of the plantation. After some time, she is said to have killed her husband John and achieved her goal of becoming the plantation master. Annie Palmer reportedly ruled the plantation ruthlessly, utilizing both the terror of violence as well as her reported strength in the dark arts to control and punish her slaves on the plantation. Not one for being alone apparently, she married again, but this time kills her second husband by stabbing him to death in a fit of rage. Palmer then marries again (dudes apparently not getting the hint) and strangles him with the help of a slave by the name of Takoo with whom she had developed feelings. When she died, at the hands of her lover Takoo no less, she vowed vengeance beyond the grave and reported still haunts the property to this day. Maybe it was the story itself. Maybe it was the quiet and odd menacing way the guide delivered the tale–you felt that she admired and channeled Annie Palmer in parts–but I was unnerved for the remained of the bus ride.

When we made it to the falls, we parked and were quickly grouped and herded in with a swelling group of tourists who themselves were carted along on tour buses of their own from other hotels. We were further dissected into groups of 10 or so with a park liaison as guide and hype-man for the falls. Our guide wore a canary-colored shirt, with a pair of cargos and swimming shoes. He was taut, as many of the Jamaican’s tended to be, with short knotty hair, lanky appendages, and jaundiced eyes. He led us in a number of chants in his thick accent, pumping us up for the coming climb while kindly barking instructions at us to keep the group safe. “You see me”, he yelled, slapping his chest, wild-eyed and clearly enjoying what he did. I could see and hear that other groups around us were getting similar albeit not as enthusiastic treatment as we were. “I’m the leader. You follow me. Look at my feet and you won’t get hurt!” In the moment, I couldn’t help thinking that our lead would lean into my eyes and hiss Barkhad Abdi’s now iconic line turned meme from 2013’s Captain Phillips: “Look at me. Look at me. I’m the captain now”.

Stepping into the reservoir at the bottom of the falls, I was shocked at how cold the water was considering how hot and humid things were. There was also slick water weeds that felt gross even with my swimming shoes. In truth, I wasn’t ready for the sensory discomfort but had already committed. To my left, groups of wet tourists were pulling themselves up on the edges of the falls by the ropes that had been installed, carefully following their respective leads. To my right, my own group and family, looking mildly uncertain at the trek ahead.  Above, was the falls, cascading down in multiple levels, surrounded by trees and other vegetation, twisting cocoa colored vines and branches, and a lush, flourishing canopy overhead. It was like being in the Amazon rainforest as you’d imagine it the movies. Moving to nonverbals, our lead pointed towards the other groups and blew his whistle when we took a wrong step. We largely did as we were told. As our lead moved we moved, carefully feeling the stone against our feet, moving cautiously and with purpose. After some time, it became easier to see where the paths were to go up and slowly the ick-factor went away, my body warmed a bit and I began to enjoy the rigor of the falls.

Dunn’s Fall is a great, family friendly attraction for those who enjoy fun in the outdoors.

After about 2 hours of climbing, slipping, falling, swimming, and posing for pictures, our group made it to the top of the waterfall. I felt that I had exerted myself, but hadn’t exhausted myself, and the others agreed. More than anything, I felt like I had achieved something and that was a treat. There wasn’t much time to celebrate however because we were due to swim with dolphins and couldn’t be late. With much of the same order and efficiency that we were shuffled into the waterfall, we were escorted out.

Once in the bus, we drove slightly up the road to Dolphin Cove, one of three locations spread across the country. Our bus guide still was still wisecracking along the way, but I could tell that she was tired from the cold she seemed to be battling. Upon arrival, our group spilled out into the complex and were led to the attraction. Like Dunn’s River Falls, Dolphin Cove featured lush overgrowth and beautifully aged buildings and structures that helped to sell the “jungle paradise” vibe the promoters are going for. We were quickly oriented about “do’s” and “don’ts” with and around the dolphins and the complex in general. For instance, you couldn’t simply enter the water or touch the dolphins unsupervised–not that anyone sensible would want to–or wear jewelry, or take pictures (a particular disappointment).

The area that housed the dolphins was set out before the ocean, enclosed by a wooden boardwalk and various floating structures. We were instructed to put on safety vests, put away our belongings and begin to queue around the pools. As we were moving, the dolphins began to shoot up and arc out of the water at amazing speeds and at distances sometimes 2-3 times the length of their bodies. It was truly a spectacle. I was both amused and apprehensive because I had never been up close to and or touched a dolphin. In the moment, I was perfectly content watching them and was losing the desire to interact with them the closer I got. A few things were going on: First, I don’t have great relationships with animals; second, I had an irrational fear of being attacked and or drowned by the dolphins; and last, I wondered if the dolphins were being treated well and if I was contributing to some unseen shitty life they were living. Our group was lined up on concrete slabs on the side of the pool facing the ocean, while the other lined up to our right in front of the auxiliary dolphin pool. In front of us all, participants who were already in the pool interacted with the dolphins by swimming with them, riding on a fin, or–and I’m serious here–were jetted (dolphined?) out of the water with incredible speed. They laughed and cheered. I wrenched on the inside.