Do you love hiking? How would you like to get your feet wet in the crystal clear waters of a river high up in the hills of Hanover? Are you up for being on the receiving end of lots of love from a group of energetic dogs who will race to the river, wait patiently for you to get there, have a frolic then graciously lead you back up the trail to their haven?
If you said yes to even one of those questions, you have got to go Hiking with the Hooligans. It’s the latest attraction in the western end of Jamaica, a fun way to do something good for and with animals.
The hike is offered by Montego Bay Animal Haven at its sprawling location in New Milns, dubbed The Farm. The run to the river is a way for dogs being cared for at the facility to let off pent-up energy and also a way for the non-profit organisation to earn much-needed income to help defray some of its expenses. The Haven’s Managing Director Jackie Sangster is hoping that visitors to Jamaica, as well as locals — including students on school trips — will spend a few hours at The Farm with friendly dogs she and her team fondly call hooligans.
“[It] would be a great opportunity where they could hike, get out into nature,” she tells LetsTravelCaribbean.com during a recent visit to The Farm.
Animal Haven is working with local hotels that it hopes will add Hiking with the Hooligans to the list of activities available to guests.
“It is a feat to get up here. So we want to partner with somebody that can help with the transportation from the various hotels. So that’s all in the works. And we’re finalising that,” an optimistic Sangster says.
Asked what’s the most fun thing about the hike, her reply came easily.
“The dogs, the hooligans,” she says with a chuckle. “I mean, what else do you need to have fun than to have 20 or so dogs running beside you leading the way? And just walking through our beautiful countryside? I mean, as they say, Jamaica sweet bad yuh nuh.”
But it is often anything but “sweet” for dogs that have to fend for themselves on the country’s roads. That’s why Sangster and her network of Animal Angels across Jamaica take in strays, nurse them back to health, spay and neuter them to reduce the population of unkempt animals that suffer on the streets and try their best to find them homes. On the way to The Farm the day we visited, she stopped in St Ann to pick up four puppies.
“Somebody’s dog got pregnant. They were going to kill the dogs. And they were like, please take them; and they’re in bad condition,” she says.
In addition to dogs, they have provided love and care to cats, cows, pigs, any animal in need. They even tried to help a wounded bird recently. All of that takes money and Hiking with the Hooligans is the latest addition to other efforts to raise funds and much-appreciated donations. Sangster and her team are busy getting The Farm ready to welcome hikers.
They already have ropes installed along the more challenging sections of the pathway leading to the river.
“We’re hoping that when people come they get to see that [it is an amazing experience] and see a different side of Jamaica that they don’t maybe get an opportunity to do,” she says.
The duration of the hike depends on how adventurous you are and how much time you have to relax.
“You can come with the dogs and go just down to the river and just hang out there for a few minutes. So that could be like about a half-an-hour to 45-minute hike. Or if you feel like exploring a little bit more and going down to the waterfalls that we have, then it could be up to about anywhere to an hour to an hour-and-a-half. But it’s well worth it. It’s refreshing down there. You get to see the dogs just enjoying the pools and running up and down and all the foliage and then coming back. So if you’re doing the longer aspect of the hike, I would say give yourself about two hours once you’re actually here at The Haven for that activity,” says Sangster.
KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
Ideal for: Lovers of animals, nature and hiking.
Not for: Younger children, pregnant women, anyone with underlying health concerns.
Dress code: Clothes that you don’t mind getting dirty and wet. Hiking shoes or sturdy sneakers, long pants, a cap or sun visor. A change of clothes in case you get really wet at the river. Be sure to take drinking water so you can stay hydrated, bug spray and sunscreen if you burn easily.
To book a hike via Instagram: montegobayanimalhaven