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The Only Way Is Through -- Writer's Poke #438




If you visit Jamaica, you might end up at Dunn’s River Falls. And if you do, I won’t think any less of you. The idea behind this attraction is neat enough: Start at the bottom and climb your way to the top. Is it worth $50 a person for the experience? I’ll leave that up to you and your budget to decide; keep in mind that the cost includes the ride there and back, which can be a fun adventure in itself. However, it doesn’t include a lot of “hidden” costs…

Other than the high price of admission, the problems with Dunn’s River Falls are many. First, prepare for it to be insanely overcrowded. On days when cruise ships are in port, as many as 7,000 tourists will be trying to make their way to the top with you that same day. In other words, you will be holding hands with strangers from top to bottom, and you’ll probably be more preoccupied with people than you will be with the “amazing experience” you would be having if you were by yourself or with a small, intimate group. As long as you’re not tempted to think about how nice the Falls would be to visit without shiploads of people, maybe this won’t be an issue for you…

Second, expect the locals to hold you upside down and shake you until all of your money falls out. Yes, you pay $50 to climb to the top, but at the bottom of the Falls, guides magically appear, and they will eagerly offer their assistance and encouragement. They’ll even offer to take your picture, hold your valuables, etc. Well, maybe “offer” is the wrong word. They provide their assistance to you whether you want it or not, and at the top, it’s very well understood that you will show them appropriate appreciation. Anything less than $5 per person would be seen as an insult – that goes without saying, although they won’t be too humble to tell you how much to tip.  Look at it from their perspective. After all, all tourists are rich. They could afford to make the trip to Jamaica, and they could afford to pay for the excursion. Obviously, they can afford to be generous with their gratuities to the hard-working locals. And maybe you don’t have any issue helping the local economy. Just go into the climb knowing that you will be paying the salary of your guide. Apparently the $50 you paid earlier goes to a company, and these individuals at the Falls are simply “independent contractors.”

Finally, know that when you make it to the top, you’ll only have 15 minutes to enjoy the rest of what the location has to offer. So you will most likely just want to walk back to the van that will take you back to your cruise ship. Your van guide warned you not to be late, and out of respect for your fellow passengers, you want to make sure you arrive on time. Keep in mind, however, that while it was a straight shot in to the Falls, you will have to walk the gauntlet to get out – nobody bothers to tell you this, but I just did, so remember me, okay? A maze of vendors and shops stand between you and your van. And guess what? There are no exit signs and no maps to point you in the right direction. For the most part, black faces will be moving immediately in front of you, and you’ll be trying to do your best to follow the white faces just ahead of them, hoping that they are moving in the right direction. For all you know, you’re all  moving farther away from the van, but all you can do is move forward. The only way is through.

If you like mazes, consider it part of the $50 experience you paid for. Just keep in mind, again, that the vendors do not receive any of that money, and they will look to you to feel obligated to buy their merchandise. After all, you don’t want their families to starve, do you? You’re not that type of tourist, are you?

How do you handle traps?

“Man is the only varmint that sets his own trap, baits it, then steps in it.” – John Steinbeck

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