Rafting trips drying up on Rio Grande
Nestled in the hills of Portland, the Rio Grande is home to some of Jamaica's most authentic experiences. The sun in your face, the wind in your hair and the water just below your feet, taking a raft trip along the river is only one of those experiences you can enjoy.
But while you bask in momentarily living inside the scene of a Jamaican post card, your tour guide is having quite the opposite experience. These raft captains are struggling to keep afloat with the lack of passengers due to COVID-19.
"COVID-19 been rough pon we, enuh, it been rough," Lawrence Chisholm, president of the Raft Captains Association in Portland, said. "Mi cyah say nothing other than it been rough pon we. The people dem nah come out and it just been rough."
Chisholm says it has been a struggle to stay in business during the pandemic, and the Tourism Product Development Company Limited (TPDCo), the agency with responsibility for managing the attraction, has not been responsive enough to their needs.
"We contacted the TPDCO, and is like during COVID we nuh get no type of assistance from them," he said. "Nothing! Nothing! Nothing whatsoever! We even ask them fi help we build some more raft and we nuh get nuh response from them."
The Rio Grande rafting facility is heavily dependent on tourism, a sector that has been hard hit by COVID-19. Raft captains said that shutdowns and a decrease in traffic have left them in dire straits. Waldemar Pryce told THE STAR that the number of raft trips since the pandemic has been drastically reduced.
"It nah really go good, enuh. Mainly a round 10 or 12 raft a week. We used to get all 30, 40 raft a week," he said.
"From last year March mi do a trip, you know seh a this year March mi do a next trip. And me do mussi two more trip since, so that a four," said Euclid Richards, who has has been a raft captain for 40 years. He said the current increase in the COVID-19 numbers, brought on by a third wave of the novel coronavirus, could further impact their livelihood.
Prime Minister Andrew Holness last week announced tightened COVID-containment measures to slow the spread of the virus. The nightly curfews will start three hours earlier -- 8 p.m., down from 11 p.m. -- that was previously in effect. Beaches and rivers are not allowed to be opened beyond 4 p.m. on Mondays to Saturdays and 2 p.m on Sundays and public holidays. Holness also signalled that the measures would be tightened come August 11.
"A mostly Saturday and Sunday we get most a di business, and the curfew gone back now 3 o'clock pon Sundays, so you know seh the people dem weh woulda come pon Sunday nah guh worry come again so is a next setback that again fi we," said Chisholm.
The number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Jamaica stood at 53,428 as of Monday. Some 204 persons were in hospitals, based on data from the Ministry of Health and Wellness, which is seeking to inoculate 150,000 persons with the first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine this week.
The raft captains said that they have already been vaccinated and are hopeful that the rest of the country will follow suit.
"We nah force nobody fi do nothing but nuff a we take it and me woulda encourage the rest a we fi take it," Pryce said.