JCO Guidance for Cavers in Jamaica
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Caving in Jamaica can be a magnificent experience or it can be a complete nightmare. On these pages we hope to pass along advice that will make the first outcome more likely. The challenges faced are sometimes of a physical nature, sometimes cultural, often logistical, and very often it can be a challenge just finding the desired cave in the first place.

In the following notes, we'll try to address these issues separately, beginning with Logistics.

I. C. Conolley, Young Gully Cave

(Getting where you're going with what you need)

Transportation will usually present difficulties for visiting cavers. The three options are: to rent, to hire a driver, or to buy a car.

The first choice, to rent, while seeming chancy to a person handing over a credit card, is a viable option. Most of the Car Rental companies are as trustworthy as those found anywhere else on the planet. The increased mobility, and lack of the time constraints imposed by having a driver waiting, will make it possible to do a lot more caving. Be sure to get a car with good clearance. Despite the extra cost, a 4 x 4 can be very worthwhile and will always get you where you want to go. Smaller vehicles such as Starletts and Corollas can also be suitable depending on the districts that you intend to visit.

However, if you're nervous about driving on the left, concerned about putting down the deposit on the credit card, or intimidated by the madmen taxi drivers who careen around the roads of Jamaica, then consider hiring a driver. This will require careful, lengthy, negotiations with at least several drivers. You will have no problem finding a number of candidates to choose from. Firstly, try to determine which one is least likely to rush you for more $$ when you're in the field. Make sure that he understands that he might be getting back late. Make sure he has a vehicle with suitable clearance for the rough roads you'll encounter. Compare prices and try to get the best deal from the most honest person. Don't head off into the hills with someone who seems dodgy. Good luck.

The third option, if you expect to visit Jamaica often or already live there, is to buy a car. Lada Station Wagons can be purchased for a reasonable cost, have good clearance and traction, and parts are cheap and available. They can't be loaded down with more than 3 people, and gear, but since this is the best size for a caving team this is not a problem. It ends up being much cheaper in the long run if you intend to do a lot of caving. Make sure you shop around; don't be timid about haggling.

Whatever way you travel, expect rough roads, wandering livestock, madmen taxidrivers, and flat tires. Try to not let it get to you.

When heading into the hills to cave, always go prepared. In addition to ropes, vertigear, batteries, bulbs, helmet, headlamp, maps, flagging and all the other equipment necessary for entering a cave, you'll need food, water, and money.

It will not always be possible to find food and water in the vicinity of the caves. Although small shops are common in rural areas of the island, some caves will be so remote that you will be either eating what you've brought or you'll be going hungry.

Water can be an even greater problem. Be sure to bring as much as you can carry, and expect to go through over 2 litres per person per day. The climate of Jamaica is hot, even on a cool day, and those unaccustomed to these temperatures will sweat profusely both in and out of the caves. Tales are told of tourists who have almost died of dehydration after having ventured on long hikes into the hills without an adequate supply of water. If you seem to have extra near the end of the day, and your back is feeling the effects of having carried too many kilos, then you can always pour it out to lighten the load, but never do this until you know for certain that what remains will be enough to last for the hike out.

Bring money. Bring real money, not plastic, in Jamaican dollars. Wean yourself from dependence on bank or credit cards, forget everything everyone has told you about using U.S. dollars, and bring an adequate supply of Jamaican cash in denominations smaller than the 1,000$ bills that the cambios will try to give you. They are almost unspendable because no one in the hills will ever be able to make change for such a large bill. The best bills to bring are 500$; bring a good supply, you won't get mugged or robbed of them. Be brave, carry cash.

If you've done things properly, you'll now be in the hills, in the right Parish and district, and ready to look for a cave. This brings us to Site Location:   NEXT >>

(It must always be remembered that caving is inherently dangerous. Proper precautions can greatly reduce the likelihood of injury or death, but there is a definite risk involved and this cannot be forgotten.)

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Introduction to Jamaican Caves and Sinkholes