Nightmare at Bath Fountain
The Editor, Sir:
A few weeks ago, my Jamaica-born husband and I decided to take our family to Bath Fountain during a short trip to visit his relatives in St Thomas. We had heard about the 'natural' fountain, erroneously thinking it was a regulated local attraction, but had not looked into details such as admission fees and hours of operation, as we did not think we would have enough time to stop over during our short stay.
As we approached Bath Fountain, our small family minibus received the attention of a few locals on motorcycles who began chasing us during our last few kilometres towards our destination. Before we knew it, we had three motorcycles on our bumper while our children curiously observed through the back window.
Once we arrived, our minibus was immediately swarmed with what we thought were only locals trying to gaze into our vehicle. As soon as we each exited the vehicle, we were bombarded by at least 15-20 individuals arguing among each other as to who would help who. As I looked around, I realised that my husband was no longer by my side, but we had each been dispersed by a horde of forceful young men and even a few women. We soon realised they were, in fact, informal guides who insisted on individually escorting us down the path to the fountain.
We didn't even have time to recognise that our youngest son had already been steered by them down the path to the fountain and this made us extremely nervous as we lost sight of him.
Once we made it through the 100-yard hike through the mountainside, we were shown a small area we could use in order to change into our swimsuits. My husband, along with one of our children, stayed back, as they did not want to get wet, and they were not up for any further adventure. I will admit that each of our guides treated us well and we were pampered with mud-bath massages, pimento oil rubdowns and hot spring-water rinses.
When our treatments were over, it is at this point that the experience quickly turned into a nightmare. Since no set prices had been discussed (from what I now know), and the fact that quite a few guides were involved, I proceeded by attempting to give my so-called guide an amount I found reasonable (given the fact that approximately 10 of them would be expecting something). Luckily, my husband was standing by my side when my money was refused and I was hostilely given an exorbitant bill. My husband insisted that we would negotiate after we made our way back up to the parking lot. Once we got there, the same argument erupted again among themselves as to who would get paid (including locals who were just in the parking lot and who wanted to get paid). Therefore, my husband attempted to take the leader of the pack into the hotel's parking lot past its gate. However, he quickly signalled us not to step foot on to those grounds.
Eventually, we were able to negotiate a price that I now know is within the range of what I recently read online (perhaps a little more, too). Even though we had reached a mutual agreement, they became even more confrontational and wouldn't back off in order for us to reach into my purse and get our bills out. My husband did reason with them (letting them know that this sort of behaviour and way of doing business would turn away potential future tourists) and tried to set them straight by speaking some limited Patois in order to have them give us space and privacy in order to get our cash out.
Even after being more than fair and generous, we were given the middle finger as we drove off. Irrespective of our one-of-a-kind experience with the spa-like treatment at Bath Fountain, the adventure proved to be risky and dangerous. Now that I look back, I am only grateful that our children, who are so proud of their Jamaican heritage, learned that they must not fall under their own naivety.
It is too bad that what could have been a beautiful memory turned out to be a daunting experience.
CARMEN A. PATRICK