Wonderland was found down a rabbit hole, Narnia through a wardrobe. As for Ocho Rios, the town awaits at the end of a winding, emerald-walled tunnel named Fern Gully. Once upon a time this was a river, but after an earthquake filled the gorge with rubble it was transformed into a three-mile road, which carves down between towering greenery so dense the Caribbean midday sun is barely visible above us.
Fern Gully makes a fitting introduction to the “Garden Parish of Jamaica”, as St Ann’s is often called. All those tales of Jamaica’s gang-fuelled crime tribulations couldn’t feel further away in this place of quiet sandy coves and jungle waterfalls. Adding to the wholesome tone, my taxi driver Mickie insists I join him on a singalong, duetting on a few numbers by Bob Marley, who was born and buried in this parish – “everything in life can be a song!” Mickie enthuses. Between renditions I learn that the name Ochos Rios originates from the Spanish for “bay of waterfalls” (the more direct translation of “eight rivers” is a misnomer, as there are only four in the area) and spot road signs speaking of the region’s mixed colonial past: Falmouth, Middlesex and Inverness rub shoulders with Puerto Seco and Pedro River.
It’s not so much a song as a shrill wail that escapes when I plunge waist deep into the most famous of these waterfalls, Dunns River; the water feels icy compared with the steamy climate. The stream gushes down over 600ft of travertine boulders until it reaches the beach below, a dramatic natural set recognisable from the James Bond film Dr No. It’s these giant stepping stones and shelves that we grapple up in a human chain, bare feet blindly seeking out holds as white jets rush over our legs. Crystal-clear pools, honeycombed with sunlight, offer occasional natural respites during the one hour climb, before the next burst of breathless scrambling begins.