Getting Above it all

Written by Margaret McEvoy, Photography by Simon Young

Ocho Rios is a sizeable gem in the charm bracelet of Jamaica’s beautiful beaches. James Bond’s Golden Eye was filmed along this coast and the English celebrity Noel Coward found the place to be heaven on earth. Today, “Ochie,” as it is known by Jamaicans, attracts tens of thousands of tourists and has become a major cruise ship destination. Most visitors come here for the pristine waters that stretch along the miles of northern coastline. Many never venture beyond their hotels. Until now.

Getting above it all at Mystic Mountain is a new attraction—and the Zen eco-adventure is off to a soaring start. Nestled in the lush tropical hillside of Ocho Rios, Mystic Mountain has carved out an adventure that you won’t find on most Caribbean islands. The deep green 100-acre site is a cool aerial experience. The three main attractions on the mountain are the Rainforest Sky Lift Explorer, Bobsled Jamaica and the Zipline Canopy Tour. The bobsled and zipline are perched 700 feet above sea level, so in order to get there, you must take the open-air chair lift. Peering over the bar of the chair-lift did give me pause. But as soon as I settled into the Rainforest Sky Lift Explorer (think ski lift in the tropics) I became lost in the awe of gliding above the treetops in this tropical seaside rainforest.

The world becomes quiet. Your feet dangle over myriad tree tops and the blue waters lapping at the coast are spread out like a never-ending carpet.

We could see bright-coloured flowers and tiny streams below us and in the distance, teens frolicked on a bamboo raft in the bright blue Caribbean Sea. The quiet journey up the mountain is just under 15 minutes. But after being lulled by the quiet of Mother Nature, you are forced to switch gears when you arrive at the peak. Here the coaster Bobsled Jamaica and the Zipline Canopy Tour are poised to rock your world.

The Jamaican bobsled team won the world’s affection when they walked their broken bobsled across the finish line in the 1988 Winter Olympics in Alberta, Canada. Five years later, the comedy film, Cool Runnings, further propelled the team into the global spotlight. Jamaicans have a deep-seated passion for pushcart racing and island-wide derbies were the inspiration for the improbable Olympic team. Now the thrill of the bobsled team can be experienced every day on Mystic Mountain.
I cautiously climbed into the sled (painted in the pattern of the Jamaican flag) with my six-year-old daughter. Her enthusiasm matched my nervousness. Well- seasoned guides gave us a lesson on how to pull the hand-brake and off we went.

I wasn’t prepared for the speed. It was exhilarating and my daughter kept shouting, “This is awesome.” Green foliage became a blur as we speed-glided through the vegetation. The end of the ride was a slow mount back up a track to where we had started. It was then I looked down and appreciated the 1000- metre long gravity drive that we had just experienced.

The co-founder Michael Drakulich is committed to making this an eco-friendly venture. He knew the terrain of his homeland Jamaica would lend itself to the commitment. “Right after the movie Cool Runnings came out, I saw something similar in Park City, Utah and I thought, we have mountains in Jamaica. We could do this.” Drakulich and his team were dedicated to having minimal impact on the environment even at the construction stage. A Sikorsky helicopter was used to pour foundations for the sturdy pylons that support the ski lift. That way, roads for heavy-duty construction materials did not have to be carved out of the mountain side. The project is still in its infancy (opened in July 2008) but Drakulich is already thrilled with the feedback he is getting, not only from tourists but from the local population as well. “I knew we could do it. We wanted to bring something exciting to the natural Jamaican environment. We’ve had a fabulous response. My greatest pride is the national pride Jamaicans have taken in this place.”

Before my husband (and chief photographer) ventured over to the Zip Line, we succumbed to our children’s wishes to lie down in the brand new state-of-the-art water slide and be thrust into the infinity-edge pool.

The Zip Line, not for the faint of heart, sends you speeding through the heart of the forest. Tethered to a sturdy cord, you are given a protective helmet and plunged into an unforgettable ride. Children under 12 are not allowed on this one—but most are so taken with the bobsled and ski lift that they don’t seem to care.
Mystic Mountain has a population of more than 28,000 trees of over 55 different species. When it was time to leave, we were surprised by another treat. This time the ski lift would take us not only through, but below the tropical canopy. The rules are, of course, that all hands remain inside the aerial chair, but the temptation to reach out and touch the tropical foliage is powerful. Meandering streams came into view and the sun began to slink down behind Mammee Bay. Swooping through the surrounding trees are 33 species of birds (eight on the endangered list). As we slowly descended, a parrot came to rest on the overhead cable. Not often that you can give a bird a ride.

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