Fri | May 29, 2020

To Rio Grande for an idyllic life

Published:Friday | March 1, 2019 | 12:00 AMPaul H. Williams/Gleaner Writer
A convoy arrives at the 'beach'.
Now, it's time for a drink at the river bar.
Fishing in Portland's Rio Grande is a popular pastime for youths in the region.
A mother and son bonding on the Rio Grande.
Raft captain Norman Cataroo of Grants Level Portland, making one of his rafts.
The Thaxter brothers, Glen (left) and Clement, have spent a major part of their lives taking tourists and locals down the Rio Grande in Portland.

It is long, and legendary. The valley through which it rushes and meanders is wide and gaping for the most part. It is full of so much life, and it has brought so much joy to visitors and locals.

It is a place to swim, to fish, to be caressed and embraced in the bosom of nature. It is the Rio Grande, the lifeblood of Portland.

On this snaky river, people cruise and sail daily on rafts made of bamboo that proliferates in great abundance in one of the wettest places on the island. Without these rafts, the chance to see the vistas, to live the dream, and absorb the tranquility of this mountainous place might not have been possible.

And without the captains, the raftsmen who guide these two-passenger crafts over high and low waters, the rafts would lie idle.

As The Gleaner recently sailed with Clement Thaxter, one of these captains, he talked about the place where he was born, lived, swam, frolicked and fished. He pointed to this spot and that, telling their stories, recalling boyhood anecdotes forever etched in his brain.

Thaxter has a lifelong relationship with this eternal issue of water, and though he is no longer living near it, he still earns a living on it as the Number 7 captain with years of experience atop his many crafts, which do not last more than four months on average.

Propelling an accompanying raft was his brother, Glen, another veteran. Their father was also a captain.

Before The Gleaner, embarked on the ride at Berrydale, we met Norman Cataroo at Grants Level, a nearby district, making a raft at the side of the road. He was chopping and measuring the length of the bamboo with his sharp machete. It turned out that the businessman is himself a raft captain of over 20 years. Before that, his job was to push back the rafts upstream from St Margaret’s Bay, after their journey ended.

At Margaret’s Bay, at the Rafters’ Rest, the Rio Grande flows into the open arms of the sea. It oozes life, and is sustaining the lives of those who seek to live an idyllic life, slowly sailing down the river, for their bread and butter, as easy as Sunday morning.