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Travel: Two sides of Jamaica



Meridian Writers' Group

Winter sliding pursuits now possible in tropical forests

ST. ANN'S BAY, Jamaica-When the endless days of beach and sun get stale, it's time to go sledding.

Both bobsledding and dogsledding are serious, if not widely popular, pursuits here. The Jamaican bobsled team, in fact, became internationally known after competing in the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary. (It came 29th.) Disney made a movie about it, Cool Runnings . Unlikely though such a team was, it also competed at Albertville in 1992 (coming 14 th - ahead of the United States, Russia, France and Italy) and will be in Whistler for the 2010 Games.

Dogsledding is a more recent (2005) addition to Jamaica's sports pantheon. The team also serves to promote the soft-adventure company that backs it, but its four mushers are in earnest. They regularly enter a series of races in wintery Canada and the United States, including the 1,600-kilometre Yukon Quest.

Both bobsled and dogsled have now been converted into tourist activities, about a 20-minute drive apart on the north coast road.

The bobsled run is part of a new attraction, Mystic Mountain, that opened in July 2008. After taking a chairlift to the top of the mountain you board a one-person sled and rocket down a twisting, 1,000-metre course. You're on a track, not ice, but you'll still get up to 45 kilometres an hour on a dry day. If you want to go a lot faster, come right after it rains. Top speed then is about 80 km/h, should you want it: unlike a roller coaster, the bobsled has a brake.

At Chukka Caribbean Adventures, a musher will take you for a 90-minute ride through the forest and alongside the sea in a two-person sled on wheels, drawn by a team of 14 dogs. These aren't huskies, but a diverse group of breeds, strays rescued from the pound at the Jamaican Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

If the idea of any sort of sledding in Jamaica leaves you cold, both Mystic Mountain and Chukka also offer a more expected tropical adventure: ziplining, high above the ground from tree to tree through the lush forest. Mystic Mountain has five lines, the longest of which is 52 metres, plus one "surprise" - a 10-metre vertical drop. Chukka has nine, plus two "surprises." Its longest sails you over the jungle canopy 220 metres.

Mystic Mountain's ziplines are fewer and shorter, but more convenient. They're a two-minute walk from the top of the chairlift and when you finish you're at the lift's midstation. Chukka's situation is different: you begin with a 20-minute van ride up a crooked, potholed road, then walk - downhill! - 15 minutes along a series of forest stairs to the start of the ziplines. The lines aren't as zippy as at Mystic Mountain, so you don't get up the same head of steam, and the guides, although polite, have perhaps been doing it too long to retain much enthusiasm. There's also a 15-minute hike out, but it's a flat walk alongside the lovely, rushing Laughlands (pronounced "lawlands") River, then a five-minute bus ride back to Chukka HQ.

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