When I was at University, my part time job took me to the parish of St. Elizabeth quite often & I somehow fell in love with the parish.
My first trip to the Black River Safari was actually when I was 12 years old. I went on a class trip & I vaguely remember the tour but I remember having an amazing time.
Fast Forward to 2 decades & many St. E runs later and I was finally able to revisit this unique piece of Jamaica.
Our journey started around 5:30 AM. It was smooth sailing all the way to Clarendon thanks to Highway 2000. When we got to Clarendon Park we made the customary Juici Patties stop for breakfast before heading back on the road. I have to shout out Juici Patties for placing that branch at the ideal location.
Before the safari, I had to attend a Rotary breakfast meeting so we had to seek out the Spring Gardens Hotel.
Except for one wrong turn Google Maps was pretty reliable in helping us locate Crane Road & the hotel, We got there in time for 8:45 AM. Not much to report about Spring Garden Hotel because I only visited the bar/dining area which has a gorgeous view of the sea.
By 11:30 AM, the meeting was through & we headed to the J.Charles Swaby Black River Safari which was literally next door the hotel.
I did the tour with my mom, my friend Kareem & some fellow Rotarians (including our District Governor Elect Dr. Legere from Haiti).
We paid $900 for the tour but according to the receptionist the usual cost is $1000 per person & each tour usually consists of 25 persons to get that price.
The Black River is the longest navigable river in Jamaica (53.4 km or 33.2 miles). According to our Captain Terrence, the tour we were about to embark on was 5 miles up the river & we were going to see a diverse array of flora, fauna, birds & crocodiles.
He also mentioned that the source of the river is found in the Cockpit country in Trelawny.
The Black River was for years believed to be the longest river in Jamaica until recent research reveals that this position is held by the Rio Minho [Clarendon]. It was originally called Rio Caobana (Mahogany River) by the Spaniards.
As we sailed upstream, Terrence shared information about the different flora, fauna & creatures we were encountering.
There were plenty of crocodiles to see!
Some were more than “friendly” & swam towards our boat & others just wanted to sun themselves in peace.
We learned from Capt. Terrence that crocodiles are very territorial & like to be left alone. If another crocodile dares enter another’s territory it is literally a fight to the death.
The river gets its name Black River from the peat present on the river’s floor.
As we sailed upstream the change in the water’s colour was evident.
The Black River was once very integral to the wealth of the town because it served as the main transportation hub for sugar, logwood, rum & other exports.
It was amazing to learn about the Black River & it’s rich history and ecology. I learned so much from that 1 hour tour that I felt like I underpaid the receptionist.
After the tour, we headed to the Crocodile Nursery to visit some of the rescued crocodiles & turtles.
If you want to experience this amazing tour check out J. Charles Swaby’s Black River Safari’s Facebook page here. Make sure you roll with a crew that is full of vibes. You won’t regret it!
After leaving the safari, I took Mom & Kareem on High Street to see some of the architectural & historical gems of Black River.
Black River is one of Jamaica’s oldest towns. Its record of existence dates back to 1685. During the heyday of colonialism, records show, it was one of Jamaica’s wealthiest urban centres, prospering from an extremely profitable logwood trade, as well as exports of rum, pimento and cattle skin from the Holland, Vineyard and Fullerswood estates.
Black River replaced Lacovia in 1773 as the capital of St. Elizabeth, & thereafter became the parish’s main commercial and trans-shipment centre & one of the two most important towns in the island.
First Stop was the Black River Anglican Church ( St John’s Parish Church). This structure located at the corner of High & North streets, according to the Jamaica Gleaner, was originally built in 1770. Mural tablets were erected inside the church in 1828 in memory of Robert Hugh Munro & his nephew Caleb Dickenson. Munro bequeathed his estate in trust to his nephew, the church wardens & their successors to form a free school for the poor children of the parish. In 1856, a free school for boys was opened near Black River & early in 1857, the school was moved to premises at Potsdam in the Santa Cruz Mountains. That school is the Munro College. (Source : http://digjamaica.com/blog/2014/10/07/historical-sites-in-jamaica-part-3/4/)
Our second stop was the old Invercauld Great House which is an example of late Jamaican Georgian architecture. It uses to be a hotel but was sold to an offshore medical school. It needs some work but it is still a beauty.
Next was the Black River courthouse which according to the Jamaica Gleaner “…dates back to the first half of the 1800s. It is made from reinforced concrete and sits near the Caribbean Sea. It also served as the town hall in the past.”
Our final stop on the mini tour was the Waterloo Guest House.
The Waterloo House, which now operates as a guest house, was also the first private residence in Jamaica and among the first in the western hemisphere to have electricity (1893). The house is believed to have been originally owned by relatives of English playwright William Shakespeare.
Black River was a town of many first. Apart from Waterloo being the first private residence to have electricity. It also first town in Jamaica to have telephone service, a telephone exchange & Jamaica’s first motor car, a four-cylinder New Orleans made in Twickenham in England, was driven there. (Source: http://digjamaica.com/blog/2015/04/08/parish-facts-clarendon-manchester-st-elizabeth/)
I couldn’t leave Holland Bamboo & not get a picture!
Bamboo Avenue is a 4.2 km or 2½ mile scenic drive through an archway of living bamboo on the main south coast highway between Middle Quarters & Lacovia in St. Elizabeth. The species planted here is Bambusa vulgaris, the largest species of bamboo in Jamaica.
Source: A-Z of Jamaican History
St. Elizabeth is a very special parish to me not only because it is home to so many beautiful stories, animals, buildings, places & people.
What was supposed to be a quick tour of the Black River turned out to be one of my best adventures because it allowed me to reconnect with the rich history of my beautiful country & with my rich imagination… it was a great pleasure.
Until Next Trek