Jamaica by Kayak: The 6 ½ Commandments of International Paddling Expeditions

Traveling tips from the team attempting to complete the first kayak circumnavigation of Jamaica

David Munger prepares to launch on Jamaica’s East Coast.

By David Munger and David Morgan

We’re currently a little over 100 miles into our 350-mile circumnavigation of Jamaica and are learning that life is dominated by the trade winds. We’ve made steady progress around the eastern portion of the island during weather windows, have found time to accept numerous offers of free and fresh jelly coconuts, and have even been able to sample some of Jamaica’s world renowned surf waves. As first-time international expeditioners, Dave and I feel we are uniquely qualified to lay out some “absolute” rules.

The Commandments:

Things take time – I know this sounds like a basic law of physics, but we’ve found it to be crucial to remember. When we first landed in the bustling city of Kingston, all of our focus was on getting out of town and onto the water. It was exhausting. Hours spent in an office or driving around the city felt like time wasted. But once we took a deep breath and embraced the local pace, we were able to navigate the networks of Jamaican bureaucracy and get what we needed.

David Munger navigates the Kingston slums en route to our host’s house at the beginning of the trip.

Celebrate every victory, no matter how small — Rounding the notoriously rough southeast point of Jamaica on a perfectly calm flat day was a blessing for our expedition. But it was a monotonous, sweaty, and mostly boring, churn-through-the-miles day for us. That is until we spotted a school of huge Manta Rays noiselessly gliding beneath our boats. We hooted and hollered, took pictures, and generally flipped out. Our carefree, kid-like excitement sustained us through the rest of the long day and helped put our low points in perspective.

The magical manta ray that powered the Daves around the eastern point of Jamaica.

Make time for the people as well as the place — Adventures are often planned around the places you go. But we’ve found that meeting the people in most places can make a visit much more special. A spur of the moment decision on our first day to stop in the village of Yallahs made us local celebrities. Upon landing, fishermen carried our boats into town and inspected our gear curiously while telling us stories of rural Jamaican life. We were shown the best Jerk chicken in town and celebrated Jamaica day in style. In going out of our way to meet people, Dave and I have had more amazing experiences and heard more unique stories than we ever would have focusing just on the place.

Take care of yourself — Traveling and expeditioning are straining physically, mentally, and emotionally. Constantly making decisions with your partner(s), managing risk, and living out of a bag all take their toll. Especially when you are putting your most charming self out there while meeting new people and adapting to a new culture. So it’s good to escape into a book, jam to your favorite song, or indulge in some familiar comfort food. Doing these things regularly can help you be you–and can save energy for when you need it most.

At some point you’ll want to quit — Everything comes in waves. There will also be times when you realize this is the only thing you want to do. Then you’ll get hungry. Often, I go back and forth between these feelings a lot, like when I was on the huge wind-chopped ocean swells we had to paddle through between Port Antonio and Orange Bay. There was no time to eat food, and I was terrified–but oh, what a day of paddling. Always remember the hours you spent dreaming of being where you are right now.

Dave Munger catching waves in Boston Bay as we wait out a mid-day squall.

The Big One (my favorite) — Smile big, make bad jokes, eat all the junk food you want, and don’t be too serious. Remember, paddling is supposed to be (mostly) fun after all.

Peanut Butter isn’t available in every country – Shocking, I know. At least they have Snickers to keeping hangry Dave at bay.

David Munger and David Morgan may have similar names, but they’re trying for something unique: the first-ever sea kayak circumnavigation of Jamaica. This is the second post in their ongoing series. You can find their first post here. Stay tuned for more updates from the expedition on CanoeKayak.com.