Photo: Elena Stepanova/Shutterstock

Dogsledding in Jamaica

by JoAnna Haugen Jul 20, 2010
The Jamaican bobsledding team is practically legendary. But I never expected that the country would have a dogsledding team too.

I’m in Jamaica, my shirt glued to my back with sweat. The humidity is like an unrelenting, wet down comforter warmed with a hair dryer. I can’t drink water fast enough.

Then I find out that we’re going to be riding dogsleds as an afternoon activity.

It turns out that Jamaica not only has a dogsled team, but that dogsledding is serious business too. When business owner Danny Melville was shopping in Canada for a dune buggy for his Jamaica-based adventure company, he happened upon a dogsled with metal wheels, built to allow teams to train on dry ground. This discovery led to a mission that seemed all but impossible: Create a successful dogsled team in a country that gets no snow.

Before long, Melville had recruited a musher and dog trainer, and he partnered with the local animal shelter to staff the team with dogs that would have otherwise been euthanized.

As things go in a place like Jamaica, Jimmy Buffett learned about the endeavor over drinks one night. Soon after, Margaritaville came on board as the team’s premiere sponsor.

Though many people know about Jamaica’s national bobsled team, which made its debut in the 1988 Winter Olympics (though it didn’t qualify for either the 2006 or 2010 games), the country’s dogsled team has existed for years with little hoopla. That’s not to say it’s just a passing fad: the team completed the Yukon Quest in 2009. This year, Newton Marshall was the first Caribbean musher to finish the Iditarod, which he did with the Jamaican dogsled team. The team has competed in several other races this year as well, netting two second and two third place finishes.

Which brings me back to my sweaty t-shirt and empty water bottle. I’m actually in Ocho Rios visiting the outdoor adventure company founded by Melville. The canine members of the dogsled team are here, and visitors have the opportunity to mingle with them. Being the animal lover that I am (I’m especially fond of shelter rescues), I not only pet the dogs, but get the opportunity to harness them as well.

I squeeze into the back of the sled. I’m squished between another person and a metal bar, which holds me into the car. The musher calls out a few commands, and the dogsled takes off down the grass. I jostle against the sled as we bump across the ground at speeds nearing 30 mph.

And then it’s over. I’ve got a bruise the size of a baseball on my hip from bumping up against the car during the ride, and my sweaty shirt is probably rotting in my bag, still waiting to be unpacked.

So would I do it again? Yeah, mon!

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