COVID-19 sinking Trelawny raft captains
WESTERN BUREAU: Raft captains at the Martha Brae River in Trelawny are now facing an uncertain future because unlike in the past when issues such as low water levels had temporarily slowed down operations, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has dried up...
Raft captains at the Martha Brae River in Trelawny are now facing an uncertain future because unlike in the past when issues such as low water levels had temporarily slowed down operations, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has dried up business, leaving them without their main source of income for more than a year.
The more than 80 raft captains have been in limbo since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic last March as the deadly virus all but crippled the nation’s tourism product, the avenue through which they get the vast majority of their business.
With tourists largely confined to hotels in the current set-up to contain the spread of the virus, they are facing a bleak future.
Everton Brown, a raft captain with 21 years of experience under his belt, said the financial blow has been devastating as his savings have now been depleted.
“I have an 83-year-old mother, who needs constant care, to take care of,” said Brown. “The little savings I had disappeared quickly. Two persons have supported me during this challenging time,” said Brown. “Joseph Palmer (a friend) gave me food for myself and my mother, and Vicky Brown, my mother’s granddaughter, who lives in the United States, sends what she can afford weekly.”
Brown said that he did not get any support from the Government under its COVID-19 relief CARE programme last year.
“COVID has taught me a lesson: Don’t put your eggs in one basket. The fruits and vegetables I used to buy are now grown in my backyard,” he told The Glea ner.
Clifton Anderson, another raft captain, said that like Brown, he was solely dependent on rafting, so without an income, he was also forced to depend on friends and family for his immediate needs.
“I survived because friends and family helped,” said Anderson. “Were it not for them, I would have died – not from COVID, but from hunger. Because of COVID-19, I now see life differently. What was taken for granted is now more appreciated.”
Driven by desperation, one raft captain, who has been providing such services since 1981, has been offering locals a chance to experience the attraction and carve out an income.
“Since December, I am pleasantly surprised by the number of locals who have come to enjoy the experience,” he told The Gleaner. “They come with their liquor and boom box, maintain social distance, and have a jolly good time when they park the raft in a shaded area. The three-mile journey used to take one hour. Now, that time is too short.”