Recently, I went to the island of Jamaica for my second visit. Until last year, Jamaica is a place I'd only been remotely interested in visiting -- not because I didn't think it wouldn't be pretty or interesting (it is both), but because of tales I'd heard about being constantly hassled on the beaches and those dreadful all-inclusive resorts (according to at least one guidebook the concept of all-inclusives originated on Jamaica).
But a colleague came back from a trip to the southern coast of the island, an area known as Treasure Beach, and raved, so my husband, daughter, and seven others took a chance and flew into Montego Bay and then spent three hours in a car before arriving at Rainbow Tree Villa (www.rainbowtreevillas.com) I've hestitated to share Rainbow Tree with many people at the risk of ruining a very good thing, but now that I've been twice I know that Rainbow Tree, and Treasure Beach, aren't in danger of being ruined because the majority of visitors to Jamaica still prefer the resorts (of any kind) in the much more famous towns on the northern coast of the island. Treasure Beach is a special place, and only certain kinds of travelers -- notably readers of The Collected Traveler books -- will appreciate it.
The photo above was taken from the splendid porch at Rainbow Tree Villa -- there is also Rainbow Tree Point, a smaller house that sleeps six (the Villa sleeps ten). Watching the sunset is just about the most exciting event that happens in the course of a day at Treasure Beach. There are no nightclubs, discos, movie theaters, American chains, happy hours, or shopping malls. There are a few local shops that sell local crafts, and Jake's (www.islandoutpost.com) has a little shop with some appealing island-made items; but otherwise "retail" is somewhat of a foreign word. There is a handful of good places to eat -- Jake's has an outdoor restaurant on its stone terrace as well as an outdoor cafe called Jack Sprat and both are great fun; a new jerk place opened across the way from Rainbow Tree Villa and quite good dishes are turned out there; and the restaurant at the hotel Mar Blue (www.marblue.com) is very good and offers more sophisticated fare. There is, in other words, just enough. A stay at either of the Rainbow Tree villas includes the services of a housekeeping staff, and Miss Jenny, Miss Laura, or Miss Loretta prepare all meals and they are excellent home cooks (the stew chicken is my favorite dish, while my daughter's is the banana pancakes; my husband loves everything).
Treasure Beach is a small fishing community with a landscape that isn't lush and green like most of the rest of Jamaica but rather much more dry and almost desert-like, with cactus and flowering bougainvillea. Boats leave from the two bays just about everyday, not only for fishing but for trips to the Black River and to the Pelican Bar, known locally as Floyd's after its proprietor. This Bar sits on stilts and is about a twenty minute ride from Treasure Beach. It is also one of the coolest places on earth. As I have said about a few other places in the world, for a place where there is seemingly not a lot to do, a week sure goes by awfully fast.
Treasure Beach and Rainbow Tree aren't perfect: I would like to walk more in the village, such as it is, but walking along the side of the road is fairly dangerous, and the refrigerator could be colder, and I wish the Jamaican culinary pantry was more diverse. But the best family vacation we've ever had has been at Rainbow Tree, and we now feel like we belong to this warm and wonderful community.