The Rio Nuevo, a small river that trickles down from the hills of the parish of St Mary, lends its name to the small village on the coastline where the river enters the sea. Few people realise how important this small, quiet suburb of the large resort town of Ocho Rios is to Jamaica’s history. In the 17th century, while European nations fought over the control of various areas in the New World, the English wrestled the island of Jamaica from the Spanish, then the dominant Colonial power in the region. At Rio Nuevo in 1658, the most definitive battle between the English and the Spanish over the control of Jamaica took place and, as a result, after a mere 150 years of Spanish rule, the British were able to capture the island.
Rio Nuevo lies along the north coast highway, marked by a few small signs erected by the Jamaica National Heritage Trust identifying the site of the Battle of Rio Nuevo. On the actual battlefield site there is a monument to all the Jamaicans, both of African and Spanish descent, who fought the invading British valiantly albeit unsuccessfully. Today it is hard to imagine the carnage and bloodshed that brought the small community to the public forefront, since the site is now a grassy park dotted with shady trees and benches where visitors may sit and gaze at the horizon.
One of the best scuba-diving sites off Jamaica’s coast appears just offshore from Jamaica Beach, to the west of Rio Nuevo. The reef, called the Rio Nuevo Wall, is a 25-foot dive and supports barracudas, turtles, parrotfish and other tropical marine life in its mountainous coral formations.
Ten minutes south of the village of Rio Nuevo, on a road canopied by lush vines and sturdy, old trees, the Rio Nuevo trickles down through the district of Retreat. The community of Retreat is largely agricultural and reserved, a small village where everyone has known everyone else’s family for generations, and where neighbours are quick to the rescue of each other in hard times. The village square – in fact the whole district – is made of the stuff that turns into stunning postcards, a calming and picturesque corner of the true heart of Jamaica. Retreat is home to an interesting church, the Holy Trinity chapel, built in the shape of a cross, on a small hill above the river. The river, which runs through the district, is an essential part of community life. On just about any day, there is a dash of activity by the riverbanks; children splash and play in the cold spring water, while adults wash clothes and cars. By the river, the smooth, rounded stones are large and comfortable enough to accommodate a picnic, or allow you to contemplate life, or make new friends.