Rain Forest – Bobsled Jamaica at Mystic Mountain: Jamaica’s Newest Eco-Friendly Attraction
Words and Photos By M. Peggy Quattro
The opening of Mystic Mountain, the latest attraction to grace the Ocho Rios skyline, was slated for July 19, 2008 — rain or shine. And rain it did! From drizzle to downpour, the grand opening ceremony proceeded under a beautifully decorated white tent. Tourism Minister Ed Bartlett, Rain Forest CEO Johan van der Goltz, and Mystic Mountain Managing Director Mike Drakulich welcomed the hundreds in attendance with the reminder that this was, well, a rainforest! Director of Tourism Basil Smith and Director General Carrole Guntley, as well as members of Jamaica’s original bobsled team, were among the friends, family, and press who donned the supplied rain slickers and umbrellas to ride the Sky Explorer from its coastline base to over 700 feet above sea level at the peak of Mystic Mountain. Barbara Lulich, Mystic Mountain marketing consultant, and Norma Clarke adeptly coordinated this delightful history-making event.
Six years ago, when creator Mike Drakulich dreamed of a bobsled ride through the rainforest adjacent to Dunn’s River Falls, many thought he was crazy.
The San Diego-born-lawyer-now-Jamaican citizen has resided in the Ochi area for nearly 40 years. In addition to practicing law, Mike dabbled in the tourism industry, specializing in boating and water sports. An avid environmentalist, he saw that a bobsled ride through the government-protected rainforest would bolster tourism and create awareness of Jamaica’s commitment to preserving its natural beauty. After visiting his region’s then-political representative, the Honourable Horace Clarke, former Minister of Agriculture and Mining, Mike convinced his new friend and fellow environmentalist to assist him in securing the 100-plus acres of land located a few minutes west of Ocho Rios. Horace Clarke, now Chairman of Mystic Mountain Ltd., has played an integral role in the manifestation of Mike’s “crazy” dream.
After many years of negotiating and deliberation, Miami’s Carnival Cruise Lines came on board as a major investor, followed by the Jamaica Development Bank. This powerful partnership also includes the Rain Forest Aerial Trams ecotourism organization, which has chairlifts and zip lines in Costa Rica, St. Lucia, Dominica, and soon, Alaska. In a mere 10 months, from construction to opening, Rain Forest – Bobsled Jamaica at Mystic Mountain is set to redefine Jamaica as the Number One eco-tourism destination in the world.
Although Bobsled Jamaica is the signature attraction, the experience at Mystic Mountain is a fun, safe, adventure for the entire family. In addition to the 4-seat Sky Explorer and Zip-line tour, there is Mystic Pavilion, featuring striking educational storyboards and museum-quality artifacts. The three-story replica of an early-20th century Jamaican train station houses the bobsled entrance, the Mystic Treasures Gift and Photo Shop, the R2 @700 Feet restaurant/bar, a water slide that drops you into the infinity pool, and the awe-inspiring 360-degree look-out tower.
From entering the park, you are surrounded by tropical trees, exotic plants, native birds, clear natural springs, and waterfalls. Upon crossing a wooden bridge, you are set to board one of the 50 chairs that will take you on Sky Explorer’s top cable to get a bird’s eye view of the unspoiled rainforest and striking Ocho Rios coastline. Once there, take time to educate yourself in Mystic Pavilion before heading to the bobsled gate. When seated in the custom-designed one-person car, the trained staff will direct you on the Five Rules of bobsledding, make sure your seat belt is secure, instruct you on how to push the hand levers to go faster and pull them back to slow down (stopping on the track is not allowed!), and off you go! More than 3400 feet of stainless-steel rails, flowing next to limestone cliffs and through the hilly interior, keep the gravity-driven ride safe as you wind and turn and zoom your way to the bottom. Then you can sit back and relax when the automatic connection with the “Lifter” gives you a leisurely ride back up, allowing you to enjoy the sights, sounds, and smells of magical Mystic Mountain. The entire
bobsled experience lasts approximately six minutes.
The Rain Forest Zip-line guided tours will have you gliding through virgin areas of the mountain. You will soar through the treetops, from platform to platform before ending at Madman’s Rock, where you will trade your harness for a hop on Sky Explorer for a ride back down to the coastline entrance.
The entire attraction was planned and constructed to have minimal environmental impact and physical footprint. The equipment and stainless steel to build the bobsled rails was hand carried through the forest. More than 90% of energy requirements are generator supplied with unique specifications designed to reduce fuel consumption and carbon emissions by over 60%.
The huge state-of-the-art F-towers, sitting comfortably among the trees, were carried in by helicopter and securely placed into the earth, minimizing any damage to the rainforest. As you soar above and dip below the canopy on the ride up, the descent carries you mere feet above the lush foliage. You will see huge plants growing snugly against the bright green towers and breadfruit trees almost close enough to touch.
The newest showcase of Jamaica’s natural beauty is a fine example of the public and private sectors working together for the benefit of the island’s tourism product. Johan van der Goltz, Rain Forest Aerial Trams founder, summed it up by saying, “It is important to pay people more to keep the trees than what they would make if they cut them down.”
For Mike Drakulich, Bobsled Jamaica is confirmation that you must never give up on your crazy dreams.