We docked in Ocho Rios very early in the morning and went straight to our organized excursion which was a bus tour of the island and climbing Dunn’s River Falls. My cousin Sara had been and done this before, so she assured me that it was a really good time, but I was still confused about how exactly a person climbs a waterfall. Given my earlier difficulty at the rock wall on the ship, I was really wondering if I had the stamina to do it, but she told me I’d be fine.
The bus tour was interesting. Ocho Rios is one of those places where privilege and poverty are in close proximity to each other, so in one moment we were scanning a hillside for a glimpse of Mick Jagger’s house, the next we’re zooming past a shantytown. Our tour guide was very good, she was funny, and cute, and entertaining. She spent the time between sights to see teaching us Jamaican slang. This was pretty funny, that’s all I can say, it was just funny. Everyone was really into it, and seemed to be having a great time.
We got to the waterfall, stripped down to swimsuits, and collected aqua sox to wear during the climb. The waterfall itself is quite flat, as far as waterfalls go. I was initially picturing a very tall spray of water coming off of a jutting cliff; this is more of a gentle rocky slope with a small stream of water flowing down the middle. It was very pretty, smooth grey rocks with lush jungle green looming over the top. It looks like something you would want to have in your backyard except much grander.
The actual climbing is done in a human chain form led by one of the guides. I thought this would be harder than just going it alone, but it turned out to be a lot easier than scrambling around on your hands and knees trying not to slip. The person in front of you pulls you up to the next plateau, so you can remain standing the whole time.
Midway up the climb is a small pool where the line breaks up. People can freefall backward into the pool, then continue the climb individually. The climb itself breaks up here and you can take the easy side or the hard side. The easy side is no steeper than the previous climb; it’s more or less walking uphill. The hard side is really work, this is a steep climb with water rushing into you face as you grope for stones to grab onto that aren’t too slippery. It’s not dangerous, just tricky.
The only gripe I had with this experience was the fact that at the end of climbing, when you’re wet and tired wearing only a swimsuit, the guides ask for a tip. I didn’t have any money on me, I would have tipped them, but I was wearing a bikini and everything I had was on the bus. They gave me one of the dirtiest looks I’ve ever gotten. Thankfully, my brother happened to have some cash in one of the zipper pockets in his swim trunks. By the time we did tip them they had already glared at my mother, cousin and me.
After the climb and the bus ride back to the center of town we just puttered around in the shops for a while. There are quite a lot of nice stores in Ocho Rios, there are open markets, but there higher-end jewelry stores too. The open markets were pretty standard; over-eager men and women trying to convince you that their trinkets are better than their neighbors etc. The thing that I thought was the funniest, something that has never happened to me before, was something that didn’t even happen to me. My brother, mother, and I were wondering around and we kept losing my brother. We would walk past stands and he would get dragged in physically by the vendor. I had no idea what was going on until we were walking back to the ship and he said "I got offered weed seven times."
Ocho Rios is a place I would definitely go back to. It would be fun to spend a less structured day there, but I wouldn’t change any of it. The one memory that really sums up the whole experience is my mother and I standing in downtown on the side walk, and she was blocking the path of a tall Jamaican man drinking a Red Stripe. I tried to move her out of his way, "Mom, let him get past you." He just looked at us, shook his head and said, "No, no, no. You come to Ocho Rios to have fun yeah?" We nodded. "I’m in no hurry; you don’t have to worry about movin’ for me. Are you havin’ a good time in Jamaica?" We nodded. "Then say Aerie, because that’s what we say in Jamaica, and have a good time."